In todays church generation it very obvious that “Basic Fundamental Doctrinal Biblical Teaching” has taken second place to – encouraging homilies, get rich or get well schemes plus corporate messages designed to “please the crowd, maintain numbers. Accompanied by pep talks and motivational discourses aimed at keeping everybody happy and offending none.”. The unfortunate side effect of that is the increase in our Christian Brothers and Sisters requiring ever increasing counselling and pastoral support. We are called upon as the Body of Christ to be “versed in the Scriptures”.
However, how can we be “fully convinced in their own mind” as “Romans 14:5”, in the absence of such teaching. The verse is of course relating to the sacredness of days but their is a relevance to the on-going teaching that is needed. In addition, there is a phrase that says “….things which are most surely believed among us….” The “Things” are the fundamentals that each of us rely and count upon for our discipleship well being. We are always keen to take care of the “pointing of our building” but the pointing is of little value if the building falls into ruin. There is a saying that goes like this – “The Church that marries the spirit of this age will undoubtedly be a widow in the next” and we need to be so careful of this.
Scriptural foundational living becomes increasingly difficult if we are not reminded or taught them regularly. In “Luke 1: 1-4” it says “Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were witnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first……” KJ
1 Corinthians 3:10 speaks and says “But each one should build with care.” and how difficult that is without the right knowledge and skill to do so.
In light of this I felt it was important for we as His Church (and especially now in this ‘lock-down’ time had something to get our teeth into. Last week I felt that I should put my thoughts together on the subject of “Growing in Christ and the Fruit of the Holy Spirit” the two are interconnected and cannot be dis-connected. So I spent a couple of days putting together the following study and I hope you find it enjoyable. If you do then please let me have your comments in the comments section.
The Study will be divided into two parts – Part 1 (Growing in Christ) and Part 2 (The Fruit of the Spirit).
PART 1 of 2
GROWING in CHRIST
Let me begin by bringing the following scripture which I feel really sums up all of what I believe God wants to say to us: –
“For you were sometimes darkness, but now are you children of light in the Lord, walk as children of the Lord. For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth proving what is acceptable unto the Lord” – “Ephesians 5:8 -10”
I must confess, as I have this opportunity to bring some teaching from God’s Word, of how privileged I feel to be able to participate in the in-working and out-working of God’s work by the Holy Spirit.
We are all at various stages of development in our Christian faith and Walk, which we shall consider more of later, and in light of that fact, it is my desire to attempt to bring something which will be of benefit to all of us.
I don’t for one moment consider that I have arrived at the point of perfection that God desires of me; in fact, to even consider that I had, would in itself manifest the imperfection within me. But I, like each one of us, desire to be the best that we can be for God, and if the teaching that I share with you, can aid you in your growth in Christ and assist you to walk, more in His image, then my small contribution will have been successful.
The topic I’ve chosen to bring is on the subject of Spiritual Growth and in order to give, a “Jumping off Point” I want to turn our attention to the majestic words spoken by Jesus found in “Matthew 6:26-34” referred to as the Sermon on the Mount.
“If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds. Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion – do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen colour and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers – most of which are never even seen – don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” – “Matthew 6:26-34” – The Message
In particular I want to focus upon the words – “walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers” or as it says in the RSV “… Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow …” – Verse 28”
The whole point and purpose of this passage is not simply to focus our attention on the beauty of the lilies, or of any other type of beautiful flower or plant but to observe rather how they grow.
And how do they grow? lt’s not by anxious thought or fretful striving, but by drinking in the provision of their environment. The flower keeps the channels of receptivity open, and the earth and the sun do the rest.
The secret Jesus wants to teach through the lilies is how to grow. When we learn that, we will have learned the most important lesson life has to teach us.
“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Is what “2 Peter 3:18″ tells us and it reminds me of several: years ago, when my interest turned my home into something of a nursery.
There’s something about the presence of growing plants that I found very enjoyable. As I daily inspected their progress, I gained from my little green friends a new appreciation of the joy and necessity of the wonderful process of growth.
As Christians, we are like plants. We should put down our roots, break up through the earth, spread out our branches, and burst into blossom. Such a thriving condition, however, isn’t always evident in our lives. lt’s so easy to become bored and listless in the bland routine of our daily activities. Often, we just hang on and merely exist without moving steadily toward maturity and fruitfulness.
At such times we are at a spiritual standstill and must allow Jesus the “Sun of Righteousness” – “Malachi 4:2” to warm our hearts anew with His love.
We must send our roots deep into the Word of God by meditating on it day and night. Then we will be like a fruitful tree planted by rivers of living water, and our branches will extend outward in an ever-increasing influence and witness. They will be filled with blossoms that reflect the beauty of righteous living.
“When growth stops, decay begins”
“However, we can be sure that “The Lord will perfect that which concerns me.” – “Psalm: 138:8”
What I must say though is that it is an undeniable fact that all of us have personality flaws and character weaknesses, that would work contrary to the purposes of God. We see sinful tendencies in ourselves such as selfishness, irritability, impatience, vindictiveness, to name but a few.
Yet if our defects cause us to rely more heavily on Jesus, we can see them as blessings in disguise. Why? Because as we acknowledge our weakness and seek God’s help, we experience His grace and strength.
This link between imperfection and improvement is all around us in nature. Take, for instance, the formation of crystals, which make up valuable minerals and precious stones. Each kind of mineral and gem has its own special shape and appearance. In addition, every one of them is made up of a great number of atoms that are stacked in perfect alignment. Occasionally, one of these basic particles gets out of line. Surprisingly, these “flaws” or imperfections give gems their most beautiful properties.
As we look at ourselves, particularly in light of this study into the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives we should honestly look at ourselves and ask the question…… How do I respond to my faults and shortcomings?
Whatever they might be however, we should not let them get us down. Instead, we should be honest about them and commit them to the Lord. The psalmist said, “The Lord will perfect that which concerns me” – “Psalm 138:8″
“Only God can transform a sin-flawed soul into a masterpiece of grace”
“The consuming illness of our time is immaturity our refusal to grow up”
One of the greatest problems in the world around us is the problem of immature people.
The world in which we live is beset on every side by a variety of problems; however, one thing is certain and that is that at the core of all problems around us, whether they are in the categories of: – ·
is moral, intellectual, and spiritual immaturity.
Deficiency in growth creates devastation all around. More and more power is falling into the hands of people who are immature. The intellectual, crowd pleasers and personal kingdom builders has outgrown the moral, and we have as a result a generation of lopsided people.
But what of the Church of Jesus Christ? Well we need more growth in the Church too. I am all for imparting responsibility to those who have found Christ as their Saviour and have started to be like Him in their daily living, but, if we are not careful we are in danger of letting grown-up problems be handled by those who are only half-grown and that can only lead to heartache for the individual and headaches for the Local Church.
Even in saying that however I am reminded of what the Apostle Paul say’s in “1 Titus 3:1” – “This isa true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desires a good work”. Oh! that God by the Holy Spirit will give to us multitudes of those seeking for more in God.
We can only grow spiritually, and this has the additional benefit which affects us in our natural lives, by turning in a new way to the resources that are available in our Lord Jesus Christ.
By Gazing at Him, we can grow like Him
The song writer put it in this way and although he is speaking specifically about problems and difficulties it has a multiple application.
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace”
Remember the flower that keeps its head down to look at its roots will never grow. lt has to look at something beyond itself – the sun.
As the children of God, it should be our continual aim to be moving towards greater and greater maturity.
The Apostle Paul who is responsible for writing the majority of the New Testament said the following in “Colossians 1:28-29” – “And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ. And for this purpose, also I labour, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me”.
Another version of the Bible written by J.B. Phillips puts it like this – “we teach everyone we can, all that we know about Him, so that, if possible, we may bring every man up to his full maturity in Christ.”
The central aim of Paul’s letters is to produce mature Christians. As a first-hand observer of individual and collective problems over the past fifty two years, since I came to know Jesus as my Saviour in 1968, if I were asked to put my finger on the most pressing need in the Church of Jesus Christ, then and now I would unhesitatingly say this one thing “Maturity”.
In an age of overwhelming problems, we have too many immature Christians trying to handle situations which are beyond their capacity. The gap between what we are and what we ought to be is the most serious in the Church of Jesus Christ today.
Leaders who have been serving Gods people really need to reflect upon the lack of teaching of the fundamental doctrines of God’s Word and the opaque style of leadership that has become so popular. The results have been an over emotional dependence upon music with light weight lyrics which at times contain erroneous doctrinal truth. Plus, a dependence upon fellowship (which is of course necessary but not in exchange for teaching Gods Word.
A Christian who came for counselling once said, “lt’s hopeless I was never made for maturity.” Oh, how wrong She was, in Jesus Christ we are all made for and in fact are destined for maturity.
Wings Versus Willpower
The story is told of a traveller on a flight from London to New York, the traveller was seated next to a nervous passenger. He admitted to the thought that he felt he was keeping the plane airborne by sheer willpower. He couldn’t relax for a moment, for fear that gravity would drag them down.
Even though the law of gravity would keep us earthbound, there’s a law of aerodynamics that overcomes the pull of gravity. If the passenger had trusted that principle when he boarded the plane, he would have saved himself a lot of needless worry. In a similar way, many believers are trying to reach and maintain spiritual heights by sheer willpower. But by ourselves, we’re bound to the downward drag of the law of sin and death.
However, in “Romans 8:2” it says….“The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” Paul wrote about a higher law, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, which sets people free from the law of sin and death.
As we totally entrust ourselves to the living Spirit of Christ within us and maintain an attitude of dependence on Him, we’re set free from the law of sin and death.
If we are living by sheer willpower, our Christian life hasn’t really “taken off.” But the moment we entrust ourselves fully to Christ, we are freed from the body of death, and begin rising on the wings of His Spirit. I don’t know who said it, but it’s been truly said “Our spirit fails us unless God’s Spirit fills us.”
A famous author once exclaimed in a moment of spiritual exaltation, “I am the tadpole of an angel. “He didn’t go far enough, for the culmination of our Christian experience is not that we shall be turned into angels but transformed into the image of Christ “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” – “1 John 3:2”
Our aim throughout in the time we are spending together should be to clear away the hindrances that prevent healthy spiritual growth.
I must ask myself: –
- Do I sulk when things don’t go my way?
- Do I show a childish self-concern when others disagree with me?
- Do I argue over marginal matters as children argue over nothing?
- Am I involved in a daily grind or a daily growth?
If we find ourselves agreeing with any of the things mentioned then as the central aim of the Scriptures is to produce mature people, then isn’t it about time we grew up? And we have to answer an emphatic yes! To the question and thus it brings us to our starting point, and remarkably that point is one of difficulties, afflictions and both spiritual and natural problems.
In “Psalm 119:65-72” we read “Do good to your servant according to your word, 0 Lord. Teach me knowledge and good judgement, for I believe in your commands. Before I was afflicted, I went astray, but now I obey your word. You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees. Though the arrogant have smeared me with lies, I keep your precepts with all my heart. Their hearts are callous and unfeeling, but I delight in your law. lt was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.” – “Verse 71” says…. “lt was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”
All around us, God has set the stage for growth. Although we may not realise it, we grow through the resistances we meet in our environment, for it is not so much what happens to us, but what we do with it which determines the result. lt seems to be a fact of human nature that learning, and growth, development and change require a process, and so often the most important changes take place within the framework of struggle.
lt was this insight which led the psalmist to record the truth in the following text “lt was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”
In overcoming the impediments of life, we complete ourselves. The world around us is like an emery stone on which we sharpen our souls, and in a universe unbalanced to some degree by sin, a lesson emerges through our adversities. Things that strike into our lives make us bitter or better according to the way we respond.
As a plane takes off against the rising wind, so there have been multitudes in every age who,
strengthened by the Holy Spirit, have risen above their adverse environment to a new vision of God and His glory.
If we live or work with people who seem to do a perfect job of irritating our spirits, then this can become either a cage or a challenge.
How we handle it decides whether it is a groaning or growing point
There are those I have met and I’m sure you have to who you could call Mr and Mrs Everything’s Fine. They’re dedicated to ministering to people and everyone respects them, but many feel uncomfortable around them. They always speak in glowing terms about their marriage and the joys of parenthood. They have a Bible verse for every situation.
Their friends say, “When I’m around them, I don’t feel free to say how I really feel. When I do, they just tell me to ‘trust God’. Are these people being honest with themselves, I think not.
Consider the apostle Paul. Instead of pretending that everything was always okay, he was transparent about his own struggles. This made people feel safe to open up to him. Listen to his honesty: “Our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears” – “2 Corinthians 7:5”.
Sharing those painful experiences and raw emotions enabled Paul to give this sincere testimony: “Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus” – “Verse 6”.
But how can greater honesty and transparency make us more effective in our ministry to others? If people see how Christ meets our needs when we’re struggling, they will be more willing to trust Him themselves. And what greater ministry could we have than this?
Wearing a mask that shows everything’s fine says that life’s struggles are not God’s design; but when we’re open, transparent, and true, people will trust God to meet their needs too.
“The more we work at what we should be, the less we’ll need to hide what we are”
One thing is sure, if we find ourselves in a situation or environment which is hostile to us, there are resources provided by a loving God which, when absorbed into our being, enable us to rise above the problem with a song of praise in our hearts.
GROWING IN GRACE – NOT INTO IT
“So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” – “2 Peter 3:14-18” – “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ …” – “Verse 18”
lt is time to make one thing clear we do not grow into being Christians, for that comes about only through the experience known as the new birth. However, once we come into the Christian life by spiritual conversion and regeneration, we then start to grow into the likeness of Christ. We don’t grow into grace; we grow when we are in it.
If we have never known what it is to surrender ourselves to God, then any growth that takes place is simply growth in self-centredness. We are not made to develop as self-centred beings, for that is contrary to the great design which runs through the universe.
Before a person can grow as a Christian, they need a transplant, in which they are shifted from a self-centred life to a God-centred life. The Bible is very clear in the requirement for the “stony hearts” that God says we have to be exchanged for “hearts of flesh”.
In “Ezekiel 36: 26-27” – we read “…….. A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgements, and do them”
I realise that I am going diametrically opposite to modern psychology, which claims that man has all the answers within himself. The kindest thing you can say about this emphasis is that it just does not work. lt helps for a while, of course, to be told that the standard three things: –
- You can DISCOVER yourself.
- You can CULTIVATE yourself.
- You can EXPRESS yourself.
but it stops short of the real truth.
No proper growth of our personalities can take place in the seedbed of self-centredness, for the soil contains no eternal values. To discover ourselves we must lose ourselves. This is one of the most central and inexorable laws of the universe. The seed wrapped in itself will die but surrendering itself to the earth. lt lives again in the growing plant. Lose yourself in God and you will find yourself again, but the self you will find is a new self-remade in Christ’s image.
“John 12: 24” tells us “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.” – King James
A STEP BACKWARD
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we
believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” – “Romans 6:1-11”
- “For you have become a part of him, and so you died with him … and now you share his new life and shall rise as he did.” – “Verse 5”
We must spend just a little more time clarifying the importance of knowing Christ personally, before we can move on to become like Him. Earlier we spoke of moving from “self-centredness into God centredness” and repentance is a vital ingredient in that process.
“Godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death” – “2 Corinthians 7:10”
A man who came to see a minister once and said he felt so much guilt before he was saved that he couldn’t eat for days. Because he knew that the minister had not gone through such an intense period of grief, he said he didn’t think he had truly repented.
Another man, many years ago when I was Pastoring in a local church wept when he told me that his wife had left him because of his drinking and infidelity. He tearfully professed faith in Jesus and vowed to be done with his sinful lifestyle. But when his wife returned, he soon went back to his old ways.
In a similar situation, a man confessed with little emotion what a terrible sinner he was. He admitted his need for grace and received Christ. That was the end of his old lifestyle.
Which of these three men genuinely repented?
“If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” –“John 8:36”
Author Gerald N.Callahan is a professor at Colorado State University. It was interesting to find him say in his book River Odyssey, in which he discusses his experiences and thoughts about life. “I drink too much … I eat like myocardial infarctions and colon cancer don’t ever kill middle-aged men, and every morning I swear I’ll change, but nothing ever changes.”
Multitudes of people could make that confession. How difficult it is to change! Whether we want to revolutionise our whole lifestyle or give up certain habits how hard it is to do that!
Dramatic change is possible, however, when we open our hearts to Jesus Christ. Instead of being “a slave of sin” we can be set free – “John 8:34-36”
The transformation that happened to bigoted Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus can happen any day to anybody “Acts 9:1-9”. A changed life is a result of a changed heart. Paul said godly sorrow for sin leads to salvation and a new life, whereas the sorrow of the world merely feeling bad about sin’s consequences leaves a person unchanged and leads to death.
True repentance doesn’t mean we never sin again. But if we admit that we are helpless sinners, if we believe that Jesus died for our sins, if we are trusting Him for salvation, and if we have a deep desire to live for Him, our repentance is genuine. We have been forgiven!
Repentance says, “I’m sorry,” but also shows, “I’m through“
The first step in growth is a step backward, for we have to reverse our values before we can establish new ones. The verse before us express the truth beautifully, in showing us that we have to go to the Cross and there die to the kind of person we are, and what is that? Usually to self-centred, resentful, and to preoccupied to rise as a new person in Christ.
An alcoholic once came into a church where a preacher was preaching and heard the preacher say that “Christ is the answer.” After years of struggling with the problem of drink, he was instantly converted and delivered, and went on to become a preacher of the Gospel.
What he couldn’t achieve through struggle was obtained through a simple act of self-surrender. lt does not matter what the situation is today, if we will surrender it to Jesus He will undertake and will as the scriptures tell us enable us to “become a new person in Jesus, old things will have passed away and all things will be fresh and new”.
A woman once wrote to a minister saying, “My hands have corns on them from working and trying so hard to be good.” She was looking at her own hands instead of the nail-pierced hands of Christ. The best she could hope for was self-salvation rather than true salvation. The heart of Christian redemption is to save us from ourselves, for prior to conversion, our biggest sin is violation of the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me”
The biggest and most persistent of all rival gods is us
If this experience of conversion has never happened to you, then right now you can shift the basis of your life from self-centred sufficiency to self-surrender. Once that is accomplished, we can then experience Gods favour.
“Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word, I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised” – “1 Corinthians 15:1-10”
- “But by the grace of God I am what I am…” – “Verse 10”
It’s time now to look at the meaning of the word “grace”. The word has been variously defined and does not mean exactly the same in the Old Testament as in the New.
There are different flavours to the word, but its central meaning in the New Testament is that of “unmerited favour”. Insurance companies still use the word in relation to claims, and when in an appeal they find no legal reason to pay out, they can, out of the kindness of their hearts, donate what is called “an act of grace”.
This reminds me of a humorous story I heard which goes like this……A few years ago, a TV ad for life insurance showed a businessman walking across a busy city street. He leaped for the curb as a car veered toward him. Somewhat ruffled, he said, “That was close! I didn’t think I was going to make it.” Suddenly two men in white suits joined him on the busy street, and one of them said, “You didn’t!”
As the three men began walking together, the businessman remarked that at least he had peace of mind because his family was covered by insurance. But the real punchline came at the end of the ad. While the man and his two escorts were riding an escalator up into the clouds, he said with relief, “I’m sure glad we’re going up!”
That last line was meant to provide some comic relief, but for the thoughtful person it raises the serious issue of heaven and hell. lt reminds us of Jesus’ words in “John 5:17-30” that not all people are “going up.” He said that some would experience “the resurrection of life” and others “the resurrection of condemnation” – “Verse 29”
Jesus is the only One who can give eternal life to all who trust in Him.
In Christian circles, the word grace has come to mean the unmerited loving kindness of God, and as such is used freely in the Scriptures. lt is difficult to think of anything more precious than the unmerited favour of God. Paul claimed that he owed his whole existence to it, and it was this that made him what he was. The saints down the ages have sighed for it, longed for it and availed themselves of it in every possible way.
Fletcher of Madeley
Fletcher of Madeley was a friend of John Wesley who helped the government in a special way. Anxious to reward him, the government sent a representative to his home, and hinting at their gratitude, the visitor asked if there was anything Mr. Fletcher wanted. His reply came as something of a surprise. “l want nothing,” he said, “except more grace.” There was nothing the British government held which Fletcher wanted.
All his longing was for more of God. What would we have said in a similar situation? Would our hearts remain satisfied with gold when we could receive an abundance of grace?
Abundance of Grace
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way, death came to all men, because all sinned for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come. But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgement followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” – “Romans 5:12-17”
- “… how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life …” – “Verse 17”
We do not all travel along the Christian pathway at the same rate. We grow older at the same rate, for a year is as long to a teenager as to a man in his seventies, but along the path of Christian discipleship the rate of progress is different. Some grow more in five years of Christian experience than others do in fifty. Many who have been on the highway of grace for half a century can be overtaken by someone with a tenth of that experience all because they know how to move forward in grace.
Why is it, we may ask, that some travel faster than others on the Christian pathway? The answer is simple, they know how to absorb the abundance of God’s grace.
Have we met people who, although years younger than us in the faith, demonstrate a zeal and an enthusiasm for the Lord which makes us feel ashamed? Have you noticed some whose readiness to forgive injuries and forget the past indicates that they have sped past us on the way?
Such people have learned the secret that God has always more to give than they have received,
and they have opened themselves to that abundance of grace about which this particular passage speaks.
Although we may have received much from God, there is always more. In expectation we reach out and it is there, and when we absorb it, we can reach out for more. There is so much to have, and in taking all the grace we can use today it will not leave Him impoverished.
Use up the grace He pours into our hearts today, and be assured, tomorrow there will be more.
The Downward Steps
“Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated, and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” – “Titus 3:1-7”
- “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures …” – “Verse 3”
We continue to look at the importance of grace as it is the only soil in which a Christian can properly grow.
This passage above brings out very clearly the fact that we do not evolve into being Christians, but that we come into the Christian life through a dramatic encounter with God through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
We came into this world with a false idea of God –“At one time we too were foolish” – and this false idea leads on to a false attitude, resulting in turn in a strong defiance of God and His laws. “We too were foolish … disobedient …” and the next step is inevitable –“deceived”.
Our personalities are designed to think, feel, and make decisions, so that a false idea of God affects the way we feel about Him, and the way we feel about Him affects the way we act toward Him.
lt was this that brought about the downfall of Eve and made her the first sinner in the world. She surrendered to a false idea of God, which in turn affected the way she felt about Him and brought about her decision to disobey Him.
The personality weakened by division leads to the inevitable result that we become “enslaved by all kinds of passions” and the enticements of the world. Each person born into this world re-enacts the principles of Eve’s transgression, for having a false idea of God brings about a false attitude toward Him, resulting in disobedience and deception.
Someone once said, “If we saw God as He really was, there would not be such a person as a sinner in the world.”
The Upward Steps
“But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us” – “Verses 4-5”
We must spend some further time on this beautiful passage which spells out for us the stages of downward degeneration that take place in each of our lives from the moment we enter the world.
A false idea of God brings about a false attitude toward Him, resulting in disobedience, deception, and slavery. The false idea we had of God is, however, countered by the divine idea – “But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared”
This is one of those wonderful “buts” of the Bible, in which God is seen building a roadblock across the road of self-destruction. His method of countering the false idea we had of Him was to reveal Himself in a way that we could all understand namely the “Incarnation”. As we draw lines from the Babe of Bethlehem and project them into eternity, we come eventually to the God who dwells on the throne of the universe. And that God is just like Jesus. Seeing Him perfectly, we long to love Him passionately, and obey Him supremely.
We have said already that if we could see God as He really is, there would not be such a thing as a sinner in the world. Here we see that thought beginning to take on an even deeper significance. As we were unable to see God perfectly because of our inbred sin, God came to us and gave us a true picture of Himself in the person of His own dear Son.
- The first part of this passage shows us the steps down from a false idea to deception.
- The second part shows us the steps up from salvation to the day when we become truly like Him.
God steps down to us in the Incarnation in order that we might step up to Him in glorification.
Converted – But – Not Growing
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” – “James 4:1-10”
- “But he gives more grace …” – “Verse 6” RSV
We have been looking at the importance of conversion as the only way by which we can enter the Kingdom of God. Once we have been transplanted from the weed-choked kingdom of our own self-centredness into the rich soil of the Kingdom, the divine intention is that we grow.
Many have experienced a genuine conversion but have never grown in spiritual stature. The people referred to in this chapter were like that converted, but only just. Our churches contain many who, although they remember a day in the past when they personally came to know Christ, they have experienced no real growth or development in them Christian life.
- They go through the motions of church attendance, more from a sense of duty than delight.
- They read the Bible, but for them it is a dead book.
- They pray, but their prayers are merely a ritual, and never catch fire.
- They fellowship with other Christians, but never seem to reach the level of the koinonia (Greek) which the New Testament so glowingly describes.
- There is little romance in their religion, and where there should be glowing coals, there is nothing but dead ash.
If, at this moment, I am describing your spiritual condition, then take these words as coming to you direct from your Lord. lt may be that through this time together searching His Word, He is attempting to breathe upon the dying embers of your heart and stir them into a living flame.
“Water this spark!”
An old man in a prayer meeting once prayed, “0 God, if any spark of divine grace has been kindled in this meeting – water that spark.”
Although he was mixing his metaphors, my prayer, too, is that in your, no! our lives today, God will “water this spark”.
The divine intention is that we grow
WHY GROWTH IS HINDERED
“The sower sows the word. And these are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. And in a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy and they have no firm root in themselves, but are temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, and the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it, and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold.” – “Mark 4:14-20”
- “But the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other thing come in and choke the word making it un-fruitful” (v. 19)
We have been seeing that we are designed for spiritual growth, and it is time now to ask ourselves a pointed question: – Why is it that with so many things in our favour, some Christians still fail to grow? Well! There are six things we shall look at in a moment, but as we think about it, we must remember that we have an enemy who desires to steal all that we have. We should be ever vigilant in regard to him.
The Fruit Stealer
“Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil”. “Ephesians 6:11”
Four young men crept silently through the late evening shadows toward an unattended farm market. One picked up a ripe watermelon and slipped to the edge of the darkness. He handed it to the second young man, who relayed it to the third. The fourth put it into the trunk of their car. In a few minutes they had taken a dozen watermelons, and they sped off.
Fruit-stealing happens more often than we realise, not only with real fruit but also with what the Bible calls spiritual fruit.
The apostle Paul told believers to develop the fruit of the Spirit, which includes love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – “Galatians 5:22-23” and we will look further at these in part 2.
But Satan doesn’t want that fruit to be on display in our lives. As soon as we begin to develop these spiritual virtues, the devil uses his wiles to “steal them away” from us by tempting us to sin.
The next thing we know, Christlike character traits are replaced by un-Christlike ones. Our fruit is gone.
To protect ourselves.
- We need to focus on the truths of the Bible.
- Choose to do what is right.
- Remember our purpose as God’s redeemed children.
- Trust God and pray always – “Ephesians 6:13-18”
As we do these things, we will be fruitful and not be victims of the fruit-stealer.
There are 6 reasons that I want to bring before us, and they are……
1. Worry and Anxiety
2. The Problem of Fear
6. Un-surrendered self
1. Worry and Anxiety
In the parable Jesus puts His finger on some of the reasons why growth is stunted, naming as the first enemy of growth – worry and anxiety.
Someone has described the age through which we are passing as “the age of anxiety”, and another writer has gone as far as to suggest that “anxiety is the most prominent mental characteristic of accidental civilisation”.
The first part of the verse at the top of this page tells us that “the worries of this life … come in and choke the word”. The greatest enemy of spiritual growth is worry, and it is the prime cause of lack of spiritual development.
When our lives were rooted in the world, we naturally absorbed the provision of an environment which contributed to our basic anxiety. Now that we have been transplanted, however, our roots are embedded in the soil of eternity, and we have access to a climate which fosters our spiritual growth.
The Kingdom of God is the Christian’s native soil, and with our roots deep in eternity, we should grow effortlessly, graciously, and happily.
Although there are many ways in which we can win over worry, the most important point to remember is simply this – we are God’s child, and as such we are His personal responsibility.
Nothing that happens to us can outwit God’s loving provision. He never ceases to take everything that happens to us and work it out for good “Romans 8:28”
Another Barrier to Growth
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die. And the serpent said to the woman, “You surely shall not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, ‘Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of Thee in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so, I hid myself.” – “Genesis 3:1-10”
- “…I was afraid …so I hid.” – “Verse 10”
We continue to look at some of the reasons why our spiritual growth is stunted, and we come now to the problem of fear.
2. The Problem of Fear
Psychologists claim that we are born with just two basic fears: –
- The fear of falling.
- The fear of loud noises.
The rest, so they say, we gather around us as we grow up. Someone said that the reason for twins is that little children don’t like coming into the world alone. Whether or not this is true I cannot say, but my own conviction regarding the basic cause of fear is that it stems from our inbred self-centredness.
We should learn from the example of Adam and Eve. In the beginning, God designed Adam and Eve to be God-centred beings in the sense that they were created to function around the pivotal point of a close and meaningful relationship with the Lord. As long as they remained within this relationship, nothing could hurt them or unbalance their personalities, but when they sinned, they pushed God out of the centre of their lives and replaced the empty space with their own self-interest. Adam’s first emotional reaction after his disobedience was this….“I was afraid … so I hid”.
With God no longer in the centre of his being, fear swept in to take over control. When we don’t belong to God, we belong to fear, and when we are gripped by fear, some part of us does not belong to God.
We must move away from self-centredness to God-centredness, and as we do, God moves in to take over where fears and anxieties have had control. He is there -in control.
WATCH OUT FOR BITTERNESS
“For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled” – “Hebrews 12:10-15”
- “Watch out that no bitterness takes root among you. for as it springs up it causes deep trouble, hurting many in their spiritual lives” – “Verse 15:” TLB
We look now at another cause of stunted spiritual growth resentment.
When we stop absorbing into our beings the spiritual energy of the grace of God, then roots of bitterness begin to take hold of our lives. We either grow in grace or resentments begin to grow in us.
Of all the things that contribute to our spiritual deprivation, this one is the most devastating.
In a seminar a lady once said, “For fifteen years I was a prisoner to my own bitterness. I couldn’t talk to anyone or close a conversation without reference to the person who had hurt me those many years ago. I had five operations which came about through my resentments. When I learned to forgive the person I had wronged, I stepped out of a prison house into glorious freedom.”
Sometimes the resentments are not against people, but against the work one is compelled to do.
A man who sold seed to farmers said that his stomach literally tied itself in knots, because he was inwardly hostile to his profession. He had undergone all kinds of treatment for it, but to no avail, until he read something written in a book regarding Jesus about bitterness, whereupon he instantly let go of his resentments. The result was a complete physical release from his infirmity. The resentment had stopped the flow of blood through his system, impeding his digestion and causing severe discomfort.
We just cannot afford to hold grudges. A doctor said, “You chew on your own tongue when you chew on resentment.”
We either grow in grace or resentments begin to grow in us
THE MALADY OF JEALOUSY
“So, when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, you know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself, and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me!” Peter, turning around, saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; the one who also had leaned back on His breast at the supper, and said, “Lord, who is the one who betrays You?” Peter therefore seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” – “John 21:15-22”
- “When Peter saw him, he asked, ‘Lord, what about him?” – “Verse 21”
We are looking together at some of the reasons why spiritual growth is stunted, and we turn now to one of the most malignant of all these evils – jealousy and it is like a fire in us.
In the passage we have, it would appear that Simon Peter was unduly concerned that John would have a more prominent position than himself in the coming Kingdom, but Jesus silences him with the words, “Follow me”.
Jealousy is one of the major maladies in our spiritual experience
Do we remember the secret hurt we felt when someone thought was our equal surpassed us, or became the object of special applause? – That was jealousy.
Do we remember how we felt when someone we disliked fell by the way? – That was jealousy.
“A Fire from the midst of you shall devour you” – “Ezekiel 28:18”
lt is more common in middle-aged people than the young, but no-one is really free from it. We are rarely jealous of the people we don’t know; it is always of the people we do know; those in our own circle to whom we may feel a little superior. We must fix in our minds today that jealousy is self-defeating behaviour. Nothing whatever can be gained by it, except the increase of our own personal frustration. God has arranged our lives so that all our attitudes and acts toward others register themselves in us.
- God enables us to deal with our jealousies by guiding our comparisons into more rewarding channels.
- God helps us to compare ourselves, not with others, but with Himself.
- God convinces us that each one of us has a special place in the plan of God-and that His plan is best.
“So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also, we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” – “Romans 8:12-23”
- “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” – “Verse 14”
Another hindrance to spiritual growth is inferiority. An inferiority complex is a blighting thing. Though it normally develops in youth, it can often stay with a person throughout their entire life. Some Christian writers confuse inferiority with humility and encourage people to despise themselves, but this has no support in Scripture.
No man must be despised, even by himself, when he was worth enough for God to shed His precious blood. This in itself should heal us of our self-despising’s.
God does not love us because we are good or clever, but He loves us for ourselves alone. Think of this, once our sins are forgiven you become a child of God! We are heirs of God and a co-heir with Christ.
People called Jesus a carpenter, and so He was, but watch Him striding through the pages of the New Testament in the consciousness that He was the Son of the Living God. But you say, “That was fine for Him, because He really was the Son of God.” But so, are we? Not just a servant, but a son.
He has made us co-heirs with Himself. In Christ’s Name throwback our shoulders and begin to step out with the dignity and bearing of a child of a king. How could a child of a king feel inferior? We are a child of God.
We dare not, of course, become proud because of this, but we dare not feel inferior either. He saves us from the abyss of pride by showing us that we are cleansed by His blood.
He saves us from the pit of inferiority by showing us that He has made us His Sons
THE CRUX OF THE PROBLEM
“For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” – “Galatians 2:19-21”
- “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me …” – “Verse 20”
Gradually we have been getting closer and closer to the heart of the problem in relation to the things which prevent our spiritual growth.
6. UNSURRENERED SELF
The crux of the matter lies in the simple fact of the surrendered self this is the root-everything else is the fruit.
Those who are parents will know how devastatingly frank teenagers can be. One daughter said to her father, “Did anyone tell you that you are the most wonderful person in the universe?” “No,” he said, “I don’t remember anyone ever telling me that.” “Then,” she said, “wherever did they get the idea?”.
lt was said of a Presbyterian minister that, although he wanted to be a Baptist, he couldn’t bring himself to undergo baptism by total immersion, because it would mean his disappearance from public gaze for a while.
Paul places his finger on the principal truth of the New Testament in the words of our text when he says: – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” Paul draws his pen through the perpendicular pronoun, and by so doing shows us that the centre of God’s truth is the law of self-surrender.
We save our lives by losing them, and we them by giving it away. This law is as inescapable in the spiritual, as the law of gravity is in the natural. The centre of all our problems is the self, and if this is not surrendered, then we have no right to ask God to help us solve the marginal problems which crop up from day to day.
How strange it is that we are so afraid of surrendering ourselves to the one safe place in all the universe, God.
“For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding. But we will not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you. For we are not overextending ourselves, as if we did not reach to you, for we were the first to come even as far as you in the gospel of Christ; not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men’s labours, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we shall be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you, so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another. But he who boasts, let him boast in the lord. For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends.” – “2 Corinthians 10:12-18”
- “…If anyone is going to boast, let him boast about what the Lord has done and not about himself” – “Verse 17” – TLB
In the book Mask of Mercy by Robert Frost, Jonah brings the conversation around to the subject of Jessie’s life. “Let’s change the subject, it makes me nervous,” she says. And Jonah replies, “That’s all the great questions ever make you.”
lt may make us nervous as we get to the centre of our problems, self-surrender, but we must stay on course or all will be lost. A very cultured lady once said, “I have a lovely home, many servants. and 1 control myself with great discipline, yet my life is a hell. Why is this?”.
She came to see that self-domination produced misery, but self-surrender brought her life into line with the message that runs throughout the universe.
- We die to live
- We lose to win
- We give to gain
When we dominate our own lives, the result is a living hell. When Christ is allowed to dominate them, life becomes a heaven.
The white corpuscles, so I am told, are the sentinels of the blood which search out infection. If, for some reason they fail in their function and begin to multiply themselves, then leukaemia sets in. lt is only as they willingly give themselves to be overwhelmed by infection, that the rest of the body can function in comparatively perfect health.
Once we focus ourselves on ourselves, we will finish by not liking ourselves.
When the African natives asked Dr Albert Schweitzer why he came to help them in their sickness, he replied, “Jesus sent me.” That phrase holds a secret that can change the world.
THE CROSS A FREEING POWER
“See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised, that they may boast in your flesh. But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.” – “Galatians 6:11-18”
- “… God forbid that 1 should boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” – “Verse 14” – TLB
We have been looking at the need to free ourselves from the bondage which our own self centredness brings.
What, then, is that freeing power? lt is the Cross. Silently and solemnly, the Cross stands before us with its quiet insistence on self-surrender. lt does it powerfully and persuasively.
I read recently of a headmaster in India who, compelled to punish a boy because of bad behaviour, took a rod and commanded him to hold out his hand. As the boy stretched out his hand waiting for the rod to fall, the headmaster suddenly shifted his stroke, and laid the rod heavily on his own hand. The boy, seeing what was happening, cried out in deep distress, and fell at the headmaster’s feet begging for forgiveness. From that moment, the boy was changed, and the tyranny of his self-interest was broken.
The centre was shifted from himself to someone else, and he was never the same again.
The same headmaster was obliged, on another occasion, to dismiss a boy from his school due to serious misbehaviour, for which the boy would not acknowledge responsibility. On the day, the dismissal was due to take place, the headmaster decided to fast all day.
As it was a Christian school, when the other teachers heard what was happening, they too joined in the fast. Soon the word spread until most of the students were involved in the fast, and when the guilty boy heard that the whole school were fasting for him, he went to the headmaster and begged for remission.
This is the way the Cross delivers us from ourselves, it breaks the stranglehold of self-interest and attaches it instead to the One who died on Calvary’s tree.
THE PERPENDICULAR PRONOUN
“But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and itis no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly” – “Galatians 2:17-21”
- “The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – “Verse 20”
We said earlier that the Cross confronts us with a challenge which is inescapable, and in its shadows, we discover a power that frees us from ourselves.
This is achieved through the power of suffering love.
A teenage girl, told by her father that if she stayed out beyond a certain time, she would have only bread and water for supper, she decided to ignore his demands and returned home well past the appointed time. As she sat down to her meal of bread and water, the father reached over and took the bread and water, at the same time giving the daughter his own meal. She burst into tears and immediately asked forgiveness for her selfish behaviour. Something broke inside her, and a great change came over her personality.
What was it? Gently her own self-will was broken, and her Fathers will, was substituted. No threat of punishment, no fear of consequences could bring about that miracle, only love, suffering love, could do that.
God performs such operations upon us without anaesthetics and calls us to turn our face toward the Cross on which He died, thereby drawing our souls out through our eyes.in hot tears of penitence and love.
Christ cancels out the great big I which dominates the centre of our beings by showing us, as He did Paul, that we can get on much better with Christ than we can with ourselves.
When I surrender my ego to Him, I am free to be the person He intended me to be. The I or perpendicular pronoun as it is called, can be cancerous when allowed to dominate our beings, but when submitted to Him, it becomes contributive.
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you. By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you.” – “John 15:1-16
- “.. every branch that does bear fruit he prunes that it may bear more fruit.” – “Verse 2” – RSV
God’s prods are not punitive, but remedial. He disturb in order to develop us
An apple tree grower took a visitor into his orchard and began to show him some of the secrets of his trade. The visitor noticed that some of the trees were slashed and torn at the base of the trunk, and on asking the reason for this, he was told that when wounded in this way, the trees tended to bear bigger and better fruit.
Something of the same thought presents itself to us in the words of our text. God is not interested in merely obtaining fruit from our lives, but His concern is for: –
- More Fruit – Verse 2.
- Much Fruit – Verses 5 & 8.
- Remaining Fruit – Verse 16.
The longing of our Lord is that every believer who is a branch of the Vine will glorify the Father by an abundance of fruit.
So often we shrink from the pruning process, and we turn away in alarm when the divine Vine Dresser approaches, but we must learn that in order for God to be glorified in our lives by an abundance of fruit, we must face the sharpness of the blade that cuts and probes our innermost beings.
lt is not pleasant to be pruned, but it is so very necessary if the divine life is to flow through every part of our beings. Just as physical pain is nature ringing a warning bell and saying, “There is something wrong here”, so spiritual pain is God saying, “There is danger of death here, attend to it.”
Let’s willingly submit today and every day to the design of our Vine Dresser who says, “You must go on growing in me and I will grow in you” – “Verse 4” – J.B. Phillips
THE QUIET TIME
“The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s. May he kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine. Your oils have a pleasing fragrance, Your name is like purified oil; Therefore, the maidens love you. Draw me after you and let us run together! The king has brought me into his chambers. We will rejoice in you and be glad; We will extol your love more than wine. Rightly do they love you. I am black but lovely, 0 daughters of Jerusalem, Like the tents of Kedar, Like the curtains of Solomon. Do not stare at me because I am swarthy, For the sun has burned me. My mother’s sons were angry with me; They made me caretaker of the vineyards, But I have not taken care of my own vineyard.”
“Song of Solomon 1:1-6”
- “… they made me keeper of the vineyards; but my own vineyard I have not kept” – “Verse 6” – RSV
Before we go on to consider some of the positive aspects which contribute to our Christian growth, we must pause to emphasise the importance of the daily quiet time.
One of the greatest tragedies of the Christian life is that so many Christians spend hours in working and witnessing for the Lord yet neglect the cultivation of their personal quiet times.
Amid the multitude of tasks in which we are engaged, the greatest danger to our souls is spending without replenishing. Someone said, “If we are too busy to pray and spend time with the Lord, then we are busier than God intended us to be.”
“Many a Christian’s incessant action,” says Dean Vaughan, “is the grave of his spiritual life.”
lt is imperative that we shape our day to have our priorities in order, and the quiet time is priority number one. Ministers, Evangelists, and Full-Time workers are in special danger here. lt is possible to be fully engaged in the work of God, and yet failing in our worship of God.
We can be busy, active, energetic, enthusiastic and full of zeal, but if our labours are not directly rooted in prayer, then we will be forced to make the painful confession of our text: – “They made me keeper of the vineyards; but, my own vineyard I have not kept.”
In the Brecon Beacons in South Wales there is a reservoir from which many rivers flow. The rains fall high on the hills but eventually reach to every area of the South Wales valleys. As we drink of the Fountain Head (Reservoir), there will flow out of us rivers that reach to every dry and dusty valley.
If Peter and Paul had said “Silver and Gold etc..” and were empty vessels then the lame man laid daily at the gate beautiful, would have remained lame.
OUR STIMULUS TO GROWTH
“If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – “Philippians 2: 1-11”
- “Let Christ Himself be your example as to what your attitude should be.” – “Verse 5” – J.B.Phillips
Having looked at the things which prevent our spiritual growth, it is now time to turn our attention to the things that promote growth.
We have some of the things that tie us up, let’s look now at the things which tone us up.
Moffatt translates “Philippians 2:1” as, “By all the stimulus of Christ”. The way in which God stimulates us toward spiritual growth is by pointing us to His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The most wonderfully stimulating fact that has gripped the mind of man throughout the last two thousand years is that of the person of God’s Son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. All the Saints, Patriarchs, Apostles and Preachers of the past are but echoes, He is God’s final and finished Word which sums up the goal of all reality.
There is something about Jesus which draws us upward. He gives a stimulus to the soul which someone described thus: – “He coaxes June out of winter, the bird out of its shell, a song out of a saddened heart, and life out of a dead spirit.”
Those who know nothing of the stimulus of Christ have to turn to stimulants such as drugs, liquor, illicit sex, gambling, pornography, something to pick them up and tide them over until the next day. They go to bed full of champagne and wake up with a real PAIN, and all such pick me ups have really let me downs. The more stimulants we have, the more we need to get us over the let downs of the last ones, and on and on it goes like a vicious corkscrew.
When Christ stimulates there are no hangovers just runovers
THE BALANCED LIFE
“And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body: and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” – “Colossians 3:12-17”
- “Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom” – “Verse 16” – J.B. Phillips
We continue to discuss the stimulus and inspiration that Christ gives to our lives once we come to know Him. This passage tells of the tremendous impact which is made on a person’s life when Christ comes in: – “Let Christ’s teaching live in your hearts, making you rich in the true wisdom.”
When Christ is firmly implanted in the centre of our beings, there is a total and complete and utter development for all parts of our personality, mind, emotions and will.
He gives: –
- Wisdom for our minds.
- Psalms and spiritual songs for our emotions.
- Action for our wills.
In this way we develop as ‘whole persons’, and thus avoid becoming lopsided Christians.
- Some emphasise the training of the mind, and neglect the emotions, thus producing Intellectualists.
- Some emphasise the emotions and neglect the mind, thus producing Emotionalists.
- Still others train the will, neglecting the mind and emotions, thus producing Legalists.
The inspiration of Christ, when allowed to flow into every area of our beings, produces a total impact upon the total person so that we grow and develop in a balanced way. Christ wants to stimulate all our powers, so that we become like Him, and this can only be achieved as we surrender our whole being, mind, emotions and will to His control.
We should not think He is only interested in these three great powers of our being, mind, emotion and will, He stimulates other powers in our personalities too. As a lens in a lighthouse magnifies the light, and makes it brighter, so our Lord magnifies our otherwise feeble rays, and turns them into a life-saving beacon.