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Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 2)

SG

Spiritual Growth is a Process

When we commit our lives to Christ, a new life begins (2 Cor.5:17). We are “born again” or have a chance to start over. It’s not just turning over a new leaf. It’s getting a new life and a fresh start. We now have a new nature and the indwelling Holy Spirit. God then begins a process of change in our lives (Gal.4:19). This reality shouldn’t make us slack but it should make us both patient and persistent in our spiritual journey.

Spiritual Growth is a Partnership

Spiritual maturity occurs through a team effort between God and you. Believers are to ‘work out’ their salvation while God is at work within them, enabling each one to will and to act for his good purpose (see Phil.2:12-13). It is a partnership between God and us. We have to assume our share of responsibility while we also require God to infuse our choices with his power in order to counteract the effects of sin.

God “works in” us by His mighty power. God is involved in the process of spiritual maturity (1 Thess.5:23-24). He gives us his Word, which contains his instructions for life (2 Tim.3:16-17) He gives His Spirit by whom all true change occurs and He works through the circumstances of our life, whether good or bad, to develop his character in us (Rom.8:28-29).

We are to “work out” our salvation. God will do His part as we do ours. Sanctification also requires our cooperation. We must renew our thinking (Rom.12:1-2), daily depend on the Holy Spirit, make choices in alignment with his will and seek to respond correctly to the circumstances of our life. Spiritual maturity doesn’t just ‘happen’. It requires our deliberate and intentional focus and effort (2 Pet.1:3-9).

Note that Paul does not say “work for” your salvation. To work for something means to try to earn it or deserve it. The Bible clearly teaches that salvation is not something we have to work for. It is God’s free gift of grace. Paul says, “Work out your salvation.” He is talking about a “spiritual workout”. In a physical workout, you develop or tone your muscles. In the same way, each believer needs to do some spiritual exercises, which are far more profitable than physical exercises (1 Tim.4:7-8. 1 Cor.9:24-27). We often think that being a Christian is about trying hard to be like Jesus. Spiritual transformation is not a matter of trying harder, but of training wisely.

Summary

Sanctification is a process that begins at new birth and goes on for a lifetime. The process will be finally complete when Jesus Christ returns and “we shall be changed” (1 Cor.15:52-53). Then “we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 Jn.3:2-3). Should this truth make us slack? Definitely not! John goes on to say, “Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure (1 Jn.3:2-3).”

God is at work in your life right now – through His Word, His Spirit and the circumstances of your life. Are you responding and partnering with him? Are you renewing your thinking patterns, depending on the Spirit and responding properly to the circumstances you are in right now? As we do our part, God will do his and we will experience spiritual growth.

Reflection Questions

  1. How is it possible for someone to be a Christian for many years yet not really change?
  2. Discuss Rick Warren’s five myths of spiritual maturity and where you think they come from.
  3. ‘Holiness’ (or sanctification) was once a very strong emphasis in the church world. Today it is not talked about that much. Why do you think this is so and what are the results of it?
  4. What do you think of when you hear the word ‘legalism’? Why do you think legalism (an overly strong focus on externals) often becomes a substitute for authentic transformation?
  5. Discuss John Maxwell’s statement, “Most Christians are educated beyond the level of their obedience.” Is this true? Why do you think so? What can we do about it?
  6. Share about an area where you’ve really been able to change or grow in. How did this change occur?

Part 3.


Spiritual Disciplines - Growing Spiritually (Part 1)

SG

This term we are doing some training with our staff on genuine spirituality. I'd thought I'd put a summary of our teaching up on the BLOG for everyone's benefit. 

Spiritual Growth

As we get to know God, his desire is to transform and change us to be like him. We were created in God’s image and likeness. Through sin that image was broken. God is now restoring us to his original intentions. This process of change is what the Bible describes as ‘sanctification’. To ‘sanctify’ means to set apart for holiness, to purify, to make free from sin. To be made holy is to be made in God’s likeness, to be conformed to his nature, and to reflect his character. Sanctification is the restoration of God’s image in the human life.

Since Jesus Christ is God made visible among humans, sanctification in its simplest definition is to become Christ-like. This is clearly presented as the goal for each Christian (see Rom.8:29; 12:2. 2 Cor.3:18. Eph.4:13, 23-24; 5:1. Col.3:8-10. 2 Pet.1:3-4. 1 Jn.2:6). There is only one Christian life for all believers and that is following our model, Jesus Christ. Sanctification is not an ‘optional extra’ for the Christian (Heb.12:14)!

God Works "Inside Out"

God always begins his work on the inside of us first – our desires, our motives, our attitudes and our thoughts. When true inner change occurs, the result is an external change in lifestyle – our words and our actions. The Pharisees, who were very religious, focused on externals – how they looked and “appeared” to others – and neglected the internal issues of the heart. They measured their spiritual life in superficial ways. Jesus was radically different. He focused on the centre, the heart of spiritual life. The real issue is the kind of people we are becoming. Am I growing in love for God and people? God desires authentic inner transformation, not just outward conformity (legalism) or doing a bunch of religious or Christian things (see Mt.12:33-35; 15:16-20; 23:25-28). Our lives should be marked by greater amounts of love, peace and joy.

Myths about Spiritual Maturity

There are a number of misunderstandings about ‘spiritual maturity’. Here are a few of them (by Rick Warren):

  1. “Spiritual growth is automatic once you are born again.” Maturity is not measured by how long a person has been a Christian or by how many times a person attends church (although that can help). We can’t just sit around doing nothing and expect to grow. The truth is that spiritual growth must be intentional.
  1. “Spiritual growth is mystical and maturity is attainable by only a select few.” The truth is that spiritual growth is very practical and it’s for everybody.
  1. “Spiritual maturity can occur instantly if you find the right key.” Don‘t believe that all you need in order to become mature spiritually is Bible study, church attendance, water baptism, ‘speaking in tongues’ or any other important Christian experience. The truth is, as wonderful as experiences like this are, they do not necessarily produce sanctification. In fact, the church at Corinth was probably the most spiritually gifted church in the New Testament and yet Paul had to confront it repeatedly for instances of sinfulness and carnality. The Biblical teaching on the subject of sanctification suggests that there is no short cut to obtain it, but that it is a lifelong human endeavour. Spiritual growth is a process that takes time. It takes a variety of spiritual experiences and disciplines with God to produce spiritual maturity.
  1. “Spiritual maturity is measured by what you know.” Christian maturity is not measured by the amount of Biblical knowledge you have. The truth is spiritual maturity is demonstrated more by ‘behaviour’ than ‘beliefs’. Sometimes the last thing a person needs is another Bible study. They already know far more than they are applying in their life. John Maxwell says, “Most Christians are educated far beyond the level of their obedience.” Often what we need is not more knowledge but help living out what we already know!
  1. “Spiritual growth is a personal and private matter.” The truth is Christians need relationships to grow. In fact, it is in the context of community that most personal change either takes place or is worked out.

Part 2.


A Church United

John 17 is the longest recorded prayer of Jesus and it reveals what was important to him. After praying for himself (vs.1-5) and his disciples (vs.6-19), he prayed for all who would believe in him – for the church yet to born (vs.20-26). Nearest to Jesus’ heart was his concern for the unity of his followers. So how are we doing at being “united”, as Jesus prayed? The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity estimates that there were 34,000 denominations in the year 2000 rising to 43,000 in 2012. These are all “Christian” denominations, not those of other faiths or beliefs systems. All declare Jesus as Lord yet each has a distinct approach to areas such as leadership, structure, or a certain doctrine or emphasis. Some see themselves as right and others as wrong.

A Worldview Shift

Back in 1995, I felt the Holy Spirit speak to me about seven “strategic shifts” that the church needs to make in our time [these are outlined fully in my book Transforming Your Church]. One of the shifts is a “worldview shift” which requires us to shift from a narrow local church focus to a much broader kingdom mentality. The “kingdom” refers to God’s work in the world. It is the domain where God rules. God rules everywhere but the expression of that rule is yet to be fully revealed. That is why we continue to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The “church” is a local expression of what the kingdom is like, made up of disciples of Jesus. It is local yet also global, made up of all true followers of Jesus. We are to preach the good news of the gospel and when people respond they are born into the kingdom of God then added to the church. God’s kingdom is much bigger than any expression of the local church. God’s work in the world is way beyond our small church community, as important as we may be.

How can we work towards helping Jesus prayer for the unity of his church become a reality?

1. Be Humble, not Proud. Each local church is special and unique and we should be proud of our church. It should be the best church - for us. However, we also need to value the uniqueness of others. No ministry or local church has it all or is God’s only instrument or the only one true church. We are a part of the body of Christ, which is made up of every Christian and every church that declares Jesus Christ as Lord. Humility demands that we have a sober or balanced view of ourselves. We all need each other. The Great Commission is too big for any one of us to fulfil. We need all churches and all Christian ministries working together to achieve God’s purposes. Praise God for the huge variety and diversity of ministries he is using today. After all, it takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people.

2. Be Inclusive, not Exclusive. God desires us to seek to include others rather than exclude them. Christian love is expressed by an open, warm, embracing attitude toward other people, ministries and churches. We should look for common ground and not focus only on our differences (Philippians 1:15-18). God wants us connected to others, not isolated from them. God has called us to build bridges, not walls. In the Old Testament, there was only one nation of Israel, but it was made up of 12 different tribes, which were further made up of many different households and families. So it is in the church today. There are many different denominations, associations, networks and groups of churches and ministries. Each is unique and has its own distinctives, but we are all a part of the one true church. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We must avoid prejudice against other churches and ministries and watch out that we don’t develop stereotypes of other ministries based on gossip and hearsay, rather than personal experience.

3. Discern, Don’t Judge. It is sad to see the amount of people today who spend their time throwing mud at or criticising other Christian ministries, claiming that so-and-so is a false prophet or spreading heresy. Jesus does call us to discern ministries (by their fruit) but to go beyond this and place a judgment on a person is something we are strongly commanded not do. The apostles tell us to test all things, to hold on to the good, and let the bad go (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22. 1 John 4:1-3). The test is what people say about Jesus - who he is and what he has done. We should, however, place final judgement on nothing before its time (1 Corinthians 4:5. James 4:10-12). God is the true judge, and each person will stand before him (not us) and give account for all they have done. Christian love requires us to avoid a critical attitude that is quick to pull down and point out flaws in other people and their ministries (Matthew 7:1-5). We see this gracious attitude portrayed so beautifully in the advice that Gamaliel gave to the Pharisees when they were considering persecuting the early church (Acts 5:33-39). He told them that if a ministry was not of God, it would die down and come to nothing. However, if it was of God, they should leave it alone lest they be seen as fighting against God. We would be wise to take his advice today as we observe other ministries and churches.

4. Love, Don’t Hate. God has commanded us to love all people but especially other Christians who also love Jesus. We are to pray for God’s blessing on other churches and ministries. We are to rejoice when they thrive and sorrow when they struggle. We are working together for the benefit of God’s kingdom. We are not in opposition or competition with each other. We’re all on the same team. God is actually angry when we fight and hurt each other. Jesus said, “By this will all people know you are my disciples … by your love for one another” (John 13:35). God’s desire is that we come to the “unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3) and eventually to a “unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:13). The world will know we are Christians by our love for one another, and that is demonstrated by how we relate to other churches and Christian ministries.

Conclusion

It’s a new day. God is breaking down the walls. He is bringing his body, the church, together as a mighty force in the earth. It will take the whole church, taking the whole gospel to the whole world, to complete the Great Commission. The last prayer of Jesus that we would all be one as he and the Father are one is one prayer that will be answered. Let’s work together for its fulfilment in our time. 

Reflection Discussion Questions

  1. Reflect on your experience with the local church. What churches have you been involved in and what have you learned from this experience?
  2. Consider your experience with Christians from other churches. What have you learned and what do you appreciate about different parts of the body of Christ?
  3. Read Mark 9:38-40. In what ways can we be like the disciples today? What does Jesus response teach us?
  4. What are some ways we can avoid the isolation that comes by being totally consumed with only our own church and its activities, needs or concerns?
  5. “Church-hopping” is a major problem today. What are some key factors a person would be wise to consider before changing churches?
  6. In what ways is Christian unity a tremendous “apologetic” (witness, defence or explanation) for the good news of Jesus Christ?