Is God Pruning You?

-Pruning Produces More Fruit!

My parents used to grow grapes; and, there were times when they had to cut away the dead branches that produced no grapes! But, they also cut back “living” branches; so, the vine would use it’s resources to produce more “fruit”—GRAPES! In the timeline, of John 15, Jesus is preparing His disciples for life after His death, resurrection & ascension. He begins with these words: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (vs. 1-2).

-Things To Come!

As you move, through the rest of the chapter, Jesus tells them that 2 things will come after his departure. First, He says there will be defections from inside the faith; or, inside the church body! People, who claimed to be followers of Jesus, will walk away from “the Faith.” They’ll quit! It’s not for them! And, second, Jesus tells them there will be persecution from the outside! Bogus faith inside the church & suffering from the outside! And, He uses the metaphor of a vine, a branch; and, the fruit produced, to illustrate the difference between a true disciple of Jesus and a fraud! Jesus is the Vine! The Father is the Vinedresser! And, there are 2 different kinds of branches here—ONE that bears NO FRUIT! And, the Father REMOVES it! And, the other—that produces FRUIT! And, the Father prunes it so that it produces more fruit!

-Responding To God’s Pruning!

So, here’s the bottom line—It is our RESPONSE to God’s pruning that proves what kind of branch we are! Are you a dead branch that produces no fruit? Or, a living, healthy branch that responds to the painful process, of pruning, by producing more fruit? Let’s talk about some of the points that Jesus makes, about fruitfulness, through His use of the metaphor of the Vine & the branches! First, He clearly indicates that fruitfulness is expected from every genuine disciple of Jesus. In the first 3 verses, of John 15, He says that if you don’t bear fruit, it’s because you’re “not abiding” in the Vine! In other words, you’re NOT “IN CHRIST.” So, what kind of fruit should we expect to see growing in the life of a follower of Jesus? While several passages answer that question; perhaps, none better than Galatians 5.

-The Fruit Of The Spirit!

The Apostle Paul, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, wrote the Church of Galatia to tell them that the indwelling Spirit will produce fruit in their life that looks like this: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (vs. 22-24). That’s some of the low hanging fruit that’s produced by those who belong to Jesus! The Spirit produces it! If you’re a believer, Jesus invested His life in you! And, He expects a “return”— or, FRUIT— from His investment! We’ll come back to this next week!

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God’s Glory In Our Salvation!

-We’re Rendered Speechless!

Music is a powerful medium! Especially, in a worship service! Just combine a deeply moving message—about grace, mercy, love, the cross & salvation—with an appropriate musical score and it locks up my vocal chords! I’m just rendered speechless! I can’t sing! All I can do is praise Jesus—in my heart—as I listen to the congregation sing! That’s the kind of picture I get, in my mind, when I read about the worship service that will one day take place in heaven— “And I beheld, and I heard a voice of many angels round about the throne, and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor,  AND GLORY, and blessing.” And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying, “Blessing and honor AND GLORY and power be unto him that sits on the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever” Rev. 5:11-13

-Jesus, The Lamb, Is Worthy!

Why? Why will there be such a scene in heaven? Because Jesus, the Lamb, is worthy! Jesus is worthy of blessing, honor & GLORY! He willingly submitted Himself to the Father’s plan! He was the Lamb of God, who shed His blood—on our behalf—so, that we might be saved! And, every believer since creation will sing their praises to Jesus because our salvation was the result of Jesus’ work, on the Cross, ALONE! Our salvation is God’s work alone! So, He gets all the Glory alone! There is no one else to praise!

-Because Of His Great Love!

We can take no glory for our own salvation! We were DEAD in our trespasses & sins— “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, so that in the coming ages (That’s the scene described earlier in Rev. 5) He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast” Eph. 2:4-9.

-Nothing To Boast About!

We have nothing to boast about in ourselves! We boast in Jesus & the cross! Our greatest preoccupation must be with God’s Glory! It’s for that purpose that we exist! Jesus is the HERO of our story, NOT us! Our salvation didn’t require a little bit of our effort & a lot of Jesus’ work! All that we contributed was our total depravity & brokenness! His coming, to save us, was nothing short of a “rescue mission”! And, Scripture teaches clearly that He is to be offered praise for the entirety of our salvation! So, that, from the beginning of our faith, in this life, to the completion of our faith, in heaven, He gets ALL the Glory! It’s appropriate that we remain committed to giving God Glory for our salvation every opportunity we can!

Finish Strong!

-Jesus Is Returning! Finish Strong!

That’s the message I get from Paul’s words to the Church of Colosse—“When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” Colossians 1:4. Jesus is returning! So, FINISH STRONG! Paul says that Jesus, the Messiah, “…IS YOUR LIFE…” Not the rest of life that consumes your time, causes you stress; and, wears you out! No! JESUS IS YOUR LIFE! Make Him your life; so, that when He returns—when He “…is revealed…”—you can share in His glory! In other words, that day will be your day of GLORIFICATION! That defines who you are—NOT your job, your education; or, your possessions! Not even your family members! If you know Jesus Christ, as your Savior, your identity is all wrapped up in Him.

-Who Has First Place?

Later, in the same chapter, Paul adds that “…He might come to have FIRST PLACE in EVERYTHING” Colossians 1:18.  So, chase hard after Him; and, “finish strong” in your pursuit of Him! Are you so in love with Jesus that you’re looking & hoping for His return every day? For His “revealing”? Paul challenged Timothy with a life that finishes strong:  “There is reserved for me in the future the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved His appearing” 2 Tim 4:8.  It’s impossible to look up & LOVE His “appearing”—in the clouds—if you’re always looking down, at the “stuff” on planet earth! Your spiritual growth & SANCTIFICATION is attached, in part, to a mindset that is “stuck” on thoughts of Jesus’ return! The Holy Spirit’s work, to help us purge sin from our lives, is attached, in part, to a mindset that is “stuck” on thoughts of Jesus’ return!

-We Need Help With This!

We CAN NOT finish strong on our own! Please, don’t miss that! You will not defeat sin by yourself! Your flesh is corrupt, depraved; and, powerless to deliver spiritual victory over sin! The Apostle Paul asked the Church of Galatia, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now going to be made complete by the flesh?” Gal 3:3.  “Don’t be foolish” he says, “You can’t be JUSTIFIED by the SPIRIT; but, SANCTIFIED & GLORIFIED by your flesh.” That’s an impossibility! Our flesh will never help us draw close to; and, finish strong in Christ!

-Where Does Victory Come From?

Your victory, over sin, begins with your IDENTITY—don’t forget who you ARE, in Jesus! See your position in Christ! You need to identify in His death, His resurrection; and, His glory in heaven, even now! He is IN YOU! YOU are IN CHRIST! You’re an adopted child of the Father! When you forget that, you’re temporarily blinded to your true identity! This world will always fail you! When the Spirit opens your eyes to your backsliding, then return to Jesus, repent of your sin; and, be revived! Someone said it like this— “The only way to identify with your true identity is to let go of all other competing identities.” Your spiritual growth & your SANCTIFICATION depend on your willingness to denounce all competing identities!

 

What Are Your Attachments?

-Do You Identify With Jesus?

My sinful life was the OLD me! But, that’s no longer who I am. Sin has no power to rule over me anymore than it had power over Jesus. In His resurrection, Jesus left the tomb! And, so should we! We’re no longer “dead” if we’re “in Christ.” We’ve been made “new”; or, ALIVE in Him. We’re no longer a dweller among the tombs! Do you know who you are? Do you identify with Jesus? Is He your Lord & Master as well as your Savior? The Apostle Paul says, “…if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God” Colossians 3:1. “Seek what is above,” he says! That’s an imperative! He’s commanding the Colossian believers to be SEEKERS of something—this has everything to do with your “heart” or your “affections.”

-To What Are You Attached To Here?

Your ability to live, in your identity, in Christ—and, to defeat sin—has to do with your “ATTACHMENTS”! What are you ATTACHED to here? Where are you focused? If your heart & your affections & your attachments are in this world, you won’t be very effective purging sin from your life. Your spiritual growth & sanctification will be stunted; and, the weeds, of SIN, will grow out of control in your life. Look at Paul’s words again: “…if (or SINCE) you’ve been raised with the MESSIAH, SEEK WHAT is ABOVE, where the MESSIAH is…” Set your heart & your affections on Jesus! He’s the TREASURE! None of the created stuff, that so easily turn into idols, will last—one day it’ll all burn up & pass away!

-What Spurs Us Toward Growth?

Your spiritual growth has a direct correlation to how highly & how often you think of God; and, how little you think of yourself! “Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth,” Paul says in the next verse (Col. 3:2). Your spiritual growth & sanctification depends on what you “…set your minds…” Your ability to be killing the weeds, of sin, is dependent on your thought life—the things you dwell on; and, think about. To mature spiritually, you have to see everything against the backdrop of ETERNITY; not, this mortal world. We can no longer think like we did when we were still “dead in sin”; when, we lived like this world was the only thing that mattered! He specifically tells us not to set our mind on EARTH!

-Where Is Your Citizenship?

It’s so easy to get swept up in the nationalism & the politics & the drama of our nation! It’s so easy to “set our mind” & our conversation on those things, isn’t it? But, that’s not who we are! We can no longer self-identify as an “American Christian”—that moniker says we are an “American” 1st and a “Christian” 2nd. NO! “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul wrote the Church of Philippi. The Apostle Peter agreed! He called life, on planet earth, a “temporary residence.” Don’t make country an IDOL! We belong to HEAVEN—we’re heaven’s AMBASSADORS! As God’s ambassadors, our sole purpose for remaining on this planet is to “reconcile” the lost with the Father!

How Do We Fight Sin?

-It’s About Your Thought Life!

The Apostle Paul paints a picture, of what spiritual growth looks like, in his letter to the Church of Colosse. He tells these young believers:  “…if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God.  When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” Colossians 3:1-4. Let’s think about the implications of Paul’s words—he seems to be saying that a successful fight against sin is won in the “thought life”, right? The battle against the “weeds” of sin is fought in your mind; which, means that it’s either “won” or “lost” in the mind!

-Who Or What Are You Thinking About?

I believe Paul is teaching us a principle that spiritual growth always relates to how highly & how often we THINK of God; and, conversely, how infrequently we think of ourselves! Using farming terminology, meditating on God & His Word is like spraying ROUNDUP on the weeds of sin in your life; and, dwelling on your self is like fertilizing those weeds! Part of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to empower us to root sin out of our life; while, living for ourselves is the main cause for sin to thrive in our lives! So, let’s talk about how God’s Spirit supports our work to root out the weeds of sin.

-Your Identity Is Hid With Christ!

Paul reminds the Church of Colosse that their “identity” is in Christ! So, any believer who hopes to be successful in the battle against sin, has to know who they are! See your position in Christ—“…so, IF you have been raised with Christ…” he says in v.1. Your spiritual growth & victory over sin doesn’t begin with YOU, it starts with JESUS! If you know Him as your Savior, you need to figure out that you’ve been raised with Him—Paul is pointing to the bodily resurrection of Christ the 3rd day after His crucifixion; and, he’s telling the believers in Colosse, “…you’ve been RAISED with Him….” You DIED with Him in v.3; and, “…your life is HIDDEN with the Messiah in God.” You DIED with Him! And, you’ve been RAISED with Him! Though you were “…dead in trespasses & sins…” you’ve been made ALIVE, in Him, because Jesus rose from the dead & is ALIVE!

-Know Your Position In Christ!

In one sense, Paul says that our salvation—our place in heaven—is already SEALED! It’s a DONE DEAL! In the mind of God, He’s already raised us up and seated us in the heavens. “But God,” Paul writes the Church of Ephesus, “who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens” Ephesians 2:4-6. We take hold of our identity when we begin, with the Spirit’s help, to kill the weeds of sin in our life; or, to “mortify” the deeds of the flesh. My sinful life was the “old” me; but, that’s no longer who I am! I’m set free from the power of sin!

God Uses Us To Grow Each Other!

-It’s A Spiritual Obligation!

God intends that the church of Christ would do the work of Christ! But, NOT in the strength of our flesh! Jesus said He would send the Holy Spirit, to indwell us, when He completed His work on the cross & returned to the Father after His resurrection! He indwells us in order to empower us as God’s ambassadors; so, that He might reconcile the spiritually dead with the Savior; and, to disciple them into the faith! Paul, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, showed the Church of Rome what that looks like:  “We who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves. Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even the Messiah did not please Himself. On the contrary, as it is written, The insults of those who insult You have fallen on Me.  For whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures. Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement allow you to live in harmony with one another, according to the command of Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a united mind and voice” (Romans 15:1-6).

-Are You Helping Each Other?

I can’t really think of a better summary statement for that Scripture than something like this—never look down on anyone else unless you are reaching down to help them up! Paul’s charge, here, is to humble yourselves & to defer to the needs of others in the body; and, he uses Jesus as THE example! No one has ever humbled Himself more than Jesus! So, here’s the bottom line: God intends to use us—as local church faith communities—to help produce spiritual growth & maturity in the rest of the body! So, when we’re disinterested or disengaged, from one another, we actually become a hindrance to the spiritual work—in others—that Jesus intends to do through us. To begin with, the process is really just as simple as willingly putting up with each other— “…bear with the weaknesses of those without strength…” (v.1) In other words, we’re not just here to please ourselves!

-Be Tolerant Of Each Other!

If we can’t tolerate the different personalities; or, the different stages of spiritual growth that we’re all at; then, we’re not useable for God’s purposes. Paul’s use of the terms “strong” & “weak” is relative—I am “strong” in comparison to my 4 grandchildren; but, I am “weak” in comparison to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, right? So it is spiritually! We can all find someone, in our faith community, who is stronger than we are spiritually; and, someone else who is weaker. Notice, when considering that, that Paul doesn’t command the weak to “SHAPE UP”; but, he does command the strong to “PUT UP.” To “BEAR” with the weaknesses of others means “to endure patiently; to indulge.” We need Holy Spirit help to be longsuffering & patient with each other!  That’s how God intends to grow YOU & those He expects you to tolerate!

 

What A Healthy Church Looks Like!

-It’s Supernatural, Holy Spirit Empowered!

God’s work is never accomplished in the strength of the flesh! The book of Acts describes the early church as a supernatural, Holy Spirit empowered organism. What we read, in the 2nd chapter, is the result of a healthy church living in obedience to Jesus. After His resurrection, He gathered the disciples; and, He commissioned them to go & do something—He commissioned them to make disciples of all nations! But, He told them 1st to go to an upper room, in Jerusalem, and, WAIT for God’s Holy Spirit to indwell them & empower them! And, that’s exactly what they did!

-The Normal Way The Spirit Works!

In the power, of the Holy Spirit, they began to make disciples! It says:  “Those who accepted the message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. And they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved” (Acts 2:41-47).  The church grew spiritually & numerically! This is the normal way that the Spirit of God works.

-A Healthy Church Is Gospel-Centered!

When a church gets spiritually healthy, Jesus uses them to add disciples—a healthy church is loyal to God & to one another in their devotion to sound doctrine. The text says “…they devoted themselves…” to the teaching of the Apostles! That word “devoted” literally means to be “loyal” or “attached” to something—the church was LOYAL to the teaching of the Apostles; so, they were LOYAL to sound doctrine! That’s a mark of a healthy church—it’s “Word” centered! It’s “gospel-centered”!

-A Healthy Church Rejects Error!

That means it exposes “error”—all teachings contrary to the Apostle’s! Any church that fails to expose error; and, fails to align with the New Testament teachings of the Apostles is unhealthy! And, we do so out of a loyalty, and, attachment to God first; but, also to the rest of the members of our local church! As a faith community, we show loyalty to each other; and, Biblical love for each other when we insist that everything we teach & preach—in classes, in Small Groups, in the pulpit—is consistent with the Apostle’s teachings in the New Testament!

-It’s A Challenge To Stay Healthy!

Can you imagine the challenges, of this church, in Jerusalem? Adding 3,000 new believers in one day is both a Pastor’s “DREAM” & a Pastor’s “NIGHTMARE.” All the variety of backgrounds! Their ignorance of basic Bible doctrines! What a mammoth task to disciple them all in their new faith—but, they were “devoted” or “loyal” to each other & that made all the difference!