What Does Spiritual Growth Look Like?

-It’s Not Hobby Gardening!

My parents were not “hobby” gardeners! A lot of gardening today tends to be more “recreational” than essential to life, doesn’t it? That was not the way it was for me growing up! It really was “life or death” for us! If we didn’t grow our food, we wouldn’t have had anything to eat. We had 2 huge gardens & it seemed like we grew every kind of vegetable known to man. My mom canned everything; and, by the end of the harvest season the cellar was stacked full of canned food. But, let me tell you the most vivid memory I have, about my parents garden, growing up—it was the daily battle we waged against undesirable and troublesome plant life that grew profusely where it was not wanted…WEEDS! According to the dictionary, weeds are:  “a valueless plant growing wild, especially one that grows on cultivated ground to the exclusion or injury of the desired crop.”

-Kill Those Weeds!

Every summer my dad preached the same sermon to us—”We have to kill the weeds; or, the weeds will kill our crops.” So, every morning—early, before it got too hot—my sisters & I made our way to the garden, with garden hoe in hand, to kill the weeds before they killed our crops! The parallels to our spiritual life are obvious, aren’t’ they? Our sins are like weeds in the gardens of our lives; and, just like weeds harm & injure the desired garden crops we’re growing, so, the remaining sin, in us, will stunt our spiritual growth & development! Sin, like weeds, have to be rooted out of our lives and killed!

-We’ve Got To Kill Sin!

The old Puritan, John Owen, warned that, “We’ve got to be killing sin; or, sin will be killing us.” That is what Biblical, spiritual growth is all about! Paul taught the Church of Rome: “If you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” Romans 8:13.  And, that’s what we call “SANCTIFICATION.” It should resonate with you that SANCTIFICATION = SPIRITUAL GROWTH! Just adding more Bible knowledge is NOT sanctification or spiritual growth if we’re still entertaining sin in our lives! The goal of our salvation is NOT HEAVEN! The goal of our salvation is JESUS! By faith, in Him, we are remade in His image!

-Here’s What Life Is All About!

It’s absolutely imperative that you understand what this life is all about! It’s NOT ultimately about your family, your job, or your retirement! It’s NOT about you or the “American Dream”!  It’s about your SANCTIFICATION! That’s why you’re still here! If you’re a genuine believer in Jesus Christ, a follower & disciple of His—then you were JUSTIFIED when you humbled yourself & accepted His payment, for your sin, on the cross! At the moment you believed, God JUSTIFIED you! He pardoned you; and, set you free from the penalty of your sin; which, is death! And, one day you will be GLORIFIED! You’ll be given a new GLORIFIED body like Jesus; and, you’ll be set free from the very presence of sin! Hallelujah!

 

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That Tension Between Our Flesh & Spirit!

-Do You Feel It?

If you’re a genuine “born again” follower of Jesus Christ it’s a tension you live with every day! Your spirit longs to be rid of sin; and, you know, from Scripture & intuitively, that you’ve been set free from the “power” of sin! It doesn’t rule over you as it once did! You’ve experienced victory over many sins that once controlled you! At the same time, your broken, totally depraved flesh continues to lust after sin.  Sometimes that tension between doing what your flesh demands & what your spirit wants is such a burden that the weight, of it, overcomes you and you slip back, temporarily, into an old sin!

-That’s Not What I Want To Do!

The Apostle Paul nailed it when he confessed: “When I want to do what is good, evil is with me. For in my inner self I joyfully agree with God’s law. But I see a different law in the parts of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and taking me prisoner to the law of sin in the parts of my body. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body?” Romans 7:21-24. It’s in that tension—in the battle between our spirit & our flesh—that God progressively sanctifies, or, changes us. An “unchanged” believer is a contradiction in terms! If you’re not changed; and, being changed you’re not saved! You’re not a genuine believer; or, follower of Jesus. Jesus, Himself, said there will always be “fruit” to evidence genuine faith (Matthew 13).

-Putting Self Back On The Cross!

If our faith is real, God is moving us toward the completion of our faith! He’s moving us toward the Day of Glorification, when we become like Jesus permanently! Until that day, God will continue to transform us into the image of Christ by overcoming our remaining sin in the same way that Jesus overcome sin—on a CROSS! Jesus said we must die to self— “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me’” Luke 9:23. We have to continually put “SELF” back on the cross! EVERY DAY, Jesus said; or, it will rise up & wrestle back control from us.  And, THAT is how we grow spiritually! We ARE sanctified; and, we’re becoming MORE sanctified! We’re experiencing more & more freedom from the power of sin as we DENY & CRUCIFY self!

-Put The Flesh To Death!

The Apostle Paul followed up his dilemma, expressed in Romans 7, with these words from the very next chapter: “For if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live “ Romans 8:13. The old King James Version said we must “…MORTIFY the deeds of the body…” A huge part of God’s sanctification work, in us, is to strengthen us in our efforts to “MORTIFY” or “put to death” the works of our flesh. The old Puritan, John Owen, made famous this quote about killing sin: “Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”  I like to say that spiritual growth is ultimately becoming more like JESUS; and, less like YOU! Do you look more like Jesus today than yesterday?

Sustaining Spiritual Momentum Part III

-Why The Church Is Declining!

“The number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that members attend with less frequency than they did just a few years ago”—quote from author & church consultant Thom S. Rainer on his website http://www.thomrainer.com. So, it would seem—if that statement is true—that much of the blame for declining attendance, in 9 out of 10 churches in America, must be laid at the feet of the Church itself! Mr. Rainer explained it like this: “If the frequency of attendance changes, then attendance will respond accordingly. For example, if 200 members attend every week the average attendance is, obviously, 200. But if 1/2 of those members miss only 1 out of 4 weeks, the attendance drops to 175. ..attendance declined over 12% because half the members changed their attendance behavior slightly.”

-Finding Reasons To Miss!

Believers are finding reasons to “miss” the Sunday gatherings! And, unfortunately, this isn’t the first time, in the history of the Church, that this has happened! The last couple posts we’ve looked at Hebrews 10:24-25, which reads: “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our gatherings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Previously, we considered what the author said about “love” and “good works.” And, in context, it seems quite clear that the writer is calling out some “absent” believers; and, challenging them to be concerned about one another by being present whenever the Church gathers!

-Show Concern By Being Present!

That word translated “gatherings” is a specific word—in the original language—that’s used only here & 2 Thessalonians 2:1 which refers to “…the GATHERING together of the elect to Christ at His coming…” Nothing too subtle about that! The writer likens our “gatherings” as a local Church body with the “gathering” of ALL the saints in Christ! None of us want to miss that! So, the message seems quite clear—“don’t just ‘blow off’ your regular Church meetings either.” Let me also suggest that the text doesn’t limit the meaning to Sunday services! A specific day of the week is not even mentioned! Rather, it carries the idea that “whenever” your church gathers, be there!

-The Early Church Met Daily!

In the context of the early Church in Acts, they met DAILY! The writer says that some were staying away from the gatherings; and, he REBUKES them for it! That rebuke falls on the Church today; and, confession & repentance must follow if we hope to sustain any kind of spiritual momentum! How will new believers learn to obey God’s Word, about “gatherings”, if the believers discipling them are disobedient? The writer says to do this all the more, “…as you see THE DAY approaching.” “THE DAY” is a Biblical term that refers to Jesus’ 2nd Coming & the Judgment Seat of Christ.  He’s saying that he wants us all to stand approved before Jesus! This is REAL! He wants his readers to hear Jesus say: “WELL done, GOOD & FAITHFUL servant.” So, Church—let us “make disciples” who “make disciples” who come to the “gatherings”!

 

 

Sustaining Spiritual Momentum Part II

-It’s Not By Human Effort!

Let’s say you’re part of a church that’s bucking that trend we’re seeing, in America, where 9 out of 10 churches are experiencing decline! God has blessed you with a core of leaders who are faithful disciple makers! How do you sustain that spiritual momentum? This post is “Part II” in my attempt to answer that question! And, let me be clear that it’s NOT something that can be sustained by human effort! The salvation of souls is a work that is exclusively God’s work—“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” Jesus said. I concede that regeneration is a supernatural act of God on a human life!

-We’re God’s Ambassadors!

But, I also understand that God enables us to be His ambassadors in reconciling unconverted individuals to Himself! So, what’s our part in sustaining spiritual momentum? In my last post, we opened up our Bibles to Hebrews 10:24,25—“And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” The 1st thing that stands out, to me, is the writers admonition, as inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, to “…be CONCERNED about ONE ANOTHER…” This is one of the most attractive; but, often overlooked behaviors of a sanctified local church community of faith! Do not underestimate how enticing that kind of behavior appears when set side by side with the rest of our narcissistic, self-absorbed world. Any group or community that shows genuine concern, for others, will stand out!

-Focus On Others!

So, if we are to sustain the spiritual momentum necessary to make disciples who make disciples we have to continue to focus on others more than ourselves. God calls us to look after one another; to, think about one another; to, be occupied with one another! But, notice that the writer says to “…be concerned about one another in order to promote love…” The command here is NOT to love one another—although there are plenty of Scriptures that tell us to love one another—but, to PROMOTE love! Some translations say, “…to stimulate one another to love…”; or, to “…stir up one another to love…” In other words, we’re accountable—NOT just to love each other—but, to promote love within the body!

-That’s Not Natural!

That implies that THAT kind of love doesn’t come natural to us! We have to work at it with the Spirit’s help. Notice, also, that the writer is concerned that the church promote “…good works…” Just like his command to promote love, the writer is not telling the church to DO good works—though Scripture commands us many times to do good works—but, to PROMOTE good works! To stimulate each other; and, to stir up one another to good works! Again, it’s about keeping each other accountable; to, look for every opportunity to do good works wherever you find yourself! For others! For relationships! Get the focus off of ourselves! That’s, in part, how we sustain the spiritual momentum to make disciples who make disciples! (NEXT Week… Part III)

 

Sustaining Spiritual Momentum Part I

-The Old Way Isn’t Working!

There’s a saying; and, I’m sure most of you have heard it—that, “Insanity Is Doing The Same Thing Over & Over And Expecting Different Results.” In other words, if you’re looking for different results, you’ve got to change the way you’re doing things! The American church is desperately in need of a “paradigm shift” in the way we do things! The old way isn’t working! It’s broken! You’ve heard the statistics—9 out of 10 churches, in America, are in decline! And, of that 1 in 10 experiencing growth (many are “Mega Churches”), 9 out of 10 have grown—NOT by adding new converts—but, by TRANSFER growth; or, people leaving the 9 out of 10 churches in decline!

-No More Sorry Excuses!

As for me, I’m unwilling to accept some sorry excuse that people just aren’t seeking God these days! The same God, who worked the sweeping revivals in the book of Acts, is alive and well today! The Bible offers us hope! And, there is a grass roots movement that is effecting change in the Church across our land. God is raising up modern day “prophets” who refuse to preach the pragmatic “self-help gospel” with it’s self-absorbed, man-centered appeal to consumerism—that false gospel will not endure the coming persecution! It’s a movement that’s slowly building, gaining momentum, and, returning to “ground zero”—to where Jesus said, “I will build My church.”

-Empowered By His Spirit!

He would build His Church—NOT by appealing to the fleshly lusts of the world & the unregenerate heart; but—on the WEAKNESS of man & the POWER of God! “Not by man’s might or power; but, by MY Spirit, says the Lord” (Zech. 4:6).  Jesus built that early church, in the book of Acts, out of broken men who were empowered by HIS Holy Spirit to simply obey His “commission” to make disciples! This post is about sustaining the spiritual momentum necessary to continue making new disciples.  In Hebrews 10:24-25, the writer is addressing a falling away of some of the believers. Somehow, the momentum of the early church, in Acts, had stalled! Earlier, in the letter, the writer had warned them that they needed to learn, all over again, some of the elementary truths of faith—so, this is basic stuff! If it was a class it would be “Basic Discipleship 101.”

-Don’t Do Life Without It!

The text says, “And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our gatherings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  If you had only 2 words to summarize those verses, they would be “relationships” & “gatherings”; and, that’s Church!  The writer is saying, “Church: Don’t try to do the Christian life without it!” And, his 1st point is to “be concerned about one another.” If the Church is to sustain the momentum necessary to make disciples who make disciples we have to quit making Church about ourselves! God calls us to look after one another! That Church is attractive to unbelievers! Can you  point me to one like that?