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!

 

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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!

 

How Do You Measure Spiritual Growth?

-Measuring Physical Growth Is Easy!

Measuring “physical” growth is relatively easy, isn’t it? And, we begin measuring physical growth from birth, don’t’ we? How long is the baby, in terms of inches; and, how much does baby weigh? Right? That’s always one of the first questions asked! And, the measuring continues as baby grows into a toddler; and, then elementary age. Many homes have a measuring wall; or, a doorway, with all kinds of little pencil marks & words alongside it with a child’s name & age representing how tall they were at that specific age. Do you have such a place? Measuring physical growth is also a pretty exact science too, isn’t it? This is your “HEIGHT”; this, is your “WEIGHT”! This is your “inseam”, your “waist”; and, your “neck size.”

-Measuring Spiritual Growth!

But, measuring “SPIRITUAL” growth isn’t as easy, is it? It’s our tendency to measure others “SPIRITUALLY”  by how much they know about the Bible, doctrine, and, theology. So, if someone’s level of Bible knowledge is how we judge their level of spirituality, than it follows that we think of “SPIRITUAL GROWTH” as adding more “KNOWLEDGE”—more Bible reading; more Bible studies; and, more Church activities! And, yet, it’s curious that the Apostle Paul taught the Church of Corinth that, “…knowledge puffs up…” (1 Cor. 8:1); or, it INFLATES us with PRIDE! Who hasn’t met the arrogant “know-it-all” that keeps reminding you how much they know about the Bible? They beam proudly when others brag about their Bible knowledge. Paul is saying that—in their case—knowledge isn’t a measure of how spiritual they are; but, how CARNAL & FLESHLY they are! Knowledge is their IDOL!

-Bible Knowledge & Spirituality!

Now, please understand that I’m not ragging on anyone who has a growing knowledge of God’s Word! On the contrary, Scripture demands that we read it; memorize it; and, meditate on it! In fact, it’s impossible to grow spiritually apart from a steady diet of God’s Word. I’m simply saying that Bible knowledge is NOT an accurate measuring tool for spirituality! So, if it’s not more Bible knowledge; than, what is it that grows us spiritually? I like to say that spiritual growth happens as you become more like Jesus; & less like you! How does that happen?

-It’s Not By Osmosis!

How do we become more like Jesus? Well, it doesn’t happen by some process of osmosis! Rather, it happens by our “SANCTIFICATION” Scripture says! At the moment of our salvation—when we exercise faith in Christ’s atoning work on the cross—God “JUSTIFIES” us! That means He pardons us from sin’s penalty—death! And, from that point forward, we are destined for “GLORIFICATION”—that day when we’ll finally be set free from the very presence of sin; and, we’ll be “like Jesus.” And, “SANCTIFICATION” is everything that God is doing in your life, in that time in between, our SANCTIFICATION & our GLORIFICATION! If you’re a follower of Jesus, you’ve been set FREE from the “power” of sin! Your spirit long’s to be rid of sin; while, your broken, totally depraved flesh continues to lust after it! It’s in that tension where God works in us!

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?

What Fruit Does Your Life Produce?

-Your Happiness Depends On It!

Your happiness is contingent on the kind of “fruit” that your life produces! That’s what the writer of Psalm 1 tells us. In vs. 1-2 he says, “How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.” Don’t be surprised that God wants you to be HAPPY! But, He qualifies what it means to be “HAPPY”! It’s not the “happiness”, of this world, that’s generally tangled up in sinful conduct; and, while it may provide momentary pleasure, leaves you empty and facing lingering painful consequences! The happiness that results from delighting “…in the Lord’s instruction…” leaves no “bad aftertaste”; and, culminates in a fruitful life that is eternal in duration!

-Every Life Bears Fruit!

In v.3, the writer says that the person who rejects the advice of the world & delights in God’s Word & meditates on it day and night, “…is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” Every life bears fruit! Your life bears fruit! My life bears fruit! The Psalmist points to 2 different kinds of people who live their lives in 2 different ways; and, who bear 2 totally different types of fruit. The Apostle Paul uses similar language, in his letter to the Church of Galatia, when he says that the life lived in Christ produces the “fruit of the Spirit” like “…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control”; but, the fruit produced by “the flesh” is “… sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and things like these.” (Galatians 5) Choose wisely who you listen to!

-Contrasting “World Views”!

The writer, of this Psalm, concludes, in v.5-6, with the FINAL END of the contrasting “world views”—“… the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” In this life, the way of the righteous & the way of the wicked may appear to run parallel. In fact, the way of the wicked often looks pleasant & fun! But, a Day of Judgment is coming, the writer says!

-A Day Of Reckoning!

There is coming a day of reckoning; when, those who took their advice & counsel from God’s Word; and, delighted in it; and, meditated on it, will be gathered into a glorious congregation around the throne of God, in eternal HAPPINESS! While, the wicked will face the Great Judge, of all the earth, who will give them exactly what they always wanted—an eternity without God! The Lord promises to watch over you if the advice you follow & the things you take delight in & the content of your meditation bear the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit! Are these the things you delight in? If not, you need help! You need to pray for Holy Spirit help; and, you need to make yourself accountable to someone; or, a group, who will encourage you! Only in the Truth, of God’s Word, will you find real, genuine, eternal HAPPINESS; and, a relationship with God!

 

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!