Saturday, August 09, 2014

Growing in Christ

Growth and Change

Typically we look at the word growth as positive.  But, there are times when growth is negative.  Consider our current economic status.  Many people say that the national debt is growing and also the deficit.  That is typically not good news.  In terms of health, cancer tumors grow in the body.  That is not good growth.  So, when we apply this to the church setting, does it correspond?  Church growth is not always good, especially if the new members are not willing to abide by the doctrinal views of the organization.  That could have adverse consequences.  Another word that is typically seen as positive is change.  But, change can be negative, too. 

Some say that a church that resists change will not grow and therefore die.  Anything that grow changes, but so does anything that dies.  Consider a plant that is dying.  It may be resisting growth, in terms of expanding the space it occupies and increase its strength.  The moment this happens changes occur that will reveal that it is dying. The color of the leaves changes, they shrivel up and fall.  The stem will most likely bend.  The plant grows when it has water, nutrients and sunlight.  When one of these is missing the plant dies.  All three of these ingredients have a spiritual equivalent in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Without them we die.  Hence, it is important to be connected to where we can receive the resources. 

The question is can a church seem to be alive- it is expanding in numbers and strength - but still dying?  Many churches are like gangrenes and cancers.  They grow but it is nothing more than death taking over the body.  Tumors are often extirpated, and gangrened body parts are severed.  The same will happen with those churches. 

In Matthew 7: 21 Jesus said that "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven…"  They will beg to get in the Kingdom.  Let us read verses 22 and 23,

22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

They will say to Christ but we did many things in your name.  Christ will probably answer, "You used my name in vain.  Your works were not mine."  But, we went to church together, we sat in the same pews, we sang from the same hymnals, and read from the same Bible."  Christ will will probable say, "You sure it was me?"  They will answer, "Yes, it was."  Then they will claim the fact that they gave tithes and offerings, served in the Church in different capacities.  Christ will answer, "That money never came to me. And, I do not recall you ever serving.  As, I said, I do not know you."  They have been severed from the body.

So, whatever these people did was not pleasing to Christ.  Since, without faith it is impossible to please Him(Hebrews 11:6), these church members had no faith, so all they did was Sin; since, whatever is not of faith is Sin (Romans 14: 23).  This means that there will be church administrators, pastors, evangelists, and laity that were hard working and successful in this group.  You can imagine how it will feel to these people to find out that all they did amounted to nothing.  What they thought was a sign of God's favor, was actually a sign of their rebellion. 

So, those who resist change and those who embrace it can be wrong.  Resisting the right change and embracing the wrong one will have the same dire consequences: eternal death.  I can just imagine the complaints.  "I can see why this one is out.  He was a sinner/legalist.  But, why me? This is not fair!" 

So, who will enter the kingdom?  Jesus said in Matthew 7:21, "… he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."  We could say that those that did His will pleased Him; this means they lived by faith (Hebrews 11: 6).  Which means that they are just; since the just shall live by faith (Romans 1: 17).  So, a just person is a righteous person.  The word for just in the Greek is the root word for righteousness.  A righteous person is one that performs the law (Romans 2: 13).  But, notice that Abraham believed and he was accounted righteous (Genesis 15: 6).  So, this kind of righteousness – performing the law - comes through believing the word of God.  To believe we must first hear what is said.  And, faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of God (Romans 10: 17). 

This is more than giving ascent to God's existence.  This kind of faith is dependence on God's word.  "Man shall live out of every word that comes out God's mouth" (Matthew 4: 4).  Paul says inGalatians 5: 6 that in Jesus, works avail nothing, but faith which works by love does.  Works of love – self-sacrificing other-centered love – show true faith.  This is what God wants to produce in us.  This is what would please Him.  Will we allow Him to do this in us?
The following article from one of my favorite authors elaborates on the word and its im[poratnce in our Christian walk.

"In the book of Colossians occurs this exhortation: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom" (Col. 3:16). This text, rightly understood, solves the problem of Christian growth and living. Let us, therefore, spend a few moments to see how much is involved in it.

"There is a power in the word of God, far above that of any other book, which cannot be doubted. Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord rebukes the false prophets, who speak their own words instead of the words of God, and says: "What is the chaff to the wheat?" says the Lord. "Is not My word like a fire?" says the Lord, "And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?" (Jer. 23:28, 29). And the same prophet thus relates his experience when he was reproached because of the word of the Lord: "Then I said, "I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name." But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not" (Jer. 20:9).

"The word hidden in the heart protects against sin. "Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You" (Psalm 119:11). And of the righteous we read that "The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide" (Psalm 37:31). Jesus, also, in his memorable prayer for his disciples, said, "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth" (John 17:17).

"The word of the Lord is the seed by which the sinner is born again. We read of our heavenly Father, that "Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of His creatures" (James 1:18). And the Apostle Peter says: "Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in ... having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever" (1 Peter 1:22, 23). So we learn that, while those who are Christ's are born of the Spirit, the word of God is the seed from which they are developed into new creatures in Christ. The word, then, has power to give life. "For the word of God is living and powerful" (Heb. 4:12), and the psalmist prays to be made alive according to the word, and then says: "Your word has given me life" (Psalm 119:25, 50).

"This is stated very plainly by Jesus himself in John 6:63: "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life." This shows that the power of the Spirit of God dwells in the word of God.

"With the knowledge that the word of God is the seed by which men are born to a new life, and that the hiding of the word in the heart keeps one from sin, we may more easily understand 1 John 3:9: "Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God." How simple! There is in the word the divine energy, which can transform the mind, and make a new man: "put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness" (Eph. 4:24). Of course the word can do this only for those who receive it in simple faith. If the soul that is born again retains the sacred and powerful word, it will keep him a new creature. The word is as powerful to preserve, as it is to create.

"Jesus gave us an illustration of this. When tempted on every point by the devil, His sole reply was, "It is written," followed by a text of Scripture that met the case exactly. The Christian who would stand fast must do the same thing. There is no other way. This is an illustration of David's words, "By the word of Your lips, I have kept away from the paths of the destroyer" (Psalm 17:4).

"It is this of which we read in Revelation 12:11, where, in speaking of the casting down of the "accuser of our brethren," the heavenly voice says: "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony." This does not mean, as some have carelessly assumed, the word of their testimony in meeting, but the word of the testimony in which the psalmist found so great delight. They overcame Satan by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of God.

"But this cannot be done except by those who have the word of God abiding in them. The Spirit is given to bring truth to remembrance, in time of trial; but that which one has not learned he cannot remember. But if he has hidden the word in his heart, the Spirit will, in the hour of temptation, bring to his remembrance just that portion which will foil the tempter.

"Every Christian can testify as to the power of the word at such times. When inclined to congratulate himself on some real or fancied superior attainment, what a powerful check are the words, "For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (1 Cor. 4:7). Or when harsh and bitter thoughts are struggling within for control, the power to quell those turbulent emotions lies in the words, "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil" (1 Cor. 13:4, 5). Or when provoked almost beyond endurance, how the gentle rebuke, "a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all" (2 Tim. 2:24), helps one to be calm. Add to this the many "exceeding great and precious promises" which bring victory to every soul that grasps them by faith. Thousands of aged Christians can testify to the miraculous power resting in a few simple words of the Scriptures.

"Now where does this power come from? The answer is found in the words of Christ: "The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life" (John 6:63). What spirit are they? The apostle Peter, speaking of the prophets, says that it was the Spirit of Christ that was in them. So, the power of the Spirit dwells in the word; yes, Christ Himself dwells in the word, for He is the Word.

"Who can understand the mystery of inspiration? He who understands the mystery of the incarnation, for both are the same. "The Word became flesh." We cannot understand how Christ could be all the fullness of the Godhead, and at the same time be in the form of a servant, subject to all the infirmities of mortal flesh. Nor can we understand how fallible mortals could write the Bible, and yet it is the pure unadulterated word of God. But it is certainly true that the power that was in the Word that was made flesh is the power that is in the word that the apostles and prophets have written for us.

"Now we can begin to appreciate more the power residing in the word. "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth" (Psalm 33:6). Christ, by whom the worlds were made, upholds them "by the word of His power" (Heb. 1:3). The power that resides in the words of revelation is the power that could speak the worlds into existence, and can keep them in their appointed places.

"It is by so doing that we bring Christ Himself into our hearts. In the fifteenth chapter of John, the Lord exhorts us to: "Abide in Me, and I in you" and then a few verses later He says, "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you" (John 15:4, 7). It is by His word that Christ does abide in the heart; for Paul says that "Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" (Eph. 3:17); and "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17).

"Many people earnestly long for Christ to come and dwell in their hearts, and they imagine that the reason why He does not do so is because they are not good enough, and they vainly set about trying to get so good that He can condescend to come in. They forget that Christ comes into the heart, not because it is free from sin, but in order to free it from sin; and they possibly never realized that Christ is in the word, (for He is the Word), and that he who makes it a constant companion and yields himself to its influence, will have Christ dwelling within. He who has hidden the word in his heart, who meditates in it day and night, and who believes it with the simple faith of childhood,--such a one has Christ dwelling in his heart by faith, and will experience His mighty, creative power.

"Is there not something inspiring in this thought? When we come to God in secret prayer, and the Spirit brings to our remembrance some precious promise or needed reproof, is it not encouraging to know that as we accept them, Christ is coming into the heart with the same power that brought the worlds from nothing? Does it not clothe the word with new dignity? No wonder David ever sounded its praises. May the thought that God is in the word be a fresh incentive for us to gain time and strength to feed upon the source of divine strength--it is thus that we live and grow in Christ."

[From "The Indwelling Word," The Signs of the Times, July 14, 1890.]

Raul Diaz