46. Conclusion

Lessons in Growth Meditations: 46. Conclusion

Jn 12:32  “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

Rev 1:5   Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

How to put all these studies together? It is impossible in a relatively small space to cover every one of the studies of the past six weeks. All we can do is observe our starting point, our finishing point and the key parts in between.

Jesus our model for growth: Our starting point was our ultimate goal which was to consider the New Testament call to us to grow. Our framework for that was John 12:32 above and I suggested from the outset that there were expressions or outworkings of that verse: first, Jesus lifted up on the cross to die for our sins, second, Jesus lifted up from death by his resurrection and, third, Jesus exalted on high through the ascension, so he is now seated at his Father’s right hand, where his presently ruling.

Jesus’ model applied to us: That was the framework, and I suggested that this same framework can be observed in the Christian life – first, our call to die to the old life and to sin, then second, our call to live the resurrected, Spirit-empowered life, and finally, to realize and see that that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms where we are to rule with him, as the Spirit-led body of Christ on the earth, that is bringing in the kingdom or rule of God on the earth. Perhaps a few key items for each of those.

Death: Without death to the old life and to our old way of doing things and our old ambitions, we cannot come and receive Christ as both Saviour and Lord. Christ cannot bring his salvation to us and cannot lead us in a new life if we insist on holding onto the things of our old carnal life.

Resurrection: Without death there can never be resurrection.   Resurrection is the shorthand picture of what takes place when we come to Christ. When we are ‘born again’ it is a work of the Holy Spirit who God places within and so the Spirit becomes an inner source of revelation (teaching) and power (for life transformation and service).  All the virtues and all the gifts and fruits of the Spirit find their origin and expression in Him.

Ascension: This is the area that many of us struggle with most. It is first of all seeing ourselves seated with Christ in heaven, linked by his Holy Spirit, second, it is understanding that now he is there ruling over the affairs of the world, even in the midst of his enemies who will eventually be destroyed, enemies that are all things contrary to the way God originally created this world perfect, and third, it is seeing ourselves as now his body on the earth, directed by him from heaven, led and empowered by his Spirit on a daily basis and, finally, fourth it is understanding that his body now, as two thousand years ago, is to work to bring the kingdom or rule of God on the earth.

It is the enormity of this third phase that leaves many of us struggling and is, perhaps, the most difficult area for growth. Perhaps there are various reasons for that. First, it is a spiritual experience that is expressed into the physical world. We are all right with the spiritual bit (e.g. simple prayer) but when that is extended to hearing God and responding to His directions that mean us stepping out in the physical world to bring physical changes, our faith wavers.

Second, we have settled in the past in the good, but only partial, teaching that the spiritual parts of being a Christian are just about being a witness, sharing the Gospel with friends, family etc. etc. Now that is good and right, but it stops short of Jesus call that said, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12) and his explanation of those works is seen in Matt 11:5 and Lk 4:18,19. The other ‘spiritual’ aspect that we have watered down is in respect of prayer which is so often simply reduced to telling God what He ought to do and uttering words into the air, instead of it being a life-filled experience where there is a two-way communication. It is the so-often absent ‘hearing element’ of prayer that releases faith for action.

And So: So there we are, death, resurrection and ascended to a place of ruling, that is our syllabus or our learning program, a program that is not merely about learning words but putting them into action (Mt 28:20). To conclude, note our second starter verse from above: “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” (Rev 1:5) There again we have the three phases of the life and ministry of the Son of God.

First, he was a faithful witness, sharing in all the Father was doing (Jn 5:17,19), perfectly fulfilling the plan of the Godhead, formulated before the beginning of time and resulting in his death on a cross for the sins of mankind. Second, he is the firstborn from the dead, having been raised to life after death. Third, he is now the ruler of all the earth, seated at his Father’s right hand, working slowly and purposefully in the midst of his enemies on the earth to bring the rule of God which will be culminated in his Second Coming. Oh yes, there is very much yet a future element to all this, as there is for us. That says to us that we are working towards a guaranteed future when, if we learn these things, we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” while at the same time being welcomed home as the sons and daughters, the children of God, that we are.  Hallelujah and Amen!

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1. Introduction to Growth

Lessons in Growth  Meditations: 1. Introduction to Growth

Luke 8:14,15 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

Two Goals: A little while ago, in another set of studies, I came across these two verses that stuck with me because Luke, in his version of the parable of the sower, adds a few significant words that grabbed my attention and I have highlighted them above. There is an implication here that we are to grow and develop and mature but it is possible that things in life can hinder or frustrate us and we fail to do those things. It is only by ‘persevering’, by pressing on despite the hindrances, that we are able to go on and mature and be fruitful.

Do you see the two goals there? To mature or come to a greater sense of completion or development, and to bear fruit.  Gardeners know that when growing vegetables you have to wait for a plant to grow and mature before fruit occurs. Fortunately in the kingdom of God, we can start bearing fruit immediately, but nevertheless maturity and fruit bearing do go together.

Vineyard Fruit: In the Old Testament Isaiah composed a song about the Lord’s vineyard as a prophecy: He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.” (Isa 5:2) It was clear that the Lord expected His vineyard (Israel) to bear fruit  and was disappointed that it failed to do so, so much so that He was going to remove it. In the New Testament, Jesus taught his disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (Jn 15:1,2) Again it is clear that he expects fruit from us and in the same way, any branch (believer) that does not bear fruit will be cut off from him.

Jesus Parallels: Now those are strong warnings but the parable of the Sower indicates that there are specific things or specific reasons why we may not mature and why we may not bear fruit in our Christian lives. As I have started to ponder on this and pray about it, I have found myself seeing these things in the context of something Jesus said: “when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (Jn 12:32). Now Jesus speaks about being lifted up three times in John’s Gospel but as I have pondered on this, I believe there are, three applications that correspond with different phases of Jesus’ life.

Three Phases: As I have thought on that, it seems to me that those three phases can also be seen to be three phases of the Christian life or, I should add, three phases of the Christian life that goes on to mature and bear fruit. We should acknowledge that according to Jesus’ teaching in the Parable of the Sower, not everyone hearing God’s word, goes on to mature and bear fruit. So, as we ponder those three phases, I hope to also face up to the things that we can fail to deal with or the things we can fail to appropriate in each phase and thus fail to reach maturity and bear fruit. I have not been down this path before, and so some of the areas seem presently cloudy but I am sure that as we meditate on these things they will become clear.

We all grow: Now it is possible that some of us may feel either fearful or perhaps wary about talk of growth, so let me put your mind at rest. Growth is something that takes place in some measure in every Christian life, even though we may not be very aware of it. When we came to Christ, we knew very little, we understood few spiritual realities and we perhaps were wondering what we had done. As the days pass we are taught – we hear sermons, we go to Bible Studies, or we perhaps have a mentor – and our knowledge of the Bible and of what has happened to us increases. We grow in understanding. But then there can be two problems.

Limited by Environment: The first is that our ‘teaching environment’ is limited and so the extent of out teaching is limited. I have grown up in a period of church history and in a country where the teaching that was available was extensive. I am grateful that through the circumstances I found myself in as a young Christian, I encountered the Brethren, the Pentecostals, the Baptists, the early charismatics and even the Restoration Movement, as well as the occasional teacher from the Anglican Church or from other ‘free’ streams. It was a very wide spectrum of teaching for which I am very grateful. One of my grown up sons said to me some time back, “You know Dad, your generation received so much more teaching than mine is receiving.” That was his perception at least. But I also had opportunities to teach and to evangelize and go on missions, both at home and abroad, and all these things work for growth, which I must admit, sitting in one church in one denomination rarely does.

Personal Blockages: That is what I meant when I referred to our ‘teaching environment’ above.  But there is also a second problem and that can be a personal and individual one. It is the fact of the circumstances of our lives, the pressures we encounter, the problems that beset us and the crises that drop on us – and the way we respond to them! All of these things have the potential for bringing our spiritual development to a halt, and the trouble is, we don’t just come to a halt at a high, we plummet.

When Jesus spoke to the church at Ephesus, he said, “You have forsaken your first love.” (Rev 2:4) They had reached great spiritual heights, but now they had fallen. They had done great things in their early years but now they had given up on them. He had been very positive about them: “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance.” (v.2) but nevertheless, despite that, they were not what they had been once. Jesus doesn’t say what it was that had caused their fall, and perhaps we need to think about such things.

Deal with Past Issues: There is, in fact, a third problem that can arise, and it is that, for a variety of reasons, we failed to deal with issues in our lives that were there before we came to Christ, and so we perhaps also need to ponder those things as well, for each of these thing can be the things that stop us growing.

Maybe if we can eyeball such things, becoming aware of them may be the first step in dealing with them. These are the sorts of areas I believe we  need to consider, the barren areas we need to wander in to see their reality and their effect. I hope by walking these paths we may find this series not only helpful, but also a means of enabling our growth to proceed and our fruit-bearing to increase. May it be so.

19. Newborn Babies

Meditations in 1 Peter : 19 :  Newborn Babies

1 Pet 2:2,3 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Trying to follow the flow of thought in the letter writers in the New Testament is a fascinating exercise. In the previous chapter Peter spoke about us being ‘born again’, and we have given some consideration to that, and so it is perhaps not surprising that he now speaks of “newborn babies.” But he doesn’t now say that we are newborn babies, just that we should be like newborn babies in respect of what he is going on to talk about.

Really the last part of the verse could equally come at the beginning: “now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” i.e. you’ve been born again and you have experienced a little of the Lord, and what you have experienced is good. So, now you know this new life is good, yearn to be fed and grow. That is where this is going, so let’s consider the individual parts of the verse.

“Like newborn babies”. We’ve already noted that he is using new babies as an illustration of what he wants us to be like. What do they do?  “Crave…milk” or yearn to be fed, again and again. Young mothers know the reality of this and the first weeks are spent feeding and feeding and feeding which sometimes almost becomes a trial for the mother but is essential for the baby. In those early months the baby may be taken to be weighed and the hope is that it will be putting on weight through feeding, and if it hasn’t then there is a checking out of its feeding.

This is the picture Peter is presenting to us as an illustration of what he expects to see in newborn Christians. He wants to see them craving for “pure spiritual milk.” Now he doesn’t explain what he means by that but it has got to refer to spiritual food which we must take to mean the word of God. This is where the Bible – reading it and being taught it – is revealed to have a unique role as God takes it and feeds the new believer with it. There’s nothing so wonderful as being instrumental in bringing others to Christ, but that is followed by the wonder of having the privilege of feeding hungry spiritual babies, new Christians. They are full of questions and when they first come across truths in the Bible their hunger is a delight to behold.

The writer to the Hebrews chides his readers using the same sort of language: you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature.” (Heb 5:11-14) There he refers to milk as “elementary truths of God’s word.” Milk, he says, is for infants and you need to go on to something more substantial.

And that is exactly where Peter is going: so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.” Do you remember something we consider earlier in chapter 1: “you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1:9). Do you remember, we spoke of it being an ongoing process that he is referring to there. So this process of going on receiving your salvation involves you receiving the truth of God’s word into your life and thereby growing.

We need to realise that this isn’t merely receiving new information; it is receiving it and applying it. Jesus taught, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, …. teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20) Becoming a disciple means becoming a doer of God’s word, not merely knowing about it. For instance Jesus again taught,  “Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” and “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man.” (Mt 7:21 & 24). This is what the feeding the Peter speaks about should do. It should be taken in and received and then bring forth fruit of a changed life. Indeed that is what maturity is about.

That, we should note, is the goal of this verse, that we “grow up”. Paul spoke similar language: “as your faith continues to grow.” (2 Cor 10:15). Peter is going to finish his second letter with a further similar exhortation: grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Pet 3:18). Yes, when we come to Christ that is only the beginning. We have a life of learning infront of us and if we don’t we will never mature but will remain spiritual pigmies. God doesn’t want that; He has something better for you! Receive it, grow in it.