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Navigator author Jerry Bridges presents the essential elements of Christian life in a highly readable, ...
Navigator author Jerry Bridges presents the essential elements of Christian life in a highly readable, practical form that men, women, and teens can enjoy.
Learn how to:
• feed your spiritual life by taking in the Scriptures
• rely on the Holy Spirit in obedience and prayer
• trust God during the trials of life
• contribute your unique spiritual gifts to serve others
These essentials of the Christian faith can help you disciple others. Tyndale House Publishers
Some years ago we planted a tree on the west side of our house expecting it to grow and eventually shade us from the afternoon sun. We were disappointed because, for some reason, the tree didn't grow. It didn't die, but neither did it grow. Possibly, it was because it was poor stock to begin with. After some effort to spur its growth, we finally had it removed and replaced with a tree that happily has grown. Soon this tree will be tall enough to fulfill the purpose for which it was planted. It will shade our house from the hot afternoon sun.
Growth is a normal expression of life. Whether we think of plants, animals, or people, we expect them to grow until they reach maturity. When something or someone doesn't grow, we know something is wrong.
Growth is also a normal expression of the Christian life. The New Testament writers assume growth and constantly urge us to pursue it. Peter urges us to "Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18). Paul instructs us that by "speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ" (Ephesians 4:15).
In fact, in distinction from the physical realm, Christians should never stop growing spiritually. Paul commended the Thessalonian believers for their seeking to please God and to love other believers. And yet, in both instances, he urged them to do so "more and more" (1 Thessalonians 4:1,10). He wanted them to continue to grow in these aspects of their Christian lives. There is no such thing as an "adult Christian" who no longer needs to grow. Growth is not only normal for new believers but also for those who have walked with God fifty years or more.
Of course, almost all growth (both physical and spiritual) is incremental. We can't watch either plants or people grow before our eyes. We can only observe it over time. This is also true in the Christian life. And, of course, different people grow at different rates. And none of us grow at the same steady rate all the time. But even when we allow for differences in people and different eras of growth in our individual lives, the fact remains that we should all be growing spiritually. When a believer doesn't grow, something is wrong!
This book assumes that those who read it want to grow. There are some people who for one reason or another don't seem to want to grow, and that's a different story. But if you have picked up this book, it is likely that you want to grow and that you are looking for all the help you can get. That's my attitude when I pick up a Christian book, and I assume it's also yours. So we need to address the question: How do we grow spiritually?
Let's think about physical growth for a moment. Children grow without thinking about it. In fact, our basic physical growth (height and body structure) is beyond our control. My older brother grew to be 6'2" tall. I expected to follow suit. So when I realized I had topped out at 5'9 1/2" (I always add the half inch), I was quite disappointed. But there was nothing I could do. As much as I wanted to be at least 6' tall, I couldn't make myself grow.
However, we all know that intellectual growth or growth in a physical skill is a different matter. Once a little girl starts to school, she must apply herself if she is to grow intellectually. Later on, if she wants to play on the basketball team, she must again apply herself both mentally and physically.
Eventually, this little girl becomes a young woman and goes off to college. Now she wants to prepare herself for a professional career of some kind. She gives herself to her studies because she desires to excel in her chosen career field. Obviously, some students are more diligent than others. Some are content to simply muddle through and get a degree. But those who want to excel apply themselves. Intellectual or professional growth doesn't just happen. It only comes with intentional effort. And usually the degree of growth is directly related to the degree of effort.
The same is true in spiritual growth. It doesn't just happen. In fact, it doesn't even happen by spiritual osmosis, that is, by just being around other believers and unconsciously assimilating their spirituality. Spiritual growth occurs as a result of intentional and appropriate effort. The word intentional implies a diligent pursuit of a clear goal. Appropriate indicates that we must use the God-given ways of growth given to us in the Bible. We usually refer to these ways of growth as "spiritual disciplines." We'll explore what these disciplines are in later chapters. But for now, we must lay an important foundation-the foundation of grace.
Over 150 years ago Archibald Alexander, the first president of Princeton Theological Seminary, wrote some thoughts on "hindrances to spiritual growth." The first hindrance he listed was "a defect in our belief in the freeness of divine grace." In his elaboration on that statement, he essentially said that a correct understanding of God's grace and a consistent appropriation of it must be the foundation of all our personal efforts to grow spiritually.
* * *
WHAT IS GRACE?
Because grace is foundational to our Christian growth, it's important that we have a correct understanding of it. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misunderstanding about the nature of grace.
Perhaps the most common misconception of grace is captured in a statement I once read: Grace is the idea that we are loved and accepted by God just as we are and that God's approval does not have to be earned; it is simply there. Here, God seems to be pictured as the proverbial, indulgent, divine grandfather in the sky who smiles down upon us regardless of our behavior and character. This seems to be typical of the average person's understanding of God's grace.
by contrast, however, the Bible teaches us that the grace of God "teaches us to say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives" (Titus 2:12). God does love us and accepts us as sinners "just as we are." But He does not leave us that way. Rather, by the same grace through which He saves us, He sets about to change everyone who experiences that grace.
The statement that "God's approval does not have to be earned but is simply there" is not true. God's approval does have to be earned. But the gospel tells us that His approval was earned for us by Jesus Christ in His sinless life and sin-bearing death. It is true that God's favor does not have to be earned by us. In fact, it cannot be earned by us. But it comes to us without earning because Jesus paid for it in our place as our substitute.
What about the time-honored definition of grace as God's unmerited favor? While it is not wrong, I believe it is inadequate. So here is a definition that I believe captures the biblical meaning of grace: Grace is God's favor through Christ to people who deserve His disfavor.
There are two elements in this definition that are missing in the shorter definition above. The first is the realization that we actually deserve God's disfavor because of our sin. Or to put it starkly, in biblical terms, we deserve His curse (see Galatians 3:10).
The second element that I have added is the term through Christ. It is through Christ, because of His death on the cross, that we don't receive the disfavor or curse we all deserve. As Paul wrote in Galatians 3:13, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us." And it is through Christ, because of His perfect obedience to the whole will of God, that we receive the blessings we don't deserve. Christ bore our curse and earned our blessing. That is the meaning of grace.
We see this concept of Christ bearing our curse and earning our blessing set forth in 2 Corinthians 5:21: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
In this somewhat difficult-to-understand language, Paul was saying that God charged our sin to Christ and credited His righteousness to us. Or to paraphrase: "God treated Christ as we deserved to be treated in order that He might treat us as He deserved to be treated." That is grace.
So grace is God's favor to us through Christ, but God's favor is much more than simply a favorable disposition toward us. God's grace is always presented in Scripture as God in action toward us for our good. For example, God's grace saves us (see Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 5:1); it gives us spiritual strength (see 2 Timothy 2:1); sustains us in times of trial (see 2 Corinthians 12:9); and equips us for ministry (see Romans 12:6). We can say that every blessing that comes to us is an expression of God's grace. That means that Christ earned all those blessings for us by His sinless life and sin-bearing death.
It is important that we grasp this cardinal truth before we proceed to the various means of growth God has given us. Otherwise, we will subtly and unconsciously begin to see these disciplines that God has given us for our good as disciplines to be practiced in order to earn or maintain His favor.
Remember our definition of grace. Jesus has already earned God's favor for you. Just as you can do nothing to earn your salvation (the most important blessing of all), so you can do nothing to earn God's favor in your daily life. If you do not grasp this truth, the spiritual disciplines that are intended to help you grow will become burdensome duties you think you must practice in order to maintain God's favor.
* * *
Let's look at this truth another way. Have you ever tried to arrange some books on a shelf without first setting up bookends? You know what happens. The books begin to fall, first sidewise, and then one or more of them inevitably tumbles to the floor. In frustration, you finally do what you should have done at the beginning. You get some bookends and put them in place.
Now, as we consider the various means by which Christians grow, think of each one of them as a book you are putting on the shelf of your life. In order to keep those books in place, you need two bookends.
The first bookend we need to set in place is the righteousness of Christ. The most important question any person can ask is: How can I, a sinful person, be accepted by an infinitely holy and righteous God? Paul tells us that it is by trusting in the righteousness of Christ. Paul himself was a devout Jew, and his religious credentials were impressive during the time in which he lived (see Philippians 3:4-6). And yet Paul said he counted all his religious credentials as rubbish in order that he might "gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law [that is, by trying to earn God's acceptance through my own obedience to God's law], but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith" (Philippians 3:8-9).
Paul found his acceptance with God not in his own imperfect obedience, as impressive as it was, but by trusting in the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ which God credits to all who trust in Him as Savior. This is what faith is-trusting in Jesus Christ alone as one's Savior.
In Romans 3 and 4 and Galatians 2, Paul uses a legal term to describe this righteousness that he and all believers have in Christ. It is the word justification, which comes from the verb "to justify" and which means to declare righteous. In other words, when we trust in Christ as our Savior, God justifies us or declares us righteous on the basis that He has charged our sin to Christ and credited His righteousness to us. God does this at the very moment we trust in Christ. So we can say that justification is a point-in-time event that happened in our past. But for Paul, justification was more than a past event. It seems obvious from a close reading of Philippians 3:9 that he also considered it a present reality. Every day Paul lived in the glorious reality that he stood before God clothed in the righteousness of Christ and accepted by Him on the basis of that righteousness.
If you and I are to succeed in putting on the shelf of our lives the various volumes of Christian disciplines that we need in order to grow, we absolutely must have the bookend of Christ's righteousness firmly in place.
The second bookend we must set in place is the power of Christ. Just as our acceptance with God must come through the righteousness of Christ, so our power to live the Christian life must come from Christ as well. Too often we try to grow by our own willpower and self-discipline. We assume that if we read the Bible enough and pray enough, we will grow. We approach the Christian life much like a student approaches a difficult course in college-just buckle down and try harder. That attitude assumes that we have the ability within ourselves to grow into maturity as believers. But as Jesus indicated in John 15:5, we have no ability within ourselves to grow. All of the ability must come from Him.
Think of an electronic appliance that you use either for personal care or in the kitchen. I think of my electric shaver. That shaver has within its case a small motor that causes the shaver to do its job. But that motor has no power of its own. It is completely dependent on an external source of electric current. Without the supply of that power, it is useless.
You and I have been given a new heart at the time of our conversion (see Ezekiel 36:26-27). A fundamental change has indeed taken place in our inner being. We really are new creations in Christ. To stay with the shaver analogy, we now have a new motor designed to receive the electric current. But the power is still outside of us. It resides in Jesus Christ and is applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit as we depend on Him.
This is why Paul makes such statements as "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13) and "To this end [that is, pursuing his ministry] I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me" (Colossians 1:29).
Paul expected to grow in his own spiritual life, and he expected to be fruitful in his ministry. His confidence, however, was not based on his own ability or determination but in the fact that he could rely on the power of Christ working in him to enable him.
We will explore in more detail in chapter 7 how we draw upon the power of Christ. For now, we just want to become aware that we need these two "bookends."
One further observation will be helpful, however. Bookends usually come in pairs, both with a common design. Our spiritual bookends of Christian growth also come as a pair.
Excerpted from GROWING YOUR FAITH by Jerry Bridges Copyright © 2004 by Gerald D. Bridges. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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|Section 1||The Necessity of Spiritual Growth|
|Chapter 1||The Foundation for Growth||15|
|Chapter 2||Compelled by Love||25|
|Section 2||The Means of Spiritual Growth|
|Chapter 3||Disciplined by Grace||37|
|Chapter 4||The Role of the Holy Spirit||49|
|Chapter 5||Growing Through the Word of God||61|
|Chapter 6||The Key to Transformation||71|
|Chapter 7||Dependent Discipline||83|
|Chapter 8||Spiritual Fellowship||93|
|Chapter 9||The Instrument of the Gospel||107|
|Section 3||The Marks of Spiritual Growth|
|Chapter 10||The Pursuit of Holiness||119|
|Chapter 11||The Practice of Godliness||129|
|Chapter 12||Trusting God||141|
|Chapter 13||Serving God||155|
|Chapter 14||Worshiping God||169|
|About the Author||189|
Posted January 6, 2013
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Posted February 10, 2013
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Posted December 22, 2012
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