Read an Excerpt
Pursuing a Deeper Faith
By Charles F. Stanley
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2011 Charles F. Stanley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLesson 1
* In This Lesson *
Learning: What is the difference between knowing God and knowing about God?
Growing: How can I come to know God?
Our heavenly Father has issued to each of us a very special two-part invitation. The first part of the invitation is to know Him. We are invited to know about our heavenly Father, and also to know Him: to be in intimate, personal relationship with Him and to experience His presence in an ongoing, daily way.
The Invitation to Know God
There is a vast difference between knowing about God and knowing God. To know about God is to have a head-knowledge of God—to believe that He exists and to draw conclusions about His nature. To know about God is to have an understanding of God and the way in which He works, the commandments that He has given for living, and the plan that He has implemented for our eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, His Son.
To actually know God is something quite different. It is to have a heart relationship with God—to experience His presence and to hear His voice speaking in your spirit on a daily basis, guiding you into the right paths and the right decisions that He desires for you. It is to have a deep assurance that you are locked into a relationship with Him forever, a relationship that cannot be severed by anything that you or another person might do. It is to have confidence of God's love and presence with you always.
You may know a great deal about another person—his name, age, height, color of eyes, occupation, church affiliation, some of his historical background, and so forth. But if you only know the basic facts and figures of that person's life, then you don't really know him on a personal level. To know a person is to know what makes him laugh and what brings tears to his eyes. It is to share experiences with him, to spend time with him, and to converse with him personally and privately—both talking and listening as you exchange confidences, opinions, dreams, and struggles.
We cannot, of course, fully know God; He can never be fully fathomed, known, or loved. He is infinite in His power, wisdom, love, and presence, while we are finite—and the finite can never fully understand the infinite. But we can know Him better and better. We can experience a deeper and deeper relationship with God.
That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
—Philippians 3:10, 11
* What does it mean to know God? According to these verses, what are some of the results of knowing God?
* According to these verses, what are some of the costs of knowing God? What might be involved in this process?
The Invitation to Become Like Jesus
The second part of God's invitation to each of us is an invitation to become more like Jesus Christ day by day. Many people believe that all the Lord desires for us is that we be born again—that we accept Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and then continue to believe in Him until the day when we die and go to heaven. The Lord most certainly desires this for each of us, but He wants so much more!
Many people are saved, but it's as if they crossed the threshold into salvation and then never took another step. Our life in Christ does not end with a salvation experience. That is only the beginning point. Spiritual growth is to be the norm of our lives, every day of our lives.
In our relationship with the Lord, we are invited to grow spiritually so that we are continually becoming more like Christ Jesus in our character, which in turn is manifested in behavior. Who we are as people is continually to be displayed in how we think and respond to life, what we say, and what we do.
We are to bear the identity of the Holy Spirit at work in us, displaying His fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see Gal. 5:22, 23). We are to respond to needs as Jesus would respond—with power, love, and mercy. We are to think what Jesus would think in response to every situation that we encounter, and to say what He would say.
We can never become fully like Jesus in this lifetime. But we are invited—yes, called and challenged—to become more like Jesus every day. We are to continue to grow into the fullness of His character.
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. —Romans 8:29
* What does it mean to "be conformed to the image" of Jesus? How is this done? What are the results?
* What does it mean that Jesus is "the firstborn among many brethren"? What does this imply about your relationship to God?
A Lifetime Challenge
Our quest to have an ever-deepening relationship with our heavenly Father, and our growth into the fullness of Christ's character, is a lifetime challenge. We never reach perfection in our spiritual growth. Neither are we to rest on a plateau of spiritual maturity. We must never assume that we know God as well as we can know Him or that we are as spiritually mature as the Lord wants us to be.
There's always room for greater growth and a deeper relationship with the Lord.
* Today and Tomorrow *
Today: Christians are called to know God in an intimate, loving relationship.
Tomorrow: I will spend time this week asking God to teach me how to become more like Jesus.
* Notes and Prayer Requests: *
Chapter TwoLesson 2
Are You Growing? (Part 1)
* In This Lesson *
Learning: What does it mean to be growing in Christ?
Growing: How can I tell if I'm actually making progress?
What evidence do you have that you are growing spiritually? Do you have a means of evaluating spiritual growth? Many people who attend church just go through the motions. They may even pray and read their Bibles daily, but they have no evidence of growth or of changes in their life that are linked to their spirituality. Fewer still have an understanding about how to recognize signs of spiritual growth. If you find yourself in one of those categories, this lesson is for you.
God's Call to Growth
God's Word challenges us to grow. Spiritual growth is not an option or a nice idea—it is a commandment. Our lives in Christ should exhibit a continual and steady growth. In 2 Peter 3:17, 18 we read:
You therefore, beloved ... beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
* What does it mean to "fall from your own steadfastness"? How are Christians called to be steadfast? How does one fall from that?
* How does a person "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ"? In what ways does such growth help one to be steadfast?
Do We "Grow" into Salvation?
Some people respond to the question, "Are you born again?" by saying, "No, not yet, but I'm growing into it." Of one thing we can be certain—we do not grow into salvation. A person is either saved or not saved. A person is never "almost" saved or "about to be" saved as a result of anything that he does to initiate or achieve salvation.
The fact is, a person who is not born again is spiritually dead in his trespasses—and dead things don't grow. The spiritually dead person cannot grow spiritually, and he cannot experience genuine intimacy with God, no matter how much "spirituality" he may claim to have or how much "communion" he may profess to have with God.
Now, before a person is saved, he might grow in his understanding about who Jesus is, about what Jesus did for him on the Cross, about his need for salvation, or about how to receive God's forgiveness. But he does not "grow into" salvation. Salvation is experienced by an act of believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Only begotten Son of God, and by personally accepting what Jesus did on the Cross—shedding His blood for the remission of our own sins. Those who confess their sinful nature to God, believe in Jesus and in His sacrificial, atoning death, and receive God's forgiveness through Jesus Christ are born again.
The following question is crucial for you to answer before proceeding any farther into the study. If you have not been born again in your spirit, you cannot grow spiritually into an intimate relationship with God.
* Have you received Christ Jesus as your Savior? If so, when and how?
* If you have not accepted Jesus as your Savior, what is preventing you from doing so right now?
In being born again, a person becomes spiritually alive. As Peter wrote, we are "born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God" (1 Pet. 1:23). Incorruptible seed is eternal and life-giving seed. It is seed that does not die, but continues to live and is expected to produce growth and fruit.
One of the marks of all living things in the natural world is growth. A baby is born, and if he is healthy and normal physically, that baby begins immediately to receive nourishment and grow. A baby who fails to grow is diagnosed with "failure to thrive"—a situation that can be deadly if it goes untreated. In the spiritual realm, a newborn believer is expected to grow and develop, to change and mature. A failure to thrive will not bring about spiritual death or a loss of one's salvation, but it can produce a spiritual "deadening" which can result in a great loss of joy and significantly falling short of that person's potential and purpose in Christ Jesus.
Growth toward maturity is to be the norm of the Christian experience. It is the reason that God gave the fivefold ministry to the church (Eph. 4:11—15). It is to be the desire of every believer.
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.
* What sort of "equipping" does a Christian need for effective "work of ministry"? How do the gifts listed (pastors, teachers, etc.) help believers to be better equipped?
* What sorts of "growth" are described in these verses? How is such growth attained? In what sense can a person not "grow" into salvation?
Ten Signs of Spiritual Growth
There are ten means by which we can evaluate whether we are growing spiritually. These are the signs that appear in the lives of those who are maturing in Christ. These signs are not to be used in judging or evaluating other people—we are to evaluate ourselves spiritually, not others. Neither should we assume that all ten signs will appear at all times in all who are growing spiritually. These are ten ways of evaluating positive, healthy spiritual growth—of recognizing a pattern that leads to spiritual maturity. We will deal with four of these signs in this chapter, and six in the following chapter.
Sign 1: A Growing Hunger to Know God
Those who are growing spiritually have a hunger for God. They are not content with knowing Him in an objective way as "Creator," "Savior," or "almighty God." Rather, they desire to know Him as Lord-to know what the Lord desires for them, and to know the experience of the Lord's presence in their lives on a daily basis.
Furthermore, they want to know the fullness of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Their hunger to know God will extend to a hunger to recognize and respond to the presence of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis.
As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?
—Psalm 42:1, 2
* When have you experienced a desperate physical thirst or hunger? What was it like? How did it affect your thoughts and motivations? What was it like to finally satisfy that need?
* When have you experienced a similar need for God? How can such a longing for God's presence be deliberately cultivated, rather than waiting for some special circumstance?
Sign 2: A Desire to Know God's Truth
The spiritually maturing person will have an increasing desire to know the truth of God's Word. Knowing the truth of God's Word extends beyond knowing what the Bible has to say. It goes beyond knowing Bible stories, Bible commandments, or the words of Jesus. To know the truth means to know the meaning of the Scriptures and to be able apply them to daily situations and relationships.
Now, we must read God's Word to know God's Word and to be able to take in its truth. So many people, including Christians, read certain magazines and newspapers each day more than they read their Bibles. This is not to discount the value of magazines and newspapers, but rather to call attention to the fact that we think about what we read. What we read has the potential to influence our opinions, our emotions, and our behavior. Surely the Bible should be the top priority on a Christian's daily reading agenda—and it is the top priority for those who are seeking to grow spiritually and develop an intimate relationship with God.
The Word of God is the one sure thing that we can count on for truth. It is the one thing that lasts forever in its application to the human heart. There is no greater nourishment for the soul, no greater food that promotes spiritual growth.
I rise before the dawning of the morning, and cry for help; I hope in Your word. My eyes are awake through the night watches, that I may meditate on Your word.
—Psalm 119:147, 148
* What things did the psalmist do in these verses to know God's Word more fully? What steps do you take to know His Word?
* What does it mean to meditate on God's Word? How is this done? Why is it important?
Sign 3: A Greater Sensitivity to Sin and Evil
The person who is growing spiritually will have an increasing ability to discern evil and to recognize sin, and an increasing abhorrence for all that is evil and sinful. One of the names for the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. It is the Holy Spirit who sharpens our awareness of error and our ability to distinguish right from wrong. The Christian is called and enabled to develop a heightened discernment regarding what is pleasing to the Lord and what isn't.
Christians are called to judge right from wrong (see 1 Pet. 4:17). This does not mean that we are to judge people; rather, we are to judge the righteousness of our own actions and words. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the ability to test spiritual matters to see if they are truly of God, including testing things that are taught or preached to us, to discern if they are in line with God's Word (see 1 John 4:1–3).
The person who is maturing spiritually and entering into a more intimate relationship with the Lord will have an increasing desire to shun evil and to remove himself as far as possible from activities and situations that give rise to sin.
For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?
—1 Peter 4:17
* What sort of "judgment" is Peter referring to here? How is it done?
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.
—1 John 4:1–3
* What does it mean to "test the spirits" when you hear God's Word taught or preached? How is this done? Why is it important?
* How well are you doing at "judging" yourself according to God's Word? How well are you testing the spirits of teaching? Where might you need to improve?
Excerpted from Pursuing a Deeper Faith by Charles F. Stanley Copyright © 2011 by Charles F. Stanley. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.