John MacArthur explores a range of biblical passages to reveal the riches of God in Jesus Christ, riches that will help us continue to grow in faith and spirit.
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About the Author
John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, where he has served since 1969. He is known around the world for his verse-by-verse expository preaching and his pulpit ministry via his daily radio program, Grace to You. He has also written or edited nearly four hundred books and study guides. MacArthur is chancellor emeritus of the Master’s Seminary and Master’s University. He and his wife, Patricia, live in Southern California and have four grown children.
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THE MASTER KEY
The Bible is alive: "The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12). Peter speaks of God's Word as that which is "imperishable ... living and enduring" (1 Peter 1:23). Paul refers to the Bible as "the word of life" (Philippians 2:16).
THE BIBLE'S VITAL SIGNS
In what sense does the Word of God live? We can best see that by comparing it with the decay, destruction, and corruption that surround us. Death is the monarch of this world. This earth is nothing but a large cemetery; everyone is dying. Some people think they are living it up. Actually, they're living on the downside, for their bodies and their glory soon wither and fade away like the grass (1 Peter 1:24).
In contrast, the Bible is inexhaustible, inextinguishable, and life-giving. The death and decay of the world system cannot touch it.
The Bible is alive in itself. The Bible is perennially fresh. In every generation and every age, the Bible proves itself to be alive and relevant. Its riches are inexhaustible, its depths unfathomable.
A few years ago I decided to choose a book of the Bible and read that same book every day for thirty days. I figured at the end of a month I would really know that particular book. I started with a relatively short book — 1 John. At the end of thirty days, I discovered there were still things that I did not know about the book; so I read it for another month. Even after that I felt I didn't know 1 John as well as I wanted to; so I read it for another thirty days. Do you know something? First John still holds mysteries for me that I haven't even tapped. Every time I read it, I get excited!
Another reason we say the Bible lives is that it is up-to-date. Have you ever looked at your old high school or college textbooks? Most of them are obsolete. The march of progress and discovery has left them behind. But the Bible speaks as perceptively and definitively to the twenty-first century as it did to the first century.
The Bible discerns hearts. It has insight that shakes us up. It is a sharp, two-edged sword that dissects our innermost beings. It judges the thoughts and intentions of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12). It reveals to us exactly what we are, which is why those who cling to their sin don't read it — they don't want to be convicted. Those are some of the reasons we say the Word of God is alive.
The Bible is life-giving. The Bible not only has life — it also gives life. The power to reproduce is a fundamental characteristic of life. Mere human thoughts and words cannot impart spiritual life. But the living Word of God can. James 1:18 says, "In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth." The Holy Spirit uses the Word to bring about new birth. The only way to become a child of God is through the living Word: "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). We are "born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God" (1 Peter 1:23).
Consider the parable of the sower in Luke 8. The Word of God is the seed scattered over the world (v. 11). Some falls by the wayside and is snatched away by the devil so people won't believe and be saved. What is the germ of life that people must believe to be saved? The life-giving Word.
Jesus stressed the importance of the Word in the process of regeneration. "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life" (John 6:63). The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to produce life.
The Bible sustains spiritual life. As the Puritan Thomas Watson said, Scripture is both the breeder and the feeder of life. By it we are spiritually born, and by it we are nourished to maturity. Peter said, "Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (1 Peter 2:2).
Have you ever seen a hungry newborn baby? That baby isn't interested in hearing you talk, in playing with you, or being cuddled. Nothing short of being fed will satisfy. Peter tells us that our desire for the Word should be that strong.
Many Christians do not strongly desire the Word. As a result they are emaciated and improperly nourished, suffering from spiritual malnutrition. They need to remember the words of Jeremiah, "Your words were found and I ate them, and Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart" (Jeremiah 15:16).
Paul reminded Timothy of that truth: "In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following" (1 Timothy 4:6).
The Word of God nourishes believers. We need it just as a baby needs milk, but we also need to grow up so we can take in solid food (Hebrews 5:13, 14).
The Bible transforms lives. Paul encouraged the Ephesians to be renewed in the spirit of their minds (Ephesians 4:23). In Romans 12:2 he said that the renewing of our minds transforms us. Even as believers, we need to let the Word change us. We do not become perfect when we become believers. The Holy Spirit still has a lot to do to mold us into Christlikeness. We still struggle with our old sinful patterns of living (see Romans 7:15-25). Only through filling our minds with the Word and living in obedience to its principles can those patterns be changed.
Many Christians struggle with the problem of how to be more committed to the Lord. They attend seminars, read books, seek certain spiritual gifts, see counselors, listen to talk shows — just about everything except turning to the Bible. Yet if they neglect the Word, little if any change will result. Only the Holy Spirit, working through the Word, has the power to bring us to maturity in Christ.
Paul reminded the Corinthians of that truth: "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18). What is the "mirror" he speaks of? Scripture. James wrote, "If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was" (James 1:23, 24). How do we become transformed to be like Christ? As we see the glory of Jesus Christ revealed in the mirror of Scripture, the Spirit of God transforms us into the image of Jesus Christ. That is the master key to spiritual growth.
The Puritan Philip Henry wrote:
Conversion turns us to the Word of God, as our touchstone, to examine ourselves ... as our glass, to dress by (James 1); as our rule to walk and work by (Galatians 6:16); as our water, to wash us (Psalm 119:9); as our fire to warm us (Luke 24); as our food to nourish us (Job 23:12); as our sword to fight with (Ephesians 6); as our counselor, in all our doubts (Psalm 119:24); as our cordial, to comfort us; as our heritage, to enrich us.
THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS TO SPIRITUAL MATURITY
Many Christians try to figure out some kind of shortcut to spiritual maturity, but none exists. As we gaze into the mirror of the Word of God and behold the glory of God, as we allow the sword of the Spirit to do surgery on our souls, as we permit the water of the Word to cleanse us, the Holy Spirit will transform our lives.
The most significant step in my personal spiritual development took place when I committed myself to intense study of the Bible. Bible study has become the passion of my life. Nothing in this world consumes me like the desire to study and communicate the Word. While I haven't arrived at the goal of perfect Christlikeness (Philippians 3:13, 14), I have learned that the Holy Spirit uses the Word to transform me into the image of Christ.
The Bible is central to our spiritual lives. It is instrumental in our regeneration and crucial to our spiritual growth. In it God "has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3). And we pay a high price for neglecting it.
USING THE MASTER KEY
Let me suggest five specific ways to use the master key of spiritual growth — the Word of God.
Today many voices compete with the Scriptures for our allegiance. Science, psychology, humanism, and mysticism are all rival sources of authority to the Bible, clamoring loudly for our attention. Don't follow the majority. Too many in the church seem willing to abandon God's Word for supposed shortcuts to maturity. But Peter's response must be ours: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life" (John 6:68). Accept the Bible for what it is — the divinely inspired, infallible, inerrant, all-sufficient Word of God. Doubting the truths God has revealed in Scripture will rob us of our joy and may ultimately destroy our faith altogether.
All Christians should make it their goal to be, like Apollos, "mighty in the Scriptures" (Acts 18:24). Too many Christians are content with shallow, superficial Bible study or even no Bible study at all. Such neglect of serious study can result in doctrinal error as well as misconceptions on how to live the Christian life. The Bible rewards diligent study. And through study of the Scriptures, we can show ourselves approved of God (2 Timothy 2:15).
The citizens of Ephesus honored the statue of Diana because they thought Jupiter had sent it down from heaven. So they worshiped it — ugly, obscene, and horrible as it was. But something of true beauty has come down out of heaven from God — His precious Word, which is more valuable than gold or jewels (Proverbs 3:14, 15). Don't pay lip service to the Bible while in reality you give your life in pursuit of the world's substitutes — including things like entertainment, politics, philosophy, psychology, mysticism, and personal experience.
"O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day," wrote the psalmist (119:97). Can you say that? Do you give the Word as much of your time and attention as you do other, less-deserving objects of affection? Do you read the Bible as a love letter sent to you from God? Is the Word of God your passion, something to which you are drawn in quiet moments, or do you turn instead to diversions that actually hinder your growth?
Obedience is ultimately the only appropriate response to God's Word. It will do us no good to believe, study, honor, and love the Bible unless we also obey it. The commands of God aren't optional; they are obligatory. We can't approach the Bible like a smorgasbord, whimsically choosing what we wish to obey and bypassing the rest.
Our obedience must be implicit. Samuel told the disobedient Saul, "Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams" (1 Samuel 15:22).
So you will find God's Word to be a master key that opens everything else in the spiritual realm! No chamber of spiritual privilege is closed to this key. Despite what many believe and teach today, nothing apart from the Word — no spiritual experience, no mystical key, no supernatural secret, no transcendental formula — can unlock the way to some spiritual power unavailable through Scripture.
Certainly there are other keys, each unlocking a unique, treasured principle of spiritual growth. But they are all based on this one great master key: Each one is a principle from the Word.
The great revival of Nehemiah's day began when the people urged him to read the Scriptures to them (Nehemiah 8). As they listened, their hearts were awakened. They were convicted, cleansed, built up — and they responded in obedience.
Perhaps you are hungry for personal revival. I urge you to allow the Word of God to be the key that will unlock for you the vast repository of spiritual riches that are yours in Christ.CHAPTER 2
THE MASTER PURPOSE
The Glory of God
If you were to go out on the street and ask ten people at random to name what they considered to be the greatest theme in all the world, you would probably get a variety of answers: money, love, marriage, sex, freedom, security, status, pleasure, peace, happiness.
But from God's viewpoint, there is only one answer. It is the greatest theme in all the universe. It is the purpose of creation, the primary goal of the Christian life, and the reason for everything God has done or will do.
What is it? The answer is found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The first question asks, "What is the chief end of man?" And here's the answer: "The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." The writers of the catechism believed every Christian should understand that he exists for God's glory and God is for his enjoyment.
Someone may object that we are basing too much on the catechism, even though it is based on Scripture. But the paramount importance of the glory of God is not just someone's idea. It is supported directly by the Word of God. In Psalm 16:8 David writes, "I have set the LORD continually before me." That refers to giving God glory. In making this statement David is saying in effect, "In everything I do, my attention is given to God. All that I do, I accomplish with my focus riveted on God. It's all for His glory and His honor and His will."
The result of such a focus is found in verse 9: "Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices." That is another way of saying that he found great joy in God. So here was David's goal — to live always to the glory of God and consequently to enjoy God forever. That is the same point that the catechism is making.
The supreme objective in the life of any man or woman should be to give God glory. And the consequence of doing that will be unbounded joy. Spiritual maturity comes from concentrating on the person of God until one is caught up and lost in His majesty.
GOD'S INTRINSIC GLORY
What do we mean by glorifying God? We can look at this practically from two aspects. The first concerns God's intrinsic glory, the glory that God has in Himself. In Isaiah 6:3, the seraphim cried out, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory."
God's intrinsic glory is a part of His being. It is not something that was given to Him. If men and angels had never been created, God would still possess His intrinsic glory. If no one ever gave Him any glory, any honor, or any praise, He would still be the glorious God that He is. That is intrinsic glory — the glory of God's nature. It is the manifestation and combination of all His attributes. We cannot give it to Him; we cannot diminish it. He is who He is — "the God of glory" (Acts 7:2).
Human glory is quite unlike that — it is not intrinsic; rather, it is imparted to a person from outside his or her essential being. We speak of people being exalted and honored. But if you take off a king's robes and crown and put him next to a beggar, you wouldn't be able to tell them apart. The only glory a human ruler enjoys is that which is given him by the trappings of his office.
All of God's glory is part of His essential being. It is not granted to Him, nor does it derive from any source outside of Himself. So the glory God possesses is thus very different from any form of human glory.
In addition to various Old Testament references, such as Psalm 24:7-10, the New Testament also teaches that God is a God of glory. The Gospels tell us that during His earthly life, the Lord Jesus Christ was divine glory incarnate (John 1:14).
The raising of Lazarus illustrates the Savior's glory. When Jesus ordered the removal of the stone that sealed Lazarus' grave, Martha protested. But Jesus answered, "Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?" (John 11:40).
How was God's glory displayed in that instance? In the manifestation of His power — the same power He used to create the universe. Martha did not give the Lord Jesus that glory; He already had it. In raising Lazarus, He put it on display.
Jesus later prayed, "Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me" (John 17:24). The answer to that prayer will be realized in the time described in Revelation 21:23. The New Jerusalem will have no need of sun or moon, "for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb." How beautifully that shows God's glory as an essential, intrinsic part of His very nature! Since the glory of God is part of His essential being, it is something He does not give to anyone else. In Isaiah 48:11 He says, "My glory I will not give to another." God never divests Himself of His glory.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Keys to Spiritual Growth"
Copyright © 1991 John F. MacArthur, Jr..
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 The Master Key A Presupposition,
2 The Master Purpose The Glory of God,
3 The Master Plan How to Glorify God,
4 Obedience Unlocking the Servants' Quarters,
5 The Filling of the Spirit Unlocking the Power Plant,
6 Confession Unlocking the Chamber of Horrors,
7 Love Unlocking the Bridal Suite,
8 Prayer Unlocking the Inner Sanctum,
9 Hope Unlocking the Hope Chest,
10 Bible Study Unlocking the Library,
11 Fellowship Unlocking the Family Room,
12 Witnessing Unlocking the Nursery,
13 Discernment Locking the Security Gate,