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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SPIRITUAL GROWTHIN 12 LESSONS
By MAX ANDERS
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 1997 Max Anders
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhen Does Spiritual Growth Begin?
A man was planting beans in his garden one spring. After plowing a shallow furrow with his hoe, he punched his finger an inch into the soft soil, put in one dried bean, moved down the furrow six inches, and planted another one, and so on down the row. He had tilled the soil until it was soft and receptive, and then fertilized the beans and watered them generously. The next couple of weeks produced weather perfect for a garden—hot days and warm nights with just enough rain at just the right times. Soon, he noticed that although most of the beans had sprouted, a number of them had not. Digging up the beans that had not sprouted, he found, to his dismay, that they were not dried beans at all, but little pebbles approximately the same size and color of the beans he had planted. With his dimming eyesight and in his concentration over getting the job done, he had not detected the impostors. Somehow, stones had gotten into the seed beans, and quality control measures at the factory had not caught the mistake.
So, in spite of the carefully prepared soil, in spite of the water, in spite of the fertilizer, in spite of the hot days and warm nights, the pebbles never sprouted, and they never would have. Why? Because no life sparked in them to begin with. Lifeless things cannot grow. Only living things can grow.
And so it is with people, spiritually. Without God's touch giving us spiritual life, we are like human pebbles. We may receive all the spiritual food, water, and sunshine available, but we still will not grow spiritually. We must undergo the divinely initiated miracle of being changed from "pebbles" to "beans," from lifeless stone to living seed. This is precisely what God said He would do—remove our hearts of stone and give us a living heart (Ezekiel 11:19).
What Is the Beginning Point for Spiritual Growth?
The beginning point for spiritual growth is to be spiritually born again.
Because lifeless things cannot grow, a discussion of spiritual growth must begin with a look at spiritual birth. What does it mean to have a "heart of stone," and how is that stone removed?
To have a heart of stone is a metaphor for spiritual death. But what is spiritual death? The Bible says that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) and that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). Clearly this does not mean physical death, because the apostle Paul describes people as spiritually dead who are physically alive (Ephesians 2:1). Neither is spiritual death the cessation of conscious existence nor the cessation of being, because the Bible says that people who are spiritually dead when they die will go to hell where they will experience conscious suffering (Revelation 14:9–11).
If spiritual death is not physical death or the cessation of conscious existence, then what does it mean to be spiritually dead?
Perhaps the closest we can come to a biblical explanation of spiritual death can be found by examining several passages. First, we read in Romans 5:10, "For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." In this passage, we see that to be spiritually dead (Romans 6:23) means to be an "enemy" of God, to be "unreconciled" to God.
We read also in Colossians 1:21–22, "And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight." In this passage, spiritual death is a condition of being alienated from God because of sin (Romans 3:23).
So we can conclude from these passages that spiritual death means "to be in a state of alienation and unreconciliation from God because of sin."
In this unreconciled state, we are cut off from His temporal blessings as well as His eternal blessings. His temporal blessings include His loving providence in our lives, His leading and guidance, and the general blessings which He bestows on His children. His eternal blessings, of course, include the gift of eternal life, fellowship with Him, and a place in heaven. Without those blessings, we are in dire trouble. With them, we are in wonderful shape.
The Gospel of John chapter 3 records a very important discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus, a religious leader of his day. After having heard Jesus speak, Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. Some have speculated that he came by night to avoid detection, since it would not have been a politically popular meeting for him among his fellow Pharisees. He said to Jesus, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him" (v. 2).
Jesus did not respond directly to that statement. Rather, He zeroed in on what He saw as the real issue in Nicodemus' life. He said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (v. 3).
Nicodemus said, in effect, "Why, how in the world is a man going to be born again? He cannot re-enter his mother's womb a second time and be born again, can he?"
Of course, Nicodemus, not being a biological ignoramus, clearly knew that that was impossible. It was a rhetorical question. Jesus responded, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (v. 5).
Theologians debate what Jesus meant by the words "water and spirit." Some contend that He meant a person had to be baptized with water in order to be saved. That is a minority position, however, among evangelicals and fundamentalists. A more common position is that the "water" refers to the amniotic fluid that breaks just before a child is born. If this is the understanding of what Jesus meant, it would be consistent with the context (Nicodemus had just asked, "Can [a person] enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" 3:4), and would also be a very logical comparison between a person being born once, physically, making him a member of a physical kingdom, and being born a second time, spiritually, making him a member of a spiritual kingdom.
How is a person born again? By believing in and receiving Jesus as his personal Savior. In John 1:12, the apostle wrote, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name." In this verse, we have two key words: believe and receive , which together carry the full force of what it takes to be born again. One must believe that Jesus is God (John 1:1), and must embrace Him personally (John 1:12). When that happens, at that precise moment, a person is born again, is a Christian, is destined for heaven, and is capable of spiritual growth.
Christians differ in how they view the relation of baptism to salvation. Some believe baptism follows salvation. Others believe it precedes salvation. Others view them as simultaneous. But all well-informed Christians recognize the importance of baptism as an expression of submission to the lordship of Christ. As such, baptism is an important first step in our spiritual life.
When a person is born again spiritually, he is, at that moment, made spiritually new. Nothing else has to happen to a person's spirit in order for that person to go to heaven. We see in Ephesians 4:24, the spirit is "created ... in true righteousness and holiness." In Romans 7, Paul says that the "inner man," which seems to be a synonym for the spirit, does not sin (Romans 7:20), delights in the law of God (Romans 7:22), serves the law of God (Romans 7:25), and is no longer under condemnation (8:1). It only remains for the born-again spirit to be united with a new body created without sin in order for the Christian to be complete and to experience his full adoption as a child of God (Romans 8:23).
We learn from this that good people do not go to heaven. Only born-again people do. No one is good enough of themselves to get into heaven. Titus 3:5 says that we are saved, "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit."
How good we are on earth has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not we go to heaven, since the best person ever to have lived was not good enough to make it. And no one is so bad that he will not be forgiven and born again, if he will believe in and receive Jesus as his God and Savior.
I used to picture this at the final judgment: God would line up all the people who had ever lived, with the worst person on the far left and the best person on the far right. Then He would count toward the middle to find the exact center of goodness in all humanity. Those on the right of that point would go to heaven, those on the left would go to hell (don't ask me where I got that concept—I have no idea).
Others have a more individual view. They imagine a set of scales being used at the final judgment. A person's good works are put on one side of the scale and his bad works are put on the other. If the good works outweigh the bad, the person goes to heaven; if not, he goes to hell. I don't know what would happen in the event that the good and bad works balanced perfectly!
Still others consider that some sins will send you to hell and other sins will not send you to hell. If you can squeak by without committing one of the whoppers, you will go to heaven. Usually only murder, child abuse, and other heinous sins are considered bad enough.
Where do we get these fanciful concepts? I have no idea. But the Bible clears up all mystery. You go to heaven if you are born again. You go to hell if you are not. You are born again when you believe in and receive Jesus as your God and Savior. And you cannot begin growing spiritually until you are born again.
When we are born again, at least three things happen. First, our sins are forgiven. When we receive Christ, He forgives our sins, past, present and future, as far as our eternal destiny is concerned. Of course, sin has earthly consequences (Hebrews 12:5–11), and will influence our eternal rewards (2 Corinthians 5:10). But they will never keep us out of heaven (Romans 5:20–21). Why? Because Jesus "bore our sins in His body on the tree [cross]" (1 Peter 2:24). Because sin causes death, either we have to die, or else we have to accept Christ, who substitutes His death for ours. But if Christ has paid for our sins, we cannot pay for them. Whether or not the new Christian senses an immediate forgiveness for sins or not, he can rest on the promise of God that his sins have been blotted out. We dare to believe such an unbelievable thing because the Bible says it. Ephesians 1:7 says, "In Him [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace." Then, in Ephesians 4:32 we read, "And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you." Yes, the first, wonderful thing that happens to us when we are born again is that our sins are forgiven.
Second, we are given new life in Christ. Old things pass away; all things become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). We don't turn over a new leaf. Christ gives us new life. The Christian now partakes of the divine nature of Christ: "His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:3–4).
Third, the Holy Spirit comes to indwell the believer. Romans 8:9 says, "But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His." And in 1 Corinthians 6:19 we are taught, "Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?"
The Spirit convicts us of sin and calls us to righteousness (John 16:8) and works in us to desire and work for God's will (Philippians 2:12–13). When we respond to His working, He creates in us a character that reflects Jesus Christ (Galatians 5:22–23).
Finally, being born again immediately places the new Christian into the body of Christ. We become part of God's family. We are not alone. The apostle Paul writes of this mystical relationship in Ephesians 2:19–22:
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
The late Malcolm Muggeridge, a noted British author and editor, once wrote of his conversion to Christ:
This is how I came to see my situation, in a sort of dream or vision; something more vivid and actual than most happenings and experiences. I am confined in the tiny dark dungeon of my ego; manacled with the appetites of the flesh, shackled with the inordinate demands of the will—a prisoner serving a life sentence with no hope of deliverance. Then I notice that high above me there is a window through which a faint flow of light comes filtering in. Seemingly so far away, so remote and inaccessible; yet I realize a window looking out onto eternity. Inside darkness, a place of fantasies and fury; outside, the white radiance of God's love shining through the universe, what the Apostle Paul called the glorious liberty of the children of God.
And the window? I know what that is too—the Incarnation. Time and eternity intersecting in a cross; now becoming Always. God revealing Himself as a man, and reaching down to us, in order that we, reaching up, may relate ourselves to Him. Now I observe that the window is not, after all, far away, but near at hand, and that seen through it everything makes sense; as it were, comes into sin, so that like the blind man whose sight Jesus restored, I can say: "One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see. Thenceforth, whenever I am looking through the window, I see life as being full of joy and hope and brotherliness" (How Christians Grow , Russell Hitt, 19–20).
What Is the Signifi cance of Being in Christ?
Being in Christ means that we are joint-heirs with Him and recipients of the eternal kindness which God intends to bestow on His children.
Many years ago, one of the most beautiful and popular actresses in Hollywood, Grace Kelly, left her career of superstardom to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco. Though she was certainly no stranger to fame and fortune, her life, nevertheless, underwent a dramatic change. As a result of her union with Prince Rainier, as a consequence of her "becoming one" with him, she became royalty. His royal title was now hers. His palace was now hers. His fortune was now hers. In all, his destiny was now her destiny.
And so it is with Christ. As Christians, we become the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:22–33). As His bride, as a result of becoming one with Christ (Ephesians 5:31–32), we become royalty. Christ's life is now our life. His inheritance is now our inheritance (Ephesians 1:11), His destiny is now our destiny (Romans 8:17). The phrase "in Christ" or a related phrase occurs twenty-seven times in the Book of Ephesians alone! Being in Christ means to be one with Christ, to be fellow-travelers and fellow-heirs with Him on an eternal journey. It means being delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Colossians 1:13).
There are two reasons why we need to understand our position in Christ. First, that position is the basis of all spiritual growth. Consider the analogy of the fruit and the vine. In John 15:5 Jesus said, "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing."
Excerpted from WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SPIRITUAL GROWTH by MAX ANDERS Copyright © 1997 by Max Anders. 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.
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