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 GROWING TOWARDS CHRISTIAN MATURITY

 

  INTRODUCTION:  

Our destiny as disciples is to become like Jesus in character and conduct. This seminar identifies some of the means God has provided and uses to develop maturity in our lives.   Jesus is the perfect example of humanity as God intended it to be when He created man and woman in His own likeness. However, sin came into the world and disfigured and distorted that image in humanity so that it became hardly recognizable. Jesus has come to make it possible for that image to be restored. In anticipation of the final result, the Bible says…..  

 

"See how very much our heavenly Father loves us, for he allows us to be called his children, and we really are!………. Yes, dear friends, we are already God's children, and we can't even imagine what we will be like when Christ returns. But we do know that when he comes we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is". (I John 3/1,2 NLT)  

 

Since we made our commitment to follow Jesus, the whole of our earthly journey is now leading us and shaping us so that we are being re-made or re-created into the image and likeness of Jesus.  

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF GOING ON &

GROWING UP

The birth of a child into a family is a wonderful event. Likewise, the "birth" of a person into God's family is also a wonderful event. But, in both cases, the event must be followed by a process – a process of growth and maturity.   God has provided the means and methods whereby that whole process of spiritual growth can be accomplished. What is required from us is our willing cooperation with the process that God wants to initiate within us.   So, let's explore together some of the ways that God will use to keep us going & growing.   I

 

NTERACTION POINT:

1. What do you think the Bible means when it says that God made us in His image?

2. How would you define "sin" and it's impact in our lives?

3. How do you feel about the statement, "God wants to make you like His Son, Jesus"?    

 

1. THE ROLE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IN OUR LIVES  

God has not left us alone to somehow battle along, trying to be better, trying to do better, trying to be different. Jesus promised His disciples that, after his return to heaven, He would send them another helper or counsellor. The following verses are taken from John's gospel – chapters 14,15 and 16.  

 

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world at large cannot receive him, because it isn't looking for him and doesn't recognize him. But you do, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. But when the Father sends the Counselor as my representative—and by the Counselor I mean the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I myself have told you.  "But now I am going away to the one who sent me, and none of you has asked me where I am going. Instead, you are very sad. But it is actually best for you that I go away, because if I don't, the Counselor won't come. If I do go away, he will come because I will send him to you.  Oh, there is so much more I want to tell you, but you can't bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not be presenting his own ideas; he will be telling you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by revealing to you whatever he receives from me.  

 

INTERACTION POINT:

Take time to look over the above verses and circle the different terms Jesus used to describe the Holy Spirit.  

 

The Holy Spirit is a person. He is what we call the third person of the Trinity. We talk about God, the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. As with any discussion about the nature of God, this aspect is huge! Our intention in this section of our seminar is to certainly acknowledge WHO the Holy Spirit is but, more so, to focus on WHAT He does in our lives.  

 

The Bible clearly teaches us that the Holy Spirit is a person and He has the attributes of a person. He speaks. He listens. He teaches. He can be saddened. He can be insulted. If you want to further explore the person of the Holy Spirit, the best starting point is the Bible itself and the clearest teaching that Jesus gave about the Holy Spirit is in John's gospel – especially those chapters 14, 15 and 16. Take time to read them through slowly and carefully.   Our focus here is especially on WHAT the Holy Spirit does to make possible the process of us being restored in the image of God. Here we deal with two main areas.  

 

[1]THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT  

In the letter of Paul to the Galatian Church, we read these words:  

 

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, your lives will produce these evil results: sexual immorality, impure thoughts, eagerness for lustful pleasure,  idolatry, participation in demonic activities, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other kinds of sin. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.  But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal. 5/19-23) 

 

Here is a stark contrast between what our lives without God can produce and what the presence of the Holy Spirit will produce in and through us. Vs. 22,23 provide us with a very different view of life when the Holy Spirit is in charge of our lives. In fact, those two verses above that outline the 9-fold fruit of the Spirit are really a description of the life of Jesus, aren't they? So the key to becoming more like Jesus – maturing our destiny – is the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  

 

A fruit tree doesn't have to put a lot of effort into producing fruit. When was the last time you heard a fruit tree puffing and panting to produce fruit?! It is in the nature of the tree to produce fruit. So it is with Christians who have within them the life of the Spirit.   Of course, fruit trees can develop diseases that can lead to little or no fruit being produced. Maybe the fruit that is produced is of a very poor quality. However, all things being equal, when the tree is watered & cultivated, it will produce the fruit that is the outward expression of the inward life.  

 

[2]THE GIFTS OF THE SPIRIT  

We will deal more with this aspect in Discipleship Growth Seminar No. 3 – "Discovering Your Christian Ministry" but, for now, let's at least introduce this aspect of the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives.   "Spiritual Gifts" are those divine capacities or abilities that the Holy Spirit imparts into the lives of those where He dwells.   One passage that gives us some helpful insights into this aspect of the Holy Spirit is found in 1 Corinthians 12.

 

 Now there are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but it is the same Holy Spirit who is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service in the church, but it is the same Lord we are serving. There are different ways God works in our lives, but it is the same God who does the work through all of us.  A spiritual gift is given to each of us as a means of helping the entire church. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another he gives the gift of special knowledge.  The Spirit gives special faith to another, and to someone else he gives the power to heal the sick. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and to another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to know whether it is really the Spirit of God or another spirit that is speaking. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, and another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Holy Spirit who distributes these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.

 

If the fruit of the Spirit describes the life or character of Jesus (who he was), then these gifts describe the ministry of Jesus (what he did). He said what He said and did what He did in the power or enabling of the Holy Spirit. He was endowed with all these capacities or gifts. I believe that all these gifts (and others listed in other passages) are valid for today and the Holy Spirit can activate any of them at anytime through anyone in whom He dwells.  

 

However, no one person has all the gifts. God has arranged these gifts in the Church – the Body of Christ – in such a way that we need each other. We are to be interdependent. As each person is increasingly expressing the fruit of the Spirit and employing those gifts that the Holy Spirit has imparted to them, then the whole Church is growing in health, strength and effectiveness.  

 

Instead, we will hold to the truth in love, becoming more and more in every way like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. (Ephesians 4/15,16)  

 

In light of the above we can say that the key to spiritual growth is the fact that the Holy Spirit now resides within us. The fruit He is producing in us is making us more like Jesus in character while the gifts that He is using through us are making us more like Jesus in conduct (or ministry).  

 

INTERACTION POINT:

1. Can you see the difference between the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit?

2. Which (if either) is the more important – fruit or gifts?  

 

But what are the means and methods that God has provided for the Holy Spirit to use in order to bring about these changes? What tools will He use to see us maturing and growing towards our destiny to be like Jesus?  

 

2. THE ROLE OF THE BIBLE IN OUR LIVES  

The Bible is not just one book. It is a library of 66 books written over a period of 1500 years by some 40 different authors. For all that, it is one book in the sense that it is wonderfully unified in its truth and message. While it has numerous human authors, it unmistakably bears the influence of just one divine author – a divine 'editor', if you like. And that editor we know is the Holy Spirit.   

 

But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you.  You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God's way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do. (2 Timothy 3/14-17)  

 

All of the Bible is "God-breathed". This is what we mean when we talk about the Bible being "inspired".  

 

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophets themselves or because they wanted to prophesy. It was the Holy Spirit who moved the prophets to speak from God. (2 Peter 1/20,21)  

 

Because the Holy Spirit inspired the writers, we believe that the Bible is absolutely trustworthy and is to be believed and obeyed with faith and confidence. For that reason, we strongly urge Christian disciples to read it, study it, understand it and obey it.  

 

The Bible is the primary way by which God 'speaks' to us. As we read about God's dealings with the human race and especially His dealings with certain individuals (like Moses, David,Esther, Elijah, Isaiah, Peter, Paul etc.), we begin to 'sense His voice' speaking into our lives as well. Sometimes we will feel like a verse or passage or event seems to suddenly arrest our attention. It feels like it was written just for us. Often that can be the Holy Spirit inspiring our thinking to connect with that verse.      

 

There are many Bible reading aids available these days. There are numerous resources that encourage daily, systematic reading and application. Likewise, there is no shortage of Bible commentaries, Bible dictionaries, Bible handbooks….the list goes on.   Some basic principles of interpretation to keep in mind as we read include asking some basic questions concerning the passage we are reading. Who wrote this? To whom was it written? When was it written? Why was it written? What was the primary message to the first readers of this passage? What principles does it contain that transcend their time and culture? What lasting lessons or truths does the passage contain?   Other helpful questions are, "Is there a promise to be believed?""Is there a warning to be heeded?" "Is there a command to be obeyed?"  

 

It's good to take down notes as we read. Keep a journal in which you can record truths and insights that have special application to you.  

 

INTERACTION POINT:

1. Is there any aspect about reading the Bible that you find difficult?

2. Have you found any resources or ideas that have helped you understand the Bible better?

3. In what aspect of Bible reading do you feel you need help?  

 

3. THE ROLE OF PRAYER IN OUR LIVES  

"If God speaks to us through the Bible, then we speak to Him through prayer". That's a true statement but we don't want to give the impression that prayer is us doing all the talking and God just passively listening. Prayer is meant to be two-way communication. It should include a time when we are quiet in God's presence 'listening' for those thoughts and impressions that we sense are not simply the result of our own mental processes.  

 

Prayer is the communication that takes place between God and us. In the early stages of our spiritual journey it will most often be us talking, sharing with God what we are feeling and needing. In the early stages of any relationship, words are the primary way we get to know the other person.   But as the relationship deepens and we are sure and secure in that relationship, sometimes we will just enjoy being with the other person without having to fill every waking moment with words. Just so with prayer.  

 

Jesus had a lot to say about prayer. On more than one occasion, His disciples were present when He prayed and they asked Him to teach them to pray like He did. In fact, on one occasion, He took the initiative and gave them a 'model' prayer.  

 

"When you pray, don't babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered only by repeating their words again and again.  Don't be like them, because your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!  Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done here on earth, just as it is in heaven. Give us our food for today, and forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. And don't let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.(Matthew 6/7-13)          

 

In this passage, Jesus is teaching not so much what to pray but how to pray – in other words, He wasn't giving us the precise words to pray; rather, He was giving us the essence of prayer. Begin with God, not with us and our needs. Pray for His will to be done in all situations. Seek His provision for our daily needs. Confess our sins. Ask for His protection.  

 

Here again there is so much more that could be said but we will conclude this section with the recognition that, as with every part of our maturing process, the Holy Spirit is actively involved in prayer.  

 

For we don't even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God's own will.  And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.(Romans 8/26-28).

 

While the precise meaning of each of those verses is not easy to grasp, what we are assured about is that, on those occasions when we don't know exactly what or how we should pray, the Holy Spirit knows exactly the will of God and He somehow guides our prayers even if they are not expressed in words.  

 

INTERACTION POINT:

1. How would you describe your experience of prayer?

2. What kind of questions come to your mind as you think about prayer?    

 

4. THE ROLE OF FELLOWSHIP IN OUR LIVES  

The Christian life was never meant to be lived in isolation. In fact, the Bible knows nothing of the idea that we can live our lives apart from involvement with others who are also disciples of Jesus.   Fellowship might best be described as "experiencing life together". When we are born into God's family, we 'inherit' a whole new community. All those who have the life of God within them are now our brothers and sisters. We all belong to each other.  

 

It now becomes important that we put ourselves in those places where we can experience this fellowship and the benefits that flow from living our lives in community.    

 

Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ's body. We are all parts of his one body, and each of us has different work to do. And since we are all one body in Christ, we belong to each other, and each of us needs all the others. (Romans 12/4,5)  

 

Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near. (Hebrews 10/23-25)    

 

We talked earlier is this session about the gifts of the Spirit. The fact is that these gifts work best in and through a Christian community. We are called upon to love one another, pray for one another, bear one another's burdens, encourage one another, admonish one another etc.   In fact, the New Testament uses the expression "one another" (or its equivalent) at least 53 times. We can't really obey any of these directives if we do not belong to a group of fellow believers who are there for "one another".

 

 INTERACTION POINT:

1. How important is it to you to belong and to be committed to a local church?

2. What benefits have you found in attending and worshipping with others?

3. Have you found any 'difficulties' with seeking to belong and attending a local church?    

 

5. THE ROLE OF SERVICE IN OUR LIVES  

As with some of the previous sections, we will explore this aspect in greater detail in Discipleship Growth Seminar No. 3 – "Discovering Your Christian Ministry". For now we simply point out that growth always involves serving. It's like the importance of exercise so far as our physical bodies are concerned. If we don't exercise our muscles, they will atrophy.  

 

When a baby is born it does nothing else but sleep and eat…and cry! But as the days, weeks and months pass, it begins to become increasingly active. But what a tragedy would unfold if, with the passing of days, weeks and months, the baby did nothing more but sleep, eat and cry!   Just so in the spiritual development of new disciples. The Bible uses this imagery in a number of places. For example,  

 

You must crave pure spiritual milk so that you can grow into the fullness of your salvation. Cry out for this nourishment as a baby cries for milk, now that you have had a taste of the Lord's kindness. (1 Peter 2/2,3)  

 

But then the Bible also calls us to grow beyond the need for a spiritual "milk diet".  

 

There is so much more we would like to say about this. But you don't seem to listen, so it's hard to make you understand. You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things a beginner must learn about the Scriptures. You are like babies who drink only milk and cannot eat solid food.  And a person who is living on milk isn't very far along in the Christian life and doesn't know much about doing what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who have trained themselves to recognize the difference between right and wrong and then do what is right. (Hebrews 5/11-14)  

 

In order to serve effectively, we need to know where we "fit". This idea of serving includes the use of our time, our abilities, our finances, our possessions etc.   This dimension of service also includes where we "fit" so far as mission is concerned. i.e. our role of taking the good news of Jesus out into the wider world.            

 

INTERACTION POINT:

1. What would be the greatest obstacle for you so far as being involved in service is concerned?

2. Is there any aspect of Christian service that appeals to you more than others?

3. Are there any areas that make no appeal to you at all?      

 

Even a casual consideration of all that we have read above will quickly reveal that being a disciple of Jesus and being committed to grow can never be a "part time" project. The process of maturing our destiny is a "whole of life" undertaking and it leaves no part of our life untouched.   We do need to stress again that this life-long adventure should never be undertaken alone.

 

We need each other. Finding a mentor is important. Being part of a small group is important. Celebrating God in the company of others is important.   The journey has begun. God has committed Himself to do His part. Let us make the same commitment.   Here is a promise worth memorising – Philippians 1/6  

 

"And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again"    

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