Growing Into Christ

September /October 20162016Esmall

Promises Related to Character Growth

The One who created the universe has chosen to create something new in us — a new creation that is more glorious than anything He has ever created. God’s call is to a life of change, growth, and transformation into the image of his Son (Romans 8:29). No greater honor and privilege could be granted to a humble child of God!

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To our natural mind it might appear unattainable, and if left to our own frail, fallen resources it would prove so. But thanks be to God for the abundance of promises He has made to us — promises to aid in every area of our Christian growth as we endeavor to develop the fruit of His Spirit. The apostle Peter tells us that “God in His divine power has granted us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them we might become partakers of the divine nature. It is for this very reason we are to apply all diligence, adding to our faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness and love” (2 Peter 1:4-7 NASB). While promises of future glory thrill and inspire us, the promises for our earthly walk are indispensable for success in being transformed into the image of Jesus.

Bearing Fruit to the Glory of God

In the natural world, growing anything worthwhile takes planning, time, work, and maintenance to ensure the most bountiful harvest. The same is true for a Christian’s growth of character. Our Heavenly Father, the great Husbandman, has planted seed in our heart, begotten us to a new nature (1 Peter 1:3), and has promised to “carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6 NIV). Day after day we can praise Him for his continued faithfulness to us! “Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rains” (James 5:7). In anticipation of a glorious harvest God has been patiently waiting and lovingly tending His garden for over 2000 years. When we bring a totally committed heart to God, our loving Father has promised to provide everything else necessary to complete His work in us. The very thought of bringing glory to our Heavenly Father for all eternity should be the greatest motivating factor in our desire and effort to grow.

God Has Promised His Spirit to Help Us Grow

The Apostle Paul wrote, “it is God himself whose power creates within us both the desire and the power to execute His gracious will” (Philippians 2:13 Weymouth 5th edition). Jesus, in his human perfection, possessed God’s Spirit without measure (John 3:34). By contrast, our capacity is hampered by the limitations of our fallen nature, necessitating a continual filling of His Spirit through the study and application of His word. How reassuring are the words of our Lord, when he said “If you then, imperfect as you are, know how to give your children gifts that are good for them, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13 Weymouth 5th edition). “Once the Spirit of Him who raised Christ Jesus from the dead lives within you. He will, by that same Spirit, bring to your whole being, yes even your mortal bodies, new strength and vitality. For he now lives in you” (Romans 8:11 Phillips). Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6:19,20 that our bodies are the temple of the holy Spirit, and that it is God’s gift to us, bought at a great price. Truly an unspeakable treasure from the Lord!

Additionally, growing in Christlikeness requires that we study the life of our Master — not only his words, and teachings, but his attitude and interaction with others. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2 NAS). In Hebrews 3:1 we are told to “consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession.” If we pattern our lives after the life of our Master, we will gradually begin to think, act, and speak as he did.

Daily Claiming God’s Promises

The great challenge for many is claiming God’s wonderful promises as their own. For those who have made a full consecration to the Lord, it must become evident that we have a right to personally claim God’s promises! Paul encourages us to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who prom- ised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23 NAS).

To benefit from God’s promises we must know God’s promises! It is time well spent if we not only read them, but endeavor to memo- rize, study, and meditate upon them, so that, like the needle to the pole, our minds return to them when at rest. The world, the flesh, and the devil have plenty to fill our minds with if we let them. Jesus set a perfect example of a disci- plined, well-studied, resolute will, when, being tempted by the adversary in the wilderness, he was able to respond with “It is written” to each temptation (Matthew 4:1-11).

Our Lord’s Lesson About Growth

One of our Lord’s most beautiful discourses is recorded for us in the 15th chapter of John. In these few words, Jesus outlined what God, as the great husbandman, is doing in our lives and what he asks of us to ensure our spiritual growth.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit … Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches, he who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love; just as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:1-12 NAS).

Abiding Involves Daily Discipline and Obedience

In his discourse concerning the vine, Jesus comforted his disciples with the promise of his Father’s overruling and direction if they stayed connected to the vine. When a vine dresser finds a branch that is growing near the ground he will wash off the dirt and tie it up higher. This helps that branch become more productive. This imagery shows how God can lift us out of earthly attractions and create a better environment for spiritual growth.

In our daily walk so much of what we say and do is habitual. Whether it is our morning routine, what we choose to eat, or wear, how we choose to spend our time, or what we think about, we are “creatures of habit.” Unfortunately, since we are in our fallen flesh many of our habits may be contrary to the Spirit of the Lord and the spirit of sacrifice. Only by focusing on the Lord’s word and His promises, and by exercising diligence in our efforts, is it possible to override the habits of our sinful flesh with new habits, controlled by our new mind in Christ. We must make it a proactive mental exercise. Our abiding in the vine depends upon it! “Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny” (author unknown).

God’s Promise to Prune Us

The object of pruning is not to injure the branch but to make it more fruitful. How thankful we should be that our Lord takes such painstaking efforts as he tends us and supervises our growth down to the smallest detail of our experiences. In Reprint 3545 Pastor Russell presents some very insightful thoughts about God’s pruning experiences. “It would appear that the great Husbandman prunes the branches of the Christ sometimes by taking away earthly wealth or property, or sometimes by hindering cherished schemes and plans. Sometimes he prunes us by permitting persecutions and the loss of name or fame, and sometimes he prunes by permitting the loss of earthly friendships toward which the tendrils of our hearts extended too strongly, and which would have hindered us from bearing the much fruit which he desires. Sometimes he may permit sickness to prune us, as the prophet declared. ‘Before I was afflicted I went astray.’ Many others of the Lord’s dear people have found some of their most valuable lessons on the bed of affliction.” He goes on to say that for some, in the Lord’s great mercy, he has laid them aside for a season, to give them the time they needed for quiet reflection and study, that they might thereby grow in grace. Whatever the experience, such pruning should be a source of encouragement as we remember that they are evidences that the Father loves us and is caring for our highest interests.

Growing in Humility

The character quality of humility is a prerequisite for developing all of the other fruits and graces of the Spirit.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves … Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus … being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself … Therefore God highly exalted him” (Philippians 2:3-9 NIV). Likewise, the Apostle Peter instructs us to clothe ourselves with humility toward one another, for “God opposes to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 NIV). Only by developing the humble heart of a servant can we hope to be of any use to our heavenly Father, our Lord Jesus, and our brethren now, and the world of mankind in the kingdom. This is the quality of character our Lord possessed that eventually exalted him to the right hand of God!

Growing in Knowledge

“And we pray that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:10-12 NIV).

The Apostle Paul tells us that our growth in the knowledge of God is imperative to pleasing Him. If our Lord’s words abide in us it will demonstrate our love for them, and diligent study to know the will of our Father. Paul reminds us in 2 Timothy 3:16,17 that the scriptures are sacred writings intended to give us the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith in Jesus, and that “all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (NAS).

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without any doubting” (James 1:5,6 NAS). If we put forth the time and effort to study God’s word, He has promised to open our minds and hearts to an understanding of His plans and purposes.

Growing in Love

There are few greater joys on earth than being part of a loving family, to feel loved and cared for, and to nurture, help and encourage each member to reach their full potential. Our brethren in the Lord are our spiritual family. We have the same responsibility and enjoy the same privilege to love, serve, and help our brethren reach their full potential in the Lord. Many, if not most of our blessings and opportunities for growth in love, kindness, and patience come from our interaction with our brethren.

“If we love one another God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12 NAS).

“We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14). The degree to which we love the brethren is one gauge of our spiritual maturity.

“We are meant to speak the truth in love, and to grow up in every way into Christ, the head. For it is from the head that the whole body, as a harmonious structure knit together by the joints with which it is provided, grows by the proper functioning of individual parts, and so builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15,16 Phillips). Loving, supportive words and actions from every member in the body will yield the fruitage of a healthy, mature body of believers, whether as a whole, in our ecclesia, or in our one on one interaction with the brethren.

Growing in Peace

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence, and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you” (Philippians 4:6-9 NAS). What we put into our minds determines what comes out in our words and actions. Paul here lists the things with which we must program our minds and on which we must focus if we desire God’s peace to dwell in us. It takes practice, but it can be done!

“But the wisdom that comes from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, approachable, full of merciful thoughts and kindly actions, straightforward, with no hint of hypocrisy. And the peacemakers go on quietly sowing for a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:17, 18 Phillips).

Growing in Joy

When Jesus said that his joy would be in us and complete (John 15:11), what did he mean? Reprint 2232 suggests the following. “This joy is a foretaste of the blessing to come, an earnest of our inheritance. It is inspired by confidence in him on whom we have believed: confidence that he is both able and willing to perfect the work which he has begun and which we desire shall be perfected in his own best way: confidence that so long as we are firmly holding to his gracious promises with the arms of our faith, he will not permit us to be sepa- rated from him … The Father will not turn us away so long as we desire to abide obediently in his love … Our confidence in God is sure to bring joy beyond the world’s comprehension, and a peace of God that passes all understanding, which keeps the heart.”

“It is when hope has laid firm hold upon the exceeding great and precious promises of God’s Word, that joys spring up as flowers in a desert … And as our joys depend upon our hopes they depend also upon our activities. It is not sufficient that a promise has been left us, and that our hope has grasped the promise. By divine arrangement the joy which springs into being through the implanted hopes and prospects must be nourished by prayer, and by activity in the Lord’s service” (The New Creation, page 678).

“Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make you calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and so you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:10,11 NIV).

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9 NIV).

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