Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Becoming Like God...In His Time (1 of 2)

What does your typical week day look like? For some who have been reading this series of posts, you may have considered these Disciplines and considered it impossible to incorporate them into your schedule. But many of these disciplines can be practiced simultaneously. You might be alone with God (silence and solitude), reading your Bible (Bible Intake) and recording your thoughts about your reading (Journaling) while praying for guidance (Praying), praising God (Worship) for what He has done. This could even be done while Fasting. And if you are doing all of these things simultaneously, you are being a good STEWARD of your time.

The reality is that godly people are often busy people, yet they find ways to remain under control. Adding the Disciplines might make you a little busier, but will bring about self-control. More importantly, they can lead us to become godly people. Donald Whitney says it this way, “Scripture confirms what observation perceives: Laziness never leads to godliness.” This is true of laziness in general, but especially spiritual laziness.

Life always demands that you prioritize. The Spiritual Disciplines allow you to determine what needs to go. Adding the Spiritual Disciplines to your life is actually a way of learning what else needs to be purged. Consider the example of Jesus. Jesus was busy, but He was not frantic. Like Jesus, the godly person will remain a busy person. And, while it is true that the busy person is likely to be tempted to lapse in becoming godly, without practicing the disciplines, it is impossible to become godly. Yet, as this week’s posts reveal, we need to persevere in the Disciplines in order to become godly. We can’t do a bunch, for a little while and then think we have arrived. It takes a lifetime – however long God grants us – to become what He is molding us to be. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare – slow and steady often wins the race. Perseverance is the key.

So, how do we persevere? Let me give you three different elements which are involved. These are aspects that are important to our continued perseverance, and therefore our development as people of God.

1. The Role of the Holy Spirit

Don’t miss this: No matter what we do or how much we do it, we cannot become more like Jesus on our own! It is only through the Spirit that we can become more like God. That is so key to this entire series of posts. These are Spiritual Disciplines. They are only truly possible in the Spirit as they are empowered by the Spirit to lead us to be more like God. The main purpose of the Holy Spirit is to magnify Christ. (John 16.14-15). One of the ways He does this is by creating a hunger for holiness. He gives the desire to the believer to be like Christ. This is true of all believers (2 Timothy 1.7).

Consider it this way. Have you ever been tempted to walk away from Christianity? The church? Or Spiritual Disciplines? It is the Holy Spirit that prevents that. Have you ever allowed laziness or excuses to get in the way of reading the Bible, praying, serving, etc.? It is the Holy Spirit that prompts you to continue (or return to) the practice. Now, this is not to say that all who do walk away or give up do not have the Spirit, though that possibility must be considered. What it does mean, at a minimum, is that they are choosing to live according to the flesh, and not according to the Spirit (Galatians 5.16-17, 24-25).

2. The Role of Fellowship

Jesus said He would build His church. The Church represents all Christians down through the ages – nearly 2000 years now. The church is an assembly, which is together referred to as the bride of Christ. To separate from the church is ultimately to separate from Christ. I am not talking any particular church...I am talking about THE CHURCH.

Why is this important? Because our spiritual maturity is not only measured by our devotion to Christ, but also to others (1 John 1.3). This means that socializing is not true fellowship – it can be a part of it, but we can be social without having fellowship. Christian fellowship involves talking about God, the things of God, and life from a Christian perspective. It involves multi-directional communication.

Many people quote Jesus in saying, where two or more are gathered, He is there. But that is not what the verse says. The verse is Matthew 18.20. It says, “where two or three are gathered IN MY NAME, there am I among them.” There is nothing wrong with getting together with other Christians for the sake of fun and socializing, but we need to be careful to think that Jesus automatically endorses what we are doing just because we are Christians, and we are together. But to grow, and to persevere, we must fellowship with others. And our growth in godliness, as Ephesians 4.16 reminds us, should be used to build others up as well. The Puritan, Thomas Watson said the following, “Associate with sanctified persons. They may, by their counsel, prayers, and holy examples, be a means to make you holy.” This is true for you and I who need to grow, and for others coming along after us, to learn to grow.

3. The Role of Struggle

Struggle is a part of the Christian life. And the Disciplines don’t exempt us from struggle, but they can provide comfort and strength to get through them. 1 Timothy 4.7-8, core verses for this series, lead to verse 10 where Paul says to toil and strive. Words like “toil” and “strive” form quite a contrast to the popular phrase “Let go and Let God.” There are times when our faith requires us to let go so God can do His work. But as it relates to our personal growth, we have work to do – along with God. This is not about working for salvation! It is about working from salvation. It is about growing as Christians. The Holy Spirit brings about our growth as we participate in – often by struggling – to live our lives as He leads.

The New Testament reveals three enemies of the Christian – The World, the Flesh, and the Devil. Yet, it also reveals three allies of the Christians. And each ally is specifically matched against each of the three enemies to show that God truly triumphs over all enemies, and we can too by placing our trust in Him, as well as working to become more like Him through the practices of the Disciplines mentioned throughout this series. The following table illustrates this principle.

Sometimes we desire to read the Bible, pray, worship, etc. Other times, the Spirit prompts us, but we are unwilling. We yield to the flesh and forgo these disciplines. As long as we are alive this dichotomy will exist for us. Yet, one day we will no longer need the Spiritual Disciplines. We will no longer need to become like God, because, as 1 John 3.2 says, “we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” This does not mean that we will be God, but His work within us will be complete (Philippians 1.6), and we will no longer need to persevere because we will be with Him for all of eternity.

In part 2 this week, I will provide some thoughts on how perseverance fits in with our JOURNEY and provide thoughts regarding the 4L Model of Discipleship.

*This series of posts is adapted from Donald Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

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