If there is one thing my past has been used for by me over the years, is to echo the lies (self-talk) that so often become barriers to my spiritual growth. Last week, I hope in some way, God reminded us that He is fully aware of the battle between the flesh (sinful nature) and the Spirit within, that “these are contrary to one another”.(Galatians 5:17).
Knowing that, He promises those in Christ that “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son” will cleanse “us from all sin” (1st John 1:7). God is so faithful towards us…towards me! That faithfulness is not simply offered after we fall short, but prior to it as well.
When it comes to God’s people, “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1:1) was a really good example of God’s patience with those who are now “a new creation” (2nd Corinthians 5:17). There were contentions between brothers (1st Corinthians 1:11), along with other issues that resulted in Paul saying these words, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ” (1st Corinthians 3:1). The concerns, and often stern words, are vividly apparent as you read through this letter. In the midst of these personal growth obstacles, created by their arrogance, as one commentator put it, is this faithful promise from God.
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man;
but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
1st Corinthians 10:13
This promise is on the heels of this verse, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1st Corinthians 10:12). There is no new temptation! If we were to reflect back in this chapter, we read of some examples of sinful behavior, acts that took place hundreds of years before, but none of them were any different from what those in Corinth were faced with, especially with the idolatry that was going on. The simplicity of sin is simple and common to all, finding its roots in man’s “own desires” (James 1:14). God knowing that very thing, promises His children of two things. First, He will not allow “you to be tempted beyond what you are able.” Second, that He will provide a “way of escape” concerning that trial. One may ask, “Which is it, will He give us strength to go through it or show us a way out of it?” I believe the answer is yes. Like with any escape route, there is a journey that must be traveled before the escape happens. God’s promise is that He will provided both the strength and the escape route for us to faithfully travel.
So how does this fit into our present discussion on spiritual growth? As Christians, we should be so thankful for God’s mercy continuously revealed to us through Christ daily. At the same time, God wants us to know that we can look for His faithfulness prior to sin as well. He knows what temptations we face (Hebrews 4:15) and yearns for us to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us” (Hebrews 12:1). We can do that, in part, by seeking God’s faithfulness and trusting Him to know our limits and provide relief. Praise be to God.
In just a couple of weeks, our first class, after our congregational breakfast, focusing on the idea of growing spiritually, will take place. It is exciting to hear from some of you who have expressed interest in this endeavor. The hope is that this can be a sort of spring board, encouraging each of us to examine where we are, with the intent of seeking God’s guidance to mature “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
Part of the challenge in the maturing process is the idea of examining ourselves; that is, becoming aware. Paul wrote, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall…” (1st Corinthians 10:12). In the very next chapter he would exhort the church in Corinth, saying, “But let a man examine himself…” prior to them taking the Lord’s Supper. I believe these exhortations speak to our need to be aware of our personal spiritual growth: taking, if you will, a kind of spiritual inventory, making sure we are not becoming stagnant or having our hearts “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). In the last couple lessons, we’ve talked about “giving all diligence” (2nd Peter 1:5) to the maturing process, in order to “make your election sure”, so that we “will never stumble” (2nd Peter 1:10). This personal awareness also involves what God has done with our past sins; that is, the fact that He has forgiven us (2nd Peter 1:9).
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1st John 1:9
It is here that I want to stress something about self-examination (becoming aware) and our understanding of God’s intentions for this. As Christians, we can list those confident words God wants us to hold dear; such as, “we are more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37) and that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14); yet when we examine ourselves (look in that spiritual mirror), we become aware that there is work needed in our lives. Sadly, this results in those confident words seemingly vanishing from our minds. But that is not God’s reason for self-examination! With any journey we may take, the destination is only part of what is needed to get there: You also need to know where you are. The point is simple, the only way to GROW spiritually, is to KNOW where you are spiritually. If you are in Christ, God has and will continue to take care of your imperfections (shortcomings, sin, etc.), as long as you are trying to be honest with where you are. God’s marvelous grace can enable us to be aware of ourselves, so we can grow into His likeness. The question is, “Are you aware?”
We have all heard it before, and as parents, maybe even given the reply ourselves to the question, “Why do I have to do this?” The answer is, “Because I said so!” Although there are times when this sort of reply is necessary, the majority of the time, giving insight into the reason behind a command, helps those abiding in it, to follow through. As one person said, “Your WHY is the thing or things that keeps you so emotionally connected and bound to your actions that you cannot fail and will very rarely falter.” So, when it comes to growth, especially spiritual growth (in any area of our walk with Christ), what is your WHY POWER?
If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 15:15)
Our love for Jesus Christ is at the very core of our “WHY POWER”. Of course, our love for Him finds its roots in His love for us (1st John 4:19). It was the apostle Paul that stated it was “the love of Christ” that compelled him (2nd Corinthians 5:14). Love is a powerful motivator, but it alone is only one of the many reasons God gives, when it comes to motivating us to grow in Christ. It is my objective today to provide another reason to seek spiritual growth; that is, what God teaches us concerning spiritual WHY POWER.
Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election
sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble…
2nd Peter 1:10
Peter has just finished exhorting his readers to grow in their faith. The reason (part of our WHY POWER) was to keep them from being “barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2nd Peter 1:8). In the above verse, he gives another reason for intentionally seeking spiritual growth: that is, “you will never stumble.” The Greek word translated stumble means to trip up. God wants us to grow spiritually so we won’t get “tripped up” as we walk through this life of ours. It was Jesus who said, “difficult is the way which leads to life” (Matthew 7:14). As we travel this road, Satan will be looking for opportunities to trip us up (1st Peter 5:8). So, we need to “be even more diligent to make your call and election sure,” which will help to keep us from stumbling. Just further insight into our WHY POWER for Christian maturity.
Last week, I was looking forward to helping set the stage for our new monthly study entitled, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: but was unable to because of health reasons. I am grateful for those who stepped up and filled in for me. It turns out, because of weather, we had to postpone the first class, so I have been given that opportunity once again to set the stage. I begin with this simple fact, “Change, it’s not easy.” The natural question that would seem to follow is “Why?”
In life, there seems to be three potential areas in which we may find ourselves. See if you agree. First, there is the area of purposed growth (intentional). Here, we earnestly seek to grow in our daily walks with Christ, more about that in a later article. Then, there is what could be called stagnation; that is, showing no activity. Here, we may be going through life as a mere routine, caught up in the ebb and flow of everyday events, with no true goals for growing; simply trying to make it to tomorrow, to another day, only to start all over again. Then, there is atrophy. This is an insightful word that reached deep into me. It means to gradually decline in effectiveness or vigor due to underuse or neglect. Wow! If I look back on my years, even as a Christian, I can pinpoint myself in any one of these places at certain times of my life.
I can see why the Lord yearns for us to grow, but change is not always easy. I think of so many bible verses in the word of God that we can read about, where change was difficult. Peter has to be my favorite, because I relate to him so much. Impetuous Peter, so bold in his convictions, said to Jesus, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble” (Matthew 26:33). So confident of his position, he was prepared to fight for Jesus, drawing his sword in John 18:10. Yet, just a short while later he would hear the words of Jesus come true as the rooster crowed, vividly exposing Peter’s denial of Jesus (Luke 22:61-62). Or how he ushered in the proclamation of the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10), only to cower to his fellow Jews, having to be confronted by the apostle Paul in Galatians 2:11ff. Change, spiritual growth, it not easy!
Here is the problem, we are all changing whether we are intentional or not. We are either moving forward, standing still, or going backwards. I know I don’t want to go backwards, but in all honesty, I am not always the best gauge of that. Standing still, may be a place where we pause for a moment to regroup, but it is still not where I know God wants me to stay. God wants me to be growing in Christ. Although such change is not easy, it is always beneficial. So, instead of going through life merely growing incidentally, I want to renew a spirit within to do so intentionally. All to the glory of His name, the furthering of His gospel and the growth of His church. Change may benefit me, but it is all about Him.
Okay, so who is it? Did you know the average person speaks around 16,000 words each day? (I suspect I might be a little above that number) But that number reflects words that are actually spoken. How about the words seldom uttered, but often heard? If you are wondering where this is going, consider this quote, “The most important person you listen to every day is yourself.” Although I understand the idea, I think it is best to say, “The most common person you listen to every day is yourself.” It’s called self-talk. We all do it. Some of us (me being one), actually talk out loud at times. So, let me ask you a question, “How good is your self-talk?”
Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for
necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.
Some may think I am going down some sort of psychobabble road, but I ask that you give me just a minute of your time. As Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, he speaks to them about the power and benefit of helpful words. The idea is simple, say what can help someone to grow and serve Christ. Well, wouldn’t that same principle apply to self-talk? The only difference is that I am talking to me, rather than someone else. The words that are “powerful” to another’s walk with Christ are equally as powerful in my walk. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones.” Contrast that with Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” Words can make such a difference!
Okay, so let’s go a little deeper. I wonder if some of you are like me; that is, some (if not much) of my self-talk has been influenced greatly by what others have told me, especially during my youth. (Some may call them parenting tapes.) Sadly, for all too many of us, reflecting back on those days, cause internal turmoil. This is one of the reasons the transformation of the mind is so critical (Romans 12:2).
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
Here is my idea; let’s replace those “tapes” and often times, negative self-talk, with transformed, God centered self-talk. Let’s begin by accepting (and repeating to ourselves) this fact from God to you. The Psalmist writes, “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well” (Psalm 139:14). Say it again, only this time replace the “I” with your name. What would happen to our spiritual growth if we took God at His word and discarded everything else?
Here we are in the midst of the “Christmas Season”. There certainly are many reasons to point out how shallow and how commercial modern society’s version of Christmas has become. The birth of the most selfless person to walk the earth being celebrated by accruing worldly goods seems hypocritical at best.
But, let us not become embittered by the world’s misunderstanding of Jesus. I suggest that we take this opportunity to reflect on our Lord and Savior, and steer others toward Him during this Christ-centered time.
In the Isaiah texts we can see some of the prophesying of Jesus. In the Matthew and Luke texts we get some details of the events that occur around the time of His birth in human form. We know that for anyone who sees the birth of the baby Jesus as the most significant part of Christ’s work, they are mistaken. But, let us not get too focused on how people see Jesus incorrectly.
Romans 14:5-8 speaks of how we should regard ‘special’ days and normal days…
“He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord”. Romans 14:6
I think that we, as believers, can participate in our culture’s version of Christmas day while being right with God, just as long as our focus is on the Lord. Just as we should put our God and our Savior foremost in our lives 365 days a year.