Growing In Godliness Blog

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Getting Back to the Basics of Being a Christian

Monday, January 23, 2023

Getting Back to the Basics of Being a Christian

By Gary Watson

As a teacher I long ago learned that youngsters cannot learn without knowing some basics such as reading, writing, math computation, etc.  Maybe we sometimes forget some basics of pleasing God.

I remember a little sentence which says that what it means to be a Christian is to know that without Christ, I am nothing.  Self examination should prompt us to evaluate whether our lives are something if we are pursuing what it means to please God.

If I am pleasing God, I will do what He wants me to do and be what he wants me to be.  Obviously, I do not deserve salvation for my meritorious works (Ephesians 2:8-10), but if I am trying to please God, I will do His works.

What will a faithful Christian do?  Here are a few suggestions for us to think about:

1). Spend time in the Word so that I will know what to follow and what not to follow.

  • Psalm 1:1-2: 1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

2). Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Communicating with the Father through prayer has many beneficial blessings.  Here is one of many:

  • Matthew 26:41: Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

3). Meet often with Christians.  We should know that attendance alone is not a good work that merits salvation, but there are several reasons that we should meet with fellow Christians.

  • First, it is a command according to Hebrews 10:24-25:

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

  • In addition to being a command, we also worship God and remember His Son’s death on the first day of the week.  Some might ask, “Well, how often should I assemble?”  That is a works focus rather than a spiritually minded focus.  If the doors are open and you are able, assemble.

4). Let my light shine.

  • Our influence on others should be apparent in our lives.  Here again, how we live does make a difference, for our manner of life should have an influence on others for the right reason.
  • Matt. 5:13-16: 13 You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

5). Teach others

  • There are many ways we can teach others: verbal teaching of the Word to those who are willing to listen, inviting others to assemblies, and living a life pleasing to God are a few.

2 Timothy 2:1-2: 1 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.

6). Love the Brotherhood. 

  • 1 Peter 2:17: Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
  • The apostle John wants us to know this, as written in 1 John 3:14-18.
    14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. 15 Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
  • “There are some simple signs of affection, which - if genuine - are perfectly right and to be encouraged, but do not in themselves fulfill the full measure of brotherly love. To smile and greet your brethren with warmth, courtesy and hospitality. To shake someone's hand or give someone a hug. That kind of attention is certainly acceptable and can be of service in our relationships with each other.
    “But let's not entertain the idea that these gestures somehow complete our obligation. The apostle John is telling us of the extent of brotherly love. Verse 16 requires no spin; it is not written in apocalyptic language. ‘By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.’
    “This is love for the brethren that finds ultimate expression in an act of sacrifice that is exemplified by THE SACRIFICE of all sacrifices. The question needs a lot of thought. I shake hands with my brethren; I greet Christians; I may give someone a hug and to the extent of my ability, I may write a check to help a brother in need. All of that is fine - but I'm not yet to the matter at hand. Would I give my life for the good of my brother in Christ? Let's be clear, John says we ought to! This is not about dying for buildings or even an idea! NO, this is giving yourself, your life, for your brother. That's what it means to love the brotherhood.” (By Warren E. Berkley from Expository Files 14.4; April 2007) 1.

7). Always use pure speech. 

  • God’s Word is full of admonitions about what we say and the way we say it.  James 3:10-12: 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

James 1:19-21: 19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

  • Never holding a grudge is an integral part of pure speech and proper attitude.

Eph. 4:31-32: 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

8). Follow Jesus' example.

  • 1 Peter 2: 21: For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
  • “Jesus left us the perfect example. He is the perfect "writing copy" we must strive to reproduce in our own life. His sinless perfection is apparent from the couplet quoted from Isaiah 53:9:  "Who committed no sin, Nor was guile found in his mouth." While Peter refers especially to Jesus' perfect example of patience in suffering, Isaiah spoke prophetically of the Lord's absolute freedom from sin, as other writers and the history of Jesus' life show. No other human ever lived without sin. Even the most righteous men are examples to others only as they follow Jesus (1 Cor. 11:1). Jesus lived above sin because he had perfect self-control and because he had a perfect consciousness of God, being fully committed to him in all things.” (Earl Kimbrough in Guardian of Truth XXXVIII, No. 22, p. 1, December 1, 1994)

9). Buy the truth.

  • God’s truth is so valuable that we should invest in it heavily.  We should live by God’s truth, study His truth, make application of His truth to our lives.

2 Thess. 2:10-12: 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Proverbs 23:23 Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.

10). Not resent correction.

  • It is easy to become defensive when others ask us about our actions and words and offer correction.

Hebrews 12:5-11: 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?  My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.  It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us, and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Let us strive to be Christians who please God.

 

1.The section quoted in number 6 comes from Expository Files.  Following is a quote on using material from their site: “Feel free to upload EXPOSITORY FILES into local BBS networks. And, if you want your friends and associates to have a copy, regard this as freeware; load it onto a disk and pass it on.”

2.Scripture quotes are from the ESV.

 

God’s Purpose for Sexuality

Monday, December 19, 2022

God's Purpose for Sexuality

By Mark McCrary

Sex. It's everywhere. It’s at the mall, the movies, the grocery store, the local park, on billboards, the radio, turn on your TV… yep, everywhere.

Culturally, sex outside of marriage, adultery, and homosexuality have been hidden realities of life (some more so than others). Battles have been fought (and skirmishes still pop up here and there), but it looks like Gay Marriage is here to stay. Transgenderism is the latest issue culturally contested. Polyamory seems to be next. Sex only between a husband and wife in marriage? That just seems too vanilla in the 21st century.

So many of our questions about sex and sexuality today arise from a failure to understand the divine purpose for sex.  If there is no divine purpose, sex can be whatever we want.  But, if it has a divine purpose, then it is for what the Divine purposed it—and nothing else.

Genesis 1:26-28 tells us this purpose, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

“And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”

Let’s notice several things and build upon them to see God’s purpose, and why sex works the way it does in human beings. 

Biological reproduction is the way humans are created. This requires a male and a female.

But, God doesn’t just want males and females having children.  Genesis 2:24 tells us the first couple was committed to one another.  This is marriage, and it is the only place where God approves of sexual activity (Hebrews 13:4).  Why? Malachi 2:14-15 tells us, “Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth” The best place to produce “godly offspring” is in a home with a married husband and wife “faithful” to their “companion.”

Finally, if a committed marriage is so important in producing godly children, then something needs to keep the married male and female together.  Why stick it out in hard times? God built into each of us a drive for sex.  We have a biological need for it. It brings us pleasure.  Notice Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:2-6, “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

Let’s pull this together.  God designed sexual expression to be between a man and a woman to populate the earth (and a man and woman only).  He wants this to be within the context of a committed relationship.  To accomplish this, He created a drive for sex that can only be satisfied (in a God-approved manner) with the person we’ve committed ourselves to—no one else.  That makes one’s spouse very important. They provide something no one else has the right to provide. 

Sexual sins arise when we appropriate what God ordained for our own purpose instead of His.

Homosexuality casts aside the male/female model for a male/male or female/female one.  It cannot produce children.  In this situation, sex is for our purposes, not God’s.

Transgenderism casts aside the importance of biological gender in God’s purposes. It is for our purposes, not God’s.

Bestiality cannot produce children. It is for us.

Self-pleasure casts aside the role of the opposite sex.  It cannot produce children; it is for us.

Sex outside of marriage can produce children, but not in the committed relationship of marriage. Again, it is for our purposes.

Polyamory can produce children, but it cast aside the male/female model God ordained in favor of a male/female/male, female/male/female model (or multiple others).  These do not help generate a stable home to produce godly offspring. Our purposes.

Incest destabilizes the home and threatens to corrupt godly offspring.  It is selfish.

Adultery is wrong because it seeks sexual satisfaction outside of a committed relationship.  It destabilizes the home. Again, selfish.

Several questions may arise from this discussion: Are children produced outside of the Biblical model unable to be godly? No; but it does mean the best environment for raising children to serve God is in a married male, female home.

What about a male/female couple that cannot have children? Some couples are unable to do so for various reasons.  But, they are in a male/female relationship God has ordained and God is pleased. 

Is it wrong for a male/female couple to choose not to have children? Other couples—also for various reasons—choose not to have children for a period of time.  Maybe for their whole marriage.  They, too, are still in a male/female relationship that God has ordained. Sometimes children show up anyway.

Is the sexual expression between a husband and wife only for the production of children? Can it not be enjoyed simply for what it is? Certainly, it can be—that is the point of 1 Corinthians 7:2-6. 

Endless possibilities exist when sexual expression is about us.  Understanding God’s purpose for sex gives much-needed clarity to the struggles gripping society around us.

The big question is: will we follow God or not?

The Power of the Mind

Thursday, December 01, 2022

The Power of the Mind

By Larry Coffey

I have just finished reading a 600+ page book called “Life Force” written by Tony Robbins. Tony Robbins is an entrepreneur, #1 New York Times bestselling author, and philanthropist honored by Accenture as one of the top 50 business intellectuals in the world. This book covers new breakthroughs in precision medicine. It deals with things like new medical technology, regenerative medicine, stem cells, gene therapy, etc. The last two chapters are about the  power of mindset and decision. This is a medical book written from a secular viewpoint, but I believe Christians can benefit from some of what is taught.

He contends the mind has the power to heal the body in certain instances, and provides some examples where this has happened. He mentions the use of placebos can have tremendous power over pain. Placebos are harmless “medicines” or procedures that are used to test a therapy’s effectiveness. In a migraine pain study at Harvard Medical School, the placebo was found to be nearly as effective as the actual drug.

He mentions another Harvard study, in which one hundred medical students were enlisted to test two drugs: a “super stimulant” red pill and a “super tranquilizer” blue one. Unbeknownst to the students, the drugs were purposely switched—the red was actually a barbiturate, and the blue an amphetamine. Even so, the subjects who were given a downer experienced stimulation because of their expectations, while those who took the upper felt tired. Talk about the power of the mind!

Several pages dealt with the subject of stress of which there are several levels. Suppose your mail was not delivered for several days in a row and you were expecting to receive something you needed. That could cause some stress. Then you receive a letter telling you a company in which you had a significant investment had gone bankrupt. That would be a higher level of stress. Another few days pass and you receives results of a recent wellness test and you are asked to return because a tumor was detected. The stress increases further.

Robbins says, “extreme stress is going to be a given in your life. So, the real key to have an extraordinary quality of life….is not to hope you get lucky and that nothing happens, but to develop the kind of psychological and emotional strength that makes you resilient enough to use whatever life brings you to create something even greater.”

Now what do Jesus and the apostle Paul have to say about the power of the mind and stress. Jesus deals with these two things in Mt. 6:25-34. Jesus says do not be anxious about your life, don’t be anxious about clothing, don’t be anxious about what you are going to eat. He adds, which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? Therefore, don’t be anxious about tomorrow. How does Jesus expect us to use the power of our minds? We are to focus our minds on seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all the things we need will be added to us.  

Paul says in Phil. 4:11, whatever state he was in he was to be content. He further addresses this in I Tim. 6:6 & 8, by saying there is great gain in godliness with contentment, and if he had food and clothing, with these he would be content. In Col. 3: 1-2, Paul says to seek the things that above where Christ is, SET YOUR MINDS on things that are above, not on things on earth.

Robbins tries to help us have better lives on earth. Christians are to focus our minds which God has given us on things above. And our minds have the power through Christ to truly achieve an extraordinary life in heaven.

Preparing For Discipleship

Thursday, June 02, 2022

Preparing For Discipleship

By Austin Shearer

Paul was battle bruised and scarred (2 Cor. 11:24-26). He will say of himself that he bears the marks of Christ in his own body. Further, his heart’s passion is to know Christ and Him crucified. If that meant he has to suffer a little along the way then he accepted that too. All this life under the sun had to offer him, he regards as rubbish. Gain Christ, that was what he sought (Phil. 3: 8-11).

As Paul writes his young son in the faith, Timothy. He writes from the perspective of having lived what he encourages.  Listen as he helps us too:

First, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2Tim. 2:1). Paul knew that few things were more refreshing than grace.  It breathes life into all relationships. Paul’s encouragement is to be strong, literally to be strengthened within, and let grace be reflected in our attitudes. Practically, that means we are all growing, even through mistakes and failures.

Second, invest consistently in the lives of others. “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (vs. 2). The word entrust is a banking term. It means to “commit into a safe deposit.” The idea is to deposit God’s truth into the life of someone else where it will be safe and secure. Paul had done that with Timothy. Now, he wants Timothy to do that with others.  Then others are to follow suit. To do that means we must have a heart to help others come to Christ. We will have to be alert, looking for them and reach out.

Third, personalize the truths you have heard. “Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (vs. 7).  Consider means “to perceive in the mind.”  In other words, fill your mind not with how successful others are as disciples of Christ but think about your own life. Make a mental picture from things you have learned about being a disciple of Christ.  Then find a place to start investing yourself.

Fourth, endure all things.  “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, Who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2Tim. 1:8-10). Always keep your eyes on Jesus, not yourself. Then endure. Go the distance.  Be prepared to have your patience stretched to the limit.

Remember, Paul knew what he was asking of Timothy, and us. He was hated, stoned, beaten with whips and shipwrecked but he kept going. He endured because every moment of his life was motivated by the purpose of enduring “all things for the sake of those who are chosen, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus…” (vs. 10a). Let Jesus be seen in you.

Let Your Tears Fall

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Let Your Tears Fall

 

“By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion.” (Psalm 137:1 NASB)

We would do well to imitate the captives of Judah weeping in Babylon.

Because of their unfaithfulness to God, these Hebrews were dragged away from Jerusalem by their enemies. Every morning, they woke up in a foreign land—away from home, away from the temple, and away from the presence of God which had dwelt there. For those old enough to remember living in Zion, that memory was a seed planted in their heart which produced tears of pain as they were taunted by their captors (Psalm 137:3). “How can we sing Jehovah’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4) It was too hard. The memory of Zion made the present reality of exile unbearable.

But the psalmist does not despair. In fact, the memory of Zion is the very thing that keeps him rooted during this period of displacement.

“If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
May my right hand forget her skill!
Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth,
If I do not remember you,
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my highest joy.” (Psalm 137:5-6 ESV)

The memory of home is painful. It causes the psalmist to weep. But it is his connection to reality, and without it, he knows that he has nothing to live for.

I imagine that many of us feel this way about our earthly home. For me, it is not hard to conjure up a memory of my childhood home which brings sorrow to my heart and tears to my eyes. I miss Mom. I miss exploring the woods and building forts with my brothers. I miss playing baseball with my dad late into the Summer evening. It hurts me that I’ll never experience these things in the same way again. Sometimes the pain seems unbearable.

But if I forgot the memory of home, I would in a very real sense lose my identity. This memory—as painful as it might be—keeps me rooted in who I am and what is important.

Of course, as the people of God, Psalm 137 describes our current experience.

In his first letter, Peter refers to his readers as “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11) and instructs them in godly living “throughout the time of [their] exile” (1 Peter 1:17). At the end of the book, he describes his own situation by saying, “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings” (1 Peter 5:13 NASB). From the beginning (Genesis 11), Babylon has always been the city of man, the city of idolatry, and Peter—likely in Rome—speaks of himself and his readers as captives in this rebellious city. He is not at home, and longs for the day when he will be. As he says in his second letter, “We are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).

It breaks our heart that we are not at home—not in the presence of the Lord as we were meant to be. We suffer the pain of loss and the fear of death. We are tortured by anxiety and troubled by broken relationships. We are discouraged by the evil in this world and the hostility we experience trying to be faithful to God. And what hurts us the most is that all these things are the result of humanity’s rebellion against God—a rebellion that we have fully participated in by sinning against our Creator. We have separated ourselves from the Source of life and of goodness, and it hurts. As Augustine of Hippo wrote at the end of the fourth century, “You have made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You” (Confessions I.i)

And so we should weep. But the weeping is good for us. Like the psalmist, the painful longing we have for home—an inherited memory, if you will—roots us in our identity and our purpose. It is our connection to reality—the reality of who we are, for what (for Whom) we were made, and for what (for Whom) we are waiting. To use the language of Peter, it is only by embracing our status as “sojourners and exiles” that we can “know what sort of people [we] ought to be in holy conduct and godliness” (2 Peter 3:11 NASB).

With this in mind, consider another psalm, Psalm 126, written by the Hebrews that returned to Jerusalem when the seventy years of captivity were completed.

“When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy.” (Psalm 126:1-2 ESV)

Can you imagine the laughter of those exiles as they approached their homeland after so many years of weeping? And is there anything quite as powerful to the human spirit as a rich, wholesome, joyous laugh?

By His faithfulness, Jesus has delivered us from the captivity of sin (Romans 6:6), or to use Peter’s language, we have been “born again” (1 Peter 1:3,23), “ransomed” (1:18), brought “out of darkness” (2:9), and we have “returned to the Shepherd” (2:25). The Lord has restored our fortunes, and our mouths are filled with laughter.

And we should laugh. Not the cynical or superficial laughter of the world (see Luke 6:25), but the blessed laughter of those who drink deeply of God’s goodness. As Peter describes, “though you do not see him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9 NASB). But there we are again, we do not yet see Jesus and we have not yet fully obtained our salvation.

So laugh, and weep. Weep, and laugh.

Weep for sin and for the brokenness that it has brought into our lives and the lives of those we care about. Weep for the pain of loss and separation that we are subject to while this age endures. And laugh for the joy that God has brought into our lives by freeing us from sin and giving us His Holy Spirit. Laugh for the certain hope that Jesus is coming back to set all things right and fulfill our deepest longings forever.

For, as the psalmist continues,

“Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:5-6 ESV)

And as our Lord has said, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21).

Let your tears fall to the ground. Let them purify the soil of your heart so easily polluted by the world. Let your tears water the earth. And let them be planted like seeds that will bear the fruit of inexpressible joy, now and forever.

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