Growing in Christ

By Pastor Bill Snider

As a born-again believer, there are certain things you'll need to know in order to become the person that Jesus created you to be.

First of all, the moment you prayed and received Jesus you started a brand new life. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." You are no longer the same person on the inside. The outside might look the same, and you might even tend to think the same, but inside you're no longer the same. The old "you" has passed away and the new "you" has come.

That's what the Bible means by "born-again" - a new life was given to you. You're now God's child and you have a new family. You have a new nature with a new purpose in this life. You're free from sin and the power of Satan. You have rights as a citizen of the kingdom of God. You have power and authority over your life that you never dreamed. In essence, you restarted your life with a blank slate, and you can rebuild your future into the fullness of what God has promised you.

Jesus made an amazing statement in John 10:10. He said, "The thief [referring to Satan] does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." That's Jesus' plan for you - that you may have an abundant life. There is so much that you need to learn if you really want that abundant life. But you won't learn it overnight, because you can't. It will take time. However, if you'll set yourself to growing in the things of God, you will come into the knowledge that brings that abundant life.

There are four areas that you need to develop in if you want to go on with Jesus. These are not the total of what you must learn, however they are areas of your life that you must cultivate if you want to grow in the things of God. Your spiritual walk depends on you maintaining these four areas in your life. They must become disciplines in your daily living, just as taking a bath and brushing your teeth are disciplines. You may not feel like doing them, but when they're disciplines, you do them anyway. That's because they carry benefits in doing them.

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The Word of God

The first area that you must work on, if you want to grow in Christ, is the Word of God - the Bible. 1 Peter 2:2,3 says, "As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious."

When you got born-again you tasted the grace of God. You came into the awareness that God loves you and wants to help you. However, God doesn't want to stop at getting you saved and born-again. He wants to bring you into the understanding of what happened to you the moment you were born-again. He wants to show you all that He has done for you, and all that He will do for you: "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God (1 Corinthians 2:12)." Since you're now one of His children, God sent His Spirit into you, to show you what He's freely given to you. However, you will never know what that is without knowing the Word of God. It is only by the Bible that the Holy Spirit can show you what God has done for you.

Therefore, you must make "getting in the Word" one of your top priorities. You must spend time daily reading your Bible until you begin to grasp what God is saying to you. This will only happen if you determine to make it happen. It will require desire, determination and diligence. You must discipline yourself to read your Bible whether you feel like it, or whether it seems like you're getting anything out of it. You must trust the process that millions before you have successfully followed - the day will come when you'll begin to understand, and the Bible will begin to make sense. Then, you'll see great and awesome things in the Word that will change your life, forever.

Moreover, and this is critical to your spiritual growth and well-being, you must realize that the Word of God is your very sustenance, your food. Luke 4:4 says, "But Jesus answered [Satan], saying, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.'" You must feed regularly on the Word of God if you intend to grow and become strong in the things of God. To feed on the Word requires reading it, thinking about it, talking about it and doing as much of it as you can, over and over again. When you do these things, whether it seems like you're getting anything out of it or not, the Word will cause to you grow and become strong. It will bring the kind of faith that empowers you to overcome in adversity. (Note: if you need to know where to start, start in the New Testament - preferably the Gospels. This way you can get to know Jesus, the One who made this all possible for you.)

Finally, you must remember not to take God's Word religiously. The New Testament is not about turning you into a legalistically perfect Christian. It's about transforming you into the person that God created you to be with a purpose in this life you've been created to fulfill. Obviously, you will look more and more like Jesus, as you grow in the knowledge of God. And obviously, you will learn more and more how to avoid committing sin. But God never meant us to become "cookie-cutter" Christians where we all dress, act, and talk alike. We each have our own destiny and purpose to fulfill in this earth. Therefore, we must follow the path God has placed before each of us. This will never happen if we get bogged down in trying to live by a bunch of rules and regulations (Galatians 5:1-7).

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The second area that you must cultivate, if you want to grow in Christ, is prayer.

I don't believe anything defines the purpose of prayer more than James 4:8, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you." Prayer is drawing near to God. To draw near means to come near, or approach, God. When you take the time to pray you will draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. That's a promise. God is never any further from you than you are from Him. When you approach Him, He approaches you. When you come to Him, He comes to you. Isn't that awesome!

Now, this is not a physical or mental thing that happens, it's a spiritual thing. You can't know God with your mind. You can't see Him with your eyes, or hear Him with your ears. And you can't feel Him with your hands. You can only experience Him with your spirit. That's what prayer does. It brings you and God into contact with each other - spirit to Spirit.

There is much to learn about prayer, because there are many kinds of prayer. In order to grow in your relationship with God, you will have to develop in all these kinds of prayer. Most of these kinds of prayer are found in 1 Timothy 2:1, "Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence." Most of these prayers are really for yourself and others. However, they are still necessary for your growth in Christ, and for drawing near to God. As a matter of fact, they are necessary for living a quiet and peaceable life here in the earth.

If you will remember the basic purpose of prayer, which is to draw near to God, you will never struggle with prayer. Too many Christians struggle in prayer. They tend to think that unless you're sweating blood when you're praying that God's not going to answer. Or, if you haven't been quite perfect that day, He won't draw near to you. That's simply not true. Jesus made an amazing statement concerning asking God in prayer. He said, "And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you. Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full." Going to God in prayer is meant to be full of joy for us. Why? Because we know that when we draw near to Him, He draws near to us, and He hears and answers us when we ask for something in Jesus' name.

There are other scriptures that say this, but I like the way Hebrews 4:16 sums it up, "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Do you understand what it's saying? You must come BOLDLY to the throne of grace. There is no place for fear in drawing near to God. You are His child and He is your Father. He requires you to come boldly to Him - if you want His help. That means you will come to Him freely, fearlessly and expectantly.

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The third area that you must work on, if you want to grow in Christ, is the area of fellowship. Fellowship is about sharing something in common. Two believers share in common their faith in Jesus. They share in common their need for God's Word. They share in common the truths they learn from God's Word. They share in common their purpose and destiny in Christ. In order for you to grow in Christ you must bring yourself into fellowship with other Christians. You are part of the same family, and you have the same Lord and Savior. God wants you to develop that sense of belonging that's part and parcel of belonging to a family. And it will only happen as you assemble together with other Christians.

You must realize that when you received Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you died to this world. You're no longer of this world. You belong to God. You're part of His family, and you have a multitude of brothers and sisters that God's given to you to encourage you, help you, and stand by you in times of need. Moreover, you're there to encourage, help and stand by them, also. They need you as much as you need them. Consequently, God expects you to reach out and seek fellowship with your brothers and sisters, as much as He expects them to reach out and seek fellowship with you.

Another meaning of fellowship is partnership. God didn't leave you here without a purpose. You were created for a reason, and you're still here for that same reason. God has business in this earth that only His children can fulfill. Each of us has a job to do, and if we don't do that job it won't get done. When God's children go to work for Him, there's a partnership created between them. Only the believers involved in the Father's business have this kind of fellowship.

Hebrew 10:24,25 sums up what fellowship really should be about: "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching." Fellowship should stir you up to love and good works. It should motivate you to go further than you would have by yourself. It refines you, sharpens you and gives you the drive to go forward in your walk and service to God.

Unfortunately, you won't find this kind of fellowship sitting in front of your TV watching Christian television. Certainly, it might help you grow in your knowledge of God, but it won't help you fulfill your need for fellowship with other believers. You getting up, getting dressed and going to church can only meet that. And not just showing up to church will fulfill it, but getting involved and interacting with believers can only fulfill it. You must become actively involved in the service of the Lord. Find your job and do it. If you don't know what your job is, then go help someone else do his or hers until you find out. Remember, just as you're to be actively part of being stirred up to love and good works, you must also be stirring up others.

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The fourth area you need to build if you want to grow in Christ is in the area of witnessing. Jesus made an important statement in Acts 1:8. He said, "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." You're to be a witness to Jesus, and of Jesus, here in the earth.

Before you could receive Jesus as your Lord and Savior, Jesus had to become real to you. God, the Father, had to become real to you. God's love for you had to become real to you. And even though it took faith to believe that Jesus loved you and died for your sins, there had to be enough evidence in front of you to give you the confidence that you were making the right decision to put your faith in Jesus.

Part of what convinced you that Jesus was real was the person who shared it with you. Then, again, maybe it was somebody else. Nevertheless, someone was a witness to you of the reality of God and of Jesus. Someone provided enough evidence that you had to seriously consider what Jesus could mean to you if you accepted Him.

A witness is someone who provides evidence, or produces proof to something. One valid witness is enough, in our courts of law, to convict someone of a crime. How can they do that? Simple, they do it by providing information based on their knowledge and experience of the circumstances surrounding the crime. Well, we also, once we've tasted the truth of God and His love for us, have become witnesses of His reality and His love. Once we've known Him, and have experienced His freedom, peace and joy, we are now the evidence of His freedom, peace and joy to others.

Before I received Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I had been reading the New Testament for about a month. I had been seeking the truth of God. Did He really exist? Did He really care about us? If so, then how could I know Him? How could I know His reality? What kind of relationship did I have, or could I have with Him? From reading the New Testament, primarily in the Gospel of John, I began to see answers to these questions. I began to see that in and through Jesus, God came to us to reveal Himself and His intentions to us. A conviction grew on the inside of me. That is, I slowly became aware of the truth and reality of what the Bible was saying to me.

However, though it seemed real, and there was an urging on the inside of me to believe these things, I couldn't see, feel or hear God outside of me. Yet, inside, I knew He was real and that He cared for me. For a few weeks a struggle went on in me. I wanted to believe and receive Jesus, but I couldn't because I couldn't see or feel Him. How many times I sat waiting to hear Him speak to me with my physical ears, but it never happened.

Finally, one night, I had to make the decision. Was I going to believe what I knew inside; or, was I going to believe what I was not experiencing outside. I chose to believe what I knew inside. I received Jesus as my Lord and Savior, and I asked Him to come live in my heart. However, even the moment after I finished praying, I was challenged, simply because I didn't "feel" anything. I chose not to let that lack of feeling stop me. I chose to believe that God heard me, and that I was saved and born-again. The moment I made that decision a peace lowered upon me like a gentle cloud, and I became a witness of God's grace and love for us. The very next day I began to share what Jesus did for me. And from that day to this, I've labored to be God's witness of His love and reality.

When you become a witness of Jesus' love, goodness and grace, you grow. You become stronger. There is nothing that makes you stronger, faster than making a stand for Jesus. You grow in ways you cannot grow otherwise. There is no other way to know the heart and love God has for man than by sharing Him with people. Sure, you will be laughed at, and made fun of by many. But you will also be there to see many of those who laughed turn to Jesus. I know that for a fact, because I've seen it happen over and over again throughout my years as a Christian.

As I said, nothing makes you grow like making a stand for Jesus, and determining to live by it. It will purge you of selfishness, worldliness and fear. You'll learn how to be yourself, and how not to fear man. Nobody will be able to dominate you, because you are God's child. You will learn how to walk in godliness and boldness as you step out and dare to be God's witness to the world.

God gave me this scripture, Isaiah 43:10-13, and I've sought to live by it. Nevertheless, it belongs to all of us, "You are My witnesses," says the LORD, "And My servant whom I have chosen, That you may know and believe Me, And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the LORD, And besides Me there is no savior. I have declared and saved, I have proclaimed, And there was no foreign god among you; therefore you are My witnesses," Says the LORD, "that I am God. Indeed before the day was, I am He; And there is no one who can deliver out of My hand; I work, and who will reverse it?"

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