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What the Bible says about Growth, Spiritual
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Jeremiah 17:5-6

The subject in which Jeremiah 17:9 appears is faith. God is pointing out why we allow our deceitful heart to get away with evading truth. It is a matter of faith—trust. Verse 6 shows that the person who does not live by faith will not grow. He will be like a shrub in the desert that only receives water every so often, not near often enough to grow.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sin of Self-Deception

Acts 20:32

The "word of His grace" in this context is most specifically the whole gospel. Notice especially that Paul says he is committing us to the word of His grace which is able to build us up, to edify us. We could think of it edifying us in terms of building a muscle or of erecting a structure. To put it another way, the word of grace matures us. We usually think of maturity, which is a building of personality and character, as a growth from childhood and all of its weaknesses to a stable adult. Another way of putting it would be, "The word of grace enables us to go on to perfection."

What is beginning to open up here is something very beautiful. Grace does not end when God forgives us. The grace of God continues to add to what was originally given, because if He stopped giving things with the forgiveness of sin, that would be the end of growth; it would stop right there. Forgiveness is only the beginning portion of a process, for God keeps giving us grace to enable us to mature, to grow in grace and knowledge (II Peter 3:18), to grow to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). We would never get there unless God continued to pour out His grace on us.

The apostle Paul shows grace to be something that is dynamic and active. Remember Jesus said, "The words that I speak to you [the word of grace] are spirit and they are life." There is power in them!

What is the gospel? It is words. It is good news, but it is composed of words of power. This word confers a blessing that is unique, that enables us to mature spiritually. Words—any words—have the power to build or to destroy, to encourage or discourage. They can either be true or they can be lies. They can inspire or they can sadden and depress. It all depends on how they are used, the attitude in which they are used, and how they are arranged.

The gospel is an arrangement of true words that fill us with purpose for living and show us how that purpose can be obtained. It comes completely as a gift; we are favored. The word of grace brings delight and salvation—an arrangement of words given in a loving attitude by a loving God.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Grace Upon Grace

1 Corinthians 13:2

This verse cautions us regarding prophecy's importance relative to a vital virtue: "And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, . . . but have not love, I am nothing." We need to grasp this true principle. We must understand that whether or not we know every detail of prophecy has little impact on salvation. Other knowledge is far more important to salvation than even a true, complete knowledge of prophecy.

Of supreme importance is the subject of this chapter—love. Coming to know God, growing, and overcoming in conduct and attitude are exceedingly more important, as are growing in love for both God and the brethren, fellowshipping in peace and harmony, and strengthening our marriage and child-training practices.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Four): Where Is the Woman of Revelation 17?

Philippians 2:12-13

There is no question that God can save us. Of course He can make us inheritors of "the land" and give us eternal life. All these are beyond question! He has the power to do this, and He has the will to do it. He certainly wants to do it—it is part of His purpose.

Even so, we can stop the process. We can choose not to be sanctified. This is why Paul says, "Work out your own salvation." We learn from the analogy of Israel in the wilderness how the first generation of those who came out chose—they made the choice—to die in the wilderness. It was not God's purpose that they die there. He had the power to get Israel into the land. Indeed, He did it. Yet, their lack of faith, their disbelief, their stiff necks, the fact that they never got rid of the patterns of thinking they had in Egypt, they would not yield, they refused to make the right choices (as Joshua and Caleb did) were the deciding factors in their bodies being scattered all through the wilderness. God had it written down as a lesson for us (see I Corinthians 10:1-11). He is saying, in effect, "Choose life. Don't choose to do what these people did—in lusting, tempting Me, and so forth."

So, who can we possibly blame if we do not make it? Has not God called us? Has He not given us His grace? Has He not given us His Spirit, a new heart, the divine nature, access to Him, the promise that He will never give us any trial that is too great for us? And let us not forget he additional promise in Hebrews 13:5, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." He has given us all the tools, so now the onus is on us.

God is not demanding that we do everything perfectly from day one, but He does want to see evidence that we want to be there! He wants to see that we are making efforts to walk the talk. He wants to see that we are not going backwards. He wants to see us move off dead center and that we begin to grow on a steady, consistent basis—regardless of how fast it is. He wants to see that we are using and applying what He has given to us, and He is willing to add whatever we lack! He will give us the gifts that we need in order to serve Him. If we do what He wants us to do, the changes will take place.

The mainstream Christian approach leaves one with the impression that salvation is complete at the point of justification. But that is completely out of step with Colossians 1:22, where Paul writes, "if you continue in the faith. . . ." Israel had to walk to the Promised Land, and as they walked, God prepared them to inherit the land. In this way, they became sanctified. Sanctification is what gives evidence ofgrowth.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Nine)

2 Peter 1:5-10

This passage builds on the implication of grace, that is, the gifts of God alluded to in the previous verses. Grace both enables or empowers us and makes demands on us by putting us under obligation. Titus 2:11-12 tells us that the grace of God teaches us that "denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly." Receiving the grace of God puts us under obligation to respond.

Peter is teaching that the grace of God demands diligence or effort. Verse 5 reads, "giving all diligence [effort]." In addition, it is helpful to understand that Peter is saying in the word translated as "add" that we are to bring this diligence, this effort, alongside or in cooperation with what God has already given. God freely extends His grace, but it obligates us to respond. We are then to do our part in cooperating with what He has given to us—and He inspired Peter to tell us to do it diligently and with a great deal of effort.

We ministers almost constantly speak of growth. Yet, notice where Peter begins his list of traits we are to become fruitful in: He writes, "Add to your faith." "Add" is woefully mistranslated into the English. Yes, it can mean "add," but it is actually much more expansive than that. "Generously supplement" is a more literally correct rendering, which brings it into harmony with "diligence." In other words, make great effort to supplement your faith generously.

Peter sees faith as the starting point for all the other qualities or attributes. He does not mean to imply in any way that faith is elementary, but rather that it is fundamental or foundational—that the other things will not exist as aspects of godliness without faith undergirding them. In the Greek, it is written as though each one of these qualities flows from the previous ones. We could also say that faith is like the central or dominant theme in a symphony, and the other qualities amplify or embellish it.

How much and what we accomplish depend on where we begin. Peter is showing us that there is a divine order for growth, and it begins with faith.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Five)

2 Peter 3:17-18

Everybody knows that growth is a process. When a child is born, it is not immediately a full-grown adult with a lifetime of experiences crammed into its cranium while in the womb. The weakest and most helpless of all newborn things must be a human baby. It has to be taken care of completely and totally by its mother and father, or it would die.

When they are born, most other mammals are at least able to find a way to get something to eat. However, human babies are absolutely helpless. Even though they grow very rapidly—especially in the first few years—during which time they accumulate a great deal of knowledge and experience, their growth is little by little.

Here, right in the Word of God, we are being told that we, too, are to grow! We are not instantaneously a canister full of all kinds of facts and figures and the knowledge of God. We do not understand all the biblical principles. We certainly do not have all wisdom. We know very well that these things accumulate over many years of living.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Nineteen)

2 Peter 3:17-18

Verse 18 makes it clear that there is a contrast. Peter says, ". . . but grow." Verse 17 is a warning: ". . . beware lest you also fall . . . being led away with the error of the wicked."

The command is to grow, so if the contrast that he is establishing in our minds is to be met, the positive part of the instruction is that effort has to be made in order to grow. If we are not making an effort to grow, the only alternative is to go in reverse. We begin to degenerate if we do not make an effort to grow.

II Peter 3:17 (Moffatt) Now, beloved, you are forewarned: mind you that you are not carried away by the error of the lawless and so lose your proper footing;

My attention is on this verse 17 where he says, "mind you," rather than "beware." He turns it into something that is positive. "Beware" could mean to just look around to make sure that one is safe. But "mind you" says, "Hey, turn your attention to focus on this!"

We can see from the combination of these two verses that effort must be made to produce growth or we will likely fall into the error of the wicked. In other words, doing nothing regarding our spiritual responsibilities is akin to doing nothing regarding our physical responsibilities pertaining to our physical health.

So we are faced with a choice. We are forewarned. Something has to be done; we cannot just stand still. Nor can we just drift. Some effort has to be made to ensure growth takes place.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Titus 2:11-14

1 John 1:7

As we grow, God reveals more of His perfection to us, and as He reveals His perfection, His light, His truth, we continue to repent. Knowing better what He is, we go to Him for forgiveness of what we are and what we have done, and He continues to cleanse us by the blood of Jesus Christ, washing our imperfections away.

Everything in the Christian life ultimately comes down to our relationship with God. Without the relationship, without the fellowship that is made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ—which bridges the gap between us and God and enables us to have the relationship—no growth will take place. The practice of walking in the light makes perfect. It is not a matter of changing and cleansing ourselves, but rather that fellowship with God has a transforming and perfecting quality.

We know that "evil communication [company, NKJV] corrupts good manners" (I Corinthians 15:33, KJV). The obverse of this is that wonderful, pure, good communication produces good manners. When we are around evil people, we will pick up their habits and their ways. When we choose as our companions people who have the standards of God and fellowship with them, they will likely rub off on us. We cannot fellowship with anyone better than God. That is the whole purpose of the relationship. When we are around Him, we become like Him, unless we consciously decide to cut ourselves off from Him by rejecting His truth.

It is a wonderful system. Everything hinges on the relationship, on the fellowship, and then ultimately on the response to truth. We cannot afford to allow the carnal nature in us (it is still there even after conversion, as Paul said that sin was still in him; Romans 7:14-25) to gain the upper hand and prevent us from working and building on this relationship.

Leviticus 19:2 tells us that we are to be holy because He is holy, and that is what this fellowship is doing, equipping us for holiness on a day-to-day basis. Maintaining that fellowship is not always easy because of the prejudices that we bring with us due to the traditions of our human cultures. We were once helpless before them, having absorbed what our parents taught us until God opened our minds to the truth. Even now, it takes conscious effort for us to respond to the truth, but if we want to be holy, we must maintain the relationship.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Truth (Part 3)

Revelation 2:24-26

Having been commended for their deeds, love, service, faith, and patience, those who reject Satan will be fine if they hold fast the doctrines and character they have shown. Christ lays on them no further burden beyond holding fast. He does, however, give the same admonishment to them that He gives to all the churches: Overcome and keep Christ's works to the end (Ephesians 4:13). No matter what our spiritual state is, we all must continue to grow in the stature and fullness of Christ throughout our walk to God's Kingdom (I John 2:24).

Staff
The Seven Churches: Thyatira


 




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