Growing in Christ — Part II The Bible
Reading and Studying the Bible
Part I of this essay explored the steps taken by brand new Christians who want to grow in Christ. When a person accepts Jesus Christ as Savior, he (or she) begins a new life. The Bible says that person is reborn as a child of God.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1: 12-13 (NAS)
Part I also examined the changes in a Christian as he grows from a newborn babe to a mature adult. As we continue in Christ we are transformed into His likeness. As the Bible says in II Corinthians 3: 18:
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (NAS)
As new Christians, we are like newborn babies. We need to grow. But how do we grow? Let’s follow the example of the early Church. According to Acts 2: 42:
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (NAS)
They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles. Apostolic teaching is preserved for us in the New Testament in the Bible. They also maintained fellowship with other Christians. They spent much time in prayer. And, in obedience to Christ’s command in Matthew 28: 18-20, they told the world about Jesus the Christ. These are the basic activities of a growing Christian’s life.
Part I also introduced a memory aid used by some Christians to remind them of the basic activities in a Christian’s life. The memory aid is called the Disciples’ Cross. The basic parts of the Disciples’ Cross are Abiding in Christ (in the center of the cross), Prayer, Bible Study, Fellowship with other Christians, and Evangelism. Let’s look at the Disciples’ Cross once again.
In this study, the basic activities of growing Christians are divided into three sections. I planned to divide the study into two parts but the second part (this part) grew too big. So now the study is split into three parts.
Part I discusses two activities that focus on our relationship with God. These are “Abiding in Christ” and “Praying to God the Father.” Parts II and III emphasize three activities that are task oriented: “Reading and Studying the Bible” (Part II), “Fellowship with Other Christians,” and “Evangelism” (Part III).
I. Review: Abiding in Christ and Prayer
Jesus told His disciples in John 15:5 that their activities for Him are powerless and worthless unless the disciples maintain a close, daily, personal relationship with Jesus. He compared this relationship to that of a vine and its branches, saying,
“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (NAS)
Of course, this does not require all of us to become monks and sleep on the cold, stone floor of a monastery. Staying close to God is a process of practicing the presence of Christ. Christ can give you the power and ability to do this. Ask Him to be with you every minute of every day. Stay close to Him. Abide in Him.
Prayer also is a fundamental part of Christian life and growth. But if we abide in Christ, we are close to God, right? Why do we need to pray? Even Jesus said in Matthew 6: 8, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” If God already knows what we need, why do we need to pray?
Because prayer is more than a recitation of your prayer wish list. Prayer is a declaration of faith. It shows you know the true source of your blessings. As you grow in Christ, prayer demonstrates your faith and trust in God’s goodness.
Remember also that you have a relationship with God. Conversation is a feature of all healthy relationships. Prayer is a conversation with God: talking to and listening to Him.
In I Thessalonians 5: 16-18 the apostle Paul provides a good summary for this section on prayer.
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (NAS)
I hope you have noticed in this essay that there are frequent references to the Bible. This brings us to the third activity of the Christian’s life.
II. Read and Study the Bible
Reading and studying the Bible are essential tasks for Christian growth. The apostle Peter wrote in I Peter 2: 2, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” (NAS)
Jesus told His disciples the importance of reading and studying the Scriptures. According to John 8: 31-32,
So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (NAS)
The Greek word translated as “continue” is μείνητε (meinēte). The same word is translated “abide” in John 15. We are to abide/continue in Christ and in His word.
The apostle Paul agrees with Jesus regarding the importance of a daily, continuing study of the Scriptures. The Scriptures gave Timothy the wisdom he needed to be saved. Paul reminds Timothy of this in II Timothy 3: 14-15
“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. (NAS)
Then Paul delivers one of the best known descriptions of the source of Scripture and the importance of Scripture in the Christian’s life.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” II Timothy 3: 16-17 (NAS)
Let’s examine each part of II Timothy 3: 16.
All Scripture Is Inspired by God
What is the source of Scripture? The source of Scripture is God. God inspired men to write His words. These words became the Scriptures (the Bible) we have today. The Bible says in II Peter 1: 20-21,
“But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (NAS)
This is why the Bible is the revelation of God. God spoke through men. He moved them to write down the words of Scripture. He revealed Himself through their writings.
As part of this revelation, God disclosed a set of standards and guidelines that are totally foreign to this world and its practices. God and His ways are totally, unexpectedly, qualitatively different and superior to the ways of men. God inspired the prophet Isaiah to write this in Isaiah 55: 8-9,
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (NAS)
God’s ways are completely different from our ways. How can we possibly hope to please Him, follow Him, or abide in Him? Well, God provides us everything we need to know so we can seek Him, find Him, and live for Him. This knowledge is available for us in the form of a book—the Bible.
How can the Bible help us live as Christians?
Profitable for Teaching
Look again at II Timothy 3: 16: “All Scripture is . . . profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” What does the Bible teach us? Many things.
Do you remember what it was like to be a new, baby Christian? Someone told you about Jesus. It could have been your pastor, a Sunday School teacher, a friend at school, your parent, or someone else. You listened to the story and accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior and the Lord of your life.
Where did they get that story about Jesus, you know, the story about our sins and the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross? They found that story in the Bible. As you read and study the Bible you learn even more about God, man, and the relationship between God and man.
In Romans 3: 23 the Bible teaches you, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We all are sinners before a holy God. The Bible also teaches that the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6: 23).
The Bible also teaches us God’s response to our sinful condition.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5: 8, NAS)
Why did God send Jesus Christ to earth to live a sinless life and to die a sinner’s death? From John 3: 16 we learn that God’s motivation was love.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (NAS)
As you continue to study the Bible you come across some familiar Bible stories. You heard these before. Now they seem different. Why? The Bible says that God’s Holy Spirit now lives in you. He teaches you to understand the Bible in God-inspired ways. Jesus told His disciples this in John 14: 26
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. (NAS)
For example, do you remember the story of David and Goliath in I Samuel 17? David, the little shepherd boy, fought the huge giant named Goliath. What did you learn from that story? Before I accepted Jesus Christ, I was told the purpose of that story was to teach us not to give up when faced with a tremendous challenge. Do your best when you face giants in your life.
With the Holy Spirit as my helper I was taught new ways to understand this story. For example, the story showed me that God will not fail me nor forsake me when I hear His call and step out by faith. In addition, I need to fear no evil when I am in the valley of the shadow of death. The God Who walks with me daily will not abandon me in my hour of greatest need.
The teaching of the Bible is unique. This uniqueness is seen most prominently in the teachings of Jesus. For example, Jesus was a wandering teacher Who was executed by the Roman authorities. How could He possibly be the Savior of the world? The Bible explains why this is true.
Other sources, such as devotionals, Christian books, tapes, etc., can be helpful but only as long as they agree with the Bible. The Bible is the inspired word of God. It is 100% reliable in its teachings.
II Timothy 3: 16 also says the Scriptures are profitable for reproof. The Greek word for “reproof” can mean “convict,” “rebuke,” “chasten,” or “reprimand severely.” These activities do not sound like fun. How does the Bible reprove us?
Do you remember when you were a new Christian? Although Jesus Christ is in your heart, you continue to perform some acts from your old manner of life. Then you read the following in Galatians 5: 19-21:
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
“Whoa,” you say. “I’m still doing some of those things.” The Bible has just reproved you.
Why is the Bible able to convict us and chasten us? The Bible contains God’s required standards for holy living. God uses the Bible to reveal His standards to us. The Bible says, in Psalm 25: 8, “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore, He instructs sinners in the way.” (NAS)
The famous evangelist Dwight L. Moody agrees. He once said, “This book will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from this book.”
According to Psalm 94: 12, God not only chastens the sinner (both you and me) but He also instructs us regarding our sin. “Blessed is the man whom You chasten, O LORD and whom You teach out of Your law.” (NAS)
Why does God do this? Why does He bother to convict us of our sin and shortcomings? Because He loves us. God tells us the standard of behavior He expects from us. But He is ready to forgive us after we turn away from our sins. Note Ezekiel 18: 21-23:
“But if the wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed and observes all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live. Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord GOD, “rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?” (NAS)
God wants us to follow His path. He longs to forgive us. His desire is that we live.
The Bible also is useful and effective for correction. As you continue to read and study the Bible, you will notice subtle changes in the messages you receive from Scripture. Each time you read a passage of Scripture, although you are reading the same words, the Holy Spirit reveals new ideas from that same passage of Scripture.
As you continue to read and study the Bible, your depth of knowledge and understanding will grow. The Bible will correct immature ideas, replacing them with new, mature revelations.
For example, God provides us with guidelines for living. The laws given by God to Moses serve as one of the earliest and most comprehensive set of God’s guidelines. Moses told the Israelites of the importance of the laws in Deuteronomy 4: 1-2
“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform, so that you may live and go in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” (NAS)
When a new Christian reads God’s law for the first time, he may be tempted to equate keeping the law and being right before God. The Pharisees in the New Testament had this problem. They thought God would be pleased by their strict keeping of the law. Jesus criticized their stringent adherence to the law in Matthew 23: 23.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. (NAS)
This is how the Bible can correct our immature understanding of biblical doctrine. As the new Christian continues to read and study the Bible, he starts to understand obedience to the law requires a proper attitude. God reveals this in Micah 6: 8.
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God? (NAS)
Jesus also provided correction for our attitude toward the law. How difficult it is to satisfy the requirements of the law through a strict adherence to the letter of the law. Jesus proclaimed an easier way. He taught that love is the central focus of the law. In Matthew 22: 36-40, a lawyer asked Jesus a question. Here is the lawyer’s question and Jesus’ response.
[Lawyer] “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He [Jesus] said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (NAS)
How does the Bible provide correction in our example? First, the new Christian learns the importance of God’s law as given to Moses. As he grows in Christ, he begins to understand the importance of following the law from the heart. Mere adherence to the letter of the law is not enough.
As we continue to grow we should begin to understand the importance of justice and mercy and faithfulness. Our earlier understanding of the law has matured. Finally, we comprehend the law as explained by Jesus. The central focus of the law is love. If a person truly loves God and others, he fulfills the spirit of the law.
For Training in Righteousness
The Christian life is a growth process. God wants to conform us to the image of His Son. According to I John 3: 2-3:
Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
These two verses contain two key statements. First, although we do not know what Christ looks like, when He appears we will be just like Him. This transformation is totally a work of God. Second, if our hope is fixed on Christ, we need to purify ourselves and live holy lives as we wait for His return.
How can we live holy lives? The Bible can teach us to live holy lives and remain pure. Purity is facilitated when we hide the words of the Bible in our hearts (when we memorize the Bible). This prevents us from sinning against God. Consider Psalm 119: 9, 11:
How can a young man keep his way pure?
By keeping it according to Your word.
. . .
Your word I have treasured in my heart,
That I may not sin against You. (NAS)
How does God help to train us in righteousness? God provides the power to transform us into the likeness of His Son. God will not force us to undergo this transformation but He does provide the power. We stay connected to God’s power by abiding in Christ.
OK, say we are abiding in Christ and connected to God’s Power. What happens next? This is a work of God, after all. We cannot change ourselves. What are we supposed to do next? Where is the instruction book?
Because we need an instruction book, God has provided that too. According to II Peter 1: 2-4, God has given us everything—everything—we need to know relating to life and godliness.
Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. (NAS)
We find God’s precious and magnificent promises between the covers of God’s inspired instruction book—the Bible.
The process for training in righteous is outlined in the Bible. But the specific process varies from person to person. God gives each of us talents and spiritual gifts. He calls us to follow Him and to use our talents and gifts to build His Kingdom. Each one of us is unique. God’s plan for each of us is unique.
However, in spite of our uniqueness, we are all the same in many important respects. For example, we all are sinners. We all are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Christian growth requires all of us to abide in Christ. We are all the same and each one of us is unique.
The process involved by training in righteousness contains many elements that apply to all of us. Let’s consider one of these elements—the element of discipline. How does discipline help train us in righteousness?
Let’s begin by clearing up a possible misunderstanding. What’s the first image that comes to your mind when you hear the word “discipline?” For a long time when I heard that word, I immediately thought of someone getting a punished, that is, a spanking. Yes, that is one definition but is the word “discipline” only defined as punishment?
No, the word discipline has many other meanings. Self-control is an important character trait that is taught by discipline. Discipline also is needed to perform a difficult task to its completion. Discipline is required as we learn many of the basic lessons of life.
When I became a parent, I began to see different meanings for the word. For example, suppose you tell your child that it’s his responsibility to empty the kitchen trash can. Why did you give him that job? Are you being cruel to the child? Are you punishing him without cause? No, you are trying to teach the child to be responsible. Household chores help the child understand that as part of a family he should do his part in keeping the house clean.
How much easier it is to take out the trash yourself! Why go to all the bother of asking the child to take out the trash, reminding the child several times that the trash is not going to take itself out, listening to the child’s whining and complaining, and so on.
It costs only a few seconds for you to take out the trash. But you want your child to learn responsibility. He needs to learn that families help each other. In other words, you take the time and the trouble to teach him discipline because you love the child. You want to prepare him for adult responsibilities.
God, our heavenly Father, acts much the same as an earthly father. God disciplines us because He loves us. The Bible expresses this idea in Hebrews 12: 7, 9-11
It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? . . . Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. (NAS)
The Bible helps us understand why God disciplines us. It is fundamental to training in righteousness.
Can you see why the Bible is so important for growth as a Christian? The Bible provides all of the authoritative evidence for belief and knowledge of Jesus Christ and God. The Bible is the special revelation of God to a sin filled world.