3 benefits of repentance

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Repentance. I’ll just come out and say it. It’s a word I don’t like to hear. It’s difficult to talk about. It’s often an awkward topic. It isn’t easy or comfortable or catchy or natural. However, I believe it is one of the biggest things that is lacking in my spiritual life and maybe even in yours.

The Bible is not shy when it comes to talking about repentance. We kind of know this already, right? In fact, it is the most common term and sermon topic in Scripture. “Repentance” or “return to the Lord” is mentioned over 1,000 times in Old Testament alone. The message of repentance was in the mouth of every prophet. Their sermon was like this, “(Clear throat) Good morning congregation. (Deep breath) REPENT! (Awkward silence) Okay. Let’s pray.” That was their message. It was all that needed to be said and heard.

In the New Testament, the message isn’t much different. John the Baptist’s message was: repent (Mark 1:4). The apostles first preached that people should: repent (Mark 6:11). Jesus tender, yet tough, said in his first sermon, “Repent and believe.” (Mark 1:15) Jesus shared the story of the prodigal son, the poster boy of repentance, that heaven rejoices over one sinner who: repents. In Revelation 2:5, Jesus says to the church: repent. As the church goes global in Acts, what was the apostle Peter’s message? “Repent.” (2:38; 3:19) God’s heart from the front cover to the back cover of Scripture that we would be tenderhearted, submissive, quick to respond to the Spirit’s conviction and repent of sin.

2 Corinthians 7, our text today, is the most concentrated teaching on the topic of repentance in the Bible. This is Paul’s listen-up-and-get-ahold-of-this sermon on repentance. The goal of this message is that you and I would repent. I will challenge you to do as God has challenged me to do throughout this text. I want to practice what I preach, but also preach what I practice. Will you join me?

Have you ever had to say a hard thing, confront sin, or call someone to repent? No one wants to do it, but there come times when you have to say hard things. As you come to 2 Corinthians 7, you see Paul had to write some hard things. In a previous, unknown letter, Paul, pleaded with the church to restore a sinful brother. The church rightfully disciplined a man for causing division in the church, but when the discipline worked and he repented, the church held it over the man and was not welcomed back into the fellowship. But now, Paul, in this letter, praises them for doing the hard thing, the right thing. What you and I discover from this text are three amazing benefits of repentance.

1. Repentance is good (vs.8-9).

While not easy, repentance is good. Even Paul had mixed feelings about his letter to Corinth (v.8). On one hand he had regrets (for the grief it caused) but on the other hand he did not have regrets (for the repentance it produced). While at times painful, repentance has its purpose. Just as parents do not enjoy disciplining their children, Paul did not enjoy the sorrow he brought to the church. He did not like seeing them in pain. Yet their pain was “only for a while.” And in this, Paul, rejoiced like a parent who sees their child experience small pain by his hand only to see them escape greater pain by their own hand (v.9).

Repentance is good because God uses the short-lived sorrow to protect you from greater sorrow and greater harm in the future (cf. Hebrews 12:7-11). If Corinth did not repent, the church could have been shattered by its sin and shortage of Christlikeness. Repentance is the funnel through which blessing flows. Lack of repentance brings misery, despair, and as we will see, death.

Repentance is good because it takes stubborn, callused, dull-hearted people and makes them tender towards God’s heart. Remember this: Repentance is a gift from God. The most dangerous thing you can say is, “I will repent when I am ready.” It’s dangerous because only God readies a heart for repentance (cf. Acts 5:31; 11:18; 2 Tim.2:25). If you wait until you are ready you will only get hardhearted. Sin is the blockage that kills the heart, but repentance is bypass surgery that God does WITHIN you and it “leads to salvation without regrets” (v.10b). Repentance is that good.

2. Repentance is change (v.10a).

What is true repentance? By definition repentance means change of mind; a turning away from evil to God; a 180 from my hearts desires to God’s heart. Repentance without change is not repentance.

There are three common components of repentance as seen in Scripture. First, there is a recognition of sin. I must recognize that I have sinned. I must see that I have offended God. Yet recognition alone is not repentance. Repentance is not simply regret or remorse or feeling bad about something bad I did. I can feel sorry about something and immediately do it again. Thus Paul compares the difference between godly grief and worldly grief (v.10). Worldly grief is when I feel bad because I looked bad to others. Godly grief is sorrow is when I recognize I have offended God. Grief that leads to repentance is as Charlie Brown would say, “Good grief!” Yet I don’t have to sink into grief because I have received the forgiveness of Christ (1 John 1:9). The sin under all other sin is the lack of joy in Christ, but Jesus was the one who suffered and was miserable for my sin. Repentance is my pathway to joy.

Second, there is repentance of sin. I must admit that I am wrong or have been wrong. This is often the hardest thing to do. Repentance is not mere confession or saying what God says about sin as if that will make God happy with me. Repentance is not about keeping God happy. God is not a magic genie who grants wishes when on his good side. This makes repentance selfish. I don’t please God to get or to escape consequences of sin. I cannot manipulate him nor is he is not obligated to me.

Third, there is a returning to the Lord. I must leave my sin behind. I must come to God. I must make a clean break. I must come to him as I am. I can wallow in the sin-confess-sin-confess cycle trying to do it on my own or I can come to my Lord. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

This is illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son. When you repent, you are like the prodigal son. You don’t have it all together. You are living in the pig style. You come to your senses. You change your mind. You don’t want to think for yourself. You come to the end of yourself. You think about your father. You run back home to him still messy and smelling like the stench. You come as you are. You know you are unworthy to be your fathers son, but the father runs to you, gives you his best robe and throws you a party.

Biblical repentance is recognizing your sin, repenting to it and returning to the Lord. When was the last time you did that?

3. Repentance bears fruit (vs.9,11).

“The reach of our repentance should match the reach of our sin. Private sins demand private repentance. Sins that can be seen by many necessitate a repentance that can be seen by many. And while we ought to forgive each other seven times, and seventy times, and even seven times seventy times, looking for the fruit of repentance is not the same as being unforgiving. Ronald Reagan was right: trust, but verify.” – Keven DeYoung

The beauty of repentance is what it produces. It produces things on the inside that are reflected on the outside. Acts 26:11 says there are “deeds of repentance.” In other words, repentance produces fruit (Matthew 3:8). While the list in 2 Corinthians 7 is not sequential or exhaustive, it gives you a sense of the affects of repentance (vs.9-11).

First, repentance produces godly grief over sin (v.9). “Grief” is soul anguish, a heart wrenching and heart changing emotion. Its a grief that says you can never be the same again. Second, repentance produces revulsion towards sin (v.11) The word used is “earnestness.” What used to please (attracts) you now repulses (detracts) you. Sin sickens you. Third, it produces restitution towards others (v.11b) It produces a desire to “clear yourself,” to make it right, right away with those your sin has injured. Fourth, it produces revival toward God (v.11c) You have a “longing” to walk with God. Fifth, it turns your eyes forward, not backward (vs.8-9). Repentance sees “no loss” and is “without regret.” It walks into the future full of freedom.

Repentance happens both as a process and a crisis. It happens over time and it happens at a point in time. Repentance is not a place I visit or a place I go and get over it. It is the place I live. I must never get over it. I never want to leave it. Just like Disney World. Who wants to leave Disney? Give me a room at the castle! God desires a lifestyle of repentance.

Martin Luther launched the Reformation with hammer and nail, nailing “The Ninety-Five Theses” to the front door of Wittenberg Cathedral. Do you know what the first theses stated? It said, “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” What Luther saw as he unpacked the Scripture is that repentance is the way we progress in the Christian life. Repentance is the fruit you are growing deep and strong and rapid in the character of Christ.

How do you respond when confronted? How do you respond when the Spirit convicts you? How do you respond when you know you are wrong? How do you respond when you have sinned against another person? When was the last time you had godly grief over sin that produced repentance? Don’t wait. Repent. Be free. It is good.

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How should I pray?

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“Jesus was praying.” That’s how Luke 11:1 begins. Honestly I’ve read that many times, but this time it floored me, “The Creator and Rescuer of the world is on His knees praying to God, His Father.” Isn’t that amazing? Notice, Luke doesn’t say how Jesus prayed, how long, where, or what He was praying, it simply says, “Jesus was praying in a certain place.”

Prayer is a discipline that most Christians feel they fall short, me included. You and I are not naturally born prayers. It’s a learned skill. So if I had a question for Jesus, it would be similar to the one His disciple asks, “Lord, can You teach us how to pray?” How does Jesus respond? Does He say, “That’s a silly question. You’ve been with me this long and you don’t know?” No. Does He organize a weekend prayer seminar? No. Jesus’ School of Prayer is ‘show and tell’.

PRAY LIKE JESUS (11:2-4)

Jesus’ prayer here is known as the Lord’s Prayer. It’s quite common. I memorized it during my catechism classes growing up in the Catholic Church. However, you will notice, Luke’s prayer is a lot shorter than Matthew’s prayer. I suppose since Luke wrote his gospel after Matthew, he thought his friend did a fantastic job and just summarizes some of main points of Jesus‘ prayer.

I am not going to spend a lot of time looking at Jesus’ prayer, but I want you to see how He elevates God. Also, I want you to see how He teaches His disciples how to pray. Jesus answers His disciple, “When you pray, say…” (v.2a)

  • “Our Father…” (v.2b), God is Father. The word “Father” here is not formal, it’s intimate. Jesus, like a little child address His loving Father as “Abba” or “Daddy.” It’s the first time this view of God is introduced and Jesus approves and encourages it.
  • “hallowed is Your name” (v.2c), Our Father is holy. God is a magnificent Daddy. He is completely different and glorious compared to everything in the universe. His name is above every name!
  • “Your kingdom come” (v.2d), Our Father is King. Not only is He my Daddy, He is King. He’s the King of kings. My heart’s cry is to be with Him in His kingdom, a place of forever justice, love, and mercy. He offers you room in His palace. His kingdom will never crumble. Our Daddy is King!
  • “Give us each day our daily bread” (v.3), Our Father is generous. Our Daddy cares perfectly for His children. God is not stingy or greedy. He provides everything we need.
  • “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us” (v.4a), Our Father forgives sin. God justly deals with sin, but He willingly forgives those who come to Him. He forgives spiritual debts because Jesus paid the debt with His blood.
  • “And lead us not into temptation” (v.4b), Our Father leads well. If we hold God’s hand and listen well, He direct us away from dangerous traps of the enemy. We can trust our Daddy (cf. James 1:13).

If you learn to pray like Jesus, your prayers will be intensively Father-focused. Does this align with your perspective on prayer? What aspects of Jesus’ example prayer do you most utilize or neglect?

PRAY LIKE THE SHAMELESS NEIGHBOR (11:5-8)

To illustrate how to pray, Jesus shares two parables and two principles. His first parable fits the eastern context where honor and shame are still very present aspects of culture (vs.5-8). In Jesus day, people would travel, usually on foot, sometimes on the back of an animal. After a long journey, there wasn’t a Motel 6 to keep a light on. There wasn’t texting or telephones to give your friend a heads-up. There wasn’t even a Denny’s to buy a ‘Moon’s Over My Hammy’ at 2:00am. Yet there was an obligation to honor guests hospitality and help neighbors in a pinch. If not, it could bring shame upon you and your house.

I am challenged by this parable, especially since I am on the brink of entering this kind of culture. I am not very neighborly. I can put on a good face, but I’m frustrated by spontaneous interruptions without appointments. I like to hit the hay early, so if someone came to my door at midnight asking for a loaf of bread I would be pretty perturbed. My response might be, “You need some bread? Ok.” (Thinking: “Dude, you just woke up my girls. Couldn’t you have gone to Seven-Eleven?”) “Here you go, enjoy.” (Thinking: “This 4th of July, I am going to buy lots of bottle rockets.”) I suppose this shows my heart. Agh, I am that guy! That ugly neighbor. I am so unlike God, but I want to be! That’s why this challenges me.

What would you do? How would you respond? Of course, you would open the door because you want to know why this guy is so persistent. Isn’t that Jesus’ point? His point is about the shameless neighbor who’s thinking, “Yeah, it’s late, but I’m going to stand here and knock on the door until I get myself a few loaves of bread.” He’s persistent because  he knows eventually his request will be answered. Why? Because ultimately you do care—even though he’s frustrating—you will meet his need. Likewise, Jesus is saying, even if you’re not the most pleasant child of God, even if we’re not having the best intentions or motives, God is loving, gracious, and kind. You can come to Him, day or night, 24/7, because He’s never asleep and He’s never tired and He’s never weary. He’s not unable or incapable or inconvenienced as a normal neighbor would be. You can talk to God anytime about anything and God hears and answers your prayer.

If you pray like the shameless neighbor, your prayers will be persistent and your persistence will prevail (vs.9-10). Jesus says that prayer is about three things: asking, seeking, and knocking. In the Greek, each of those three words are in the present tense, which carries the idea of “keep on” asking, seeking, and knocking. Keep on communicating with God. That’s prayer.

Asking means coming to God in faith and saying, “Dad, I really want…, I need…, please teach me…” Now, some of you are planners, who say, “I don’t need God. I need a plan.” Others of you panic. You don’t make a plan or talk to God, you just freak out. Don’t just make a plan, don’t just panic. Go to the Father and ask. What are you asking God, right now? What haven’t you asked Him?

Seeking means doing something about asking. It’s not enough to say, “Well, I prayed about it, now I’m going to sit here and do nothing.” Often, you pray about things you should be doing anyways. You got to get up and go do something. You got to seek, you got to serve, you got to pursue answers to your request. And if that doesn’t work and it still hasn’t been answered, you just keep banging on the door. You keep knocking. God’s answer will always be: yes, no, or hold on just a moment.

Friday, I heard my daughter Justus asking for me, “Hey, Dad? Dad? Dad? Mom, where’s dad? Where’s dad? What’s dad doing?” She was asking for me. She couldn’t find me. So she started seeking me. I heard her voice. I heard the pitter-patter of her feet on the floor. She looked in every room. She was very persistent, very committed to finding me. “Hey, dad? Where are you?” She came to the very last room in the house that she hadn’t checked, the bathroom. And she came, asking, seeking, knocking. “Dad, are you in there?” She found me. My answer, “I be with you in a moment, baby girl.”

This is the idea Jesus is trying to convey to His disciples. God’s your dad! Ask for Him. Seek Him. Knock on the door. Keep on doing it. Tell Him what you want or need. Bring it all to Him. Bring your Dad your needs, not your greeds. He adores you. He’s not gonna treat you like a stranger. So if you want to understand prayer, look at dads and children.

PRAY LIKE A CHILD WHO TRUST HIS DADDY (11:11-12)

Jesus’ second story is quite interesting (vs.11-12). It’s about a son who comes up to his dad, “Hey, Dad, can we have fish for dinner?” “Sorry, son all out of fish. How about a snake?” That’s weird! “Okay, dad, how about eggs?” “Nope. Have a scorpion.” I don’t know about you, but this dad really weirds me out. He must be off his meds or smoking something strange!

The story is ridiculous and humorous for a reason. Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…” (v.13a) If you go to your dad, even if he’s a bad dad, and ask for a good thing, he won’t give you a bad thing. Children, do not use this verse as leverage against your dads, we already know we are evil and sinful. We are not perfect, yet we know the Father who is. In fact, this week, I enjoyed one of the sweetest times of prayer with three dad’s. Each of them were praying for their children and pleading with God that the way they father would resemble the way God fathers them. God is a Father. Even if you are not 100% convinced He is good, when you ask God for something do not fear what He will give. Trust that God is a good Father. He isn’t evil. He is not the father of lies (cf. John 8:44). God our Father is good and He give good gifts.

In Luke 11:1, a disciple asks Jesus, “Can you teach us how to pray?” Jesus gives the clincher in Luke 11:13, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” You see, everything that Jesus has done, His sinless life, His righteousness, His substitutionary death, His resurrection, all of that is given to you, brought to you, applied to you by whom? The Holy Spirit. So apart from the Holy Spirit, all the gifts that the Father has to give are received by the Holy Spirit. This is something Jesus’ disciples would get later (cf. Acts 2).

If you pray like a child who trusts his daddy, God’s goodness gets glory and you get the greatest gift. Jesus says the greatest gift of all is the Holy Spirit. That’s huge! This is the big idea of Luke 11:1–13 on how to pray: Jesus says, you pray by asking, seeking, and knocking. Trusting that your Father is a good, holy, generous, forgiving, King. And if you do this, your prayers will be Father-focused, persistent and prevailing, in the power of the Holy Spirit. So what are you waiting for? Let’s pray!

Father God, you are a good Father. Lord Jesus, you’re a good Savior. Holy Spirit, you’re the greatest gift. Please fill me. Please teach me to worship You forever. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Cure for Spiritual Alzheimer’s

My wife frequently praises my memory. That’s coming from one who misplaces items or thoughts daily (and that’s a compliment). What she thinks is a blessing, I often think is a curse. There are things I wish I could forget that are hardwired into the recesses my brain. Now I don’t have photographic memory. That would have been handy for the French exam I had last week. But like most people, I have selective memory. I remember ridiculous things like: sports stats (especially about the Green Bay Packers), song lyrics to bands with big hair from the 80’s, and phone numbers to every house I’ve lived at since I was 4-years old (and that’s a lot of houses).

I dread the day when my memory will decline. As a young child I’d visit my great grandmother who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. A once strong and jovial woman was now being spoon-fed from her tender-loving husband whom she had long forgotten. The pain of watching someone you love and care for deteriorate can sometimes be too much to bear.

I am not going to talk about Alzheimer’s today nor am I aiming to offend an elderly crowd. But I do want to talk about a spiritual form of Alzheimer’s that many Christians seem to be suffering.

Problem 1: Forgetting God

Remedy: Repentance

While wandering in the Wilderness, Moses told the children of Israel over and over again, “Whatever you do, do not forget God.” They had the attention span of a toddler. They had the best seats to God’s miracles and were still wishing for slavery in Egypt over the Promised Land.

There is a spiritual Alzheimer’s that sets in when you forget that God made you free but you are still live in bondage to this world. The Lord told the church of Ephesus, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:4-5). This warning comes less than 40-years after the gospel first came to them. How quickly have you forgotten what the Lord has done? The good news is that while there is no cure yet for the disease of Alzheimer’s, the cure for forgetting God is repentance.

Problem 2: Forgetting God’s Word

Remedy: Rehearse it

There is another form of spiritual Alzheimer’s; it’s forgetting the Scripture you just read or heard. James the apostle said, “If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was” (James 1:23–24).

My wife and I are in our 2nd month of French language school at Parole de Vie Bethel. We are learning French in preparation for serve in Chad. One of the aspects I really enjoy about our studies is the requirement to memorize Scripture, yes, in French. I began memorizing Bible verses as a teen after a challenge given by my youth pastor. Later I memorized a section of Psalm 119 each week with my South African friend Cal. Again, I am being reminded of the importance of treasuring God’s Word.

Speaking of Psalm 119, David understood the benefit of memorizing Scripture for the sake of his spiritual health. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored (treasured) up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:9-11) According to rest of Psalm 119 the Bible helps guard against sin (vs. 9, 11), brings life (25), strengthens (28), produces hope (49), comforts in affliction (50), gives good judgment and knowledge (66), gives understanding (99, 104, 130), gives guidance (105), and peace (165), and more.

Do you believe Word of God is a priceless treasure? You may doubt that you can put Scripture to memory, especially if you are older. If I offered you $1,000 for every verse you memorized in the next week, how many do you think you could memorize? Yet God says of his word in Psalm 19:10-11, “They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” The real value of the Word is far greater than $1,000 a verse. The cure for forgetfulness is to treasure reading the Bible and proactively rehearse it often.

Problem 3: Forgetting your need of God

Remedy: Daily Dependence

God creates you; He knows you have a finite memory. That is why He has given the greatest tool to aid your memory–His Spirit. Jesus said to the disciples in the Upper Room before His death., “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 have said to you.” (John 14:26; cf. 15:26; 16:14) Do you remember how quickly they forgot it? Soon after Jesus’ death they were back to the boats fishing, and not for men.

One of the greatest joys in the universe is knowing that you are not alone–the God of the universe is your Helper. He is with you forever (John 14:16). And when you read and study Scripture He helping you understand and remember it. The more you read the more He will help you remember. Isn’t that amazing? He uses the Word to give you His peace (John 14:27), His love (John 15:9, 10), and His joy (John 15:11). These are profound truths that comfort and strengthen your hearts and minds in a troubled world.

Proverbs 22:18-19 says: “It will be pleasant if you keep [the words of the wise] within you, that they may be ready on your lips. So that your trust may be in the LORD.” How is your trust? Your confidence? Your peace and joy and assurance? Your faith? Your faith rises or falls to the degree that it feeds hourly on the treasure of God’s truth stored in the heart. The cure for forgetting your need of God is having a joyful dependence each day on His Word for your spiritual sustenance.

Forgetting God, His Word, or you need of Him happens. That why it is important to ask yourself often, “Do I have Spiritual Alzheimer’s?”

5 Characteristics of Spiritual Growth

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:16-26 ESV)

The mystery of the Christian life is how the Spirit works in and through us. Our role is to keep in step with Him (Gal.5:25).

1. Spiritual growth is always relational.

The passage is framed with “one another” commands. Love one another (v.13) but do not provoke one another (15, 26). The fruit of the Spirit are very relational. Spiritual growth does not take place in isolation from other believers. Genuine transformation will affect how you treat and relate to one another.

2. Spiritual growth involves conflict.

It never happens in ideal conditions. Expect a fierce conflict between the Spirit and the flesh (vs.15-16, 24; cf. 1 Pt.2:11; Rom.8:13-14). Conflict is normal in the Christian experience.

3. Spiritual growth is inside out.

Spiritual growth is organic, not mechanical; fruit is grown, not built. Notice that the fruit are not “works of the Spirit” like the “works of the flesh” (vs.19-21; Cf. 2:16; 3:2,5,10; 2:20; Jn.15:1-17). Compare a Christmas tree to a real tree. You can hang ornamented suit on the Christmas tree but that does not make it alive, but the real tree bears real fruit, which shows that it is alive. We are dependent upon the Spirits work of renewed life to bear fruit at all.

4. Spiritual growth is symmetrical.

The nine qualities of fruit listed grow together. (note: singular form of “fruit”) There is a unity to the fruit like a bunch of grapes instead of a bunch of separate fruit in a basket. All the fruit are found in all Christians. You cannot discern spiritual growth by the presence of one or two fruits of the spirit; all must be present. “You are only as spiritually mature as your weakest trait.” (Tim Keller; cf. 6:1-2) Genuine spiritual growth is balanced, symmetrical growth.

5. Spiritual growth is supernatural.

Spiritual growth and holiness is the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We will not grow if left to ourselves. We must depend on the Holy Spirit. Everything depends on the Spirit. Even Jesus, our example, depended on the Spirit (Rom.8:9).

Spiritual growth leads us to greater humility. The process of growing up turns out to be the process of growing down (163-164).

Adapted from Brian G. Hedges, Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change. Shepherds Press, Wapwallopen, PA. 2010. p.158-164

4 ways to plug into the power of the Holy Spirit today

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV)

1. Saturate yourself with the Word of God, the Bible. There is no reason to think that God will ignite the powder of His Spirit if you don’t load your cannon with the bullet of the Word. Acts 1:8 and Luke 24:48 teach that the power is given for effective witness of Jesus and His miraculous power. And you witness primarily with the Word of God, as it speaks about the person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

2. Believe what the Word of God says. If you don’t believe the Word, you wont have the power of the Word.

3. Pray earnestly for it and fast. In Acts 1:13, the disciples devoted themselves to prayer while in Jerusalem waiting for Pentecost, “All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer.”  Also, this is what the disciples were doing in Acts 4:24–31 when they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word with boldness. They were praying. And they were praying the Word of God.

4. Submit to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes you have resisted the Holy Spirit so often when He is calling you to bear witness to Christ you are unfit for the flow of His power. The channels have become so clogged with fear and doubt and worldliness that what you allow through is a barely visible trickle of obedience. God’s power is a waterfall and will flow torrentially if you obey His Spirit.

IMMANUEL: a God who is with people

This morning I was taking care of my baby girl while her mother was washing some dishes. She played with her stuff animal doggy for a few minutes, but she quickly gravitated over to where I was sitting in a chair reading. For the next 15 minutes she was content doing nothing but being near to me. That’s so childlike. As children we love to be near our parents. There is safety, comfort and love in the presence of your maker.

So it is with God. We long to be near to God. We crave his affection and presence. There is a desire innate within all people to want to be with God and for God to be with them. Such a promise like this from God is meant to stir within all a sense of security, comfort and love from God above. Throughout Scripture the theme of God’s presence with His people is a thread that weaves through the pages of Scripture:

God is with you

  • Immanuel, God with us (Isa. 7:14; 8:10; Matt. 1:23)
  • Its wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel (Isa. 8:8)
  • God is with us (2 Chr. 13:12)
  • The Lord is with us (Num. 14:9; 2 Chr. 32:8; Ps. 46:7, 11)
  • God is with you (Gen. 21:22; Isa. 45:14)
  • The Lord is with you (2 Chr. 20:17)
  • The Lord is with you when you are with him (2 Chr. 15:2)
  • The Lord is with Israel (Num. 23:21; Deut. 20:1, 4)
  • I am with you (Gen. 26:24; Hag. 1:13; 2:4)
  • Do not be afraid, for I am with you (Isa. 41:10; Isa. 43:5; Jer. 42:11; 46:28)
  • Those with us are more than those with them (2 Kgs. 6:16)
  • He is at my right hand (Ps. 16:8)
  • He who is with us is greater than the one with him (2 Chr. 32:7)
  • Men will hear that God is with a Jew (Zech. 8:23)
  • The Lord is with them (Zech. 10:5)
  • They will know that I am with them (Ezek. 34:30)
  • Is the Lord in our midst or not? (Exod. 17:7)
  • Is not the Lord with you? (1 Chr. 22:18)
  • You are with me (Ps. 23:4)
  • You know the Spirit, for he dwells with you and will be in you (John 14:17).

God always with you

  • You set me in your presence forever (Ps. 41:12)
  • I set the Lord continually before me (Ps. 16:8)
  • When I awake I am still with you (Ps. 139:18)
  • I am always with God (Ps. 73:23).

God with you to help

  • God stands at the right hand of the needy (Ps. 109:31)
  • With us is the Lord to help us (2 Chr. 32:8)
  • I am with you to deliver you (Jer. 1:8, 19)
  • When we pass through the waters he will be with us (Isa. 43:2).

God has been with you

  • God who has been with me wherever I have gone (Gen. 35:3)
  • I have been with you wherever you have gone (1 Chr. 17:8)
  • These 40 years the Lord has been with you (Deut. 2:7)
  • The Lord was with Judah (Judg. 1:19)
  • The Lord stood with me (2 Tim. 4:17)
  • I [Wisdom] was beside him (Prov. 8:30).

God be with you

  • May the Lord be with you (Ruth 2:4; 1 Sam. 17:37; 2 Sam. 14:17; 1 Chr. 22:11, 16; Amos 5:14)
  • The Lord be with you all (2 Thess. 3:16)
  • May the Lord be with you as he was with Moses (Josh. 1:17)
  • May the Lord be with you as he was with my father (1 Sam. 20:13)
  • May his God be with him (2 Chr. 36:23; Ezra 1:3)
  • The Lord be with your spirit (2 Tim. 4:22)
  • May the Lord be with us (1 Kgs. 8:57)
  • So may the Lord be with you if I allow this! (Exod. 10:10).

God will be with you

  • If God will be with me (Gen. 28:20)
  • Perhaps the Lord will be with me (Josh. 14:12)
  • I will go down with you to Egypt (Gen. 46:4)
  • I will be with you (Gen. 26:3; 31:3)
  • if you obey, I will be with you (1 Kgs. 11:38)
  • God will be with you (Gen. 48:21)
  • I will be with you (Exod. 3:12)
  • The God of love and peace will be with you (2 Cor. 13:11)
  • I will be with him in trouble (Ps. 91:15)
  • I will be with your mouth (Exod. 4:12)
  • I will be with your mouth and with his mouth (Exod. 4:15)
  • God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep (1 Thess. 4:14)
  • The God of peace will be with you (Phil. 4:9).

God with specific people

  • Abraham (Gen. 21:22)
  • Asa (2 Chr. 15:9)
  • David (1 Sam. 16:18; 18:12, 14, 28; 20:13; 2 Sam. 5:10; 7:3; 9; 1 Chr. 11:9, 17:2)
  • Gideon (Judg. 6:12–13, 16)
  • Hezekiah (2 Kgs. 18:7)
  • Isaac (Gen. 26:28)
  • Ishmael (Gen. 21:20)
  • Israel (Jer. 30:11)
  • Jacob (Gen. 28:15, 20; 31:5; 35:3)
  • Jehoshaphat (2 Chr. 17:3)
  • Jeremiah (Jer. 1:8, 19; 15:20; 20:11)
  • Job (Job 29:5)
  • Joseph (Gen. 39:2, 3, 21, 23; Acts 7:9)
  • The house of Joseph (Judg. 1:22)
  • Joshua (Deut. 31:23; Josh. 1:9; 6:27)
  • Joshua as with Moses (Josh. 1:5; 3:7)
  • Each judge (Judg. 2:18; 2 Chr. 19:6)
  • Mary (Luke 1:28)
  • Paul (Acts 18:10)
  • Samuel (1 Sam. 3:19)
  • Saul (1 Sam. 10:7; 20:13)
  • Solomon (1 Chr. 28:20; 2 Chr. 1:1, as with David 1 Kgs. 1:37).

God is among you

  • God in the midst of his people (Num. 14:14; 16:3; 35:34; Deut. 7:21; 23:14; Josh. 3:10; 22:31)
  • God is in the midst of her (Ps. 46:5)
  • The Lord your God in the midst of you (Deut. 6:15; Zeph. 3:15, 17)
  • I am in the midst of Israel (Joel 2:27)
  • Is not the Lord in our midst? (Mic. 3:11)
  • The kingdom of God is in your midst (Luke 17:21)
  • The Lord who is among you (Num. 11:20)
  • God is with the generation of the righteous (Ps. 14:5)
  • My Spirit is among you (Hag. 2:5)
  • God will dwell among them (Rev. 21:3)
  • He will declare that God is among you (1 Cor. 14:25).

God goes with you

  • My presence will go with you (Exod. 33:14)
  • The Lord goes with you (Deut. 31:6, 8 )
  • If your presence does not go with us, do not take us up hence (Exod. 33:15)
  • How can we know we please you if you do not go with us? (Exod. 33:16)
  • Go in our midst (Exod. 34:9).

Jesus is Immanuel, God with us

The greatest expression of God being with us is when He came in the skin of mankind through the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is called Immanuel, which means God with us. He was with us for only 33-years. But those 3-decades of life impacted the world and the people of the world forever.

Indeed, the title Immanuel is appropriate for Jesus—He is “God with us.” Immanuel appears twice in the Old Testament (Isa. 7:14, 8:8) and once in the New Testament (Matt. 1:23). In the Old Testament, the name is given to a child born in the time of Ahaz as a sign to the king that Judah would receive relief from Syrian attacks. The name symbolized the fact that God would demonstrate His presence with His people by delivering them. But, this prophecy also foretold the birth of the incarnate God, Jesus the Messiah, as illustrated in the Gospel of Matthew (1:23).

More than seven hundred years passed after Isaiah’s prophecy until Jesus was born. Matthew cites Isaiah 7:14 as being fulfilled in the birth of Jesus (Matt. 1:23). Later in Matthew, Jesus told His disciples that where two or three gathered in His name He would be present with them (Matt. 18:20). At the very end of the Gospel, just before His ascension, Jesus assured them that He would be with them until the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).

Also after His death and resurrection Jesus did not leave us alone. He promised to send the Helper—the Holy Spirit—to indwell His children. Forever His Spirit with us always. The book of Revelation concludes with an affirmation that the One called “God with us” will be with us forever: “The tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them” (Rev. 21:3). What an amazing promise of security, comfort and love. God is with you! Let’s be like little children clinging to His cloak, waiting for His words, and resting in His presence.

transformation: more than meets the eye

As a kid I love to play with transformers. There is something about having a car that can instantly transform into a android. Transform is another word for change. When it comes to spiritual change transformation is key. Do you find some of your students have a wealth of biblical information but a lack transformation? Here are great tips to cultivate spiritual transformation in students you are discipling:

Acknowledge that the Holy Spirit who teaches you and leads you into truth, is the same Holy Spirit who teaches and ministers to the students. Watch and hear what He wants to teach the students on any given weekly session or small group.

Make sure the meat of the session actually searches the Scripture and is spent in examining God’s Word and is not just a discussion of students’ and leaders’ opinions or beliefs. It is only by having hands on God’s Word that your students will discover real truth and be transformed.

Be careful not to answer your own questions. Give students time to think when you pose a question. Let them know that the quietness that follows your question is not awkward. It will also help settle your own uneasiness when a vacuum of silence follows your question. When we answer our own questions, we teach students that they do not have to respond and their answer was not important.

Work toward using activities that lead students to discover what we already know or found out during our personal devotion and preparation. When we lead students to discover truths out of God’s Word for themselves instead of telling them what we know, we allow opportunity for the Spirit to do His work.

Watch for those times that the Holy Spirit makes Himself known within the session. Those times, very frequently, take place as students share within small groups. Be ready to help students make connections with God and His Word during those times.

Prepare your heart for worship to take place during the Bible study session. Real worship takes place any time we come face to face with God and leave His presence transformed or changed. So actually, worship should take place in our Bible studies, messages, discipleship or small groups. Sometimes when students share in small group, students will say things that are totally profound, let your students know that you just had worshiped God.

Make sure that your students are given an opportunity to measure their own lives up against the Biblical Truth you have discussed. When students take the time to examine their lives, compare themselves to a Holy God, realize that they fall short, and make a commitment to Him and His truth…then true worship takes place.