30 Sep Quarter Two Lesson One
The Gospel and Growing
Welcome to the Second Quarter in your studies with us here at Gospel Growth Ministries. We hope you’ve enjoyed the first quarter and that you are now ready to learn more about this good news that God has given us to share with the world.
For this second quarter, we are going to examine how to grow as a Christian; that is, how to grow closer to God and walk nearer with Him, how to mature in your faith in Jesus.
If you have had the joy of having children, or of watching other people’s children grow, then you know there are many stages of growth through which most individuals go. We might categorize them like this:
- Babies/Little Children. This phase is one of experiencing new life. They are new to you and the world is new to them. You see them take their first breath, hear their first cry, watch them drink their first milk, and so forth. They are just beginning. Everything is new.
- Young people. This phase is one of growth. No longer babies, they grow and mature seemingly overnight. It seems that every time you turn around they have grown another inch and emptied the pantry of food. Growth is exciting because it is a time of change and learning.
- This phase is one of reproduction. Young people have become adults, married and are now parents themselves. They are mothers and fathers with their own children.
The Bible tells us that these phases of growth and development are not merely physical but also spiritual. Please read the following passage and answer the questions below:
“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” 1 John 2:12-14 (ESV)
Question 1. Please write down the three stages of spiritual life that John describes in the above passage:
Yes, again we see the three stages of development: little children, young men and fathers. This is important to understand because it tells us that as Christians we should be growing, developing, maturing. This process of growth is the topic of this quarter’s lessons. In this quarter, we hope to answer the question, “How do I grow?”
Question 2. According to 1 John 2:12-14, how are the people of each stage characterized? What is said about each one?
When we examine the first stage of development that John writes about, we see that he is talking to “little children” and he says two things about them:
- “…your sins are forgiven…”
- “…you know the Father.”
These little children are new to faith in Jesus Christ. They only understand some basic things, such as that their sins are forgiven so that they can have a relationship with God.
The reason that they know that their sins are forgiven is they have heard the gospel and believed it. Perhaps they heard the gospel preached, heard it from a friend, or maybe they read any number of the following passages:
“In this way the priest will make atonement for him for any of these sins he has committed, and he will be forgiven.’” Leviticus 5:13 (NIV)
“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” Psalm 32:1 (NIV)
“I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them.” Mark 3:28 (NIV)
“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,” Colossians 2:13 (NIV)
The “little children” that John is writing to understand that the gospel means good news for them. It means that they are not treated as their sins deserve but are forgiven. As they looked to the cross on which Christ died, they understood that Jesus took their penalty so they will face no punishment from God. They believe this message, so they know they are accepted by God, forgiven by God and will live forever with God.
They also know that the reason Jesus removed their sin is to bring them into a relationship with God the Father (John 17:3). They can talk to God and listen to Him, ask Him for advice and counsel, hear from Him when discouraged, call on Him when sick and receive encouragement from Him in His Word. They pray and read and know that their prayer is heard and that God speaks to them through the pages of the Bible. They have the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ (John 7:39) and so they experience the love of God being shed abroad in their hearts (Romans 5:5). They now love to walk with God and talk with Him, just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. Their relationship with God the Father has been restored at the cross.
And it is very important for them to know of their forgiveness, for these “little children” stumble frequently. I watched a video of a little child taking his first steps, and that cute little boy must have fallen five times in a row, but his parents would help him up again and again, and he would keep trying. James says “we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). And when we stumble we need to understand that we are still forgiven, still accepted, and still loved. Who would think of watching their little child try to take its first few steps, see the child stumble, and then say, “That’s it! If you can’t walk right then you’re out of this family!” Neither does God our Father treat us in this way.
Sometimes as new believers we are full of the love of God and zeal for Him. When we stumble we say things like “God, I promise I will never do that again.” But we soon discover that that promise has not been kept, we’ve fallen again, and now we’re discouraged. We need to be reminded of the gospel again, that through Jesus’ death “our sins are forgiven” and that through confession of sin we are cleansed and restored (1 John 1:9). This is what it is like to be a little child—learning to walk in the faith, stumbling, confessing, seeking and receiving forgiveness, getting up and trying again.
But then we come to the next stage of Christian development, and we see that something has happened. Growth has occurred. We notice what John writes to “young men” (and young women):
“I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” 1 John 2:14
Wow, some big changes are happening here.
Question 3. What changes can you see have happened as this “little child” has grown into a “young man”?
Question 4. From 1 John 2:14 above, what can you see has caused this growth and maturity?
The “young man” is characterized by being “strong” and “overcoming the evil one.” He has grown and matured and is experiencing a certain degree of victory in his life.
And what is the cause of this growth? “The Word of God lives in you.” This means at least two things:
- This person has believed the gospel and so Jesus Christ, the Word of God (John 1:1) has come to live in him by His Spirit. Jesus Himself takes up residence in the heart and life of all believers.
- This person has been studying the Bible and seeking to apply it to their daily life. They have learned to resist the devil’s temptations directly through the use of Scriptural truth which combats and replaces the devil’s lies. When we read through the temptation of Jesus in Matthew chapter 4, we see that Jesus used Scripture to address every one of Satan’s temptations, and these “young men” are learning to do the same.
This little child has grown into a young man, he is strong in faith and he is having victory over the devil. And this is the very purpose of this second quarter in Gospel Growth Ministries’ lessons. Each one of the next lessons will contain something that, if applied in your life, will help you to grow in the Lord, to mature in your faith.
Finally, John addresses “fathers”.
“I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.” And again “14 I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.”
Fathers are those who have children. In the spiritual life, “fathers” are those who have reproduced; that is, they have shared the gospel, and their lives, with other people, and as a result they have seen God bring new life to those who believed in Jesus.
Question 5. According to 1 John 2:13-14, who do “fathers” know?
It is clear that fathers are those who have grown into a deep and rich relationship with Jesus, the One Who was from the beginning. They know Him and are characterized by their relationship with Him.
Our world today places a lot of emphasis on getting over bad habits, or “addiction/recovery” methods. Yet the most mature Christian is not as focused on overcoming as He is on relating. He understands that if his relationship with God is strong and deep then He will be overcoming sin as well. He has learned well the truth that Paul taught the Galatians:
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Galatians 5:16 (ESV)
Question 6. According to Galatians 5:16, what needs to happen in order for us to not gratify the lusts of our flesh?
The “father” has come to make his relationship with Christ top priority. He walks by the Spirit, meaning he “moves forward” in His life by the power of God’s Spirit. He “walks” with God, by the Spirit, and so does not gratify the lusts of his flesh. Not that he doesn’t sin, as we all sin and fall short, just that his life is not characterized by gratifying his flesh but rather by walking with the Spirit.
In summary, we have seen that there are stages of growth in the Christian life. We become “little children” when we put faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, becoming aware that we are completely forgiven of all sin. We then grow by learning how to apply the Word of God to the circumstances of life, experiencing the power of Jesus Christ living in us by His Spirit. Finally, we begin reproducing by giving out the gospel and sharing our lives with people. These stages of Christian growth are called “little children”, “young men” and “fathers.”
Question 7. How would you describe yourself currently? Are you a “little child”, a “young man” (or young woman), or a “father”?
Before we proceed, we need to warn you that there is something that can halt growth entirely; we must learn to avoid it. Please read through the following passage and see if you can spot what it is that prevents Christian growth and maturity:
“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” 2 Peter 1:5-9 (ESV)
Question 8. From 2 Peter 1:5-9 above, what is it that stops us from growing in Christ-likeness?
The passage above encourages us to grow into the image of Jesus Christ. We first get faith when we hear the gospel, but then we are to make every effort to supplement our faith with virtue (good and godly living), and our virtue with knowledge, and so forth. Each one of these additions simply reflects the character of Jesus. And these qualities of Christ are to be ours “and increasing”.
But if we lack these characteristics then there is a reason for it. What stops this growth is if we forget the cross. 2 Peter 1:9b “…having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.”
Question 9. According to 2 Peter 1:9, what is the condition of the person who forgets that he was cleansed from sin at the cross?
Yes, we become “nearsighted and blind” when we forget about Jesus and what He did for us at the cross. To be nearsighted means we can only see things close-up, that is we become self-centered, only seeing to the end of our own noses. Adam was in this condition before God put to death the substitute and clothed him in its skins. When God asked where Adam was he replied “I…I…I…I” (Genesis 3: 10). He was self-centered and blind. And we too can become blind to the gospel and forget what Jesus accomplished when He died on the cross.
This is a very difficult condition to be in because when it happens we stop growing. We stop adding Christ-like character to our lives. The remedy is to once again look away from ourselves and look to Jesus and see once again what He did for us when He died for us. He cleansed us from our past sins, removing every dark spot and every blemish, making us holy in His sight:
he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, Colossians 1:22 (ESV)
All Christians have a tendency to lose sight of the cross; indeed, it is a very common experience. Because of this, each lesson that you study through at Gospel Growth Ministries will in some way point you to the cross. You see, the gospel is not merely for baby Christians, it is for all of life. It’s not merely the ABC’s of Christianity, it is the A-Z of Christian living. So be prepared for some wonderful teachings about the cross of Jesus Christ! In future lessons we will see Him in clear statements, in prophetical passages, in story-pictures, and in all the rest of the Bible. It will be wonderful!
Question 10. Please summarize what you studied in this first lesson on gospel growth, and tell us, at this point, how eager are you to grow in your faith?