22 Sep Quarter Two Lesson Twelve
Growing Strong in the Lord
We have now come to the final lesson of our growing strong quarter. In past lessons we have seen that growing and maturing in Christ means to be studying the Scriptures, growing strong in the power of God’s Word (lessons 1-3). Then we saw that growing in the Lord means growing in humility (lesson 4), growing in forgiveness and reconciliation (lesson 5), growing in grace (lesson 6), meekness (lesson 7), compassion (lesson 8), kindness (lesson 9), thankfulness (lesson 10), and most recently growing in communication (lesson 11).
For this lesson, let us examine the following passage of Scripture together, and note the emphasis on growing into maturity:
(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, Ephesians 4:9-15 (ESV)
Question 1. This passage starts out with a reference to the gospel. Where can we see the gospel from the above passage?
Question 2. From verses 11-12 above, what is the “job”, or role of church leaders?
Question 3. From verses 13-15 above, what effect should Christian teaching have on us?
Moved along by God, Paul wrote the book of Ephesians. In chapter 4, he explains how the church is to function. It all starts with the gospel, and with keeping the gospel “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). He says that Jesus “descended” and then “ascended” which is a reference to the gospel. Jesus came from heaven to earth, died for our sins and rose from the dead, then He ascended back into Heaven. This is the central and most important teaching of all of Scripture, both Old Testament and New Testament.
Then after Jesus rose from the dead He gave gifts to men, making some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers whose role it is to equip all believers for ministry.
What was Jesus purpose in dying for us, rising from the dead, and sending some to lead the church? It was to mature us, to grow us up into “the fullness of Christ”, so that we would no longer be “children who are tossed about by every wind of doctrine.” In other words, the gospel is used to mature us and make us stable. The gospel, like an anchor, keeps us from being blown around by different teachings. It secures us, and it matures us. This is the very reason why we use the gospel in every lesson at Gospel Growth Ministries.
For the past eleven lessons, we have looked at Jesus, seen all that He has accomplished for us, and then sought to be like Him. But true Christian growth is not merely growing in Christ-like attributes, important as that is. It is also growing closer to Jesus Himself. You see, we are not just doing a character study of Jesus and committing to being like Him. No, Jesus Christ is alive today; and maturing in our faith means that we are getting to know Him as a Person better. It means that we are walking closer with Him, and becoming strong and solid in our relationship with Him.
Please read the following Scripture and provide your answers below:
Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. John 12:31-33 (NIV)
Question 4. Please list the things that would happen at Jesus’ death, according to John 12:31-33:
Jesus was here pointing forward to His death, and He stated that a number of things would happen when He died:
- The world would be judged.
- The prince of the world would be driven out.
- Jesus would be lifted up from the earth.
- All people would be drawn to Jesus.
Jesus foretold His death in great detail here. He showed that the world would be judged as sinful because it rejected the Holy One, Jesus. He showed that Satan would be cast out, as Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). He showed that He, Himself, would be lifted up from the earth, which meant that He would not die by stoning, which was the Jewish custom, but rather He would die on a cross, which was the Roman method of execution.
But it is the fourth point with which we are interested in this lesson. The fourth point shows that all people would be drawn to Jesus through His death.
Question 5. What do you think it means that Jesus would draw all people to Himself through His death?
Here we see that Jesus’ death is a magnet to draw people to Himself. People who need forgiveness are drawn to Jesus, for by His sacrificial death they see that their sins are forgiven. People seeking reconciliation with God are drawn to Jesus, for at His death they see that Jesus was rejected by His Father on the cross so that they might be accepted. People who know that they need to escape God’s wrath are drawn to Jesus, for at His death they see that God poured out all His wrath on Jesus so there is only love left for them. People who want to live forever are drawn to Jesus because they see that Jesus died in their place on the cross so that they might have eternal life.
And on and on we could go, for the death of Jesus is where He draws the entire human race to Himself. But the main point we want to understand today is that we are to be drawn to Jesus. We are to come to Him, draw near to Him, live closely with Him. This is how we mature in our faith, by coming to Jesus and drawing near to Him day by day. Jesus says:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)
Question 6. What does Jesus invite us to in Matthew 11:28-30?
In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus is speaking to those who have been laboring under the Law to make themselves righteous. As if climbing a ladder, they had tried to reach God through their own efforts and were weary and burdened. Jesus invited them to come to Him and find rest. In Jesus, they would discover that they attained Heaven based on the righteousness of Jesus alone.
All they had to do was come to Him. This is true for us as well. We find rest for our souls when we come to Jesus. We grow in our faith when we come to Jesus. We make it a habit of coming to Jesus; and as we do, we find rest for our souls.
A co-worker recently told about how he and his son climbed a very high mountain peak in Colorado. He said they got an early start in order to make it to a safe spot by nightfall. After climbing for the entire day, in the thin mountain air, with only a few stops, they made it to their safe spot shortly after dusk. He said that he and his son were so thoroughly exhausted that their speech was barely coherent, and all they could do was collapse into a deep sleep.
It is much the same way for people who attempt to climb their way into God’s presence. It is exhausting. We know we must be perfect, live righteously, keep God’s law and not sin. Yet we find that we cannot do so. Sin seems to cling to us and every time we fall we become more and more discouraged. Instead of making progress up to God, we end up falling and hurting ourselves and others.
It is in this context that Jesus invites us to come to Him and find rest. As we come, we discover that Jesus climbed God’s mountain of righteous living for us, that He fulfilled all God’s demands of perfection for us, and that we can rest in His achievements.
But in order to rest in Him, we must first draw near to Him.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4:8 (ESV)
Question 7. What does James tell us to do in James 4:8?
Drawing near to God grows and matures us in our faith. As we draw near to Him God draws near to us, and we experience closeness and intimacy with Him.
The effect of drawing near to God is that we not only find rest for our tired souls, but we are also cleansed and purified of our sins. God is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24) and a cleansing fountain (Zechariah 13:1), all in One. To draw near to Him and live close to Him, is to have our sins consumed and our hearts purified.
Question 8. What ways can you think of to draw near to God?
We draw near to God when we first come to the cross. We remember from our reading earlier in this lesson that Jesus said when He died on the cross He would draw all people to Himself. So we come to Jesus as broken sinners, and by faith we look up and see a Savior Who makes us whole. We come to Jesus wounded and bruised by sin, and by faith we look up and see our Healer (Exodus 15:26) the Great Physician. We come to Jesus as tired rebels against God, and by faith we look up and see Him Who through His death reconciled us to God, and made us friends. So we first draw near to God when we come to the cross.
But coming to the cross is not a one-time experience. As we live our lives, we find that we still fall and stumble a lot in sin. So we learn to return to the cross, not for salvation like we did the first time, but for ongoing forgiveness and sanctification. We keep coming to Jesus and finding Him just as ready to forgive, heal and restore as He was when we first came for salvation. This is how we continue to draw near to God, by continuing to come to the cross daily for pardon, peace, reconciliation and rest.
Little by little we begin learning the power of Bible study and prayer, and we see that we draw near to God in this way too. Through Bible study we hear from God; He “whispers in our ear” (Matthew 10:27) through His Word. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice”, which means that Jesus communicates the gospel, daily instructions and clear promises to us through His Word. And in prayer, we speak to God, pour out our hearts, share our fears and struggles, confess our sins and express our love and devotion. Through Bible study and prayer, we can draw near to God.
We also draw near to God by going to church, hearing the gospel preached, singing songs of worship to God and fellowshipping with other Christians. We are not to give up meeting together, but instead are to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25) and in this too we grow close to the Lord.
As we are drawing near to God we begin to be very aware of the operation of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He begins to point us to Jesus in the Word, reminding us of everything Jesus said and did (John 14-16). Like Abraham’s servant in Genesis 24 the Holy Spirit shows us the wealth of the Son, and invites us to come and be His bride. The Holy Spirit sheds the love of God all through our hearts (Romans 5:5) as He points us to the cross of Jesus Christ. And the Holy Spirit produces fruit in us (Galatians 5:22-24), meaning He begins to make us like Jesus. We draw near to God through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Additionally, we begin seeing the tremendous value of faith as a gift of God. By faith we believe the gospel, by faith we receive the promises of God, by faith we overcome our sins, the devil, and the world (1 John 5:4). We see that faith connects us to God, enabling us to draw near to Him as we believe in Him and trust in Him. We get close to God by faith. All these ways and more are how we draw near to God and live close with Him.
Question 9. Whenever we read Scripture we want to ask ourselves, “How can I apply this truth?” Today we read about maturing in Christ through the gospel, and about drawing near to Jesus. How can you apply the truth you learned today?
Dear friend, the Christian life is one of growth. God uses the gospel to grow us up and mature us into the full stature of Jesus Christ. As we mature we are no longer children tossed around by different teachings, for the gospel has grasped our heart and we examine all teaching by whether it has the gospel central to it.
As we grow in Christ we inevitably have setbacks that stunt our growth; times when we fall, experiences where we feel as though we are letting God down and others as well. In these moments, do not be afraid, but rather come again and kneel at the foot of the cross, find forgiveness and pardon and renewal.
Question 10. Please share with us your thoughts about the lessons in this quarter. What things have stuck with you? What things will help you grow and mature?
Beginning in the next quarter we are going to learn how to overcome specific sins, how to overcome the work of the devil, how to overcome the allurement of the world. But for now, let us conclude this quarter of studying about growing in Christ with a song by Chris Rice that describes it accurately:
Weak and wounded sinner
Lost and left to die
O, raise your head, for love is passing by
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus and live!
Now your burden’s lifted
And carried far away
And precious blood has washed away the stain, so
Sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus and live!
And like a newborn baby
Don’t be afraid to crawl
And remember when you walk
Sometimes we fall…so
Fall on Jesus
Fall on Jesus
Fall on Jesus and live!
Sometimes the way is lonely
And steep and filled with pain
So if your sky is dark and pours the rain, then
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus and live!
O, and when the love spills over
And music fills the night
And when you can’t contain your joy inside, then
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus and live!
And with your final heartbeat
Kiss the world goodbye
Then go in peace, and laugh on Glory’s side, and
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus and live!