We throw the word “grow” around a good bit at Hope Church. Specifically, we talk about a growing relationship with Christ, but what exactly does that mean? What exactly is growing spiritually?
The answer is found in a New Testament book of the Bible called Second Thessalonians. It is a letter – actually, the second of two letters – written by the apostle Paul to Christians in the city of Thessalonica. He opens the letter with these words:
We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches, we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. ~2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 (NIV)
Paul congratulated these new believers on their growing FAITH. Paul goes on to say that he often boasted to other churches about the faith he saw in the church at Thessalonica.
SO WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT FAITH?
God wants your faith to grow. Here’s why… Faith, or trust, is the centerpiece of every great relationship. You can’t have a healthy relationship with anyone without faith, or trust. As trust deepens, relationships deepen and mature. God sent Jesus into the world to re-establish a relationship with mankind. For that relationship to happen, there must be trust, or to use the Bible word, faith. Anything that enhances trust between two entities enhances the relationship, whether spouses, nations, siblings, or friends. Grow in trust, and you will deepen the relationship.
It is no coincidence that our relationship with God is initiated through faith in Jesus. Recognize this verse?
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. ~John 3:16 (NIV)
Isn’t that interesting? We receive eternal life by “believing in” or trusting in Christ. The very first thing God requires of us is our trust. Why? Because that’s the stuff relationships are made of. And what your Heavenly Father wants most from you is exactly that: a relationship; a relationship characterized by trust, faith, and confidence.
THE BIG APPLE
What happened that caused man to fall out of favor with God, to begin with? There was a time when mankind had just the kind of relationship with God we are talking about: one characterized by mutual trust. But something happened. Have you heard the story? Long ago, in a garden far, far away… the serpent came to Eve and said, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” ~Genesis 3:1 (NIV)
Think about that question, “Did God really say…?” What is his point? What was the serpent after? What was he driving at? The conversation that followed makes it all too clear.
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” ~Genesis 3:2-5 (NIV)
The serpent’s agenda was pretty clear. He wanted Eve to doubt God. His purpose was to chip away at her faith to the point that she would act on her disbelief, and that is exactly what she did. Even before she tasted that forbidden fruit, the battle was lost. She doubted. She lost confidence. The relationship was damaged. Broken.
In many ways, belief and unbelief are two sides of the same door. We exited a relationship with God through unbelief, and we come back in through belief. Once we are in, our Heavenly Father does a full court press to grow and mature our faith so that we never want to leave again.
God’s desire for us to trust Him fully is really an extension of His unconditional love. The best thing for us to do is trust Him. To illustrate, imagine what your life would be like if you had perfect faith in God.
- What if you had complete confidence that He loved you unconditionally?
- What if you fully embraced the notion that nothing comes into your life without His knowledge?
- What if you were confident that everything that comes your way was a part of a divine plan and that someday you will look back and see how it all fits together?
- And – this is big – what if confident faith in Jesus Christ was the filter through which you viewed and responded to the circumstances of life every minute of every day?
In other words, what if you were absolutely confident that God was with you and for you? What would you worry about? What would you fear? What would you argue with Him about? Which of His laws and principles would you write off as impractical and irrelevant?
Can you see how a perfect faith would eventually shape your entire life? Think about it. You would live a life of complete surrender to your Heavenly Father, not because you had to, but because you wanted to. You wouldn’t obey because you feared retaliation, you would obey because you trust Him.
Ever feel like you skim across that kind of surrender during worship? On many occasions, do you ever stare at the words on the screen, let the lyrics wash over you and think… “Why do I ever sin?” In light of what God has done for us, in light of the fact that He is the perfect, trustworthy Father, why would we doubt, fear, or disobey? Those are the moments to be drawn to surrender – not from fear, but from faith. Wouldn’t it be great to have that perspective and maintain it all through the week? That’s the goal! That’s how we live when faith is perfected. That’s what God is after in each of us.
THE FLIP SIDE
We are not the only ones who benefit from big faith. God has a stake in this as well. Specifically, God is most honored… receives the most glory, through our living, active, death-defying, out-of-the-box faith. Nothing reflects better on the Father than a child whose lifestyle says, “I trust You.”
Trusting God is tantamount to giving Him a standing ovation.
The disciple Matthew records an incident that underscores how much the Father values our faith. Jesus was asked by a Roman soldier to heal his servant who was at home suffering. Jesus agreed to indicate that He would follow the soldier to his home. The soldier responded,
But the centurion said, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. ~Matthew 8:8 (NASB)
Jesus’ response took everyone by surprise.
Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. ~Matthew 8:10 (NASB)
Nowhere else in all Scripture do we find Jesus “marveling.” The Greek term actually means to be astonished or extraordinarily impressed by. What astonished Jesus? The man’s obedience? No, his faith! Specifically the soldier’s belief that Jesus was working on behalf of the Father.
Our faith reflects well upon the Father. The more perfect our faith, the better we reflect His greatness. So it should come as no surprise that the maturity of our faith is high on God’s agenda for our lives. God is at work building, growing, maturing, igniting, yes, even perfecting our faith.
In fact, the New Testament book of Hebrews goes so far as to refer to Jesus at the “perfecter” of our faith.
…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer, and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him, he endured the cross… ~Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)
But how? How does God perfect our faith?
FIVE THINGS GOD USES
At Hope Church, we outline five practices that increase our faith and trust in Jesus. We call them the 5Gs: Gospel, Gather, Grow, Give, and Go.
The saving work of Jesus Christ is our joy, hope, and strength. It is the foundation and motivation for all we do. As someone who trusts in the righteousness of Jesus Christ (instead of our own), we can remind ourselves that even though we are more flawed and sinful than we ever dare to believe, we are more loved and accepted than we ever dared to hope!
We gather in worship in response to all we receive from God and give back to Him our heartfelt praise for His love and all He has done for us. We are encouraged through singing praise to God with one another. We are built up as the Holy Spirit applies the sermon and teaching to our hearts and souls. We are strengthened as we eat and drink the bread and wine of Communion together with our fellow believers and also with Him!
We grow in love for God and for all people. Studying the Bible personally and in small groups is a great way to know God better and to grow your faith. In a Life Group, we share our burdens, our fears, our joys and love one another more deeply than by ourselves. Personal Bible study and prayer is a daily discipline that refocuses our hearts on Jesus and receives His beauty and love as we go out into His world to live for Him.
It is in giving that receive. God’s ways are not like the ways of the world. The world says, “take,” but God says “give.” Christians who grow in service to others, in generosity, and in understanding that the highest calling in life is to make a difference in eternal things, are the most blessed people on earth.
Jesus calls us to go into the world and make disciples as we demonstrate the love of Christ to our non-believing friends. Sometimes that is inviting a friend to a Lifetree Cafe gathering. Sometimes that is inviting a friend to worship. Sometimes it is listening to a friend who wants to talk and answer their questions about why you follow Jesus as His disciple. Sometimes it is participating in a short-term mission project. Mostly, it is an attitude of loving the people who Jesus loves (everyone!) and being open to helping other people know the love of God – through friendship, gifts of food or other physical help, making sure they know that you are giving them the love that God gave to you in Jesus Christ.
Each of these, in its own unique way, builds our faith in God. At some point in your spiritual journey, each of these catalysts will intersect with your experiences.
It Isn’t What You Know
It is very important to understand…
Spiritual growth or development is not primarily about becoming smarter or even more obedient. Spiritual growth is all about a relationship with your Heavenly Father through His Son, Jesus. Consequently, spiritual growth is about faith-growth: the bigger your faith, the deeper the relationship.
- Bible knowledge alone will make you proud.
- Obedience alone will make you judgmental.
- Trust makes you dependent.
It is great to learn a lot. For the sake of your family and friends, it’s great for you to obey a lot. But most important is learning to trust a lot. In that, your Father is honored, and your life will be richer.
For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. ~Romans 3:28
For we live by faith, not by sight. ~2 Corinthians 5:7
This is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. ~1 John 3:23