Growth in the Christian Life, Part III

Today we conclude our three part series on the Christian life. Having looked at the traditional “means of grace,” today I’ll consider two other “resources” that God gives us in order to bring growth in our lives.

Suffering as a Means of Refinement

God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows that when “trials of various kinds” (Jas. 1:2) come into our lives, our first impulse will be to run away from him instead of to him. For this reason, he comes to our rescue in Scripture by informing us that when suffering comes knocking at our door, we’re not to assume it’s a result of God being asleep on the throne. No, God loves us enough to tell us in advance what he’s up to: “you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (Jas. 1:3). Paul chimes in: “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance” (Rom. 5:3). Peter writes: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12). These Scriptures fortify us with the theological interpretation of life we so desperately need. “God’s goal in suffering,” Scott Hafemann reminds us, “is to teach us that, in life and in death (as in all of eternity), God himself is all we ultimately need.”[1] Isn’t that Paul’s point in 2 Cor. 1:8-9?

The Role of the Church

“It takes a church to raise a Christian” Tom Ascol says.[2] I agree. If I had to guess, this is probably the most difficult aspect for contemporary American Christians to accept. Ever suspicious of institutions, many recoil at any suggestion that their walk with God should include other individuals holding them accountable.

In contrast to the rife individualism in our culture, the Bible presents a robust ecclesiology. God’s covenant promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 establishes the fact that God’s design is to have an international body of believers who joyfully submit to Jesus as Lord.[3] Recall Peter’s words concerning Christ’s intention to build “a spiritual house, a royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5). The formation of this royal priesthood is part of the gospel; the church is the corporate dimension of being in Christ.[4] It is the divinely established community of faith—the people of God, the Body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit.[5]

In light of the aforementioned, it is incumbent upon people to treat the church more like their home and less like a hotel.[6] Believers need to see and sense that God desires to express his glory not just through individuals, but through a corporate body.[7] The concept of church membership seems foreign to American Christians because they see the church as an optional add-on to their religious life. They fail to appreciate that Christ instituted a church, and gave that church real authority (Matt. 16:18-19; 18:18-20). He did this, not to burden us, but to help “give shape and direction to our Christian lives.”[8] Simply put, we need the local church. We are mistaken if we think “we can with impunity go without the aid which the Lord foresaw would be necessary for us.”[9] Let us not think we are wiser than Christ. Our life together as the church is the way we witness in word and deed that we love one another (Jn. 13:35), that we are citizens of another country (Phil. 3:20), and that we gather as those summoned by his grace to offer our Triune God the worship that is his, “with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28).

The goal of the Christian life is Christlikeness. In order to achieve this goal one must discipline oneself for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). A disciple must exercise self-control and set aside time for Bible reading, prayer, and fellowship. Thankfully, we can can rest in Christ, rejoice in the finished work of Christ, and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, live out his rule of life to the glory of God.

_________________________________________________________________

[1] Scott Hafemann, “A Call to Pastoral Suffering: The Need for Recovering Paul’s Model of Ministry in 2 Corinthians,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 4:2 (2000): 22-36.

[2] Ascol, “Growing in Maturity,” 19.

[3] Paul R. Williamson, Sealed with an Oath: Covenant in God’s Unfolding Purpose, New Studies in Biblical Theology 23 (Downers Grove: IVP, 2007), 83-84

[4] Vanhoozer, Biblical Authority after Babel, 29.

[5] John Behr, “The Trinitarian Being of the Church,” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 48:1 (2003): 67-88.  See esp. 70.

[6] Language borrowed from Burk Parsons, “Our Family Forever,” Tabletalk 40:9 (September 2016): 2.

[7] Mark Dever, “The Church: A Summary and Reflection,” in Understanding the Times: New Testament Studies in the 21st Century, eds. Andreas J. Köstenberger and Robert W. Yarbrough (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 88.

[8] Leeman, Church Membership, 30.

[9] Calvin, Institutes, 4. 12. 4.

 

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