The Fruit of Following God – Part 8: “Grows in Christ-likeness”

After I became a Christian, the first verse that I memorized was from the Navigator Topical Memory System (TMS) and for me it was absolutely true:

“Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new!” (KJV).

The believer in Christ is changed. He realizes that his motto in the Christian life could easily be patterned after the words of John the Baptist when he states, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). The disciple of Christ wants to become more like Christ and less like self. Through the use of the means of grace (Scripture, prayer, the sacraments, worship and fellowship, etc.), he finds that his old life is no longer personally appealing and only a life that is conforming to Christ-likeness will satisfy. Of course, growth in the fruit of the Spirit and dying to the deeds of the flesh are true indicators of becoming more and more like Christ (Galatians 5:16-25).

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8).

Often this growth in Christ-likeness occurs in more obvious fashion during the time just after one becomes a Christian; deeper Christ-likeness is shaped and formed over the long haul, as God uses events, circumstances, others and even suffering to purify the dross and make His children more like gold (Psalm 66:10; Isaiah 48:9-11).

Each disciple of Christ willingly asks the question of himself, “Am I becoming more and more like Jesus in my attitudes, actions, choices and lifestyle?”

The Fruit of Following God – Part 7: “Lives to Glorify God”

Ultimately, this attribute answers the questions, “Who (or what) is first in my life?” And, “why do I exist?” These questions address what is often called “The Lordship Commitment.” Does Christ hold first place in the life of the disciple? Will he or she submit to and obey His revealed will in all matters of life? Is his or her passion and motivation now upon glorifying God instead of living for oneself? The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian believers (who truly struggled with their passions), “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God,” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The growing disciple of Christ begins to discover area after area of his or her personal life that needs to be submitted to the will of Christ. He does not want to live for self but for God’s glory.

This disciple is sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading in all matters of obedience to God’s law (his expressed will). Obedience spawned by love for God and out of gratitude for His grace and forgiveness becomes a heartfelt passion, even though struggles with sin remain a reality. Self is no longer the driving force in their lives. Even though some of us may have come to faith in Christ out a motive for self survival but slowly, over time we realize that we have been captured and saved by God to live for Him and His honor alone. Although sin still has its subversive grip in our lives, we want to give God our all and be an example to others regarding a life that is now completely given over to our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no disparity between making Christ Savior and making Him Lord. We want Him to be Lord, even at our conversion (Colossians 2:7). Although the disciple does not fully understand the commitment being made to Christ when he or she trusts Him for salvation (similar to marriage I might add), the disciple wants God to rule over his or her life. He has tried life his way and found it lacking. When it comes to focusing upon Christ and the Christian life, he is “all in!” The lordship of Christ begins at salvation but becomes more fully realized as the disciple walks through life with a new master.  And with each passing day, this follower of Jesus is able to say more and more “Not to us, but to your name be the glory!” (Psalm 115:1).

The Fruit of Following God – Part 6: Demonstrates Love

The first fruit listed among the fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of love. This beautiful fruit begins to mature when Christ enters a person’s life. Romans 5:5 states:

“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

In so many ways the person who has lived life without Christ has lived life for self. No matter what great deeds a person may accomplish, the Apostle Paul states that if done without “agape” (God’s unconditional, sacrificial) love, those deeds are worth nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).  Good works have no value before God without the appropriate motivation and self love is not a pleasing motivation to God. Any semblance of self love ruins a good work in God’s eyes because the motivation is impure. Conversion to Christ is an experience of God’s great love and out of that new life flows a new and growing love.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” (John 15:12-13).

I still recall vividly seeing the expressed love between Christian believers just weeks after I became a Christian as a freshman at the University of South Carolina. I knew that I did not have a similar love for others in my heart that these believers demonstrated. How I envied them for the love they displayed and exhibited toward one another!  My life, although churched and “good” in a relative sense, had always been about me. I had little regard for others (some “common grace” – or natural care was in my heart of course) and had only concern for myself, my survival and my own well being. How could I love others? I literally begged God to give me a love for others that was presently not in my heart. And something amazing happened as an answer to that prayer. I don’t know if I had been what some would call “emotionally” damaged in my upbringing, but in almost miraculous fashion, I actually began to experience emotions for others – a caring love and compassion – that I had rarely, if ever, experienced in my entire life. I had prayed that God would make me a person of love instead of a selfish person (which was really all that I had ever known) and He began to do that work in my heart. He put love for others into my heart. What a blessing it was and still is to bear this fruit by His grace – His undeserved gift to me.

Sacrificial and committed “agape” love for others (even for their enemies) is a sign that an individual is a disciple and follower of the one who gave His life for us!

Do I Need to Go to Church to Follow Jesus?: A Conversation

The following is a conversation between Pastor Joshua Moore of Red Door Church in South Royalton and Dan Isadore (M.Div.), a recent graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Associate Director of the Pittsburgh Experiment.  Josh and Dan hope to have regular discussions on various theological topics and important issues facing Christians today.

Dan: So here’s a loaded question for you Josh: do I need to go to church to follow Jesus?

Josh: This is a good question.  Probably the first thing that comes to mind is the need to define what we mean by the word church.  Is the church a building; just brick and mortar?  Or is the church just another 501c3 non-profit organization that specializes in helping facilitate and organize Christian spirituality?  Or is the church something else?

The Bible doesn’t give us dictionary like answers about these sorts of questions–it’s not a book of definitions–but what the Bible does tell us about the church is that it is a body of people who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  The apostle Paul uses the imagery of the human body to describe the church in his first surviving letter to the Corinthian church.  He says that we are all members of the same body and each member serves a particular function, namely, to build up the body for the common good.

So this gets back to the way you phrased the question: if the church is mainly a collection of believers, then what do we mean when we say “go to church”?

The phrase “go to church” is couched in an understanding of what the church is that may be unbiblical. That’s not to say that there aren’t ways to use the phrase that are appropriate, of course, but for most folks (at least in my experience), the statement is a reflection of what they believe about following Jesus and is therefore problematic.  Because for so many today, following Christ is not really following a person but rather adhering to a list of rules one of which is attending this thing we call church on Sunday morning.

What this means is that they aren’t really following Jesus at all.  They are trapped in man-made religion which is always works oriented; do this and don’t do that and you’ll achieve salvation or enlightenment or you’ll have good Karma or whatever.  “Going to church” for these folks is just a part of the do-this-do-that system.  But this is the very antithesis to the teaching of Jesus.

However another important aspect to this question is context.  In New England where I am stationed at the moment, most people take it for granted that church is not a rule on the list that must be followed if one is to be saved. Up here what you find is that people struggle to see the purpose of church altogether.  Gathering together with other believers on Sunday morning or during the week for public worship, the reading of Scriptures, prayers, and the celebration of the sacraments, is in many cases seen as an unimportant footnote in the Christian life.  The hard part up here is convincing people of the importance of “going to church.”

Dan: Why is it like that in New England?

Josh: Well I’m not entirely sure. I’ve only been here a short time, but here’s my hunch: One of the most deeply rooted values in New England is independence.  People don’t want to believe or recognize that they have a need for others.

And as I understand the teaching of Jesus, I think a healthy realization of our need for other people is one of the core, proper motivations for weekly, or at least regular church attendance. Its not to believe that in gathering with other believers I’m somehow “saved” in a legal sense, but its the deeply rooted belief that without the help of other believers and the grace bestowed upon me in the exercise of the sacraments and the public proclamation of the good news week after week and the blessing of hearing others pray and so on, I simply will not persevere to the end.

To try and condense what I’m saying for you: When a person believes deep within their spirit that they need other believers and that having others believers involved in their lives intimately is one of God’s ordained means of working out our salvation and granting us the ability to persevere until the end, I think they will begin to find Church a very significant part of their lives.  In that sense I think that “going to church” is an indispensable part of following Jesus.

Dan: It sounds like you are saying that we need to be intimately connected to other people if we are to follow Christ; that the Christian life is not something that we are able to do on our own?

Josh: Yes, that’s what I’ve been saying in a nutshell.

Dan: So what if I’m not connected to others? Is that even possible in our own day when connectivity seems more readily available than ever?  Is there a “bare minimum” in this walking alongside of each other?  Or is the search for a bare minimum misdirected?

Josh: This is a legit question. In today’s world where real connectedness seems to evade us.  Despite the fact that more and more people are living in major cities and despite the preponderance of social media, intimate relationships are harder and harder to find.  So, good question.

When we look at the Bible what we see is a God that works in the context of human relationships.  From the very  beginning God made man in His image.  God is relational (Trinity), so we are relational.  The Trinity shows us that relationship is a very part of the being of God.

So relationships are not optional; they are indivisible from our design after the image of God our maker. This is true of all humans whether believers in Christ or not.  Believers, however, make it their life’s goal to conform to God’s design and not to contradict it.  So I would argue that a life of ongoing, intentional, reclusiveness and isolation is contrary to the design of God.

Dan: Believers, in other words, are those who embrace their design as relational persons and seek to live accordingly.

Josh: It’s no less than that anyway.  Speaking of the bare minimum question, that’s tough because each human is different and requires a different measure of real connectedness to thrive and to fulfill God’s calling upon their lives.

Dan: Could we say this then, that relationships are not optional for Christians, not because they get you a box checked off, but because they are more like a door?  In other words, relationships are the very stuff of Salvation, of living life with God.  To forsake relationships is to forsake Christianity, because Christianity is about embracing who God has made us to be: His image, which is persons in relationship sharing deeply in each other’s life in God.

So maybe the better question might be something like, “How do I connect with others and with God in my unique circumstances?”

Josh: Yes, because the God-man Jesus coming to earth reveals to us the intensity with which God desires relationship with his creation; relationships are fundamental to Christian faith.

Dan: That really is why he came: for relationship.

Josh: Amen.

The Fruit of Following God – Part 4: A Servant Life

Christian discipleship always results in the creation of servants. The Christian disciple’s motto should inevitably reflect the words of Jesus found in the Gospel of Mark, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” (10:45, ESV). Some scholars believe that this verse is the summary or key verse of the entire gospel of Mark as the author’s theme is to demonstrate that Christ came as a man in order to serve and die for humanity. In order for a disciple of Christ to live for the glory of God, he must learn to be a servant. This service is displayed in the local congregation (or the local church), in the surrounding community as well as among the broken and those needing mercy.

Servanthood flows out of one’s understanding of both God’s greatness and being, as well as His worthiness, and also out of the realization of Christ’s own condescension to earth in order to procure our salvation. The Apostle Paul clearly reinforces this concept from the example of Christ himself, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” (Philippians 2. 5-8, ESV).  And according to the passage in Deuteronomy, this spirit of servanthood is not simply a dutiful, obligatory activity. Whenever and wherever we serve the Lord, it is to be with all of our hearts and souls.

The Fruit of Following God, Part 3: Walking With God and A Life of Love

Below, we continue our survey  describing what it means for a believer in Christ to follow Him.  What does a true follower of Christ look like?  We looked at the first major quality a couple of weeks ago, the fear of the Lordnow we take up qualities two and three (all stemming from Deuteronomy 10:11-12).

Quality Two: A Walk with God

The Christian life is so often pictured in the Scriptures as a walk. The word “live” (peripateo) in the New Testament is also the word for “walk.” The picture is one of step by step progress. Slow, methodical forward moving progress and that done by faith. This is indeed the portrayal of discipleship, whether as an Old Testament saint (did they ever understand walking!) or a New Testament believer who is trusting in the One who came and revealed the Father. The follower of Christ faces the day-to-day grind of daily life and prepares to face each new sunrise as a forward moving walk, holding the hand of the Savior and more importantly taking those baby steps of faith knowing that ultimately the Savior is holding his or her hand.

Quality Three: A Life of Love

The Christian life and indeed the life of the disciple of Christ is a life that resonates with love. First and foremost this love must be a deep love for the Lord and not simply being in love with an ill-defined concept of love. We love because He first loved us. The Apostle Paul recognized that the love he had for the Lord, particularly for the saints and extending even unto the many lost and needy souls in the world, was a love derived from God through Christ, “For the love of Christ controls us….” (2 Corinthians 5:12, ESV). Until we comprehend God’s love for us, a love that exists in spite of the fact that we were his enemies, ungodly and sinners and a love demonstrated through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we cannot exude the love of God from our hearts.

May each of us engage in a daily (even a moment by moment) walk with Christ, a walk of faith that is exhibited by a life of deep love, both for Him and for others!

Is It Still Good News?

This post was written by Christian Crouch of SC.  He writes of himself:

“Christian, a native Tennessean, is the pastoral assistant at Grace Fellowship Church, an independent Reformed congregation in Irmo, South Carolina. He is the grateful husband of Chelsey and the proud father of Stephen and Cohen. Christian is a graduate of the University of the South and Reformed Theological Seminary. Among his other interests, he especially delights in seeing people understand, love, and obey the good news of Jesus Christ.”

Several years ago I played hooky from church so I could go to church. That is to say, I skipped my own congregation’s Sunday service and headed a few blocks over to another local church, where a visiting speaker was scheduled to preach. The speaker was also an author and had written several books that, as a brand-new Christian, I had devoured for their clear explanation of the Bible and warm, fatherly writing style. In my mind, he was a hybrid of John Calvin and Mike Brady. And believe me, if you knew somebody like that was preaching six blocks away, you would’ve played hooky, too.

What I discovered was something considerably less entertaining (but substantially more helpful) than that hybrid (a “Crady”? A “Bralvin”?). The author (who is not an ordained clergyman) began his sermon by reading a quote from a famous pastor (you’d know him) that went along these lines: Becoming a Christian is an act of God’s sheer grace, a totally undeserved gift;  however, your progress and growth as a Christian are completely up to you. The dramatic pause after he finished reading seemed to last forever. Then he simply asked, “Is that true?” How would you have answered?

After another awkward silence, he read the following verse from the Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
—Galatians 3:3

In a measured tone, the speaker carefully explained the message of the apostle, a man who had been personally sent by the Lord to preach the good news of Jesus (see the Book of Acts for the full story). Having proclaimed Jesus to people with little to no knowledge of the Bible, and having seen many come to a life-changing faith in Jesus, Paul was dumbstruck that these same people were now denying the basis of that good news: the simple power of trusting Jesus alone as the only means of rescue from sin and misery. By saying, in effect, that their maturity as disciples of Jesus depended entirely on their own hard work and dedication was, to the apostle Paul, a sign that the Galatian Christians had forgotten one of the most basic truths of the faith.

I wonder if you see yourself as guilty of the same mistake. I certainly am. And so are many of the Christians I know. Ask yourself: Does the good news of who Jesus is and what he has done feel important to you right now? Or was it something that really only applied to you before you became a Christian? To put it another way, is the gospel still good news, or is it just news?

Christians need to hear Paul’s message loud and clear: You still can’t save yourselves! You can’t try hard enough, succeed enough, or grow enough apart from God’s undeserved love. The gospel doesn’t just get us out of the principal’s office; in the words of one pastor, it brings us all the way home. Put another way (and in the words of yet another pastor), the gospel is not the ABC’s of the Christian life, but the A to Z of the Christian life. If you know Jesus, you still need daily reminders that you are not able to save yourself and must depend on God’s promised help for any progress in your efforts to be more like him. That is good news for people who, when faced with the hard realities of following Jesus in our broken world, are tempted toward the exhausting hamster wheel of self-righteousness. The power of the Holy Spirit is always necessary to change sinners, even those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. But the good news is this: He loves to change us and is even more willing than we are to see that change happen.

The Fruit of Following God, Part 2: The Fear of the Lord

Here is the second part in the series brought to us by Dr. Culbertson of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte.  Read Part 1 here.


The Fear of the Lord

I would like to look briefly at one prominent passage from the Old Testament that provides extensive insight into the calling that God places upon His followers after he delivers them from Egyptian bondage (the exodus). This Scripture is delivered by Moses to the second generation of those who were saved from slavery to Pharaoh. Their parents, in their flagrant rebellion and disobedience (Numbers 11-12) perished in the wilderness wandering. But God still had His people and this second giving of the Law underscores what type of disciples (followers) the Living God desires.

This beautiful passage is from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy (10:12-13). Here we discover the attributes of a [Christian] disciple.

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? (ESV*).

These characteristics may be summed up as one who fears the Lord, walks in all His ways, loves Him, serves Him with all of his/her heart, soul, mind and strength and observes His commands and decrees.  These five qualities would transform both the believer and the church today if only her people would take them to heart.

Quality 1: To Fear the Lord

I believe the first verb contained in this passage is the most crucial word in the string of verbs here. To fear the Lord should be the driving force of every believer. A. W. Tozer states, The greatness of God rouses fear within us, but His goodness encourages us not to be afraid of Him. To fear and not be afraid–that is the paradox of faith (The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 84). The true follower of Jesus is motivated by the greatness of his God – this is a reverence, regard and respect in the heart for the Lord that is deeply embedded.

What is this fear of the Lord? The greatest resource I have found and one that succinctly explains a Biblical view of the “fear of the Lord” is from the final chapter of John Murray’s classic text on Christian ethics, Principles of Conduct. In this chapter entitled, The Fear of God, Dr. Murray defines the fear of God as awe, reverence, honour and worship (p. 236). He further states, The fear of God is the soul of godliness (p. 229). Applying it personally, he writes, The fear of God in us is that frame of heart and mind which reflects our apprehension of who and what God is, and who and what God is will tolerate nothing less than totality commitment to him.

Dr. Murray also says, The highest reaches of sanctification [becoming Christ-like] are realized only in the fear of God (cf. II Corinthians 7:1), (p. 231). He writes further, But whatever the reason, the eclipse of the fear of God, whether viewed as doctrinal or as attitude, evidences the deterioration of faith in the living God (p. 241).

Dr. Murray breaks down the concept of the fear of God into these helpful categories:

  1. There is the all pervasive sense of the presence of God (God consciousness and relationship to Him).
  2. There is the all pervasive sense of our dependence upon him and responsibility to Him.
  3. There is trust in His promises and providence (faith spawns obedience).
  4. It is the apprehension of God’s glory that constrains the fear of his name. It is that same glory that commands our totality commitment to him, our totality trust and obedience (p. 242).

To properly revere and fear the Lord as the Almighty, Sovereign, Holy, Creator God of the universe is the first and grandest attitude of the serious follower of Jesus Christ. I might suggest that the fear of the Lord is the starting point for any progress in growth as a disciple and thus I have spent an extraordinary amount of space elaborating upon this obscure and rarely emphasized quality of the heart.

The Fruit of Following God, Part 1

The following entry is given by Dr. Rod Culbertson (D. Min.), Associate Professor of Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC.  Dr. Culbertson has a wealth of experience in Christian ministry as a pastor, campus minister, professor, and other venues. Read Dr. Rod Culbertson’s full online bio here.

I would like for us to consider what a disciple of Christ looks like in today’s world. Of course, the categories and measurements could be innumerable but I would like to whittle down the attributes of a follower of Jesus to a manageable number and cover at least the basic qualities that can often be easily observable in the life of the growing believer. We want to answer the question:

“What does a true believer in Christ look like? How is their life changed?”

I will begin by taking a quick look at a short Old Testament passage because when the Lord called His people, Israel, He expressed very high standards for those who would follow and represent Him. Then we will look briefly at 20 distinct attributes that ought to be evident in any follower of Jesus today.

What are the Attributes of a Disciple or Follower of the Living God?  Some Answers from the Old Testament

The Lord God has always called out a people to follow Him. He has not done so without giving them explicit guidance. Of course, His original call of the Hebrew nation to be His special and beloved people included an immediate provision of His moral will as communicated through the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). He also gave them many other mandates to help them maintain their holy calling as His chosen people. The gospel of God’s grace can be found in the Old Testament in many places and especially notable is evidence of His forgiveness and pardon. God’s expectations of His followers are also found in many Old Testament passages and much can be learned from God’s explicit instructions to His chosen ones. Old Testament believers in the Lord should never be viewed as simply a law driven people who responded to their Deliverer with only rote and perfunctory obedience. Their Savior was always concerned about their hearts and that they would willingly give their loyalty and obedience to Him.

I would like to look briefly at one prominent passage from the Old Testament that provides extensive insight into the calling that God places upon His followers after he delivers them from Egyptian bondage (the exodus). This Scripture is delivered by Moses to the second generation of those who were saved from slavery to Pharaoh. Their parents, in their flagrant rebellion and disobedience (Numbers 11-12) perished in the wilderness wandering. But God still had His people and this second giving of the Law underscores what type of disciples or followers the Living God desires.

This beautiful passage is from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy (10:12-13). Here we discover the attributes of a [Christian] disciple.

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (ESV*).

These characteristics may be summed up as “one who fears the Lord, walks in all His ways, loves Him, serves Him with all of his/her heart, soul, mind and strength and observes His commands and decrees.

In the weeks to come I will take each quality from this passage one at a time and break it down for us.  I look forward to sharing with you.

photo credit: Adrian Kingsley-Hughes via photopin cc