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*Frequently asked questions*
The Bible, the written word of God, is our sole authority in answering all questions pertaining to our spiritual life. However, in reading the Bible, we must keep in mind that the Bible is not written like a book of science where each statement is exact and complete in itself, nor like a book of law where the goal is to elaborate matters in sections and sub-sections so as to avoid loopholes. The Bible is written for the heart, and can be understood in its proper sense only by those who are spiritually minded (1Co.2:14), and who desire to do the will of God once it is revealed (Jn.7:17). Those who want to argue against the word of God can always find arguments, and those who do not want to obey what God says can appear to find words of God themselves to support their stand. Please read the following with an open heart and a willingness to know God's ways and obey them. - Jacob Ninan
1. Please explain what you mean by Christian growth.
When a person is born of God, he becomes a Christian in the real sense of the word - one who has Christ in him. But God's life has come into him in the form of a seed, and it has to grow up so that every part of the person's character becomes like that of God (Ep.3:19;4:13). This happens in two parts. First we see what God is like, and then He transforms us to be like Him (2Co.3:18). This is the most essential part of Christian growth. The second part is to grow in usefulness to God, according to His plan for each one of His children and the different abilities and opportunities He gives.
Unfortunately many Christians think of growth only as growing in the knowledge of the Bible and becoming active in 'Christian work.' The sad thing is that these things can be done to a great extent even without becoming godly - or like God in His character. Therefore many really miss the essence of Christian growth.
2. Many speak about bearing fruit. Is the same as Christian growth?
It is, if you understand it the way it is explained above. The important thing is not the terminology but the reality of the experience. Jesus said that we were to bear fruit and that it was by bearing much fruit that we would be able to glorify the Father (Jn.15:5,8).
3. How can we grow in Christ?
This is the big question. We need to understand it in our heart, rather than in our head only. I hope what I write here will be of real help to you.
There are two aspects to growth. The first deals with the right conditions for growth, and the second deals with helps for our growth.
The right conditions for growth
Jesus said that we could not bear any fruit unless we abided in Him (Jn.15:4). He also said that if we abided in Him we would bear much fruit (Jn.15:5). So we see that we cannot grow by our own efforts. It is not just that no one can make himself acceptable to God by working hard enough to be good, but no one can add one bit to his stature (physically or spiritually) by making efforts (Mt.6:7). Growth comes from God (1Co.3:6). Our part is to trust God and cling to Him like a branch clings to the vine. God will work in us through the Holy Spirit and give us the desire and the power to do His will (Php.2:13). He will also work for us by arranging all our circumstances to help us in our spiritual growth (Ro.8:28,29).
When God works in us we must respond to Him by yielding to the leading of the Holy Spirit (Php.2:12;Ro.8:13). This means that we have to choose what the Holy Spirit wants us to do in every situation, even though our flesh tries to draw us away in another direction (Jas.1:14).
Helps for our growth
God has provided for us His word (the Bible) so that we can get to know Him and His ways (1Pe.2:2). It is not for mere reading or intellectual understanding. But as we read the Bible in faith, we can communicate with God who wrote it. He also speaks to us in our heart through His word and the Holy Spirit concerning our specific needs.
Prayer is a tool God has given us to tell Him what is in our heart. We have the privilege to enter into God's holy presence at any time with the blood of Jesus (He.10:18,19) which has purchased for us the forgiveness for our sins. We can ask Him whatever we need. Praise is another form of reaching God by which we express our thankfulness for what He is and what He has done for us. Worhip is yet another form by which we express our sincere admiration and appreciation for God and His ways.
The church is a great help God has given us for our growth. The church is, of course, not the building where Christians meet, but the group of Christians who meet together as members of the Body of Christ (Ep.4:11-13). God gives different gifts and functions to different members of the body so that all can grow by giving to and receiving from one another (Ep.4:16). Fellowship with other members of Christ's body in sharing, praying, worshipping and working together helps all of us to grow.
4. What is all the confusion I find among preachers and writers about what God has to do and what we have to do?
Confusion results because people tend to take just some part of Scriptures while neglecting other parts, or emphasising one part too much. Some say that God will do everything, and as a result people may keep waiting for something to happen without seeing if they have fulfilled the conditions or whether they are cooperating with the Holy Spirit. Others think that it is up to them to get salvation. But the secret is to be balanced, to expect and let God work in us to give us the desire and the power to do God's will, and then to do what God says. This is what Php.2:12,13 says.
5. What are the dangers we face as we grow?
We are actually living now in the enemy's territory because Satan is the prince of this world (Lk.4:6). He is out and out to deceive us. He tempts us to sin, and if we fall, he will accuse us night and day trying to discourage us. If he cannot lead us to sin, he will try to side-track us by getting us occupied with something other than what God wants us to do. It may be some legitimate thing concerning our earthly life, or it may even be a pre-occupation with some theological issue!
To add to it, we carry with us an enemy agent inside us! That is our flesh which fights with the promptings of the Holy Spirit (Ga.5:17). There is nothing good in this flesh (Ro.7:18), but we are tempted through the strong desires that are in this flesh (Jas.1:14;Ga.5:24). Some of these desires tempt us to think too much of ourselves and despise others, not to believe what God says, to get our own way, to enjoy ourselves without control, to hanker after more money, more wealth, more comfort, etc., to be jealous of others, to be greedy for what others have, to be unforgiving and hard on others, etc. Jesus knew these dangers very well because He Himself was tempted in all things which we are tempted by (He.4:15), and so He tells us to be on the alert and to watch and pray lest we get into temptation (Mt.26:41).
6. With all these things against us, does it not look hopeless?
Don't forget that God is on our side. He will not allow us to face any temptation that is too difficult for us to handle (1Co.10:13). The Holy Spirit is within us fighting against our flesh (Ga.5:17), and with His power we can overcome (Ro.8:13). He will also warn us when we are about to make a mistake (Is.30:21). He will also show us how to handle our temptations (1Co.10:13). We also have our brothers and sisters in the church to support us with prayer, encouragement and other practical help (Lk.22:28).
7. What if I fall?
We may fall, especially in the beginning, just like a child learning to walk. But God is not hiding around the corner to catch us like a policeman! He is our Father who understands how frail we are (Ps.103:14). Jesus is merciful and kind, because He Himself has faced our temptations (He.4:15), and He has already paid for the full penalty of our sins (1Jn.2:1,2). If we repent of our sin and confess it, God will surely forgive us (1Jn.1:9). In other words, we must quickly set things right with God and man (if we have hurt someone with our sin), and get back to running the race.
8. Is it really possible to overcome temptations? I see so many Christians who are defeated.
Our example is Jesus. When He was on earth as a Man, He has faced all the temptations
that come to us, and He did not fall even once (He.4:15). It is His example that we are holding
before our eyes as we run this race of life (He.12:1,2). The life of Jesus is God's guarantee
that we too can overcome. Jesus Himself says that we can overcome just like He has overcome
(Re.3:21). Even if we have not been able to overcome till now, nor seen other people who have
overcome, we must believe the promises of God and the example of Jesus.
See Jn.14:12;Ac.20:32;Ro.5:17;Ro.5:20;Ro.6:14;Ro.8:37;Ro.16:20;Ro.16:25;2Co.2:14; 2Co.9:8;2Co.12:9;Ep.3:20;2Ti.1:12;He.2:18;He.7:25;Jas.1:21;1Pe.5:10;Jude.1:24
9. What is the difference between a believer and a disciple?
On the surface, a believer is one who believes in Jesus and a disciple is one who is learning from Jesus to follow Him. Actually, in the days of Jesus, a believer was supposed to be a disciple, and there was no distinction as we see now. The Greek word used for 'believe' in the New Testament means "to adhere to, cleave to, to trust, to have faith in, to rely on" (The Amplified Bible). You can see this is much more than just accepting facts about Jesus. Many people 'believe' in Jesus in their heads, till one day they get convicted in their hearts by the Holy Spirit to see that they are sinners in the sight of God. Then some of them believe in Jesus in the real way, submitting to Him as their Saviour.
If a man believes in Jesus in the right way, he also becomes a disciple at the same time. In the Old Testament there is a picture of a slave who was about to be set free by the Master. But the slave loved his master so much that he decided to stay with him as a slave for the rest of his life (Ex.21:22-6). This is how a disciple decides to be with Jesus. He chooses to love Jesus more than everyone else even to the extent that he is willing to offend them rather than grieve Jesus (Lk.14:26). He is willing to give up all his own ambitions, plans, pleasures and will in order to please Jesus (Lk.14:27). He would rather lose all his wealth and possessions than lose fellowship with Jesus (Lk.14:33). It is such disciples who finally become like the Master.
Those who do not become disciples of Jesus have not really seen Jesus properly. They have not seen that He is the pearl of greatest price for buying which it is worth selling off all other pearls (Mt.13:45,46). But the special promise for the disciples who decide to obey Jesus in everything is that they can have the Holy Spirit always with them and that they will have the Father and the Son living in them (Jn.14:15,16,21). They are the ones to whom Jesus gives all the promises in His letters to the seven churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation (Re.2:7,11,17,6-28;3:5,12,1).
Jesus also warns those who think they are 'believers' and who do not want to follow Him as disciples, that He would spit them out of His mouth (Re.3:16).
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