Three Dimensions of Spiritual Growth

2 Thessalonians 1:3-4

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 (NIV).

Fellowship or sharing life with one another in Christ involves many practical and spiritual actions. Two of these are praying for and giving thanks for each other to God our Father. Too often we forget to think of ourselves part of a holy priesthood that serves in the temple of living stones (1 Peter 2:5). Think on this glorious position and privilege. We can lift up holy hands and praise God for his work of saving grace, in which he delivers us from sin and sets us free to live together for his glory. When we think of other believers in Jesus, it is a fitting occasion to thank God for our brothers and sisters. In our text, the apostle models how to do this part of priestly service.

  • We can thank God because your faith is growing more and more. Here is the dimension toward God. As we have seen in a recent post on the Holy Spirit, faith is a gift of God. Our faith is nourished and increases as we remain in Christ’s love and draw fresh supplies of grace from him (cf. John 15 about the Vine and the branches). In the life of faith, we have continual occasions to see more grace, so that our confidence in the Lord rises. Notice carefully that God is the source of this intensification of trust. We cannot somehow make faith surge on our own. This is the reason God is praised for the growth of faith. We should also see that growth ought to be constant. Others ought to notice the progress of our faith.
  • We can thank God because the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Here is the dimension toward each other. As with faith, so with love. God works in us and among us to make us love one another more than we have previously loved. The good news is that growth in love can occur in a gathering of believers even after years of neglect. God can restore the years that the locusts have eaten (see Joel). When we are ready to become serious in the practice of love in our small and big groups, we will see the Holy Spirit at work, changing minds and hearts. The Spirit can open the hearts of one believer for another, as we add brotherly affection to our faith. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with godliness, godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love (2 Peter 1:5-7 HCSB).
  • We can boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. Here is the dimension of our life together in the world. This boasting has a good quality, because it rejoices in the work of God in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can often see other believers slapped around by the problems of life. Sometimes I cry out in prayer, “Lord, why are you making those people who love you experience so many trials? They seem to get out of one hole, only to be pushed into another! And we do pray for them and strive to help them. But there always seems to be another trial in their journey.” We should think of our brothers and sisters in severe persecution in the world. We ought to feel anguish of heart for them. When we hear of those suffering persecution and trials living by faith, it is a reason to give thanks for the grace active in them.

So then, let us act boldly in this spiritual service to God. Look around in your group. Who can you give thanks to God for the grace of God that is evident in them? Praise God for your brothers and sisters.

Grace and peace, David

The Shield of Faith (Part One)

IMG_0457Ephesians 6:16

The fourth stanza of the hymn “How Firm a Foundation” opens with the words, “When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie, my grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply” (Trinity Hymnal, revised edition, #94). Is this not the common experience of every follower of Christ? We have trials, and we receive grace. Has the following ever happened to you? You have just woken up in the morning after a good night’s sleep. Then suddenly, evil thoughts have come to you, perhaps even blasphemous or filthy thoughts. You were not thinking about such things. You just woke up, but there they are—horrible thoughts floating around in your mind! And then you might think, “How can I possibly be a Christian and think such things?” My brother or sister in Christ, if that has ever happened to you, do not think it something strange or unusual. A flaming arrow of the evil one has hit you. But what should we do? How can you and I counter that kind of attack? How can we live in the face of such pitiless assaults? The Holy Spirit through the apostle presents us with his way of spiritual warfare. Let us think on God’s word together.

Faith is crucial in spiritual warfare. An ancient soldier without his shield was in deadly danger. The word used for shield in this verse is not the one for the little shield that was also carried by the soldier, but for the large shield that the soldier could hide behind. When carried by many soldiers together, they could form a wall. The shield was often put together in such a way as to make it resistant to attacks by flaming arrows, which were used to wreak havoc and destruction on enemy forces, like later generations would use an artillery barrage or missile attacks.

Faith is the believer’s shield. Faith has three elements: knowledge of the good news (gospel), assent to the good news, and trust or dependence on the good news. The good news points us to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the object of real saving faith. We do not have faith in faith, but faith in the Lord Jesus (John 3:16). Like the other parts of the armor of God, genuine faith in Christ is a gift of God (Acts 13:48; 16:14; 18:27; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29; 1 Timothy 1:14). Faith leads us away from self-reliance or dependence on money, things, and other people to trust in Christ alone.

Faith has a crucial place in the believer’s life. At the time of salvation, the Holy Spirit presents the ability and sufficiency of Jesus Christ as Savior and God’s promises of eternal life to all who will believe. By the gift of faith, we trust in Jesus the Lord, and entering into union with Christ, we are saved. From that moment on as we trust in the Lord, the Spirit of God strengthens our faith, enabling us to make use of Christ’s fullness as our prophet, priest and king and to participate in every grace and blessing in Christ.  We are able to draw strength for him. At the same time the Holy Spirit produces his fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) in us to develop resistance to the fiery darts. As faith unites us to the Savior, so faith receives from the Lord all that we need for our daily walk. We must actively depend on Christ to receive what we need to live for God’s glory and to enjoy the Lord. We must rely on him when we face the attacks of the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12).

Grace and peace, David