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pocket principle Getting StartedINTRODUCTION

Just before leaving on a big trip, I always take a final look around to make sure I’ve got everything I need. Do I have my wallet, enough money for gas and food, my plane ticket, the papers with the addresses and phone numbers of hotels? Although I’m almost certain I’ve already put these in the car, I check one last time just to be sure. Why? Because if I’ve forgotten something essential, I may never make it to my intended destination.

In the same way, after making a decision to follow Christ, I had to look back to make sure I’d done everything right. I knew that if I’d misunderstood some essential aspect of salvation, I might never make it to where I wanted to go— heaven. Because of the importance of this salvation experience, it’s only natural that some people question their experience or want to make sure they “did it right.” We know that God’s done His part in sending His Son to pay for our sins. Our concern is that perhaps we’ve not done everything right on our part to receive His gracious gift. That’s what this lesson is all about.

Why not stop reading for a moment and ask God to help you understand His Word on this important topic. If you’re not used to talking to God, you could just say something like, “God, I want to make sure I’ve done everything I need to do in order to be forgiven and to be Your child. Please help me to understand. Thanks for caring about me!”

UNDERSTANDING WHAT GOD DID FOR US

First, there are certain things we need to understand and believe. Some people say, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you live consistently with it.” Yet, Hitler believed that he was doing the world a favor by killing off “lesser” races and helping the “superior” Aryan race to dominate the earth. Osama Bin Laden believes that Allah wants him to kill people who don’t believe as he does. Both Hitler and Bin Laden may have lived consistently with their beliefs. Yet, wrong beliefs lead to wrong actions. Having the right belief is critical. What must we believe to be saved?

The Bad News: We are sinful and this sin separates us from God. Because of our sin, we are lost and can’t have a relationship with God through our own efforts.

Imagine that you’re in a math class and your teacher says, “You should know how to work all of these problems by now. The passing grade for this pop quiz is 100%.” Yet, as you take the test, you realize that you’re getting some of the problems wrong. No matter how many you get right from now on, will you ever pass the test? No. Because passing is 100%. No matter how many you get correct from now on, you’ll never get 100%. You’re gonna fail.

Passing that math test after missing some problems is as impossible as making it to heaven, on our own, after we’ve already sinned—falling short of God’s perfection. Imperfect people can’t make it to a perfect heaven on their own merits. This is the first thing we need to believe.

The Good News: Knowing that we couldn’t save ourselves, God sent His Son

Jesus Christ to save us. Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life in obedience to His heavenly Father. When He died on the cross, He wasn’t dying for His own sins, but for our sins. He paid the penalty that we deserved to pay.

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (I Peter 3:18a)

But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

Imagine that last year you found a misplaced folder at work that proved your employers were exaggerating their profits to make their company look good to the stock holders. Although you knew you should go public with the information, you thought of your responsibility to your family and didn’t want to risk getting fired. Now you sit in a courtroom before a judge who finds you guilty of participating in the crime by withholding information. He says that you must either pay a fine of $100,000.00 or serve 10 years in jail. You tell him you don’t have $100,000.00. As a righteous judge, he declares you guilty.

Then the judge, seeing the distress on your face and the faces of your children, appears to be holding back tears as he writes something that only he can see. He hands it to a courtroom aid, who delivers it to you. You gasp as you realize that the judge has just written you a check for $100,000.00, offering to pay the entire penalty that you owed.

That’s what the Bible calls grace—God offering a payment for what you owed, not because you deserved it, but because of His great love. How astounding that God would pay our debt with the sacrifice of His Son.

But it’s not enough for God to offer this gift. You could reject the check offered to you by the gracious judge. How do we receive God’s grace?  It’s not enough to believe in God and believe that Jesus died for our sins. According to the Bible, even demons believe in God (James 2:19). We must receive His forgiveness through repentance and faith. Let’s look at these one at a time.

RESPONDING THE WAY GOD WANTS US TO RESPOND

Repent From Our Sins. Repentance is our response to the bad news: our sinfulness and rebellion against God. The simplest definition of repentance is “a willingness to change.” Don’t get confused here! We’re not saying that we change so that God will save us. That would be salvation by works! Besides, we can’t make a lot of changes in our lives until God renews us and empowers us to live a new life. We’re simply saying that we make a mental change of allegiance, from bowing to self to bowing to God.  In repentance we tell God, “I’m willing to change! I want to turn from my sin and serve You!”

From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’ (Matthew 4:17)

Believe In Jesus. Faith or belief in Christ is our appropriate response to the good news.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8,9)

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) and worked miracles and rose from the dead.” To believe in Jesus means that you put your trust in Him. It’s like people who say that they believe in aerobic exercise.

They don’t mean merely that they believe that somewhere in the world, aerobic exercise classes exist. They mean that they believe enough in aerobics to be willing to do aerobics. If a person says she believes in Coke, she’s saying more than she believes Coca-Cola exists. She believes in it enough as a refreshing beverage that she’s willing to drink it.

Similarly, faith in Christ is more than an intellectual agreement that He exists. It’s putting our trust in Him to save us. It’s entrusting ourselves to Him. We’re saying that we believe that God has offered us forgiveness through the death of Christ for our sins and we accept the payment that He offers. We’re also saying that we’re willing to follow Christ.

In repentance we tell God, “I’m willing to change!  I want to turn from my sin and serve you!”

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Although repentance and faith focus on two different things, sin and Christ, they are actually one mental act. As we turn away from our sin, we turn toward Christ at the same time. As Jesus said,

‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!’ (Mark 1:15)

So, let’s go back to the important trip we talked about at the beginning of this lesson. In order to make sure I could make it to my destination, I asked myself, “Did I bring my plane ticket? Did I bring enough cash?” In the same way, if we want to make sure that we are truly God’s children and are going to make it to heaven, we must ask, “Have I truly repented of my sins? Have I truly believed on Jesus?” If you know that you haven’t, or if you’re simply not sure, why not confirm your decision by expressing it to God in prayer. He’s not so interested in the words you use as He is the sincerity of your heart. If this written prayer expresses the desire of your heart, why not say it to God right now?

“God, I’ve gone my own way. I’m sorry. I’m turning from my sins. Give me the strength to follow You. I believe in You, putting my trust in you to save me from my sins. Make me into a new person and take me to heaven. Thanks for forgiving me and loving me so much!”

If you prayed that prayer and sincerely meant it, then on the authority of God’s Word, you are His child and you are successfully headed to your destination—heaven!

FACTS VERSUS FEELINGS

You’re having one of those days. You didn’t get enough sleep last night. Your boss treats you like dirt. You go to your home fellowship meeting and hope to get some encouragement. Instead, you see this bubbly Christian who never seems down who tells about how God solved all her problems. “All my problems aren’t solved,” you think. Then a new Christian gives a dramatic testimony about how he received Christ and felt something like electricity go through his entire body.

“I didn’t have a big emotional experience when I got saved,” you think. Then you begin to wonder if you’re really a Christian at all.

This is where you must put emotions in their place. The Bible said, “whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) It didn’t say, “whoever feels bubbly all the time” will have eternal life. It didn’t say, “whoever has a dramatic emotional experience” will have eternal life. It says that “whoever believes in Him shall…have eternal life.”

So, if I truly believe/repent, but am not saved, what would this say about God? (He would be a liar. And if God’s a liar, we’re all up the creek!) So the salvation of those who repent and believe is as secure as the promise of God, regardless of how we feel.

Hint: Some people offset future doubts by writing down exactly what they understood and prayed when they received Christ. For example, you might photocopy this lesson and write at the end, “I understood this lesson and prayed this prayer for assurance of my salvation on this day” (write out date). Next, put it in a safe place.

Ten years from now, when you have another one of those bad days and Satan whispers in your ear, “You didn’t know what you were doing when you prayed that prayer ten years ago,” you can take it out and show Satan exactly what you did. Your salvation is as secure as the promise of God. Then you can tell Satan to “get lost.”

My daughter defines “friendship” as a relationship where “you can just be yourself”. We all need relationships with people who love us and accept us completely, a place where we feel safe and secure. Every relationship is unique, but healthy relationships have this in common: they are based on trust, loyalty, and commitment. They are places where “we can just be ourselves”.

An environment of honesty, good will, and unconditional love reassures us that we are relationally protected. When we are with people who love us in this way we are able to be transparent, which serves to deepen the relationship. We all need relationships with safe people who love us if we are to thrive and grow. This is also true in our relationship with God. If we feel loved and accepted by God we will approach Him in faith and with confidence. Conversely, if we feel condemned by God, we will not have a healthy relationship with Him. Being secure in our relationship with God requires two commitments. The first involves His eternal commitment to us, the second involves our commitment to stay in the relationship with Him.

God is committed to keeping us as His children.

Jesus spoke of His love for His followers by comparing Himself to a shepherd who walks in front of his flock, guarding them, leading them to good places, and reassuring them with his voice. “I give them eternal life,” He said, “and they shall never perish: no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)

This remarkable assertion is founded on God’s unswerving commitment to those whom He loves. Because of His unending love and unstoppable power, He is willing and able to guard us. (II Timothy 1:12) Even our own sins and lack of faith will not lessen His commitment to those who are committed to Him. Timothy writes that “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” (II Timothy 2:11-13) His love for us is not grounded upon our performance, it is grounded upon His perfect love and character.

If we feel loved and accepted by God we will approach Him in faith and with confidence.

Make no mistake, God is holy and hates sin. But we still sin, even though we don’t want to. When we do, we need to remember that God has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him. We have Someone who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He promises, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:8-2:2) Because Jesus Himself suffered temptations and yet did not sin, He is able to be the sacrifice for our sins and also to help us when we are tempted. Through Christ, God remains steadfast in His love to us.

We are committed to continue as His children.

Someone said that home is where they have to take you in when you knock on the door. Unfortunately, not all homes are so welcoming. But God always welcomes His children. And He wants us to be assured of our place in His family. Because we are His children, members of His family, we have a role also; our responsibility is to remain in His family.

John wrote his letter, the book of I John, so that people would know whether or not they were Christians. Central to his message was the confidence that Christians can have in their relationship with God. He writes: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:13) The confidence that He will never leave us causes us in turn to remain connected to Him, even when life is difficult.

John says, “I write these things” so you can have this assurance; so you can know for sure you are a believer. What are “these things” that he writes? He is referring to three evidences laid out in his letter that show a person that he has become a believer. These evidences are our love (4:7), our obedience (2:3-6) and our faith in Christ (4:15, 5:1a). It is not that we will demonstrate perfect love, obedience and faith but that we will experience each of these in ways we cannot explain apart from the fact that Christ is changing us on the inside. In these ways, the true believer remains faithful to the end, “continuing in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.” (Colossians 1:23)

At times we all face doubts, accusations, and even suffering. When this happens, it is essential to remember that we are God’s children, committed to follow Him. The fact that we are God’s children does not mean we never sin or disobey God. Nor does it mean our salvation is dependent on our obedience. It does mean that we continually participate with God in our sanctification, working with Him by faith to grow in Christlikeness. As true believers we continue to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” because we love Him and trust Him, pressing on to fully gain the salvation that is already ours through Him. (Philippians 2:12) To those who recognize both the divine and the human aspects of following the Living God, this approach is both mysterious and practical at the same time!

The confidence that He will never leave us causes us in turn to remain connected to Him, even when life is difficult.

Put another way, God has given us everything we need to live a godly, holy life and be sure of our salvation. But we must make every effort to grow in righteousness, remembering that we have been cleansed from past sins and called to live as children of God. This way we confirm that God has brought us securely into His family.

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.

Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.

Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. II Peter 1:3-11

There is a basis for us to be secure in our relationship with God and be certain of our salvation. The basis of this security is God’s eternal love coupled with His ability to keep us to the end. This is confirmed in our lives when we have a trusting dependence on Him and a maturing character.

Summary

We can be secure in our relationship with God.

  • A healthy relationship is based on trust, loyalty, and commitment.
  • God is committed to keep us as His children.
  • We can know we are God’s children and be committed to Him.
  • God has equipped us to live godly, holy lives assured of our salvation.

Application Suggestions:

If you were God, what are some of the changes you would make in your own human character?

What are some of the signs in your life that God has begun that process of change?

Read and meditate on the book of I John.

Get this Pocket Principle in Knowing God, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

For more information visit the WDA Store.

“May the force be with you!” This now-familiar “benediction” of the Star Wars series has emerged as one of our cultural icons, characterizing an accompanying (albeit impersonal) power that is able to provide strength and comfort for lifes challenges. Unfortunately, this is also how many Christians view the Holy Spirit. For them, the Holy Spirit is a mysterious “force” who somehow influences and impacts their lives. Admittedly, explaining the Person and work of the Holy Spirit can be daunting. But the rewards of understanding God through the Person of His Spirit far outweigh the difficulties.

Who is the Holy Spirit? Is this only another name for God? A force? An impersonal “it”? A separate personality? The Holy Spirit, like the idea of the Trinity, can be a difficult concept to understand. (In fact, almost all the cults stumble over the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, denying the existence of the Holy Spirit as God.)

Fortunately, we have the light of Scripture to show us God’s will and reveal His truth. This is particularly valuable in our understanding of the Holy Spirit. At this point in history, God is invisible to our human perception. But though invisible, He is still there, and He is active in the affairs of our lives. Even though the wind is invisible we can describe it and see its effects. In a similar way we cannot see the Holy Spirit, but we can see Him in the Bible and witness His effects in the lives of believers. (John 3: 5-8) By studying how the Scriptures describe the Holy Spirit, we can know God more fully .

The Deity and Personality of the Holy Spirit

It is important to recognize that Scripture does not always give lengthy explanations or formal lessons about God and His Kingdom. The Bible is not an entire account or testimony of the acts of God toward His creation and His people. As such, we find that Scripture clearly teaches us about the Holy Spirit but does not set out to prove the deity and personality of the Holy Spirit. Instead, the Bible writers assume and teach the deity and personality of the Holy Spirit incidentally.

The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity

In many cultures, it is common when first meeting others to inquire about their family relations. By knowing someone’s family name, it is possible to gain insights into the community roles and context of the new acquaintance. In a similar way, knowing how the Holy Spirit relates to the other persons of the Trinity gives us a better understanding of who He is.

As we read through the Bible, we can observe that God the Father’s role is primarily that of planning and initiating. Jesus, God the Son, executes God the Father’s plans. His Messianic role as suffering servant and delivering king is central to who He is. Finally, the Holy Spirit’s role is to apply the plan to believers.

We can see these roles of the Trinity in the work of salvation. The Father plans and sends the Son. Jesus the Son executes the plan by dying on the cross for our sins and being raised from the dead. The Holy Spirit draws people to Christ and applies the benefits of salvation to them through His dwelling in their lives.

The Ministries of the Holy Spirit

Sometimes the best way to relate to people is to learn what they do. Actions, as the saying goes, speak louder than words. The Holy Spirit takes many actions on behalf of believers, and it can help us understand God the Holy Spirit by considering these ministries.

The Holy Spirit automatically gives certain benefits to us when we first repent and believe in God’s salvation. Titus 3:5 tells us, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” John 3:3-8 and Ephesians 2:4-5 also speak of this regenerative ministry. The Holy Spirit testifies to us about Christ’s sacrifice and sets us apart for God’s purposes when we are first saved. (Hebrew 10:13-14). He indwells us, seals us, intercedes on our behalf and gives us spiritual gifts. (Romans 8:9; Ephesians 1:13-14; Romans 8:26-27; I Corinthians 12:7-11) The Holy Spirit accomplishes each of these acts on our behalf at the moment of our salvation.

Other ministries of the Holy Spirit, however, are applied to the believer only as we cooperate with Him. John tells us that the Holy Spirit can convict us of sin and teach us truth as we yield to His influence and power. (John 16: 8- 11, 13-26) He guides us, empowers us and fills us, manifesting His grace in our lives as we seek God’s will. (Galatians 5:16-18; Acts 1:8; Ephesians 5:18) In essence, the Holy Spirit walks with us, affecting us throughout our lives by an ongoing process of making us holy. (Hebrews 10:13-14)

The Holy Spirit not only works in the lives of believers, but He also convicts “the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment,” making people ready to hear our Gospel message. (John 16:8-11). Finally, the Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures, literally “breathing” God into the writers. He is the ultimate source and authority of the Bible. (II Timothy 3:16; II Peter 1:20-21).

Therefore, we should be humble and grateful because of who the Holy Spirit is and what He does in our lives. He is a personal God who is at work in our lives, helping us as we strive to obey and follow Him. We must seek Him in the Scripture and in prayer, continuing a lifelong process of cooperating with Him.

Summary

We can know God more fully by studying how He has revealed Himself as God the Holy Spirit.

  • Scripture assumes and teaches the deity and personality of the Holy Spirit incidentally.
  • The role of the Holy Spirit is better understood in relation to the roles of the other persons of the Trinity.
  • The Holy Spirit draws people to Christ and applies the benefits of salvation to them through His indwelling.
  • Some of the ministries of the Holy Spirit are automatically applied to the believer at salvation.
  • Other ministries of the Holy Spirit are applied only with the believer’s cooperation.
  • We should humbly and gratefully cooperate with the Holy Spirit throughout our lives.

Application Suggestions:

• Study the handout (pdf) entitled “The Personality of the Holy Spirit” and “The Deity of the Holy Spirit”.

• Meditate on the ministries of the Holy Spirit in your life.

 

Get this Pocket Principle in Knowing God, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

For more information visit the WDA Store.

following footsteptYou have begun a journey to know God, but did you know that you are actually joining a story in progress?

God has desired to have a relationship with you for a long time and has prepared the way for you to enter into that relationship. When a person comes to faith in Christ and passes from spiritual death to life, a transaction takes place that has many far-reaching implications. One of these is complete and full reconciliation with God and the start of a new relationship. It is a relationship that is fuller, deeper, and richer than anything we can possibly imagine.

This invitation to relationship should not surprise us since God, at His core, is a relational being. Ken Boa, in his book That I May Know God writes “As a communion of three Persons, one of God’s purposes in creating us is to display the glory of His being and attributes to intelligent moral creatures who are capable of responding to His relational initiatives.” Later in the same book he writes, “If I had to choose one word to summarize the theme of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, that word would be relationship.” The truth is, we will never want to know God as much as He wants to be known by us.

There are fundamental differences between God and man that impact the relationship and make it unlike human relationships. For example, God is infinite, while we are finite. He is all knowing, while we have very limited understanding, both of the world we live in and the people around us. God is the Creator; we are created beings. He is invisible; we are visible. He is unchangeable; we change. God is perfect; we obviously are not.

Some of these differences may seem to make our relationship with God more challenging than ordinary relationships. For example, it can be hard to talk to someone who isn’t visibly present. It can be difficult to listen to someone who doesn’t generally speak audibly to us. It can be intimidating to think about a close relationship with someone who is so different from us.

However, the differences between God and humans also offer the opportunity to have a healthier relationship with Him than we ever can with each other. Much of the dysfunction in human relationships is a result of our posturing and pretending and our attempts to protect ourselves from hurt and disappointment. There is no need to play these games with God, although we often still try. He is unchanging and always true to His character. He is utterly dependable. We never have to worry what kind of mood He is going to be in or whether He is going to respond in a certain way or not. These truths should give us a great deal of confidence in our relationship with Him.

The truth is, we will never want to know God as much as He wants to be known by us.

As with any relationship, our relationship with God is reciprocal. There are certain things that God does to establish and maintain the relationship, and there are specific things we must do for the relationship to grow and develop. Understanding this dynamic and how it affects the relationship is very important.

We can better understand the reciprocal nature of our relationship with God by understanding our different roles. In a nutshell, the primary difference in our roles is that God is the initiator, and we are the responders.

King David of Israel, known as the psalmist because of the many Hebrew poems (psalms) he wrote, uses rich, colorful language to describe His understanding of the nature and character of God. It is fitting to consider the psalms in the context of relationship because they are written out of the author’s personal relationship with God. There are many places in Scripture that speak of God’s initiative toward us, but one passage, Psalm 139, perhaps describes this better than others. These verses convey the following truths.

God takes the initiative in His relationship with us.

He knows us intimately. (Psalm 139: 1-4)

God knows everything about us — our actions, our movements, our thoughts, our words. In fact, because He is all-knowing and exists outside of space and time, He knows these things before they even happen. He knows us far better than we know ourselves. Knowledge can be scary in human relationships. We choose what we think is safe to disclose to one another, and we go to great lengths to protect information we don’t want others to know. We are free to be totally open and honest with God because He knows all about us anyway. And the amazing thing is that He loves us unconditionally despite full knowledge of all about us that is unlovely .

He protects and shields us; He is our security. (Psalm 139:5-6)

“You hem me in, behind and before,” writes the psalmist. “You have laid your hand upon me.” The laying of God’s hand upon us is a picture of his all- encompassing care for us. In other Psalms, David uses many pictures to describe God’s care of him including that of a shield, a fortress, a hiding place, a refuge, and a shelter. He paints the following picture in the first two verses of Psalm 91: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ “

We are free to be totally open and honest with God because He knows all about us anyway.

God is completely attentive to and involved with us. (Psalm 139:7-12)

“Where can I go from your Spirit?” wonders the psalmist. “Where can I flee from your presence?” He then reflects that no matter where he could possibly go, God would always be there for him. David knew that He could never go beyond the reach of God’s personal concern.

This is a significant distinction between our relationship with God and that with any other person. No human, no matter how much he or she may want to, can ever always be there for us, either physically or emotionally. At some point, distance or other factors will prevent it. However, we can never go anywhere that God will not be with us.

Donald Glenn, in his book Tradition and Testament, tells of an old mariner’s chart, drawn in 1525, on display in the British Museum in London, which outlines the North American coastline and adjacent waters. The cartographer made some intriguing notations on areas of the map that represented regions not yet explored. He wrote:

“Here be giants,” “Here be fiery scorpions,” and “Here be dragons.

Eventually , the map came into the possession of Sir John Franklin, a British explorer in the early 1800s. Scratching out the fearful inscriptions, he wrote these words across the map: “Here is God.” Our dragons and giants may be different than those feared by the early explorers, but we have them just the same. We should remember that whatever or wherever they may be — there, too, is God.

God created us and sustains us  physically, emotionally, and spiritually. (Psalm 139:13-16)

One of the things we most value about those we are close to is that there is a strong bond of understanding between us. These special friends seem to understand what really makes us tick. Who knows better what makes a clock tick than the craftsman who builds the clock? Likewise, who knows us better than the God who created us? He knows us inside and out, better than anyone else ever can. He created us in His image to reflect His glory, yet He has created each of us uniquely with a predetermined number of days that we shall live upon this earth.

The verses discussed above demonstrate that God desires to know us. Of course, King David lived 1,000 years before God even more clearly and forcefully demonstrated initiative by sending His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. When humankind asked Jesus how much He loves us, He opened wide His arms and died for us. In a foreshadowing of what would one day be accomplished on the cross of Calvary, David wrote “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).

We have responsibility in our relationship with God.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart,” was God’s word to the Jews living in captivity (Jeremiah 29:10-14). The heart represents the center of one’s being; the seat of emotions and will. Scripture includes several commands that relate to the heart: We are told to love God with all of our hearts (Deuteronomy 6:5 and elsewhere), to trust with all of our hearts (Proverbs 3:5), and to repent with all of our hearts (Joel 2:12).

Our seeking is not to be a casual endeavor. Consider the contrast between two men who go on separate camping trips. The first man realizes during the week that he has misplaced his pocketknife. It was a good knife, although relatively inexpensive, and one that he had owned for several years. He would like to find it, and every day he keeps his eyes open for it in case he should happen to stumble across it.

The second man realizes the night before he is to leave to return home that he has lost his car keys. Early the next morning, he receives a call from his wife saying that their teenage son has been in a car accident and is in intensive care in the hospital. There is no casual searching here. He has got to find those keys! He scrambles around on his hands and knees, tears his tent and camping gear apart, and frantically retraces every step he made the previous day. The first man’s search for his knife is a half-hearted effort; the second man’s search for his keys is with his whole heart.

A teacher of the law asked Jesus, “Of all the things we’re expected to do, what is the most important?” Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). According to the response that Jesus gave to the teacher, everything taught in the law can be summed up in this one commandment.

We have a responsibility not simply to acknowledge God’s existence or even to acknowledge His rights as creator, but to love Him with our hearts, our souls, and our minds. This is another way of saying that we should love Him with every part of our being. We also have a responsibility to obey the commands of God. This is love in action; love with shoes on. According to the words of Jesus, obedience is how we show our love for God (John 14:21). The Apostle John, who recorded these words, later reiterates Jesus’ words by stating flatly, “This is love for God: to obey His commands” (I John 5:3). John also argues that if we say we have come to know God (have a relationship with Him) yet do not obey His commands, then we are lying (I John 2:4).

James, the brother of Jesus, writes, “Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). This verse speaks of another responsibility we have in our relationship with God. It also speaks of our outward actions (wash your hands) and our inward thoughts and motives (purify your hearts). Each is important as we draw near to God. Because we are sinful beings, we will continue to do things that create distance in our relationship with God. Each time we become aware of this distance, we should once more humble ourselves, confess our sin and draw close to God. We draw near in need; He draws near in fullness.

Notice that each of the responsibilities discussed above comes with a promisea positive benefit for us as we fulfill the responsibility. This pattern further illustrates the reciprocal nature of our relationship. When we seek God, He allows Himself to be found by us, and He reveals His gracious plans for us. When we demonstrate our love by obeying God, He shows His love to us and reveals Himself to us. When we draw near to God, He draws near to us.

Ultimately, our response is always to God’s initiative.

God is the initiator; we are the responders. We can never “get the draw” on God. He has drawn first. After all, it was He who placed within us a “God-shaped vacuum,” spoken of by the French mathematician Pascal, expressly so that we would seek to fill the vacuum with Him. God’s initial words to Adam, the first man, after he had fallen into sin, were “Where are you?” This same call has echoed down through the corridors of history as God continually reaches out for relationship with us.

He will not force Himself on anyone. He will allow Himself to be found and enjoyed by anyone who calls upon Him.

However, God does expect us to respond to His initiative and follow after Him. In fact, there is no relationship apart from our positive response to Him. He will not force Himself on anyone. He will allow Himself to be found and to be enjoyed by anyone who calls upon Him. As we focus on God’s initiative toward us, and the response He desires, we gain a better understanding of what Jesus meant by the “abundant life” in John 10. When we respond to God’s love, we are able to love Him and others, and enjoy healthy relationships with God and with those He has placed around us.

Application Suggestions:

  • Meditate on the Scriptures in this Pocket Principle, especially Psalm 139.
  • Participate in times of praise and worship to God, acknowledging His love, initiative and accessibility.
  • What will you do this week to respond to God’s initiative and work in your life?

 

Pocket Principles® are currently offered along with Guided Discussions. The content of the Pocket Principles® will reinforce truth learned in the group discussion. Each workbook is formatted for use in a small group, where pocket principles may read prior to each discussion.  Also, if a group member misses a meeting, he can read the corresponding Pocket PrincipleTM to review the information missed.

Get this Pocket Principle in Knowing God, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

For more information visit the WDA Store.

Laying Foundations for Spiritual Growth

When my two sons were young we went to Atlanta for the groundbreaking of one of the more famous skyscrapers. We had been reading about the project for months in the local papers and were excited to watch the construction of the “tallest building in the South”. As we arrived on the scene, the bulldozers were already clearing the site, but there was a viewing area for spectators with an architectural rendering of the completed structure emblazoned on the side of the construction fencing. “Wow!” my oldest exclaimed, “It’s humongous!” And indeed it was, soaring nearly seventy stories above Peachtree Street, it certainly promised to be a focal point of the city skyline. We faithfully trekked to the site and watched trucks haul away dirt and debris while other trucks delivered steel girders and other building materials. After several weeks of this vigil, one of the boys exclaimed in frustration, “Dad, when are they going to start working on the building?” (It was a question that I had pondered myself, because all that existed was a large hole and lots of mud.) Approaching a worker with a set of plans under his arm, I inquired, “Can you give us some idea when the building is going to begin?” His chuckle made it obvious the question had come up before.

“It’s hard to believe it,” he said, “but this hole is the most important part of the building. We have to dig down several hundred feet and build a solid foundation to support a structure that’s over seventy stories tall. It will take several months to pour the concrete and sink the steel pillars, but then we’ll start going up. Once we start, it will rise pretty fast!”

The Bible compares living the Christian life with constructing a building. Just as there are phases in building a building, there are phases in the growth of a Christian, and the first phase is: “laying a foundation”. Our initial salvation experience is the beginning of a process of growth that lasts a lifetime. The success of our Christian walk is determined by the strength of our spiritual foundation. Matthew 7: 24-27 asserts that the Christian life built on a solid foundation will withstand the storms of life. The tallest building in the South is still standing today. Believers who lay solid foundations are more likely to stand tall than those who fail to establish a solid base for growth.
This foundations phase actually consists of four interconnecting parts:

  1. relating to God,
  2. relating to other Christians,
  3. understanding truth, and
  4. applying truth so that it transforms us.

Let’s explore these together!

The success of our Christian walk is determined by the strength of our spiritual foundation.

Relating to God

Unlike other religions, the essence of Christianity is a relationship with God, not a set of rules. In John 17: 3 the Scripture affirms that eternal life is all about knowing God. It is thrilling to remember that God desires a relationship with us that will never end. The great news is that believers don’t have to wait for heaven to experience this. It begins the moment we accept Christ!

Having a relationship with God is not all that different from having a relationship with anyone else. As we relate to others, we get to know them better and the relationship deepens over time. There are specific situations that will help believers better experience a relationship with God. The first of these involves setting aside time for personal devotions, a quiet time each day devoted to prayer, Bible reading, and personal meditation. The Scripture promises in James 4: 8 that as we “come near to God, He will come near to us”. This “coming near to God” is not a religious duty, but a time for relational development. Of course just as good disciplines and habits can be beneficial in other areas of life, the more we remain faithfully committed to our quiet time, the more benefit we derive from it.

Another aspect of developing a relationship with God is attending public worship in a church that exalts Him. Although we can worship God any place, any time, worshipping with other Christians deepens and develops our ability to relate to God. There are many different public worship experiences and not all churches structure them in the same way.

Worship that focuses on the greatness of God and includes times of singing praise, prayerful meditation, and Biblical preaching should be a priority. Ask God to help you find a church in your community and become a part of the fellowship. This leads to another important part of laying a good foundation: relating to other Christians.

Relating to Other Christians

God has placed us in His spiritual family, the Church, to encourage us, protect us, correct us, direct us, and provide for us. Again there are specific situations that help believers experience relationships with other Christians. Each of these plays a unique role in helping to form a spiritual foundation and each will require some effort. But they all are incredibly beneficial. Christians who do not have connections with other Christians tend to stop growing. (cf. Hebrews 10: 24-25)

Unlike other religions, the essence of Christianity is a relationship with God, not a set of rules.

In the first century there were very few church buildings. Mostly the believers met together in private homes for Bible teaching, prayer, and fellowship. There are benefits to meeting with large groups in public worship, but there is also an advantage gained from being part of a small group. The intimacy of the setting provides a place for relationships to flourish. Many modern believers have learned that meeting together in small groups helps to forge close relationships as members discuss Scripture, pray for each other, and share personal matters.

The term “mentoring” was coined by the modern business community to describe a relationship where a seasoned executive tutors a younger colleague in commercial practices. But long before mentoring was introduced to the world of commerce, it had already existed in the spiritual community as “one-to-one discipleship”.

In this case it describes an intentional relationship between a young believer and a more mature Christian who models the Christian life, answers questions, gives counsel, and helps the younger Christian stay focused on the priorities of growth.

Understanding Truth

One important priority for growth (and the third part of laying good foundations) involves developing an increasing understanding of God’s truth. The Bible is the Book of Truth for Christians, but it can appear overwhelming to a new learner. It was Jesus who proclaimed that knowing truth sets people free from the bondage of sin. Therefore, it is helpful to have a basic plan of study for learning the truths that we need to build upon, a plan that focuses on specific themes and principles of foundational development. A good beginning series of studies for young believers should include the themes mentioned earlier: truth that helps someone to know more about God, truth that helps people understand other people, and truth that helps someone to grow spiritually.

There are specific approaches to gaining an understanding of these foundational truths. The first is a curriculum of systematic instruction. This is the first of a series of “Pocket Principles” that are designed specifically for helping new believers lay solid spiritual foundations. If you received this “Pocket Principle” from a mentor or small group leader, continue to work closely with that person to discover and apply the other truths in this series.

Another way of gaining insights into living the Christian life is by reading. There are many excellent materials and resources available in Christian bookstores, libraries, and on the Internet. Your own informal reading will supplement your growth. But be sure to focus on the foundational themes mentioned above as a starting point.

Christians who do not have connections with other Christians tend to stop growing. (Hebrews 10: 24-25)

Your local church is also an excellent source of content. Besides the weekly sermon delivered by the pastor or other teacher, many churches offer small groups devoted to helping new believers get established in the faith. Consult the churches in your area for opportunities to learn foundational truths.

Applying Truth

But as important as truth is in the growth process, it is not the information alone that transforms us. In fact other parts of Scripture warn us that knowledge by itself can be dangerous, leading to spiritual pride and the deadening of our hearts to God. This particular sin characterized the Pharisees who were enemies of Christ. It is only truth that is obeyed or applied to our lives that changes us and causes growth. Romans 12: 2 reminds us that it is a life consecrated to obeying God that is impacted by truth. When our minds are transformed in this way we help establish the will of God on earth. This is more than just knowing the truth, it is actually doing truth.

A skyscraper is an engineering marvel, but soaring high means digging deep and laying solid foundations. A maxim of the Christian life asserts that “you can only grow as tall as you grow deep”. Laying good foundations takes time and effort, but the benefits are worth it. The new believer needs to embrace experientially the truths related to knowing and understanding God and other believers.

Conclusion

Applying truth will require becoming involved in specific situations that facilitate foundational growth. Establishing a time for personal devotions, joining a small group, locating an older believer who can come alongside you as an encouraging mentor, setting up a systematic plan of study , and participating in public worship are layers of spiritual brick and mortar that form this foundation. But these situations without a heart commitment to obey the truth will not suffice. Blessings to you as you grow!

It is only truth that is obeyed or applied to our lives that changes us and causes growth.

  • So where are you laying foundations?
  • Where do you find is the best place to find a mentor?
  • Have you made time for studying God’s word?
  • What are some of the things you have done to help lay foundations for growing in your faith as a Christian?

Get this Pocket Principle in Knowing God, part of Cornerstone  from the WDA Store

For more information visit the WDA Store.