Friday, November 26, 2010

Growing as Christians

TITLE: Growing as Christians
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 26 Nov 2010

"All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth." (Col 1:6b)

MAIN IDEA: Christianity is a relationship exemplified by a new beginning, a steady belief, and a life of committed behaviour in Christ.

How many years have you been a Christian?” Easy question.

Have you matured as a Christian?” Not so easy answer.

Do you know how to grow?” This question is simple, but can be quite hard to answer.

I came to the Christian faith back in 1985. As a young eager beaver undergraduate, I struggle with schoolwork. I struggle with relationships. I struggle with family. I struggle with thoughts about the meaning of life. I struggle with perceptions of fairness and unfairness. I wrestle with why some people seem to have it all, while others suffer. Life is grossly unfair. When unfairness hits close to the heart, life sucks.

How many years have I been a Christian? More than 25 years.

1) Beginning as a Christian

It didn’t take long for me to understand that becoming a Christian is not like a path strewn with roses. In fact, thorns, thistles and the troubles of life appear more plentiful. I learn that if God is a salesman trying to sell Christianity, He will have few takers, for becoming a Christian does not guarantee prosperity and success. Instead, becoming a Christian almost always guarantee trials. The same year that I confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour was the year when my academic grades went down the pits. That year becomes a black spot in my otherwise illustrious academic life.

I didn’t begin well, though I must admit I have good friends who help me to start. My first Bible is an easy to read “Good News Bible.” Inside, the contemporary language is easy to understand. The illustrations within make it a pleasure to read. Unfortunately, the words just do not seem to stick in my head. I needed then something more substantial. I opt for a heavier translation, the King James Version. My faith in Christ is largely due to the kind and loving friends who were truly good testimonies for Christ. Humble, unassuming and patient, they walk with me through the ups and downs of undergraduate life. My Christian beginning has a strong does of godly relationships around me. A good beginning in Christian growth always starts now.

2) Christian Belief
By 1987, my faith starts to grow deeper, as I observe a particular group of Christians from a Bible-Presbyterian denomination. They are staunch believers and advocates of the King James Bible. Though the language is hard to read, it certainly comes across to me as stately and elegant. There is a certain mystery in the beautiful prose inside the KJV that captivates my attention. Even though some of the phrases are not so easily understood, it allows me to meditate and memorize them more readily.

Most crucially, I observe how dedicated and fervent the leaders of the Church were. They revere the Word of God. Typically, when they start quoting verses, they will say the words respectfully and attentively. They will speak out strongly against liberal Christianity. Without fear of negative consequences, they are prepared to stick their neck out for the truth, even though the world around them tries to hem them into a mold.

Through their example, I learn to memorize God’s Word in my head and my heart. I will carry with me a small King James Bible, memorizing passages everywhere I go. At the bus stops; waiting in lines; waiting for people; riding on the buses; resting after a meal etc. Those formative years are largely due to the Word of God meticulously remembered in my head. I memorize whole chunks of the Bible from both Old and New Testaments, like some books in Psalms, and the Sermon on the Mount.

Growing as a Christian is exemplified by keeping the Word of God in my heart. Some of my friends from the Navigators have also encouraged me with their Bible memory program as well. Unfortunately, Bible memorization is lost art nowadays. People download Bibles into their iPods or iPhones but fail to ‘upload’ them back to their heads, let alone read them! I know of people who have all the best Bibles on their electronic gadgets. Yet, they hardly read them.

If we want to grow as Christians, we need to read our Bibles. More importantly, we need to read the Bible with a keen focus on the person of Christ. Growing as Christians requires us to grow in our relationship with Jesus. John Stott mentions four aspects of growth. Firstly, we need to grown in faith in Christ. Secondly, we need to grow in love for one another. Thirdly, we need to grow in knowledge of Christ. Fourthly, we need to grow in holiness toward God and fellow people. As I reflect on my personal growth, I didn’t have all four. Mine was particularly focused on strengthening my belief by reading the Bible more fervently. With this insight from Stott, I think I would have benefitted more. On hindsight, my growth as a Christian is simply a means of grace from God. It is this recognition of God’s grace upon my life, that I learn not to take pride of all I have done. I learn not to regret the things I have not done. I learn to live by grace. This demonstration of growth is in terms of living out my Christianity through behaviour. Growing as Christians is putting our beliefs into practice through commitment.

3) Commitment in Christian Behaviour
For John Stott, ‘Basic Christianity’ is not about the right belief or being able to say the right creeds. It is not about having all the right doctrines or saying the right things. It is about commitment. It is about translating our faith from belief to behaviour. Christian growth is about living out our faith. Any Bible study, any Bible reading, or discussion must be about seeing what God sees, hearing what God hears, touching what God touches, tasting what God tastes, and doing what God does.

Our intellectual belief may be beyond criticism; but we have to translate our beliefs into deeds. What must we do, then? We must commit ourselves, heart and mind, soul and will, home and life, personally and unreservedly to Jesus Christ. We must humble ourselves before him. We must trust him as our Saviour and submit to him as our Lord; and then go on to take our place as loyal members of the church and responsible citizens in the community.” (John Stott, Basic Christianity, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971, p9)

Christian growth is about commitment to a relationship. It is a commitment to a new beginning in Christ. It is a commitment to a daily communion with God. It is a commitment to a demonstrable behaviour in Christ.

4) In the Word; In the World; In Christ
Have I grown as a Christian? I will like to say yes. Yet, my state of imperfection tells me that it is more true of I am trying to grow as best as I can. My God tells me that I can only grow, not on my own strength but by the grace of God. Whatever faculties, talents and gifts I now have, is purely a means of grace from God. God has given. God has forgiven. It is now our turn to give and to forgive.

Let us remind ourselves that when we say we live for God, we need to demonstrate it by becoming compassionate in what God is compassionate about. Stott writes against spiritual complacency that hampers growth:

Christians are not a self-regarding coterie of smug and selfish prigs who are interested only in themselves. On the contrary, every Christian should be deeply concerned about all his fellow men. And it is part of his Christian vocation to serve them in whatever way he can.” (John Stott, Basic Christianity, p140)

My friends, do not be discouraged if you do not have a lot of Bible knowledge, or all the grand theologies that some people may have. If you are able to put into practice a small verse or Word from the LORD, you would have done far better than big-headed knowledge filled church goers who are more interested in hearing the Word than doing the Word.

Every one of us can grow, beginning with whatever Word of the LORD we know. The main thing is not to stay discouraged by our lack of knowledge. Be encouraged by knowing God has given us a means of grace to grow in Christ.

Thought: “The balanced Christian who takes Scripture for his guide will seek to live equally and simultaneously ‘in Christ’ and ‘in the world.’ He cannot opt out of either.” (John Stott, p142)


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