We all feel this need at some time, acutely or vaguely, it is part of our experience in this world. I want to encourage us all today that we can find ourselves refreshed in the way of obedience.
When the Israelites were discouraged, and began to falter in their obedience, the prophet Haggai encouraged them. The people then reverenced God and returned to their work. God promptly sent word to them through His prophet: I am with you.
This is the whisper we hear when we too treat Him as holy, reverence Him, and follow the Spirit’s leading into obedience. This is what the Spirit will tell you as you keep in step with Him (see Galatians 5:25). This is the whisper that will invigorate you to cry out in joy “Abba! Father!” and to remember Who He really is.
On a generic level, the Spirit will be leading us all to “grow in grace and knowledge.” There are times when He will be leading us back into the ancient paths we’ve left, even if we’ve been gone only momentarily. And there will be times that He is teaching us from His Word, words we’ve read before but now He is growing us in our understanding.
As often as you may have thought about what you have read in the Gospels, let us consider for a moment this call:
Have you deliberately sought His righteousness? How does His righteousness manifest? Have you ever realized this is the same as His call to “be holy, for I am holy.”? How will this pursuit lead you to “treat Him as holy”?
So many in this era have become luke warm without admitting it to themselves, for they are passionate–just not about His righteousness. And definitely not about pursuing righteousness, or godliness, or holiness…these words are rarely on our lips as we fellowship. Are they in your prayers? Are they your desire? What are you passionate about?
Renewing by the Holy Spirit
The Spirit renews us, that we would love what He loves, despise what He despises. Yet much of what is passed as Christian literature, song, or sermon has not led us to define our terms as God has revealed them. And so we ‘tolerate’ what He would spew out; we love what He despises; we follow folly into the way of vanity thinking we are seeking wisdom, yet we turn away from the Word, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We waste our life by contemplating other ways, other words, other paths that only join up with the broad one Jesus warned us about.
His renewal is in what we would call “our minds” though Scripture tells us it is heart and mind together–you cannot love Him with one and not the other, it is all or nothing. So when He commands His church to be transformed by the renewing of our minds–it is not just your knowledge bank, it is that AND your thoughts, desires, feelings, plans, dreams, knee-jerk-reactions. This requires us to submit to a holistic education; our whole person submitted to Him, saying “teach me Lord!”
He wants us to pursue this “whole person” or holistic education, this transformation.
He reveals all that we need to know–and we can know and understand–do we look inward instead of setting our eyes on Him, and wanting to grow in the knowledge of Himself that He has revealed? When we seek Him, we will find Him–and will be renewed and continually sanctified, becoming obedient from the heart, obedience that manifests to those around as the fruit of the Spirit?
Do I seek Him as He has made Himself known, or do I seek that knowledge elsewhere? Let us look to the letter to the Ephesians for a bit, where I think we’ll find some of these answers.
Incorruptible, Active, Love
The message to the Ephesians was to a growing, thriving church. A church known for its love toward God and others, Paul even calls it an incorruptible love. This church later on received another letter, one saying “you’ve left your first love.” For some, the new year is a great time to ponder “your love” and in so doing must will wrestle also with Paul’s comments on how the Ephesians “learned Christ.”
Do we have Ephesians 4:13 as our goal? See that word “we”? Are your goals a bit more individualistic? Do your goals fall short, settling for a little bit of knowledge? A twitter sized devotional for the day? Or have you been shunning knowledge as somehow not a worthy goal?
Though we love Him, and know Him, while we are here on earth, awaiting His return we are to:
we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, that is, Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.Ephesians 4:15-16
What every joint supplies…beloved, we cannot go it alone. Faith is not private. We are part of His Body, the whole body is growing together. You cannot have Christianity by yourself–and you are not alone on a deserted island, so no need to ponder that not-at-all-weighty ‘what if.’
But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus,Ephesians 4:20-21
Paul spent time reminding them of their former self–darkened in understanding, excluded from the life of God, indulging in sensuality as a way of coping and seeking and… And they did not learn Christ this way. They did not learn Him from philosophy, from novels, from indulging in sinful behaviors, from trying all the alternatives and patching together their own smorgasbord of beliefs.
Rather, they heard the Gospel; they were handed down the faith; they listened to truth. He lavished His grace upon them, and made known to them the mystery of His will. They listened to the message of truth, the gospel of their salvation, and were reassured of their being accepted by the Holy Spirit of promise, given as a pledge… (Ephesians 1)
And do you see, in this passage, that love and knowledge are inseparable in the life of the church?
Growth, where does it begin?
And how to make a start, or a fresh start; in other words, how can we ‘learn Christ?’ Whether “growing in grace and knowledge” is new to you, or whether you are sensing the need to return to your first love, it is simple. We hear, and are taught the Word. The NT epistles all, some more than others, teach on the importance of gathering as God’s people, under the responsible leadership of elders, in order to learn and grow together.
We are to hear, to learn, to discuss, to grow in our knowledge, together. We are to speak to one another and admonish one another and encourage one another. We are all given gifts by the Spirit to use for one another’s growth; so we gather outside of the corporate worship times to fellowship and love and serve one another.
So to make a start, find a way to engage in learning in your local church, and opening yourself up to these kinds of conversations outside of the Sunday morning worship service. Then examine your weeks, to see how you steward your time, and ask the LORD to show you how to build in habits of grace, rhythms of holiness, times for study, meditation, journaling, singing, retreating, reading, memorizing, etc. Perhaps pick one habit or discipline that you have not made much time for; or perhaps you’ll notice you favor one type of habit over the others (too much fellowship, not enough solitude; or vice versa.)
Find Yourself Refreshed in the way of Obedience
When we strive according to the Spirit, keeping in step with Him, listening and clinging to the Word rather than walking away forgetful, then yes, beloved, we will discover that obedience really feels refreshing in our inner man. He leads us, and as we follow we are like those calves skipping about in the pasture that Malachi spoke of. We are delighted, and cannot help but adore our God who leads us so.
Read through the Gospels, journal about His righteousness. What did He teach? What did Jesus do? Writing it out will help your brain take it in, internalizing more. Next read through the Epistles, and journal still about what each teaches concerning righteousness, godliness, holiness. It is in abiding in His word that He will make clear to you the “mystery of His will,” the obedience of faith.
Write your own recap of each book, each chapter. Make this a year in which you draw closer to Him in His Word, rather than relying on someone else’s recap, or someone else’s devotions.
He is renewing us day by day; and we will notice it more as we “strive according to His power that works mightily within…” (see Colossians 1:11, 29) And others will notice as they see the fruits of His Spirit growing in us.
Next week we will look at Peter, and how he “learned Christ.” Then we will finally dig into what Paul means when he tells Timothy of this “mystery of godliness.”