Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How to Grow in Christ

Growth in true spirituality, which is to say, growth in true Christian godliness, comes from God.

This is so obvious that it can feel like some trite platitude. You will say, "Of course growth in godliness comes from God- didn't they tell you that in all your years of church or in your academic Bible training?"

Yes, they told me that.

But I don't remind myself often enough. We need God to change our hearts, not only to first come into relationship with Him, but subsequently to continue to grow us in that relationship. Again, this seems obvious- the Holy Spirit's residence in Christians is one of the main benefits of receiving Christ, and growing us in our relationship with God through Christ is His job description.

But we overlook it even more than that first statement. We fall into the trap of thinking that once we're saved, then we start doing the work.

The two points are foundational. Not in the sense that you lay them down only to be built on and never again consciously considered, but in the sense that you should always be holding them close to you- never forgetting that if they go, the whole building goes with it.

So Psalm 143:
1 Hear my prayer, O Lord;
give ear to my pleas for mercy!
In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!
2 Enter not into judgment with your servant,
for no one living is righteous before you.

3 For the enemy has pursued my soul;
he has crushed my life to the ground;
he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.
4 Therefore my spirit faints within me;
my heart within me is appalled.

5 I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands.
6 I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah

7 Answer me quickly, O Lord!
My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
8 Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.

9 Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord!
I have fled to you for refuge!
10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me
on level ground!

11 For your name's sake, O Lord, preserve my life!
In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!

12 And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies,
and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul,
for I am your servant.

It begins with a plea for mercy because no one deserves anything but judgment before our righteous God (vv. 1-2). Sin is the problem.

Then the "appalling" realization that the enemy (and uncharacteristically for the Psalms, the context and language seem to indicate that the "enemy" is directly spiritual rather than human opposition) has at least somewhat successfully pursued David's soul (vv. 3-4). On his own, David is helpless before spiritual attack.

But meditation on God's past actions reminds us that God is strong and faithful and can save as He sees fit. Thirsting for Him- both His presence and His action- is the necessary response (vv. 5-6). God must (and will) work on David's behalf if he will have any victory.

So David calls on the LORD again to come near, in particular by reminding him of His steadfast love and teaching Him what he must do (vv. 7-8). God must teach David what to do.

Again, David calls for refuge (v. 9), and more specifically for God to actually guide David's steps by His Spirit (v. 10). God must teach David how to do it and must empower him to do it.

This is all to God's glory and because of His righteousness (v. 11). God gets the glory since He is the One who works.

And because David knows that he is truly God's servant, and that God is unchanging in His faithful, steadfast love, he is sure that God will in fact work (v. 12). Our confidence that we will grow in God is rooted in God, not us.

My point in all of this is to remind you (well, really, to remind myself while you look on) that God must work if we are to grow. The initial statements of Psalm 143 are that David is sinful and unable to overcome the enemy. He is helpless.

And aside from God's working, so am I. And so are you.

Taken wrongly, this could breed antinomian passivity. Yet David's life as seen in the narratives about him and in the rest of his poetry indicate that he did not see it this way.

Go back to verse 1 of this Psalm: for David, it did not breed passivity; it bred prayer.

And so we arrive at the point of this psalm, and of this post, and of what I think God has been teaching me for quite some time now: if you or I are ever going to grow in our knowledge of God, we must be people who express our reliance on God by constantly praying for His presence and help.

Because growth in true Christian godliness comes from God.

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