The Church in St. Louis

But to Him who is able to do superabundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power which operates in us. - Eph 3:20

The Growth of Christ in Us

 

Message 3


This is the third message in a series called "What God Wants." Our first message concerned God's salvation. In this message, we saw that God's salvation is not something low, or superficial. It doesn't only deal with negative things, such as saving us from hell. God's salvation fulfills what God wants, which is to have many sons. Yes, He dealt with sin, brought forgiveness of sins, and justified us. He brought us to Himself so that we do not have any fear of condemnation. We can just boldly come to the Lord. But even more importantly, He gave us His own eternal Life. This life is the same life that Jesus lived on the earth. This life has been received by us and has made us the very sons of God. So now, God is not just our Creator, He's our Father! We're not just His creation, we're His sons.


So based on this, we moved to the second message, which is that God wants to have a relationship with us. He wants to be our Father and He wants us to be His sons because He wants this relationship. But this relationship is not just like the one I could have with another person. If another person is sitting right in front of me, I can see him and do things with him, like play checkers. But God is Spirit! And God desires a spiritual relationship with man. So for this reason He created us with a spirit. We're vessels with a spirit to touch God in a direct way. We used our spirits to join ourselves to God when we believed in Him. When He came into us, our spirit and the Lord's Spirit were made into one Spirit.1 Corinthians 6:17 says "He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit." So now we're not just people that believe in a certain thing or have a God outside of us that we consider, but we have a God who is the Spirit within our spirit! We can turn to our spirit, exercise our spirit and touch him directly! We do not have to go somewhere to get to Him, because He's right here. This means that I can live as a person in the presence of God. God dwells in my spirit and I can touch him all the time. So this is what makes me different than I was before I became a Christian. It's not that I cleaned up my behavior or became a better person or anything like that. The Spirit came in and joined with my spirit and now we're just one. So based on this, we're developing a relationship with God. We're learning to touch him directly. This is what we're learning in our Christian life, how to touch the Lord in a direct way.


As we were considering what the next message should be, we saw that based on this relationship, there should be growth. We were thinking to call this message, "What it means to grow as a Christian", or "Christian growth". But as we were talking about it, we realized that there is a strong concept that even we tend to fall into when talking about Christian growth that is based on what we do. As soon as you talk about Christian growth, you start thinking "I need to fellowship, I need to pray, I need to read the Bible, I need to preach the gospel". We start thinking about all of these things that we do, rather than what God is actually after. God is after Christ. His focus is on Christ himself. God wants Christ to have the first place in all things. He wants Christ to have the first place in us. As Christians, we need to consider what God considers. God is really focused on Christ. Even with Christian growth, God's focus is Christ.


So, ultimately, what is Christian growth? It is the growth of Christ in us. It is the increase of Christ in us. He has been added to our being. He's been joined to our spirit and now he needs to spread in us. This is the reality of what Christian growth is. So, based on this, we have the message title, "Christ's Growth in us". It's a different concept than what we are used to.?/span>We are used to the concept the world has about growth, which is developing myself as a person. That's why motivational speakers are so popular. They sell millions of tapes and have all these conferences about how to have a better marriage, how to have better relationships, how to be a more diligent person, how to succeed financially, how to have a good disposition, etc. And of course the world just flocks to it, because everyone wants to be a better person. But what's missing from this picture? Christ! Even as Christians, we can start developing these kinds of things and miss Christ. We can have a concept of Christian growth that misses Christ! But God's focus is Christ!


God is sowing a seed


This idea of Christ growing in us is unique. Does Christ need to grow? He's a complete person. He doesn't lack anything. Why does Christ need to grow? It's not like he needs to go from point A to point B and develop anything or learn anything. He's God! But, the picture the Bible portrays is actually one of Christ growing in us.


We can see this picture in the parable of the sower. The parable of the sower is one of the most famous parables in Bible. In this portion, Jesus gives us a picture of Christian growth, or the Growth of Christ in us.


This parable is found in Mark 4, Luke 8 and Matthew 13.Mark 4:3 says "Behold the sower went out to sow." And then Jesus says "so is the kingdom of God, as if a man casts seed on the earth." Here Jesus is saying, "what is the kingdom of God like, what is it that God is doing, what does God want?" He reveals that God is like a sower who went out to sow a seed. God sowed a seed into us. That is what the kingdom of God is. This is what God is after. God is sowing a seed.


Christ is the seed


Christ is the seed. Jesus said, "the parable is this, the seed is the word of God." In John 1:1,14, we can see that the word of God is just Christ himself. "In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God ... And the word became flesh and tabernacled among us and we beheld his glory as of the only begotten from the father, full of grace and reality." Jesus said that the seed is the Word. And we know that the word is Christ. So Christ in fact, is the seed. God wants to sow this Person into us.


The Growth of the seed


What is a seed? A seed is a container of life. And the purpose of a seed is to be sown into the ground, so that the life within the seed would be released in order to produce an expression of that life. For example, a corn seed contains the corn life. This corn seed is not merely for display. You don't just put it on a shelf. It would have no purpose there. But if you put it in the ground, eventually the life inside the seed will be released and there will be the expression - which is the corn, the harvest. So here is the parable again. "So is the kingdom of God, as if a man casts seed on the earth, and he sleeps and rises, night and day and the seed sprouts and lengthens. The earth bears fruit by itself, first a blade, then an ear, then full grain in the ear. "The kingdom of God is like a man casting seed on the earth. And when he casts that seed into the earth, his expectation is that the life in that seed eventually will be released. Eventually that life will be expressed. He is looking for something to come out of that soil. If you sow a rose seed, it's because you want to see a rose bush. The rose bush is the expression of the life in the rose seed. If you sow an apple seed, it's because you want to see an apple tree. The apple tree is the expression of that life contained in the apple seed. Now God has sowed Christ because he wants to see Christ! That's what he is expecting to see.

So God's plan is very simple. He is sowing a seed, with the expectation that the life in that seed will eventually be expressed. The seed is planted. The seed gets into the soil and opens up. The life in it begins to get into the soil. It starts to grow into the soil. Eventually this growth produces something that you can see. Underneath the soil, something is going on that you can't see. But that seed is growing and eventually there is the visible fruit. "The blade, then the ear, and then the full grain in the ear." It is a mystery. The sower sows it and then he goes about his business. But that seed is living and operating. That seed is operating to push its life out. This is Christ in us!


So what will be the expression of this Life that has been sowed into us? Galatians 5:22 says, "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control against such things there is no law." If someone doesn't understand this principle of the seed, they are going to look at this as a list of things that they need to do as a Christian, or as a list of things they should have. Every good Christian comes to this verse at some time and says, "I need love, I need joy, I need peace, I need longsuffering, I need gentleness." Our first inclination is to just go down the list and start thinking "well, how am I going to get these things?" And of course there are plenty of people who want to teach you how. But, the important word in this verse is fruit. With fruit, already there is an implication that a seed was sown and life is developing! Imagine a gardener that's very impatient. He plants the seed, goes to bed and comes back the next day and says, "there's no rose bush! What's the deal? Why isn't there a rose bush?" So he goes out and buys a plastic rose bush and sticks it on that plot of dirt. Well, it may look real, but it's not living. It doesn't have the life. In the same way, it's easy for Christians to fall into a trap of trying to build up something artificial because of their impatience. But it's not what God wants. Ultimately, it's something that God will have to tear down. I don't want to get to the Lord and have Him say, "you worked so hard to develop all these good looking things, but none of them are what I want. None of them are related directly to My life, and I'm going to have to tear them all down." God wants to see Christ! God has sowed Christ as a seed into us, and His expectation is that this seed will grow. The only thing God wants is for the life from this seed to bear fruit. He only wants to see Christ.


The Condition for Growth - good soil


So what kind of condition is needed for this growth? Good soil! All a seed really needs is good soil. The soil is just an environment for the seed to grow. When we received the Lord, we received him into our spirit. But the Lord says the soil is our heart. In Luke 8:15 Jesus says "but that which is the good soil, these are those who in a noble and good heart hear the word and hold it fast and bear fruit with patience." The good heart is the soil for the seed that's been planted into our spirit to grow in. Our spirit is one with the Lord, but He needs to grow. What is He going to grow into? Where is His life going to spread? His Life needs to move into our heart. That is why Paul prayed "that Christ may make his home in your hearts through faith, that you would be rooted and grounded in love." Christ starts in our spirit but He eventually wants to make His home in our hearts. So this is God's goal ?for His Son to be able to make His home in our heart. Eventually our heart should be an environment that's conducive for the Lord's life to grow. God wants to make His home in our heart. God is love, and He needs a heart that has love for him. This is the kind of atmosphere that invites him. A loving heart that is open to Him is a heart that matches and suits Him, a heart that He can makes His home in.


A good heart is good soil. What every good seed needs is good soil. If you plant a seed in earth that's full of rocks, heavily trafficked, hard or dry, the seed is not going to do well. But if you have soil that's soft, moist, has a lot of nutrients and well-cared for, the seed will grow. The whole job of the soil is to be a receptive environment for the growth of the seed - to be open to the growth of the seed so that the life will be able to flow out, the roots will be able to make it through the soil.


Our part in this can be seen in Proverbs 4:23 "keep thy heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life." Our heart is the soil. Every day we encounter things in our Christian lives that are seemingly designed to harden our heart and dry it out. We face temptations, trials, sins and offenses every day. All of these things come in and can harden our heart. A hardened soil is not receptive. Whenever we feel like our love towards the Lord is growing cold, this is an indication that our heart may be hardening. Whether we have a warm, open heart ?good soil, or we have a cold, dry, barren desert that is not conducive for the growth of Christ is indicated by our love for the Lord Himself. And sometimes we all must admit that our love grows cold. You might be very spiritual, concentrated on spiritual things, working zealously for the Lord, but inside, how is your love for the Lord? How is your intimacy with the Lord?


So what do we do? Let's say I've gone a week, something has come in and my heart is cold. The Lord seems so distant. What does that mean? Am I trapped? Do I need to be under condemnation? Am I ruined? No! I just need to come back and have my heart treated. This is a common thing that happens with soil. This is why people stand out in the yard with a hose, watering a patch of earth for that grass to grow.


In the same way, we have something to treat our soil with. What the Lord has for us is living water. In Ephesians 5:26 "Even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for her, that he might sanctify, cleansing her by the washing of the water of the word." The Lord loves us. He wants to take care of our heart for us. He has a prescription for the heart. He has a prescription to soften that heart back up, to moisten it, and make it an atmosphere conducive for making His home there. It is the living word! When we come to the word, we just need to open our heart to the Lord and say "Lord I love you, I miss you, I feel distant from you. But I need to come to you and touch you. I need you to water me. I need you to soften my heart again." The Lord is faithful to do this part. If we come to Him in this way, and open ourselves to Him, and feed on His word, He will supply us with all the water and nutrients to condition our heart again so that it is suitable for Him. The only part for us is the daily diligence of taking care of our heart, tending it, making sure there are enough nutrients and water going in it. If we do that, that life spontaneously will grow! There eventually will be the fruit of Christ. His personality, His life, His nature will be exhibited in us!


Hebrews 10:22 says, "Let us come forward to the Holy of Holies with a true heart and full assurance of faith, having our heart sprinkled from an evil conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water." This chapter is talking about the heart and it is talking about the hard heart because of an evil conscience that shrinks back from God, maybe in fear. An evil conscience will condemn you. If you let your heart go untreated too long, inside you might develop an "evil conscience." You might feel condemned, that you can't come to the Lord because of your condition. But in those times you just need to come forward with a true heart, a sincere heart ?a heart that's honest about its condition and its need for the Lord. We should just open up and say, "Lord I want you! I want to focus my being on you!" He'll sprinkle your heart and He'll just wash your living. We need to have a diligent daily habit of touching the Lord and opening our heart to him. Even if you spend 10 minutes in the word each morning, really touching the Lord in this kind of way, you'll find your heart is softer throughout the day and that your heart will just gravitate towards the Lord. When things come to you that are a vexation to you, you'll find that it'll be just easier to turn to the Lord. If you go a few days and ignore the condition of your heart, you'll find that you just feel distant from the Lord. This is an indicator that the heart is just the place where the seed is not able to thrive. My main burden is for us to see that our only responsibility is to keep our heart open for the Lord. In a sense we can't even do this. All that we can do is recognize the condition of our heart and respond by coming to the Lord. He's the one who waters, He's the one who refreshes and softens. He's the one who creates the atmosphere of love in our heart for Him. Ultimately He is working in us as the seed, operating, trying to get our heart to turn to him and focus on him. He's also given us the word, His spirit, the saints and a lot of provision to keep our heart tender towards him.


God causes the Growth


God is the one who causes the growth.1 Corinthians 3:6-7 "I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth. So then neither is he who plants anything nor he who waters, but God who causes the growth." Ultimately, it's just God. God's going to cause the growth. We do plant, we do water, but it's because we have the expectation. We have the faith and vision ? "God planted a seed in me and this seed is a living operative Person. He's operating in me to produce something that He'll be satisfied with. I don't need to worry about it so much. I don't know what the fruit will ultimately look like, but I know when my heart isn't close to the Lord and that's the only part that he wants me to take care of."


To me, this vision is liberating. All of us can testify that we fall into the trap again and again - trying to make God happy and trying to produce that "plastic tree" that looks like the fruit of the Spirit but that has no life. All He wants us to do is to bring our heart to Him. All he wants us to do is to keep a heart that's soft and open to Him. He is operating to produce what he wants. Most of the frustration comes because we've entered into our own efforts to try to produce what God wants to produce. I think that 99% of the frustration in my life as a Christian is that I'm frustrated that I didn't see that rose bush grow out and I tried to put a "plastic bush" there and no one liked it. But the Lord doesn't care about that. He'll just take it out of the way. He says "just bring your heart to me, enjoy me, love me." He is love! He loves to be in our heart, He loves to grow in us and the Father loves to see this seed growing! The Father loves to see this fruit! So He's going to make it to come to pass! As Christians the only thing we have to be aware of is the condition of our own heart. What's the condition of my love for the Lord right now? And the only thing we need to do about it is to come to the Lord and let Him treat us. This is very simple. If we live this way, God will get want He wants. That Life will grow, and He will have an expression of Christ that satisfies Him.


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