RESOLVED | Week 3: Resolved to Grow
Topic: New Testament Passage: Ephesians 4:11–4:16
Randy Loveless – January 21, 2018
RESOLVED | Week 3: Resolved to Grow
Good morning! My name is Randy, and I’m one of the three pastors here at Damascus Road Church.
This morning we are continuing in our current series, called “Resolved: Where Desire Meets Discipline.” In this series our aim is to recognize that we all have areas of our lives where we find ourselves failing to achieve what we desire… or more to the point… what God would desire for us.
This week we find ourselves primarily in Ephesians 4 as we look at being a people who are RESOLVED TO GROW. We can grow lots of ways, but this morning we are talking about growing in spiritual maturity.
We’ve talked in the past couple of weeks about how we do pretty good at ramping up our level of discipline at times. Sometimes this increased intensity can last a long time. But if discipline is not met with the right desires, we are likely to find ourselves frustrated as we lose momentum and stall out.
Desire is really what drives us. And while desire is not a bad thing, we can sometimes find ourselves pursuing the right things but motivated by the wrong desire – which can be temporarily rewarding but ultimately ineffective.
So let me simply ask you: as you consider the need to grow in your relationship with Jesus, what is the foundational desire beneath it all? What are you after? Think of a fruit tree – a healthy growing vibrant fruit tree is a tree that bears fruit. The bible also uses this language, that disciples of Jesus should bear fruit.
What’s the fruit you find yourself desiring most? We have to be careful here – especially those of us who know the bible well – so that we don’t allow ourselves to be self-deceived. When we know the right answers, we give the right answers instead of the honest answer. Maybe your answer to the question is something biblical, like patience. I want to grow more mature so that I can be more patient. But why do you want to be patient? What’s driving that desire?
I would propose to you that growth is something that flows out of what Jesus says in John 15. And he uses the analogy of a growing vine to help us understand the key to healthy growth as disciples of Jesus…
John 15:4-5 ESV [I am the vine and you are the branches] Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
We cannot bear fruit when we are detached from the vine. Ultimately, our spiritual growth – or fruitfulness – is completely dependent on a true intimate connection with our Jesus Christ. So when we talk about desires that drive us to greater discipline, we have to want to know Jesus more. Like nutrients flow up from the roots, through the vine, and out to the branches – our lifeblood, the source of nutrients for our spiritual fruit can only come through Jesus.
It’s good for your pastors to be real with you, right? Let me share for just a moment about what God has shown me in my own life recently… I had the opportunity to have a couple of weeks off during the Christmas season, and having some time and space to reflect on 2017 and think about what 2018 could hold, I came to realize that I was unhealthy.
I felt like I was in a fog… like some sort of spiritual coma. I was burnt out. I was beginning feel more insecure. I didn’t have as much joy as I used to. This showed up in relationships too. I was less effective in so many areas of my life than I wanted to be. And then I started to feel overwhelmed about the prospect of fixing it all.
It took some work for me to figure this out – because I’m thick-headed sometimes. But the singular cause that God showed me was the root of all of this was a lack of true connection to him. I wasn’t really abiding in him… and I was totally depleted. So how did this happen? I’m a full time employee of a church for crying out loud – how could I get to a point where my heart was in such a miserable state without me knowing?
Sure, I would read my bible… but a lot like I would read the building code when I was designing buildings. Technical. Practical. Sure, I would pray… but usually only when I was praying for someone in the church, or when my kids or wife needed me to pray with them… or when I was really desperate. What happened was that I allowed 2017 to be a year where the busyness of it all choked me out. The adoption of MFBC, buying a house, going to Africa, ministry needs, family needs, etc.
In a job that affords me opportunities to engage with bible, prayer, and community with God’s people – I was largely undisciplined. And the result was that the means of grace became a means to an end…
And I know that I’m breaking my own rules for good sermon preaching in that we still haven’t read the text that we’re studying, but personal examples of how these concepts are played out in real life are so important. You need to know how much I needed this sermon today. And I need you to know so that you can hold me accountable for what I’ve learned.
In our D-Groups, we were challenged to come up with a theme for the year… here’s what God told me.
Jeremiah 2:12-13 ESV Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
I was forsaking the source of life (connection with God) and counting on the putrid, disgusting alternative (comfort, entertainment, etc). Maybe you can resonate with me – if so, join me in repentance and in turning to the fountain of living waters.
Open your bibles to Ephesians 4. We’re going to look at Ephesians 4:11-16.
Ephesians 4:11-16 ESV And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, -12- to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, -13- until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, -14- so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. -15- Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, -16- from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
GROWTH IS EXPECTED
The first thing that is important to come to an understanding of is that – For the Christian – growth is expected.
A little more than a year ago, some of our leaders attended a biblical counseling training course that was really good. There was a lot of really great practical information and tools that we all came away with from that class, but one of the most impactful things for me was a statement made by one of the teachers, who himself is a pastor of a church in Indiana.
This statement almost shocked me because it was so blunt and simple. He said that he expects any part of their church family who claims to be a disciple of Jesus to be growing spiritually. That is, if being a disciple of Jesus is committing yourself to learn from and absorb the teachings of Jesus and the apostles – and then to allow those teachings to influence your life and behaviors… then change is not just desirable, but it’s expected.
If I remember correctly, he said they as a church devote their resources to two groups of people: the lost, and Christians who are growing in their obedience to Jesus. If you’re offended by that, let me remind you of what Jesus says in John 15. I read a part of this passage earlier, but will continue now:
John 15:5-6 ESV I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
That might seem shocking, but Jesus doesn’t exactly leave room for nominal Christianity. You’re either connected to the vine or you’re not. And connection will bear fruit. You might think this is not very loving, but if I’m stagnant, stale, not growing, and totally ineffective in accomplishing the purpose for which I was created – it’s not loving to ignore the problem. The most loving thing you can do is try to wake me up!
In fact, this is what Paul says here in Ephesians 4: that the body of Christ is built up
Ephesians 4:13 …until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
And then in verse 15… we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…
All throughout the New Testament, we are given information about how we are supposed to live… in relationship to God, in relationship to others, and in relationship to ourselves.
- Ephesians 6:1 – Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother…
- Ephesians 6:4 – Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
- Ephesians 5:25 – Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
- Ephesians 5:16 – make the best use of the time you have, because the days are evil
- Ephesians 5:17 – do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is
- Ephesians 5:17 – do not get drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit
- Ephesians 5:1-2 – be imitators of God, and walk in love as Jesus loved us and gave himself up for us
- Ephesians 5:3 – be as far away as you can from sexual immorality
- Ephesians 5:4 – don’t engage in foolish talk or crude joking, but instead use your mouths to give thanks to God
And I could keep going, but I think that you get my point. This is a sampling of what only 2 chapters has to say about how we live our lives. In the new testament epistles (Romans through Jude) there are 121 Chapters, and all throughout those 121 chapters with similar instructions. A quick (unvalidated) internet search suggests that there are more than 1,000 imperatives given in the New Testament… things we should or shouldn’t do.
What’s your response to these lists? If you’re a Christian, you should find yourself somewhere between the two extreme reactions of PRIDE – thinking you’ve nailed it and have no room to grow – and DESPAIR – thinking you are hopeless to succeed.
Remember what Paul says in verse 15 that, “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head (Jesus).”
This statement indicates an ongoing work that occurs in the life of someone who has put their faith in Jesus. The theological term for this ongoing work is SANCTIFICATION. Sanctification simply means what Paul is saying here. Sanctification is the process of become becoming more and more like Jesus. It’s a process that is incremental, nonlinear (sometimes it’s fast, sometimes slow).
We are a work in progress. We know this from our experience of ongoing struggles with sin. A helpful way of understanding sanctification is to view it as happening in three stages.
- A definite change in our relationship with morality occurs at the moment we are saved. We lose the ability to be defiant without being conflicted after God removes the heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh.
This is the beginning of sanctification, but is moment that we become 100% forgiven of our sin.
- Sanctification – the process. The life that follows regeneration is one of learning and growing into spiritual maturity. This is a process that continues throughout our lives. That is, where we used to grow in sin, we now grow in freedom from sin.
- Glorification. The third stage is usually called glorification. He who began a good work in you is faithful to complete it. Sanctification is not completed in this life, but when we meet Jesus. We will then be perfectly free from sin and the effects sin has in the world.
Direction, not Distance
This is a good point to stop and clarify. Although I haven’t mentioned it directly, growing in the gospel is something that does sometimes require some discipline and effort.
But understand that sanctification is more about direction than distance. As we assess ourselves, the point is not to see this impossible finish line of perfection and beat ourselves up because we are so far away. Which direction are you headed? Are you walking in obedience or rebellion – it’s one or the other. Not growing is disobedience because God says “Grow!”
If we’re focused on distance rather than direction, we will tend to compare ourselves to others in unhealthy ways as we compare our perceived level of holiness to those around us.
One of the worst things that we can do is to develop a culture of striving and growth that stifles vulnerability and openness, where nobody openly shares about their sin because they don’t want to be the only one who has problems. So as we encourage growth in one another, let’s not allow ourselves to be controlled by shame or fear. Let’s share honestly with each other.
HOW DOES GROWTH OCCUR?
Connection to the Vine
I talked earlier about this, but to remind you – spiritual growth occurs when we are connected to Jesus… the vine. Are you fostering a relationship with him?
By Participating in the Life of a Local Church
Healthy growth also occurs by being connected to other believers through participation in the life of a local church.
In Ephesians 4, Paul’s thought process very clearly reveals a mechanism for spiritual growth. In verse 11 we read that the leaders of the church are charged with doing the work of ministry… wait, no, that’s what we sometimes think… but he says…
Ephesians 4:11-12 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, -12- to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…
The function of church leadership is to equip the saints for ministry. If you are a Christian, you are a saint. Paul is saying that my job, Pastor Nate’s job, and Chris’s job is to equip us for the work of ministry. Road Group leaders, D-Group leaders – their job is ultimately to equip us for ministry.
Okay, what does that have to do with growth? Well, when we keep reading, we see that Paul says that this equipping that occurs is pushing us toward three interdependent goals.
- Unity of the Faith (Gospel Community)
- Knowledge of the Son of God (Gospel Truth)
- Mature Manhood (Gospel Living)
And before you start thinking like you’ve got this figured out, keep reading…
Ephesians 4:13b …to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, -14- so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Not only are we striving for maturity, but Paul says we’re striving to be as full of maturity as Jesus. If I’m like a pine sapling of a tree, Jesus is like a giant redwood! But that’s the goal we’re all supposed to be working toward and pointing others to. Notice this – since none of us have reached the goal, all of us are headed the same direction.
WE ARE ALL CALLED TO MINISTRY
As we experience growth and transformation as individuals, the effects of our growth ripple out farther than we might realize. It has a positive impact on the health of the church.
Here in Ephesians 4, Paul likens the church to a body. It has joints and other parts. It has a head (Jesus), and in 1Corinthians 12 we find an expanded form of this analogy:
1Corinthians 12:12-21 ESV For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. -13- For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. -14- For the body does not consist of one member but of many. -15- If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. -16- And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. -17- If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? -18- But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. -19- If all were a single member, where would the body be? -20- As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. -21- The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
The point of this is that if you’ve been saved by the work of Jesus, you have an essential role in the body, and your role is no more or less important than mine or anyone else’s. We tend to operate as if the majority of us are supposed to show up and enjoy the showcasing of the gifts of the few. But the church has many parts, and it takes all of those parts working in unison together for the church to grow.
Ephesians 4:15-16 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, -16- from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
For our church to be healthy and growing in effectiveness in our mission, we have to all be growing first as individuals. As we grow individually, we make the body grow in love.
I hope that God used something this morning to confront you with the reality of who he is and what his desire is for you. If what you heard this morning was be a good person, or do good things, or make better choices, I may have let you down.
Let me remind you as we close that my heart in challenging you to be a disciple who grows is not some charge to morality. It’s not some burden to be heaped on your head along with all the other stuff – it’s an invitation to experience freedom and joy and deliverance and hope! It’s an invitation to trust in the fact that Jesus fulfilled the law PERFECTLY so you don’t have to.
Romans 6:20-23 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The end of sanctification is eternal life. Being able to grow is a gift. If you don’t know Jesus, if you don’t believe that he died for you so that he could set you free from the chains of sin that lead to death, he is inviting you to stop putting your faith in yourself. You can never make your way to salvation on your own. You need to trust in Jesus. He is waiting.