Lesson 12

Growing Through the Word

(John 3, Hebrews 4-6)
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Introduction: One very hard-fought religious liberty case I handled involved a client who had steady and substantial changes in his life after he gave his life to Jesus. The other side argued he was not sincere in his religious beliefs (and therefore should not win) because of the conflict between what he had been in the past and what he said and did now. The main lawyer for the other side was a pagan who had no understanding of the topic of our lesson this week: Christian growth. I spent a great deal of time in my brief to the court discussing this idea of Christian growth and how it worked in the life of my client. Fortunately, the judge understood this idea and ruled in our favor. Let's dive into our study about Christian growth!

  1. Nicodemus


    1. Read John 3:1-2. What do we learn about Nicodemus and his views of Jesus? (Nicodemus was a very important man. He did not understand that Jesus was the Messiah - he considered Jesus a Spirit-filled teacher and miracle worker.)


      1. What do you think Nicodemus wanted? (He met Jesus at night. That suggests Nicodemus was sincerely interested in finding out more about Jesus without damaging his reputation or appearing to take the side of this controversial "teacher.")


      2. If you were Jesus, what would your goal be for this conversation? (Convert Nicodemus.)


    2. Read John 3:3. I know this is hard, but clear your mind of everything you know about being "born again," and tell me what you would conclude from what Jesus said?


      1. Is Jesus' response a natural reply to Nicodemus question? (Nicodemus's statement was probably a slow and diplomatic (he thought) beginning to a spiritual discussion that would determine who Jesus was. Jesus skips the diplomacy and gets straight to the point that they both wanted to reach.)


      2. Would Nicodemus be offended by this response? (It would be natural - given Nicodemus's exalted political and religious background. He would think he should build on what he had accomplished, not start all over again.)


    3. Read John 3:4-6. What does Jesus mean when He says that Nicodemus (and you) must be "born again?" (Baptism of water and the Holy Spirit.)


    4. If you were to ponder Jesus' statement about the need to be born again - what meaning would it have beyond baptism? (Jesus' analogy to new life suggests that the new Christian is to grow. Indeed, Jesus speaks a great deal about the birth of the "spirit" in the "born again" Christian. The whole idea of spiritual growth is central to Jesus' point.)


      1. Did even Nicodemus, that Bible scholar, need to be "born again?"


      2. What, then, about you?


  2. God's Expectation


    1. Read Hebrews 5:11-12. What is wrong with these Christians? The text says they are slow learners. Do they lack intelligence?


    2. Read Hebrews 5:13-14. What is Hebrew's teaching about righteousness? (That righteousness is a matter of growth in the knowledge of God's word. If you need to keep relearning the elementary truths of the gospel, something is wrong with your understanding of God's goal for your life.)


      1. What does it mean for a Christian to be on "solid food?" ("Solid food" allows you to distinguish good from evil. This is a constant work and it is the result of growing in righteousness.)


    3. Read Hebrews 6:1-2. When Hebrews calls on us not to "lay again the foundation of repentance" is it telling us that Christian growth should not involve having to repent again? (No. Hebrews is describing the introductory foundations (the "milk") of Christianity: repentance from sin, faith in God, baptism, laying on of hands, the coming resurrection and judgment.)


    4. Read Hebrews 6:4-6. Consider this warning about Christian growth: does this mean we should not pursue those who have left the church? What if we leave the church - can we not return?


    5. Read Hebrews 6:7-8. How can we tell if we have fallen away? (Hebrews is comparing the productive Christian life with the "fallen way" life. The fallen away person may continue to sit in church, soaking in "rain" (the Holy Spirit), but this person produces a life of "thorns and thistles." I don't think this is the "prodigal son" who runs away from church and later returns to the arms of a loving father. See Luke 15:11-24.)


    6. What is the main point of Hebrews 5:11-6:8? (The whole sense of this conversation is the failure of Christian growth. We need to be moving forward in knowledge. We need to be productive Christians.)


    7. Read James 5:19-20. How does this fit into the picture the writer of Hebrews is painting? (We can fall into sin and return. We can drift away and return. What we cannot do is be fully aware and settled in the truth and then walk away from God. A hardened heart like that is unlikely to return. See also Hebrews 3:12-4:2)


    8. How are the texts in this section like driving a car? (You are either in drive and moving forward toward the goal of Christian maturity, or you are not. You might be stopped or in reverse. Neither is any good. If you are moving in reverse, you are moving backwards away from the goal and towards an ever hardening heart.)


      1. Which direction is your spiritual "car" moving?


  3. Faith and Rest


    1. Does this command to keep growing in Christian maturity, to keep driving forward seem tiring? Does it take more energy than you have available? Are you out of gas? Let's read Hebrews 4:1-3. How does adding faith to our knowledge of God's message give us rest? (The parallel (see Hebrews 3) is the Exodus from Egypt to Canaan. If the people had just keep moving forward with God, just trusted Him, they would have entered the promised land - the land of rest.)


    2. Read Hebrews 4:4-7. To what does God compare the rest of faith and trust in Him? (The Sabbath ends the week of work, just as the original Sabbath ended the week of Creation. Without entering into the spiritual rest arising from faith, you have not finished the course of Christian growth.)


    3. Read Hebrews 4:8-11. What connection is there between Sabbath-keeping and faith? (The Sabbath is the weekly reminder of the rest given us by faith. "Anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work." The Sabbath reflects our faith and our understanding that God has a heavenly rest in mind for us - not just here, but in heaven's promised land.)


    4. Would you say that part of our Christian growth is our desire to be on a journey to heaven?


  4. Love


    1. Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. We just got through studying the importance of faith to our Christian growth. We now learn that faith is nothing without love. How can that be true?


    2. Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Is there room for growth in your life in the area of love?


    3. Read 1 Corinthians 13:8-13. Why is love so great? (I think this text tells us that we may have imperfect doctrines, prophecies and knowledge. That is, the teaching of the church may not be exactly right. But a loving attitude is as close to God's perfection as we can come right now. Just like the advice to parents - love makes up for a multitude of "sins." Love is necessary part of our Christian growth.)


  5. The Result


    1. Read Ephesians 4:14-15. As we become mature in our understanding of God's word, what benefit enters our life?


      1. When we find a member who has not yet reached maturity, and is being tossed about by false doctrine, how should we respond? (As we speak the "truth in love" we continue to grow in our knowledge of Jesus.)


    2. Friend, what about your life? Are you continuing to grow in your understanding of God's will for you? Are your faith and love growing? If not, will you commit to studying God's word every day so that your life will move towards that "Sabbath rest" God has promised?


  6. Next week: The Word of God Endures.


























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