Communion with God - extract from Dynamics of Spiritual Growth module


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Crosslands Seminary students will be studying a module on the Dynamics of Spiritual Growth this year.  We wanted to share this wonderful extract that teaches us how growth takes place within relationship with God, not as a means of achieving a relationship with God:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5 v 1-5)

All of the Christian life is here in Romans 5:1-5. Right in the middle, in verses 3 and 4, is spiritual growth, the topic of our module. The authentic Christian experience of communion with God unfolds in the realities of ordinary life. Affliction is an instrument in God’s hands that he uses to grow Christians in endurancecharacter and hope for glory. Far from suffering being a sign of a broken peace with God, or the removal of his grace, affliction is the intimate experience of the Father working in our lives to grow us in Christ-likeness and hope. Growth in endurance, character and hope does not contribute something to our state of justification. They flow from justification and the union with God that justification brings. The life of growth takes place on the basis of relationship with God, not as a way of achieving or retaining a relationship with God. This growth flows out of the new life inaugurated through the gospel by the triune God. Let’s briefly consider endurance and then character growth.

Two things ordinarily happen in suffering; people either give up or they dig deeper into their own or a friend’s or family member’s resources (time, emotional energy, finances, etc.). However, because of our standing in grace with God, Romans 5:3 tells us we know that affliction is a tool in God’s hands to grow our hope. Therefore, the Christian relates to suffering differently. We neither give up nor ultimately depend on our own resources. There is a chain in verses 5:2-4 the runs from God’s grace, in which we stand, to a future hope that God has secured for us in the Son. The Christian life begins with God’s initiative and leads to a future that is already secured for us by Christ. In other words, the ultimate resources we turn to, to help us through suffering, are all in God’s hands. Our lives are taken up into his plan and purposes. He placed us in grace, he works through our lives, he will perfect us in the end. The end result is a kind of life that increasingly doesn’t waver but, in suffering, repeatedly finds God sufficient and therefore steadfastly trusts him.

That’s the difference between a non-Christian and a Christian’s endurance. The non-Christian view ends in failure or becoming your own, or someone else’s, hero. But the Christian hopes in God not self. Trial and affliction and pressure produces marathon runner’s endurance because we discover the resources in God’s plan and grace. In fact, it is often in suffering that we discover the robustness and reality of the peace, grace and hope we have in Christ. Those that know God better through suffering remain steadfast, not because we are stable but because he is infinitely reliable: the grace, peace and hope we have are all assured through him, in all circumstances.  That steadfastness produces character or proven character (5:3-4).

The more we learn to trust God through affliction the more our character is put back together. Don’t miss the extraordinary change that has happened in the Christian life between Romans 1:18-32 and Romans 5:1-5. In Romans 1:18-32 Paul describes the unravelling of human nature and the corruption of human character:

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:28–32)

The root cause is the failure to acknowledge God. Romans 1:22-23 says we have swapped love of God and his glory, for love of self. Therein lies the corruption of our character. When self is our god our humanity unravels. Where there is an abiding love of self, our passions and desires must be served. Duty and care for others are pushed further down the list of priorities and there is no steadfastness of character. Justification by faith alone brings us into new life in Christ in which the hope of God’s glory is placed back at the centre of our lives. Under the reign of grace, our characters are being worked on and rebuilt into the image of the Son, in communion with the triune God of life!

It is important to note that is not just bare belief in justification by faith alone that is the engine room for spiritual growth. It is union with the triune God, in Christ, that constitutes the conditions for growth. We are justified by being united with Christ through faith (Romans 6:1-11). In that union we are declared righteous, because Christ’s obedience, death and resurrection being is counted to us. But it is precisely that union which also - on the basis of justification - brings us into fellowship with the triune God, in who we have new life and begin to grow as our humanity is put back together. 

If you enjoyed this extract you may like to consider further study with Crosslands.  Find more information here

Beth Butler