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Growing Deep; Growing Strong
The word, “sanctification” is one of those 10-cent theological terms that is often preached about, but rarely understood by the general population.
In general to sanctify someone or something means to set that person or thing apart for it’s specific use as intended by its designer. Take eyeglasses for example. They are sanctified when they are used to help improve a person’s eyesight.
It is used in the Scriptures as setting something or someone apart for the purpose that God has intended. Therefore a sanctuary is sanctified when it is used as that place of gathering where people can worship God and learn more about Him for their lives.
On a human level, we are sanctified when we live our lives in accordance with God’s design and purpose.
Now the word in the Greek language literally means to be holy. Therefore to be sanctified is to be made holy, that is separated from the world and it’s intentions and to be used by God to fulfill His kingdom purposes.
And so the sanctification process begins when we enter through the narrow gate, that is Jesus, by becoming born again, which works itself out in this walk of faith we take through life until we reach the gates of heaven.
It is this very process that has lead me to the phrase, “Growing Deep, Growing Strong.”
When children first begin to stand, one of the first things most parents do is to stand them up next to a doorframe, and mark off their height at different stages of their life.
That is how most people judge a person’s maturity and age. It’s by something that can be physically seen and marked.
But when it comes to our spiritual development, it isn’t that easy. First, our spiritual growth doesn’t begin when the other growth factors begin. We begin our physical, mental, emotional, and social growth at the time of conception. But our spiritual growth doesn’t begin at conception, but at conversion. That is, at that point that we turn to Jesus Christ, making Him both Savior and Lord of our lives.
But at that moment, growth isn’t measured on an upward scale; rather it is measured on a downward scale. Now, this may sound a little odd, especially in our culture where we encourage people to grow up.
We all tell our children how much they’ve grown. And as they grow if they don’t start acting their age we tell them to grow up.
We speak the same way about our spiritual lives. We speak of growing up spiritually. The reality, however, is that our spirituality has nothing to do with our growing up; but rather it has everything to do with our growing down.
And here’s the point, we can’t start growing up, until we first start growing down. God literally built this into nature and the growth curve of plant life. The height of a plant is directly proportionate to the downward growth of their roots.
This is how God explained it in a believer’s life through the prophet Isaiah.
“And the remnant who have escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward.” (Isaiah 37:31 NKJV)
To understand what the prophet is saying is to understand what was going on at the time. It was during the reign of King Hezekiah, around 700 B.C., when the Assyrian army invaded Judah and conquered almost all of their fortified cities, and now they’re camped outside Jerusalem.
Sennacherib, the Assyrian king, had sent his field commander to Jerusalem to encourage them to surrender. And so in the hearing of all of Jerusalem, the commander presented what some would say was some pretty compelling arguments.
• First Egypt, whom Jerusalem was hoping to come to their aide was in no position to help
• Second, that looking to the Lord God, in this commander’s mind was no good.
o First because Hezekiah had destroyed most of the high places, where they consider God was to be worshipped
o Second, because none of the other gods of the nations they had conquered saved them, so why would Israel think that the Lord God would save them.
Upon hearing these words, and Sennacherib’s letter, Hezekiah humbled himself and went into the temple to pray and seek an answer from God. He also sent for Isaiah the prophet.
In response to his prayer, God answered and revealed the outcome, which was that Assyria would not conquer the city and would, in a way, voluntarily leave. And then to assure Hezekiah of its accuracy, He gave to Hezekiah a sign through the prophet Isaiah.
First, that for the next two years God would provide for all their needs. Second, God promised that the remnant would come back and, according to this word, take root downward and bear fruit upward, that is, they will again be established in the land and would be fruitful.
And so the progression we see is first down and then up. This is the same progression seen in what Paul wrote to the Colossian church.
“As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith.” (Colossians 2:6-7a NKJV)
In the desert we are used to tumbleweeds. They grow fast and get really big, but when the heat of the summer comes they die, and are easily uprooted and blow away with the wind.
But how do they grow so big, and why do they die so quickly and get uprooted. The answer is they only have one large root that supplies the nutrient the plant needs. And in the beginning it grows really fast, but it grows bigger than what the root can support, and as a result it dies and blows away.
To the Colossians, Paul tells them that they needed to be rooted and built up in Christ Jesus. Paul may have had in mind the imagery found in Psalm 1, where he likens a righteous man to that of a tree planted by rivers of waters.
For a tree to grow large it needs to have its roots grow deep and wide into the ground in order to tap into all the resources it needs to remain vibrant and fruitful. With trees the general rule is that its visible height and the spread of its branches is roughly equal to its invisible depth and spread of its roots. The deeper and more spread out the roots are, then the greater shade, fruit, and beauty it will provide.
The same goes for Christians. We need to be rooted deep and wide into the soil of Jesus Christ and God’s word. We need to spread wide our roots to tap into the Holy Spirit which the Bible describes as that river of living water. It is here we receive God’s resources to remain vibrant and fruitful. And the deeper we go, and the wider we spread ourselves into Jesus Christ and into His word, then the greater comfort, help and mercy we’ll provide and extend to others.
So, being properly rooted in Christ is important. And to be rooted we need to dig deep and grow downward into God’s word. There are several areas where we need to grow deeper as Christians.
1. In our Knowledge of God
Jesus taught many biblical truths through the parables. One of the most recognizable parables is known as the Parable of the Soils. In this parable Jesus describes a farmer who goes out to plant seed for the upcoming season. However, in the process, seed lands on four different types of soil, which He describes as the human heart.
• The first falls on the hard-packed soil of the roadway. Here the seed sits on top of the ground because it cannot take root, and instead of producing fruit for others, it becomes food for the birds. You might say this is faith for the birds.
• The second ground is the stony ground surrounding the field. Here the seed shoots out shallow roots, which allows it to grow up quickly, but because the roots are shallow, when the wind comes up the plant gets uprooted and blows away. It’s what we might call tumbleweed faith.
• The third ground is filled with weeds, and although the seed is able to take root and grow, the weed robs its nutrients chocking out the plant’s life. It’s a faith that chokes when a person’s life is on the line.
• The last ground upon which the seed lands is fertile, and the seed sends it’s roots downward and it bears fruit in its season, 30, 60, and 100 times over.
Jesus in explaining this parable says that the soil represents the heart of man and the seed is God’s word. What I want to pay attention to is the second soil, that is, stony ground.
“But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.” (Matthew 13:20-21 NKJV)
This is the fate of every Christian who doesn’t continue to grow deeper in their knowledge of God, which is where most Christians are today. They are a mile wide but only and inch deep.
They grow quickly in the beginning due to the newness and freshness of their decision, but because there is no depth, they quickly blow away. Here today and gone tomorrow is the motto of this Christian.
This is what the writer of Hebrews was trying to get across.
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” (Hebrews 5:12 NKJV)
The writer of Hebrews is showing how Jesus is a better High Priest than that of Aaron and his descendents. For Jesus was a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. But the writer knows that this analogy and truth will not be understood due to their loss of appetite for God’s word.
He begins by saying, “We have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.” (Hebrews 5:11 NKJV)
To be “dull of hearing” means they’ve become sluggish. In the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament), the word means slothful. It describes a Christian with an “I couldn’t care less” attitude when it comes to the study of God’s word.
They mistakenly think that God’s word will get in through osmosis, instead of diligent study.
Thus they became ineffective as Christians. The writer of Hebrews said they remained babies when they ought to have become adults. They hadn’t yet mastered the ABC’s of the faith, and therefore they can’t help others grow, nor can they enrich the lives of others.
They forgot that in order to grow up they first had to grow down.
In the end what happens is that Christians start to drift into a lower standard of Christianity, because they feel that the instruction and discipline of God’s word is unnecessary.
The second area where we as Christians need to grow downward is
2. In our Relationships with Others
In speaking of humanity’s creation the Lord said,
“It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” (Genesis 2:18 NKJV)
When God saw Adam alone, He realized that it wasn’t a good thing, so He made Eve. We need relationship with others to be fully what God has called for us to be. The writer of Hebrews again expands on this theme in our need to come together in what is known as church.
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NKJV)
John Wesley said, “The Bible knows nothing of a solitary religion.”
Notice the writer of Hebrews says, “As is the manner of some.” Even back then distractions was winning out, but what he brings out is that community is important, that fellowship amongst believers is important and shouldn’t be ignored or overlooked.
So, instead of being absent from church, we need to come together to encourage one another and build each other up in the Lord, especially seeing that the Day of the Lord isn’t far away.
The third area that we need it grow deeper is
3. In our Humility Before God
“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:10 NKJV)
There is another spiritual law at work here that the Apostle James brings out, and that is the soul that remains unbowed receives no benefits from God’s grace while those who humble themselves before God are immersed in grace.
Right before this James says,
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” (James 4:8-9 NKJV)
That’s an odd request. One would think we need to encourage joy and laughter, and that is true, we should, but not when it comes to our sins.
It would seem they were insensitive and actually laughing and mocking their sinful condition. They were double minded. While one part of their minds was on the heavenly things, the other part was on the things of this world. So, instead of laughing away their sins, James tells them to lament and mourn over their sinful condition.
Today we see this as people literally laugh off their sins saying, “Oh, its no big deal,” or “Opps, I got caught.” It’s literally where people start saying, “Yeah I know it’s wrong, but God will forgive me anyway.”
And so James tells us of our need to humble ourselves before God so that He can lift us up. In other words, we need to grow deeper in our humility before God.
How does this look?
It begins with the mindset of John the Baptist who said concerning Jesus,
“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 NKJV)
To grow up we must first grow down. In Latin “humility” means “low.” So to grow greater, we must get smaller in our own eyes and let God be magnified.
But humility isn’t about groveling as it is about facing our frailties, failures, and sins, acknowledging our complete dependence on God. That’s true humility.
Jesus brings this out best in the very first beatitude.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 NKJV)
To be “poor in spirit” basically means to acknowledge our spiritual poverty, and that we are spiritually bankrupt before God. It’s understanding we’re sinners saved by grace, when in reality we deserve God’s wrath.
A prime example of those who ignored this beatitude was the Laodicean church that Jesus addresses in the book of Revelation. They said to God, “We’re rich and have become wealthy, and we have need of nothing.”
Jesus replied, “Yeah, but what you don’t know is that you’re miserable, wretched, poor, blind, and naked.”
In our spiritual life we need to constantly be growing downward into humility, if not, then we will be like the Laodiceans, swelling up in our own self-righteousness, which God will in the end spit out. In modern day vernacular we’d say God is blowing chunks and we’re the chunks.
Bible commentator Dr. Donald Barnhouse said, “Up is down, and down is up.” What he was getting at is God exalts the humble and brings down the proud.
“Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14 NKJV)
If we want to grow up and be strong, then we need to grow down. If we desire to grow spiritually, we need to start growing our roots down into Jesus Christ and into His word. Then we’ll see the growth we all desire.
Thus we need to grow down in order to grow up and strong.
Wednesday Evening Bible Study