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The Way We Grow: Part I
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The Way We Grow: Part I

We need to shed some light on a great mystery of our faith. It is something everyone seems to wonder about, but nobody talks about. When it comes to spiritual growth, what’s God’s part? What’s my part?” For lack of knowledge, Christians seem to fall off on either side of this horse. On the one side, God does all of the work. We simply ask him to fix us, or we wait for an experience where he takes away our sinful desires. Sliding to the other side of the saddle, we reduce our faith to nothing more than discipline. You stop doing bad things, and you start doing better things. More accurately perhaps, we tend to favor the rodeo sensation of perpetually shifting from side to side.

I was recently watching an episode of Dr. Phil that seemed to exemplify both approaches. The guests had hopelessly screwed up lives (which is always best for network ratings) and they had tried every self-help program imaginable to change their behavior. Sadly, the mother’s Satan-spawn offspring still liked torturing furry animals with a darning needle. What’s the mom to do? She had come to realize that the depth of their problems could not be overcome by simple discipline. So, completely discouraged, she had come to the omniscient Dr. Phil with an attitude that said, “I’ve tried everything. I give up. Fix me, Dr. Phil, fix me.”

A Collaborative Effort

We would suggest a model called “cooperative sanctification.” It views the process of spiritual growth as a partnership, exemplified by the following passage.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Phil. 2:12-13).

To get a better look at this collaboration, let’s go back in history about 3,000 years. We find the Israelites standing on the east bank of the Jordan River. They’ve just been wandering in the desert for 40 years following their exodus out of Israel. They are poised to take possession of the land God promised them—“the land that God had given them.” This taking of the land, or clearing the property, is analogous on many levels (as we will see) to the process by which God makes us holy and rids our lives from sin.

Now having been promised the land, it must have come as a disappointment when they found out that God had not phoned ahead to the current inhabitants and told them to vacate the premises. But it’s not quite so bleak. God promises to give them victory in their battles—to fight for them—though they will need to take the land one battle at a time. In Deuteronomy 20:1 we read:

When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you.

Do you see a partnership? God does not vacate the land for them, but neither does he tell them that they must clear it by themselves. It is a project they will do together. So, how does this partnership work? Who does what? Hang on, we’ll get there.

The Partnership Looks Different Depending on the Battle

As you read through the book of Joshua, you’ll notice that in each battle there is a collaborative effort. But, you’ll also notice the collaboration can look a little different depending on the battle, or depending on the enemy. The same is true in our battle against sin. In fighting each of your enemies— whether it’s greed, anger, jealousy or lust— you will learn the principles of holy warfare and how to fight in partnership with God. In fact, this is exactly what God wants …

Praise be to the LORD my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle (Ps. 144:1).

“These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience)” (Judges 3:1-2).

God’s Part: Covert Aligning

Before the first battle (Jericho) to conquer the land east of the Jordan River, the Israelite army sent spies into Jericho to, well, spy. There, they encountered a prostitute named Rahab who makes the following statement:

“I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you (Josh. 2:9).

Unseen and unnoticed, God was already at work causing fear and motivating to action. A similar idea is found in this verse from Philippians:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

So, God’s part in your battle for holiness is to work in you to will and to act according to his good purposes. God leads us into the battle. He tells us what area needs to change. He works in the realm of our emotions to bring about conviction or a distaste for certain sins. He motivates us to want to change. He is at work behind the scenes in our circumstances, and he provides encouragement to fight the battle. The Holy Spirit works at aligning our hearts and minds, as he did with the people of Jericho. But, you may say, “I’m not sure I always feel that alignment taking place.”


Excerpt from the book Flesh available through New Life Resources 1-800-827-2788.

To be continued on The Way We Grow: Part II

Rick James

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