Growing In God’s Grace
by Pastor John Fredericksen
(The soon to be published, Growing in God’s Grace by Pastor John Fredricksen is a new believers guide to spiritual maturity. The articles that follow are two excerpts from John’s forthcoming book. John is the pastor of the Grace Bible Church in Rapid City, South Dakota, and serves on both the Berean Bible Society and Berean Bible Fellowship Board of Directors.)
In nearly every species, the most preeminent thought in the mind of each new mother is the care of her young. By nature, she will devote her life to feeding, providing, and protecting, even unto death, those to whom she gave life. Mothers instinctively realize their purpose for existing is to serve their offspring. In many cases, a mother thinks of little else. As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we inherently know that one of the primary reasons for our existence is to serve the Saviour who died for us. In fact, we should be as devoted, single-minded, and vigilant in serving the Lord, as a mother is to her task.
SAINTS WERE CREATED FOR MINISTRY
God has always used men and women to accomplish His purposes. He could use angels, but instead has chosen to use human servants. In fact, God saved us for the purpose of serving Him. Paul told the saints at Ephesus, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, that God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (2:10). Horses were created to be ridden, cars were created to be driven, and believers were created to serve their Saviour. If I’m saved, this IS my divine reason for being alive and being left on earth after salvation. Therefore, we are urged to “let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who…made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant…” (Philippians 2:5-10). Every believer needs to cultivate the attitude and practice of being a servant of the Lord. We need to be ministry-minded.
SAINTS CAN ALL HAVE A MINISTRY
God never intended for only pastors or missionaries to be “in the ministry.” All believers can have a meaningful ministry. As members of the Body of Christ, God has designed us so that we are “fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working of every part…” (Ephesians 4:16). Just as we need every joint of our body to work effectively, or we suffer, so each of us needs to be working for the Lord, or the cause of Christ suffers.
It doesn’t matter if we feel inadequate to minister. A sense of our own insufficiency is actually the first qualification for ministry. We learn from I Peter 5:5 that “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” Recognizing our weakness puts us in the position of relying on God’s strength, as He provides us with the power needed in ministry. Moreover, God prefers to use regular saints instead of superstars. Paul told the Corinthians, “Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty…are called, but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise…that no flesh should glory in His presence” (I Corinthians 1:26-31). Paul continued to press this principle home to these saints in three other passages. Those who properly minister for the Lord realize: “not that we are sufficient of ourselves…but our sufficiency is of God; who also hath made us able ministers…(because) God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work” (II Corinthians 3:5; 9:8; 12:9).
God has always used imperfect people to accomplish His purposes. Abraham lacked courage, Moses thought himself unqualified because he was slow of speech, Gideon lacked faith, Peter was impetuous, Paul had a violent past, and Timothy was full of fear and struggled with physical infirmity. Yet, these and many more were greatly used of the Lord, sometimes in spite of themselves. The greatest ability for ministry is availability wrapped in a constant dependence on the Lord. If you will meet this qualification, God will continually put ministry opportunities in your path. Be ready, looking, and willing.
SAINTS SHOULD LONG FOR MINISTRY
Spiritually healthy saints who are growing in Christ realize ministry is God’s priority for their life. We should not merely minister if we have time left over, on occasion; ministry should be at the center of our lives. We should passionately desire ministry for the Lord. It should be regular, deliberate, and scheduled. Paul was making this point to Titus when he wrote, “Christ…gave Himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak and rebuke with all authority” (Titus 2:14-15). If Titus was to be a faithful servant, then he would need to “affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain works” (3:8).
Your local church and fellow believers in your church need your ministry. For example, we can serve the Lord in cleaning the church, sweeping the walk, providing transportation, accompanying the pastor on visitation, teaching a class, assisting with the children’s program, stocking the kitchen, greeting newcomers, participating in music, preparing the bulletin, recording messages, opening our homes, witnessing, doing follow-up, calling or sending out notes to absentees, working in the nursery, giving announcements, mowing the church yard, being the one who goes for anything needed, working the sound system, ushering, inviting people to church, and much more. Every one of us needs to be available, to let others know we want to minister, and actively look for ways to serve the Lord. God wants us to be “zealous” or “on fire” about serving Him.
SAINTS SHOULD BE GROWING IN MINISTRY
It seems to be in our human nature to be lax about serving the Lord. Paul told Timothy to “stir up the gift” God had given him in ministry capability. In other words, he was telling Timothy to “get to work.”
The writer of Hebrews told the Jewish saints, “When for the time when ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not strong meat” (5:12). Like us, these saints should have become grounded in God’s Word, then stretched themselves out of their comfort zone to become teachers themselves. Most believers can and should eventually become teachers, first becoming established in doctrine, then serving in dependence on God.
However, when saints don’t grow or serve, we regress in many ways.
SAINTS WASTE LIFE WITHOUT MINISTRY
In II Corinthians 6:1, Paul pleaded with the saints saying, “We then…beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.” Only a few verses earlier Paul had explained that believers are “not henceforth (to) live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again” (5:15). Yet, when believers choose to live without ministry, therein NOT fulfilling God’s purpose for their lives, there is a real sense in which their lives are a waste of God’s grace. It is absolutely stunning how many times the Apostle Paul wrote to different saints out of concern that his ministry to them, and subsequently their lives, would be lived “in vain,” or emptiness (Galatians 4:11; Philippians 2:16; I Thessalonians 3:5; Romans 13:11-12). The practical point for us is to see that life filled with ministry has meaning, purpose, joy, and fulfillment. We then must mold our lives into becoming ministry-minded.
SAINTS WILL BE REWARDED BASED ON MINISTRY
In I Corinthians 3:8-15, the Apostle Paul emphasizes over and over the importance of our working for the Lord. We are told “every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour…(and) if any man’s work abide…he shall receive a reward.” In eternity, when we stand before the Lord Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ, every part of our lives that was lived only to ourselves shall be “burned.” What we often think is so important in this life will go up in smoke. Now is the time for every saint to grasp the importance of serving the Lord. Now is the to time embrace the truth that God saved us to serve. If we do, God will richly reward us in eternity. Let’s get busy for the Lord, stay busy for the Lord, and let’s begin with zeal this week.
DEVELOPING DEEP CONVICTION ABOUT TRUTH
A New York family bought a ranch out west where they intended to raise cattle. Friends visited and asked if the ranch had a name. “Well,” said the would-be cattleman, “I wanted to name it the Bar-J. My wife favored Suzy-Q, one son liked the Flying W, and the other wanted the Lazy-Y. So we’re calling it the Bar-J-Suzy-Q-Flying-W-Lazy-Y.” “But where are all your cattle?” the friends asked. “None of them survived the branding.” 1
We are living in times of too much compromise. This is especially true when it comes to the truths of the Bible. The Lord wants an army of Christian men and women who know what they believe from God’s Word, where to document it in Scripture, and an unwillingness to compromise these beliefs. What the world needs to see, and will generally respect, is people who have convictions and are willing to stand by them. May we become Christians with deep convictions about the truths of the Bible.
A LACK OF CONVICTION LEADS TO CATASTROPHE
It has often been said that: those who won’t stand for something, will fall for anything. The history of Israel in the Old Testament proves this principle true. As the Lord gave the Jewish nation His instructions, He intended for them to faithfully keep these truths. Tragically, “they would not hearken unto their judges, but they went whoring after other gods, and bowed themselves unto them; they turned quickly out of the way which their fathers walked in, obeying the commandments of the Lord; but they did not so” (Judges 2:17). God’s design was for Israel to be a positive spiritual influence upon the world by holding fast to the Lord and all He told them to do. Instead, they repeatedly put up with error, then embraced it. Eventually they allowed false teaching to lead them completely away from the Lord and into unimaginable degenerate behavior.
The testimony of Jeremiah is a vivid example of what can happen when believers do not have strong convictions about spiritual truths. The Lord told Jeremiah, “Seek…if ye can find a man, if there be any… that seeketh the truth” (5:1). It’s incredible, but it was hard to find even one man with a backbone holding God’s truth. Instead, “The prophets prophesy falsely…and my people love to have it so” (5:31). “The word of the Lord is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it” (6:10). God told Jeremiah, “Thy children (Israel) have forsaken me, and sworn by them that are no gods (and) burn their sons, and their daughters in the fire” (5:7; 7:31). When conviction about God’s truth was abandoned, it led to the human sacrifice of their own children to false gods. Yes, they who won’t stand for God’s truth, will fall for anything. This was the reason Jeremiah said, “O Lord, are not thine eyes upon the truth?” It needs to be so for us as well.
GOD WANTS US TO HOLD STRONG CONVICTIONS
It is NOT the natural or the easy thing for believers to stand firm with convictions based on God’s Word. But, throughout the Scriptures, God encourages us to settle for nothing less than His truth. Solomon writes, “Buy the truth, and sell it not” (Proverbs 23:23). Paul urges, “Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good…stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (I Thessalonians 5:21; II Thessalonians 2:15). Peter warns, “Beloved…beware lest ye also, being lead away with the error of the wicked (one), fall from your own steadfastness” (II Peter 3:17).
Just as Israel did in the Old Testament in Jeremiah’s day, today many of God’s own are falling away from the truths of the Scripture. Some ask questions such as: “Does it really make that much difference?” “Is it really that important?” “Is it the end of the world if we practice spiritual activity that is contrary to the Scripture?” The answer is yes, it does make a difference and it is a big deal if we compromise the truth of God! The Lord deserves nothing less than our obedience to His instructions and He expects us to stand with strong convictions about what He says is true. This is exactly why we have repeated instructions to, “Be steadfast, (and) unmoveable” (I Corinthians 15:58). Paul constantly urged saints everywhere to “stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved…(that) I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit” (Philippians 4:1; 1:27). It is God’s will for everyone who has accepted the forgiveness in Christ Jesus to accept the divine call to hold the truths of God’s Word as such a deep conviction that we are unwilling to compromise the essentials of the faith for anyone, for any reason, or at any time.
GOD LEFT US MANY EXAMPLES OF CONVICTIONS
Since the terrorist attack of 9-11 in New York City and Washington, D.C., politicians and the media are constantly talking about “heroes.” Without detracting in any way from the efforts or memory of those who died on that day, there are even more important heroes for us to remember.
When Hezekiah ascended to the throne of Judah at the age of twenty-five, “He did that which was right in the sight of the Lord” (II Kings 18:3-4). His father before him had done evil in the sight of the Lord, but Hezekiah “removed the high places (for false worship), and brake the images, and cut down the groves.” He reopened the house of the Lord and sternly charged the priests to sanctify themselves and diligently teach the way of the Lord. He was a hero. When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were carried away as slaves into a foreign land and commanded to worship false gods, they refused. Even under the threat of certain death in a fiery furnace, they told their captors, “Be it known unto thee, oh king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up” (Daniel 3:18). They said this in the context of telling the king they were willing, if necessary, to die for their convictions. Likewise, Daniel would not discontinue his routine of daily prayer to the Lord, even though it had been outlawed under the penalty of death. He “kneeled upon his knees…and prayed…as he did aforetime.” Standing by his spiritual convictions became such a testimony that the king told Daniel, “Thy God whom thou servest continually, He will deliver thee” (6:16). If we too will demonstrate such strength of biblical conviction and can prove what we believe in God’s Word, it can still have a powerful impact. These men were heroes for God. Of these Old Testament believers, it was said: “God is not ashamed to be called their God” (Hebrews 11:16).
The Apostle Paul was a man of conviction, especially when it came to standing for the truth in God’s Word. When false teachers tried to impose the Mosaic law on his converts, he said, “To whom we gave place…no not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you” (Galatians 2:5). Biblical truth was paramount to Paul. Even when Peter came to Antioch and refused to eat with Gentiles, Paul said, “I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed” (2:11). It did not matter who it was, or even what it cost the Apostle Paul, he stood by his convictions and absolutely would not compromise the truth of God. This is why he had to “suffer persecution,” was “beaten with rods” three times, “five times received forty stripes save one,” was even stoned and left for dead (Galatians 5:11; II Corinthians 11:24). Paul was a real hero, as are all today who will purpose to become men and women of conviction.
The Apostle Paul warned that the time will come when even Christians will “not endure sound doctrine; but will…turn from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (II Timothy 4:2-4). But it does not have be this way with any of us. Be one who stands, with uncompromising conviction, for the truths of grace and be one who stands with a church that likewise stands for the essentials of the faith.