How do we grow in our faith, and just as importantly, how do we help others grow in the faith? That is a question I have wrestled with for years as a pastor and then as the head of World Harvest Mission (now Serge) and its renewal ministry called Sonship. Sonship was birthed here at New Life as one element of the Leadership Training Program that was so foundational to the early years of our church. “Are you living as sons or orphans?” was the question that got our attention, and far too often the answer came back that we really live our Christian lives as orphans, those who feel abandoned and need to make our own way in the world. However the Gospel teaches us that we are not orphans but beloved sons and daughters, loved because we are spiritually joined to Christ and therefore we call God our Abba, Father.
But there is more! The Apostles Paul and Peter in explaining how the gospel has worked in our lives point out regularly that God’s love extends to the fact that the Holy Spirit pursued us in our lostness and brought us to the point where we humbled ourselves and surrendered to Jesus. The term both Apostles use is “the sanctifying work of the Spirit” (I Peter 1:2; II Thessalonians 2:13; I Corinthians 6:11). All three of those texts include references to the unique role of each person of the Trinity in our salvation. Our catechism picks up on this truth by asking the question, “How are we made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ?” (#29), and answers, We are made partakers … by the effectual application of it to us by the Holy Spirit.
Back to my original question—how do we grow in the faith? When I wrote The Walk (see the first blog in this series) I proposed that Step Two in the way Paul approached this question was to make sure the believers were beginning to understand how they came to believe the Gospel. He was constantly reminding them of who they were and the fact that they didn’t stumble into hearing about Christ, nor was it just chance—but God loved them and chose them, sent his Son to purchase their redemption and then sent His Spirit to penetrate their cold, dead hearts. Paul wanted those who were believers to understand the working of the Spirit to bring them to faith because that same Spirit was now abiding with them and carrying them along to further steps in his work of sanctification. In my experience there is great spiritual benefit in taking the time to reflect back and review the ways in which the Spirit worked to make us more and more aware of our need of Christ, both in terms of our own sin and in understanding what Jesus did for us in his death and resurrection. In the language of another question in the catechism (#31), by the “effectual calling” of the Holy Spirit we are persuaded and enabled to “embrace Jesus Christ freely offered to us in the gospel.” I love that phrase “embrace Jesus Christ”. It conveys to me a time of holding on to Jesus (and he holding on to me) for the rest of my earthly journey and beyond. This is much stronger than “accepting Jesus” like I’m casting a vote. No, I am now united, joined to Jesus my Lord and Savior for whatever will come to me. But that union is a result of the Holy Spirit at work in my heart. We need to celebrate this marvelous grace to us. There is more to come, but I hope this encourages us all to give more attention to the work of the Holy Spirit.
(PS – The Walk is available for purchase through Amazon.com or other online booksellers, but I will be glad to give a copy of it to any reader of this blog who asks me for one.)