What is Man’s Problem?

What Is Man’s Problem?

Chapter Two

What Is Man's Problem?
New Labels For Old Sins 16 "God Is Too Big To Be Concerened In Me" 23
Man's Attempts To Explain Away Sin 17 "I Am Not Good Enough To Come To God" 24
The World's Antidotes For Guilt 18 "I Feel Uneasy When I Think About God!" 25
Sin Pays Terrible Wages! 19 "I Have Tried To Live For God Before, But I Have Failed" 26
Restless Until We Rest In God! 20 "If I Get Converted, I Can't Keep It Up" 27
Condemed Until We Make Peace With God! 21 Discussion Questions 28
Is Your Name In God's Book Of Life? 22 Discussion Questions (continued) 29

1 John 1:5-10

New Labels For Old Sins

What one thinks of man will largely determine one's total outlook on life and one's conception of God. For several decades there has been a prevailing belief in man's natural goodness with a subsequent denial of sin or at least a 'watered down' idea of sin. As a result of this belief in man's innate goodness and a denial of sin's seriousness, modern man's conception of God has become greatly distorted. The idea of the wrath of God has become repugnant, and a sentimental preoccupation with God's love has become popular. What has been the result of sentimentalizing God's love and denying God's wrath? A deterioration in morals. An increase in lawlessness. An outcropping of parental permissiveness in discipline. God's moral Law has been replaced with man's own standards. God has been made into the image of man!

The Biblical conception of man is seen in terms of a creature made in God's image, but a creature whose God-imprinted image has been marred by sin. The Bible says that man "is dead in trespasses and in sins". (Ephesians 2:1)

To have an appreciation for God's salvation, we must have an understanding of man's serious plight in sin. Sin produces guilt, alienation, condemnation, and eventually eternal death. During the next few days, we must look at these four consequences of sin.

Sin produces guilt. Man in the beginning overstepped his God-imposed limitation and disobeyed His Creator. Man failed to accept his created role and instead attempted to play the part of God! Attempting to usurp God's rightful place of authority, man fell into sin and became a rebel. The result of man's stubborn independence is sin, and one manifestation of sin is guilt and shame. "And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons." (Genesis 3:7)

Sin is not a popular conception. Modern-man tries in vain to explain away 'Sin'. Dr. Henry Coffin once said, "Current psychology adds to these moral alibis. Men and women have themselves analyzed, and find emancipation in banishing the ugly names which vigorous religion attached to sins, where these are re-christened with labels with no suggestion of guilt".

Old sins may have new 'labels', but sin is still sin!

"God, give me the gift of honesty! Deliver me from self-deception! I am a great sinner in need of a great Saviour! I do not conceal, but confess my load of guilt! Be merciful to me, a sinner!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: If I deny my sins, I am deceived; if I confess my sins, I am delivered. I choose deliverance!

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16


Jude 1:1-16, Colossians 2:8

Man’s Attempts To Explain Away Sin

There are several humanistic philosophies that attempt to explain away the seriousness of sin. One philosophy of sin is that it is "a principle of necessary antagonism which seems to be a part of life. Sin can be regarded as dumb-bells which have to be lifted in order to develop the intellectual and moral muscles". (The Plight of Man and The Power of God, Lloyd-Jones, p. 43) Another view of sin considers sin to be the opposition of "our lingering animal instincts against the demands made by our dawning and ever increasing moral consciousness". (Ibid, p. 44) Some say that sin is not positive evil, but merely a failure of fully developing the best in us. Some say that the failure with man lies in his lack of knowledge and education and training or bad environment. Better housing, increased education and clearance of slums will cure man's problems.

All of these views of sin obviously deny the existence of real guilt in man. In fact, those who hold these views consider themselves as liberated from their forefather's bondage, morbidity, introspection, and despair which were caused from previously holding a too serious view of sin. Those who deny that guilt is a reality, are those who say that so-called sin "is just that stage of immaturity where the child has not yet become the man or where the animal has not yet become entirely human". (Ibid, p. 45)

The old line of Freudian psychology explains away guilt through its "impulse theory". The "impulse theory" is explained (by Mowrer) like this: "As a child, the individual who is destined to be neurotic as an adult, has supposedly been so harshly and unreasonably treated by his parents that he has no alternative but to repress certain impulses, certain instincts (especially the sex impulse and the hostility impulse); and it is this act of repression or dissociation which lays the basis, according to Freud, for that special misery called neurosis". (The Crisis In Psychiatry and Religion, p. 160)

Continues Mowrer, "The alternative view here proposed is that anxiety comes, not from acts which the individual would commit but dares not, but from acts which he has committed but wishes that he had not. It is, in other words, a 'guilt theory' of anxiety rather than an 'impulse theory'". (Ibid, p. 26) "The real evil in mental disorder… is the fear and guilt which result from the presence in one's life of that which one is afraid to tell." (Ibid, p. 64)

“God, help me not to explain away the presence of real guilt in my life, incurred through my willful transgression against your known laws. Help me to confess all in order to be healed of all!”

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: To think lightly of sin is to reap heavily the judgement of God!

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17


Psalms 32:1-5

The World's Antidotes For Guilt

Man still attempts to conceal his guilt, and thus hide his spiritual nakedness from God and from his fellowman. Man seeks to escape personal moral responsibility, conveniently choosing some scapegoat in the form of society, heredity, friends or background. As Lloyd-Jones says, "The responsibility is taken from man and is placed in his economic conditions or his home life or early upbringing, and indeed at times in his physical make-up. The failure is to be pitied only. He is not to be blamed, he is not to be punished. We must speak nicely to him and encourage him to be nice and decent". (The Plight of Man and The Power of God, p. 45)

The world offers its antidotes for guilt. "In a city were two signs side by side. 'Go to Church. Find strength for your life'. Next to it was: 'Where there's life there's Budweiser'. These two signs represent two approaches to life–one is from the inward to the outward; the other is the outward to the inward. One depends on inward salvation from guilt and fear and conflict; the other depends on outward stimulants–pick-me-ups that let you down". (Conversion, E.S. Jones, p. 22)

The result of concealed guilt oftentimes is physical or mental disturbance. To suppress guilt is only to drive it 'into the subconscious mind which only compounds the problem. Concealed guilt can cause one to live a life of unreality and fantasy. Concealed guilt often causes one to minimize serious problems, when these problems should be squarely faced and solved.

Guilt may be hid from others, but it is never hid from God. There is an 'All-Seeing Eye' watching us at all times. The Bible says, "Be sure your sin will find you out". (Numbers 32:23 b) "Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him?, saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth?, saith the Lord". (Jeremiah 23:24)

Man attempts to resolve his own guilt through self-atonement, but his attempt only complicates the problems. Some feel they can out-balance their guilt by strenuously performing good deeds. Good deeds are important, but they will never resolve guilt or appease the guilty conscience. Guilt must be resolved in some other way than through self-effort.

There is only one way to deal adequately with guilt. "Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord '– and you forgave the guilt of my sin." (Psalm 32:5 NIV)

"Lord, when I keep silent about my sins, my bones 'roar' within me. When I confess aloud my sins, my heart is at peace within me. Teach me to weep now that I may rejoice then."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I will live responsibly by acknowledging my personal moral responsibility.

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18


Luke 15:11-24, Romans 3:23

Sin Pays Terrible Wages!

We have observed that sin produces guilt. Sin also results in alienation. Man was made to be filled with God, but sin empties one of God's inner presence, and leaves one void, estranged, and lonely. The Scriptures often talk about man being lost. The ultimate consequence of sin is hell, and hell is separation from everything that is good.

Sin drives one away from God. the very one for whom man is made and the only One who can really help man. "And they (the human couple) heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day; and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden." (Genesis 3:8)

Sin always has a way of alienating. Sin alienated the prodigal son from his father. Sin alienated the woman of Samaria from society. Sin alienated the thief from his family and friends, and nailed him to a cross. Sin alienates the spirit of man from the Spirit of God. Alienation from God destroys joy and peace and causes emptiness, misery and loneliness.

Merv Rosell vividly describes what sin did to one young girl. "It was the right side of midnight in a Midwest city where I was preaching. There she was on her knees hard against the altar of a great warm church. Beside her. Christian mothers knelt as though the sobbing girl were their own child in trouble. Look at her! How quickly the commerce of sin and Satan can write "counterfeit", "cheap" and "sham" across the beautiful face of a willful child. Lips that God had once penciled with the clean brush of purity… now carelessly coated with the unhappy admission of loss. Fingers now yellow with nicotine and clutching for something steadfast. Clothing studded with cheap jewelry (a cry for beauty when the precious pearl of chastity is gone), yesterday's garments of laughing abandon. Hair once brushed smoothly over unburdened childish shoulders, now in bleached disarray, faded, sheenless. A face lifted with tired eyes hungry for escape… for truth… for God's love… for spiritual answers and hope! Out of that tight throat one heart-rendering whisper. 'Oh God. I'm sick of it all. I've seen the seamy side of life. now is there any peace and forgiveness for me and my father-less child?'. This is one picture of the results of sin that I shall never forget. Thank God we had factual, actual answers for that life. There is no impossible case with God. Today that sin-scarred heart can sing of His complete forgiveness as. she stands in the sun of HIS salvation." (Shoe-Leather Faith, Merv Rosell. No. 329)

"O God. there seems to be no limit on how far sin can go! But where sin abounds. grace super abounds! Thank you! Thank you!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: There is no stain of sin so deep. but what the blood of Jesus goes deeper yet!

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19


Ephesians 2:11-22

Restless Until We Rest In God!

Notes E. Stanley Jones, "In India a man spoke to Rotary for an hour on 'Nothing'… So the empty take refuge in emptiness, but you cannot change emptiness into fullness by capitalizing it. Emptiness has to be changed into fullness by conversion. An Indian Christian said of a certain man 'He is suffering from nothingness'. Many do". (Conversion, p. 20)

Our age can be described as an age of despair and futility. "Who then speaks most powerfully to and for the men of this generation? Those poets, artists and philosophers who preach despair and sing of bleak encounter with silence and futility and nonbeing." (Ibid, p. 23)

To seek meaning in riches is to be sadly disillusioned. In 1923, nine of the world's most successful financiers met together for a very important meeting at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. Twenty-five years after this meeting, things had greatly changed for these nine wealthy men. Out of those nine wealthy men three died of a suicide, one was finally released from prison, one was pardoned from prison so he could die at home, one died abroad–insolvent, one died a fugitive from justice and penniless, one died bankrupt and lived on borrowed money, and one became insane.

There is a great difference in making a living and making a life! It is a tragic thing indeed to be a man without a country, but it is far more tragic to be a man without a faith! A Japanese governor once introduced the great missionary, E. Stanley Jones in this way: "I'm a man here tonight without a faith. I wish I had a faith. I envy those of you who do have a faith. But I'm a lost sheep. I've come here tonight to gain a faith if possible through the speaker. And I hope you will gain one too". This man was a trustee of a Buddhist Temple! (Conversion, p. 18)

Billy Graham shares the following: "When the governor of one of our states entertained us in his home, he asked to talk to me privately. We went into a back room, where he locked the door. I could see that he was struggling with his emotions, but finally said to me 'I am at the end of my rope. I need God. Can you tell me how to find God?'''. (World Aflame, p. 147)

Sin alienates, but God's grace reconciles! It was Augustine who said: "Thou madest us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it rests in thee". We are made by God and for God and we will be restless until we know God! (1 Corinthians 8:6)

"God, can a stranger become a friend? Can a 'nobody' become a 'somebody'? Can the lost be found? Can the disillusioned find meaning and purpose? Can the sinner become a saint? If the answer is 'Yes', then I am ready for a transformation!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Christ has broken down the dividing walls of hostility. I am coming Home–Home to God! (Ephesians 2:14)

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20


John 3:16-21, John 3:31-36

Condemed Until We Make Peace With God!

Sin causes one to live under the accusing finger of God. One of the results of sin is condemnation. Man was made to be a friend with God, but sin makes God into an enemy to be avoided. The death penalty hangs over man. "The wages of sin is death"–death to the true values to life and eternal separation from God.

The condemned human couple was driven from the Garden. "So He drove out the man; and He placed at the East of the Garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the Tree of Life." (Genesis 3:24)

Nature condemns man when man tries to ignore or resist nature's laws. For instance, nature condemns the man who jumps out of the tenth story window of a building or when one takes nicotine into his lungs. Also, the spiritual laws of nature condemn a man when he lives wild and loose morally. Even the body bears in it the marks of sin and is evidence of a violation against the physical and spiritual laws of nature.

Conscience condemns man when the moral laws of God are violated. Notes Jones: "That future world is impinging on us still and will always impinge upon us, but the bite, the sting, the pressure for conversion comes from the hell of having to live with a self you don't like and can't respect, a self which you hate, but with which you must daily and hourly live". (Conversion, p. 50)

Even breaking one of the Ten Commandments brings guilt. "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it." (James 2:10 RSV) Wrote Paul about the Law, "Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God". (Romans 3:19 RSV) The Law shows to sinful man "the exceeding sinfulness of sin", and condemns each man before God. He who does not presently believe in the Son of God stands condemned before God. (John 3:18)

The righteous become a kind of condemnation to those who are indulging in sin. William Barclay notes in one of his books that Alcibiades, the spoilt young man of genius of Athens, was a companion of Socrates, but every now and again he used to break out: "Socrates I hate you, for every time I meet you, you let me see what I am". Some feel uneasy around God or God's children because such people realize that they are in the presence of holiness. Because they have rejected the Light, they feel the heat of God's wrath upon them.

"O God, my sin condemns me. I don't deserve the least of your favor. But you came to seek and to save the lost! You came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance! Save me, even me!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Jesus came into the world, not to condemn me, but to save me! (John 3:17)

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21


2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, Revelation 20:11-15

Is Your Name In God's Book Of Life?

We have noted that sin produces guilt, alienation, and condemnation. Sin ultimately produces eternal death. Eternal death is the punishment for unrepentant, rebellious sinners–those "who have refused to submit to His plan to save them through our Lord Jesus Christ. They will be punished in everlasting hell, forever shut away from the face of the Lord, never to see the glory of His power". (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)

Jesus said, "Never be afraid of those who can kill the body, but are powerless to kill the soul! Far better to stand in awe of the one who has the power to destroy body and soul in the fires of destruction". (Matthew 10:28 Phillips)

Wrote John, "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works… And whosever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire". (Revelation 20:12, Revelation 20:15)

In hell, memory is retained. Hell is stripped of all pleasant things such as beauty, family, and children. The Bible speaks of the fire of hell. Hell is described as a place of unexpected punishment, for there will be men there who were outwardly moral, cultured and even church-going, but who were unconverted.

Sir Thomas Scott, the former Lord Chancellor of England, said on his deathbed: "Until this moment I thought there was neither God nor hell. Now I know and feel there are both, and I am doomed to perdition by the just judgement of the Almighty".

Said Voltaire in his dying words, "I am abandoned by God and man! I shall go to hell! O Christ! O Jesus Christ!". (Shoe-Leather Faith, Rosell, No. 141)

Said Thomas Paine in his dying words, "I would give worlds, if I had them, if the 'Age of Reason' had never been published. O Lord, help me! Christ, help me! Stay with me! It is hell to be left alone!". (Ibid, No. 141)

Said Francis Newport in his dying words, "Oh, that I was to lie upon the fire that never is quenched a thousand years, to purchase the favor of God and be reunited to Him again! But it is a fruitless wish. Millions of millions of years will bring me no nearer to the end of torments than one poor hour. Oh, eternity, eternity! for ever and for ever! Oh, the insufferable pangs of hell!". (Ibid, No. 141)

"God, I know that hell was not prepared for me, but was prepared for the devil and his demons. Heaven is being prepared for me! Please prepare me for heaven!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: It is not God's will that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

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22


Psalms 8:1-9

"God Is Too Big To Be Concerened In Me"

Man is made by God and for God, thus man's greatest longing is to know God. But how can a person come to know God? A very important step in coming to know God is to face and to overcome the barriers that keep one from knowing God. We must spend some time describing the barriers that keep people–people like you and me–from really finding God.

There are many who say "God is too big to be concerned in me". This is a common barrier. William Barclay notes that in one of H.G. Wells' books there is the story of a man of affairs whose mind was so tensed and strained that he was in serious danger of a complete nervous and mental breakdown. His doctor told him that the only thing that could save him was to find the peace that fellowship with God can give. 'What!', he said, 'to think of that, up there, having fellowship with me! I would as soon think of cooling my throat with the milky way or shaking hands with the stars!'. Notes Barclay, "God, to him was the completely unfindable". (Daily Study Bible, Romans, p. 71, William Barclay)

In our human minds we sometimes become staggered at size and preoccupied with quantity. However, it is not mere size or quantity that is most important to God. It is quality that is of utmost concern to God. That means that Man, which is the highest quality in God's Creation, is most important to God.

Think of a simple illustration of this point. When a wife is watching her husband sail away to a distant land on a huge ship, is she most moved by the massive ship or is she most moved by the small figure which her eyes are fixed on as the ship sails out into the open sea? Of course, it is the small figure, for that figure is her husband! The quality of her husband is infinitely more valuable to her than the large quantity of the ship that her husband is traveling on.

We tend to be staggered by the vastness of the Universe. If we could travel at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second!), it would take approximately 100,000 years to travel the length of our Milky Way Galaxy! However, it is breath-taking to realize that the Milky Way Galaxy is only one out of billions of galaxies in the Universe! Considering the vastness of the Universe, it is no wonder that David asked, "What is man that thou are mindful of him?". Yet the marvelous thing is this: The Creator of the Universe if mindful of you and me, so much so that the Creator visited and redeemed the world!

"What a staggering thought, that the Creator of the universe became a Man, in order that man might become a son of God! And to think that God loves me as if I were the only one in the whole world to love! I give my little heart to God's Big Heart of Love!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: To know that God is great enough to rule the Universe and yet loving enough to become a Man, will keep me from saying, "God is too big to be concerned in me".

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23


Isaiah 1:18-20, John 1:29

"I Am Not Good Enough To Come To God"

There are many who feel that they are not worthy to come to God because of some failure, habit or sin. They feel that they must first give up something or break some habit or quit living such a wicked life before they come to God for help. However, this over-emphasis upon sinfulness has kept many from finding the very thing they need–peace and forgiveness.

Before my conversion, I thought I had to become a better person before God could accept me, but the longer I waited to come to God, the worse I became!

Notes J.B. Phillips, "The more you weep and wail over your sins, and possibly brood over them, the bigger they loom in your mind and the more hold they are likely to have over you. Suppose we take all that for granted and concentrate instead on the boundless resources which become available to us through Christ. To my mind Christians pay far too much attention to the fact of sin and far too little to the possibilities of becoming and living like sons of God, which is what the New Testament promises. When Paul spoke of being 'strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man', for example, I am perfectly certain he wasn't spinning words; he was speaking of actual and realisable experience. In dozens and dozens of places he writes of the shining possibilities of inward transformation by the Spirit of the living God. Surely it is far better to think of these and believe that they are capable of becoming true in our own lives, than to spend time mopping over our unworthiness and sinfulness. This is where the battle really lies, to believe that God is thoroughly capable of transforming and empowering us. Appearances, past failures, feelings, all sorts of things may try to deprive us of really believing in the resources of God. And this is where we must fight; and indeed as far as I can recollect the only battle we are ever told to wage in the New Testament is to fight the good fight of faith. We only tarnish the shining promises of God if we persist in dwelling on our own sinfulness". (Good News, p. 9-10)

An evangelist was speaking personally to a young man one night after the evening evangelistic meeting. This was the conversation. "This isn't your first visit to these meetings", said the evangelist. "No sir, I've been three times," "Are you a Christian?" With a look of despair on his face, he replied, "No, I'm afraid I'm far too wicked to be a Christian", "Are you ever ill, Jack?" the evangelist asked. "I have been." "You don't go to a doctor, I suppose." "Of course I do." "But don't you feel too bad? Don't you wait until you feel a bit better?" "Of course not, I go to him to get cured… Oh, I see what you're getting at."

"Just as I am, and waiting not to rid my soul of one dark blot, to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot, O Lamb of God, I come, I come."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Instead of being so overwhelmed by my nagging habits and sinful practices, I will get my eyes fixed upon Christ who can transform and empower me to live a new way of life!

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24


John 16:7-11, Acts 2:36-41

"I Feel Uneasy When I Think About God!"

Some don't want to think about God because this contemplation causes a sense of uneasiness. J.B. Phillips says, "I think, if the truth were told, a great many people would have to admit that they are very far from satisfied with themselves. They may still have their ideals, but it is uncomfortably true that they don't live up to them. They may know what they ought to be, but that is very different from what they actually are. Many people keep themselves very busy not only to gain money and prestige , but simply to avoid facing this unpleasant contrast. It's far easier to reflect comfortably upon all our busyness or the number of our possessions than to think honestly about what sort of people we are". (Good News, p. 3-4)

Some people can't bear to be alone, for they have too much time to think about God!

Notes E. Stanley Jones about conversion: "There is mental conflict in all conversions. Conversion demands conversion upwards. The 'ought-to-be' stands over against the 'is' and demands change. That is disturbing, for it means an alteration of life and its plans and purposes. That means emotional disturbance. It is called 'conviction'". (Conversion, p. 197)

Too many people stop at conviction without going on to conversion. Dr. Jones notes that it is at the point of conviction that there is sometimes a 'hang-up'. He gives a tragic example of this. "In a revival in Princeton University, Aaron Burr came under conviction. He went to the president who advised him to wait till the excitement died down. This was fatal advice. Burr did. Torn by this unresolved conviction, he said to Christ, 'If you let me alone, I'll let you alone'. Aaron Burr came within one vote of the presidency of the United States, but he died in disgrace, unwept and unsung. The citizens of his home town would allow no tombstone to be put up in the graveyard, but someone stole in at night and put up a single marker, 'Aaron Burr'. That was all. As I stood there beside that marker I said to myself, 'If he had only passed from conviction to conversion, what might he not have been?'". (Ibid, p. 197)

One's sense of uneasiness which he feels when he thinks of God should not be a barrier in coming to God. It is the Holy Spirit that produces this sense of need. Conviction should not be spurned but welcomed, for only when one knows that he is a great sinner is he ready to receive a great Saviour. For many weeks John Bunyan heard condemning voices before he was converted. Augustine also experienced deep conviction for weeks before he found peace. Jesus said, "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him". (John 6:44)

"O Christ, help me to see that conviction of sin is a prelude to conversion to God, that conviction is like spiritual fever which is meant to drive me to the Great Physician for healing."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: My uneasiness which I feel when I think about God, is a sign that the Holy Spirit is drawing my soul to Christ. I will allow conviction to lead me to conversion!

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25


Jeremiah 3:6-25

"I Have Tried To Live For God Before, But I Have Failed"

Some feel that they have sinned away their day of grace and are thus incapable of coming back to God. Nothing could be further from the truth! The very fact that the backslider desires to know God again is evidence that God's Spirit is dealing with the person and desires the backslider to come to God for restoration.

Said God to backslidden Israel through His prophet Jeremiah, "Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you; for I am merciful, saith the Lord, and I will not keep anger forever. Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God… Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings". (Jeremiah 3:12-13 a, Jeremiah 3:22 a) God promised the same to Israel through His servant Hosea: "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; for mine anger is turned away from him". (Hosea 14:4)

To the lukewarm Laodicean Church, Jesus spoke words of hope: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him and he with me'". (Revelation 3:20) The next verse tells us that God's forgiveness to the backslider is so great that the backslider will be re-established in a position of confidence and power: "He who conquers I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne". (verse 21)

Perhaps the greatest example of all of how a backslider can come to know God again and live a life of great power, is the Apostle Peter. "The outstanding apostle Peter, was himself a backslider and a backslider of no ordinary type–he cursed and swore (thereby showing that the subconscious had not been converted) that he never knew Jesus. Did Jesus clamp down on him and say, 'Your day of grace is over'? No, He looked on him with such tender compassion that Peter went out and wept bitterly. Jesus believed in Peter so much that He said: 'When you are converted, strengthen your brethren'. He believed in Peter so much even again, and not only converted again, but would be able in spite of his fall to strengthen his brethren–his brethren who did not fall the way he fell. That was a very redemptive faith in Peter. When Jesus arose from the dead the angel said to the women: 'Go tell his disciples and Peter'–tell Peter especially, a special word of love to a heartbroken man. Peter fulfilled the faith that Jesus had in him–he did strengthen his brethren and the world. An ex-backslider pushed humanity toward Christ with a stronger push than any man who ever lived, save one–Paul". (Conversion, p. 201)

"O God, heal me of my backslidings. I turn from the error of my ways. Save me from death, and cover the multitude of my sins ." (James 5:19-20)

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: A broken bone that is healed is stronger than the unbroken places. The point where film is spliced is stronger than the strength of regular film. Where I am weakest, God will make me strongest!

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26


John 10:22-30

"If I Get Converted, I Can't Keep It Up"

Many feel that the standards of Christianity are too high and that they are too weak to attempt to become a Christian. Such people must first realize that Christianity does not involve climbing up the ladder to God, but that Christianity involves God coming down the ladder to man! God takes the initiative. God came to save, to transform, and to empower. Christianity is not a demand but it is an offer. Christ offers new life and new power to realize the standard of Christ-like living. Christianity is not a matter of dogged determination but a matter of surrender, not a matter of trying but a matter of trusting. 'Let go and let God hold you'– that is the secret to victorious living! Christianity is not hard, it is impossible–if you try to live the Christian life by your own strength. But when you surrender and allow Christ to live His life through you, then Christ's supernatural life becomes a glorious reality in you!

Four boys from poor homes were attending a summer boys' camp and they were the only ones in the entire camp who had failed to give their lives to Christ during the camp. When the camp evangelist asked the boys why they had not received Christ, the boys were silent for a few moments, and then one of the boys spoke, "You don't know what it's like down our street, and the sort of lives we have to live. We've talked it over, sir, and we've decided that if we got converted like the others we couldn't keep it up. So you see, sir, we've decided not to be converted". The evangelist said he was completely nonplussed for a minute, but then he stretched out his hand and said to the leader, "Hold on to my hand, will you?". He put his fingers round the evangelist's wrist. "Now, don't let go." "No sir." "Promise you'll hold tight?" The boy nodded and gripped harder. The other boys watched with interest, wondering what would happen. "Now are you ready?" asked the evangelist. "Yes sir." The evangelist gave a sudden jerk and wrenched free. "Now, try again", said the evangelist. "You put out your hand this time." The boy did, and the evangelist put his big hand round the boy's all-too-skinny wrist and said to the boy, "Now, you get free". The boy pulled and twisted, losing his breath and going red in the face with the effort. He could not come unstuck. "But why not?" the evangelist asked, "we came apart the first time, now we're stuck; why is that?". "That's easy, sir; first time I had hold on you, now you've got hold on me." Said the evangelist, "That's just how it is if you come to Jesus. He is strong and He has you in His hand and says, 'None shall pluck them from my hand'". The four boys all accepted Jesus as Saviour and Lord before they went home from that boys' camp, for they knew that Jesus was able to keep them, even on the street where they lived! (Story from "His Touch Has Still Its Ancient Power, Tom Rees, p. 77-78)

"When a little child is walking across a rocky riverbed with his father and the child loses his grip on the father's hand when he slips on the rocks, does the father lose his grip on the child's hand? Never! So, you, Heavenly Father, will hold onto me when I stumble and lose my grip!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: If I follow Christ, He has promised never to leave me nor forsake me. (Hebrews 13:5)

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Discussion Questions On 'What Is Man's Problem?'

  1. Why has modern-day man sentimentalized God's love and denied God's wrath, and what have been some of the negative consequences of this attitude?

  2. List four consequences in the life of the person who deliberately and habitually sins against God.

  3. In an attempt to explain away the reality of Sin, what have some modern-day persons done?

  4. List several of the humanistic philosophies that modern-day men have taken refuge in; in an attempt to explain away the seriousness of sin?

  5. Tell why you agree or disagree with the following statement: "Christianity teaches that there are both real and false guilts, and that real guilt comes, not from acts which the individual would commit, but dares not (Freudian view), but from acts which he has committed, but wishes that he had not".

  6. Note ways in which people today seek to conceal their real guilts, and list some of the negative consequences of concealing guilt.

  7. What Scriptures can be cited to show that one's sins cannot be hid from God?

  8. How do some guilt-ridden persons seek inadequately to deal with their guilt? What is the only adequate way to deal with real guilt?

  9. Share examples from your own life or from your personal observations of others of how sin has resulted in alienation.

  10. What evidence can you cite that shows that our present-day age is largely an age of despair and futility?

  11. In what ways does Nature, and the Conscience, and the Ten Commandments, and the lives of righteous people all serve as standards by which ungodly men feel spiritually condemned?

  12. List several Scriptural references that speak of the ultimate punishment of unrepentant persons in eternal hell. How can the place called "Hell" be described?

  13. What response would you give to the person who has failed to know God because he feels that God is too big to be personally concerned in him?

  14. What response would you give to the person who has failed to come to God because he feels that he is too sinful to come to God?

  15. What is meant by religious 'conviction', and why do some people not allow conviction of sin to lead them to conversion to God?

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    Discussion Questions 'What Is Man's Problem?' (continued)

  16. What Scriptural comfort can you offer to a backslidden person who feels that his sins are too great for God to forgive? How did Jesus treat Peter when the latter failed so miserably, and how can the example of Peter serve to bring encouragement to people whose moral failures have been very great?

  17. What response would you give to a person who fails to become a follower of Christ because he feels that he is too weak to live the Christian life?

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The Challenge of Christian Growth

The Challenge Of Christian Growth

Chapter Eight

The Challenge Of Christian Growth
The Challenge Of Christian Growth 112 "I Propose To Choose The Colour" 117
"Life Is Just The 'Stuff' To Try The Soul's Strength On!" 113 Pearls Are The Product Of Pain! 118
Why Rejoice In Sufferings? 114 Limitless Growth In Love 119
Patience Turns Tragedy Into Triumph! 115 Discussion Questions 120
His Prison Became His Pulpit! 116 Discussion Questions (continued) 121

Romans 5:1-2

The Challenge Of Christian Growth

Have you ever noticed that one who is writing a love letter, repeats the name of his lover over and over again in the love letter? He seems never to be tired of mentioning the name of his lover. He loves the sound of his name.

Have you noticed how often the name 'our Lord Jesus Christ' is mentioned in the first four chapters of Romans? After naming the name of Jesus repeatedly in the first four chapters, why does Paul begin to talk of 'our Lord Jesus Christ' in Romans 5:17 ? Because all hope is based on Jesus' character and power and person, all of which is represented of Jesus (by the name of 'our Lord Jesus Christ') that man finds 'peace with God'. Only through Jesus can one find a standing and a status and a position before God. To find peace with God is to find an entry and an access and an audience with God! And it is through 'our Lord Jesus Christ' that this is made possible!

'Peace with God' (Romans 5:1) speaks of God's grace producing conversion and reconciliation of the sinner to God. 'Peace of God' speaks of the subjective experience of the believer when he learns to overcome anxiety and fear and worry. One cannot experience the 'peace of God' until he has first experienced 'peace with God'. One must be 'born of God' before he can 'grow in God'. One must become a 'member of God's family' before he can enjoy the 'benefits of God's family'.

There is no way to experience Christian growth before one has experienced Christian conversion. Whether that conversion is dramatic and dated or undramatic and undated, it is the result of God's grace and of man's faith in Jesus Christ. One must be introduced to grace before he can become well acquainted with the workings of grace in his life. Birth is always the prerequisite to Growth.

The Grace of God which produces justification (right standing with God–conversion– Romans 5:1-2 ) is the same Grace which produces growth and Christlike maturity.

In the first four chapters of Romans, Paul details the dynamics of justification. In detail he shows that all men are sinners–Jews (Romans 2 chapter 2) as well as Gentiles (chapter 1). He declares that all men can be saved, even though all men are sinners (chapter 3), and he describes God's grace-initiative and man's faith response. He spends much time in developing his theme that men are justified by faith alone (chapters 3-4). Now in the opening verses of chapter 5, Paul concisely describes the dynamics of growth in the Christian life.

"O God, there is no name more precious to me than the name of our 'Lord Jesus Christ'. There is none other name under heaven whereby I can be saved! That name both convicts me and comforts me. Responding to His convicting power, I find 'peace with God'. Responding to His comforting presence, I find the 'peace of God'. Glory!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: Because I have 'peace with God', I have a right to enjoy the 'peace of God'. Isn't a 'worry-worn Christian' a contradiction in terms?

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Romans 5:3-5

"Life Is Just The 'Stuff' To Try The Soul's Strength On!"

Having described the glorious entrance into the presence of the King of Kings and entrance to the haven of God's grace (Romans:5:1-2), Paul immediately shows what being and growing as a believer involves. (Romans 5:3-5)

As a realist, Paul quickly shows that in his life Christians are often-times 'up against it'.

Becoming a Christian does not resolve all problems. In some cases it may cause problems. Jesus is not only the great Uniter of people, giving peace where there had been disharmony. But Jesus is also the great Divider. Said Jesus, "Don't imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth. No, rather, a sword. I have come to set a man against his father, and daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in- law–a man's worst enemies will be right in his own home". (Matthew 10:35-36 Living Bible)

Paul declares that there are many things which press in upon the Christian–troubles, trials, problems. But Paul triumphantly declares, in the face of all problems, that the challenge of Christian growth is meant to be a joyous experience. Joy amidst suffering–that is the great Christian paradox. "We also rejoice in our sufferings." '(Romans 5:3) Why? Because the stumbling blocks are meant to be used as stepping stones to further growth and to produce greater maturity in the life of the believer! Every problem is meant to become a project of divine grace!

Christian growth does not involve an escape from life's problems, but rather a creative use of life's problems. Not running from problems, but facing and conquering the problems. Yes, even transforming the problems into possibilities and projects!

The challenge of Christian growth means using all of life's experiences as the raw material from which to create Christlike character. Remember: Heat applied to cold, raw cake ingredients produces a tasty, flavorable cake. Life's trials can produce a Christian life with flavor and texture!

"The place of disciples is in the company of those strong souls who, in every age, have borne the buffetings of circumstance with fortitude and cheerfulness, and who say with Browning:

'I count life just a stuff To try the soul's strength on, educe the man'." (Sangster's Daily Readings, p. 168)

"Master of life, enable me to live masterfully! Help me to use all of life's experiences as the raw materials from which I make a Christlike life! Help me to see that my happiness does not depend upon my happenings; but upon my reaction to my happenings!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: It is not what happens to me that matters. It is what I do with what happens to me that makes the difference!

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2 Corinthians 11:23-30

Why Rejoice In Sufferings?

Paul outlines the steps in the process of Christian growth. The five steps are outlined in Romans 5:3-5 : "We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces patience; patience, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us".

Here are the steps to Christian growth: (1) Trials Encountered; (2) Patience Developed; (3) Character Perfected; (4) Hope Produced; (5) Love Experienced.

First, Trials Encountered. Paul was no stranger to troubles. He recounts his trials in 2 Corinthians 11:23-30. (Have you read it?) Paul spoke of glorying his weaknesses and in his infirmities and troubles. He saw his troubles, not as obstacles to defeat, but as opportunities for growth. He saw temptation, not as the penalty of being a man, but as the glory of being a man.

He never saw God as the author of suffering, but he knew God allowed suffering for redemptive purposes. Out of every mess, Paul salvaged a message. Out of every tragedy, Paul salvaged a triumph.

Paul believed that God was never aloof during human suffering and human perplexities. He saw Jesus as a man of sorrows who was acquainted with grief, and yet he saw Jesus transforming the cross of torture into a symbol of victory. God is with us during our suffering, and the power that vanquished death is the same power that conquers man's unconquerable problems.

The believer encounters a variety of problems and trials. In fact, a vital faith may give birth to bitter persecutions. The heroes of the faith were not exempt from problems: "Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment… they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated–of whom the world was not worthy–wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth". (Hebrews 11:36-38)

Why rejoice in sufferings? "We can be full of joy here and now even in our trials and troubles. These very things will give us patient endurance." (Romans 5:3) "Dear brothers, is your life full of difficulties and temptations? Then be happy, for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow." (James 1:2, Living Bible) "I do not like crisis", said Lord Reith, "but I do like the opportunities they provide." (quoted by William Barclay, Daily Study Bible, Romans, p. 74)

"Father, my natural tendency is to run from my problems. Help me, instead, to face my problems with You. Help me to conquer my problems through the power of your all-sufficient grace! Through Your Almighty Name! Amen."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I am committed to save, not to waste, my life. God will enable me to salvage good out of all my life's experiences!

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James 1:2-4, James 1:12

Patience Turns Tragedy Into Triumph!

Second, Patience Developed. Trials properly encountered can result in the development of patience and endurance and fortitude. The Greek word that is translated 'Patience' is a very important word (Hupomone). It means more than 'mere endurance'. "It means the spirit which can overcome the world; it means the spirit which does not passively endure, but which actively overcomes the trials and tribulations of life." (Daily Study Bible, Romans, William Barclay, p. 73)

"It is the spirit which can bear things, not simply with resignation, but with blazing hope; it is not the spirit which sits statically enduring in the one place, but the spirit which bears things because it knows that these things are leading to a goal of glory; it is not the patience which grimly waits for the end, but the patience which radiantly hopes for the dawn… It is the virtue which can transmute the hardest trial into glory because beyond the pain it sees the goal." (New Testament Words, William Barclay, p. 144-145)

What is the Christian answer to the problem of suffering? It is NOT to explain suffering. That is the way of Philosophy, and this way leaves many unanswered questions and many embittered souls. It is NOT to explain away suffering. This is the way of Christian Science, and this produces minds which are 'disillusioned' and bodies which are suffering needlessly.

The Christian answer to suffering is not to explain it or to explain it away, but to allow God to redemptively use suffering. It is possible to take broken pieces of colored glass and shape a beautiful colored cathedral window. It is possible for God to take the broken pieces of a man's life–his broken dreams, disappointments, tragedies, losses–and produce a beautiful life.

"Christianity teaches that suffering can be USED; that even while a full understanding of origins and purposes eludes our mind, the brave and the bold (by the help of God) can turn the disaster into triumph and force the loss to yield a gain… Tragedy is often fruitful of good. Lighthouses are built by drowned sailors. Roads are widened by mangled corpses. Frustration and testing have had a major part in the higher triumphs of our race. And if anybody inquires how Christians came to believe that tragedy can be USED, the short answer is that they learned it at Calvary. In Christ upon the cross they see God meeting sin with love; wresting earth's worst to heaven's best." (William Sangster, Daily Readings, p. 87)

"Help me to know Your love in all dimensions. Make me to realize that the pains of love, as well as the pleasures of love, are for my benefit. May the blows of life not destroy my life, but instead shapen my character. In Jesus' name. Amen."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I cannot always explain my sufferings, nor dare I explain away my sufferings. With God's help, I will learn to USE my sufferings!

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Philippians 1:12-14

His Prison Became His Pulpit!

God is able to transform tragedy into triumph, to change a Dark Friday into a Good Friday, to make a Death produce Life, to turn a despised Cross into a cherished symbol. Through the fearful death of crucifixion, God cleansed away fear and brought life. "Forasmuch then as the children (human beings) are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver to them, who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." (Hebrews 2:14-15)

The believer must train himself to ask, when facing problems: "What good does God intend for me to salvage out of this problem and trouble? How is this problem to be used for the development of my character?"

Paul used his prison experience in Rome for his good and for God's glory. "Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly." (Philippians 1:12-14)

Be thankful, along with Paul, that God providently watches over you, and can use you to witness regardless of your circumstances. Paul's imprisonment became Paul's opportunity for unprecedented witnessing to unlikely persons–Roman guards! His prison became his pulpit! His captive audience was Roman soldiers–the 'cream of the crop'–who were chained to Paul's wrists all day long! Paul recognized that God providently allowed him to be in Roman custody in order that he might boldly preach the Gospel to Gentile pagans!

His preaching in prison resulted in advancing the Gospel (Philippians 1:12) and in inspiring timid believers to witness (Philippians 1:13-14)!

Be thankful that God can use any of your experiences–good or bad–to advance the cause of Christ and to encourage the lives of other Christians! Be thankful that God can enable you to get the best out of the worst! If Paul's prison experience resulted in Roman pagans being converted, in timid Christians being encouraged, and in the Gospel message being spread, what do you suppose your 'prison' experiences could result in? Look up and be thankful for God's providence during trials!

"God, I am beginning to learn that it takes both sunshine and rain to produce 'fruit'–the fruit of a Christlike life. Help me to know that the best fruit is produced in the 'valleys'!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: God's grace will enable me both to enjoy my 'mountain-top' experiences, and to learn from my 'valley' experiences!

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2 Corinthians 1:3-7

"I Propose To Choose The Colour"

John Bunyan was imprisoned for several years because of his religious beliefs, but he patiently endured, that is, he used his prison experience for the glory of God and for the good of men. He wrote 'Pilgrim's Progress' while he was in prison! This classic has been cherished more than any other book, second only to the Bible!

'Patience' (Hupomone ) refuses to give up even when circumstances are hard and obstacles are great. Thomas Edison was never discouraged. He had an endurance that was amazing! It is reported that when about 10,000 experiments with a storage battery failed to produce results, a friend tried to console him. "Why, I have not failed", Edison said, "I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." That is the spirit that is determined to be the 'master of circumstances'.

"When Beethoven was threatened with deafness, that most terrible of troubles for a musician, he said: 'I will take life by the throat'. That is hupomone. George Matheson, who was stricken in blindness and disappointed in love, wrote a prayer in which he pleads that he might accept God's will, 'not with dumb resignation, but with holy joy; not only with absence of murmur, but with a song of praise'. Only hupomone can enable a man to do that." (Daily Study Bible, Romans, William Barclay, p. 73-74)

Someone once said to a gallant soul who was undergoing a great sorrow: 'Sorrow fairly colours life, doesn't it?' Back came the reply: 'Yes, and I propose to choose the colour'. That is hupomone.

When William Booth, the great founder of the Salvation Army was told by his son that he would lose his eye sight, William Booth was first sober and quiet, and then said to his son, "Are you telling me that I shall soon be blind and will never see your face again". "That is what the doctors are saying", replied his son. Replied William Booth, "I have served God for many years with my eyesight. I shall now serve God without my eyesight." This is hupomone–patience, fortitude, perseverance!

"Hupomone is not the spirit which lies down and lets the floods go over it; it is the spirit which meets things breastforward and overcomes them," (Daily Study Bible, Romans, William Barclay, p. 74)

Hupomone (perseverance and patience) is not a passive endurance, but it is a creative use of bad experiences to serve the higher purpose of good. Hupomone refuses to allow circumstances to master the soul; instead it uses and masters the circumstances.

Give me the courage to accept what I cannot change. Give me the power to Change what must be changed. Give me the humility to accept my positive blessings without pride and to learn from my negative experiences without bitterness. In Jesus' name. Amen."

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: When life hands me a 'lemon', I will learn to turn it into 'lemonade'!

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1 Peter 1:3-9

Pearls Are The Product Of Pain!

We are looking at the steps to Christian growth, as outlined in Romans 5:3-5. We have seen that trials properly encountered results in patience developed. Paul further says that patience (fortitude, perseverance) produces character.

Third, Character Perfected. The Greek word that is translated 'Character' is the word that is "used of metal which has been passed through the fire so that everything base has been purged out of it. It is used of coinage as we use the word 'sterling'. When affliction is met with fortitude, out of the battle a man emerges stronger, and purer, and better, and nearer God'". (Daily Study Bible, Romans, William Barclay, p. 74)

Think of the most beautiful and lovely and tender-hearted people you have known. Have they not usually been persons who have gone through difficult trials and tests and sorrows, and have emerged victoriously? Have they not been the persons who, as a result of life's trials, have become understanding, gentle, stable, caring?

Problems and suffering, successfully met, can perfect character. Great spiritual vision of God is oftentimes the product of great sorrow. Someone said, "The vision of God can be seen more clearly through a tear". Trouble and sorrow and suffering can cause one to depend more fully on God's power. God's strength is made perfect through human weakness. God's power is only available to the one who knows that he is weak and powerless.

In the world of nature, pearls are the product of pain. A pearl "is a symbol of stress; it is a healed wound; it is the enduring token of a tiny creature's struggle to preserve its life… If there had been no wound there could have been no pearl". (Sangster's Daily Readings, p. 94) Beautiful character may be the product of suffering!

"There is something unheeding and harsh in a man who has known nothing of pain… Suffering, in a disciple, can often be wrested to service. It is Christlike work to soothe and sympathize, and only those who have drunk the cup of sorrow are fully equipped to do it." (Ibid, p. 48) Suffering can develop the tender heart. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5) Someone said that when certain sorrowing people needed a comforter, that they would go to a certain woman who was known for her gentle eyes. Those gentle eyes came from a gentle heart, made tender through much sorrow.

Fourth, Hope Produced. "Character produces hope." Trials successfully met produces stronger character, and inspires greater hope for progress towards the realization of final maturity in Christ. Hope is an anchor of the soul while going through trials and problems.

"Father, during my 'fiery trials', let me hear you whisper your comforting words to me (as expressed by the hymn writer):

'When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.'

What a loving God!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: God will 'bottle up my tears' (Psalms:56:8), and use them to cleanse my soul!

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1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Limitless Growth In Love

Fifth, Love Experienced. The goal of Christian growth is supreme love for God, sincere love for others, and subordinate love for oneself. Growth in the Christian life is measured by growth in love. Love is the essence of maturity. The believer's hope is not illusionary. Hope is founded upon the foundation of God's eternal love. "Hope does not prove an illusion, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given unto us." (Romans 5:5, Barclay)

Maturity is both a present condition and a progressive process. He whose life is guided by love is, Scripturally-speaking, a mature person. However, while one may be fully loving at anyone moment and therefore be considered mature, the increase in love's capacity in a believer's life is limitless. Therefore growth in maturity is limitless.

Love is dynamic and limitless in its capacity to grow because the love activity of the Holy Spirit in a believer's life is limitless, dynamic, and continuous. (The Greek 'perfect tense' of Romans 5:5 is well described by Kenneth Wuest in his translation.) "The love of God has been poured out in our hearts and still floods them through the agency of the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5:5, Wuest)

One is only mature to the extent that he is mature in love, and love can only be measured in terms of one's capacity for fellowship. "Without this maturity based on fellowship, there is simply no maturity at all. For maturity is a capacity for fellowship. The immature person has retreated in on himself, has withdrawn his relationships, and has become self-preoccupied, and hence by that very fact immature. Your capacity for fellowship gauges your maturity. You are mature to the degree, and only to the degree, that you can fellowship with God, with others, and with yourself." (Christian Maturity, E. Stanley Jones, p. 66)

"So maturity is not a matter of age but of attitudes. And these Changed attitudes can be sudden and lasting. But they may also be gradual… But in either case you become mature to the degree that you relate yourself to God, respond to His grace, and work it out in life. Receptivity to grace is the secret of maturity." (Ibid, p. xi)

"But it is a maturity that keeps us on the stretch for more receptivity. For we are always seeing more things in God to receive. The finite will infinitely approach the Infinite, but will never arrive. In that eternal growth will be our eternal happiness." (Ibid, p. 356)

"O God, help me to make a deeper surrender of my life, in order that I may experience a deeper appropriation of Thy love. The depth of Your love in my life will be manifested by the breadth of my love for Your children. Pour out Your love into my heart!"

AFFIRMATION FOR THE DAY: I am forever satisfied with God's love, but forever dissatisfied with the smallness of my capacity for His love!

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Discussion Questions On 'The Challenge Of Christian Growth'

  1. After naming the name of Jesus repeatedly in the first four chapters of Romans, why does Paul again talk of 'our Lord Jesus Christ' in Romans 5:1?

  2. Give your interpretation of the following statement: "One cannot experience the 'peace of God' until he has first experienced 'peace with God'".

  3. Because a believer has 'peace with God', he has a right to enjoy the 'peace of God'. Isn't a 'worry-worn Christian' a contradiction in terms?

  4. Tell why you agree or disagree with the following statements: "Becoming a Christian does not resolve all problems. In some cases it may cause problems. Jesus is not only the great Uniter of people, giving peace where there had been disharmony. But Jesus is also the great Divider!" (Note Matthew 10:35-36)

  5. With what attitude can a believer approach human problems and perplexities? (Note Romans 5:3) Why can a believer experience Joy in spite of sufferings?

  6. From your own life or from observing the lives of other believers, can you illustrate the truth of the following statements: "Christian growth does not involve an escape from life's problems, but rather a creative use of life's problems. The challenge of Christian growth means using all of life's experiences as the raw material from which to create Christlike character".

  7. As revealed in Romans 5:3-5, list the five steps to Christian Growth.

  8. If God is not the author of suffering, then why does God allow believers to suffer?

  9. Tell why you agree or disagree with the following statement: "God is with us and in us during our suffering, and the power that vanquished death is the same power that conquers man's unconquerable problems". (If you agree with this statement, can you illustrate its truth from your own experience?)

  10. Give a Biblical definition and description of 'patience' as it is used especially in Romans 5:3.

  11. What are non-Christian answers to the problem of suffering, and what is the only adequate and Christian answer to human suffering? What is the most unusual example in history of God turning a seeming tragedy into a glorious victory?

  12. What important questions should a believer train himself to ask, when he is facing problems or trouble?

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    Discussion Questions On 'The Challenge Of Christian Growth' (continued)

  13. In what ways did God use Paul's prison experience in Rome for Paul's own good, for the good of others, and for God's glory? (Note Philippians 1:12-14) Can you think of times in your own life when God used what seemed to you as a 'prison experience' to bring glory to God and good to others or to yourself? (Meditate on the following statement: "When life hands me a 'lemon', I will learn to turn it into 'lemonade'".)

  14. Tell why you agree or disagree with the following statement: "It is Christlike work to sooth and sympathize, and only those who have drunk the cup of sorrow are fully equipped to do it".

  15. What word picture is behind the Biblical concept of 'Character'?

  16. What is the ultimate goal of Christian growth?

  17. Tell why you agree or disagree with the following statement: "Growth in the Christian life is measured by growth in love. Love is the essence of maturity".

  18. What is meant by the statement: "Spiritual maturity is both a present condition and a progressive process".

  19. Tell why you agree or disagree with the following statements: "One is only mature to the extent that he is mature in love, and love can only be measured in terms of one's capacity for fellowship. The immature person has retreated in on himself, has withdrawn his relationships, and has become self-preoccupied, and hence by that very fact immature".

  20. Meditate on the following statement: "I am forever satisfied with God's love (Romans 5:5), but forever dissatisfied with the smallness of my capacity for His love". What can you personally do to help increase your spiritual capacities to receive more of His love?

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