Lesson for August 2-8
Whether you’re a parent, watching your youngster enter a new stage of development, or a gardener, carefully observing those tender sprouts finally break the soil, we all have times when growth seems important to us.
It’s understandable, for without growth, there is death. There is nothing else to distinguish the living from the dead, is there? Even when we enter the last years of our life, there are signs that growth is taking place. Old men still need haircuts, and old ladies need manicures. Until our last breath, our bodies continue to replenish and renew themselves.
And that’s why this teaching of Jesus is so important. Our spiritual lives must experience continuous growth, if effective discipleship is to be achieved. We can’t waste one precious moment when there are lost souls to be reached. Lukewarm, stagnant Laodiceans will just not finish the work.
This week we explore how to make salvation last a lifetime. It’s not a one-time gift. It doesn’t come with an expiration date, but it does have manufacturer’s instructions. God has outlined clearly for us how to maintain this amazing product to last, not just a lifetime, but for eternity!
Key Text: “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God'” John 3:3 NKJV
Christian growth won’t happen unless there is life in the soul to start with. That’s why traditionally we crave hearing our first baby’s cry, or why farmers can’t wait to see the seeds he has planted sprout their little stems above the ground. The first signs of life are very important to us, because they indicate that the seed is alive.
In order for growth to start, it must begin with a birth. Jesus called it a new birth.
Sunday: To Be Born Again
Nicodemus, a wealthy, educated, and honored Pharisee, somehow felt attracted to the poor, uneducated, humble preacher, whose name was Jesus. They say opposites attract, so this may have been the case when Nicodemus decided to visit this unusual Man at night, so as not to arouse suspicion or encourage embarrassment. See John 3.
Nicodemus had heard Jesus preach and just observed Him cleansing the temple. His authority in this action must have grabbed his attention. Who would be able to get by with such a brazen act? Perhaps Nicodemus had secretly been wishing that the temple desecration could be stopped, but didn’t have the courage himself for the task.
Upon meeting, Jesus sensed immediately what Nicodemus needed. Despite Nicodemus’ words of courteous flattery, Jesus wasted no time in telling Nicodemus what his problem was. He needed to be born again. Nicodemus was caught off guard, and after a stumbling answer that only showed his lack of understanding and knowledge, Jesus proceeded to explain what the new birth was all about.
What Jesus was saying to him was that his respectability was insufficient, his education inadequate, and his morality too shallow. What a blow to this proud Pharisee!
This concept of the new birth should have not been new to Nicodemus, but it had been buried under centuries of regulations and legalistic posturing.
- Psalm 51:10 says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” NKJV
- Ezekiel 36:26 says, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.” NKJV
Both births mark the beginning of a new life. And neither can be accomplished by our own power. God is the life source for both. But there is a difference. We can’t choose to be born physically, but our new birth is totally dependent on our choice. We must allow the Holy Spirit to make us a new creature. God is eager to transform us, but He never does it against our will. We must choose to let Him.
Discussion Questions: Discuss the two baptisms John the Baptist spoke of in Luke 3:16. Although they both mark the new birth, why are they both needed and for what reasons?
Does it matter if our new life transformation happens through dramatic circumstances or through a long imperceptible process of slow change? Contrast Nicodemus’ slow awakening and rebirth, Paul’s immediate Damascus-road experience, and Timothy’s gradual learning of faith through his mother and grandmother. What were the results of each of their ministries?
What parts do humility and surrender play in our new birth and growth afterwards? How did even Jesus demonstrate these character traits while on earth?
Monday: The New Life in Christ
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8 NKJV
Jesus describes the action of the Spirit well by comparing it to the wind. The word “Spirit” used in this verse is pneuma which means “wind” or “Spirit” in the Greek. Both the wind and the Spirit work invisibly, but the results are visible. Anyone who has survived a hurricane or tornado can testify to the wind’s capacity to change visibly anything it its path!
One is curious about what the new life looks like then. We must not confuse it with a few reformations, allowing an improvement of the old life. What we are looking for is a complete transformation, one where the fruits of the Spirit are becoming more and more evident every day.
After all, Jesus said “Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” Matthew 7:20 NKJV So love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, all coming from the heart, are evident in this new life. See Galatians 5:22.
These fruits point to new thoughts, feelings, motives, and ultimately, actions. The Holy Spirit over time…
- awakens our conscience
- changes our mind
- subdues every unholy desire
- fills us with the peace of heaven
Titus 3:5-7 describes this new life:
“not the works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” NKJV
Paul in II Corinthians 5:17 also gives us a picture of the complete transformation that takes place:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” NKJV
Discussion Questions: We can respond to the Holy Spirit by resisting it or yielding to it. What is the result of our ignoring or even neglecting the Holy Spirit though? Can we do so safely?
Although we may first think of the wind as it affects us during fierce weather-related events, what are some positive benefits of wind? What are some ways it is useful to mankind?
Read John 3:8 again. The implication is that the Spirit is audible, just like the wind. In what ways do we hear the Spirit?
Tuesday: Abiding in Christ
The word “abide” is not commonly used today, so the meaning of it is often a bit fuzzy. A reading of John 15:4-10 though leaves one with the feeling that this concept of abiding is vitally important for us to understand. Our spiritual lives depend on it!
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”John 15:5 NKJV
Truly, without Christ, we cannot
- resist even one temptation
- overcome one sin
- develop any fruits of character
Earlier in the chapter, the Father is spoken of as the “husbandman”, meaning the Gardener. But evidently Jesus is part of the plant, the vine. He lovingly took on human form to come to this planet and save us. We must cling to Him, just as the branches cling to the vine.
Both the dictionary definition and the meaning of the Greek word for “abide” indicate to continue, dwell, endure patiently, and to stand firmly in place. For although we, as growing branches, will change and bear fruit, the vine must remain the same. We can never lose hold of its life-giving properties, or we will wither and die.
What does it look like to “abide in Jesus”? Anyone in love with someone wants to do all they can to please them, not for any benefit for themselves, but out of love and wanting to continue the relationship. “Abiding in Jesus” therefore means showing our love by:
- seeking His presence constantly throughout the day
- asking for His guidance in His word, the Bible
- praying for His strength to obey His will
- begging for His Holy Spirit to fill us
Discussion Questions: Review the parable of the sower (Mark 4:3-20) and discuss the seed falling among thorns as possibly indicating our need of abiding in Christ in order to be fruitful. What “thorns” do we have in our life that make it difficult to continue our walk with Jesus?
A few verses in the Old Testament seem to point to Israel as being a vine or vineyard (Psalm 80:8, 9, Jeremiah 2:21, Isaiah 5:1-7). How does this fit in with Jesus declaring Himself as “the true vine” (John 15:1)? Was Jesus with Israel in the same way He’s with His followers today?
However important Bible study is when it comes to abiding in Christ, prayer must also be a part of our devotional life. Many have been taught never to open the Bible to read without first praying for spiritual eyesight from the Holy Spirit.
If Scripture is likened to spiritual food, then prayer would be like breathing.Breathing is something we do as long as we have life; it’s an automatic function of our bodies. We can live for weeks without eating, for days without water, but only minutes without air. No wonder Paul says to “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17).
Jesus gave us an example of a prayer-filled life. The Gospels record His habit of prayer during all the crucial moments of His life. From His baptism all the way to His death on the cross.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus outlined the kind of prayer that God desires from us. He even gave us a model of prayer, called The Lord’s Prayer, that has been used for centuries.
“And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. Therefore do not be like them, For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.” Matthew 6:5-8 NKJV
What these verses tell us is that prayer is not for the purpose of impressing God, or even of informing Him of our needs. It’s a chance to empty ourselves and come humbly before the Lord of the Universe with our praise and petitions.
While God does tell us that He will give us whatever we desire (John 15:7), He is always careful to point out that it would happen when we are abiding in Him and our request is according to His will (Romans 8:27).
These seem to be the conditions for answered prayer:
- We must believe that God will answer us (Matthew 21:22).
- We must forgive others who have offended us in any way (Mark 11:25).
- We must pray according to God’s will, not ours (Matthew 6:10 and Luke 22:42).
- We must continue to pray and not give up (Luke 18:1).
Discussion Questions: If God already knows our needs, what is the purpose of prayer? How does it benefit God and how does it benefit us? Read John 16:24 and discuss what joy means to both the believer and to God and how prayer produces it.
Look at The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). How can the different parts of this prayer help us grow in Christ?
Describe more fully the meaning of the illustration that humans are spiritual asthmatics. How does prayer keep our spiritual airways open? Have you ever experienced a true choking episode or felt severe shortness of breath? How does this emphasize to us the need for communicating with Jesus throughout the day every day?
Thursday: Die to Self Every Day
Many new to the Christian faith are perplexed by the concept of dying daily, or even bearing our cross. How can this possibly contribute to our growth?
Even those who have been Christians for years assume that our cross is probably some chronic illness or disability, dysfunctional relationship, or unfortunate event or accident that produces immense pain and suffering in our lives. These kind of crosses or circumstances do have the option of drawing us closer to Christ, but could there be another form of daily dying that we are overlooking?
The human, sinful nature does not die at our water baptism. The carnal nature, with all our past habits and tendencies, lingers on, causing us to need a daily death and spiritual rebirth. Thus it’s true that ALL of us are bearing a cross…our old, selfish nature and we must constantly deny ourselves and surrender our lives to Him.
This dying to self must happen every day with our permission. But we can’t accomplish it on our own. God is the one who inspires us to surrender our heart. And it is then God working through us that the work of transforming our old natures becomes a reality.
Discussion Questions: Read Luke 9:23, 24 about taking up our cross daily. Discuss the meaning of the verse 24: “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” How would you explain this to someone unfamiliar with Christianity?[using the concept of selfishness might be helpful]
Paul speaks of being crucified with Christ and dying daily in Galatians 2:20 and I Corinthians 15:31. How does this contribute to our spiritual growth? For gardeners, how can it be compared to pruning and weeding?
How can regular corporate worship and church involvement contribute to our spiritual growth? Although not a prerequisite for salvation, how could our growth be hindered by lack of church attendance and contribution?
“The warfare against self is the greatest battle that was ever fought. The yielding of self, surrendering all to the will of God, requires a struggle; but the soul must submit to God before it can be renewed in holiness.” Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 43.
“If heaven is gained by us at last, it will only be through the renunciation of self and in receiving the mind, the spirit, and the will of Christ Jesus.”Ellen G. White, In Heavenly Places, p. 155.
“When the Spirit of God takes possession of the heart, it transforms the life. Sinful thoughts are put away, evil deeds are renounced; love, humility, and peace take the place of anger, envy, and strife. Joy takes the place of sadness, and the countenance reflects the light of heaven.” Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 173.
Thus our growing in Christ looks like this:
- love replaces anger
- humility replaces envy
- peace replaces strife
- joy replaces sadness
What changes in the following areas could you make that would improve your spiritual growth?
While not neglecting meaningful church worship and ministries, refuse the temptation to substitute religious activities and service for daily spiritual nurture on a personal level. Spend time alone with God every day.
Next week: Living Like Christ
To read the Sabbath School lesson or for additional resources, see www.ssnet.org