THE PURPOSE OF GROWTH IN CHRIST
Copyright © 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a royal priesthood that will return with the Lord and govern the nations of the earth. It is for this reason that each member of the Body of Christ must cooperate with the Spirit of God until he or she comes to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
The four levels of Ezekiel’s river must be pursued until the believer can serve God and mankind as a royal priesthood, a tree of life which can stand with the Holy Spirit and invite the saved peoples of the earth to come and partake of eternal Divine Life.
THE PURPOSE OF GROWTH IN CHRIST
Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:13)
Sometimes it appears the above verse is not in the Bible. There seems to be little or no emphasis placed on it. The emphasis in Christian preaching and teaching is on going to Heaven by grace. Such verses as the above, and the following, are regarded as “nice” but not crucially relevant. At least, this has been my experience.
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29)
And to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians (3:19)
And so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:11)
To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Revelation 3:21)
“Attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
“Predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”
“May be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
“To attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
“The right to sit with me on my throne.”
The above five statements sound to me like goals toward which we are to look, toward which we are to strive. Do they impress you that way?
Are they biblical goals? Apparently.
Are they extraordinary promises or do they appear to be directed toward normal Christian people? They appear to be directed toward the believer who reads the Bible.
Why, then, are they not presented in Christian teaching as being the goals toward which we are to look, toward which we are to strive.?
It is conventional to cite eternal residence in Heaven as being the biblical goal of salvation. Perhaps there is no more common idea in all of Christendom. Yet, there is not one verse in the entire Scriptures that points toward eternal residence in Heaven as the goal of salvation.
Why are we neglecting the scriptural goals, and declaring unscriptural goals, and yet maintaining that we believe the Bible is the Word of God? We certainly are inconsistent in the matter of goals.
Any student of systems will tell you that if you have set the wrong goals for your efforts, all the elements of your system become confused as to their value in attaining your goals. This is why the American educational system is not as productive as one could wish. The goals of education are understood to be proficiency in the arts and sciences. But it often is true that the teachers are spending their time teaching ideas more pleasing to themselves and more in line with their own values. This is not the only reason for the decline of education in America but it may be one of the major factors.
This is why a believer can sit in church for fifty years and never grow appreciably in Christ. In fact, we see the same malice and bitterness in the members of the churches as we do in the people of the world. The Christian salvation apparently is not resulting in new creations of righteousness.
The ministry is teaching the wrong goal, that of attaining eternal residence in Heaven. Since this is not the scriptural goal, the believers do not make progress in the true scriptural goals.
In the fourth chapter of the Book of Ephesians we read of the gifts and ministries given by the ascended Christ to the members of His Body.
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, (Ephesians 4:11)
We find also the end toward which these ministries operate.
To prepare God’s people for works of service, so the body of Christ may be built up Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12,13)
Christ gave some of God’s people to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, so these believers would be prepared to build up the Body of Christ to maturity—maturity as measured by the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Have you ever heard it preached that Christ anointed some of God’s people to be apostles so they would be prepared to build up the members of the Body of Christ to maturity, to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ?
Have you ever heard it preached that Christ anointed some of God’s people to be prophets so they would be prepared to build up the members of the Body of Christ to maturity, to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ?
Have you ever heard it preached that Christ anointed some of God’s people to be evangelists so they would be prepared to build up the members of the Body of Christ to maturity, to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ?
Have you ever heard it preached that Christ anointed some of God’s people to be pastors so they would be prepared to build up the members of the Body of Christ to maturity, to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ?
Have you ever heard it preached that Christ anointed some of God’s people to be teachers so they would be prepared to build up the members of the Body of Christ to maturity, to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ?
In terms of what you have heard preached, what is currently believed to be the purpose of an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a pastor, a teacher?
Are we going to follow the Bible or our traditions?
The title of this brief essay is “The Purpose of Growth in Christ.”
We have not mentioned the purpose of spiritual growth as yet; we have been speaking only of the fact that the New Testament does not present eternal residence in Heaven as being the goal of our salvation, but of growth to maturity in Christ as being the goal of our salvation.
But we have not as yet stated the reason why it is necessary for Christians to grow to maturity in Christ.
The Book of Ezekiel sets forth in symbolic language a portrayal of our growth in Christ. Then it presents the reason, the necessity for our growth in Christ.
The symbolic portrayal is as follows:
As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee=deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross. (Ezekiel 47:3-5)
The water that is ankle-deep refers to our first approach to Christ, it is death to the world, and resurrection into the Kingdom of God. When we believe and are baptized in water we count ourselves crucified with Christ, resurrected with Christ, and raised with Christ to the right hand of the Father.
The water that is ankle-deep is death to sin, and resurrection to life lived in the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit. Our Christian life is to be guided by the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit of God who gives us the ability to minister and to bear witness of the atoning death and triumphant resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the Spirit of God who gives us the ability to resist sin and lead a righteous, holy, obedient life.
The water that is up to the waist is death to our own will and strength, and resurrection to fruitfulness and to the power to exercise our Christ-filled will. By means of various forms of suffering and imprisonment, God brings down our own will and strength and in their place gives us His will and strength. The result is great fruitfulness and the power to accomplish God’s will in the earth.
The river that no one could cross refers to the fullness of God. It is death to all desire to be exalted, and resurrection to perfect love and to joy in simply being the chariot of God. Each member of the Church, the Body of Christ, is to press forward in the Lord until he has died to the world, to the lusts and passions of sin, and to personal ambition and pride of achievement. Having gained these victories in God he is to continue until he is perfectly at rest in being the servant of God and of people. This is the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
So far we have spoken of growth in Christ. Now we come to the reason why it is absolutely necessary we go through the four levels of the River of Life.
He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?” Then he led me back to the bank of the river. (Ezekiel 47:6)
Now we are ready to return to the needs of mankind in order that God’s purpose in bringing us to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ might be realized. The Spirit leads us “back to the bank of the river.”
When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. (Ezekiel 47:7)
These trees are trees of life growing from the roots of the great Tree of Life, Jesus Christ. They have been brought to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ that they might serve as wells of life for spiritually dead mankind.
So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. (I Corinthians 15:45)
If we are to fulfill God’s purpose in using His Church to bring eternal life to the members of the nations of the earth, we must pass through the river until we become a tree of life. It is not enough to stop at water to the ankles and then wait to be caught up to Heaven.
The New Testament teaches us that when Christ appears we shall appear with Him. Why shall we appear with Him? The answer is simple—to work with Him in setting up the Kingdom of God on the earth, in bringing eternal life to those persons left alive on the earth after the Battle of Armageddon.
When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:4)
The physical world is groaning in the chains of slavery to sin. It is waiting eagerly for God’s trees of life to be revealed so it may be set free, so it too may be able to live in the Spirit of God.
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. (Romans 8:19)
We also are waiting for that wonderful day, for it will mean to us that our physical body will be raised from the dead and filled with eternal resurrection life.
Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)
The Christian Church is the firstfruits of a multitude of persons whom God intends to save and bring into eternal life, into His Kingdom. For centuries we have believed that the destiny of the Christian Church is to go to Heaven and recline at ease in Paradise. This is what being saved has meant to us.
Now we understand the two thousand years of church history have been for the purpose of developing trees of life who will be competent and qualified to return with Christ and bring salvation until the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. The Church is a firstfruits of the entire harvest of the earth.
He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (James 1:18)
In that day the Church will stand with the Spirit and invite all who will to come and drink of the water of life. The water of life will be flowing from the throne of God which has been created in the personalities of the saints.
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17)
Why have the elect Jews and Gentiles been chosen by the Lord Jesus Christ? It is that each of them might bear fruit, the fruit that is the reproducing of the image of Christ in themselves and in others so the Spirit of God might abide in them.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. (John 15:16)
Why is it absolutely necessary we be brought to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ? It is so we may fulfill our calling as members of the royal priesthood of God.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (I Peter 2:9)
Why has God opened our eyes and given us the ability to receive Christ? It is so we may serve as a governing priesthood over the nations of the earth. This we will do when we return with the Lord.
And has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Revelation 1:6)
But where will we govern the nations. In Heaven? No, on the earth: first on the present earth when the Lord comes, and then on the new earth when the Church descends from Heaven as the holy city, the new Jerusalem.
And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9,10)
“They will reign on the earth”!
When we inform God’s people that they are called to serve the nations as priests and kings of God, many of them are not overjoyed. Why is this? It is because they never have felt the unimaginable love of Christ for people, the people who are His (and our) inheritance.
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, May have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, And to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)
Once this love enters our heart we understand the only inheritance to be desired, after inheriting God Himself, is people. All talk about mansions, diamonds, golden slippers, comes from our adamic nature. Christ’s inheritance is the nations and the farthest reaches of the earth. We are coheirs with Him.
The following is a description of us once we have attained the whole measure of the fullness of Christ:
Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.” (Ezekiel 47:12)
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:2,3)
Can you begin to see that our destiny is not eternal residence in Heaven doing nothing of significance? We have not been saved to retire in Heaven. We have been saved so we might press toward the fullness of God, the purpose being that we might be able to bring eternal life to other people—now, but especially when we return with the Lord.
Today, we of the Pentecostal persuasion are being prompted by the Spirit of God to move forward to the spiritual fulfillment of the Jewish feast of Tabernacles. Pressing forward to the feast of Tabernacles means we must submit to the removal of worldliness, sin, and self-seeking from our personality, to the forming of Christ in us, and finally to the coming of the Father and Christ to make Their eternal throne and residence in us. Once the throne of God and the Lamb has been established in our personality we will be able to bring forth rivers of living water so dead mankind can live.
On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:37,38)
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (Isaiah 12:3)
But does the Bible teach that there will be a great revival when the Lord returns and we will bring eternal life to the nations that survive the Battle of Armageddon? Indeed it does!
Proceeding in the Book of Ezekiel:
He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea. When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. (Ezekiel 47:8,9)
The above is a symbolic portrayal of the water of life flowing from the trees of life into the dead sea of mankind. The spiritual environment will be renewed because the victorious saints will be seated on the thrones of the air, the thrones occupied previously by Satan and his lords.
The “swarms of living creatures” refer to people who will receive eternal life at the hands of the sons of God. All of mankind and nature will spring forth into spiritual life.
Notice carefully that the glory of the Kingdom Age, while much of it will come down upon people as Pentecostal rain, will be administered through saints who are filled with God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. There will be no more unwalled paradises. All will be under the control of saints who have become totally obedient to Christ just as Christ is totally obedient to God.
It is for this purpose that we are being brought to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
We shall fish for people, in that day.
Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Great Sea. (Ezekiel 47:10)
People will come up to Jerusalem to learn the righteous ways of the Lord. There they will encounter saints in whom God and Christ are dwelling.
Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:3)
The law of God, the eternal moral law reflected in the Sermon on the Mount, will be taught to earth’s people by the saints.
Can you imagine what the people on the earth would be taught if today the Christian churches were glorified and the people came looking for God? The Catholic churches would teach them you have to be a Catholic to go to Heaven. The Christian churches would teach them you do not have to keep God’s laws because you will go to Heaven by grace.
Why this confusion? Because most of God’s people are at the level of water to the ankles. They have never been brought to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Therefore they will not appear with Jesus Christ when He returns, for they would be unable to teach earth’s peoples God’s ways. Being spiritually immature they still are part of the problem, not of the solution.
As we said, the true inheritance of Christ and His coheirs is not Paradise in the spirit realm but people on the earth.
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. (Isaiah 60:1)
Here is a picture of the glory of Christ coming forth in His saints when He returns again to the earth.
On the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (II Thessalonians 1:10)
We need to think much more about the coming of the Lord and what it will mean to the victorious saints, and what it will mean to the people of the nations of the earth.
Notice the following, for it describes the condition of the nations when the Lord returns with His saints:
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. (Isaiah 60:2)
The hour of glory will arrive at the time of the greatest spiritual darkness. The wicked of the earth will be crying “peace and safety,” but sudden destruction will come upon them.
This reminds us of the fact that it is in the midst of our enemies that the Lord prepares a table for us.
Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. (Isaiah 60:3)
The above is the greatest revival of all time. It shall take place when the Lord returns.
Today we are to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom to every creature. Those whom God has ordained to be members of His Church will hear and believe. They then are to be baptized in water, made disciples, and taught to keep the commandments of Christ.
But in the Day of Christ, entire nations will come to the Church to receive the water of eternal life.
Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm. (Isaiah 60:4)
The people of the surviving nations will come to us. Of course, they are coming to God in Christ in us. This is our inheritance. How much better than golden slippers, harps, and acres of diamonds!
Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. (Isaiah 60:5)
God’s purpose in bringing us to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ is that we might be qualified and competent to return with Him and bring the blessing of God to mankind. This also is true today in a measure. The more we press forward in the Spirit of God the better we are able to bring eternal life to other people.
We see, then, that we have follow the Holy Spirit carefully as He brings us from water to the ankles to water to swim in. We do not seek the fullness of Christ in order to boast about how spiritual we are but that we might serve God and mankind as a tree of life, that we might be content just to be a chariot in which the Lord can ride and accomplish His will throughout His creation.
(“The Purpose of Growth in Christ”, 4076-1)