the weblog of Alan Knox

Can we trust God for growth?

Posted by on Feb 23, 2007 in books, discipleship | 10 comments

As I mentioned previously, I am reading Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), edited by Robert Webber. One of the interesting things about this book is that it finally shows that there is no “Emerging Church” (as a monolithic organization or movement) and there is not a certain “Emerging Church” doctrine. Each of the five authors present their own view of God and Scripture.

Here is another quote from John Burke’s chapter “The Emerging Church and Incarnational Theology”:

Paul said, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Stop and ask yourself whether you really believe the words of Scripture you just read, that God alone makes people grow. That no amount of teaching, Bible study, classes, disciplines, or condemnation-engineering can change people. God alone changes people, and only when they are willing. If this is true, what implications does this have on the role of the church? Our job primarily is to create the right soil, the right culture, which helps people connect and stay connected to God. Does your theology and practice create the soil where people really change and grow?” (author’s emphasis)

Once again, I think that Burke has made a point that the church needs to consider. We cannot change people; only God can change people. We give “lip service” to this, but do we live as if we really believe it? Or, do we think that if we have a little better teaching, more professional classes, etc. that we can cause people to grow? This applies to evangelism and discipleship.

So, can we trust God for conversion? Can we trust him to bring our family and friends and neighbors into his new people, or do we think he still needs us?

Can we trust God for personal, spiritual growth – sanctification? Do we think we have to be a little better, do a little more, try a little harder? Do we have to change our hearts, our desires, our passions, our hopes, our attitudes?

Can we trust God to build his church? Or does he need us and our degrees and our programs and our methods?

Can we trust God for growth?


10 Comments

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  1. 2-23-2007

    Well, He uses us (Paul planted, Apollos watered), so I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to ask if we are trusting God or thinking that He “still needs us”. That strikes me as a bit of a false dichotomy.

    However, when it comes to actual growth, then yes I agree completely that it is only God Who can do this.

    Ironically, I think that the way we view growth (is it something we can force, or does God do it Himself?) affects the way we plant and water!

  2. 2-23-2007

    Steve,

    It’s good to see you around here again. I agree with everthing that you say.

    Actually, I struggled with this post, for the exact reasons that you brought up. However, I have seen many believers who directly connect growth (their own or the growth of others) to their actions (as I brought up in this post).

    God calls us to obey him. Period. Yes, God uses us as his instruments in order to bring about growth. However, He does not promise growth because of our obedience. When we obey, there may not be growth. When we disobey, there may be growth anyway. We do not control God’s working by our obedience. That’s what I was trying to get people to think about in this post.

    I hope this all makes more sense.

    -Alan

  3. 2-23-2007

    >>>We cannot change people; only God can change people… do we think that if we have a little better teaching, more professional classes, etc. that we can cause people to grow?

    There is a world of difference between “cause” and “assist”. No, we cannot cause growth, but we can model a changed life, challenge people at their points of compromise, instruct from the scripture so that the mind has information which the Spirit can use for conviction. We don’t change them, we don’t assist them to change themselves, we assist them to seek God and His power to transform them. That is the goal of mutual edification, as I understand it.

    >>>So, can we trust God for conversion? Can we trust him to bring our family and friends and neighbors into his new people, or do we think he still needs us?

    Certainly we can trust only in God for conversion, since only He can accomplish it. But He has chosen to use us to impart His truth that He acts upon…

    Romans 10:14-15 (NKJV)
    14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”

    What an incredible privilege that our omni-capable God should chose to use such weak, poor and miserable vessels as us in His work. I think of a father who lets his young son help with a task, not because the task will be done quicker or better for the ‘help’ but because the boy will become wiser and their bond will become stronger. So when God uses us to minister to others, we are the initial recipients of the blessing, as God grows us into a more useful minister and a more adoring son.

  4. 2-23-2007

    Shannon,

    I agree with you. It is amazing that God chooses to work through us. But, it still remains God’s work, not ours. Yes, we are called to proclaim the gospel and to speak words that would encourage other believers. The growth remains the work of God. Our goal is obedience… the result in the life of another person (and even in our own life) is God’s.

    -Alan

  5. 2-23-2007

    Do we, by making up rules to live by that aren’t in scripture, show our lack of trust in God in making people grow?

  6. 2-23-2007

    bryan, I would simply say “yes”.

  7. 2-23-2007

    Bryan,

    I agree with Steve.

    -Alan

  8. 2-23-2007

    Well, that makes three of us, stooges perhaps, but three.

  9. 2-23-2007

    Alan, I’m having trouble getting completely comfortable with the following:

    He does not promise growth because of our obedience. When we obey, there may not be growth.

    Are you saying that obedience does not always result in growth? On what are you basing that? Scripture? Would John 15 (the vine and branches) not have any bearing on this? Or are you distinguishing between obedience for the sake of obeying vs. truly abiding in Christ?

  10. 2-24-2007

    Steve,

    Thanks for the question. To be honest, I was thinking out loud (in print?) when I wrote that. For now, I think I’m going to stand by that statement. What I meant is that God does not promise growth as a result (cause/effect) of our obedience; however, he still demands our obedience. He does cause growth, but I do not believe it is a cause/effect relationship. Otherwise, we would be responsible for growth: if we obey, God must (cause/effect) grant growth.

    Like I said, I’m still thinking through this, so I’m willing to listen to alternatives.

    -Alan