God’s Plan for Christian Growth and Service
God saves people for a purpose. Salvation in Christ begins a life spent growing into being like him and serving him faithfully. God forms Christians into Christ’s character and image (Rom. 8:29; 12:1–2; 1 Cor. 15:49; Eph. 4:11–16; Col. 3:10). This transformation takes place as we come to know and love our Lord (Ex. 34:5–7; Lev. 19:2; 2 Cor. 3:18). God sends maturing Christians out into the world as his servants as he reconciles all things to himself (2 Cor. 5:17–21; Eph. 2:11–22; 3:10; Col. 1:19–20).
This is God’s plan for his people. Participation in this plan brings joy and purpose to a Christian. God receives glory when his people grow in maturity and serve him. In his grace, he provides several ways to accomplish this.
Prayer is talking with God. Through prayer, we can share with him our greatest joys (Ps. 16:5–11), deepest sorrows (Psalm 88), and most troubling anxieties (Phil. 4:5–6). Prayer is the primary way we relate to the Lord. Jesus teaches us to pray to God as our Father (Matt. 6:9–13). He assures us that God is a good Father (Matt. 7:7–11) who cares for all our needs (Matt. 6:31–33). Thus, we can ask for God’s help in any situation for any need (Eph. 6:18; 1 Tim. 2:1). We can also ask God to help other people. When we do not know how to pray, God helps us by his Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26). Just as in any conversation, when we pray, we also take the time to listen for God’s direction, reassurance, and Correction.
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God speaks to his people through Scripture. God’s Word is one of the primary ways he forms his people to be like him (2 Tim. 3:16–17). God expects his people to live their lives according to what Scripture teaches (Deut. 6:4–9; Psalm 1). We incorporate Scripture into our lives through reading, Bible study, discussion with fellow believers, memorization, meditation, and listening to preaching and teaching from God’s Word. As we welcome Scripture’s influence on our lives, God uses it to shape us.
God calls believers into unity in Christ’s body (Eph. 4:1–6). Because we are united with Christ (Rom. 6:3–5; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 13:5; Eph. 2:6; 3:17; Phil. 3:8–9), we are also united with fellow Christians (1 Cor. 12:12–13; Eph. 4:15–16; 1 John 1:3). When God places believers among other Christians, it is a great gift. We learn from others how to follow the Lord faithfully (Heb. 10:24–25), care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25–27), support each other in times of need (Acts 4:34–35), and bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). Christian fellowship helps believers endure the difficult life of faith (Heb. 3:12–14). It is also a source of great joy for God’s people (Psalm 133).
Worship with Other Christians
Gathered worship has long been an important activity that God uses to form his people. In the OT, God’s people met regularly to pray, offer sacrifices, and remember God’s faithfulness (Leviticus 23; Ps. 111:1). The NT also views meeting together as crucial for Christian growth (Acts 2:42–47; Heb. 10:25). A worship service combines many formative elements. Believers read and recite God’s Word together, share in prayers, sing praises to God, hear God’s Word preached, confess their sins, hear the promise of the gospel, welcome new members
through baptism, and remember Christ’s sacrifice through communion.
Confession, Repentance, and Forgiveness
Even mature Christians sin and experience brokenness. God knows that in this life we will never be sinless. He does not demand perfection from us (Ps. 103:13–14; 1 John 1:7–10). When we do sin, God calls us to confess our sins to him (Lev. 26:40; Ps. 32:5; Prov. 28:13; 1 John 1:9) and to fellow Christians (Ezra 10:1; Matt. 3:6; James 5:16). Further, God desires that we repent. That is, we must turn from our sins and turn back to the Lord to follow him again. God promises to respond to confession and repentance with forgiveness (Ex. 34:6–7; Luke 24:46–48; Col. 1:14; 1 John 2:1–2). As Christians confess their sins, repent, and receive forgiveness, their behavior and attitudes change (Col. 3:5–10).
God sends maturing Christians out into the world as his servants as he reconciles all things to himself.
God invites Christians to herald his work of reconciling all things to himself (2 Cor. 5:17–21; Eph. 2:11–22; 3:10; Col. 1:19–20). We display this work by serving the Lord and others. Service is a practical expression of God’s love (Matt. 22:37–40; see Lev. 19:9–10, 18). In Christ’s kingdom, a person’s greatness is measured by serving others (Matt. 20:26–28; John 12:26). We serve God through faithful obedience to his Word. This includes keeping his command to tell others the good news of what Christ has done (Matt. 28:16–20; Acts 1:8). We serve others by living according to God’s standards. This includes caring for the poor and vulnerable (Lev. 19:9–10; Deut. 15:7–11; Acts 6:1–6; James 2:14–17). Service allows Christians to express their faith in God and their love for others.
A final means God uses to form people into his image is suffering. God graciously allows suffering and trials to test and perfect a person’s faith (James 1:2–4). The greatest blessing of suffering is God’s presence. He is with us, and he promises to see us through these difficult
times (1 Pet. 1:3–9). God promises that all who share in Christ’s suffering will also share in his resurrection (Phil. 3:10–11). Our sorrows are not meaningless. God uses them to produce his glorious character in us (2 Cor. 4:17–18). In our sorrows, God is working to shape our hearts. One of the hidden gifts of suffering is the ability to minister God’s comfort to others because of our own experience (2 Cor. 1:3–7).
God calls his people to reflect his image and character. This is a lifelong pursuit for faithful Christians. Although the work is challenging, God clearly tells us what he expects from us. He promises to work in the hearts of those who dedicate themselves to the means he provides. He will form his character in us. Our goal is faithfulness to God, not perfection. This is a plan that cannot fail. God began this good work and promises to complete it (John 10:27–30; Phil. 1:6; 1 Pet. 1:3–8). Christians can be confident that God is at work to grow us to maturity for his service.
This article is adapted from an article written by the editorial team of the ESV Concise Study Bible, edited by Paul R. House.
We cannot force this faith. We labor for it, we teach to it, we encourage it, and above all, we can pray for it.
If our salvation depended upon our feelings, we should be lost one day and saved another, for they are as fickle as the weather.
Without revelation, we cannot know God. God’s revelation is trustworthy, for God is trustworthy.
Being a Christian—a worshiper of God—entails identifying with God’s worshiping people. You’ve been adopted into his family.