Summary: When we access the resources given to us by God, we will be able to develop Christlikeness faster and with greater depth.
I enjoy coaching baseball to young children. Typically, I coach teams of children ages six to eight. There are moments of fun, silliness and sometimes frustration. At this stage of life, boys and girls play on the same teams and develop in very similar ways. It is fun to see them grow in their knowledge and ability.
One year I was coaching the age right after t-ball. In our area it is called “coach pitch” because coaches pitch to their own batters. It has its own advantages and challenges.
Reggie was a typical boy who came out to play for the first time. He had missed playing in t-ball, so he had to catch up to the rest of the team. He had a lot of potential and was a decent athlete. Right away, he was behind the other players. He did not have a mitt or proper shoes and when he did hit the ball he would run to third base.
I immediately began to assess Reggie and help him improve. I helped him get a good mitt that fit his hand. I talked with his mother so that he would come to practice with exercise clothes fit to run around and get dirty. I patiently taught him the rules of the game so he would know what he was expected to do and when to do it. Reggie developed nicely and by the end of the season, he was ready to play again with confidence.
Often believers come for counseling and are like Reggie. They have a lot of potential but are not realizing all the resources at their disposal for spiritual growth. They struggle with a lack of knowledge and do not apply what the knowledge they have. Sometimes they are not aware of what is available to help them grow and develop. This leads to slower growth and lots of frustration. When people understand the reserves they have and use them to grow, they will be much stronger and continue to grow.
This article will explore significant resources available to believers that can help them flourish. It will focus on six key resources for spiritual growth.
I. The Resource of God the Father
Joe entered my office and was looking for help. He had struggled with various sins most of his life. He left a wake of broken relationships behind him. He was defeated, guilt ridden and had little to no hope. As a believer, he knew this is not what a mature believer should be experiencing, but he was at a loss to know how to change.
It was hard for me to know exactly where to begin. We have all been there, when a counselee presents so many situations and struggles that we do not know where to begin.
In this case, Joe had been to many Christian and secular counselors through the years and often people had given him a quick verse from the Bible and sent him on his way. This only gave him more failure and more struggle.
A few years ago, I began to be burdened about helping people grow exegetically. I developed a series of studies using the book of Ephesians. I help the counselee read and understand Ephesians through homework assignments and reflection. I use our counseling sessions to review the truths taught from this significant book of the Bible. I have the counselee read Ephesians and work through three steps of observation, interpretation and application in the homework assignments. They work through the assigned chapter and develop an understanding through the exegetical process.
I believe it is very important for counselees to have a Biblical view of God the Father. They often do not have a functional understanding of who God is. This lack of understanding produces a lot of difficulties in their lives like worry, anxiousness, fear and a desire to take control.
Ephesians chapter one can seem very daunting. It not only introduces how the Trinity is an effective resource in our salvation (Eph. 1:11-14), but it also helps people get a glimpse of God’s greatness and majesty. This renewed and sometimes completely new vision of God instills hope and encouragement in a person. It helps them gain a larger perspective of their salvation and spiritual growth.
For Joe, as he began to understand more about his heavenly Father, he began to see how God was instrumental in his own salvation. Joe was not left to his own devices to figure things out. God had a plan from ages past and was carrying out this plan. He was working the plan of salvation in and through Joe. God did not only bless Joe but was consistently loving him in ways he had never considered. Joe became more secure in his salvation and in God’s love (Rom. 8:31-38). God was also securing Joe’s future (Eph. 1:10-14, 18, 21; Phil 1:6).
Putting all of this together for people helps them in amazing ways. Not only do they learn what is done for them, they respond in love and appreciation. They grow in their relationship with the Father and move away from their desire to sin. They have an easier time of identifying and putting aside legalism and mechanical religious habits. They sense a warming of their hearts and an opening for God to work in new and profound ways.
God the Father is an amazing resource at our disposal. Not to be used and viewed in a manipulative way, but as a relationship that encourages and helps us grow in maturity and dependance on Him.
II. The Resource of Jesus Christ
As Joe began to appreciate the resource he had in the Father, he also grew in his appreciation for the Son. It is impossible to understand the Father without knowing more about the second person of the Trinity.
The exegetical study through Ephesians chapters one and two directly links the role of the Son in the Father’s plan for salvation and for people individually. As people observe the text, they notice all the occurrences of “in Christ” or “in Him”. As they proceed toward interpretation, they usually grow to appreciate all that the Son is doing and has done for them.
As they continue to study the book of Ephesians they will add much more to this list. They comprehend the relationship of the Son to the Father. They also understand their own relationship to the Father and the Son. They grow in their submission to such a loving and kind Savior. They realize how much the Son has done, is doing and will do on their behalf. They cannot resist the draw of His profound and deep love for them. As they expand their view, they usually make significant changes in their lives to become more like Christ.
If we expand our understanding of Scripture, we also can see how the Son secured our salvation, intercedes for us, and leads as an example. He does even more, and we have to help people develop a deeper love and affection for Him. As they do, they will become more like Him and less likely to hold on to their sin.
As Joe returned, having finished his work in the first two chapters of Ephesians, he cried. He mentioned to me that he was growing and appreciating all that the Father and the Son were doing in his life. He had been a believer for many years but had never pictured the Father and Son as a deep well of encouragement and grace.
III. The Resource of the Holy Spirit
Joe continued to come back. He enjoyed the process of understanding the work of salvation as is it develops in Ephesians. This letter is quite challenging and thought provoking. There were a lot of “aha” moments and “wait, I don’t understand what it is saying” thoughts. This allowed me to reflect with Joe on the truths being expressed. As we progressed, we also noticed how the Holy Spirit was busy at work.
Obviously, the Holy Spirit is a part of the whole process of salvation, sanctification and glorification. The Spirit has a role in the whole process and is an important resource for the believer.
Notice 1:13, that believers are sealed. This is so significant. Many people have expressed to me that they believe that they are not saved or that the Spirit has left them. That, somehow, the Spirit had come and gone and they were trapped with no help to overcome their sin. Ephesians argues against this.
Not only has the Spirit sealed believers, but He has given them access to the Father (2:18, 22). People are not left to fend for themselves, they are brought into a special relationship of peace and a new relationship as members of the household of God.
The Spirit secures our position with God and with each other. He also enables us to grow. Paul prayed for the church to be “strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being” (3:14-19). As the Ephesians were strengthened in their inner being, they were rooted and grounded in the love of Christ and grew in their comprehension of the love of Christ. Notice carefully how the text emphasizes love. Of all the things they could grow in, the Spirit would enable them to grow in love. Love for God and, as the rest of the letter would demonstrate and love for each other. The Spirit has a crucial role to play and is a precious resource for believers.
When Joe first came, he expressed his desire to overcome anger. He had a short fuse. He always had one. It was modeled for him by his family. In counseling, I could have approached his anger first and gone after this with topical studies on anger. I knew the problem to be deeper. If I could help Joe be more like Christ and appropriate the resources given, I thought his problem with anger would also lessen.
Joe grew in his love for the Father and the Son. He understood more about the way the Spirit was working in his life. As he studied and applied more from Ephesians, he saw how his view of people and problems changed. He wanted to reflect more of Christ to others and grow in his love for them. This impacted his relationships with unbelievers at work and with members of his church. He began to catch his angry outbursts sooner. He also began recognizing his sin sooner and asking forgiveness instead of justifying his wrath. Joe was changing and people were noticing his calmer reactions.
IV. The Resource of The Word of God
Joe was spending time reading and understanding the Word of God. He appreciated the study. Our sessions continued and Joe remarked that he wanted to study more of the Bible. He wondered if he had not really appreciated the Word as he should have. Maybe this was the reason he had struggled for so many years with his sin.
The Word of God is a resource that Biblical counselors regularly employ. Unfortunately, most of our homework resources focus more on topical studies than on exegetical studies. I fear that we are not helping people learn to read and comprehend Scripture for themselves. This keeps them from developing the ability to grow and mature as they should.
In my counseling, I have developed study questions for the books of 2 Corinthians and 1 Peter. I should not be amazed, but I am, at the level of growth people make when studying whole chapters and books of the Bible. It takes time and effort, but people come out of the study much more stable and able to tackle their own situations. They also learn how to study the Bible more systematically. It helps me not to “hop around” to various topics and allows the Spirit to illumine the minds of my counselees as He sees fit.
There is an old hymn by Edwin Hodder that reflects well the importance of the Word.
Thy Word is like a garden, Lord,
With flowers bright and fair;
And ev’ry one who seeks may pluck
A lovely cluster there.
Thy Word is like a deep, deep mine;
And jewels rich are rare
Are hidden in its mighty depths
For ev’ry searcher there.
Thy Word is like a starry host:
A thousand rays of light
Are seen to guide the traveler,
And make his pathway bright.
Thy Word is like an armory,
Where soldiers may repair,
And find, for life’s long battle day,
All needful weapons there.
O may I love thy precious Word,
May I explore the mine,
May I its fragrant flowers glean,
May light upon me shine.
O may I find my armor there,
Thy Word my trusty sword;
I’ll learn to fight with ev’ry foe
The battle of the Lord.
V. The Resource of The Church
Joe continued to grow and as he studied Ephesians three and four, he appreciated the importance of the local church. Joe had several strained relationships in the church. He had acted and reacted in anger. As he grew in his love for Christ and his desire to be like Christ, he also began to realize that most of the issues he fought over were not worth fighting over.
As we listed the issues of the disagreements, I questioned which ones were worthy of losing his temper and attacking his brother in Christ. He reflected and realized “how people count the offering” was not an issue worth destroying another. Where to buy church supplies and get the best deal was another area that he took personally. He was seeing this issue was also not very important in the eternal scheme of things. I had to help him see the church as a value to his spiritual life and that by undervaluing the church he was creating division and undervaluing their input in his life.
God designed the church. It has been a part of His “eternal purpose” realized in Christ Jesus. It is not an afterthought or a mistake. The church is meant to be integral to the spiritual life of every believer. Ephesians three and four teaches this very explicitly. A person cannot grow properly outside the local church. He is part of a body “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped” (Eph. 4:16).
- These verses teach the significance of the church in God’s program. It was a part of God’s eternal purpose and plan.
- God uses leadership in the church to bring about unity in Christ and service to one another. A mature New Testament believer will be engaged in and through the local church.
- – Putting on the new self has implications for other believers. This passage details some of the implications like speaking in love and forgiving as Christ forgave.
Ephesians 5:1-6:9 details a lot of the practical ways people were to live out their salvation. A mature church will model the household. The household should also model the church. People will walk in love and purity with one another. Husbands will love their wives like Christ loves the church. Wives will honor their husbands like the church does Christ. The house will be a training ground for Christlikeness much like the local church. Workers and masters will serve daily as bondservants of Christ, and this should be reflected in the church. People miss all of this if they are not integrated into a local church. It is a massive resource being neglected by many in our modern society.
The incredible storehouse of the local church is also revealed in the many “one another” passages throughout the New Testament. The church helps us to be corrected, admonished, loved, cared for, comforted and much more. We need the church. The church needs us. It is a provision that we ignore to our own demise.
VI. The Resource of the Individual
As I walked through this process with Joe, he sometimes failed. He was learning and catching not only his propensity to get angry, but also other areas that were less like Christ. He was growing in his compassion and quickness to forgive.
As he employed the resources given to him by God, he began to evaluate what he could not change (who his parents are) and what he could change (sinful characteristics of the old man). He could see his own growth and transformation. This was a source of encouragement to continue down the path of Christ-likeness.
He had everything he needed to do and be what God wanted him to do and be. This provided him with hope and direction. It also proved to be a great help when he failed. He could readily repent and seek forgiveness. He had all the resources needed and he understood his part in the process. Ephesians six encouraged him to be strong in the Lord. It also urged him to put on the whole armor of God. He was to pray at all times in the Spirit. He was to persevere and pray for others.
Counseling can be difficult and confusing at times. Counselees can be difficult and confusing at times. Our goal as Biblical counselors is not to solve counselees’ problems but instead it is to help them be like Christ. God has given us everything we need to make this possible. Let me encourage you to help people realize the resources provided to them and for them. As they appropriate these resources they will markedly change and grow from glory to glory.