Section one – An understanding of how to grow in your relationship with Jesus

What Does The Bible Say?

Now that you are a Christian, your relationship with God has been restored. We covered that in the last unit. According to the Bible, your next step is to grow in your relationship with Jesus. In the book of Ephesians, it says we are to ‘grow into the full measure and stature of Christ.’ {Ephesians 4:13}

You might be tempted to ask right away, “What in the world does that mean?!?! What does that look like?!?!” The short answer is that it means to become more like Jesus. To live your life as God originally intended. But we’ll get to what it looks like in unit four.  For now, we want to spend more time looking at ‘how’ you do it. How do you grow in your relationship with Jesus?

If you’ve gone through the questions above, you’ve already spent time reflecting on what it takes for any relationship to really grow. It is possible in our era of social media to know a lot ABOUT a person but never do the work of truly getting to know who they are.  This has the appearance of relationship, but in reality, it is fake.  You cannot sustain a relationship by simply knowing ABOUT a person – you have to do the work of getting to know them personally for the relationship to grow. Of course you could secretly know things about someone and try your best to pretend like they are a part of your life but the reality is if you haven’t done the things you need to in order to really get to know them… it would be fake. And over time… it’s not sustainable for a real relationship.

The same holds true in our relationship with God.  It is possible to know ABOUT God but not have a relationship WITH God.  Apart from that relationship, our lives cannot change.

Look at what the Bible says in the book of John:

John 15:1-11

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“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. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

What does it say?

  1. In this passage, what must a branch do if it is going to bear fruit? (vs. 4)
    • Why is that?
  2. In this metaphor spoken by Jesus, who is the vine and who is the branch? (vs. 5)
  3. Apart from Jesus, how much fruit can we bear?
  4. How many good things can we do without ‘abiding’ in Jesus?

In case it’s not clear, this metaphor is suggesting that just as a branch must abide in a vine to produce fruit, you and I must abide in Jesus in order to produce fruit. Now in this instance, producing fruit is not referencing grapes. It’s actually talking about us living the types of lives we were created to live. It’s talking about us growing in our relationship with Jesus.

So it’s probably clear that the primary key to growing in our relationship with Jesus is to abide in Him. If you’re a normal human then the next most logical question is, “How do I abide?” Or you might even ask, “What does abide even mean?”

To abide is simply to intentionally pursue a relationship with Jesus and to keep your heart and mind focused on Him. There are many ways to do this, but to make things simple we are going to cover four.

1) Reading the Bible

2) Prayer

3) Confession to God

4) Connecting (fellowship) intentionally with other Christians

While these do not cover every possible way to abide in Jesus, if you can make these daily and weekly habits, you will find that your relationship with Jesus will grow and that your life will begin to produce fruit.  Let’s go through each one by one.

Reading the Bible │Prayer │Confession │Connect

If there is one thing that intimidates many new (and not so new) Christians, it is reading the Bible.  Let’s admit up front – the Bible is long.  Really long.  And it can be confusing. The names and customs of the people in the Bible are strange and unfamiliar.  (How many people do you know named Melchizedek? When was the last time you gave someone your shoe to seal an agreement? We know. It’s weird.)

You may find yourself asking some of these common questions:

  • How do I start?  Where do I start?  Do I have to start in Genesis or should I go with somewhere in the middle?
  • What am I supposed to do with what I read?  Is everything a command to follow?  What do I do with strange passages I can’t figure out?
  • Is there any way I can do this?

To answer the last question first: Yes you can!  The Bible tells us that as believers, we have the *indwelling of the *Holy Spirit . (The Holy Spirit is, in short, the Spirit of God living inside of you.) It also tells us that the Holy Spirit will help us to understand God’s word as we read and remember it when we need it.  (John 14:26)  Praying before you read will help you to understand more of what you read as you read it.

As someone approaching God’s word as a new follower of Jesus, we recommend starting with the *Gospels .  The Bible explains that if we want to know about God, we need to look at the life of Jesus, and that story is told in the Gospels. {John 1:18, 14:9-10}

When you open your Bible to the New Testament, the first four books are called the Gospels.  They are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Each is an eyewitness account of Jesus’ life on earth told by a different person with a different perspective.  Reading all four will give you a well-rounded idea of who Jesus is, why He came and what He did for us.

There is no better way to grow in your faith and in your relationship with God than to spend time reading the Bible. Here are some ideas to help you get started:

How to Read your Bible:

  • Pray.  Ask God to help you understand what you are reading.
  • Find out what each book is about by reading the summary. (If your Bible doesn’t have this feature, click here for a free online version)
  • Ask questions to get more out of what you are reading.
    • What does this say? (Look at what is happening in the text.  Look for facts, people and context – where is it happening?  Who is there?)
    • What does this mean? (Why might this have been recorded?  Is there a lesson to learn, an example to follow, a warning to heed, something to avoid?  What does the text reveal about God’s character?)
    • Is there anything I need to do? (What in my actions, attitudes, behaviors, etc. should change in light of what I have just read?)
  • How to use scripture references: When you see a scripture reference, it will look like this: “John 3:16”  The Bible is such a large book that very specific references are needed to find what you are looking for.  The word or name (i.e. John or Deuteronomy) is the book of the Bible where you will find that particular verse.  There are 66 books in the Bible and your Bible will have a table of contents in the beginning that will help you locate the book.  The first number is the chapter.  With the exception of a handful of books, (3 John, Jude, Philemon, etc), every book of the Bible is broken into chapters.  The number after the colon is the verse.  So to find John 3:16, you need to go to the book of John, find the 3rd chapter and then look at the tiny numbers within the text to find the verse.

What to read as you are starting out:

  • If you’re not sure where to start, try the book of John.  This book gives you a great look at who Jesus is and what it can look like to have a close relationship with Him.
  • The Gospels and the New Testament are always a great place to start.  These books are the easiest to apply to our daily lives and are a great place to start.
  • Proverbs is in the Old Testament and is referred to by Bible scholars as “wisdom literature.”  A simple reading plan for a month is to read one Proverb a day for 31 days.

Try to make it a daily habit to spend time in your Bible.  It is something we all must do to grow in our relationship with Jesus!

Resources to help you understand the Bible

Seamless (Smith) – a 7 week study that helps you to learn the people, places and events of the Bible and how they all fit together into one seamless story.

How to Read the Bible for all Its Worth (Fee, Stuart)- helps you to understand the different genres within the Bible and how to study each one.

Reading the Bible │Prayer │Confession │Connect

Prayer is nothing more (or less) than a conversation we have with God. As with any conversation, it involves talking and listening.  God wants us to come to Him with what is on our hearts and share it open and honestly with Him.

How do I talk to God? – You do not need to use any special language or words to speak to God – just talk to Him!  Like any good Father, He wants to hear from His children, no matter what they have to say.  Just share what is on your heart with Him.  Let Him know what you need, what you are worried about, and what you are grateful for.  Thank Him for what He did for you on the cross and for the new life you have in Him. He hears you. {Psalm 116:1-2}  You can pray silently or aloud. You can pray by journaling and writing out your prayers.  You can pray alone or in a group.  All that matters is that you take time to pray regularly.

How do I listen to God? – The best way to hear from God is through His word. Read it often and ask Him before and after you read each passage to let you know if He has something to say to you through His word. The more time you spend prayerfully listening to God as you read, the more you will be able to recognize His voice when He speaks to you.  {John 10:2-5}  He will never tell you something that is contrary to what He has written in His word.  If you feel He has spoken to you, always be sure that it lines up with what the Bible says.

Jesus gave His disciples a model for prayer to follow.  You may know it as “The Lord’s Prayer.”  Jesus meant for it to be a model or template to follow when we approach God in prayer.

Read Matthew 6:9-13:

“This, then, is how you should pray:

9Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

10 your kingdom come,

your will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us today our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts,

as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from the evil one.’”

Each verse above is an intentional step Jesus was showing His disciples to remember when they approached God in prayer. Let’s look at this verse by verse.

Verse 9 – “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”

Jesus recognized immediately that God is our Father (so we can approach Him any time) and God is Holy (set apart, perfect, worthy of our worship and our obedience.)

When you pray, you are entering into a conversation with your Creator.  He is the one who made you, the world you live in, and every single living creature in it.  He is perfect.  He has never sinned, never lied, never made a mistake.  Remembering this about God at the beginning of your prayer helps you to put your relationship and your conversation in the proper perspective.

Verse 10 – “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Jesus submitted to God’s purpose, plan, and authority.  He trusted God regardless of what it meant for His circumstances or His own plans, and He prayed for those plans to come to pass.

God is in control. It is His kingdom (His plans and purposes) that we are called to pursue as His followers. We should approach God with humility, prepared to be obedient to His will before we ask. It is foolish to ask God for something and then refuse to be obedient to what He tells you to do.  Submit to His authority in all things.

Verse 11 – “Give us today our daily bread.”

Step 3 – Jesus let God know what His daily needs were.

Nothing is too big or too small to bring to God. Jesus was fully human while he was on earth and he needed food to survive.  He asked God to be active in every detail of His life – even lunch.  Don’t be afraid to bring your needs to God.  He wants to hear what you have to say.

Verse 12  “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

Step 4 – Jesus asked forgiveness for any sin that would have broken His fellowship with God.

We learned in the last unit that sin separates us from God, and it is only by confessing our sin to God and asking forgiveness that we can experience unhindered joy in our relationship with God.  The inclusion of this in the prayer is “proof” that Jesus was praying as a model for His disciples.  Jesus had no sin that created a “debt” to God.  As a result of all that God has forgiven us for, our gratitude should make us able to forgive others when they sin against us.

Verse 13 – “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

Step 5 – Jesus knew that we have a powerful enemy who seeks to tempt us (1 Peter 5:8), and He asked for God’s protection.

Satan is a real being with real power to wreak havoc in our lives and lead us into temptation.  The best protection from sin and temptation is to turn to God and depend on Him, not on our own will or abilities.  Jesus ends the prayer by reminding us to turn to God whenever we wrestle with sin.

God will hear you when you pray. (1 John 5:14)  Following the format Jesus taught will help you as you navigate your new relationship with the Father.

Reading the Bible │Prayer │Confession │Connect

*Confession is finally giving in and admitting our offenses to God so that the joy of our relationship with Him can be restored. Confession is an important part of growing in our relationship with Jesus. The Bible even commands us to do this regularly. {1 John 1:8-9, Proverbs 28:13}

God doesn’t need us to tell Him we sinned. He already knows! God is omniscient.  That means God knows everything.  (What isn’t included in everything?  Nothing!  God knows every single thing about every single person – including you!) God is never surprised by anything we share with Him.  So why does He command us to confess to Him when we make a mistake?

He asks us to confess our sin because in order to confess, we have to realize what we have done and that it was wrong. When you confess a wrongdoing to a friend, you are admitting you are at fault and that is the first step in healing the relationship.  When we sin, it puts distance between us and God.  When we are able to admit we are wrong and turn to God for help and healing, He has the freedom to work in our lives and to help us change.

Reading the Bible │Prayer │Confession │Connect (fellowship)

God never designed anyone to live alone.  In fact, when God created the earth and put Adam on it, God could find only one flaw with His creation:  Adam was alone, and it was not good.  {Genesis 2:18}  We were created for community.

The early church understood the value of community.  Read Acts 2:42-47.  What things make this group of people and their relationships so special?  What do you think it was like to live in this kind of community?

Our mission is to love people where they are and encourage them to grow in their relationship with Jesus.  It is impossible to love others or be loved in return unless we are in relationship with them. It is impossible to encourage others in their relationship with Jesus if we do not know them.  Community is not just an idea that comes from our mission, it is commanded by Jesus.  Read John 13:34-35.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Why does Jesus say it so important for us to love one another?  How does our love for each other show the world that we are His disciples?

Hebrews 10:24-25 says this:

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Imagine it is a cold dark night and you need a campfire to give you light and heat to last the night.  You send your friend to go into the woods and get some pieces of wood to start the fire.  What would you think if he came back with a single log? Why would you react that way?

If you have ever built a campfire (or seen one on TV), you know that one log will not burn well on its own.  It needs several other pieces together in the pile to be able to catch and maintain the flame.

Community is like that.  We have the light of truth inside us, but we need the love and encouragement from others if we want our faith to grow.  When we live life together in community, loving each other where we are and encouraging each other to grow in our relationship with Jesus, that is when our faith will grow stronger and we will be able to impact those around us.

Key Truth:

We cannot grow in our relationship with Jesus unless we are intentionally spending time with Him. Apart from Him, we can do nothing.

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