• peterfoxwell


Here are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone on Sunday, October 27, 2019.

Passage: 1 Timothy 4:7.


Last week, I introduced MERGE. Merge is an organized system designed to help each of us identity and take our next step towards spiritual maturity. If the Cornerstone were a car, then Merge would be the engine that powers us up and moves us forward. Our goal is that each one of us will decide to merge our lives with Christ and his mission.

Soon, we will have a Merge Progress Card with every action step on it and you will be able to check your progress and know exactly what your next step should be.

Spiritual growth should be a priority for all of us because a shallow faith will not survive hard times. We want our faith to be strong and dug down deep into Jesus. I define spiritual growth as "the long-term process by which we become more like Jesus Christ in our character and conduct." I got my definition from the apostle Paul in Galatians 4:19:

Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives.” (NLT)
(Colossians 1:28) He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.

Merge is focused on three values that, when embraced by us, will produce spiritual growth in our lives:

  • Gather relationally: we connect to Christ and his church.

  • Grow intentionally: we engage in spiritual practices that transform us.

  • Go missionally: we help people find and follow Jesus.

Each of these values has a series of action steps that move us forward. If you follow the steps, you will become more like Jesus.


Let's take a few minutes and explore value two: grow intentionally. This concept of intentionality is illustrated in a paragraph Paul wrote to his protege Timothy:

(1 Timothy 4:7-12) Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. 9 This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. 10 That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. 11 Command and teach these things. 12 Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.

If we distill this paragraph down to its essence, the message is this: Godliness, or spiritual growth, requires intentional, focused, hard work. Let's explore this:


In ancient Greece, "godliness" meant devotion to or reverence for the gods. Paul repurposed the word for the Christian faith; in his mind, a godly life is one that is totally surrendered to God or Jesus Christ. Godliness is the doorway to spiritual growth.

Jesus captured the idea of total surrender to God when he said the first commandment is to, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37). It's what the psalmist meant when he wrote, "I keep my eyes always on the Lord" (Psalm 16:8).

Jesus is the ultimate example of a godly person. He said, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work" (John 4:34). In other words, Jesus was totally surrendered to God's will and ways. In verse 11, Paul urged Timothy to bring his whole life under God's leadership: his speech, conduct, love, faith(fulness), and (sexual) purity. Based on that list, we see that the way to become a godly person, and so, the way to grow spiritually, is to make God the center of your whole, entire, total life.


How do we attain godliness or, how do we get to the point where God is the center of our lives? Paul tells us: we become godly by training. The word used for training is the Greek verb gymnazo and it implies daily, focused, hard work. In the same way that an elite athlete puts his blood, sweat, and tears into his daily training, so we strive every day to bring our hearts, thoughts, words and actions under God's leadership. Godliness requires our maximum effort. It simply won't happen by accident and it won't happen if we're focused on living an ungodly life.

The very good news is that we don't work alone. God is at work in us by his Holy Spirit. The Spirit doesn't doesn't make spiritual growth easy exactly - there is still effort and focus and discipline on our part - but his power does make it possible.

(2 Peter 1:2-3) Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us ...

Over time, the changes become visible and obvious:

"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Daily Spiritual Practices

Athletes have a daily workout program that is intentional and effective so they can compete and win. There's cardio and weights. There's legs and arms, and core. There's endurance and sprints. There's mental preparation. Hard work, day after day after day.

In the same way, Jesus-followers can follow a spiritual workout program. We put focused effort into spiritual practices that train our hearts, minds, and bodies to make God the center. Over time, we become more and more like Jesus Christ. These practices have been successfully used by God's people for millennia. Examples include: Bible meditation and memorization, obedience, prayer, waiting, fasting, simple living, generosity, church attendance, Communion, baptism, retreat, silence, etc.

These spiritual practices are often called spiritual disciplines because they take focus and work. They are also called the means of grace because they turn our lives to God and the grace (power) we need to change and grow: (2 Peter 3:18) "Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

Practicing the means of grace routinely, day after day after day, for years and years will produce changes in our lives. Not all at once necessarily, but slowly, progressively, and incrementally. We won't go into details today, but we will come back to them again next year. If you'd like to read further, check out the following resources:

  • Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney.

  • The Life You've Always Wanted by John Ortberg.

  • Habits of Grace by David Mathis.

  • Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster.

  • The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard.

In value two of MERGE - Grow Intentionally - we focus on some of these spiritual disciplines and have made them into eight action steps in our MERGE checklist. Let's look at them now.


If you have a bulletin, please take a look inside. There is an outline of my teaching and at the end there is a Merge Checklist. It's just for value two, grow intentionally. Let's take a moment to work down the list. Check off each step you've already taken:

  • Submit to God's leadership daily. This is key to all the rest. It's a daily act of surrendering to the Lord by saying, "Your will, your way, all day." Romans 12:1 explains what surrender is: (Romans 12:1) Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.

  • Complete the Growing Intentionally mini-movie series. These movies will be available soon. Each movie will explain how to practice one spiritual discipline. Read and reflect on the Bible using a daily plan. This is the main way God speaks into our lives. Get into the Bible any way that helps make God the center. Read it, learn it, reflect on it, and most urgently apply it to your life. Pray the A.C.T.S. way daily (adoration, confession, thanks, supplication). This is a simple and effective way to commune with God; to speak and to listen to him.Join a small group focused on spiritual growth. John Wesley developed an effective format for small groups. His "methodists" met weekly to ask each other, "How is your life in God?" Then they shared how they were doing at loving God and neighbor, practicing spiritual disciplines, and helping the poor. Small groups don't have to be big or complicated. It could be a two or three who meet at the coffee shop, or by FaceTime, or at lunch at work.Become a consistent, generous, financial contributor to God's work. Is financial generosity actually a means of grace? Yes, it is. How? First, it frees us from all kinds of sins, such as greed, selfishness, covetousness, and consumerism. Secondly, generosity is Christ-like behavior since he made himself poor so that we could be spiritually rich. Thirdly, generosity turns us to God and his grace: (2 Corinthians 8:1-2) And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.

  • Participate in our annual Grow in Grace half-day retreat. We haven't had one of these before, but the plan is to have one in the winter each year. Read: a) Colossians; b) Psalms c) The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren. Colossians is a guide to Christ and Christlikeness. Psalms is the Bible's prayer book and reading it will train you to be totally God-centered in every situation. The Purpose Driven Life is an excellent guide to spiritual growth.

OK? Wherever you stopped on the checklist, the next step is your next step. If you need some help with ideas or resources, just let me know.

A couple of weeks ago, Kim and I were at a conference north of Chicago. We had some free time so we took a walk through an oak forest. There was one of those information boards that told us that the oak forests were endangered because not enough sunlight was getting through the canopy to the forest floor where the new oak trees were. Those saplings need sunlight to grow.

In the same way as baby oaks need sunlight to grow strong and tall, so we need God's grace to grow spiritually strong and deep. The spiritual disciplines are intentional, focused means of turning our lives to God and his necessary grace. If you put the disciplines into practice day to day, year by year, you will be changed and Christ will be formed in you.

PS. David Jeremiah has a good article on godliness on his blog. Find it here.

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