Spiritual formation in Christ is an orderly process.
[Jesus] invites us to leave our burdensome ways of heavy labor—especially the “religious” ones—and step into the yoke of training with him. This is a way of gentleness and lowliness, a way of soul rest. It is a way of inner transformation that proves pulling his load and carrying his burden with him to be a life that is easy and light (Matthew 11:28-30). The perceived distance and difficulty of entering fully into the divine world and its life is due entirely to our failure to understand that “the way in” is the way of pervasive inner transformation and to our failure to take the small steps that quietly and certainly lead to it.
For our Christian groups and their leaders, [orderly spiritual formation] means that there is a simple, straightforward way in which congregations of Jesus’ people can, without exception, fulfill his call to be an ecclesia, his “called out” ones: a touch point between heaven and earth, where the healing of the Cross and the Resurrection can save the lost and grow the saved into the fullness of human beings in Christ. No special facilities, programs, talents, or techniques are required. It doesn’t even require a budget. Just faithfulness to the process of spiritual formation in Christlikeness exposed in the Scriptures and in the lives of his “peculiar people” through the ages (Titus 2:14, KJV).
Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ
I don’t know any letter that is more fundamental and foundational than Paul’s letter to the Romans. It is unquestionably the greatest of all of Paul’s letters and the widest in its scope. It is most intent and penetrating in its insight into the understanding of truth; therefore, it is one of the books of the New Testament that every Christian ought to be thoroughly familiar with. If you haven’t mastered the book of Romans and aren’t able to think through this book without a Bible before you, then I urge you to set that as your goal.
Master the book of Romans — be so acquainted with it that you can outline it and think of its great themes without a Bible open before you. That requires reading it and studying it and thinking it through in careful detail. I think it is safe to say that Romans probably is the most powerful human document that has ever been penned.
—- St. Augustine, whose shadow has loomed large over the church since the fourth century, was converted by reading just a few verses of the 13th chapter of the book of Romans.
—- Martin Luther, studying the writings of Augustine, came to an understanding of faith. The 16th verse of the very first chapter of the letter spoke volumes to Luther’s heart as he thought and meditated on the great phrase, “The righteous shall live by faith.” This book’s effect on Luther ushered in the great Protestant Reformation, the greatest awakening that our world has seen since the days of the apostles.
—- John Bunyan, studying Romans in the Bedford jail, was so caught up by the themes of this great letter that out of it he penned Pilgrim’s Progress, which has taught many people how a Christian relates to the world in which he lives.
—- John Wesley, listening one day to Luther’s preface to the commentary on Romans, found his own heart strangely warmed and out of that came the great evangelical awakening of the eighteenth century.
"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."—Psalm 116:15.
We love the people of God, they are exceedingly precious to us, and, therefore, we are too apt to look upon their deaths as a very grievous loss. We would never let them die at all if we could help it. If it were in our power to confer immortality upon our beloved Christian brethren and sisters, we should surely do it, and to their injury we should detain them here, in this wilderness, depriving them of a speedy entrance into their inheritance on the other side the river. It would be cruel to them, but I fear we should often be guilty of it. We should hold them here a little longer, and a little longer yet, finding it hard to relinquish our grasp.
The departures of the saints cause us many a pang. We fret, alas! also, we even repine and murmur. We count that we are the poorer because of the eternal enriching of those beloved ones who have gone over to the majority, and entered into their rest.
Be it known that while we are sorrowing Christ is rejoicing. His prayer is, “Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me be with me where I am,” and in the advent of every one of his own people to the skies he sees an answer to that prayer, and is, therefore, glad. He beholds in every perfected one another portion of the reward for the travail of his soul, and he is satisfied in it. We are grieving here, but he is rejoicing there. Dolorous are their deaths in our sight, but precious are their deaths in his sight.
We hang up the mournful escutcheon, and sit us down to mourn our full, and yet, meanwhile, the bells of heaven are ringing for “the bridal feast above,” the streamers are floating joyously in every heavenly street, and the celestial world keeps holiday because another heir of heaven has entered upon his heritage.
May this correct our grief. Tears are permitted to us, but they must glisten in the light of faith and hope. Jesus wept, but Jesus never repined. We, too, may weep, but not as those who are without hope, nor yet as though forgetful that there is greater cause for joy than for sorrow in the departure of our brethren.
Precious Deaths Sermon Delivered February 18th, 1872, by Charles Spurgeon
See full text of Sermon at THIS LINK
"For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ, will by no means lose his reward.[Do not stop there, for the sentence goes right on in the original language. "And… ] Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung round his neck and he were thrown into the sea." (Mark 9:40-41 RSV)
Remember that Jesus speaks these words with his arms still around the little child. What he is saying is that the mark of true greatness in his kingdom is that someone takes humanity seriously, and longs to see it develop rightly. The slightest ministry to a young believer is rewarded by God. Even a cup of cold water given in the name of Christ will never lose its reward. Every opportunity taken to help someone develop into fullness of health spiritually, as well as in soul and body, is to be rewarded by God. But on the other hand, any damage, any spiritual injury to a young Christian, is more serious than murder or physical injury: “Better for him that a great millstone be hung round his neck and he be cast into the depths of the sea, than to cause one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble.”
I remember a number of years ago reading a short story by O. Henry, in which he told of a little girl whose mother had died. When the father would come home from work, he would fix their meal, then he would sit down with his paper and pipe, put his feet up on the mantle, and read. The little girl would come and say, “Father, would you play with me?” And he would say, “No, I’m too tired, I’m too busy. Go out in the street and play.” This went on for so long that finally the little girl grew up on the streets, and became what we would call a “streetwalker,” a prostitute. Eventually she died, and when, in the story, her soul appeared at the gates of heaven, Peter said to Jesus, “Here’s this prostitute. Shall we send her to hell?” Jesus said, “No, no; let her in. But go find the man who refused to play with his little girl, and send him to hell.”
Here in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is saying that neglect is sometimes the greatest injury done to children, and to young believers, and that we must recognize this as a serious matter.
The new cross does not slay the sinner, it redirects him. It gears him into a cleaner anal jollier way of living and saves his self-respect. To the self-assertive it says, “Come and assert yourself for Christ.” To the egotist it says, “Come and do your boasting in the Lord.” To the thrill seeker it says, “Come and enjoy the thrill of Christian fellowship.” The Christian message is slanted in the direction of the current vogue in order to make it acceptable to the public.
The philosophy back of this kind of thing may be sincere but its sincerity does not save it from being false. It is false because it is blind. It misses completely the whole meaning of the cross.
The old cross is a symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of a human being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said good-by to his friends. He was not coming back. He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing; it slew all of the man, completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. It struck cruel and hard, and when it had finished its work, the man was no more.
The race of Adam is under death sentence. There is no commutation and no escape. God cannot approve any of the fruits of sin, however innocent they may appear or beautiful to the eyes of men. God salvages the individual by liquidating him and then raising him again to newness of life.
That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of men is false to the Bible and cruel to the souls of its hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world, it intersects it. In coming to Christ we do not bring our old life up onto a higher plane; we leave it at the cross. The corn of wheat must fall into the ground and die.
(We are) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness. Romans 3:24-26.
There is no such thing as cheap grace. The gospel is not simply an announcement of pardon. In justification God does not
merely decide unilaterally to forgive us our sins. That is the prevailing idea, that what happens in the gospel is that God freely forgives us of sin because he is such a loving, dear, wonderful God, and it does not disturb him that we violate everything that is holy.
God never negotiates his righteousness. God will never lay aside his holiness to save us. God demands and requires that sin be punished. That is why the cross is the universal symbol of Christianity. Christ had to die because, according to God, the propitiation had to be made; sin had to be punished. Our sin has to be punished.
In the drama of justification, God remains just. He does not set aside his justice. He does not waive his righteousness; he insists upon it. We cannot be justified without righteousness, but the glory of his grace is that his justice is served vicariously by a substitute that he appointed. God’s mercy is shown in that what saves us is not our righteousness. It is someone else’s. We get in on someone else’s coattails—that is grace.
Romans: St. Andrews Expositional Commentary, R.C. Sproul
I’ve made no truce with the way the world is. I resent everything that dishonors the Lord. I’m against everything He’s against and for everything He supports. I long to see people brought to saving faith in Jesus Christ. I hate the fact that sinners die without any hope. I’m committed to the proclamation of the gospel. I’m not narrow in that sense. I want to be a little part of fulfilling the Great Commission. I want to preach the gospel to every creature.
It’s not that I’m not interested in the lost of the world, or that I have made an easy truce with a wretched, sinful world that dishonors my God and Christ. The only question for me is, How do I do my part? What is my responsibility? It certainly can’t be to compromise the message. The message is not mine, it’s from God, and it is by that message that He saves.
Not only can I not compromise the message, I can’t compromise the cost. I can’t change the terms. We know Jesus said, “If you want to come after Me, deny yourself” (see Luke 9:23). Jesus said we have to take up our crosses all the way to death, if that’s what He asks. I can’t help it if that gospel offends a society awash in self-love. And I know this: the preaching of the truth truly influences the world and genuinely changes one soul at a time. And that happens only by the life-giving, light-sending, soul-transforming power of the Holy Spirit, in perfect fulfillment of the eternal plan of God. Your opinion or my opinion is not part of the equation.
The kingdom does not advance by human cleverness. It does not advance because we have gained positions of power and influence in the culture. It doesn’t advance thanks to media popularity or opinion polls. It doesn’t advance on the back of public favor. The kingdom of God advances by the power of God alone, in spite of public hostility.
When we truly proclaim it in its fullness, the saving message of Jesus Christ is, frankly, outrageously offensive. We proclaim a scandalous message. From the world’s perspective, the message of the cross is shameful. In fact, it is so shameful, so antagonizing, and so offensive that even faithful Christians struggle to proclaim it, because they know it will bring resentment and ridicule.
Hard to Believe: The High Cost and Infinite Value of Following Jesus. John MacArthur