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70: 1 John 1:9 – One Condition and Two Promises

70: 1 John 1:9 – One Condition and Two Promises

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The Conditional Promises of God

One familiar “if / then” passage, often called the “believer’s bar of soap,” is found in the first chapter of the first letter of John.  In it, we find one “if” condition and two implied “then” promises God grants to those who meet His one “if” condition.  And the two promises of God encompass the totality of salvation this side of heaven, both our justification and our sanctification.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness – 1 John 1:9


What Does it Say?

Let’s see exactly what it says.

If (the condition, something we must do in order to receive the promise) we (this includes you and me, make it personal, put your name here) confess (homologous – to admit, concede, to affirm or agree) our (it is inclusive, everyone has something to confess to a holy God) sins (hamartía – offense, wrongdoing, failure, fault, it is an act or feeling that transgresses something forbidden or ignores something required by God’s law, whether in thought, feeling, speech, or action.  Literally, it means to miss the mark or the true end and purpose of our lives, which is God.  And note, the word is plural, as in more than one sin),

This is the condition prescribed by God.  It is something we must do, a non-negotiable, if we want to receive the promise that comes from meeting the condition.  And, by His grace, it is something we can do.

Next, the Spirit, through John, lists only two of God’s infinite attributes as proof of the truth of His promise: faithful and just.

He (God, the Sovereign One, Eternal, All-Powerful, All-Knowing, Always-Present, Creator of All, of which there is no One higher, no One more glorious, no One more beautiful or of greater worth, and there is no more lofty goal in which to devote one’s life than to have a deep, intimate, relationship with Him) is (His current attributes) faithful (pistós – worthy of belief, trust, or confidence, sure, steadfast, of true fidelity) and (of all God’s immeasurable attributes, the Spirit, through John, lists only these two, as if they are enough, already more than we can handle) just (díkaios – righteous, correct, perfect, upright in everything, without error, free from favoritism, self-interest, bias, or deception)

And now, after stating His conditions and His attributes, the Spirit reveals the two promises or results we can rest assured of after we meet the conditions.  Note, because He is “faithful and just” and does not show favoritism or bias, these promises are for everyone, including you, who “confess” their sins, no matter how great those sins may be, how unworthy you may feel, or how many times you have tried and failed in the past.  To Him, it doesn’t matter— every day is a new beginning.

First Promise: Forgiveness (Justification)

to forgive (aphíēmi – to send forth or away, to stop blaming or taking an offense into account, to leave, release, let go, dismiss. God, in effect, chooses, based on our confession, to send our sins and the consequences of them away from Himself and us, to no longer blame us for our offenses, to release, let go, and dismiss the consequences of our sins as if they never happened.  We are now free from their condemnation, guilt, and shame – see Romans 8:33-34) us our (again, inclusive, which means you and me.  Make it personal, put your name here) sins (plural, the sins we confess are the sins He forgives, and there is no sin you have committed that is too great for Him to forgive)

Second Promise: Holiness (Sanctification)

and (in addition to forgiveness) to cleanse (katharízō – to purify and cleanse from the pollution and guilt of sin, to make innocent, pure, and undefiled once again, literally to clean from leprosy) us (inclusive, make the promise personal) from all (pás – as in each, every, everything, the whole, in totality without exception.  Note: there is nothing that does not fall under the word, pás) unrighteousness (adikía – injustice, what ought not to be, that which is wrong, wickedness, failing to adhere to moral principles, commands, or laws).


What Does it Mean?

In this conditional promise, the Lord shows us the breadth of His salvation, by forgiving us of our sins— which is justification, and also by the promise of living a Christ-like, holy life— which is sanctification.  When He “cleanses us from all unrighteousness” as a result of our confession, He does this not only positionally— how God sees us, but also in our practical lives— or how we allow Him to live through us daily.  And this, for me, is the great blessing in this passage.

You see, not only does God forgive our sins, but He also empowers us to live a life pleasing to Him, in all holiness and righteousness, since we have “put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24).  So through surrender and faith, we can experience in our lives what Jesus commanded when He said, “Therefore you shall be perfect (without defect or blemish, complete, wanting nothing), just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).  This is the essence of the surrendered life, or the life of consecration to Him.


Your Turn

So, we have looked at what this conditional promise says and, to a lesser degree, what it means.  Plus, you have been encouraged to take it at face value and make it personal by putting your name as the one needing to confess their sins and as the recipient of all His promises.

Are you ready to do that?  If so, then do it now.  Don’t wait another minute.

And, after you have experienced His forgiveness and the blessing of allowing the Spirit to sanctify you and daily conform you into the likeness of Christ (Rom. 8:29)— then, on a personal level, deep where few are allowed to go, honestly answer this question:  What does this passage mean to you?  And, has this one conditional promise become real to you?


Quick Take-Aways

Four truths to take with you (for those who are strapped for time).

•   The Importance of Confession.  God will forgive the sins you confess— all the sins.  So, confession is the key.

•   God’s Faithfulness and Justice.  His promise to one is His promise to all, including and especially, you.  He does not play favorites or consider your sins too great to forgive.  How do we know this?  Because, “He is faithful and just.”

•   The Possibility of Forgiveness.  Ah, the question of the ages: Can God forgive sins?  And now you know the answer.  Yes, He can.  And not only that, but He will.  All you have to do is confess your sins and ask for His forgiveness.  So do that today.

•   Transformation and Renewal.  Finally, we can be changed, transformed, and renewed into what we long to be and not what we have become.  I don’t know about you, but nothing sounds better than that to me.  Would you agree?  Good.  Then, let’s get started.


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69: Abraham’s Journey of Faith in God’s Promises

69: Abraham’s Journey of Faith in God’s Promises

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Faith and Courage— Two Sides of the Same Coin

The Biblical story of Abraham is profoundly human— a narrative full of twists and turns, triumphs and failures, poor decisions and their unintended consequences, and, of course, drama— much like a Netflix mini-series.  Yet, throughout the trials of his faith, we see Abraham continually return to a place of trust in God’s promises.  And the trajectory of his life models for us the possibilities and pitfalls of our own spiritual journey.


The Call and the Promise

In Genesis 12, Abraham, then called Abram, receives a divine call from God to leave behind the only land and people he’s ever known and travel to a place yet unknown, so that through him, God would bless all the families of the world.¹  Pretty tall order.  Yet, this inaugurates the covenant— God pledging to make Abraham a great nation, to bless him abundantly, and to give his descendants the land of Canaan.  The promise must have seemed improbable to Abraham, a nondescript man from an obscure country, but he obeyed nonetheless.

Abraham’s faith wasn’t one-dimensional— the Genesis account shows it being refined through tests and trials, success and failures.  In Egypt, fearing danger, Abraham lies to Pharaoh about Sarah being his wife.² Not one of his better days.  Later, anxious about lacking an heir, Abraham and Sarah take matters into their own hands, leading to the birth of Ishmael through Hagar.³ Probably one of his worst days.  Yet even after these failures, Abraham returns again and again to faith in what God has spoken, as he is learning to trust in the timing and provision of the Promiser.


Courage and the Climax

Ultimately, Abraham’s faith journey crescendos in the test of the binding of Isaac, where God asks for the unthinkable— to offer up his son, through whom the covenant blessings were to flow, as a sacrifice to Him on Mount Moriah.  Abraham obeys, demonstrating remarkable courage and trust that God could fulfill His promise even through death.4


Lessons for the Journey

What lessons can we apply from Abraham’s life?  And how can we learn to have the courage to follow God into the unknown and do the unthinkable, even after a history of faith that may be less than stellar?

•   Face the Unknown with Faith – Like Abraham, God often calls His followers out of their comfort zones into uncharted territory that requires faith and courage. Abraham’s “leave your country” first step models the courage to obey God, even when the destination is uncertain.5

•   Grow through Failures – Our mistakes need not define us. Like Abraham, we can let them deepen our reliance on God. Need more proof? Remember David’s moral failure with Bathsheba and his restoration,6 and Peter’s denial and later reinstatement by Christ.7  They are pictures of Divine grace— and of the blessings of second chances.

•   Wait on God’s Timing – The years between promise and fulfillment were Abraham’s training ground in patience.  God frequently calls His people to endure patiently as His purposes simmer below the surface,8 or years of obscure preparation before emerging leadership,9 pleading in prayer before a longed-for miracle,10 or decades struggling with wounds before finding healing.11  May we likewise learn to wait on His timing, in all things.

•   Cling to God’s Promises – When famine descended on Canaan, Abraham clung to God’s covenant promises despite being surrounded by doubt and discouragement.12  We, too, can hold fast to the many promises in Scripture, even when the road gets tough, and we can’t see our way forward.

•   Act with Everyday Courage – While few undergo anything close to Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac,13 God calls each of us to cultivate courage through small, daily acts of faith— like sharing Jesus with others despite fear of rejection, giving generously in the middle of financial shortfalls, and forgiving deeply rooted hurts and offenses.  Abraham’s supreme test at Moriah models courage through absolute trust in God’s faithfulness.  And we build similar courage through daily acts of faith despite our fears and challenges.

•   Bless the World – Embedded in God’s covenant with Abraham was a global vision.  God’s covenant goal was always to bless all nations through one man’s radical obedience to Him.  We join in this mission by living out faith-filled lives that shine His light around us, becoming the salt and light of the world.14


Putting All the Pieces Together

What a journey Abraham walked— from rookie to seasoned veteran, from an unknown nomad to the father of nations.  And his life reveals the intertwined twin virtues of faith and courage, all in one amazing life.  His journey illustrates that courage rests upon the bedrock of faith properly placed.  For with faith as a mustard seed, Jesus said, “Nothing will be impossible for you.”15

But faith requires courage.  And courage is undergirded by faith.  Both work together to change a Saul into a Paul, and to make you into the person God created you to be.

In Abraham’s story, we see a life lived not perfectly, but faithfully.  His journey gives us hope and courage to step out boldly as we learn to trust the God who guides the unfolding of our lives.

So what are you waiting for?  Surrender and trust Him today.


Notes:

1. Genesis 12:1‭-‬3
2. Genesis 12:10‭-‬20
3. Genesis 16
4. Genesis 22:1‭-‬19.
5. Genesis 12:1-4
6. 2 Samuel 11, 12:13, Psalms 51
7. Matthew 26:69-75, John 21:15-17
8. Galatians 6:9
9. 1 Samuel 16:11-13.
10. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
11. Mark 5:25-34
12. Genesis 26:1-3
13. Genesis 22:1-14
14. Matthew 5:13-16
15. Matthew 17:20.


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68: Our Salvation – It’s More Than You Ever Imagined

68: Our Salvation – It’s More Than You Ever Imagined

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Different Strokes for Different Folks

Salvation means different things to different people.  For some, it’s a “get out of hell free” card, the cosmic fire insurance policy they checked off and filed away years ago.  For others, it’s trying to be a good, moral, upstanding person and attend church— at least on Easter and Christmas.  Most don’t give it much thought beyond hoping to end up in the Pleasant Place and not the Hot Place when they die.

But is that really the extent of what Jesus accomplished on the cross?  Did He endure scourging and nails just to offer a slight upgrade in our afterlife accommodations, leaving our day-to-day lives largely untouched?  I don’t think so.

I’m convinced salvation encompasses far more than this shallow version we’ve settled for.  The eternal life Christ promised involves a radical transformation into new creations, holy and acceptable, right here and now.  But so few seem to grasp this truth.

I understand why, though.  I used to view salvation the same way.  As a young believer, I prayed for forgiveness, believing Jesus’ death paid the penalty for my sin.  I looked forward to heaven but figured holiness would have to wait.  Meanwhile, I assumed grace gave me the green light to keep living as I pleased.  And so I did.

What changed my perspective?  The book of Romans.

Buried in Paul’s masterful exposition hides a powerful secret that sparked the Protestant Reformation, but remains obscured to many believers today.  Let’s dust off this treasure and explore how the gospel offers, not just a ticket to paradise when we die, but victory over sin’s grip in our daily lives.


The Path to Real Change

Chances are you know the famous verse that ignited reform in Luther’s heart back in 1515: “The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17).  Luther had tried everything to obtain salvation: self-denial, penance, indulgences, pilgrimages, and even becoming a monk.  At last, thankfully, he finally grasped that a man is justified not by works, but through faith alone (Rom. 3:28).

Yet mere intellectual assent cannot change hearts.  I know, I’ve tried.  Mere head knowledge never hindered Paul from persecuting Christians, but an encounter with the risen Christ transformed him in an instant.

In the same way, justification marks only the beginning of the work of salvation in our lives.  The just are not just declared righteous, but enabled to live righteously through an ongoing process called sanctification.  Surprisingly, this practical component of redemption receives little pulpit airtime today, though the epistles address it constantly.  It’s the part of our salvation experience that primarily rests on our shoulders.

Sanctification means being set apart for holy use.  It means growing into the likeness of Christ.  And it is how we glorify the Lord today.  Just as temple implements were consecrated for God’s service, we who trust in Christ are sanctified and empowered to serve the Lord rather than ourselves.  Although complete sinlessness awaits eternity, believers can receive real deliverance from the mastery of evil in the here and now, today.  This is what it means to live out what Jesus promised as the “abundant life” found only in Him (John 10:10).  Consider these promises:

For sin shall not have dominion over you – Romans 6:14.

For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live – Romans 8:13.

His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue – 2 Peter 1:3.

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” – Acts 1:8.

Through Christ, God enables His children to overcome sinful passions and bear righteous fruit by cooperating or partnering with the sanctifying work of the indwelling Spirit.  We see this in Romans 6, where Paul explains the implications of our spiritual baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection— a joining together as one that transfers the benefits of the cross into the believer’s life.


United with Christ

Consider the amazing truths found in Romans 6.

Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? – Romans 6:3.

When we trust in Jesus as Savior, we spiritually unite with Him in His death and resurrection.  Our old self— our identity in Adam that was corrupted by sin— dies with Christ.  And we rise anew in Him, as joint participants in Jesus’ own victory through His resurrection.  This profound union means His power replaces our weakness and, therefore, we are complete in Him (Col. 2:10).

For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection – Romans 6:5.

Furthermore, through this union, we can now walk in Christ’s newness of life, no longer enslaved to our old carnal habits and sinful desires.  Sin used to dominate us when we operated in the flesh, independent from God.  But no more.  Now, our dependence on the Spirit breaks the power of sin and our flesh and allows us to live lives worthy of the price of our redemption.

Our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with – Romans 6:6.

For he who has died has been freed from sin.  Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord – Romans 6:7, 11.

This “reckoning” involves continually choosing to see ourselves as God does— as those who have died and risen again with Christ.  It means believing that His death fully paid the penalty of our sin in our place.  Our old self and its sinful desires perished, and no longer define us.  We now inhabit a new “house”— Christ’s own body (2 Cor. 5:1), which means we now have the power and ability to stop obeying the cravings of the flesh and live victoriously over sin.  And all of this is possible because His Spirit empowers us to honor and obey Him instead of giving in to our selfish desires (Rom. 8:9, 13).


A Life-Changing Revelation

Do you see how our union with Christ enables our sanctification?  This truth radically transformed Paul’s own spiritual walk.  After struggling to obey God in his own strength, Paul finally grasped that his human efforts could never please God while his heart remained carnal and unchanged.  He understood that outward conformity, apart from an inward renewal, only breeds self-righteousness and hypocrisy.  And his life before Christ was a testimony to that fact.

But once Paul understood the grand implications of his identification and union with Christ, he realized God accepted him solely on the basis of Jesus’ completed work and perfect merits, His righteousness and holiness— and not on the basis of Paul’s own feeble efforts to gain salvation by his own works.  This revelation launched Paul into a life characterized by immense joy, gratefulness, freedom, boldness, contentment, surrender, obedience, sacrifice, and selfless service to his Lord and others.  The spiritual transformation in Paul resulted directly from recognizing his new identity and position as one crucified and raised with Christ.  And it gave birth to the incredible phrase found throughout his writings that defines the essence of the Christian life— “in Christ.”

Yet, even with this revelation, Paul confessed he continued battling his sinful nature, not having attained perfect holiness while still living in his sinful flesh (Rom. 7:14-25, Phil. 3:12).  He agonized over failures and shortcomings but did not resign himself to spiritual defeat or throw up his hands in resignation and despair.  Instead, again and again, he affirmed, as a redeemed believer in Christ, his freedom from condemnation and confidently expected God to complete the sanctification He had begun in him (Rom. 8:1, Phil. 1:6).  And this is exactly what God promises to do for each of us.

Paul shows us that discouragement over our failings proves we still depend on ourselves rather than resting, or abiding, in our union with Christ.  We will remain self-focused on our own performance, even after our conversion, until we grasp that pleasing God depends entirely on His work in us, and not our own efforts.  As Jesus said, “Without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  And Jesus meant exactly what He said.

Sanctification requires continually reckoning ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ.  It means acknowledging the absolute sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice to cleanse us from anything standing between us and a deeper relationship with God.  It involves consciously seeking the things of the Spirit rather than the flesh.  And it means believing God has accepted us as His beloved children, no matter how we may feel or the circumstances in which we may find ourselves.  The key to sanctification is not self-discipline, but utter dependence on Christ, through faith, alone.


Abiding in the True Vine

In John 15, Jesus likens Himself to a vine providing life and fruitfulness to its branches.  By “abiding” through faith in Him, we receive His spiritual life flowing and transforming our thoughts, desires, words, and actions.  Sometimes pruning is needed to destroy sinful growth and stimulate fresh fruit, but our focus remains on staying connected to the Vine.  The branch does not bear fruit by striving, but simply by drawing strength from Christ and remaining connected to Him.  This is the nature of what Jesus means when He says, “Abide in Me” (John 15:4).

This abiding faith in Him consists of the following:

•    Praising God for making us perfectly righteous through Christ’s sacrifice.  Our deepest identity is now “in Him” and not in anything else, especially us.

•    Thanking Jesus for breaking sin’s dominion over us.  If sin still rules us, it’s because we have not properly understood or relied on the power of the cross.  We have His power at our fingertips; all we have to do is incorporate it into our lives by faith.  So what are we waiting for?

•    Asking (or begging) the Holy Spirit to cultivate the mindset of a dead/raised person who now lives for One greater than ourselves and produces Christ’s likeness in us.  Our natural tendencies rebel against the idea of sanctification.  But once we understand those old, natural tendencies are now dead, then our new life can begin.

•    Asking God to reveal any lingering elements of self-trust and independence we may have and freely grant Him full Lordship over every area of our lives.  We must see ourselves as crucified in Christ and reject any claim to personal rights we may think we deserve.

•    We must learn to confess and turn from sin the moment it occurs by freely receiving His forgiveness, and then believing the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).  If not, then our guilt will inevitably lead to more self-effort, hindering our dependency and intimacy with Christ.

When we obey by faith out of hearts grateful for Christ’s love, mercy, and grace, we bear much fruit to His glory.  But self-effort and legalistic conformity only breeds self-righteousness and pride.  Only after we fully accept our death and resurrection in Christ’s death and resurrection, will we experience liberation to walk in the newness of life through the Spirit’s power, and watch Him bring radical transformation in our lives.


Remember the Lesson from Saul?

Remember what happened to Saul?  After encountering the risen Christ, he became Paul, an exemplar of the Spirit-filled life and cornerstone of the early church.  In the same way, encountering Jesus also revolutionized the lives of fishermen, zealots, and nobodies into world-changing disciples.  And the same can happen to us.  But first we, like them, have to grasp our new position in the crucified and resurrected Savior.

Have you attained the holiness you desire?  Do your besetting sins continue plaguing you?  If so, consider Paul’s example.  Transformation dawns when we truly apply the cross to our identity and draw life from our union with Christ.  The victorious Christian life depends on you understanding “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).  The hope is not you, but “Christ in you.”  Don’t miss this.

Think of the addict set free when she realizes, “I have died to that old life; it no longer controls me.” Or the abrasive husband who stops abusing his wife and children once he accepts “My old self was crucified with Christ; His Spirit now lives in me.”  Union with Jesus provides freedom from sin’s dominion if we walk by faith in His finished work.  But if we still struggle against the flesh in our own power, we lack this revelation and have not incorporated this truth into our lives.

If you share Paul’s battle with sin, take heart.  You are not alone in your struggle.  But as Paul discovered, our victory is not self-obtained by our own efforts, but Christ-imparted by what He has already done.  Just as His grace secured our justification, His life now enables our sanctification.  And through this faith-union with Jesus, the Spirit transforms us into new creations bearing godly fruit only He can produce.  And most importantly, fruit-bearing now requires abiding in Him and not striving to create something you were never designed to do.

We cannot work for sanctification, we only receive it by faith as a gift flowing from the sacrifice of Jesus and the impartation of the Holy Spirit.  As we learn to rest in His perfect acceptance of us, just as we are (Rom. 12:1), the Spirit then prunes unfruitful habits and dead branches and conforms us to the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29).

Remember, “Christ in you” is not only the hope, but the source, and guarantee of glory.  So embrace the full benefits of your salvation, and walk in the newness of the life He provided.

And begin that process today.


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67:  True Signs of a False, Counterfeit Salvation

67: True Signs of a False, Counterfeit Salvation

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Deception:  the Currency of Our Culture

Deception runs rampant in our world today.  Just look around.  False teaching, twisted values, distorted truths, and outright sinister lies bombard us from every side.  Even in the church, not all professing believers have embraced the genuine gospel— which means not all who claim to be saved are, in fact, saved.  And this is the most frightening deception of all.

As Jesus warned in Matthew 24, spiritual deception will flourish in the last days.  “Take heed that no one deceives you,” He told His followers, “for many will come in My name… and will deceive many.”  Sobering words.

Why did Jesus put such emphasis on not being deceived, especially regarding the nature and name of Christ?  Because our eternal destiny hangs in the balance.  If we get this one thing wrong, what true salvation entails, then we lose everything.  The cost is eternal damnation.  Remember, on judgment day, many will claim to know Jesus as Lord, only to hear Him say, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23).  This is the essence of self-deception or counterfeit salvation, believing you have a relationship with Jesus and discovering, when it’s too late, that you don’t.  Can you think of anything worse?

It’s dangerously easy in our deceptive culture to assume we are saved when we lack true spiritual life.  We may profess faith in Christ while possessing little beyond a religious heritage, church attendance, a reasonably moral lifestyle, or a past prayer.  And the church as an institution doesn’t help much either by accepting, without question, our claim of salvation even when our lives show little or no evidence of it.

Salvation is the one thing you don’t want to get wrong.  Because if you do, you’ll have all eternity to pay for it.  And nobody wants to do that.  Remember, the Bible says today, right this minute, is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2)— not tomorrow, or next week, or as soon as you clear your calendar.  Today means today.  Right now.  Before you run off to do the next thing.

Jesus warned us, saying the deception in the times we now live in would be so prevalent that, if it were possible, even His elect would be deceived (Matt. 24:24).  Since that is true, how can we make sure we are not part of that statistic and are deceived regarding our salvation?  How can we make sure the object of our faith is Christ, and Christ alone, and that we possess saving faith and not non-saving faith (Jas. 2:19).  And how can we know the difference?  We know by carefully examining our lives in light of Scripture to determine if our faith is authentic and will endure honest scrutiny.

God’s Word provides sobering tests to examine ourselves and avoid deception.  Let’s take a look at a few of these and then do the hard part, honest self-reflection to make sure we are not disqualified spiritually.  Remember what the Bible commands:

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves.  Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?— unless indeed you are disqualified – 2 Corinthians 13:5.

Let’s begin that test together.


True Signs of a Counterfeit Conversion

Here are some red flags that may indicate counterfeit conversion.  See if any of these are true of you.

Lack of Spiritual Fruit

Jesus said you would know His disciples by their fruit (Matt. 7:16), not by their profession or church attendance or the Follow Me to Church bumper sticker on their car.  Therefore, one key sign of false faith is a prolonged lack of consistent spiritual fruit.  When we are born again, the Holy Spirit enters our lives and begins sanctifying us, to make us more like Christ.  And over time, this process inevitably produces spiritual fruit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23), something only He can produce in us.  Our new life in Christ now reflects His character and will result in a change of heart and a change of behavior.  Even though we are imperfect, there is, nevertheless, a noticeable spiritual trajectory where we become less like what we were and more like what Christ is— which is a pretty good layman’s definition of sanctification.

But claiming to be Christian without spiritual fruit should raise some questions about genuine faith or the lack of it.  Yes, seasons of struggle occur, but an unchanged life opposes Christ’s promise that a good tree, one who has experienced true salvation, bears good fruit (Matt. 7:17-18).  So examine your life. Is lasting spiritual fruit evident, or does sin still dominate your character?  And remember the principle: Spiritual fruit comes from the Spirit who lives in you.  If there is no spiritual fruit, there is probably no Holy Spirit.  And if there is no Holy Spirit, there is no salvation.  You are simply deceived and lost in your sin.  Don’t let that happen to you.

A Disregard for God’s Word

Another warning sign of counterfeit salvation is a disregard for God’s commands in Scripture.  When God saves us, He implants His law within our hearts (Jer. 31:33), and transforms us into new creations that delight in obeying His Word (Ps. 119:47).  But willful, ongoing disobedience or disregard for God’s commands is incompatible with saving faith, since true, saving faith is manifest through a life increasingly marked by obedience (1 John 2:3-4).  You can’t have it both ways.  You must choose.  Do you eagerly obey Christ’s teachings in all circumstances or disregard His Word when it becomes inconvenient, embarrassing, or cramps your style?

If someone claims to follow Christ, yet minimizes the authority of Scripture in their life, or picks and chooses convenient parts to follow and rejects the teachings that demand sacrifice or commitment— their heart obviously remains unchanged.  They are likely deceived, still dead in sin rather than alive in Christ.  Because those transformed by the Spirit cherish all of God’s Word, not just preferred sections that fit their lifestyle.  Does any of this resonate with you?

Continual bondage to Sin

When truly saved, believers gain the power to resist sin’s control in their lives through the Spirit who has now taken residence in them.  Though still imperfect, true believers are no longer chained by sinful cravings as before, since sin cannot tyrannically rule in a redeemed heart.  We may still wrestle with sin, but are no longer enslaved to it (Rom. 6:6-7).  The Scriptures teach before our salvation, we were dead in sin, incapable of pleasing God.  But after being born again, we can now resist sin’s dominance in our lives through the Spirit’s power— because sin no longer reigns over us (Rom. 6:14).  Though confessing and repenting of sin should mark a Christian’s life, ongoing slavery to sin with no repentance is a clear, frightening indication of false salvation, where no true regeneration has taken place.

So we must ask: Does sin still reign in my mortal body, or has Christ’s Spirit freed me from its mastery?  Examine your life for unconfessed patterns of sin.  Do you walk in the newness of life or remain chained to the old nature?  The Spirit sets believers free from sin’s bondage.  Make sure your life on the outside lines up with your confession on the inside.  Otherwise, you may be deceived.

No Evidence of the Holy Spirit’s Work

This is an easy one.  God’s Spirit actively indwells and changes true Christians.  In fact, the Holy Spirit assures believers of salvation (Rom. 8:16), helps us pray (Rom. 8:26), illuminates Scripture (1 Cor. 2:10-14), comforts us (Acts 9:31), convicts us of sin (John 16:8), and produces spiritual fruit in our lives (Gal. 5:22-23).  These are just a few things the Holy Spirit does in us that are evidence of His presence in us.  But what does it mean when these fruits are not evident in our life?  Again, this is an easy one.  Lacking such fruit of a Spirit-empowered and sanctified life for a prolonged period of time implies the Spirit is absent.  And if the Spirit is absent or inactive, Scripture warns we do not belong to Christ.  Read it for yourself. “Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Rom. 8:9)

Does the Spirit noticeably sanctify your life?  Can others see the results of His presence in your life?  And if not, why?  Could it be you are deceived and still lost in your sins?  If that is the case, you need to confess and repent and receive Christ on His terms, today.

Indifference Toward Spiritual Growth

Another red flag that points to counterfeit salvation is an indifference toward spiritual growth or the things pertaining to God.  When a person is born-again, God implants in believers a heart passionately pursuing a deep intimacy with Him (Ps. 42:1-2).  The Spirit within us propels an irresistible hunger to know Christ through prayer, the study and internalization of Scripture, worship, fellowship with a Christian community, and other spiritual practices.

If someone exhibits little interest in such spiritual pursuits, living each day engrossed in worldly routines that have no eternal significance, it suggests the Spirit is not actively sanctifying their heart and, therefore, is not present.  Do you remember what it means when a professing believer doesn’t have the Holy Spirit?  A past conversion experience or being raised in the church since childhood does not guarantee genuine faith today.  But the ongoing pursuit of Christ, the “living water” that satisfies all our needs, is a clear indication of true salvation.

Love of the World or Worldly Things

Our priorities are a window to our soul, exposing our spiritual state.  Scripture warns that friendship with the world is actually hostility toward God (James 4:4), and Jesus said the greatest commandment was to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37), or, more than anything else, including you.  So if earthly ambitions like wealth, fame, success, immorality, and pleasure rule someone’s heart, it reveals their faith is likely counterfeit, and they are lost, deceived, and on their way to eternal punishment (1 John 2:15-17).  But it doesn’t have to be that way.

When true salvation takes place in a believer’s life, they cherish Christ above all else.  He becomes their supreme delight and satisfaction.  But if worldly affections hold preeminence in someone’s life, the love of the Father clearly does not reside in them.  Because what we treasure most reveals who has captured our hearts.  Does Christ hold first place in your life, or does the world and all its trappings?  Our true spiritual state is revealed by our deepest affections.  What do your affections say about you?

The Eternal Danger of Self-Deception

Finally and tragically, the Bible warns that some willingly deceive themselves about their salvation (James 1:22-25), which is the greatest deception of all.  They hear the Word of God, maybe every Sunday, but don’t apply it to their lives.  And after inspecting themselves in a mirror, they forget what they look like.  Many cling to a false assurance of salvation because they once prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, had an emotional experience, or made a mental decision.  Yet with no life change, they remain unsaved.  A faith that does not result in obedience to the Lord is a dead, non-saving faith— a counterfeit faith.  Because when we come to Christ in earnest, we must respond in obedient faith, not an empty profession.


So What Can We Do?

Scripture exhorts us to examine ourselves to confirm we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).  You need to do that today.  Yes, it is true that while genuine, authentic believers stumble, the Spirit produces increasing Christlikeness in them over time.  That’s simply what happens when the Spirit comes to live within you.  Do you see that sanctification process in your life?  A prolonged lack of spiritual fruit, indifference toward obeying God’s Word, ongoing slavery to sin, no evidence of the Spirit’s work, a time-consuming love for the world, and willing self-deception about true salvation warn that our faith may be counterfeit.  So ask yourself the following questions.

•    Do I display long-term spiritual fruit or a protracted barrenness of the life and power of the Spirit?
•    How do I respond when convicted of sin by the Spirit and Word?  Do I respond with repentance or rationalization?  Am I humbled and remorseful, or callous and apathetic to His promptings into areas of my life that I would rather Him leave alone?
•    Who or what is ultimately first in my life, desires, and pursuits— Christ or what I want to do?
•    Is occasional or willful disobedience my pattern?  What do my thoughts, words, and actions reveal about me and my relationship with my Lord?  If others were to examine my life choices, would they conclude I serve a God greater than myself?
•    Do I perceive the Spirit’s convicting and comforting work in my life?  Or am I just making it on my own, only reaching out to Him for help when I get in a jam I can’t handle?
•    Do I demonstrate Christlike care and commitment to fellow believers?  Or is church just something I do, trying not to feel guilty or look bad in the eyes of other believers?

Scripture encourages genuine saints to validate their calling and election (2 Peter 1:10).  So let’s do that by reflecting on these sobering tests and repenting where needed, drawing near to Christ and His transforming grace.

And remember, if you come up short and realize you may be deceived in thinking you have truly experienced the regenerating power of salvation, the next step is easy.  Pray, believe, confess, repent, and receive— but for real this time, and the life with Him you thought you had will now truly become yours.

The choice is yours— so choose wisely.


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66:  Abiding – The Key to Lasting Surrender and Joy

66: Abiding – The Key to Lasting Surrender and Joy

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No More Roller-Coaster Living

When it comes to spiritual disciplines like surrender or yielding our life to the Lord, the hardest part is not the act of initial surrender, but the journey of remaining surrendered to Him in the days and months ahead.  For most believers, this journey can be discouraging, filled with success and failure, ups and downs, and sometimes, you may even feel like giving up.  But that should never be the case.  After all, it is the Holy Spirit living in you that seals you in Him and is the deposit, the guarantee of the promise of your future inheritance to come (Eph. 1:14).  And this is more than going to heaven when you die— far more.  The indwelling Holy Spirit also guarantees your sanctification, which is you becoming more like Christ each and every day (1 Cor. 1:30).

But the one question still remains, how?  How do we experience the process of becoming more like our Lord in the chaos of everyday living?  And how do we make sure, at least on our end, that we remain surrendered and submitted to Him?


To Abide

In Christian circles, we hear much about the word abide or abiding regarding our relationship with Christ.  Jesus actually made that term the centerpiece of His teaching on the nature of our relationship with Him in John 15.  You would do well to study this teaching.  In it, Jesus said:

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” – John 15:4-5.

Abiding in Christ is the key to remaining surrendered and walking in obedience under His authority.  But what does it mean to abide in Him? And how is it done?

The word “abide” in Greek is menó, and means to “remain or stay, live, and dwell with someone in an intimate, close relationship by being united with them, or being made one with them, in heart, mind, and will.”¹  It is more than a casual acquaintance but rather a deep, enduring connection.  And it is only when we remain connected to Him, that we allow His life to flow through us, producing spiritual fruit that brings glory to the Father (John 15:8).

The principle is simple: When we abide, we flourish and live.  When we detach from the vine and try to go it alone, we flounder and die.  And the choice is always ours to make.


Remaining Connected (Surrendered) to the True Vine

Why is abiding so important?  Because it leads to spiritual fruitfulness in our lives.  Jesus said, “He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  As we stay attached or surrendered to the Vine (Christ), His life flows through us, and this supernaturally enables us to bear His good fruit— the fruit of righteousness, godly character, and the expansion of God’s kingdom, all for the glory of the Father.  It is an amazing dependent relationship.  Remember, as a branch, we don’t produce any fruit.  That’s the job of the Vine, Christ.  But as long as we remain attached and surrendered to Him, we get the joy of bearing His fruit since all He is, as the Vine, flows through us and, as His branches, gives our life purpose.  And all we have to do is remain surrendered, attached, and submitted to the source of everything that gives our life value.  He produces all the fruit, and we get to bear His handiwork for the world to see.  Let that sink in for a moment.

The Scriptures reveal we were created for good works (Eph. 2:10), but we can only fulfill these works if we rely wholly on Jesus’ power working in us.  If we detach from the Vine, our best efforts become futile, and we quickly discover we can “do nothing” (John 15:5).  But when we remain connected or surrendered to Him by abiding in Him, we partner with Him as He allows us to bear His lasting spiritual fruit.  Abiding places us in the channel of God’s wonderous grace and enables us to experience the joy of vibrant Christian living.  It is truly the abundant life Jesus promised (John 10:10).


The Fruit of Obedience

Abiding also produces obedience.  Jesus said, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10).  It seems that obedience and love are intrinsically intertwined.  So when we love Christ, obedience to His Word flows naturally.  And as we follow His commands, our love for Him grows deeper still.

Our culture exalts self-will and independence, but Jesus calls us to a life of voluntary surrender and submission— recognizing His wisdom exceeds our own, on every level.  Therefore, as branches abiding in the Vine, obeying Christ’s commands allows His life and power to flow unhindered through us, which is the entire point of being conformed to His image (Rom. 8:29).

Some may view obedience as restrictive, but in reality, it leads to great peace and freedom.  Sin and pride trap us in bitterness, resentment, anxiety, and emptiness.  But obeying Christ frees us from sin’s grip, no matter how strong the grip is.  His commands are given as a blessing, not to stifle, but to protect, guide, and bless.  And as we surrender to the Vine, we find true purpose in bearing His righteous fruit that will last, and not mindlessly spending our life chasing the trinkets and toys of this world that will inevitably perish.

But how can we grow in abiding obedience?

It starts by cultivating a heart that longs to honor Christ.  Before rushing into any activity, we must take a moment to stop and listen to Jesus, focusing on His voice among the fray.  Remember what He said, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” (John 15:7).  This is a promise and a condition.  If we rest in Him and allow His words to permeate our hearts, He will give us the power and, most importantly, the desire to obey.  Abiding flows out of a satisfied heart resting in Christ’s love.

Finally, understand that abiding obedience is a journey.  We will make missteps, count on it, but the Father graciously prunes us to grow sweeter fruit within each season of our lives (John 15:2).  So do not let past failures, no matter how many or how often, sever you from the Vine.  Repent and rely on Christ’s forgiveness and power to help you take the next step in faith and obedience to Him.


The Fruit of Dependent Surrender

Abiding in Christ requires full dependence on Him. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.  He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  We must recognize that apart from Him, we are helpless and fruitless.

When we try to live the Christian life in our own effort and strength, we end up exhausted, frustrated, and often burned out.  You’ve probably experienced that at some point in your life.  But when we fully surrender control to Jesus, trusting in His inner working more than our striving, then His divine life, power, and joy flow through us.  Surrender means ceasing from our labors and completely relying on Him (which is a great definition of abiding).

This surrender is not passive or apathetic, but rather one of active dependence.  As we abide in Christ, we gain wisdom to know what He desires us to do each step of the way.  We then act in alignment with His will but rely, not on our own meager and finite resources, but on His inner strength to accomplish it.  As Paul said, “To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily” (Col. 1:29).  The life of Christ within empowers us beyond human capability.  The joy of experiencing being complete in Him (Col. 2:10), comes from abiding as His branch and letting the Vine do all the stuff only the Vine can do.  And then we do what we can do, which is simply to remain connected to Him.


The Fruit of a Life That Matters

Jesus promised that abiding in Him would produce spiritual fruit that remains.  He said, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16).  When we minister in human strength and wisdom, the impact is often limited and temporary.  But drawing life from the Vine produces eternal fruit that matters and remains.

This fruit comes from our conscious effort to remain surrendered to Him in everything.  As we listen to the Spirit’s promptings through an abiding relationship, He leads us to act in ways that bless others.  It may involve speaking a word of encouragement, showing compassion, serving a practical need, or doing something that moves us out of what feels comfortable and stretches our faith.  When we follow His lead rather than our own agenda, the fruit always brings glory to the Father.  And since the fruit is from the Spirit and not our own human efforts, it will always remain.

Scripture describes the fruit that naturally grows from abiding in Him as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).  These fruits of the Spirit emerge in our character as we stay connected to the Vine and become more like Jesus.


The Overflow of Joy

One primary fruit Jesus mentions is fullness of joy.  He said, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).  As we abide in God’s love, His joy naturally overflows in our hearts.  And the joy of Christ, the joy He experiences Himself, will remain in us.  It really doesn’t get any better than that.

This joy is much deeper than temporary human happiness based on circumstances.  This kind of joy flows from a surrendered relationship in Christ, trusting Him amidst any situation, good or bad.  Even in great trials and heartwrenching tribulations, we can experience His supernatural joy as we rely on His presence by remaining surrendered to Him.  And, as Paul and Silas discovered when chained in a dungeon in Philippi, we can now view all troubles as opportunities to experience more of Him (Acts 16:25).

This abiding joy comes from recognizing and embracing that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:38-39).  So now, life’s pressures only drive us closer to the God who sustains us.  And when we abide in the Vine, joy remains even in the midst of suffering, because we now know that pain, with purpose, produces great joy.


Launching into Jesus’ Harvest

Finally, abiding readies us for Kingdom impact.  Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.  I have said these things to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:16, 11).  Abiding fills us with contagious joy and propels us into Jesus’ harvest fields.

When our roots grow deep into the Vine, we gain a passion to share Christ’s love with the world.  We yearn for others to know this soul-satisfying relationship we have in Him, and therefore, we long to see others grafted into the True Vine with us as fellow branches.

So we follow the Spirit’s leading to invest in the work of His kingdom.  We freely leverage our gifts and resources to make disciples, meet needs, and proclaim the Gospel in any way possible.  We spend and are spent for the cause of Christ, fueled by our joy in Him.  This is what an overflowing life looks like abiding in the True Vine.  And it fills us with overabounding gratitude for His choice of us in Him (Eph. 1:4).


His Final Plea: Remain in Me

On the night of His betrayal, Jesus pleaded with His disciples to remain in close fellowship with Him when He said, “Stay here and watch with Me” (Matt. 26:38).  He knew great trials would soon come that would shake their faith to the core.  But He also knew that if they clung to the Vine, drawing life and strength from Him that day and daily thereafter, they would bear eternal fruit, and their lives would have a lasting impact on others.

Centuries later, His same plea echoes in our own hearts.  Jesus says, “Abide in Me.  Stay vitally connected to Me.  For apart from Me, you can do nothing.  A branch detached withers quickly.  But if you stay united to Me in abiding surrender, My life will flow through you with supernatural power.  Abide in My love and joy.  Seek My heart above all else.  Remain in Me, and your life will overflow with righteous fruit that endures forever.”

This is the way to live fully surrendered to the Lord, no matter what— come what may.  Are you ready to live a life abiding in Him?  Good.  Then let’s get started today.


Notes:

1. Zodhiates, S. (2000). In The complete word study dictionary: New Testament (electronic ed.). AMG Publishers.


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65:  The Seventh Step – Don’t Leave Home Without Him

65: The Seventh Step – Don’t Leave Home Without Him

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We’ve Only Just Begun

We are now at the last step to surrendering our lives unreservedly to the Lord.  And this seventh and final step deals with how to keep close to Him, and how to remain surrendered and submitted, even after the initial awe of the experience begins to wear off and we let our guard down.  Don’t be deceived— yes, it will happen to you, just like it has happened to all those who have gone before you in seeking the Higher Christian Life or the life of full surrender.

Even though we are at the last step, our journey of surrender has just begun.  Like Peter, taking his eyes off Jesus and sinking into the waves when doing the impossible, walking on water, it’s easy to lose focus on Christ amid the trying circumstances we face every day (Matt. 14:30).  Remember, sin is sin, and all sin, no matter how trivial we make it, hinders our relationship with the Lord and grieves the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30).  Therefore your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to keep Christ at the center of your life, always, regardless of the situation you may be facing.  And we do that by keeping our eyes on Him.

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses (see Hebrews 11), let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (how) looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God – Hebrews 12:1-2.

So how do we maintain a posture of continual submission to the Lord and make seeking Him our consuming priority in life?  Or, how do we keep our eyes on Him like He kept His eyes on His Father?  Let me share with you a few disciplines that should give you some direction in your life-long pursuit of Him.


Start the Day Anchored in Christ

Begin each morning grounded in Scripture and prayer.  Make this a priority and set the tone of your day, communing with Jesus before anything else.  Take His word in John 15:5 to heart, “Without Me, you can do nothing,” and realize He meant what He said.  Read a devotional or passage about Christ’s character.¹  Write down what He has been showing you or how He has answered your prayers.  This anchors you in Him before the chaos of the day competes for your attention.

“My voice You shall hear (when) in the morning, O Lord; (when) in the morning I will direct it to You, and I will look up” (Psalm 5:3).  Just as we nourish our bodies with breakfast, we must nourish our spirit with Christ first thing in the morning.


Don’t Exclude Christ from Your Daily Tasks

As you go about your day, talk to Jesus continually through quick, conversational prayers, thanking Him for the little blessings you notice.  Ask the Spirit for patience when frustrations arise, and they will.  And seek His wisdom in any decisions you have to make, no matter how small.  Remember, He is the Lord over everything— even the small stuff.  Offer up a prayer of blessing to those you encounter.  And ask Him to guide your interactions throughout the day.

When you pray without ceasing, as 1 Thessalonians 5:17 instructs, it keeps your focus on the Lord no matter how busy your schedule gets.  Whether you’re checking off your to-do list, heading to appointments, running errands, or socializing with others, you can invite Jesus into every moment of your day.  And if you invite Him, you will no longer be surprised when He comes to walk beside you in what you consider the mundane things of life.  Try it.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much He wants to be part of your life.


Look at Everything Through His Eyes

Consider how your daily choices reflect on Christ’s priorities.  Does your use of time and money align with pursuing God’s Kingdom and righteousness?  Do your entertainment choices and digital consumption feed your spirit or merely your flesh?  Did you know that who you befriend and interact with also impacts your walk with God?

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, (why) that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).  Evaluate whether your lifestyle choices, even the ones you consider trivial and non-important, line up with the His Word.  And if they don’t, dump them.


Prioritize Spiritual Disciplines

Be willing to say “no” to lesser commitments and rearrange your schedule to embrace spiritual disciplines that feed your soul.  This is the one practice our Christian heroes of old did that we seem to ignore today for the sake of what seems important now.  So set aside consistent time for Bible reading, extended prayer, corporate worship, serving within your local church, and fellowshipping with other believers before your schedule gets so jammed you have no room for God.

As Jesus said, “It is written, ‘Man (including you) shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).  Don’t let busyness crowd out what matters most.


Turn First to Christ During Difficult Times

When challenges inevitably come, resist falling into despair and anger by trying to manage them on your own.  Instead, immediately turn to Jesus in prayer, surrendering the situation to His control.  “Cast all your care upon Him, (why) for He cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).  And all means just that— all, everything.  Trust in His sovereignty and ask Him to use this trial for your spiritual growth.²  Learn to lean into His peace and perspective, no matter how things may look to you at the time.  Remember, “Our God is in His heavens; He does what He pleases” (Psalm 115:3).

As Corrie ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”  So keep your eyes fixed on Christ through the storm.


Limit Earthly Pleasures
(No Matter How Good They Make You Feel)

While God richly provides for our enjoyment, beware of overindulging in His temporary gifts.  We belong to Him, and what He blesses us with is also designed to be a blessing to others.  So generously share your finances to further the Gospel rather than storing up treasures on earth that rust, rot, and fade away (Matt. 6:19-21).  Learn to develop healthy boundaries around media, food, shopping, and how you spend your leisure time.  Commit to investing more of your life in the eternal rather than the fleeting.

“Set your minds on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2).  Our indulgences can easily become idols if we aren’t careful.


Immerse Yourself in Christ-Centered Influences

Carefully consider those who speak into your life or who you rent space to in your brain.  Limit your time with media (especially social media), relationships, and interactions that can hinder your focus on Jesus and quench the power of the Spirit in your life (1 Thes. 5:19).  Instead, immerse yourself in influences that point you to God and grow your faith.

As Proverbs 13:20 states, “He who walks with wise men will be wise (promise), but the companion of fools will be destroyed (also a promise).”  Don’t be a companion of fools, no matter how socially acceptable it may be in our culture.  Do the hard stuff.  Seek out mentors, pastors, books, podcasts, sermons, and friendships that strengthen your spiritual walk.  And make that a daily priority.


Make Christ the Center of All Your Relationships

Surround yourself with people who reflect and encourage your devotion to God, not hinder it, malign it, or encourage you to downplay it.  Graciously, but firmly, end any relationship, even on social media, pulling you from full devotion to Christ.  Bring Jesus into your conversations.  Pray for your friends’ needs.  Set an example of wholehearted obedience to the Gospel.  And let your closest relationships be with those sharing your commitment to Him.  Don’t ever settle for anything less.

As Christ said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).  Seek out fellow travelers on the narrow road.  There aren’t many of them, but they are out there.  You just might have to go out of your way to find them.


Honor the Lord’s Day for Spiritual Recharge

Set aside Sunday as a sacred day to reconnect with God. It was given as a command to God’s children for a reason.  Disengage from work, news, political commentary, and social media.  Prepare yourself to enter into His presence in worship.  Read His Scripture reflectively.  Have spiritual conversations with Him and others.  Spend the day being renewed in Him.

Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).  God gave His day to us as a gift, not a burden.  So set apart this time to refocus completely on Christ.


Find Your Ultimate Fulfillment in the Pursuit of God

Earthly pleasures quickly fade, but true joy is found in communion with Christ.  After all, it is Christ who brings joy and peace in this chaotic world (Rom. 15:13).  So make abiding or resting in Him your source of satisfaction (John 15:5).  Take delight in prayer, meditating on Scripture, serving in the church, praying for others, and sharing your faith.  Discover your true purpose as you daily walk closely with Jesus.

As Psalm 16:11 promises, “In Your presence is fullness of joy.”  And it is in His presence where we find our enduring treasure.


So What’s Next?

Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus in the midst of life’s trials, hurts, and constant distractions takes determination, spiritual strength, and a mental commitment.  But as we choose daily to seek Christ first, above all else, and build our lives around Him, He promises to align our hearts with His perfect will, producing abundant life and joy (John 10:10), and a peace that defies description (Phil. 4:7).  Just as a compass needle continually realigns to its true north, we must realign to the source of our true life each day— and that source is Jesus Himself.

May our lives fulfill Paul’s words in Philippians 3:14 — “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Let’s keep our eyes only on Him.

And let’s do it today.


Notes:

1. A great devotional is My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers.

2. See Step Five – Surrendering to God’s Sovereignty.


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64:  The Sixth Step – Surrendering to the Holy Spirit

64: The Sixth Step – Surrendering to the Holy Spirit

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God is Three and Three in One

When we decide to fully yield our lives to the Lord, one essential step is surrendering control of everything to the Holy Spirit, who is probably the most overlooked member of the Trinity.  And this is because the doctrine of the Trinity, or trying to explain the triune nature of God, is one of the most confusing teachings in Scripture.  After all, we are finite beings who think in finite, logical, cause-and-effect, terms.  Yet God is infinite, off the scales, and His nature is beyond what we can explain or logically process in our finite minds.

But let’s try.  The doctrine of the Trinity is defined as God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.¹

Or, to make it easier to digest:

1.  God is three persons (Father, Son, and Spirit).
2.  Each person is fully God.
3.  There is one God.

But, even though they are all equally God, they have different and unique functions, especially regarding salvation and sanctification.  For example, Scripture reveals God the Father is right now seated on His throne in heaven.  Jesus is currently at His right hand interceding for us (Rom. 8:34, Heb. 7:25).  And where is the Holy Spirit?  He is the one who now lives in us and empowers us with His gifts, guidance, and transforming power.  The Spirit is not a force that emanates from the Father to do His will, like in Star Wars, but is God Himself— co-equal, co-eternal, of the same essence as the Father and the Son.  Yet, even though the Spirit is as much God as Jesus and the Father, sadly, we must admit He is the one Person we spend the least amount of time with and the one we know the least about.

If you look at just a few things the Holy Spirit has been tasked with, you will quickly notice these have to do with securing our salvation and enhancing our sanctification.  It seems, of the three Persons in the Godhead, it is the Spirit who works the closest with us, and yet He is the one we tend to keep at arm’s length, distant and aloof.


The Vital Roles of the Spirit

Here are some key roles the Holy Spirit plays in our lives while residing in us:

•   The Holy Spirit helps us understand God’s word and apply it to our lives – John 14:26.
•   The Spirit guides us into truth and helps us discern right from wrong – John 16:13.
•   The Holy Spirit produces spiritual fruit in our lives like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – Galatians 5:22-23.
•   The Spirit empowers and equips us with spiritual gifts for ministry – 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.
•   The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us in prayer – Romans 8:26-27.
•   The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, giving us an assurance of our salvation – Romans 8:16.
•   The Holy Spirit seals believers for the day of redemption – Ephesians 1:13-14.
•   The Holy Spirit comforts believers in times of need – Acts 9:31.
•   The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment – John 16:8.
•   The Holy Spirit fills believers for service by empowering them to speak the word of God with boldness – Acts 4:31.
•   The Holy Spirit reveals the deep things of God to believers – 1 Corinthians 2:10.

And the list goes on.  Notice, these are not things the Father or the Son does in us, but the Spirit.  And it is a shame that we know so little of the Spirit compared to what we know about the Father and the Son.

But all that can change today.


15 Ways to Deepen Your Relationship With the Holy Spirit

Deep intimacy with the Holy Spirit comes through continually yielding control of our lives to Him and responding to His work within us.  The more we surrender to Him, the more we learn to recognize His leadings, promptings, and His voice.  And the more we obey Him, the more we acknowledge our dependence on Him, and the closer He becomes to us.  Like with any relationship, it grows with time.  The more time you spend with the Holy Spirit, the more you will get to know Him as much, if not better, than you do the Father and the Son.  It is really that simple, but it takes a commitment on your part to make it happen.

So let me share 15 ways to help build a closer relationship with the Spirit.

1.  Begin with a simple conversation.  Start by speaking to the Spirit as you would a friend.  Tell Him what is on your heart, and confess to Him if this process of praying to Him seems strange.  Remember, He is God, and He already knows. Nothing you say will surprise Him.

2.  Develop a habit of thanking Him for His works and gifts in your life.  Recognize the Spirit’s activity in your life, such as bringing you comfort, wisdom, power, discernment, etc.  And when you pray, don’t make it generic by saying God or Lord.  Thank the Spirit specifically, by name, for what He has done for you, and remember that He alone brings transformation in your life.

3.  Ask Him to reveal more of Himself to you.  Pray for greater knowledge, awareness, openness, and intimacy with the Spirit.  Ask Him to become as close to you as Jesus and the Father.  And if you ask, He will respond.

4.  Rely on His guidance every moment and show Him how dependent you are on Him.  Seek the Spirit’s direction in all things, big and small, and thank Him specifically for the guidance He brings (see #2).

5.  Share some personal testimonies of His activity in your life and your awareness of Him.  Tell others how the Spirit has guided, helped, or empowered you.  And be specific, if it was the Spirit who empowered you, then give thanks to the Spirit.

6.  Meditate on His name and attributes in Scripture, such as Counselor, Comforter, or Spirit of Truth.  When you reflect on verses describing the Spirit’s nature, you will soon begin to see His personality emerge from the Scriptures.  And when you do, it changes everything about your relationship with Him.

7.  Thank Him for letting you bear His fruit and for producing His Godly traits in you.  Express your gratitude to Him for your growth in love, joy, peace, etc., and acknowledge your dependence on Him for your continued growth.  Remember, they are His fruits, the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22), that He graciously allows us to manifest in our lives.

8.  Ask Him to reveal any sins that need confessing or relationships that need restoring.  Pray for His conviction and your courage to make things right.  Be quick to repent and forgive.  And eliminate anything hindering, grieving, or quenching your fellowship with the Spirit.

9.  Respond immediately when you sense His presence and guidance.  Act quickly when the Spirit prompts your spirit.  Don’t dismiss His gentle whispers.  And be sure to act before the urgency fades, because it ultimately will.

10.  Worship the Spirit.  Yes, you heard that right.  Profess your praises directly to Him for who He is and what He does.  After all, as God, the Holy Spirit is also worthy of your praise and devotion.

11.  Take time and be still to hear His voice.  Create space in your life to listen to the Spirit’s promptings and for His voice when you read Scripture.  If you don’t make the time for Him, you will miss the joy of His presence.

12.  Write down your conversations or encounters with Him and record what He tells you.  Note how He is stretching and maturing your faith and conforming you into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29).  Over time, you will see how the Spirit has been moving in your life all along, even before you were aware of it, and it will grow your faith more than you can imagine.

13.  Before you make any decisions, ask Him to guide you and make His wisdom clear.  Seek the Spirit’s direction in all things and wait for His green light.  As Oswald Chambers said, “Never run before God gives you His direction. If you have the slightest doubt, then He is not guiding.  Whenever there is doubt— wait.”²

14.  Imagine experiencing His presence when you read Scripture accounts of Him empowering believers, like in the book of Acts.  Visualize the Spirit’s activity as you read His Word, imagining how you would have been impacted if you were there in the pages of Scripture.  Then expect Him to move likewise in your life.

15.  If you don’t have a strong sense of His presence, tell Him about it, and ask Him to increase your revelation of Himself.  Share honestly your desire for greater closeness with Him.  And rest assured, He will give you what you ask.  For it is His will to reveal more of Himself, and the Father and the Son, to you.

But this leaves us with one pressing question:  How does my life change when I grow in my relationship with the Holy Spirit?


The Spirit’s Transforming Power

As we grow closer to the Holy Spirit, He progressively conforms us to the image of Christ, which is the goal of our sanctification (Rom. 8:29).  We partner with Him in the process of sanctification as we, on our part, yield more control of our lives to Him and He, on His part, bears His fruit in us, renews our minds, produces Christlike virtues, and releases His gifts through us for others.  He gives us a new hunger for His Word, convicts us of sinful patterns, comforts us in sorrow, intercedes on our behalf beyond our understanding, seals our salvation, and guarantees our inheritance in Christ by His continual presence in us (Eph. 1:13-14).

What an amazing gift to have the very presence of God dwelling in us in the Person of the Holy Spirit! (1 Cor. 6:19).  As we yield more of ourselves to His control, He changes us from within and partners with us in the lifelong process of being reshaped into the image of Jesus Christ.

Remember, the Christian life was never meant to be lived in our own power.  With the Holy Spirit within us, we have access to the same power that raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 8:11).  He wants to operate through us, transforming us into vessels that overflow with divine fruit, gifts, power, and godly character traits.

So why do we hold back from giving control of everything to Him?  Why not surrender your life to the Holy Spirit today, totally, wholeheartedly, without reservation, and watch what He can do in a life fully devoted to Him?

As D.L. Moody once said, “The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully consecrated to him. By God’s help, I aim to be that man.”³

Let’s make that same commitment today by surrendering our lives totally to the Holy Spirit.  Are you ready to experience the abundant life Jesus promised?

Then what are you waiting for?  Do it today!


Notes:

1. Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 226).  Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

2. Chambers, O. (1992).  My Utmost for His Highest: An Updated Edition in Today’s Language (J. Reimann, Ed.; p. 4). WORDsearch.

3. This quote is widely attributed to Dwight L. Moody, a 19th-century American evangelist, although its original source is unclear.


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63:  The Fifth Step – Surrendering to God’s Sovereignty

63: The Fifth Step – Surrendering to God’s Sovereignty

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He is God, and We Are Not

By nature, we are control freaks.  We pray for divine healing, but only after our physician shakes his head and says, “Well, there’s nothing left to do but pray,” and our medical insurance runs out.  We claim Matthew 6:33, where Jesus promises to meet all our needs, but again, only after we max out our credit cards and can’t make the minimum payments.  In other words, we try to fix everything our way, in our own strength, and ask no one for advice or help.  It’s only when we come up short that we pray and ask the Lord to bless our efforts (emphasis on our) or get us out of the jam we seem to have stumbled into again.  This is not a life of surrender.  Nor does it acknowledge the sovereignty of God.  The fifth step in surrendering your life to the Lord demands trusting completely in His goodness, grace, mercy, and especially— His sovereignty.  Remember, He is God (and all that entails), and we are not.  And the sooner we learn this truth, the closer we are to fully surrendering, and trusting Him.

Surrendering our lives fully to God requires trusting in His sovereignty— meaning He is in complete control and His plans are always best.  But what does it really mean to trust God’s sovereignty?  And why is absolute submission to His supreme plan vital for fully yielding our lives to Him?  Let’s explore the meaning of God’s sovereignty, some biblical examples of surrender, and the reasons why relinquishing control to His authority brings peace and purpose to our lives.


Defining God’s Sovereignty

Trusting in God’s sovereignty means believing He reigns supreme over everything, including you and your circumstances.  He has divine plans and purposes far beyond our human comprehension (Isa. 55:8-9).  It’s acknowledging that nothing happens without His permission, and He can, and will, use any circumstance, good or bad, to grow us in maturity and glorify Himself.

Surrendering to His sovereignty requires faith that God’s way is perfect, even when life feels random or senseless or anything but perfect.  We must believe He cherishes us unconditionally and understands precisely what we need in every situation, even if what He knows we need is not what we have been praying for.  We must be fully convinced that God is not only “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20), but that He is also willing, as a loving Father who adores His children.  And when He moves in His sovereign manner, we must know and rest in the truth that His perspective surpasses our limited human insight, and He knows best— even when we can’t see it or doubt His goodness.


Some Biblical Examples of Surrender

The Scriptures are full of examples of those who faced trials greater than ours, and trusted in God’s sovereignty.  Job suffered excruciating losses— his family, fortune, reputation, and health, yet declared in worship, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).  Even during unimaginable grief and agony, Job trusted God’s good purposes rather than questioning His supreme authority, even when he didn’t understand what God was doing.

Abraham is another well-known example.  God instructed him to do the unthinkable, to sacrifice his promised son Isaac— Abraham’s only hope and future (Gen. 22).  Though undoubtedly grieved and confused, Abraham obeyed God’s command by trusting the Lord had a purpose he could not yet grasp.  And God, in His sovereignty, honored Abraham’s faith by providing another sacrifice instead of Isaac and blessing him beyond measure.

Even Jesus surrendered to His Father’s sovereign will.  When facing the horrific pain of crucifixion, He prayed His will would be aligned with His Father’s sovereign purpose, “Not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).  Though understandably dreading the torture of a Roman scourge and crucifixion, Jesus submitted to His Father’s higher plan for His sacrifice that led to our redemption.  And I am sure glad He did.


Why Trusting God’s Sovereignty Matters

There are several key reasons why yielding full control of our lives to God requires trusting in His perfect sovereignty:

One, it allows God to direct our paths (which is a really good thing).  Tightly clutching onto control of our lives restricts how God is able to work in us and guide our steps.  If He guides, but we refuse to follow, then we suffer.  But surrendering to His sovereignty gives Him the freedom to lead and direct us daily according to His will, knowing we trust His plan and will do according to His desires.  As Proverbs 3:5-6 promises, “(if we) Trust in the Lord with all our heart, and (if we) lean not on our own understanding; (if we) in all your ways acknowledge Him, and (then) He shall direct your paths.”  And isn’t that what we truly desire, for God to direct our paths?

For example, frantically clinging tightly to our career plans or relationship goals that aren’t aligned with God’s wise direction severely limits how He can lead us down better paths.  But surrendering our agendas creates space for Him to open unexpected doors we never could have imagined, like being called into ministry or marrying a supportive spouse of His choosing who complements us perfectly, far better than what we could imagine.

Two, it brings perfect peace amid chaotic uncertainty.  When turmoil, trials, or suffering strike our lives, and they will, clinging to God’s supreme authority over all things provides comfort, stability, and hope.  As Psalm 9:10 promises, “And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.”

When life turns dark, and we lose jobs or loved ones and experience grief and pain, fixing our eyes on the certainty of God’s sovereignty reminds us that He will carry us through even the raging storms of life.  We can find security, refuge, and hope in His promise never to abandon us (Heb. 13:5), as He sustains us through life’s darkest valleys.  And the peace He gives during these times of turmoil is beyond human description or understanding (Phil. 4:7).

Three, it puts us in a position to receive from God.  Surrendering to God’s sovereignty humbles us and reminds us of our utter dependence on Him rather than ourselves.  Submitting to His supreme plan positions us to come before Him with open hands, ready to accept His purpose and direction for our lives with joy and thankfulness.  As 1 Peter 5:6 encourages, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.”

For example, admitting our human limitations and praying sincerely, “Not my will, but Yours,” prepares our hearts to receive His amazing guidance, provision, and blessings that exceed our wildest expectations.  And maintaining a teachable, humble spirit makes room for God to shape us into the image of His Son, which is one of the reasons for our redemption (Rom. 8:29).

Finally, It deepens our intimacy with Christ (which is the goal of the Higher Christian Life).  As we loosen our tight grip on trying to control our lives, we create space for Jesus to fill us with His presence and power.  Our connection and intimacy with Him soar to new heights as we learn to surrender every area of our lives fully to His Lordship.  Our purpose in life becomes to fulfill the mandate of John the Baptist, who said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

The more we turn away from stubborn self-reliance and give God complete authority over our lives, the more we experience His supernatural peace and joy.  Our love and devotion for Christ grow exponentially as we witness Him faithfully provide for our needs, day in and day out, when we submit our motives, purposes, and desires to His greater plans.  This is a picture of the life surrendered into the hands of our sovereign God.


What’s Next?

Fully trusting in God’s complete sovereignty over every aspect of our lives liberates us from trying to play God by making all the decisions and calling all the shots ourselves, which we are not very good at.  Surrendering to the wonder and mystery of His higher ways permits His loving purposes to unfold and bloom in, and through, us in ways unimaginable.  And living a life fully surrendered to God brings incredible freedom, peace, and purpose.

Although it’s difficult for human nature to relinquish control over anything, doing so allows the Lord to fully use us for His glory.  As you reflect on this fifth of seven steps to surrender your life to Him, may your heart be compelled to abandon yourself completely to Christ.  He loves you abundantly, beyond measure, and desires an intimate relationship with you.  So take courage and boldly release every area of your life into His hands— your dreams, fears, relationships, doubts, failures, and future.  After all, He is God, and we are but dust and ashes.  And He knows what is best for His creation.  So rest confidently in His infinite wisdom, love, and power at work on your behalf.  Be bold and have faith to declare, “Your will be done,” as you walk in a life surrendered to Him.

And don’t wait another minute.  Surrender today to the One who knows all and is all-powerful.  You’ll be amazed at what happens when you do.


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62: The Fourth Step – Presenting Yourself as a Sacrifice

62: The Fourth Step – Presenting Yourself as a Sacrifice

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First Step Three, Then Step Four

Of the seven steps to living a fully surrendered life to God, perhaps none is more vital than the fourth— offering ourselves, specifically our bodies, as a living sacrifice to Him.  But this can only be accomplished after we have done the hard work of denying ourselves and dying to self, which was the point of the third step (Matt. 16:24).  Death and denial must take place before we present our bodies (flesh) to Him as an act of worship and sacrifice.  You will ultimately fail, horrendously, if you try to reverse the order.  We must have died to ourselves first in order to present ourselves to Him as a living sacrifice.  Otherwise, we’re dealing with a two-headed monster.  And it ain’t pretty.  Presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice means taking our body, our flesh, with all its desires and ambitions, and laying it down before God as an act of worship and submission to His Lordship.  And this, as they say, is where the men are separated from the boys.  It is not for the faint of heart.

To be more exact on what step four entails, Romans 12:1-2 reveals what we are to do to submit to Him and what He does for us in response to our submission.  What we give is all we are— and what we receive is all He is.  Pretty good exchange if you ask me.  We give Him rocks, and He gives us diamonds.  Not too shabby.  So read the passage slowly and take note of each word and promise.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God – Romans 12:1-2.

Let’s look at this passage a little closer.

I beseech (urge, beg) you therefore, brethren, (on what basis) by the mercies of God, that you (our responsibility) present your bodies a (what) living sacrifice, (seen by God as) holy, acceptable to God, (and why should we do this) which is your reasonable service (based on the mercies of God).  And (implied, you) do not be conformed to this world, but (implied, you) be transformed by the renewing of your mind, (for what benefit) that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

The essence of the surrendered life is knowing, for certain, the perfect will of God.  And this is the promise given to those who offer their bodies (flesh) to Him, unreservedly.


Why is this So Important… and Seem So Extreme?

Why is this so important?  Because our flesh is the source of so much pride, sin, and selfishness.  And therefore, our flesh has to die (see step three).  Our natural instincts are to gratify our own wants and needs first, before anything else, including God.  We are born self-centered creatures, seeking our own advancement and comfort above all else.  But God calls us to live differently, to put others before ourselves and seek His kingdom first (Matt. 6:33).  And this requires denying the flesh and crucifying it along with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24).  In a word, we must die to self so that we can live fully to God.

And what do we do once we have denied and died to ourselves?  We offer ourselves, our bodies (flesh), the seat of our lust and sins, to the Lord as a living sacrifice and act of surrender.  But this surrender is more than just a mental acknowledgment or verbal profession.  It requires action.  So we demonstrate surrender by taking our body and making it a “living sacrifice”— by placing it on the altar before God to say, “I am no longer my own, but Yours to command and do with what You wish.”  Or, in the words of Jesus, “Not my will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).


Submit Each Member of Your Body to Him

This means consciously taking the members of your body— your eyes, ears, mouth, hands, and feet— and presenting them to God for His purposes instead of your own:

Eyes – Our eyes reveal much about what captures our attention and focus.  Are we looking at things that could lead us into lust, impurity, and sinful desire?  Or are we keeping our eyes fixed on the glory of God’s creation and His Word?  For instance, we can actively look away from provocative images online that could awaken wrong passions.  Instead, we can choose to focus our eyes on Scripture to meditate on God’s truth and see the hurting people around us who need Christ’s love.  Keeping our eyes on the Lord, and His purposes, helps us live surrendered lives.

Ears – What we tune our ears to also impacts our walk with God.  Are we quick to listen to edifying truth that builds us up spiritually?  Or do we give our ears freely to gossip, slander, and other vain talk that tears us and others down?  For example, we can get in the habit of listening to uplifting sermons or podcasts that teach Biblical truths rather than media hosts who angrily attack and slander others.  What we listen to is a choice each of us makes daily.  And as we submit our ears to wholesome speech and the inner voice of the Holy Spirit, we grow in living out the surrendered life in Him.

Mouth – Our mouth reveals the state of our heart, for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34).  Do our words bless others and build them up in Christ?  Or is our speech filled with words that drag people down?  We demonstrate surrender when we let no unwholesome talk come out of our mouth, but only what is helpful and aimed at God’s purposes (Eph. 4:29).  For instance, by God’s grace, we can speak words of love and encouragement to our spouse even when we feel irritable inside.  We can refuse to pass along juicy rumors that tickle our ears yet tear others down.  Our mouth becomes an instrument of worship when we praise God through song and prayer.  So, keeping a careful watch over what comes out of our mouths is a key aspect of living out a surrendered life.

Hands – Our hands can either be used for righteous purposes or defiled by sin.  It’s our choice to make.  Are we using our hands primarily to serve others and care for those in need?  Or are we defiling them through violence, immorality, greed, selfishness, and other wicked uses?  For example, we can use our hands to rock a crying baby at church to help relieve a tired mom.  Or God may call us to lay hands on the sick and pray for their healing and comfort.  The selfless use of our hands reveals a surrendered life, as we lift up the weary rather than promoting ourselves.

Feet – Where we go with our feet also speaks much about our walk with God.  Are we careful to avoid places and environments that could compromise our testimony or pull us into sin?  Do we allow the Lord to direct our steps to unexpected places and people who need His touch?  For instance, we demonstrate surrender by walking away when friends pressure us to do or say or participate in something we know is not of God.  Or God may lead our feet to go visit someone lonely and forgotten rather than just sticking to our normal routine.   We can choose to avoid settings like bars and casinos where temptation thrives.   As we kneel humbly before God and follow where He leads, our feet walk out true Christlike surrender.

In addition to our body, we must also sacrifice our mind.  This means bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).  We must submit our intellect, opinions, reasoning, and logic to God’s truth found only in Scripture.  And when we align our thinking to His ways and wisdom by having the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), we will cease rationalizing and justifying our sin and move on from spiritual lukewarmness (Rev. 3:16).

Living as a surrendered sacrifice also means sacrificing our rights— what we feel entitled to or think we deserve.  We must release our rights to God.  This may mean sacrificing sleep to pray for someone, or sacrificing our plans to serve a need, or sacrificing our ambitions that may conflict with God’s will.  The key to surrender is selfless sacrifice— the sacrifice of ourselves to Him and those He places in our path.

Most importantly, living a surrendered life means sacrificing our will and fully submitting to God’s will in all things.  Just as Jesus said, “Not my will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42), we likewise must surrender our will to the Father’s purposes.  It means to present ourselves as a living sacrifice to Him as an act of worship, yielding everything to Him.


The Key is Consistency

The key is consistency— doing this daily as part of your time with God.  It is not a one-time event that lasts forever.  Start each morning by presenting yourself as a living sacrifice, saying: “Lord, my body and mind belong to You and not myself today.  Have Your way in me and lead me to walk and work for Your Kingdom this day.”  This keeps us surrendered to Him, moment by moment.

When done daily and consistently, this act of surrender will have a profound impact on your life.  It will lead you to freedom from sin, the power to resist temptation, the grace to endure trials, and a renewed purpose to live all out for Christ.  In essence, it allows you to experience the Higher Christian Life or the abundant life Jesus promised.

So what does this look like in real life?  Here are some examples:

•   A husband sacrifices his pride and humbly asks for forgiveness from his wife even when he thinks she may be overreacting.
•    A wife defers a purchase she wants to give the money to someone in need.
•    A teenager skips a party to visit an elderly neighbor who is lonely.
•    An executive passes up a promotion that would require unethical choices or extended travel away from his family.
•    A middle manager speaks up for an oppressed coworker rather than remaining silent, even if it reflects negatively on him with his superiors.
•    A parent lovingly disciplines a child rather than ignoring misbehavior.
•    A church member serves in the nursery to free up young parents, preferring others over themselves.
•    A retiree uses their time to volunteer and tutor underprivileged kids in the community.

In all things, we can pause and ask: “How can I present myself as a living sacrifice in this situation?  What does God want from me right now?”  Then respond in obedience and watch how lives, including your own, are transformed by your surrender.


Conclusion

Surrendering our entire self— body, mind, and will— runs countercultural in our world today.  We are constantly bombarded with messages telling us life is all about gratifying our desires, fulfilling our dreams, and asserting our rights.  But as followers of Jesus, we are called to a radical, revolutionary lifestyle of surrender and sacrifice.

It’s not easy to lay down our agendas and give up control to God.  But when we take this step of faith and make ourselves a living sacrifice, incredible things begin to happen.  We find freedom from sin’s grip.  Anxiety loosens its hold as we trust the One who holds our future.  The purpose in our life is renewed as we align it with eternal Kingdom priorities rather than running after temporary earthly goals.

And most of all, immense joy comes from following a God who is good, loving, and infinitely wise.  Surrender unlocks meaning, blessing, and spiritual power beyond what we could imagine.  The Christian life ceases to be dreary and dutiful when we experience the abundant new life Christ provides to those fully devoted to Him.  In other words, our spiritual life becomes something we always hoped it would become, but just didn’t know how to make it happen.

As we continue on this journey of surrender through these seven life-changing steps, may the promise of God’s faithfulness give us the courage to lay ourselves upon His altar each day.  The sacrifice costs us much, but what awaits on the other side is so much greater.  By His mercies, let us offer ourselves fully to God and have our lives transformed by Him.

So what are you waiting for?  Offer yourselves to Him today.


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61:  The Third Step – Dying to Self to Gain Him

61: The Third Step – Dying to Self to Gain Him

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“Lord” Jesus Christ also means “Owner” Jesus Christ

Surrendering your life fully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ is no small or simple matter.  But I’m sure you are painfully aware of that by now.  It requires making the conscious choice each day to deny our natural desires and humbly submit to His leadership and control.  And that’s where it begins to chafe.  We love the Lord Jesus— but we probably love the “Jesus” part more than we love the “Lord” part.  But as Jesus commanded, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself (ouch), and take up his cross daily (double ouch), and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24).  He sets the requirements for discipleship, not us.  And as with just about everything in the Christian life, it’s all or nothing— life or death, hot or cold, light or darkness, narrow gate or wide road, walk by the Spirit or the flesh, good fruit or bad fruit, you get the idea.  He says to follow Him, we must first deny ourselves and then die to ourselves.  This is what baptism symbolizes.  Dying to self, being buried with Christ, and then being raised into the new life in Him.  Ok, we got that.  But what does it really look like in practical terms to “die to self” daily?

Dying to self goes much deeper than just giving up a few activities we enjoy or taking on extra chores around the house.  It requires renouncing the deep-seated notion that our lives still belong to us and embracing the Biblical reality that we now belong entirely to Christ (Gal. 2:20).  When He died on the cross for our sins, He purchased us with His blood (1 Cor. 6:19-20).  And purchase speaks of ownership— which means our lives are no longer our own.  Dying to self means joyfully relinquishing all rights we think we have to our lives to the One who sacrificed everything to save us.  It means enthroning Him as the rightful Lord and Owner over every area of our lives.


What Does Denying and Dying to Self Look Like

Concretely, this dying to self plays out through both the small and large choices we make each and every day.  It may mean choosing to leave your lucrative career that provides comfort and prestige to pursue full-time ministry at a fraction of your former salary.  Or regularly apologizing to your spouse in humility when conflict arises, even when you don’t think you were in the wrong, in order to restore peace and unity in the relationship by putting your spouse first.

Dying to self often requires passing on purchasing something nice we can afford and believe we deserve in order to generously meet an urgent need in someone else’s life.  It could mean taking time away from a beloved hobby or habit that is absorbing too much of our time and attention at the expense of God’s priorities or sacrificing the time we spend with our children.  Each new situation presents an opportunity to once again surrender our will and way to Christ’s desires and plans for us.  We simply must be open and willing to put Him first, and everything about us less than first.

To walk in a life of continual self-denial and dying to self, we must abandon the notion that we know what’s best for our lives, almost on a daily basis, and embrace the fact that God’s purposes and priorities are better and higher than ours (Isa. 55:8-9).  It requires admitting we don’t have all the answers and desperately need the guidance of the Holy Spirit each step of the way.  As Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).  The old rebellious, stubborn, selfish nature must die so that the resurrected life of Christ can reign fully in us, transforming us into His image (Rom.8:29).

Of course, practically living out this surrendered, crucified life will look different for each of us.  It may mean humbly serving others in lowly ways when we’d rather kick back and relax or be the one being served.  It may mean we have to bite our tongue instead of firing off a heated text message or email we can never take back.  We may have to learn how to receive life-giving correction from others without reacting in a defensive manner or making excuses.  Or, saying “yes” to something that stretches our faith when we would rather stay home where it is safe, warm, and secure.  Each new situation requires a fresh dying to our fleshly reactions so that we can respond as Jesus would.  This is the substance of self-denial and dying to self.  And these are the two prerequisites for following Jesus (Matt. 16:24). Read them yourselves.

While often difficult and uncomfortable, dying to self daily is the only pathway to experiencing the full and abundant life Jesus promises (John 10:10).  It is the key to the Higher Christian life we have talked about.  As we surrender control of our lives to Christ’s capable hands, we are set free from the grip of sin, filled with supernatural joy, and experience deep intimacy with Jesus as maybe never before.  Remember, Jesus said it was to those who willingly lose their lives for His sake that will find true life (Matt. 16:25).  And isn’t true life what we are all longing for?


Dying to Self is the Only Way to Live the Abundant Life He Promised

Dying to our natural selves is admittedly not easy or painless.  In fact, it may be the hardest thing you have ever tried to do.  But the rewards are eternal and far outweigh any temporary suffering it involves.  As we yield ourselves fully to Christ each day, we gain an imperishable inheritance in heaven (1 Peter 1:3-4) that cannot be diminished.  The trials that come from daily surrender to Jesus produce everlasting glory that is beyond comparison (2 Cor. 4:17).

So let’s take up our cross today and every day, whatever that looks like for us in our specific circumstances, and push forward towards the life of total surrender.  Say “no” to self-will and “yes” to the new resurrection life Christ purchased for us.  Because walking the crucified life with Jesus is the only path to experiencing lasting joy, freedom, and purpose.  And it is a vital step in surrendering your life totally to the Lord.

So begin that process today.  Say “no” to you and “yes” to Him.


The Higher Christian Life

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