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75: Be Encouraged by the Small Words in Scripture

75: Be Encouraged by the Small Words in Scripture

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Three Small Words from John 15

In John 15, Jesus lays out our position in Christ and the key or path to the Higher Christian Life in the story of a vine and its branches.  I mean, it really couldn’t be more clear.  This key is found in the simple word abide.   We are to abide in Him— which means “to rest, remain, dwell, to make our home.”  Or, literally, “to be united as one with Him in heart, mind, and will.”  It is the definition of a fully surrendered life.

Yet before we discover the concept of abiding in verse 5, we first must move through the first three verses of John 15, which often present a disturbing picture of God as our Father and is, more often than not, misinterpreted by well-meaning preachers and Bible scholars.  And by misunderstanding the definition of three key words— takes away, prunes, and clean— we can fail to find the amazing encouragement Jesus offers those who are not quite up to meeting His standard of faithfulness or righteousness.


Takes Away, Prunes, and Clean

So, let’s look at these three verses as they are found in our Bibles, compare them to what they say in Greek, and see if something is “lost in translation.”

“I am the true (real, genuine, one who cannot lie) vine, and My Father is the vinedresser (farmer, one who tills the earth or ground)” – John 15:1

This simply sets the stage and introduces the cast of characters:

God = Vinedresser
Jesus = Vine
We = Branches of the Vine (John 15:5)

He continues,

“Every (pás) branch (where) in Me (Christ, vine) that does not bear (to bring, carry, have) fruit He (Father, vinedresser) takes away (aírō – G142); and every (pás) branch (implied, in Me) that bears (to bring, carry, have) fruit He (Father, vinedresser) prunes (kathaírō G2508), (why) that it may bear (to bring, carry, have) more fruit” – John 15:2

We are now introduced to the first two of our three important words: aírō and kathaírō.  The third one, katharós, is found in verse 3.

“You are already clean (katharós – G2513) because of the word which I have spoken to you” – John 15:3


Three Key Words

We now have three Greek words that we need to define to see if our English translation does them justice.  And I think, after you see the definitions for yourself, you will see it does not.

From The New Testament Word Study Dictionary by Spiros Zodhaites:

“takes away” – (aírō – G142)

This word is translated as “takes away” in our English Bibles.  But that is not what it means.

prunes – (kathaírō G2508)

And this word is translated as “prunes” in our English Bibles.  And, yet again, that is not what it means in the Greek.

clean – (katharós – G2513)

Finally, this word is correctly translated as “clean.”   So now, what does this verse look like?


Vine and the Branches

The Vinedresser, our Father, no longer takes away unfruitful branches but lifts them up, supports them, and helps them once again become fruitful, just like a natural farmer would do to his crops.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch (where) in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away (takes up, lifts up, elevates, to rise);

In a phrase, he builds a trellis to support the fallen branches of His vine.

But it gets better.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch (where) in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away (takes up, lifts up, elevates, to rise); and every branch (implied, in Me) that bears fruit He prunes (to clean, make pure and unsoiled), that it may bear more fruit.  You are already clean (pure, clean, without stain or spot, to be cleansed from filth, to purify) because of the word which I have spoken to you.”

Now, verse three seems to make sense as the Vinedresser cleans the fruitful branches to make them more fruitful and then states His disciples do not need that form of cleaning since they are already clean by the words Christ has spoken to them.


Be Encouraged

There is so much more to these three words than we can reveal in this post.  To understand more fully, please listen to the podcast and follow along with the PowerPoint slides above.

And be encouraged, you who do not, nor have not, lived a perfect life.  God doesn’t take you away when you sin.  He lifts you up, strengthens you, and puts you in a better position not to sin and become fruitful once again.  I hope this has put a smile on your face, because I am still smiling… from ear to ear.

Isn’t this just like our Father?


The Higher Christian Life

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74: The Purpose of the Christian Life – Experiencing God

74: The Purpose of the Christian Life – Experiencing God

To download the slides for this message, click – HERE

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The Problem: Dry Ritual Without Relationship

For many believers, Christianity has become a religion of rules devoid of a relationship.  We know we should have a quiet time, serve in church, avoid sin, and so on.  But all this outward conformity easily lacks the inward reality of actually connecting with God.  We act spiritual, without ever experiencing the presence of the Spirit.  And that is a sad, yet common experience for many today.

How did this happen?  Partly because we’ve made faith all about knowledge over an encounter with God.  We prize book learning, doctrinal precision, and intellectual comprehension of Scripture— forgetting you can memorize the Bible and miss the Lord of the Bible.  Information in our heads doesn’t necessarily lead to transformation in our hearts.  Why?  Because head knowledge alone breeds pride, heart encounters with Christ breed authentic life change.


The Pattern: Experiencing God Transforms Us

Yet Scripture shows us a better way.  When Moses saw the burning bush, he experienced God’s awe-inspiring presence (Exodus 3).  After Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord, he walked with a limp— an everyday reminder of his personal encounter with God (Gen. 32:22-32).  And when Isaiah had a powerful vision of God on his throne, he was utterly transformed forever (Isaiah 6).

For early followers of Jesus, faith wasn’t a dead tradition, but a living, vibrant relationship.  Acts 2:42 says the early church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”  These early disciplines led to a powerful encounter with the Lord: “Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles” (v. 43).  Even repentance is meant to be an encounter, as we turn from sin and into the forgiving arms of Christ.


The Invitation: Taste and See Jesus

This is God’s invitation to us: not just to know about Him, but to experience Him— to taste His goodness and to know that He is good (Psalm 34:8).  And as we behold the Lord’s glory, we are transformed into His image (2 Cor 3:18), which is the goal of the Christian life.  The more we experience His presence and power, the more we reflect Christ to the world.

So, what areas of your faith have become dry rituals rather than genuine encounters with the Living God?  Consider these aspects of the Christian life that are meant to connect us with God:

Experiencing God’s Presence in Worship

Worship isn’t just singing songs or listening to a praise band— it’s meeting with the Lord, captivated by His beauty.  Through worship in Spirit and truth (John 4:24), we experience God’s presence in a life-changing way.

Experiencing God’s Power in Trials

Even our trials can lead us into deeper encounters with God’s peace (Phil. 4:6-7), comfort (2 Cor. 1:3-4), and strength that carries us through.  As we turn to Him, we experience His sustaining grace.

Experiencing God’s Character Through the Spirit

The fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) are not just moral qualities.  No, as we walk in step with the Spirit, He produces His fruit in our lives, whereby we experience His patience, joy, and kindness from the inside out.


The Invitation: Draw Near to God

God promises if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us (Jam. 4:8).  So the ball is in our court.  Will you accept His invitation?  Will you ask the Lord for fresh encounters with Him, pray daily to behold His beauty, and let your head knowledge fuel your pursuit of heart change through experiencing Jesus?

Remember, God invites us into an intimate walk with Him, where we encounter His presence daily through prayer, worship, Scripture, and simply seeking Him.  As we taste and see His goodness, we are transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory.  So, let’s shed religious rule-keeping and wholeheartedly pursue a relationship with Him.  Let’s draw near to Jesus today, and every day, expecting divine encounters that change our hearts, fuel our worship, compel us to share about Him, and ultimately fulfill our deepest purpose— which is to know and experience God through Christ our Lord.

So what are you waiting for?


The Higher Christian Life

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73:  Experiencing True Repentance from Psalm 51

73: Experiencing True Repentance from Psalm 51

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How to Experience God Through Repentance

In our quest for a deeper relationship with the Lord, we have been talking about what genuine repentance looks like in real-time.  And we found ourselves in the middle of Psalm 51, examining six key words in David’s prayer of repentance that show us how to not only receive forgiveness from the Lord, but how to experience His presence in the process.  And, as a reminder, the six key words found in Psalm 51:10-12 are as follows:

Please DoCreate in me a clean heart, O God, and
Please Dorenew a steadfast spirit within me.
Please Don’tDo not cast me away from Your presence, and
Please Don’tdo not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Please DoRestore to me the joy of Your salvation, and
Please Douphold me by Your generous Spirit.

But what do these words mean?  And how do they point us to a deeper Christian life of experiencing His presence when we come to Him in repentance?


(You, God) Create in Me a Clean Heart

After being confronted by the prophet Nathan, David pleads,

“(You) Create (bārāʾ – to bring into existence, to create out of nothing, ex nihilo) in me (personal) a clean (ṭāhôr – clean, pure, genuine, free from moral impurity) heart (lēḇ – the immaterial part of man, the seat of a person’s mind, will, knowledge, volition, and emotions), O God (ʾelōhiym – the One True God, the Creator and Sustainer, the Sovereign One).”

He understood that he couldn’t make himself righteous through willpower alone.  No, David needed God to create something completely new in Him that he couldn’t do by himself.  The word “create” means to make something out of nothing, just as God created the universe by His word.

Likewise, we need the Lord to give us a pure, undefiled heart when we come to Him in repentance.  On our own, we can’t clean up the mess inside us.  God must perform heart surgery, transforming us from the inside out as we yield ourselves to Him.


(You, God) Renew a Steadfast Spirit Within Me

David also prays,

and (You) renew (ḥāḏaš – to restore, reestablish on a new or improved basis, to revitalize and make new or like new) a steadfast (kûn – to be marked by firm determination or resolution, to be unshakeable, to stand upright) spirit (rûaḥ) within me (personal).”

Though God cleansed David’s heart previously, he lost that wonderful experience through sin.  Now David asks God to restore what was lost, to “renew” and reestablish the steadfast spirit he once had.  David now understands he needs help staying firmly rooted in his commitment to the Lord because, left on his own, he will once again fail.

When we walk in sin and disobedience, we become spiritually unstable, often losing our zeal for God’s kingdom.  But through repentance, God renews our spirit, revitalizing our passion for Christ and His righteousness.


(You, God) Do Not Cast Me Away From Your Presence

Haunted by his grievous offenses, David worries about losing fellowship with God.  So he implores the Lord to,

“(You) Do not cast (šālaḵ – to throw, fling, to toss casually away, to dispose of) me (personal) away from Your (God) presence (pāniym – face, being before or in front of someone, proximity), and (You) do not take (lāqaḥ – grasp, seize, take away) Your Holy (qōḏeš – sacred, sanctified, set apart and consecrated to God) Spirit (rûaḥ) from me (personal).”

David fears being flung from God’s presence like worthless garbage because of his sin.  And we too, like David, must zealously guard our relationship with the Holy Spirit, who now permanently indwells believers under the new covenant.  Through Him, God makes His home in our hearts.  Sin still grieves and quenches the Spirit today, distancing us from intimate fellowship with God.  Thus, we must continually rely on Christ’s blood to cleanse our conscience and keep our access to the Father through the Spirit open and unhindered.


Restore to Me the Joy

David also prays,

“(You) Restore (šûḇ – to turn, return, to back, do again, to bring back into original existence, use, function or position) to me (personal) the joy (śāśôn – exultation, gladness, rejoicing, jubilation, an emotion of great happiness and pleasure) of Your (God’s) salvation (yēšaʿ – deliverance, rescue, help, preservation, the act of delivering from sin or saving from evil),”

David isn’t worried about losing his salvation.  Rather, he wants the delight and gladness that should flow from his salvation by God to overflow again.  He remembers the exuberance that once accompanied his walk with the Lord, but now, his tank feels empty.  He longs for that joy to bubble up afresh to energize his pursuit of Christ.

Many of us need to plead David’s prayer in our own life.  Do you “rejoice with exultation” over the salvation graciously extended to you in Christ (1 Peter 1:6, 8-9)?  Does your heart swell when reflecting on the wonder of being delivered by God from sin and condemnation?  If not, cry out to Him as David did.  Ask God to “restore to me the joy of Your salvation!”  Ask Him to unclog anything hindering the river of joy that should water your soul.


Uphold Me by Your Spirit

Finally, after begging for inner cleansing and transformation, David requests the Spirit’s ongoing sustaining grace:

and (You) uphold (sāmaḵ – sustain, support, bear up, establish, to supply with everything needed) me (personal) by (what) Your (God’s) generous (nāḏiyḇ – willing, noble, an attitude of heart that consents or agrees, magnanimous, is disposed or inclined towards, gladly willing) Spirit (rûaḥ).”

Even with a renewed heart, David knows he will stumble again without the Spirit’s help.  He needs the Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide him to live faithfully before God and walk uprightly according to God’s truth.

And like David, you and I desperately require the Spirit’s daily empowerment to put sin to death and mirror Christ in our lives.  As Paul explains, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).  So make it your continual prayer to depend completely on Him to uphold and steer you along righteous paths for God’s glory.


The Pathway to Restoration

We all need times of intensive spiritual repair and revival to realign our affections with Christ.  And God uses genuine repentance to bring us back to Himself.  But true repentance requires ruthless honesty, not superficial lip service.  So follow David’s example.  Pour out your heart before God.  Confess ways your love has grown cold.  Ask the Spirit to cleanse, renew, and uphold you afresh through His indwelling power.  Then, walk forward in newness of life and joy.

And go tell someone what God has done in your life.


The Higher Christian Life

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72:  Our Identity — Stop Striving, Start Abiding

72: Our Identity — Stop Striving, Start Abiding

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Embracing Who We Really Are

D.L. Moody, while on his European crusade in 1873, was so inspired by a conversation he had with British revivalist Henry Varley that he prayed:

“The world has yet to see what God can do with, and for, and through, and in a man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him.  By God’s help, I am to be that man.”

This is the essence of the desire to be all God created you to be— to be “all in for Him,” as they say.   The problem is, after we conjure up the desire, we come face-to-face with the “how to.”  In other words, how do I surrender my life to the Lord?  How do I yield everything to him?  And how do I live a truly sanctified, higher Christian life?

In any other endeavor, we would find someone who is where we want to be and model our lives after them.  But we live in the Laodicean church age, and sold-out Believers are few, especially in the West.  So what are we to do?  What’s the next step?  And is there anything we can learn about surrender from even the obscure passages in Scripture that point us in the right direction?


What Does it Mean to be God’s Servant?

After God gave David rest from all his enemies and after he consolidated the kingdom to himself, David made what he thought was a pretty good request from the Lord.  After all, he reasoned, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells inside tent curtains” (2 Sam. 7:2), and we can’t have that.   So he decided, after receiving less than stellar advice from the prophet Nathan, to take it upon himself to build a dwelling place for God, or more specifically, for the Ark of the Covenant.  And, on the surface, it seemed like a good idea, even somewhat noble.

But God was not amused, for neither David nor Nathan had sought the Lord in this matter.

In fact, God rebuked David twice for forgetting who he was as God’s servant, or “slave” (doúlos)— which, by definition, makes God the Lord and Master of all, including David.  So, in response to God’s stinging censure, David humbled himself profoundly before God’s rebuke.  He owned his true identity as a “servant” or “slave” (doúlos), and acknowledged it ten times in his brief exchange with God (vv. 19, 20, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29).  That’s ten times in just eleven verses.

So, what transformed David’s perspective?  He simply recognized his true identity before God— not as a self-made king, but as a submitted servant or faithful slave (doúlos) to the Lord.

David’s example highlights that discipleship stems from knowing we belong wholly to God.  As Paul wrote, “You are not your own… you were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).  Have we grasped this liberating truth?  We cannot experience God’s depths while still stubbornly clinging to personal rights and claims over our lives.  True freedom, paradoxically, comes through bonding ourselves permanently to our Master as His faithful servant, longing for Him to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant (doúlos)” (Matt. 25:21).  Remember, God did not save us to be independent contractors employed in His service.  He has something much greater in mind.

Just like assuming a new family name changes the way we view ourselves, likewise, our core identity in Christ transforms how we approach life.  Living “all-in” starts by accepting that we now belong to Another— to Someone far greater than we can imagine.


Time to Re-Calibrate Your Identity

Perhaps it’s time to let Him recalibrate your identity like He did David.  His Word invites us to “present your bodies a living sacrifice… and be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:1-2).  When we grasp God’s complete right to direct us, surrendering fully becomes the only reasonable response.  It is a natural outflow from the identity we now embrace— a faithful slave to the Most High King.

Let God begin the transformation of your identity today.


The Higher Christian Life

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71:  “Uh, My Bad,” Doesn’t Really Cut It Anymore

71: “Uh, My Bad,” Doesn’t Really Cut It Anymore

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Ten Aspects of True Repentance that Gets God’s Attention

Giving God a flippant “my bad” when we mess up just won’t cut it, no matter how hard we try to make it work.  Too often, we deal with our sin through superficial apologies, not grasping the gravity of how our choices offend our Creator and grieve His Spirit.

But in Psalm 51, David shows us a better way.  His raw, honest prayer of remorse models how genuine repentance can thoroughly transform us and restore our fellowship with God.  In his plea to God, David holds nothing back.  He pours out his grief and hope with both humility and longing, providing a template for the kind of confession that gets God’s attention and purifies us deep down.

David’s prayer reveals that repentance goes far beyond crisis management or trying to mitigate the consequences of our sins.  Instead, David walks through an intense spiritual restoration, launching him into greater intimacy with God and a commitment to remain faithful to his first love.  David finds joy and wholeness on the other side through his uncompromising honesty and hunger for spiritual renewal.

As we walk through ten key truths David models regarding repentance, may his prayer challenge each of us to put into practice what we will learn.  We, like David, cannot experience God’s full forgiveness and empowerment while still clinging to our besetting sins and flimsy excuses.  So, let’s look at these ten truths in the hope they will compel us toward the kind of soul-changing repentance that revives our passion for Christ and allows us to experience His presence.


One, David Owned Up to His Sin and Made No Excuses

The first step of repentance is openly admitting our wrong actions or attitudes without making excuses to justify ourselves.  David begins his prayer with raw honesty, saying, “For I acknowledge (yāḏaʿ) my transgressions, and my sin (singular) is always before (present) me” (v. 3).  He does not try rationalizing adultery and murder or to come up with some excuse for his actions.  David faces his evil deeds head-on, keeping no sin hidden from his awareness or accountability before God.  We display genuine repentance by owning where we have fallen short, without downplaying or explaining away our sin, or blaming someone else for our own actions.  The devil didn’t make you do it, you did.


Two, David Understood Who He had Sinned Against

Though David’s actions horribly wronged Bathsheba and Uriah, he confesses, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight” (v. 4).  Even when our sin affects others, we must recognize that all transgression violates God’s holy standard first, which is the greater sin— because all sin repels His glory.  So, by focusing on the root issue of offending God’s righteousness through sin, we gain a proper perspective of the evil of our actions, leading to our repentance.  Our sin grieves the very heart of God, and to Him first, we must repent before any others.


Three, True Repentance Comes from a Broken Spirit

David says a broken spirit and a contrite (crushed) heart reveal genuine humility (v. 17).  Religious sacrifices alone don’t move God’s forgiveness— contrition does.  Repentance requires altogether abandoning stubborn pride or entitlement or clinging to our self-justification and supposed “rightness” by honestly coming to terms with the gravity of our sin.  We must approach God, broken and shattered over the arrogance and self-centeredness corrupting our hearts, crying out for Him to create purity within us once again.


Four, Restoration From the One Offended

Though wracked with guilt, David focuses his hope on God’s power and willingness to “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and (You) renew a steadfast spirit within me” (v. 10).  He seeks inner renewal from the very Person his sin grievously hurt.  David’s hope of forgiveness and restoration rests securely in God’s compassion and drives out his guilt and shame by trusting that God wants to redeem this failure in his life— which, of course, He does.  Note: This doesn’t mean you can skate on asking others you have hurt for their forgiveness.  No, that will come, but only after you have first repented before God.  Restoration from Him is your first priority.  Restoration from others will follow in time.


Five, True Repentance Demands a Commitment to Change

Part of David’s appeal says, “Then (afterward) I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You” (v. 13).  He knows receiving such lavish grace now compels him into a life radically different from what he was before.  True repentance marries confession with an action plan to live differently by God’s standard.  We will inevitably slide backward if we only feel sorry but never address root heart issues.  Repentance demands embracing personal transformation and then allowing God to bring glory to Himself through His redeemed child.


Six, Repentance Means Trusting in God’s Overflowing Mercy and Love

Though David feels that the abundant mercy of God may seem inadequate for the wickedness of his actions (v. 1), he nevertheless rests entirely in God’s divine compassion, remembering God forgives even the chief of sinners.  He calls out, hope against hope, trusting God’s unmatched lovingkindness to triumph over the evil in his life.  So, no matter how far we have fallen, crying out in repentance means believing God can redeem anyone who comes with authentic humility— especially you and me.


Seven, We Must Walk in Freedom from Condemning Shame

David now begs for joy and gladness to replace his sorrow, asking God to uphold him by the Holy Spirit (v. 12).  He understands wallowing in self-hatred after forgiveness solves nothing and is an insult to the promises and nature of God.  Experiencing true repentance frees us from the paralyzing grip of guilt and shame.  Though sin’s consequences remain, and rightly so, we must embrace the healing God provides as no longer condemned sinners, but cleansed children of His.  And we glorify His mercy by walking forward in renewed peace and purpose.


Eight, We Must Use Our Restored Life to Bless Others

Forgiveness launches David into a new ministry, as it should each of us— as David now pledges his tongue will sing of God’s righteousness and teach others His truth (vv. 13-14).  Genuine repentance multiplies the ministry of redemption.  Like David, sharing our testimony offers fellow strugglers empathy, proving God patiently awaits every prodigal.  Our renewed lives remind others of how His mercy triumphs over the judgment of our sins.


Nine, We Should Desire Growth in His Wisdom and Character

Beyond removing sin’s burden, David urgently pursues deeper depth in his spiritual life by asking God to nurture truth and integrity and teach him wisdom within (v. 6).  Repentance sparks a revived appetite for the Word, prayer, and worship with others.  Remember, repentance is not about crisis management, but a launching pad for lifelong growth in understanding God and His character.


Ten, We Can Now Rejoice in His Complete Restoration

Even though the consequences of his sin remain, David ultimately sees past them to embrace the joy of full redemption his repentance provides.  He cries for God to “Make me hear joy and gladness, (why) that the bones You have broken may rejoice” (v. 8).  Repentance stands on God’s commitment that confession leads to a renewed relationship as our Father waits, ready to turn our mess into a message of hope for others.


Conclusion

David leaves no aspect of genuine repentance unaddressed through this raw, honest prayer for repentance.  He shows us exactly how to tear down stubborn strongholds and find complete redemption in Him.  Through brutal honesty, a desire for inner wisdom, commitment to change, and a firm trust in God’s mercy, David finds his supernatural restoration that is the byproduct of true repentance— and so can we.

David’s journey must now become our own.  We cannot run from pockets of willful sin or spiritual blindness, thinking God will fully use compromised vessels.  So, like David, we must do the hard part and plead for His Spirit to inspect every hidden corner in our lives— because shortcuts will not produce the deep spiritual health and wholeness we long for.  But as we fully open our lives to His correction, true forgiveness and restoration wait on the other side.

David discovered firsthand that true repentance opens the floodgates to renewed joy and purpose.  There is simply no better place to be than fully surrendered at the feet of Jesus.  In Psalm 51, David guides us step-by-step through confession, cleansing, and revival, which is critical for walking in new life.  I pray David’s bold prayer softens and strengthens us to experience the fullness of Christ’s promises to those who confess and forsake their sin.

If you need renewal and restoration because of your sins, no matter how small you may think them to be, follow David’s example.

And do it today.


The Higher Christian Life

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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.


The Higher Christian Life

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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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