By Mike Ratliff
To My Lord Jesus Christ who changes, inspires, leads and empowers me – For His Glory
To Ina and Misti – your Spiritual Maturity is an inspiration to me
To Del, Charmaine and Rene’ – God’s good work in you is evident in your living testimonies
To Mom and Dad – your prayers were answered in every aspect of getting this book written and published
To Julie, Tracy and Ken – your diligent and constructive criticism is right on
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. 1 John 3:1-3
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”Romans 1:16-17
Walking the Walk by Faith
Copyright © 2005 by Johnny Michael Ratliff
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked “KJV” are taken from The Holy Bible, King James Version.
Brother Lawrence quotes are from The Practice of the Presence of God The Best Rule of a Holy Life which is in the Public Domain.
Table of Contents
Salvation unto Christ-likeness. 53
Repentance God’s Way vs. Repentance the World’s Way. 90
Vanity of Vanities, All is Vanity. 109
Fairness, Rights and the Pursuit of Happiness. 188
God transformed me as I learned to seek His face and will. It was His work done in me. It was not me working hard at being Christ-like. I wanted to tell everyone. I wanted to teach others the truth even if it meant writing about it. At first I felt convicted about writing about my own spiritual growth. I felt it would appear to be coming from pride. I did not want anyone to think I had become self-righteous.
I asked God if He wanted me to teach what He had taught me. The answer was yes. I then asked if I was to become a full-time minister or something else. I got no direct yes or no, but felt led to ask if the message He was giving me was a lesson or a sermon or perhaps a series of lessons like a seminar. The answer I received was, “Outline it.” I started working on it right away. I asked God to lead me as I did it. It soon became apparent the message was not a Sunday school lesson or a sermon. It was obviously a book or a seminar. Over the next several days I continued to prayerfully refine the outline. After I completed it I asked God if I should start writing. The answer I got seemed strange at the time, but it makes a lot of sense now. The answer was, “write what you know now.”
I wrote about the changes God had wrought in me and the processes He had used to bring them about. It soon became apparent there was a very large amount of information about the Creation, God (very deep subject), Man, sin, etc. which had to be researched and defined before the spiritual growth section would make any sense. I quit writing. I prayed for guidance. The answer was to do the research then to develop a book which wrapped around and complemented the original outline the Lord had given me. (No, the answer was not given to me like that. I had to ask a lot of questions and rely on direction in research and Bible study to get that answer.) Then I understood why He had me develop the book this way. I was not complete enough at first to do it. I had to learn more about Him. I had to get to know Him even more personally so I could write the Truth.
After I had done much of the initial research on this book my daughter, Misti, and I discussed how people would take our sharing the spiritual growth God had wrought in us. We talked about it as I was driving her to the Kansas City Airport for her flight home after Thanksgiving. She felt like some people would take our talking about it as belittling them and seen as an attempt to exalt ourselves. I agreed completely with her. It seemed to be a no win situation. I knew God wanted me to share the truth with those He drew to Himself. However, I knew also I needed to be gracious and Christ-like if I did share. I needed God’s wisdom and guidance.
As I sought guidance, God led me to the following Scripture. “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16 Emphasis Mine)
God revealed to me He did indeed want His truth shared with the Church. It also was clear what would be included in this book would be His message and nothing more.
This book is a labor of love, not for it, but for Him. It is His message for the Church. Whenever, I had a favorite phrase or really cool thought I fell in love with it usually did not survive my editing process and had to be cut out or changed because it simply did not fit the message. My editing process includes listening to God. He would stop me or slow me down whenever there was too much of me in the words and not enough truth. Sometimes I would try to include something I had researched which seemed “so right” only to have it become a sticking point on continuity or flow. God was telling me to cool it on showing how clever I was and to stick with the message. Writing this book is not about how well I write (or not) or how clever I am (or not), but how vital this message is for the Church.
Yours in Christ
I have been a believer since January 1986. I was 34 when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and personal savior. I was married with two young children. I was working as a Data Processing manager at one of the largest banks in Tulsa, Oklahoma at the time of my salvation. I had recently graduated from Central State University in Edmond, Oklahoma with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and had begun my first semester in an attempt at a MBA at Oklahoma State University (I never finished it). I remember how much I loved school and my job, but something wasn’t right.
When we married neither my wife nor I were attending church on a regular basis. I grew up going to church, but that habit went away as a young adult. When our children became a handful we decided they needed the influence of a Christian home. So, we started attending a local church which was pastored by a friend of mine from High School.
We had been attending regularly on Sunday mornings and evenings for nearly a year when I became acutely aware I was lost. I remember very little about the day I was saved because the Lord’s conviction had my complete attention. I do remember sitting in the auditorium that cold January Sunday morning trying to decide what to do. I did not hear the sermon. I don’t remember any of the songs. I don’t remember the drive home or what we had for lunch. However, when we went back for the evening services I was ready to take care of business. I remember I became very impatient waiting for the sermon to end so I could go forward. When the altar call started I was the first one down there talking with our pastor.
My Sunday school teacher was the one who prayed with me as I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and personal savior. I was baptized the following Sunday evening along with five or six others. And so I began my journey. I confess I really did not understand I was on a journey. Nor did I understand God has a plan for all believers to mature into Christ-likeness. Nevertheless, my journey began.
For the next fifteen years my wife and I were active members of four different churches in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas. I became a Sunday school teacher. Later I became a deacon. At one point I was chairman of the deacons. At the church where I served as a deacon most people saw me as a mature believer who faithfully served the Lord wherever I was needed. During this period I was very faithful with a daily quiet time of prayer and bible reading.
Our children grew up in church. I had the privilege of leading both of them to Christ. I helped during invitations (altar calls) and had the wonderful opportunity to lead several people to Christ who came forward. My wife served in the children’s ministry. I taught adults and my wife and I hosted a small group at our home on Sunday evenings.
Over time I became very tired of working hard at “Church” while going through many severe trials. I was serving in all sorts of capacities, but my reactions to trials were extremely fleshly. I had very little self-control. I had massive anger problems after the Oklahoma City Federal Center bombing (I was about a block away from the blast and knew some of the victims). I was constantly confessing and repenting of the same sins over and over again. Adversity would come and I would get resentful and react emotionally. After repenting I would serve even harder, but during the week I was the same fleshly person. I became desperate. Not coincidentally, I quit having a consistent daily quiet time. Some of my friends suggested I had experienced burnout.
In February 2000 we moved back to Tulsa, Oklahoma when I became the Database Administrator for the same bank I had worked for in 1986. I am sorry to say I actually looked forward to moving back to Tulsa from Oklahoma City so I could get a break from my many duties at our Church. However, I am convinced God was in the move because the DBA experience from that job enabled me to get my current job.
One day in May of 2001 I got a call at my desk from a recruiter looking for a Database Administrator to relocate to the Kansas City area. I jumped at it. After several months of interviews and negotiations I got the job. We moved in September 2001. Soon, we were attending a church in Olathe, Kansas. It was a small fellowship, but we liked it very much. I told our new pastor I was sure God had been behind our move because of the ease of buying our new house in Kansas while selling our house in Oklahoma.
After attending our new Church for a year or so I was asked to teach an Adult Sunday school class as a temporary substitute for a teacher who wanted to take the rest of the year off. I agreed. I taught for the remainder of the year then was asked to do it another year. I agreed. In late 2003 I was asked to start a new class for young couples. My wife and I started teaching it in January 2004.
However, I really had not changed much. I was still struggling with all of the same fleshly problems, but God was moving in my life. I came under deep conviction. Something had to change. God was calling me to a deeper walk with Him. I was ashamed of the shallowness of my relationship with the Lord. In early January I began getting up thirty minutes early so I could have a daily quiet time. I started with some devotional materials our church gives away. At first it wasn’t much, but I was giving God more time than I had in a long time. Over time I added some deeper devotionals and longer prayer times. I brought home our prayer lists from church and attempted to pray for those needs.
It helped, but I was still frustrated as I vacillated back and forth between serving hard and having fleshly responses to trials and tests all week long. I was doing it all wrong, but didn’t know it. I was trying to be spiritual and obedient with absolutely no help from God. I was trying to do it all by my own will power and discipline. I would experience wonderful Joy and Peace when I worshipped and when I taught with power. Then, of course, I would move on and be me the rest of the time.
Everything began to change for me as I began having my quiet time again and as we began our new class. The first book we studied was about hearing and obeying God. The study made it clear to me and my class God is speaking to us all the time. The problem is we aren’t listening. I prayed each day God would give me ears to hear Him. I was sick and tired of blowing it over circumstances which angered me then immediately coming under conviction to repent. I wanted God to change me. I wanted to have the wisdom and foresight to recognize the circumstances right as they happened so I could respond correctly in His power. Over the first few weeks I was able to be more consistent, but not every time. When I did blow it, I would come under such heavy conviction, if possible, I would go to whoever I had reacted to and ask for forgiveness. Many times, deep down, I knew I was in the right, but that did not matter to God. What mattered was reacting as Jesus would.
In early spring a coworker gave me a book to read called “Hinds feet on High Places” by Hannah Hurnard. I devoured it. It really got me thinking about how our spiritual growth is actually a journey or a process. God’s goal is for all of His children to become Christ-like. I did not believe I was Christ-like at all. I knew I wanted to be, but I didn’t know how to get there. So I prayed for God to show me how and to make it a reality in my life. That month I was nominated by our church to be a deacon. With mixed emotions, I agreed to serve and was elected. I made a vow to God to serve Him His way, but He had to change me. I prayed I would become His chosen vessel to be used as He willed. At the same time my fleshly side wanted none of it.
The Lord kept drawing me closer and closer to Him all summer. I devoured other Christian books and prayed longer and deeper. However, I still had some self-control and anger issues. In August 2004 I read “Eric Liddell Pure Gold” by David McCasland. Eric Liddell was the Scottish Missionary who was the main character in the movie “Chariots of Fire.” His devotion to God inspired me. I began listening to contemporary Christian music at work (via headphones of course). Michael W. Smith’s prayer songs performed on his “Worship” CD, for example, started coming alive to me. I meditated on Romans 12:1-2. Those verses became the core of my maturing process along with Matthew 11:28-30. I prayed for God to take me through that process, no matter the cost.
In late August I began studying “The Purpose Drive Life” by Rick Warren. God used it in a mighty way to change me. God showed me what I had been doing wrong all along. One of the lessons in the book was about practicing the presence of God. I had no idea a believer could actually stay in prayer and worship mode all the time. However, I realized as I studied, I had actually been staying in His presence as I devoted more and more of my time to the Lord by worshipping Him throughout the day. Practicing the presence of God was becoming more and more real to me. It also became a way of life, a habit, which the Lord was developing in me. I learned to direct my Heart away from fleshly desires as I focused on God instead. As I would direct my Heart towards God my fleshly side would be crucified. I found I could discern the Lord’s will with an overwhelming understanding. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)
Sometimes I listen to prayer songs during my devotion time. What a blessing! I attempted to direct my heart toward God all the time. Since then I have stayed dedicated to being in God’s presence as I worked, drove, interacted with other people and taught Sunday school. I ‘m not perfect (I never will be in this Body). I am still being discipled. I still have days of struggle. I don’t like those days, but I found those days are God’s to use to mold and shape my Heart.
In the early days of the Church Christianity was actually called “The Way”. As I learned to walk this way it made sense to me why it was called that. Real Christianity is a relationship with God which results in the believer learning to walk through each day Christ’s way in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I found I had self-control and fewer anger issues. I was obedient to the will of God as a completely natural act. It seemed God had a surprise for me everyday. My favorite was discovering my prayer life had completely changed. Prayer was always a struggle for me for the first 18 years of my journey. While in the Spirit, I can pray in very great detail for someone or a situation as the Holy Spirit guides me. I found I would pray for people on my prayer list things I had no way of knowing, but was what I was led to pray.
Many times I needed guidance about how to organize this book, or what to put in or leave out. I found I could simply seek God’s face, pray for Him to reveal what His will was for the book and I would have the answer immediately. The answers came to me several ways. I really can’t explain how I know it is the Lord when He speaks except that Jesus himself said that those who are His will hear His voice and know that it is Him. “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27) Sometimes he speaks via circumstances, sometimes from scripture and sometimes I have an overwhelming understanding come to me that I know is direct from Him. (cf. James 1:5) When I am stuck and humbly seek His face with the attitude of complete submission to His will He speaks and I hear Him. I always check to make sure that it isn’t just me trying to get ahead of Him. His answers are succinct and never violate His revealed Word. His answers are always right because they are His wisdom and direct me to His will. When I try to help by coming up with the answer myself that is not the case at all. I hear Him when I am listening with an obedient and submissive Heart as I stay in His presence. The Lord is imparting His wisdom to me. When I am in control I don’t hear Him because I am not walking in the Spirit. I am still learning how to listen to God.
Many have told me or insinuated God does not speak that way anymore. Why? He has not changed. I am convinced He reveals His wisdom and will to those who are totally devoted to hearing and obeying Him as they saturate their lives with Him and His Word. (cf. Ephesians 1:17; cf. Colossians 1:9; cf. James 1:5)
I became inspired as God changed my value system so it matched His. As part of doing my lesson in “The Purpose Driven Life” each evening, I turned off the TV, turned on my favorite prayer songs then dived in. I gave my evenings to God instead of mindless entertainment. I began a prayer journal. During many of my worship experiences I would become aware I had become Spirit-filled. While worshipping I was so in touch with Him and so full of Joy I would weep and weep as I humbly submitted to His Holy cleansing fire.
I have longer prayer lists now and spend my morning quiet time praying through those. My evening devotional time is geared more towards bible study, research, writing, worship, prayer and letting God feed me from His table. I have dedicated a few days to fasting and prayer as The Lord has led me. The Lord has drawn me to walk according to the Spirit. He has called me to walk by faith. I try to stay in His presence always. I am not there yet. I doubt I will ever get there this side of Heaven, but I ‘m going to try!
This book was inspired by my struggle and the struggle I see in those sheep all around me. I know now God has wanted me to direct my heart towards Him all along. The problem has always been with my lack of maturity. God has pressed this message into me as he has reshaped my heart and built my faith. He has opened up my Spiritual ears. He has given me the ability to walk the walk. I want to tell everyone I know there is a better way. I pray God will use this book and your study time to mature you as He teaches you His ways. He is calling you to live a life of walking by Faith. The next step is yours.
Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD, exercising Lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
The God of the Bible is a spiritual being. He is not a creation of man. He is the creator of the Universe and Man. He is the creator of all living creatures in the Universe. He is the creator of all of the Spiritual beings such as Angels. Man did not create God so he could have some religious experience. God created man as spiritual and physical being in His own image. God made man in such a way he would live a life which glorified Him.
God manifests Himself in three persons. The term used to refer to God this way is the Holy Trinity. I must say right now no explanation by me or any other author could ever hope to delve the depths of an infinite God with our finite minds. Besides, the entire Bible is all about revealing God to man. As thick as it is, it still cannot come close to describing God to Man completely. A good axiom to remember when trying to conceptualize or explain God is no matter how high and lifted up you place God, it’s not high enough. No matter how merciful, glorious or powerful you think God is, He is more merciful, glorious and powerful. Our finite minds cannot contain how wonderful, glorious and powerful He is.
With that axiom in mind let us attempt to learn what we can about the living God from the Word of God, the Bible.
God is all powerful. This is the attribute of God which is summed up in the Omnipotence of God. (cf. Genesis 17:1; cf. Deuteronomy 3:24; cf. Revelation 19:6) If God were not omnipotent then He would not be God. That would mean there would be someone or something which is more powerful, or at least as powerful, as God is. The Omnipotence of God provides those who believe and trust in Him with assurance there is nothing He can not overcome.
God knows all. This is the attribute of God which is summed up in the Omniscience of God. (cf. Psalm 139; cf. Psalm 139; cf. Hebrews 4:13) If God were not omniscient He would not be God. If He did not know all things then His imparting of all of scripture to Man would be imperfect and not to be trusted. Those who believe and trust in Him can be assured His ways are perfect and undefiled. The Omniscience of God also means, in His timing, there will be perfect Justice. No one can hide anything from Him.
God is in all places at once. This is the attribute of God which is summed up in the Omnipresence of God. (cf. Psalm 139:8; cf. Jeremiah 23:23, 24; cf. Ephesians 2:22; cf. Psalm 133:5; cf. Psalm 123:1; cf. 1 Kings 8:27; cf. Matthew 6:9; cf. Romans 10:6,7) This fact shows us He is not contained or restrained by the physical. This means those who believe and trust in Him will know they are never out of His sight or presence. If there was any location where God could not also be it would mean He is somehow limited by something else. If true, He would not be God.
God is perfect. (cf. Deuteronomy 32:3, 4) His Righteousness speaks of His perfection. (cf. 1 John 3:7) This means He is always right. If God was not perfect then He would not be God. How could Man trust a God who was fallible? God’s Righteous perfection speaks of His Holiness. (cf. Psalm 145:17) God’s Holiness means God and God alone is worthy of our worship and praise. God is Just. His Justice is perfect and will be satisfied in His timing. (cf. Psalm 72) God’s perfect Justice means all iniquity (sin) is abhorrent to Him and will be judged.
In the Hebrew texts of the Old Testament the name of God was written as “YHWH”. This is a transliteration of four Hebrew consonants which signify the name of the Israelite God. The writers of the Holy Scripture considered the name of God to be too holy to be written down. According to Jewish tradition it is regarded as “not to be uttered” in order never to profane it in any way. In Judaism it is therefore pronounced as “Adonai”, meaning “Lord”.
The Hebrew word “YHWH” comes from the Hebrew verb which means “to be”. The spelling in Hebrew includes the letters of the verb “to be” in the three tenses: Past, Present and Future:
- I was – I was (always) with you
- I am – I am (now) with you
- I will be – I (always) will be with you
The “with you” is implied within God’s name. The pronunciation of “YHWH” is “Yahweh”. Over time it was replaced with the name “Jehovah”. In our modern bibles it is translated as “Jehovah” or “I Am” or “LORD”.
When “YHWH” was preparing Moses to return to Egypt to do His will in bringing the Israelites out of captivity He told him His name. “And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”‘ Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: “The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.” (Exodus 3:14-15)
God the Father is the first person in the Holy Trinity. He is referred to in the Old Testament as the Ancient of Days. He is on the throne in Heaven. He loves creation with unconditional love. He is completely unchanging. Since He is perfect and unchanging all of creation can depend on God to always be faithful. All creation happened by and through His will.
In the following verses from Daniel we see His majesty, sovereignty and authority as the Final Judgment begins. “I watched till thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, and the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, its wheels a burning fire; a fiery stream issued and came forth from before Him. A thousand thousands ministered to Him; Ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him. The courtwas seated, and the books were opened.” (Daniel 7:9-10)
Since God the Father is perfectly Righteous He never sins. He is Holy, Righteous and Just; therefore He can not tolerate sin in His presence. His standard of perfection means any of His creation who is judged by Him will be cast out of His presence if sin is present because His Justice demands it. God the Father’s Wrath is against all sin. He is unchanging. His standard of perfection is intact. Even though His Love for man is unconditional He cannot allow any uncleanness into His presence. His Love does not cancel out His Holiness, Righteousness or Justice.
The Second person in the Holy Trinity is God the Son. He is not inferior to God the Father in any way. God the Son is not a created being as some cults teach. Another name for God the Son is The Word. The Apostle John, speaking of Jesus Christ, makes it clear who The Word really is. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-4, 14)
God the Son is “YHWH” of the Old Testament. Again, the Apostle John quoted Jesus Christ making the claim He is “I AM”. “Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”” (John 8:58) God the Son created the Universe according to the will of God the Father. God the Son created Man. God is Holy, Righteous and Just yet through God the Son, God imparts Grace and Mercy to His creation. God the Son sits at the right hand of the Father in Heaven as the Advocate for all. “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2) God the Son is just as much God as God the Father yet He is distinct. Again, from Daniel, “I was watching in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed. “(Daniel 7:13-14; cf. Revelation 5)
The Third person in the Holy Trinity is God the Holy Spirit. He is not inferior to God the Father or God the Son in any way. His role is communication with and spiritual empowerment of God’s creation. God the Holy Spirit is God’s change agent. Wherever He goes He brings about change according to God’s will.
He is at work continuously convicting the lost to come to Christ. He is given to all believers in Christ to reside within them. Just before His crucifixion Jesus said to His Disciples, “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever– the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:16-18)
The believers who are indwelt by God the Holy Spirit are in a constant state of change by the presence of God who is within them as they submit to the Lordship of Christ.
The role of indwelling believers implies God the Holy Spirit is somehow inferior to God the Father and God the Son. However, we must remember, all three distinct persons of the Holy Trinity are three manifestations of the same God who are always in complete agreement. The following verses make it clear God the Holy Spirit is equal to both God the Father and God the Son. “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.” (Matthew 28:18-20)
God the Holy Spirit will be continually at work in the life of believers for spiritual growth, and non-believers for salvation. His role as change agent is to bear witness of Jesus and His truths to the believer. When a believer reads the Bible God the Holy Spirit interprets these truths and makes them profound and life changing. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (John 14:26)
He will also lead, guide and direct the believer according to the will of God the Father at their level of maturity. “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” (John 16:13)
God is not a heavenly grandfather who is in heaven writing off everyone’s sins because he loves everyone so much. Neither is He a continually angry God who wants everyone to pay the price of failure by spending eternity in Hell. He is the dynamic creator of the Universe and Man. He is still actively involved in all aspects of His creation. God the Father is on the Throne and is completely sovereign. God the Son sits at the right hand of God the Father. He is “YHWH” who was manifested to Man throughout the Old Testament. In the New Testament He is seen as The Word who became flesh and dwelt among us. God the Holy Spirit is actively at work doing God’s will in the lives of believers and convicting the lost to repent and be saved.
This little bit of information barely scratches the surface and perhaps does not precisely answer the question of “Who is God?” However, as we look closer at God’s creation, Man, we should get a clearer picture of God and His purposes and His ways. Before you read further ask God to open your heart to the truth. Ask Him to teach you His purpose and His ways. It’s okay if you have doubts and questions, but don’t let those get in the way of hearing the truth. Prayerfully go to God with them. He is gracious. He loves you. He wants you to come to have a close personal relationship with Him, so ask Him to reveal His truth to you.
“Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over allthe earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. “(Genesis 1:26-27)
God created Man is His own image. Just as God is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit—Man is Body, Soul and Spirit. “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7 KJV)
God created the entire universe from nothing. He created Man’s Body from a handful of dust. He created Man’s Spirit from His own divine breath of life. He created Man’s Soul by His will and word.
With its five senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste) the body is the part of man which operates in the physical world. Each sense is a gateway Man uses to interact with His physical surroundings.
God’s creation was perfect. There were no diseases, old age or infirmities in man at creation. That is not the case now, is it? At this writing my dad is nearing 81 years of age and my mother is 78. For their ages they are doing fine. However, I can remember a time when they were both much younger than I am right now. The changes in their bodies and their health are amazing. In my case I have gone from a slim, athletic runner in my twenties and thirties to a slightly overweight man in his fifties whose knees hurt too much. My hair is thinning and turning silver. What happened to God’s perfect creation?
The Soul of man has three parts—the mind, the will and the emotions. Think of the Soul as the mental part of you. The primary purpose of your Soul is to express and reflect God. The Soul of man is horizontally (physically) oriented. The Soul initiates contact with God, through something else. Of course I am discussing Man’s Soul as originally created by God. Man’s current condition is a whole other story which we will get to in the next section.
Let’s look at how Man’s Soul performs its function. Mary, the mother of Jesus, after being informed of her choice by God to bear our Savior expressed herself as God filled her with Joy. “And Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”” (Luke 1:46-47) Her joy was exulting in her Spirit, but was being expressed by her Soul.
Our Souls act like a mirror by reflecting Christ’s character as we become more and more like him. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”(2 Corinthians 3:18)
- The mind knows
- The will determines
- The emotions react
The following scripture makes it clear the mind is part of the Soul as it is where our “knowing” takes place. “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.” (Psalm 139:14)
The will is the part of man which determines. The will determines actions like “refusing” or “choosing”. The following scripture shows the will is part of the Soul as it chooses. “Then You scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, So that my soul chooses strangling and death rather than my body.” (Job 7:14-15) Then again, from Job, we see where the Soul refuses. “My soul refuses to touch them; they are as loathsome food to me.” (Job 6:7)
The Soul reacts with the emotions of love, hate, rejoicing, etc.:
- Love: “Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?” (Song of Solomon 1:7 KJV)
- Hate: “Now David said on that day, “Whoever climbs up by way of the water shaft and defeats the Jebusites (the lame and the blind, who are hated by David’s soul), he shall be chief and captain.”Therefore they say, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.” (2 Samuel 5:8)
- Rejoicing: Rejoice the soul of Your servant, for to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. (Psalm 86:4)
God designed this Soul of ours to be eternal. It is the part of you and me that lives forever. However, there is more to Man than just his Body and his Soul.
The Spirit of man also has three parts—the conscience, the fellowship/communion and the intuition. To understand the three parts of the Spirit it is important to understand its main functions. God designed the three parts of our Spirit to communicate with Him three different ways for three different purposes.
Let’s look at the fellowship / communion first. The fellowship/communion is where worship takes place. It is where communication with God takes place during prayer. Worship and prayer are perfect representations of fellowship with God. Jesus said of worship: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”” (John 4:24)
Worship and prayer do not take place in Man’s Soul or Body. Prayer and Worship are initiated in the Soul, but as access to God’s throne room takes place those functions are taken over by the Spirit. We will discuss this in great detail later in the book.
The intuition part of the Spirit is where God speaks to us things outside of our experience or knowledge or reason. In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he makes this point: “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:11)
This verse tells us there are some things Man’s Spirit knows the Soul of Man can not know. God will communicate through Man’s Spirit to the intuition things which pertain to discernment. Many make the mistake of thinking their knowledge, experience or common sense is the same thing as Godly discernment. Knowledge, experience and common sense all reside within Man’s Soul. Real discernment from God will always pertain to things which Man could not possibly know without God revealing it through Man’s Spirit.
The conscience’s role is huge. It enables us to know right from wrong. According to our spiritual failures or successes it either condemns or justifies us. Non-believers and believers both have a conscience. For the non-believer its role is to either justify or condemn. God also uses the conscience to draw them to Christ. The conscience of the believer still justifies and condemns plus God uses it to lead, guide and direct their lives. For the believer the conscience is a vital link between them and God.
In Paul’s Epistle to the Romans he wrote the following two passages which reveal how and why the conscience “bears witness” with our Spirit. “I tell the truth in Christ; I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.” (Romans 9:1-2) “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” (Romans 8:16-17)
By comparing these two passages we can see Man’s conscience bears witness with the Holy Spirit as the Holy Spirit bears witness with Man’s Spirit. This is all done in the conscience. The justification the conscience performs as an outcome of this process brings assurance. In other words the believer should base assurance of salvation on this witness between their Spirit and the Holy Spirit rather than on feelings or performance.
As you have undoubtedly already discerned, the Spirit is the part of Man which God uses to input into the Soul. The Spirit of Man is vertically (spiritually) oriented. Remember, the Soul of Man is horizontally (physically) oriented. At creation Man was perfect. His Body was whole and had no corruption. He did not age or get sick. His Soul was functioning as it should in its role of reacting to his environment according to the will of God. Did you catch that? God’s will was being imparted directly to man’s Spirit which in turn imparted it to man’s Soul. All decisions made by man were made in light of God’s will. Man could choose not to follow God’s will because God made man’s Soul with a will of its own. However, as long as man lived each day in the full knowledge he was doing God’s will then he was full of joy and peace. God was glorified when Man chose to obey His will.
The Bible speaks a great deal about Man’s Heart. It isn’t referring to the wonderful muscle which pumps blood through your veins and arteries for your entire lifetime. It is referring to the part of Man which makes up his character. Your character is you. My character is me. It is made up of all three parts of the Soul plus something else.
Some people are easily angered. Others are natural peacemakers. My son was a ‘Strong Willed Child’. This means His will was very strong in manifesting his desires upon his world. Some people are very smart others are not smart at all. Most of us are somewhere in between. Some people are hurtful, hateful and/or dangerous. Most are much easier to be around.
Where is the Heart? Character does have elements of the mind as well as the will and emotions. However, there is more to it. Some of those people who seem to cause so much suffering are not stupid. So what is it which allows some to cross the line and hurt others? Some people have a strong sense of conscience and others don’t seem to. Why? If a person’s conscience is healthy then it will function properly and cause a change in behavior. The conscience pours negative feelings into the Soul to bring about recognition of guilt. It will also pour positive feelings into the Soul to bring about recognition of Hope. If a person’s conscience has been damaged or seared he or she is capable of all sorts of evil. Some believe committing the unpardonable sin is the tragic consequence of refusing to listen to the conscience to the point where it is irreparably damaged. If so, they are hopelessly lost because without a functioning conscience a person will not respond in repentance when conviction of sin comes from God.
Man’s Heart is made up of the Soul and the conscience. Communication between the Soul and Spirit takes place via the conscience. This joining is what makes prayer and worship possible. If something happened to the conscience then Man could not be oriented vertically (toward God) and horizontally (toward the physical) at the same time. At creation this link was working fine.
- Thinks which is of the mind (cf. Genesis 6:5, cf. Matthew 9:4)
- Has purposes and intentions which are acts of the will (cf. Acts 11:23, cf. Hebrews 4:12)
- Hassorrow and rejoices each of which are emotions (cf. John 16)
- Condemns and blames self which are functions of the conscience(cf. Hebrews 10:22, cf. 1 John 3:20)
Take a close look at the attributes of Man’s Heart. Remember, God created Man in His own image. God created in Man a mind which thinks so God thinks as well. God created in Man a will so God has a will as well. God created in Man emotions so God has emotions as well. God created in Man a conscience which is designed to direct Man to live according to God’s standards.
God also designed into the conscience an attribute which makes Man religious. God programmed into Man’s conscience a deep hunger for His Glory via the fellowship/communion part of the Spirit. As Man would commune with God he would be filled with God. Man’s Heart has an insatiable desire to be filled with the presence of God. When Man is away from God’s glory the conscience will pour into the Soul condemnation until contact is made with God again. When contact is made with God through Man’s Spirit then the conscience will pour into the Soul justification which results in fulfillment. Some have described this deep hunger for God as a God sized hole in our Heart which can only be filled with God. It is Man’s Heart which desperately needs God’s Glory to reach fulfillment. This was not a problem at creation.
Earlier we were looking at Man at creation walking in an intimate relationship with God. God’s will was being imparted directly to Man’s Spirit which in turn led Man’s Soul in all decision making. His Spirit’s relationship to his Soul was one of predominance. Man at creation was Spirit-led. His spiritual Heart was very healthy. His conscience had no reason to condemn him because God’s presence was readily available and there was no knowledge of sin.
God made Man as male and female: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so. Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:27-31)
The first man was Adam and the first woman was Eve. The close, intimate relationship Adam and Eve had with God in the Garden of Eden was exactly what God intended for them and for all of their descendants. Since there was no aging or disease in the Garden Adam and Eve should still be alive today. However, something went wrong…
“Be sober; be vigilant; becauseyour adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
God’s creation was perfect. Man, as part of the creation, was no exception. God provided Adam, with a female companion named Eve. Both were perfect. They were both Spirit-led, but had free will. God did not create two puppets. By giving Adam and Eve free will God provided a way for Him to be glorified when they chose by their own free will to obey Him. God was very pleased with creation. “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:31)
Watch the news or read a newspaper and you will see very quickly, all is not well on planet Earth. There is war. There is murder. There is rape. There is theft and fraud; both white-collar and blue-collar. There is widespread injustice. There is court-protected immorality. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is widening.
How did the World get so messed up? What took the World from perfection to near Godless chaos? The answer is found in Genesis Chapter 3. If you are familiar at all with Christianity or church then I am sure you know the story of how Satan disguised as a serpent deceived Eve into disobeying God who in turn got Adam to follow her into sin. Let’s look at this passage more closely: “Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, “You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”” (Genesis 3:1)
A new character is introduced in this verse. The serpent was, of course, Satan, the Devil. The name Satan means “Adversary”. Satan is a created being. He was once Lucifer, one of the highest ranking Angels in Heaven.
Scripture to present these facts about Satan and his fall is available, but is beyond the scope of this book. However, in summary: Sometime before creation of the universe He became sinful in His pride. He attempted to overthrow God and take the throne. He led roughly a third of the Angels in this rebellion. He lost. As a result of the war Lucifer and his Angels were cast out of Heaven as their abode. He then became Satan. Satan still has access to Heaven, but only to stand before the throne to accuse God’s people.
Some bible scholars believe Lucifer learned of God’s plan to create Man higher in rank than the Angels (i.e. higher than him). Out of jealousy, he rebelled. Whatever his motive he took it upon himself to wreck the plan.
The apple of God’s eye was Man. Man had perfect communion with God as Adam and Eve’s Spirits worked perfectly in communication with Him. Their Spirits led their Souls in obedience to the will of God. Satan wanted to cause separation between God and Man. He knew if he could do this the spirituality of Man would be damaged. Man’s Sin would cause them to lose contact with God who is Holy. Perhaps he could mess things up so bad he could force God to relent and allow him back as he held Man hostage in their sin.
What did this talking serpent say? He asked if God had told Adam and Eve they could not eat of every tree of the garden. That subtle little question twisted what God had told them. God had actually told them they could eat of every tree in the Garden except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Satan asked a leading question. He made it sound as if God was holding out on them by denying them something which was very desirable. What was the question leading to? “And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.”‘ Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”” (Genesis 3:2-5)
Jesus accused the Pharisees of His day of being children of Satan because of their beliefs and actions. “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44)
Since Satan is a liar and murderer do you think what he told Eve was the truth? Okay, do you think he might have mixed some truth with a little innuendo to create a delectable temptation? Satan always tells a little truth with his lies. He makes it sound right. Remember, he is the most subtle of all of God’s creation.
What was the lie? First he says, “You will not surely die.” God had told Adam and Eve they could eat freely of any tree in the Garden, except of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He warned them if they did eat of it they would surely die. Remember, God can not lie for He is perfectly righteous. Look at Satan’s next statement. He insinuates God is holding out on them. He said, “God knows that the day you eat from this tree you will see things correctly and you will be just like God.” He ought to know. He wanted to take God’s place on the throne. He wanted to be just like God. This is what caused his fall. In bitterness and hatred he attacked with his lies.
Sadly, we know what happened next. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.” (Genesis 3:6-7)These two verses contain the greatest tragedy in the history of creation.
Eve knew God had told them to not eat of that tree, yet she did it anyway. Look at the steps of the fall. Her first mistake came in doubting God. She listened to the tempter. She fell for the lie. She ignored what her conscience was telling her. She saw her desires as more important than maintaining her relationship with God. The next step was to look at the tree. She had not sinned yet, but she was well on her way.
Sin comes from the desires of the Heart which are expressed three ways. “For all that is in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world.” (1 John 2:16)
Sin’s sources: (cf. 1 John 2:16)
- The Lust of the Flesh
- The Lust of the Eyes
- The Pride of Life
We see all three in Genesis 3:6-7. Eve looked upon the tree as she doubted God. She lusted in her flesh for the fruit as food. She also lusted in her eyes as she saw the beauty of it. Then she sought to fulfill the pride of life by becoming wise for her own benefit. Let’s face it, she wanted that fruit. She then exercised her will and disobeyed God by taking and eating. Remember, the temptation she went through was not the sin. The sin was in the willful disobedience. Notice something else, all of the acts of falling into sin, including being tempted, took place in her Soul. To sin she had to stop listening to the conviction coming from her conscience.
After she ate she then gave the fruit to Adam and he ate of it as well. He knew better. God told them both they would die if they ate from that tree. Did they die? Absolutely! What happened right after they sinned? Their eyes were opened, and they knew they were naked. Why did that happen and what has it got to do with their death?
Prior to this, what spiritual state were Adam and Eve in? They walked in perfect fellowship and communication with God. Their Spirits were working perfectly in leading their Souls as God intended. As soon as sin entered them something horrible and tragic happened. Sin caused all three parts of Man to be altered.
Man’s body became a corrupt vessel of lust. Death entered as aging began along with disease and suffering. After the fall Adam and his descendants live very long lives then die. However, as time goes on those long lives get shorter and shorter. Sin’s corruption causes death of the body.
Man’s Spirit became damaged and no longer worked correctly because sin had entered Man. The Spirit could no longer contact God so the conscience immediately began condemning them. Man was no longer Spirit-led. Man became Soul-led. That is, the Soul of Man took predominance over the Spirit of Man. With their consciences condemning them they desperately began seeking fulfillment from something, anything, since God’s presence and Glory were no longer available. Death came to the fellowship and communion Man enjoyed with God.
When God’s glory is not available the Heart seeks fulfillment from fleshly glory or negative glory. Fleshly glory comes from attempts by Man’s Heart to get positive reinforcement (fulfillment) from earthly things like possessions, relationships, performance, etc. When situations are bad then Man’s Heart will go after negative glory from emotions like anger, resentment, blame, depression, etc. We see this in the verses after the fall when Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent for all their problems.
Man’s Soul became corrupt. Prior to sin it functioned as it was intended in reflecting and expressing God. Sin caused Man’s Soul to take on the role of a god. Satan’s lie had an element of truth in it, as Adam and Eve exercised their will for themselves, instead of within the will of God, they were gods. The Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil caused exactly that. As gods, Adam and Eve now knew what they desired and went after it in a desperate attempt to fulfill themselves. Prior to sin their whole desire was God’s glory and in turn He fulfilled them with His presence. After the fall they no longer had God’s fulfillment. Without it Man became a desperate being in a vain search for fulfillment.
This is why there are so many religions in the world. Man is very religious. Atheism is a religion. Atheists just worship Man or themselves. No ancient or isolated society has ever been found which did not contain some form of religion. All religions not focused on God are false religions which are Soul based. Remember, God can be worshipped and prayed to successfully only as the Soul and Spirit work together. Man’s Spirit is damaged and can no longer contact God.
Now do you see the tragedy of Genesis 3? After God confronted Adam and Eve after their sin He told them what the consequences would be. He then clothed them with animal skins, and made them depart the Garden of Eden. God had to make sure they would not eat of the Tree of Life while in their fallen state. If they had eaten of it they would have never died physically, but they would remain in their fallen state. God loves Man too much for Him to allow that. In Man’s fallen state of being Soul-led with a deadened Spirit and a corrupt Body death is inevitable and almost welcome.
This world has become a very cruel place. Life is short and hard for most people. Life is not fair. All of this is because people are living Soul-led lives with no contact or help from God. This causes all sorts of evil because people don’t lead God-directed lives for the most part. In the state of being Soul-led, a person is oriented to the physical not the spiritual. Along with being Soul-led their Hearts are desperate for fulfillment. Even though Man desperately needs to be in God’s presence for fulfillment he is terrified of God and runs from His presence because of guilt over sin as his conscience condemns him. “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:8)
As you can see, Man’s conscience still works, but not in direct contact with God. Man’s Spirit is deadened to God, but it is not dead.
Man has become corrupt and hopelessly cutoff from God because of sin. God can not be in the presence of sin. As a consequence all mankind is under the curse of death and separation from Him. Man has become God’s enemy as he attempts to live without God. God’s Justice demands death as a price for sin. His Wrath burns against all in sin. However, God still loves Man. How did God resolve this dilemma?
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (John 3:16-20)
As I write this I am sitting on my couch typing away on my laptop. It is mid-December and I have Christmas lights on the outside of my house. I can see them as I look out of my front window just past our Christmas tree. My daughter and wife have decorated the inside of our house with all sorts of festive things like garland, greenery and candles. There is a ceramic nativity scene on the coffee table. The tree is all decked out with red lights and silver balls. There are several silver ribbons running from the top of the tree down the sides. It is very well done. There are several presents under it already. There will be more, I hope—chuckle.
I have always loved Christmas. My parents made sure it was one of the most special times of year. When I was a child I counted the days of the year in relation to Christmas. Even in the summer I would start figuring out how many days until we get Christmas going again. However, I confess for many years I really didn’t care much for that other side of Christmas. You know that part about the baby in the manger and those shepherds and wise men coming and worshipping as the Angels sang in the sky. However, I really liked the side of Christmas which talked about that jolly fat man in a red suit who gave presents to every child in the world on Christmas Eve. Now that part was fun. My mother, on the other hand, always seemed to bring up that other side…
Everything changed after my salvation in 1986. I began to see Christmas for what it really meant. The commercialism and the fairy tales came to mean less and less to me. I still love giving gifts though. In our family we try to celebrate Christmas for the right reason. It is a celebration of the coming of the Christ child. My wife and I try to make Christmas the most special time of year for our children.
You may be asking, “Why is he going on and on about Christmas? What has Christmas got to do with God’s Solution?” Let me explain…
In Genesis Chapter 3 we saw the tragedy. We know, through Adam, sin entered into Man. All of Adam’s descendants are born under the curse. The wrath of God is against all who are still in their sins. Every person born since Adam has been born with a corrupt Body, a corrupt Soul and a deadened Spirit. No exceptions. Well, there was one, but we’ll talk about Him later. Adam’s descendants are born Soul-led. They grow from infancy to adulthood becoming more and more ingrained into Soul-led behavior every day thinking that that is the way it’s supposed to be.
What we must understand about God is He is omniscient—He knows all things. The enemy of Man (Satan) is not. Nothing ever surprises God or takes Him off guard. Before the fall of man, God knew what He was going to do. He knew it was only a matter of time before Man fell. He had it all planned out before hand.
There is a book in Heaven called the Lambs book of Life. It contains the names of everyone who is a child of God. “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”(Revelation 13:8)
This verse describes an event where the people who survive a massive earthquake worship God even though they aren’t God’s children. Notice it mentions the Book. When was it written? All of the names of God’s children were written in that book before the creation of the world.
For God to have written the names of some of Adam’s descendants in the Lambs Book of Life and not others before He ever created the Universe and Man tells us He knew all the time what He was going do.
Right after the fall, God confronted Adam, then Eve, then the Enemy: “So the LORD God said to the serpent: “Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”” (Genesis 3:14-15) In these two verses God pronounces a curse on Satan, and reveals His plan for the eventual redemption of Man.
God starts by changing the serpent. Well, not the serpent itself, but what it represented. He puts into Man the understanding the serpent will forever symbolize Satan. Also, God said the serpent would crawl upon its belly and eat dust. This symbolized the future judgment of Satan when his pride will be dealt with. He will become debased and humiliated in judgment. I want to see that!
The woman is a symbol of the Church. The serpent (Satan) is a bitter enemy of the Church. The Church is made up of all of those in Christ from the beginning of Christianity to now, all those in Christ right now and all those who will be in Christ until the end of the Church. We’ll discuss this more later.
God mentions Satan’s seed and the Woman’s seed will be enemies. Who is Satan’s seed? This is speaking of all men and women who are not in Christ so are not part of the Church. Who is the Woman’s seed? Women don’t have seed, men do. Women have ovaries and eggs which are fertilized by men’s seed. So how can Women have seed? This speaks of the Virgin Birth of Christ. He was conceived of God in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit. He was not conceived by man.
What will the Woman’s seed do? He will bruise or crush Satan’s head as Satan bruises his heel. This speaks of Christ’s victory over Satan. Satan will strike at and bruise Christ’s heel, a non-fatal blow, as Christ delivers a fatal blow to him.
Here it is in a nutshell. Man’s biggest problem is he is not righteous when compared to God. God is perfectly righteous. In fact His standard for admittance into eternity with Him is just that. No one can enter eternity with God unless they are as righteous as God. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.” (Romans 1:18-19)
God gave Moses the Law which reveals God’s standard. The Law is very good at showing us how unrighteous we all are. However, the Law has no power or ability to make anyone righteous: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” (Galatians 3:10)
No one who ever lived has been able to keep the entire Law except one, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Woman’s seed.
Jesus’ purpose was not to be a good teacher or healer, though He did both of those things very well. His purpose was to live a perfect and sinless life in complete obedience to the will of the Father, then be executed. He became the perfect sacrifice. Only a perfect person could pay the price for our sin. He never sinned. He had no sin nature as we do because He was not of Man’s seed. That was why He had to be born of a Virgin. As we saw earlier, Jesus is The Word. He is YHWH. He is God the Son.
While proclaiming Jesus’ birth, the Angels sang a song which contains a vital message from God to Man. Let’s take a closer look: “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:8-14)
The shepherds witness an Angel of the Lord coming to them and proclaiming the birth of Christ—The Messiah. They told them what to look for then they saw and heard an Angelic Choir singing a statement which has been misunderstood ever since.
The peace on Earth and good will toward men they sang about had nothing to do with how people on Earth treat each other. It had nothing to do with peace in the sense of no war or conflict. The peace they sang about was the announcement of God’s Solution for Mankind. The good will toward men is announcing the coming of the Messiah is by God’s Grace. The Peace on Earth is proclaiming peace between God and Men through His Grace.
In Man’s lost condition he is God’s enemy. God’s Wrath is against all sin. The Messiah who is God the Son who is Jesus Christ came to Earth specifically to live a perfect, sinless life then die as God’s perfect sacrifice for Man’s sin. In other words, the Creator of Man would take Man’s place and make it possible for Man to be saved from the penalty of his sins.
When the Romans nailed Him to the Cross He became sin on our behalf. He took upon Himself our sins, paid the price by shedding His blood, and then died. This sacrifice, by God’s Mercy, satisfied God’s Justice. All of this was according to plan: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” (Romans 5:8-9)
Jesus’ body was declared dead by the Romans. It was taken down from the cross and placed in a tomb after some hasty embalming. Three days and nights later He rose from the dead. He went through all of that so all who accept Him as Lord and Savior, fully trusting in Him and His shed blood to save them, are saved. They are saved when the Holy Spirit baptizes them into Christ.
If we are in Christ then our sins are covered by His blood. His blood allows us to have the hope of spending eternity with God because it covers our sins, and they are truly forgiven: “I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake.” (1 John 2:12)
The act of redemption on the cross then the resurrection of Jesus was the fatal blow to Satan which was prophesied In Genesis 3:15. The crucifixion of Jesus was the non-fatal blow from Satan, the bruising of His heel.
At the moment of salvation the guarantee is given, the Holy Spirit: “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:11-14)
The Holy Spirit resides within each believer. The Holy Spirit is the believer’s power source. His job is to lead, guide and direct the believer according the will of the Father. All of the believer’s ability to believe and serve the Lord comes from the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit baptizes the person who is being saved into Christ by washing the conscience with the blood of Jesus. This makes Man’s Spirit Holy and Pure so He can reside there. After the conscience is cleansed it awakens and starts contacting God as it was designed to do. As a result the new believer is often so filled with Joy it can’t be contained. They are experiencing justification by their conscience because they are in contact with God for the first time in their lives. God, in turn, fills the believer with Joy and Peace also for the first time in their lives.
The Holy Spirit indwells the new believer’s Spirit which in turn begins to have intimate communication with God. The Holy Spirit also begins the process of cleansing and reshaping the Heart of Man into Christ-likeness. This process is called sanctification. It is the process by which Man’s Soul becomes transformed as God does His work to move the believer to live a life which is Spirit-led instead of being Soul-led. This process can be painful, especially if the new believer is an adult who has lived for many years by being Soul-led. That believer has some very bad spiritual habits. On the other hand, people who become believers at a young age will not have near the bad habits to overcome, but they too will have to be transformed into Christ-likeness through sanctification.
Becoming a Spirit-led believer is not automatic. Our bad spiritual habits have to be overcome. The enemy of Man, Satan, has built many strongholds in the Heart and uses them to tempt and destroy. The sanctification process is one of reclamation and restoration by tearing those strongholds down. The enemy of Man can’t take salvation away from a believer, but He can cause the believer to stay mired in Soul-led behavior and thereby be spiritually weak and ineffective.
Another part of the restoration process is the demolition of the idols in our Hearts. Man’s desperate attempt for fulfillment from worldly, fleshly things has resulted in numerous false gods, idols, being built and maintained in the Heart. The care and maintenance of an idol requires an altar. Idols are worshipped and sacrificed to on these altars. As the Holy Spirit starts cleaning house the idols will all come under attack. He will be drawing the believer into a Spirit-led walk. When a believer is walking in the Spirit then the idols will come crashing down because the Soul becomes denied and crucified.
The idols will be all those things which take time and devotion away from God. Anything which takes your time and attention away from pursuing God’s presence is an idol. When you go after the object or person or activity which has become an idol you are sacrificing to it on the altar you have built and maintained in your Heart. The Holy Spirit will cause you to become very uncomfortable as you worship at these altars. He will speak through your conscience. The only way to remove them from your Heart is to tear down the altar as you quit serving the idol. This requires God’s help and power to become Spirit-led.
If you are a believer then you are permanently saved. To become a believer you have to accept God’s grace. Salvation is not by works. Salvation is by faith. Since works didn’t save you works can not cause you to lose your salvation. However, be warned. This does not mean a believer has license to act any way they want. In fact if a person is truly saved they will be in a constant state of being drawn closer to God and change as the Holy Spirit does His work in the Heart. This means a real believer will be changed from the inside out. There will be growing pains. There will be failure. There will be confession and repentance. If this does not describe your walk, if you are still living the same way you did before you were saved then the validity of your salvation is suspect.
So what is God’s Solution? God, by His Mercy and through His Grace, provided the perfect sacrifice to satisfy His Justice. That sacrifice was death of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross. All who accept Him as Lord and Savior are reconciled to Him and have eternal life.
If you have never accepted Jesus’ free gift of salvation please take the time right now to call upon God to save you. If you humble yourself, confess you are a sinner, and then accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and personal Savior then your sins will be forgiven. Your name will be in the Lamb’s book of Life. You will receive the Holy Spirit indwelling you until you stand before Jesus in eternity. If you do this then you will be a believer. You will be in Christ and Christ will be in you. If you fail to do this at some point before you die then there is no hope for your eternal soul as you will be eternally separated from God because you will die in your sins. Don’t hesitate. If you are being convicted you are lost then call upon God right now for the free gift of salvation.
Salvation unto Christ-likeness
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.” (Romans 6:1-7)
In the last chapter we looked at God’s solution to the dilemma of His unconditional Love for Man vs. His Justice. God’s Justice demands all sin be judged. That solution was the blood sacrifice of God the Son, Jesus Christ, on a cross. God the Son, being God and man, lived a perfect, sinless life on earth. At the proper moment He allowed Himself to be executed. He did nothing deserving of death. While on the cross He took upon Himself the sins of all mankind. He paid the price of everyone’s sin. This perfect sacrifice satisfied God’s Justice. He was judged on our behalf. He took our place.
The saved are those who place their trust in the shed blood of Jesus Christ to pay the price for their sins and have accepted Him as Lord. At the same time they take on a life of repentance from sin. Without repentance, the turning away from the Godless lifestyle they led prior to salvation, there is no salvation. Repentance is the sign the changes which come from the indwelling Holy Spirit are actually taking place. It is the result of submitting to His Lordship. “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
Salvation is not the end of the story for the believer. It is the beginning. From the moment a person is baptized into Christ by the Holy Spirit all things become new. The Old Man, the lost person before salvation, died. The New Man, the saved person, has come. The believer, the new creation, is not the same as he or she was before. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Remember, all born since Adam (except Christ Jesus) were born with a deadened Spirit, a corrupt Soul and a corrupt Body. The lost person has no contact with God. Since their Spirits can not contact God they are completely Soul-led. Their minds, wills and emotions are in control. They are gods because they know good from evil, and they are in a constant vain pursuit for fulfillment. Their conscience is constantly condemning them in an attempt to find fulfillment. The problem is nothing can fulfill them except the presence of God. Without coming into the presence of God’s glory the conscience is constantly pouring condemnation into the Man’s Soul. This causes very strong drives to try to find fulfillment in both positive and negative glory. The pursuit of happiness in circumstances consumes them. This drive for fulfillment is doomed to failure because nothing can fill the void except God’s presence.
The life of a Soul-led lost person is one of a constant pursuit for happiness and fulfillment which can be attained for only very short periods of time because fleshly glory and negative glory in no way compares with God’s Glory.
At salvation all three parts of Man are changed. The Spirit changes first. The Holy Spirit washes the conscience with Christ’s blood. This causes the Spirit to become the Holy and Pure residence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit immediately “wakes up” and contacts God as it was designed. The Holy Spirit will then start the reclamation of the Soul. The Soul must become denied and brought into submission to the Spirit. The Soul must be trained and changed to take on its original function. This transformation process will continue for the rest of the believer’s life.
The Body of Man also changes. At the fall of Man the Body became a vessel of lust. The Bible refers to this as the Flesh. The Flesh is actually what the Heart of Man uses the most to try to find fulfillment. The bad spiritual habits which come into salvation are mostly based on this process. At salvation the Holy Spirit’s reclamation project of the Soul also starts transforming Man’s Body from a vessel of lust into the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
The transformation process from being a new believer into a Christ-like, mature believer is different for each one of us. We are all unique. However, nothing is automatic. Our bad spiritual habits come with us into salvation. We have idols with altars. Satan and his demons have strongholds in our Hearts which enable them to try to defeat and control us with sin. At salvation some changes are immediate. Others require refinement or deliverance.
The new believer is a spiritual baby. God’s plan for each believer is continuous spiritual growth into maturity over the rest of their lifetime. They should, at the end, have grown from a spiritual baby into a mature believer who has become Christ-like. My own observation of how believers behave has shown me something isn’t right.
Most of my observation, however, has been the Church in the USA. I know others who have lived and served in Third World Countries who tell a completely different story. In those cultures it may be illegal to be a believer in Christ. It may be culturally unacceptable to be a Christian. Those believers are persecuted for their Faith in Christ. I have read and heard that those believers put us to shame. Their faith is real and dynamic. Their lives are devoted entirely to walking blameless before their Lord no matter the cost.
In the American Church I don’t see that level of devotion except in small pockets because of a total lack of the Fear of God. Of course, I am including my own spiritual growth in that observation. If you read the Introduction you saw where I lived for years in a very immature spiritual state before the Lord led me to the right way to walk before Him.
After much observation, study, research and prayer I have developed an eighteen point check-list where each point contains an attribute or characteristic of spiritual behavior. When all of the points are observed together it should reveal the maturity stage of the believer. I have never intended for this to be dogmatic or extremely precise. For instance, some of the points will be higher for someone while others will be lower for the same person at a given maturity level. This is a general observation. It is also not meant for believers to rate each other. I developed this so you can check yourself against God’s standards. Let Him show you where you are spiritually.
The eighteen points are:
- Seen as / Serving as – This is a summation or outcome of behavior based on Spiritual Maturity Level
- Adversity – This is the believer’s behavior when adversity comes into their life
- Heart Condition – This is an observation on how crucified the Soul is and how subject the Heart is to the Spirit’s control—Is the believer’s Heart Tender toward God or Hard?
- Prayer life – Simply how important and frequent effective, dynamic prayer is to the believer.
- Sin – How sin is dealt with and how tolerant the believer is to sin in their life
- Repentance Walk – Whether the believer uses Repentance with Joy (God’s way) or Repentance with Sorrow (the world’s way)
- The Yoke of Christ – Submissive to the Lordship of Jesus Christ
- Soul denial – Which is in charge, the Soul or the Spirit?
- Cross Bearing – Is the Soul of the believer crucified or not?
- Christ-likeness – How the believer measures up to the Standard
- Bible Knowledge – Bible Knowledge is key to knowing God as He reveals Himself, His purposes and His ways through the Bible
- Separation from the World – How much the believer is conformed to the World and its ways vs. conformed to the Standard of Christ.
- Social Issues – Is focus on the World and its problems or on God and His will?
- Spiritual Discernment – How open are the spiritual eyes and ears of the believer? The Soul-led person has very little if any.
- Hypocrisy – Comes from being Soul-led. Hypocrisy diminishes as the believer becomes Spirit-led.
- Legalism – Grace is discounted along with Mercy by the Soul-led. Legalism goes hand-in-hand with Hypocrisy and Self-Righteousness. The Spirit-led believer is full of Grace and Mercy not Legalism.
- Faith – Walking by Sight (No Faith) vs. Walking by Faith
- Praise and Worship – The Soul-led believer does not understand the importance of Praise and Worship as it takes place in the Spirit. The Spirit-led pursues Praise, Worship and Thanksgiving.
Along with the eighteen attributes I have broken down the spiritual growth from babyhood to maturity into four levels. Again, this is not precision. Prayerfully observe your spiritual growth level. Don’t use this scale to rate other believers. This is for your use to determine where you are spiritually and where you need to be.
The four levels of Spiritual Growth are:
- Baby Christian – Milk
- Adolescent Christian – Junk Food
- Adult Christian – Solid Food
- Mature Christian – Meat
I included in the list the type of spiritual food each level consumes. Also, please do not think these levels have anything to do with physical age. I have seen believers in their thirties and forties who could not consume any spiritual truths beyond baby food. I have also seen youth and young adults who consume vast quantities of spiritual “Meat” every day. By-the-way, these “younger” mature believers are impressive. Their numbers are growing and their devotion to God should convict the rest of us about our slackness and lack of spiritual maturity.
The Baby Christian – Milk attributes
- First Steps – Doesn’t know where to start serving – Learning how to be a disciple
- Adversity’s purpose is not understood and can devastate without discipleship
- Growing in Christ – Heart is tender
- Simple Prayer life – Prays for wants as well as needs, however, loves to pray for others – needs discipleship
- Sin is a struggle with self-will
- Obedience to God is by will power
- Christ’s Yoke not understood without discipleship.
- Self Denial is by will power – Completely Soul-led
- Cross bearing is a battle of the will.
- Self-Centered or Self-Protective
- Light Bible Knowledge
- Worldly yet redeemed character
- Social Issues seen more important than walk
- Little Spiritual Discernment due to being Soul-led
- Innocent Hypocrisy – They really do not know better
- Innocent Legalism – Wants rules to follow
- Tender Faith – Not yet willing to step out on faith due to being Soul-led
- Praise and Worship is enjoyed, but little worshipping in Spirit and Truth.
Tragically, many believers never mature past this stage. I have taught bible study classes which required homework every day. The first class would be full. There would be couples along with women who came alone church. There would be a few men whose wives did not come to church. After the first two classes there would be a core group of four of five women, no couples, and one or two men left. The demand of bible study and spiritual growth would be shrugged off and the immature would not come back.
I have also seen many immature believers shipwreck their faith with sin. They simply had no self-control and gave into the temptation. Marriages fell apart. Families were broken up. The Baby Christian has little spiritual strength or stamina. They are fleshly. The Baby Christians who are new believers are often a joy to be around because they are truly trying to mature. However, those who have been stuck in babyhood for years are a mess. Often these are the ones who simply want fire insurance. They became believers to keep from going to hell. I suspect many of these are not truly saved.
The key to understanding why the Baby Christian can only consume baby spiritual food is that they are completely Soul-led. Without solid discipleship, their idols and altars are still in place and are protected and preserved no matter what the Holy Spirit does. They struggle massively with strongholds. Some sins will consume them. No matter what they do they can’t seem to get victory over them. When they make up their minds to quit sinning and move on with Christ they will come to a point where the enemy will challenge them. Or, God will allow Adversity into their lives to cause them to mature by submitting to God’s will. In either case, the choices made by this Baby Christian determine whether they will mature to the next level or not. Discipleship is the key.
Another key problem for the Baby Christian is the lack of understanding about repentance and dealing with sin. They know sin is wrong. However, they have never read or understood the following scripture: “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)
We are directed to deal with the sins in our lives by confessing them to God who will forgive us then cleanse us from the cause and effect of them. We should do this as part of our submission to His Lordship. The believer is to repent of their sin. That means to stop doing it, agree with God, then move on with Him. The Baby Christian does not do this until they learn how through discipleship. They sin and do not repent. The result is an ever widening gulf between them and God because they aren’t living under Christ’s Lordship. I am talking about a deadening of the relationship between the believer and God. With sin not confessed or repented of in their Hearts, Baby Christians live a very fleshly, Soul-led life that, in some cases, is not much different from a lost person. The spiritual inconsistencies we see in the Baby Christian are the result of living a Soul-led, self-willed life.
God’s plan is for the Baby Christian to mature right into Adulthood as they submit to discipleship. The progression should be controlled by the discipler and led by God. However, many never submit to this plan and go on living shallow spiritual lives which resemble the lost more than the saved. Another issue which contributes to this problem is the lack of a mature discipler who is willing to go one-on-one with the new believer. In our churches this role is often left to small group leaders or Bible Study leaders.
Unfortunately there is a spiritual level beyond the Baby Christian which was never God’s plan for any believer. This level is called the Adolescent Christian. It is the next step for the Baby Christian who does not learn to move to a Spirit-led walk. This level is still completely Soul-led. It is the result of not submitting to discipleship and Christ’s Lordship, but at the same time being part of a Christian fellowship long enough to look like a mature believer. This level of believer is often the cause of conflict in the Church. They are self-focused, self-directed, and seek to belong to a local Church so they can find fulfillment in that rather than their relationship with God. They are full of idols with altars that get service. They see no need to deal with them because their Hearts are Hard. This believer will also say things like, “I don’t think God cares about the day-to-day details in my life as long as I’m saved.” That is the self-justification anthem of the Soul-led.
The Adolescent Christian – Junk Food Attributes
- Serving but with Soul-led Motive Issues
- Adversity devastates and causes them to run from God
- Driven to knees by circumstances / Heart alternates between hardening and softening
- Erratic Prayer life – prays selfishly and without faith
- Sin is a constant battle – Repents via Repentance with Sorrow (Worldly Sorrow)
- Exasperation over battles with repeat sins – little obedience
- Christ’s Yoke does not fit well and the burden is heavy
- Self-denial is by will power – Completely Soul-led.
- Cross bearing is by will power – Completely Soul-led
- Tries to act Christ-like hoping that is how it’s done.
- Random Bible Knowledge
- One foot in the world / One foot in church
- Cynical or Passionate about Social Issues – does not see God’s will as important
- Spiritually blind / little or no discernment
- Completely Hypocritical – wants to look good but inside little or no real change
- Completely legalistic / little or no Grace or Mercy
- Little Faith – Soul-led
- Praise and Worship seen as unimportant or waste of time
I can write much about this stage because I spent so many years there. I started well, but when adversity and trials happened I made choices which caused me to become separated from the closeness of God. I compromised my devotion and submission to the Lordship of Christ by taking the “easy way out” when things got rough. It took God many years to draw me out of this worthless stage.
Tragically, believers in this stage can appear to be very mature if their will power is strong enough. In fact, many church leaders are believers who are in this stage. I know because I was one and I know many others who were (and still are) as well. Believers leading Soul-led lives do not make good church leaders. Church leaders need to be Spirit-led because they are led by God. Since Soul-led believers tend to be legalistic they can be quite judgmental and self-righteous. When believers try to walk-the-walk while being Soul-led it is all by will power. We are all imperfect so trying to be spiritual without being Spirit-led will eventually lead to failure. Hence, the Soul-led will become very frustrated when it comes to spiritual matters.
The Adult Christian stage is where the Baby Christian should grow into if properly discipled and has been taught how to be Spirit-led. Unfortunately, I did not learn how to do this by being discipled by anyone. I learned by God rescuing me by drawing me into the Truth. I pray you will not have to go through the Adolescent Stage at all. If you are there right now take comfort in the fact it is not too late. If I can move to the next level anyone can.
The Adult Christian consumes Solid Spiritual Food. This believer is hungry for God and seeks to do His will. Christ-likeness is the goal and it is understood it requires emptying of self and filling with the Holy Spirit. This is the learning stage for the next level. This believer is learning how to be Spirit-led and is successful much of the time, but still has some idols and strongholds to deal with. The Adult Christian deals with these problems correctly while the Adolescent Christian ignores them.
Spiritual depth is coming for this believer, but is in the development stage. There will be periods of backtracking and failure, but it will be dealt with through true Repentance with Joy. This believer is learning how to replace bad spiritual habits with the habit of walking in the presence of God. However, the danger for this believer is if adversity is not dealt with correctly then bitterness and resentment can form in the believer’s Heart. The Enemy will use his strongholds to pressure the believer by magnifying the problem beyond all proportion. If this isn’t detected and dealt with quickly by the believer then he or she will become defeated in anger, pride, bitterness and resentment. The believer has to deal with these attacks by accepting Sorrow and Suffering as they repent with Joy. They should then ask the Lord to drive the enemy away. If this is not dealt with correctly then this believer can turn away from the diligent pursuit of God and revert to a Soul-led Adolescent Christian. Strongholds should be dealt with through deliverance.
God’s will is becoming more and more important to this believer. Prayer is becoming vital and dynamic. Praise and worship is becoming a way of walking. This believer hungers and thirsts for God’s righteousness and mourns deeply over every failure because of the hurt it has caused God.
When the Holy Spirit causes idols to be revealed in this believer action is taken. This believer’s Heart is tender toward God. Idols are seen as huge problems. This believer is leaning how to detect the idol building process which the Heart constantly does. The Heart is seen as something which must be denied and crucified, but the struggle is in knowing how to do it without using will power.
Complete surrender which causes spiritual maturity is in process. This believer is learning how to give God more and more time each day. Worldly goals are becoming less and less important.
The Adult Christian – Solid Food Attributes
- Spirit-led leader
- Adversity is dealt with God’s way which causes maturing
- Stripping away the Old Nature / Heart is being broken up into tenderness
- Seeks to pray continually and Walk in the Spirit – Prays dynamically for others.
- Sin is dealt with by Spiritual Breathing – Confession and Repentance
- Seeking for God to Grant Repentance and Spiritual Growth
- Christ’s Yoke fits well and the burden is light
- Fasting/Self Denial while Feasting on God becoming a Reality
- Willing to die for Christ
- Using Jesus as example for living – WWJD
- Solid Bible Knowledge
- Giving up on Worldly things.
- Sees Social Issues as God’s will vs. the Way of the World.
- Spiritual Discernment is being developed along with wisdom / Spiritual Eyes and Ears are learning to see and hear.
- Hypocrisy is being eradicated.
- Legalism being replaced by Grace and Mercy
- Learning to Step out on Faith
- Praise and Worship is uplifting and edifying.
The move from Baby Christian to Adult Christian does not have to go through the Adolescent stage. What makes the difference? There is a point of maturity known only to God when a test or trial will come into the Baby Christian’s life which will cause an eternal outcome to take place. This is the point (it could be many or few points) when the believer must decide to trust God or not. These tests are designed to cause the believer to exercise their faith and submit to Christ’s Lordship. The result of trusting God and relying on Him through the pain will develop faith in the believer. This faith is a gift of God. We can not generate it by trying hard with our will power.
As faith is built up in the believer then they can start consuming deeper and deeper spiritual food. This will cause wisdom and knowledge of God to come to the believer. Then at many points along the way, tests and trials will come which are all designed by God to develop faith in the believer. This is learning to deal with adversity. This process is designed by God precisely and individually for each believer. At some point the Baby Christian will become an Adult Christian. Only God knows when it will happen, but when it does the result is eternal and life changing. If the Baby Christian rejects this process and retreats from God over and over again then they will enter the Adolescent Christian Stage. Unfortunately, many do exactly that.
At the proper point in the life of the believer faith will have been built up enough so complete surrender to God takes place. This surrender has actually been taking place all along at each point where test and trials were passed and faith was built up. At each of those points the believer’s Heart was being transformed by the renewing of their minds. God’s Will became more and more important to the believer through each test or trial. Of course I am paraphrasing from the following scripture: “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)
It is vital for the believer to become more and more separate from the world through each step. If the believer stays conformed to the ways of the world then little of the spiritual growth we have been talking about will take place because conformity to the world is rebellion against Christ’s Lordship.
The transition from being Soul-led to being Spirit-led happens differently with each believer; however, there is one commonality we can look at. There will be a time when it will become apparent to the believer something has changed. For a period of time the believer will have been working through the transformation process God has laid out for them. They will be having more and more periods of time where they are Spirit-led and fewer and fewer where they are Soul-led. Then one day they will suddenly realize their entire value system has been altered. They used to be self-focused and self-protective and not very humble. Now they are God-focused and humble. They care nothing for worldly or fleshly things. They only want to stay in the presence of God all the time. They only want to do His will. Their sensitivity to God’s voice and presence has become so strong they can detect when they have stumbled and have moved from Spirit-led to Soul-led. The flatness and ugliness which comes from being separated from God’s presence has become unbearable. They will immediately do whatever it takes to get back into God’s presence. When the believer has matured to this point then they are ready to move to the next stage of maturity.
Does reaching this level of maturity mean all tests and trials are over? No! There will be more. The maturing process will continue until God takes the believer to Heaven. We can never have too much Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness and Self-Control. Remember the goal is to become Christ-like.
The time spent in the Adult Christian stage is up to God. At some point, known only to God, the believer will become a Christ-like person. Their thoughts and intentions have become subject to the will of God and Christ’s Lordship. Their entire life is dedicated to being in the center of God’s will. They care nothing about earthly things. They care deeply for the spiritual growth of others. They desire only to be used by God for His Glory.
This believer has learned to live for God. Any and all circumstances are seen as God’s will. His will is seen as perfect. This believer has become a man or woman after God’s own heart. They are not perfect, but their sins are dealt with quickly through Repentance with Joy. Everyone on the planet is seen by them as more important than themselves. Pride has become completely laid down. Humility has become the way they walk the walk. Praise and Worship is a priority for this believer. Time spent away from Prayer, Praise and Worship is unbearable.
Interestingly, as a believer is coming to the transition from Adult Christian to Mature Christian there is huge danger of becoming prideful in their humility. That sounds like an oxymoron or a misstatement, but it is very real. The problem is caused when the maturing believer observes the lack of maturity in those believers all around them. They become aware of an ever-widening Gulf separating them from the believers who are seemingly content with their shallow walks. The Spirit-led believer is powerful in the Lord. The Soul-led believer is nearly powerless. The Spirit-led believer is faithful naturally, while the Soul-led believer is faithful by will power alone. The maturing believer must pray for wisdom and patience everyday so they will remain humble and Christ-like and not become great in their own eyes. It must be remembered all of the transformation which has taken place has been by the Grace and Mercy of God.
If the maturing believer makes it past this test (yes, it is a test) then they will eventually transition into the next stage of Christian maturity according the Will of God.
Mature Christian – Meat attributes
- Humble Servant
- Adversity is welcome as this believer knows more faith and maturity will result as it is handled according to the will of God.
- Staying in the Throne Room—Psalm 63—Life is full of the Fruit of the Spirit.
- Knowing and doing the Will of God.
- Sin is dealt with quickly by Repentance with Joy
- Living only for God
- Christ’s Yoke fits perfectly and the burden is light as air
- The Heart is crucified so its sinful desires have no power
- The Heart is directed toward God always
- Character has become Just like Jesus
- Deep Bible Knowledge
- The things of this earth have become strangely dim.
- Sees all Social Issues through God’s eyes / treats everyone according to God’s Will
- Spiritual Discernment is Highly Tuned In / Godly Wisdom personified / Spiritual Eyes and Ears are tuned into God
- No Hypocrisy because Soul is crucified and submissive to the Spirit
- Lives by Faith
- Praise and Worship is central, vital and continuous
This stage of maturity should be the goal for each believer. It is a sad thing that huge numbers of believers live their entire lives as Baby or Adolescent Christians. The Adult Christian stage is exciting because as their Minds are transformed by the process of directing their Hearts toward God in all situations, they see the changes in themselves daily. The maturing believer will say things like, “I have never been so fulfilled in my life. I thought this would burn out or fade away like every other revival I have had before, but this has not. In fact it gets better all the time. I am never going back to the way I was before.”
I was concerned about how I would handle tough trials and tests as I matured. I knew how I handled adversity would determine how well I matured and how far I could go with Christ. Right after I started directing my Heart towards God as a habit I prayed God would do whatever it would take to make me His chosen vessel to be used His way for His purpose.
The next day was Labor Day. My wife, Ina, and I went to a furniture store to buy a mattress set. During the loading process into the back of my pickup I bent over to tie off one the ropes we used to keep the set from blowing out. I stayed in that position too long. My back popped and I went down in agony. I have had back problems for years and about once a year it goes out. This time was one of the worst I had ever experienced. Even the thought of moving was painful. I ended up going to my doctor who prescribed pain pills and muscle relaxers. He also sent me to a physical therapist. I endured stretches and back manipulation for a couple of weeks. I never lost my Joy. I was able to stay in God’s presence the whole time. I actually thanked Him for allowing me go through it.
During that same time I was writing in my Prayer Journal every day. I went back and looked at those days. Most of the prayer I had during that time was outward focused. I was praying for everyone and everything and very little about my back. I attribute that to God’s Grace alone.
Ask God to show you where you stand spiritually. This set of attributes and levels is an imprecise way of gauging something which really can’t be measured. Spiritual maturity is unique to each believer. However, I believe the base attributes are useful indicators of where our problem areas are. Many believers are deceived into thinking they are mature believers while they are really just Soul-led Adolescents who have been doing “church” long enough to look really good. They call Jesus Lord, but don’t keep His commandments.
I made many bad decisions in my walk with God as He was maturing me. I became a church leader while being a very immature believer. I must have appeared very mature to others in our church, but I can assure you I was terrified of any responsibility which required me to step out on faith. I actually backed away from many growth opportunities the Lord put me in because it appeared costly. These selfish responses caused my faith to become stagnate. I was Soul-led. I had no idea how to become Spirit-led. Of course if I had allowed God to mature me and build up my faith through each growth opportunity I would have eventually matured and learned how to submit to Christ’s Lordship.
How about you? Have you become stagnate in your faith? Has the Joy gone out of your walk? Do some around you seem to have a close intimate walk with God, yet you do not? God may be showing you your need. God wants you to walk with Him not away from Him. Ask God to show you what your next step should be. God loves you and wants you walk in a love relationship with Him. He wants to remove all of the obstacles from your life which encumber you and keep you from staying in His presence.
In the book of James we read a promise which has become one of the pillars of my walk: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8) As God drew me into a closer walk with Him I discovered, as I diligently sought His presence and became devoted to Him, He came after me even more. As I stayed in this walk I found I was in a constant state of cleansing. I found my double-mindedness was fading away.
Ask God to draw you closer. Go hard after Him with your devotion. He will draw near to you. We can change only by the Grace of God. He does the good work in us. Our part is to draw near to Him then respond in complete obedience to His will. Then He will change us. He will build our faith and strength so we can learn to be Spirit-led believers.
“And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments.”” (Genesis 35:2)
Some of my earliest memories are of being in church. My parents were, and still are, very devout believers. As I grew up I found I had two sets of friends. One set were those kids whose families went to the same church we did. The other set were those kids I saw at school or elsewhere. Some of my “other” friends were Catholic, or Church of Christ, or Presbyterian, or Methodist, or Church of God, etc. Some never went to church because they went to the lake, or camping, or something else on weekends.
When I was sixteen, in 1967, a movie came out named “The Thomas Crowne Affair” starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. I believe it was remade a few years ago, but I haven’t seen it. The movie revolves around a very rich man (Steve McQueen) who becomes bored with his life and seeks fulfillment by stealing several million dollars from a bank in Boston then getting away with it. The plot is about an insurance investigator (Faye Dunaway) trying to recover the money.
The movie portrays the Steve McQueen character as “having it all”. He is rich, well educated, sophisticated, good looking and really cool (I was sixteen remember). He had everything, but he was empty. There is a scene in the movie where he is playing golf with a business partner. He hits a bunker shot which nearly goes in. The guy he was playing with says he couldn’t do that again. He says he can and bets a lot of money on it. The partner buries the ball deep into the sand and demands he try it. The next shot is okay, but it isn’t as good as the first one. The ball is on the green, but not next to the hole. He asks the partner if he is willing to go double or nothing on him sinking the putt. They bet again. The putt misses. He and his partner start discussing the recklessness of betting on things like that and as they leave the green he turns to his friend and asks, “What else do we have to do on Sunday?”
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t use this example to say he would have fulfillment if he went to church on Sunday instead of playing golf. The point I am trying to make is we are all desperate for fulfillment. God designed us so we have to be fulfilled with His presence. Nothing else will do it. However, at the fall, man became corrupt and an enemy of God because of sin. Man is born Soul-led with a deadened Spirit. No contact with God is possible. So what does man do for fulfillment? Man seeks fulfillment in religion, work, money, sex, love, relationships, possessions, entertainment, you name it. Nothing works.
You noticed I put religion on the list didn’t you? Religion is not necessarily based on a relationship with God. Religion not based on a relationship to God the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and savior is a false religion. It does not matter how sincere a religion is, if it is not based on this then it is false and will not fulfill. In fact, they are idolatrous because they teach a false concept of God based on what man wants instead of who God is. Any act of attempted fulfillment not based on a correct relationship with God through Jesus Christ is idolatrous. Any religious activity based upon self-gratification is idolatrous.
The history of the Christianity is full of heretical beliefs. All are idolatrous because they teach a false view of God, Jesus and salvation. Man naturally falls for “works” salvation. “Works” salvation teaches that salvation is earned by working hard and keeping rules. This places our salvation in our hands rather than in God’s. The reason we fall so easily for this heresy is our huge inner drive to be gods ourselves.
The only religious activity which is not idolatrous is based upon a relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and savior. This is called Lordship salvation. One false understanding of salvation says true salvation is based solely on accepting Christ as savior. This error leaves out our submission to Christ as our Lord.
Lordship Salvation is what Jesus Himself taught while in His ministry on Earth. “Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily,and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24) These two verses teach all who desire to be Jesus’ disciple must start with Him as they are in complete surrender to His will. The disciple lives their life in subjection to the Lord’s will.
Those who object to Lordship salvation as being “works” are not listening to what our Lord says. Many also teach, at salvation, we must make Jesus our Lord and Savior. While this is a better understanding of salvation it still comes up short. Jesus Christ is Lord! We do not make Him Lord. We either submit to His Lordship or we don’t. Salvation comes to those who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and savior. With this in mind, it should be obvious heretical views of salvation are idolatrous. The false view of salvation will either pile “works” onto the believer or take away Lordship so the believer falsely believes they have a free ticket to heaven via cheap grace.
What is cheap grace? It is the opposite of costly grace. Cheap grace is prevalently taught in the churches that lure people to adhere to the false gospel of “Health, Wealth and Prosperity.” This heresy says it’s okay to seek self-gratification rather than obey Jesus. It teaches salvation by grace, but without adherence to the Lordship of Christ.
Adherents to cheap grace are deceived and are participating in idolatry and a false gospel which can not save. The believer who has accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior has taken on costly grace. Yes, it costs them all, but it gains them all.
Any attempt to find fulfillment in non-religious things, as a substitute for a right relationship with God, is idolatrous. Those friends who went to the lake, or fishing or whatever on weekends instead of seeking God were worshipping themselves by seeking fulfillment in those activities.
As I said earlier, Man tries all sorts of things to try to find fulfillment. Look at the list again. I’m sure you can add some other things to it. This may sound a little radical, but even those activities like charity can be attempts to feel better about ourselves. Did you get that? Any activities, no matter how good they appear to be, if used to feel better about ourselves, are idolatrous. That includes going to church. These are activities which serve the biggest idol man has. That idol is Idolatry of the Heart. This is the idol designed to serve self.
The scripture at the beginning of this chapter is from the book of Genesis. Jacob is preparing his family to go to Bethel to worship God. He tells everyone to put away the strange gods they had, then clean up themselves and change their garments. What he was telling them was, to approach God, they had to get rid of their idols then clean up their lives and put on salvation clothes.
Take this forward to our lives in the 21st Century. If you have made it this far in this book I have to assume you are a believer. If you are then you are saved and have everything you need to pray and have a relationship with God. However, some of you are more mature than others. Some of you are very new believers and need to be discipled. Some of you have been saved for awhile, but haven’t grown much and need disciplining. Some of you have made those steps which will bring maturity. At each step in this progression God has revealed to you activities, attitudes and behaviors which need to be changed. You may be going through constant aggravation in some areas which reveal you may not be as mature as you thought you were. Each of these is designed by God to show us the idols we have in our Hearts. He is showing us what is standing between us and that next big step in faith. Our part is learning how to get rid of these idols through the Lord’s cleansing. As we submit to this cleansing we will start to behave differently as we show our salvation clothes.
Idols are built and maintained by the Heart. All worship and service to these idols takes place at the altar each has. The service is worship of a false god. That false god is self. Do you always have to have your way? How do you react when you are cheated or lied to? Or, are you the one cheating or lying? Even if you are right, how do you treat those who have offended you? How far do you let your anger take you in this? Do you get jealous or envious of other’s spiritual growth? How do you react when an attractive person of the opposite sex (who is not your spouse) pays attention to you? I know I’m stepping on some toes with these questions. Some of them are mine. Take a look at each of those questions and ask, “How would Jesus react?” Is that how you react?
So how is this Idolatry of the Heart to be dealt with? Trying to act Christ-like through will power is a waste of time. It is doomed to failure. The only way for Idolatry of the Heart to be dealt with is through total surrender to the Lordship of Christ.
During the American Civil War, in the 1860’s, the Union had a General named Ulysses S. Grant. He later became President of the United States. He became Abraham Lincoln’s top General after his victories in the West. His battle style was different than all those who came before him. Lincoln replaced all of the Generals before Grant as he tried to find a leader who would get results. Lincoln liked Grant’s attitude toward the enemy. His nickname became “Unconditional Surrender Grant”. When the Confederate leaders sought surrender terms from Grant his response was always the same. He would simply send back a message that made it clear that there would be no terms of surrender. The enemy would have to surrender unconditionally and immediately, that is, total surrender.
Total surrender brings down Idolatry of the Heart because it is dying to self with nothing held back. Self is what is worshipped with our idolatrous behavior. Remember from the last chapter, as we mature we become more and more Spirit-led and less and less Soul-led. All idolatrous behavior comes from the Heart, which is made up of the Soul and the conscience. The conscience is constantly trying to get the Soul to find fulfillment. It condemns the Soul when it can’t and the Soul can’t, no matter what it does.
The conscience is part of the Spirit. If the conscience is part of the Spirit and our goal should be to become Spirit-led then why is the conscience pressuring the Soul to find fulfillment from somewhere other than God? The problem is Idolatry of the Heart which is simply a very bad habit. We have learned to live this way from birth. Our Hearts are desperate for lasting fulfillment, but can’t figure out how to get it.
At salvation the Holy Spirit washes our conscience with the blood of Jesus. This causes the Spirit to “wake up” and start contacting God as it was designed. The path to lasting fulfillment is now open, but we still don’t pursue it. Why? We still habitually go after our idols for fulfillment. So how do we turn to God for fulfillment? We have to replace our bad spiritual habits with good spiritual habits.
The best way to get this picture is from an example or illustration. I’ll use myself in this one. I have a problem with getting angry when people are inconsiderate or try to take advantage of me. Yes, I know that’s a function of Pride. Pride is not of God. Pride is of the flesh. Pride is how we serve at the altar which stands before our Idol of the Heart. When you look at it that way it looks pretty ugly doesn’t it? Pride is not only ugly; it’s downright rebellion against the Lordship of Christ.
Okay, I’m driving to work. Just a few minutes ago I had completed a very intimate quiet time with God as I prayed deeply and was fulfilled. I am approaching a stop light. Most of the people who come to this light turn right, but there isn’t a right turn lane. I’m going on straight for another mile or so. I am listening to some very uplifting Christian music. I am content. I am focusing on God and am very grateful. Then I see the light is red and no one is in the left lane. I pull over there so people can pull into the right lane and go ahead and turn right on red.
Then, someone comes up behind me and pulls into the right lane even though they are going straight. For some reason this really steams me. Suddenly I realize I have left God’s presence and am angry. I want to make sure they won’t get their way. Now, if I respond along these lines it could get pretty ugly. I have a choice to make, don’t I? Why did this happen? Do you think perhaps God has set this up to test me? Of course He did. He is showing me what my problem is. He is giving me a chance to do things His way, by faith, making the correct decision by reacting the way Jesus would. Would He get angry over this? Of course not! He would simply turn the other cheek and move on with God.
I don’t know about you, but turning the other cheek does not come naturally to me. When I try to do it myself I fail. When I try to be humble I fail. When I think I am humble I take pride in doing that. All I am doing is worshipping that stinking idol again. Do you see how insidious this is? Wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t have to do it this way? Yes, and I will show you how to do it. This process is called Repentance with Joy.
Repentance means to turn with regret. In this context it means to turn away from sin and turn to God. For the Spirit-led believer this process is a way of life. It has become the way of self-denial which keeps the Soul denied as they walk in Spirit.
Okay, I’m back in my pickup and I am at that stop light. The person in a hurry to pass me on the right has pulled in next to me and is blocking everyone from turning right on red. I see it. I am immediately tempted to react in the flesh and become angry. Now, if I have matured sufficiently and have developed my Spirit-led habits well then this is what I will do. I will detect the movement of my Heart seeking to get gratification through this prideful anger (because I’m monitoring it) and I will capture that thought. I will turn immediately to God and ask His forgiveness for participating in this even for a second. The captured thought will dissolve. The enemy, who is tempting me, will flee because I resisted him. No anger happens. I turn the other cheek. I pay no attention to the person in the other lane at all. I rejoice in the victory. I give God all the credit. I thank Him continuously. I am filled with Joy. This is Repentance with Joy. God’s Grace makes all this possible.
When we walk this way the Idol which is served by pride is nullified. The altar which serves it crumbles a little more. The Idol is developing a lot of cracks. Walking the Spirit-led life is the demolition process which is tearing down the whole worthless mess through denial.
Your failures are probably bound to totally different idols than mine. It doesn’t matter. There is a way to victory no matter which idols are involved. There is a way to defeat Idolatry of the Heart. We can’t do it alone. It takes self-denial through Repentance with Joy, with God as an active participant, to bring down those idols. He gives us the faith to embrace sorrow and suffering as we turn the other cheek. The Soul sees self-denial as costly because it nullifies pride.
As this habit is developed we find we stay in God’s presence more and more. In fact, we find we can stay all day. God wants us there. The more we stay in His presence the more He changes us.
Steps for Repentance with Joy
- Take every thought capture – 2 Corinthians 10:5
- Humbly turn to God / Confess and Repent – 1 John 1:9
- Turn the other cheek – Present your bodies as a living sacrifice – Romans 12:1
- Walk in the Spirit – Be transformed by the renewing of your mind – Romans 12:2
I have good days and bad days. I suspect most of my bad days are actually very fruitful for God on my behalf. On those days I fail or stumble when I don’t detect the movement of my Heart towards the flesh for fulfillment. On those days I get ambushed by issues and react fleshly and serve those idols. I regret it, of course. I repent. I seek His face. I get cleaned up. I diligently seek His face and presence. When we have days like that we shouldn’t get frustrated and give up. We must fall down before Him, in all humility seek His face and let Him raise us up. When we come to Him broken, with a tender Heart then He willdo a good work in us.
How about you? How hooked are you to your favorite activities? Do you spend several hours everyday watching TV or surfing the internet. How about sports? There is a family in my neighborhood that has a huge boat, all sorts of dirt bikes and an RV. They spend every weekend pursuing fun. They work very hard at having fun. I am sure, by now, you understand that is idolatrous behavior. For believers, it just isn’t right. Yes, it is okay to have recreation and hobbies. There is nothing wrong with that. However, if the pursuit of either causes you to neglect your relationship with God then it has become an idol. Idolatry is simply putting self interests ahead of your relationship with God.
As I grew in Christ I could not help but take notice of the direct correlation between spiritual growth and the increased time I gave God. My desire is to be all God wants me to be. That desire grew as I spend more and more time communing with Him. God has also given me a Heart that deeply desires to see all believers lay aside their carnal, fleshly, time wasting pursuits and learn to walk the Walk by Faith.
Jesus died on the cross so all who come to know Him as Lord and Savior can have eternal life via costly grace. Jesus bought us all for the price of His blood. All in Christ are His to do with as He wills. He is calling each and every one of us to step up to the plate and dedicate our lives to the glorification of Jesus Christ. If we refuse to live lives of purification (idol destruction) then we are wasting our lives. If we refuse to give up our soft lifestyles to take on self denial called for in Romans 12:1-2 then we are wasting our lives. All believers are called to extend the Kingdom by valuing Christ so much the World takes notice and is called to repentance. If we don’t do this then we are wasting our lives. If we are wasting our lives it is because we are serving our Idolatry of the Heart.
Idolatry of the Heart is our biggest problem after salvation. It is one of the main tools our Enemy uses to attempt to defeat us. He will try to use it to convince us the life we live here in the physical world is vital and far more important than the spiritual. He will do everything he can do distract us from submitting to Jesus as Lord. A close study of the Gospels, however, reveals true life is found in the denial of self in this present life as we take on costly grace.
If we take on this attitude then our road to becoming Spirit-led believers opens up. We become one of those who walk the Walk by Faith. We see things from God’s perspective, not ours. We will gladly submit to God’s cleansing fire as he burns away our idols and teaches us His ways. He gives us our true purpose for being here. He gives us a life which has meaning. He gives us fulfillment which lasts and is not subject to circumstances.
Are you hungry for this type of walk? If you are, thank God because He gave you that hunger. Respond to it by going hard after God. When you do, He will also come hard after you. He will cause cleansing and refinement in you to remove your idols. It might be painful. However, as you surrender to God and come to understand the eternal significance of the following scripture then you will have begun your walk by Faith: “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) This attitude is one of total surrender to the will of God, to the Lordship of Christ and costly grace. If you take on this attitude then you will see you are His to do with as He pleases, but it will always be for the best. It may cost you your life. It may cost you your health. It may cost you your possessions. It may cost you your freedom. But, for those in total surrender to the will of God, it is understood, the eternal is the real reality. This is living Lordship Salvation via costly grace.
Dealing with Idolatry of the Heart is not something we can do ourselves. I struggled for years with self-denial. I tried hard to be Christ-like. I tried hard to be Spirit-led. I tried hard, but it never worked for long. In fact, it seemed my Idolatry of the Heart became even more solid and in control.
As I learned to direct my Heart toward God as a way of life I soon realized how to get victory over self. I doesn’t matter how hard we try to be godly we can’t do it for long. If we are Spirit-led then we are godly. I know that may sound trite or simplistic, but it is the reality of the Spirit-led life. The Spirit-led life does not seek its own. It puts everyone ahead of self. It puts God ahead of all. The Spirit-led life can do this because the one living it is walking with the Soul denied and the Spirit in control. The Holy Spirit resides in the Spirit of the believer. He is directing and leading the believer through each step of the walk.
Walking the Spirit-led life causes the idols in the Heart to come crashing down because they aren’t being served or maintained. The Heart does all of the idol and altar building. If the believer is Spirit-led then the Heart is directed toward God for fulfillment not toward the flesh. If the believer is Soul-led then the Heart is directed toward the flesh for fulfillment. Each attempt for fulfillment from the flesh results in servitude to idols in the Heart. The believer who walks this way is defeated and powerless. The believer who walks the Spirit-led life is victorious and powerful in the Lord.
Which way do you want to walk? Do you want victory? Victory over self comes only to the Spirit-led. To become Spirit-led the believer must learn to get control over their Heart. Fortunately, we have abundant help available from the Holy Spirit. However, part of the responsibility in becoming Spirit-led is ours. What is our part? It is learning to walk through each day in Repentance with Joy. How do we do that? That is what the next chapter is all about.
Repentance God’s Way vs. Repentance the World’s Way
“For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10)
“Ever since that time I walk before GOD simply, in faith, with humility and with love; and I apply myself diligently to do nothing and think nothing which may displease Him. I hope that when I have done what I can, He will do with me what He pleases.”… Brother Lawrence
I think one of the things which really hindered my maturity for years was a misunderstanding of how to repent. I don’t blame those who taught me, as a new believer, because I don’t think they understood the process any more than I did. I didn’t receive a great deal of one-on-one discipleship anyway. I was always the one in bible study classes who had the answers to the teacher’s questions. When we are saved, each of us receives spiritual gifts. God gifted me in the areas of prophecy and teaching. That means He gifted me with the ability to interpret scripture. As a new believer, I could read and understand scripture a little deeper than a new believer should have been able to. I think this caused many people who were in church leadership to think I was spiritually mature. Well, I wasn’t. I was functioning within my giftedness. The two are not the same.
Have you ever watched parents disciplining their children? The child has misbehaved and needs to be corrected. The parents will often try to force the child to feel bad about what they have done. I think this is where our misunderstanding about repentance begins. I remember as a child my goal was simply to not get caught. When I was caught I would feel very contrite and would appear to be very sorrowful. However, I was sorrowful because I got caught! When punishment came I would become even more sorrowful, but what really changed? I would learn not to do whatever it was that got me in trouble, but is that Repentance God’s way? Often, I would simply change how I did the behavior so I would not get caught. Quit smirking, you were no different.
When I first came to Christ I had no idea I needed to pray for forgiveness of my sins and repent each day. A few months later a ministry team came to our church in Tulsa for a three week revival. They taught us how to apply: “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)
I remember being amazed when I learned this. They taught us to walk by applying this scripture in a process called “Spiritual Breathing”. As we sin we should immediately confess it to God and walk in repentance as He cleanses us. However, they never taught us the difference between Repentance God’s way and Repentance the World’s way. I thought I was doing it correctly when I would confess my sins to God and then attempt to feel bad about it for awhile. Then after I had suffered enough then I would feel better and move on. I would try to not sin anymore, but that never worked for long.
If this how you repent then stop it. What you are doing is simply being sorrowful the World’s way. This is not true Repentance. It accomplishes nothing as far as Spiritual Maturity. It actually keeps you in bondage. It has no power to keep you from repeating that sin you are beating yourself up about.
Part of the problem is our warped view of sin. All sin by a believer is an attempt to find fulfillment apart from God or to put our desires ahead of His will. That is the sin. Our behavior while sinning will have consequences which will have to be dealt with, but the sin is directing our Heart to the flesh for fulfillment rather than keeping it directed toward God and His Glory. Another thing we must remember is Christ paid the price for our sin on the cross. When you or I sin we don’t have to have Christ pay for it all over again. Nor do we have to pay the price for it because it has already been paid in full.
Please do not think I am advocating license. I am not. When a believer sins it is a hurtful thing to God. The believer should mourn deeply for that reason. The mourning we do should not be something we generate in a warped attempt to Repent with Sorrow. Believers have the Holy Spirit living within their Spirits. When we sin He will cause our conscience to condemn us. We will mourn deeply when that happens if our Heart is tender. We should humble ourselves before our Lord and confess what we have done. If we have offended anyone we should make that right.
So, how do we repent God’s way? To repent God’s way we have to see our Heart is the problem. It is desperate for fulfillment.
As we mature spiritually we will become more and more Spirit-led as we become less and less Soul-led. In Soul-led mode our Hearts are constantly in the idol and altar building and serving process. The Soul-led Heart is all about self. I saw a very slick Mercedes convertible the other day that had a personalized license plate that said, “BOUTME”. Whoever owned that car had a Heart dedicated to self-gratification.
As we become Spirit-led we will have our Hearts directed towards God. As we walk this way we are fulfilled as we humbly stay in His presence. Our Hearts are totally fulfilled when we do this. Our Souls are denied. Out flesh is nullified. The idols in our Hearts are denied and are being demolished. This walk is called many things. It is walking in Repentance with Joy. It is walking by faith. It is praying continuously. It is the Kingdom walk. It is walking in the Spirit. We do not sin when we are in God’s presence. We do not sin as long as our Hearts are directed towards Him. “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16)
How do we get our Hearts directed towards God? First, get over the idea, “It’s all about me”. It’s not about you or me. It’s about God. “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:11-12) These two verses tell us God created us for His purpose and Glory. Start there. Then as this concept sinks in simply seek His face. You may ask, “What does that mean?” It means to enter the throne room where He is. It means to be humble before the throne. You gain entrance into God’s presence by recognizing that He is God and you are not. Praise Him with a thankful Heart. I like to listen to uplifting worship and prayer songs to prepare my Heart for this. I have learned if I change my attitude from whatever it is to delight in Him I have no trouble getting into His presence. But if I have anger or some other idolatrous attitude on my Heart I can NOT get there.
Once you have entered the throne room then you are in His presence. What happens there? Well, in Jesus own words,” Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
As we come into the Lord’s presence we should enter there to seek Him, not get something. As we come near to Him He will come near to us. He will change us. He will teach us all about Himself. He will teach us to be like Him. He will show us that denying self is restful. He will give us the strength to work with Him in His work as we are yoked up with Him.
We will be changed while in His presence. Our faith will be built up. We will become Joyful and Peaceful. Our Souls will be denied, but at Peace because we have the Lord’s fulfillment. Our Souls will also take on their original design—to express and reflect God. God does not want us to leave His presence. He wants us to direct our Hearts toward Him always.
The problem is we get distracted. The enemy does not want us to walk this way because God is glorified when we do. He will come after us to get us to turn away from God and go after self-gratification for fulfillment. Our enemy hates for Christ to be glorified and submitted to as Lord. It’s all about those idols. God allows Satan to do this to us so we will see what must be changed so we can become Spirit-led, Christ-like believers.
What idols do you have? One of mine is a love for people to think I’m smart or cool or whatever. I like for people to laugh at my jokes. I make fun of myself sometimes to get this effect. Sarcasm is fun too. I will be in God’s presence, in complete fulfillment, one moment and suddenly find myself serving one of these idols. It takes practice to detect this. It takes the development of a habit of constantly monitoring what my Heart is up to so I can stop what its doing and direct it toward God. When this happens I simply turn to God with a very big “Thank YOU LORD.” I will then ask Him to forgive me for pursuing self-gratification. I humbly come back into His presence. I have Repented God’s way, with Joy.
Throughout the day, we should attempt to constantly stay in God’s presence. I know you may think you can’t. I used to think that as well. However, I have habits set up in my daily walk which make it easier for me to do this. I pray whenever I can. I listen to uplifting prayer songs all day. I read my bible on breaks. I say, “Thank YOU LORD!” throughout the day. Sometimes I just stop what I’m doing and lift my arms to heaven. I put a big smile on my face as I delight in His presence. Then I worship Him and Thank Him for His grace. I saturate my life with Jesus.
If we change our behavior this way we are actually living the following scripture: “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)
Romans 12:1-2 progression:
- You depend totally on God’s Mercy and Grace to empower you to become Spirit-led.
- You present your body as a living sacrifice. This means you give up your rights to yourself. You recognize you are God’s to do with as He wills. You submit to Christ’s Lordship.
- Give up all conformity to the way of the World. Christ-likeness is the opposite of the way of the World.
- Be transformed by all those things you do to saturate yourself with Jesus. The more you do, the more you stay in the Spirit, the more you will change.
- As you are Spirit-led you will care only to do the will of God. You will do it because you want to stay in His presence.
Do you see the difference between Repentance God’s way and Repentance the World’s way? The difference is Worldly sorrow only brings grief and does not really change anything. It is sorrow over getting caught. It can also be sorrow over constant failure. Godly Sorrow is the turning from self-gratification (Soul-led behavior) to being Spirit-led. We become Spirit-led by humbling ourselves as we come into His presence. As we stay in His presence we are walking the Walk by Faith. We are walking in Repentance with Joy. We are walking in the Spirit. We are turning from self-gratification to self-denial through our Spirit’s predominance over our Souls.
You may not think this is possible for you. Please don’t think that way. Walking the Walk by Faith is all about victory. It isn’t about misery or dullness or boredom. Many hate going to church because they see it as boring and dull. It can be for the Soul-led believer. But, the Spirit-led believer loves to worship. If you are Soul-led then true worship, in Spirit and Truth, is rare.
I remember the day I learned how to walk in Repentance with Joy. It had never occurred to me my Heart was doing what it was doing. That morning during my quiet time with God I felt led to pray for more self-control. I was maturing a great deal, but I still had inconsistencies throughout each day. I asked for wisdom and knowledge. I prayed God would show me how to have victory. The word “Repentance” kept coming to me. I read about it in two separate devotionals that morning and it kept coming up in a conversation I had with a fellow believer at work that day. During one of my breaks I did a search on the Internet for “Repentance”. I went right to the following web site: http://www.tasteheavennow.net/index.htm. This site belongs to Barry Hall and his “Taste of Heaven Ministries”. He has authored several Spiritual Growth e-Books. I bought the four volume set about Repentance with Joy. That very day I read most of the first e-Book, “Understanding Yourself and your need for God”.
I learned what my Heart was up to as I read. I learned what it meant to take every thought capture and how to stop my idolatrous behavior. It had never occurred to me being funny or sarcastic or wanting people to think I’m smart or cool was the problem. But, that is all idolatrous behavior because the motive is self-gratification.
The moment that realization came was amazing. I did a check of my Heart by looking for what it was going after. Suddenly, I was aware I was desperately seeking fulfillment from all sorts of things. I was stunned. It was like a switch had been turned. Suddenly all the self-gratification stuff stopped. I was paying attention instead of passively letting my Heart have its way. At that moment it was just like the white noise generator in our office had been turned off. I went from passively enduring my Heart’s behavior to emptiness. I was still. Then I turned my Heart toward God by seeking His face and was filled to the max. I point to that day as the day God took me to the next level. I was able to stay in God’s Presence using this technique the rest of that day. I am still developing the habit of practicing this. Some days are better than others I assure you.
I started listening to uplifting contemporary Christian music as often as I could. I like songs by Jeremy Camp and Watermark very much. Their music is all about this close personal walk with Christ. When I am doing battle with the enemy I can play some praise and worship music and everything comes into perspective. It is like God cuts through the fog Satan pulls around us as He reaches down into the muck and brings me right into His presence. Praising God is the quickest way to make the enemy flee. God does a good work in our Hearts when we are in His presence as we pray and worship. Don’t you think we should really learn how to pray to and worship the King?
Another study which has been very helpful to me is the writings of Brother Lawrence. He was a 17th Century Monk at a monastery in Paris. He was not a priest, just the cook. As a teenager he was a soldier who was wounded in battle so severely he was crippled and in constant pain for the rest of his life. His salvation came as he observed God’s redemptive power as a tree went from winter dormancy to spring greenery. God drew Him to Himself through this example of His Faithfulness.
After salvation he came to the monastery and was assigned to be the cook. After several years he learned to direct his Heart toward God as a way of life. He learned how to maintain this close walk with God throughout each day. There is a book attributed to him, but it is actually a compilation of interviews with him and letters he wrote. It is called The Practice of the Presence of God.
I go back to Brother Lawrence occasionally because I have a tendency to complicate things. Brother Lawrence’s teachings are simple. There is nothing complicated or complex about them. His method of walking in the God’s presence was to simply direct his whole self to God and thank Him continually throughout each day. Some days that is all I can do.
How about you? Do you want to maximize your Walk? If you want to be that Spirit-led believer God wants you to be then you must learn how to walk in Repentance with Joy. No one can do it for you. No one can take you by the hand and take you into the throne room. You must enter yourself. God is waiting and calling you to come to Him. Don’t be afraid of that. Yes, you have to prepare your Heart before you can approach the throne, but His Grace and Mercy makes all of that possible. Start by asking God for guidance. Ask Him to lead you to do His will. I pray you will find the joy of Repentance God’s way.
“Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure, and marveled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.” (Mark 6:51-53)
How hard is your Heart? Hard-Heartedness is nothing to be proud of. You may be suffering from having a Hard Heart and not even know it. In this chapter we will look at the symptoms and causes of Hard-Heartedness as well as the symptoms and causes of its opposite condition, Tender-Heartedness.
The Hard-Hearted believer is self-focused and Soul-led. They are seemingly “content” with their shallow walk because they don’t know the joy of being Spirit-led. The Hard-Hearted believer is more concerned about self-gratification than the will of God. They seek to do the minimum for God not the maximum. They see the demands of serving in a church or ministry as a burden because it takes them away from their fleshly pursuits. They are also mired in unbelief.
How did they get to be Hard-Hearted? As you know by now, God is in the business of maturing all believers into Christ-likeness. This means all of those idols have to go. All self-gratification has to go. Submission to Christ’s Lordship becomes a priority. The pressure from the Lord to change can be quite painful if the believer is bound and determined to hang onto their idolatrous behavior. Sometimes God will cause or allow a great deal of pain to come into the life of a believer. This is not punishment. It is a trial or test to purify that believer for eternal purposes. If the believer submits to what God is doing in their lives, in total surrender, then they will grow. Their faith is built-up. Their Heart is tender because of the brokenness that comes from the surrender. They are learning to walk the Walk by Faith. They are being prepared for greatness.
On the other hand, they may dig their heels in. They may take a stand for self and their rights. The moment a believer takes that stand they have taken a step further away from God and have hardened their Heart a little more. They lose any closeness to God they did have. If this continues and brokenness (total surrender) does not happen then this believer’s Heart will become hardened. They will be Soul-led, self-focused and Hard-Hearted. They will be spiritually miserable, poor, wretched, blind and naked.
What are the symptoms of Hard-Heartedness in a believer? They are self-focused. They are never truely content. They are not fulfilled. Since they are in the Adolescent Christian stage of spiritual growth they will be emotionally driven to find fulfillment any way they can. They don’t understand they have made a wrong turn. They hear sermons and bible teaching and they will rejoice greatly, but they won’t do one thing to apply those truths to their lives because of their unbelief. When asked to serve in a ministry they get angry or resentful. Their time is too important for stuff like that. They must spend their time on more gratifying things like channel surfing or going to football games.
I have seen Hard-Hearted believers get very serious about serving or praying for a little while. However, in a very short span of time they are gone. They can’t keep it up. There is not enough will-power in them to be godly. These believers are saved, but they are Worldly. They have one foot in church and the other in the World. They are conformed unto this World, not unto Christ-likeness. Their Soul-led behavior just keeps on trucking as they hear sermon after sermon on spiritual growth yet they don’t change. Their Hard-Heartedness blinds them into unbelief.
In the chapter “Who is Man?” we saw the Spirit of Man and how it is made up of the conscience, the fellowship/communion and the intuition. Later in that chapter we saw where Man’s Heart was made up the Soul (the mind, the will and the emotions) and the conscience. The reason I am bringing this up again is we must take a closer look at the conscience and its role in believers suffering from Hard-Heartedness or growing in Tender-Heartedness.
The conscience’s role is tremendous. It is where the joining between Man’s Spirit and Man’s Soul takes place in the Heart of Man. With a strong and healthy conscience a person is morally upright. With a weak or damaged conscience a person is capable of almost any kind of evil. It is also what drives Man to seek fulfillment. The conscience serves to give the believer fulfillment when they are Spirit-led. When a believer is Soul-led it condemns them because they can’t find fulfillment no matter what they do.
When a person is Tender-Hearted toward God their conscience is tuned into God and His Glory because that believer is Spirit-led. When a person is Hard-Hearted their conscience has become dulled. It is condemning the believer for lack of fulfillment, but the Soul-led believer has built up a callous or hard layer between the conscience and the Soul. Their Heart has become Hard. They have become callous toward spiritual things. They can hear God’s truths, but will not be changed by them because they have become dulled to the conviction from the Holy Spirit because the conscience isn’t being heeded. Hence, they are mired in unbelief.
How does a Hard-Hearted believer become Tender-Hearted? God has to take them through a softening process. That callousness has to be broken down. The conscience has to become functional again. When it does, the conviction from God flows right into the Heart and the conscience does it’s job of bringing about eternal change.
What is the softening process? I can’t answer that for you or anyone else. I know what mine was like though. I had to give God more and more time over several months for that callous layer to be broken down. I did become broken before God, but it took time. One of things that seemed to speed up the process for me, however, was the elimination of my conformity to the World. I quit watching TV as my main pastime. I quit listening to secular music. I quit taking sports so seriously. I replaced it all with godly things like Bible study, Christian music and ministry. I fasted from what my Heart wanted as I feasted on God. I didn’t know it at the time, but what I was doing was submitting to the Lordship of Christ.
How about you? Can you hear God? Do you want to? Do Spiritual people drive you crazy? Are you sitting around waiting for one of them to fail so you can say, “I told you so”? Did you notice the callous attitude? That is the attitude of a Hard-Hearted believer. They don’t understand the Spirit-led believer. They think the Spirit-led, Tender-Hearted believer is just trying harder than they are. They resent what they perceive as hypocrisy or they feel guilty for their own spiritual slackness. They knew that Spirit-led believer when they were Soul-led just like them. Because of their unbelief, they do not understand the Spirit-led are Tender-Hearted because God has changed them.
Hard-Heartedness is a very serious condition. It causes many ugly things to be manifest in the believer’s life. Unbelief is nothing to proud of. I know people who are proud of their skepticism. I can see having little faith in mankind and the ways of the World, but it is a very sad and disturbing thing to encounter unbelief in regard to God and the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus experienced this firsthand. The people in His home town rejected Him when he returned to preach in the synagogue. “When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas and His sisters are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?” So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.” Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.” (Matthew 13:54-58)
How sad! They had the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, in their presence and they refused to accept Him. They missed the best because they thought their safe set of beliefs were good enough for them.
Jesus’ disciples were no better. After His resurrection He appeared to several people who reported the joyous news to them. “And they went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either. Later He appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and He rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those who had seen Him after He had risen. And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:13-15) What I like about this passage is the Mercy and Grace the Lord shows us. Yes, we can become deceived into Hard-Hearted behavior which results in unbelief. However, the Lord always wants us to let Him pull us out of the muck as we turn to Him for forgiveness.
The Hard-Hearted believer’s unbelief is a snare. Snares are traps made to look like something else. They are made to look safe and desirable while they are full of death and destruction. The snare of unbelief feels good to the Hard-Hearted believer. It makes them feel good because it gives them the illusion they are in control. They can be mired in the muck of unbelief, full of acid and bitterness, and at the same time appear godly because they have learned how to look good on the outside while not changing on the inside. In Jesus’ day they were the scribes and Pharisees. “Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:26-28)
I pray you will be tenderized. I pray you will see Tender-Heartedness is vital to being Spirit-led. We can’t be Hard-Hearted and Spirit-led. We can’t be Tender-Hearted and Soul-led. The Hard-Hearted believer is mired in unbelief. The Tender-Hearted believer walks according to God’s light.
Ask God to show you your Heart condition. If He shows you things which must go then you must lay them down and follow Him. If you do not then you will become even more Hard-Hearted. I don’t miss all of that Worldly stuff I let go of at all. I care nothing for secular things. I want only the Kingdom. “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
I want to be with my Lord. To live here now, I must live for Him, but if I die then I will be far better off because I will be with Him. If you do not have that attitude because you would rather hang onto this life then you are spiritually miserable, poor, wretched, blind and naked.
One Sunday morning several months ago our Pastor asked for a show of hands for anyone willing to get up out our pews, exit the auditorium, then get on a bus waiting out in the parking lot which would take us to Heaven to be with Jesus forever. I raised my hand immediately. I was shocked when only a few of us did. It is hard for me to understand how any believer would prefer this life over being with our Lord. I later found out, from our Pastor, those who did raise their hands were the very same ones who have been reporting to him all their victories as they learned to walk in the Spirit. The point is this—our life here is for His Glory and to prepare us for eternity. The problem is most believers are still living their lives their own way with no regard for God. They live their lives like it’s all about them. They are Hard-Hearted and Soul-led.
If you finish this life in Hard-Heartedness then you will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ in shame. If you live your life by running in the race God has set before you (by being Spirit-led) then you will break the tape at the finish line. You will also stand before the Judgment seat of Christ. Instead of being full of shame you will see Our Lord before His faithful servants, “His lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ (Matthew 25:21) I have to believe no one wants to enter into eternity miserable, poor, wretched, blind and naked. If you are “content” with your self-gratifying lifestyle and see no need to become Tender-Hearted before your King then you have been deceived. The enemy has convinced you this life is all that matters. You are ensnared by unbelief. I pray all who read this will seek the Lord’s face as they turn to Him for fulfillment. I pray you will become Tender-Hearted and Spirit-led. All for God’s Glory!
Vanity of Vanities, All is Vanity
“To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; in pain you shall bring forth children; your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat of it’: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”” (Genesis 3:16-19)
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Romans 8:16-21)
As a very young child I knew something was wrong. I remember when I was around 7 or 8 I broke down and cried because it just seemed everything was messed up. I don’t know where I got the idea it was wrong because nothing went the way I thought it should. I somehow came to believe at some point all of the ugliness and hardness in the World would be over and all things would work out so we would arrive at some point where everything would be perfect. I’m not sure when the realization came it was never going to happen that way, but eventually I got it. However, there is still a part of me which craves perfection.
I went to a funeral for the first time when my Grandfather Ratliff died on Christmas Eve, 1963. He was born in 1877. I was shocked when they opened his casket and we all walked by and looked at him. It was disturbing to me. His body didn’t look like I remembered him. I was very uneasy, but glad the line kept moving so I wouldn’t have to spend very long looking at that waxy figure in the casket. At that time, I was definitely still in denial about my own mortality. I grew up during the era of TV westerns. I saw a lot of gunplay with bad guys getting killed. However, seeing my Grandfather in that casket was not the same.
I still don’t like going to funerals, but I have come to terms with my own mortality. I know, at some point according to God’s will, I will die. I can’t say I am looking forward to the dying, but I am looking forward, with great anticipation, to being with my Lord. We all die eventually. There are no exceptions. However, life goes on.
The Earth completes a circle around the sun in one year. Year after year the planets in this solar system circle our star—the Sun. The Earth rotates on its axis at a very precise speed. It takes 24 hours to make one rotation. This rotation goes on day after day. The Sun comes up everyday. The Earth is tilted on its axis so we have four seasons for every orbit around the Sun. Every year the northern and southern Hemispheres of the Earth alternate seasons. When it is winter in the Northern Hemisphere it is summer in the South. When it is spring in the USA it is fall in Australia. You get the idea.
Children are born; they grow up into Adolescents then Adults. They age into maturity then they die. This cycle goes on generation after generation. Those who make it into adulthood usually have jobs or occupations. They go to work each day and get paid for that work on regular cycles. This goes on day after day. In all of that Man is desperate for fulfillment. Man tries everything. He tries to find fulfillment in entertainment, in work, in play, in relationships with others, in being cruel or compassionate, in family, in being alone or being with as many people as possible. He will try to find fulfillment in religion or no religion, in doing evil or doing good, in learning or in teaching, in making war or making peace. No matter what Man tries to use to find fulfillment it fails if it is “Under the Sun”.
“Under the Sun” is the environment we live in. The book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament of the Bible was written by Solomon, the son of David. When I was an Adolescent believer I hated Ecclesiastes. The book is dreary. The writer states over and over again how futile life is “Under the Sun”. He includes all parts of life and states there is no profit or fulfillment in any of it. As a Soul-led believer, I didn’t want to hear it. Soul-led believers are all self-focused. They are religious but they are in control of their lives. They know good from evil. They know what they want and they go after it. They are in a constant vain pursuit of some fulfilling activity “Under the Sun”.
When I was a Soul-led believer I would read Ecclesiastes and become depressed. The Holy Spirit was showing me how futile all of my Soul-led activities were. Solomon uses a term over and over again in this book which, I think, really brings out the futility of life “Under the Sun”. He says all activity, no matter how fun it is at the time, is just “chasing after the wind”. I’m from Oklahoma. People from Oklahoma know all about wind. It blows all the time where I grew up. You can feel it. You can see what it does to objects. You can hear it. However, you can’t see it nor catch it. If you try to chase it you will find out pretty fast it is total waste of time.
Soul-led believers want to experience things which are new and exciting. Why? All of the old things are no longer as fun as they used to be. However, no matter how “new” something is portrayed to be it is not really new. “That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which it may be said, “See, this is new”? It has already been in ancient times before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of things that are to come by those who will come after.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11)
Soul-led believers are self-focused and are mired in unbelief. They are “saved”, but they have no real fulfillment. No matter what they try to do they are still desperate for it because their consciences are constantly pouring condemnation into their Souls. The conscience will not let up on this condemnation until the believer encounters God’s glory. All of the fleshly and religious things a Soul-led believer goes after have very little glory. Only God’s glory can fulfill. That is why all activity “Under the Sun” is nothing more than chasing after the wind.
Even if a Soul-led believer appears to accomplish much it is still activity “Under the Sun.” Even a Soul-led church leader is in this boat. I was a Soul-led Bible teacher and Deacon for years. I taught many classes which required hours of study on my part. I was faithful in it all. However, not once can I recall any lasting fulfillment from it. Part of my motivation for doing all of that was a desperate attempt, on my part, to be effective and accepted in the church I belonged to. It was all about me. Oh, I was concerned my students would learn and grow, but my motives were not pure. I wanted my students to respect me and think I was a great teacher. I don’t think I ever did any work for God’s glory alone. I am afraid most of it was nothing more than chasing after the wind.
One of the traps Soul-led believers get into is coming to believe all they have to do is work harder at being religious and that will bring fulfillment. Did you see the focus of the last statement? If the focus of religious activity is self-fulfillment then it is nothing more than another form of self-gratification. It is just chasing after the wind in church. I have fallen into this trap as well. Those of us who have done this are candidates for burn-out. Our Souls just aren’t made for being Spiritual. We try to do it, but we can’t for long. There is no power in being Soul-led.
In the last chapter of Ecclesiastes Solomon comes to the conclusion nothing “Under the Sun” brings fulfillment. Then, in finality, he says, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 KJV) In this profound statement Solomon makes the point since nothing outside of God brings fulfillment man should focus on the only source of fulfillment.
Only by living Spirit-led lives can a believer find fulfillment. The Spirit-led life is directed towards God and His will and focused “Above the Sun”. The Soul-led life is directed towards self-gratification and focused “Under the Sun”. The Spirit-led life lives “Under the Sun”, but is not at home there. The Soul-led life lives “Under the Sun”, and is doing all it can to be at home there. The Spirit-led life is in a constant state of shedding conformity to the World. The Soul-led life is in a constant state of becoming conformed to the World.
No believer becomes Spirit-led automatically. The Spirit-led were Baby Christians at one time who matured into Adult Christians. They have had their faith built up as they laid themselves on the altar in complete surrender to God as living sacrifices. Their minds are constantly being transformed by the renewing of their minds as they saturate their lives with Jesus. They are yoked up with Christ and are constantly being taught by Him as they stay in His presence.
The book of Ecclesiastes was written to shine a light of hope into the dreary and desperate lives of the Soul-led. The committed Soul-led believer will resent and dread it though. The message can depress and frustrate because it shows, clearly, everything they try to do to find fulfillment is nothing but chasing after the wind. It also makes it clear religion is not fulfilling when its motive is self-gratification. This leaves the Soul-led believer with very little to hang onto. The terse statement of in v13 to, “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man”, at first does not appear to be a light of hope does it? However, let’s take a closer look.
The first part of v13 says to, “Fear God”. What does this mean? It means to live your life in the full knowledge at some point you are going to die and then you will be judged. Also, it is God who determines the length of your life not you nor your fitness experts nor your doctors. The World system has lied to us. It says our civilization provides safety and freedom from risk. However, it is an illusion, “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”” (James 4:13-15) Our lives are just a vapor which appears for a little while than vanishes. God is sovereign and is complete control of your lifespan. At some point we will all stand before Him and be judged. With this in mind, how should we live our lives? Should we be out for ourselves with our focus on nothing but self-gratification?
The next part of v13 says, “Keep His commandments”. Well, to keep His commandments we must know them. How do get to know His commandments? We have to know His Word, the Bible. I cringe when I see a Soul-led believer trying to justify themselves and their lifestyle, but then do not even know whether the book of Hebrews is in the Old or New Testament. The Bible is God’s love letter to His believers. It was written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the Bible is to reveal God to Man. Why would God go to all that trouble? It works! The Bible reveals God, His nature, His purposes and His ways to us. To keep God’s commandments we must know them. To know them we must know the Word of God. By-the-way, there is another attribute of the Bible which makes all the difference. The Holy Spirit, residing in each believer, interprets God’s word to us as we read and study and meditate on it. When a believer does this he or she is being transformed by the renewing of their mind. As they are being transformed they “keep His commandments”. They apply God’s truths to their lives. They are becoming Spirit-led.
The third part of v13 says, “For this is the whole duty of man.” Pardon me if I backtrack to a familiar couple of verses for a moment. I am sure, by now, you have noticed Romans 12:1-2 are key verses in the process of becoming Spirit-led. “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)
In verse 1 the Apostle Paul says he is urging or beseeching the reader to present their bodies as living sacrifices, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. Doesn’t the last part of verse 1 sound a lot like the last part of Ecclesiastes 12:13 (“for this is the whole duty of man”)? So if we prayerfully make this connection between these two key verses in the Bible we find what? Living our lives in the context of fearing God and keeping His commandments is the same thing as presenting our bodies as living sacrifices. We also learn from verse 14 what our motive should be in living this way. We will all be judged.
An essential part of Romans 12:1 is the phrase, “by the mercies of God”. What Paul was saying is to live this way requires we do it by the power of God, not by our will power.
Let’s pull all this together. Solomon was telling us (by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) life directed to anything other than God has no purpose. Life lived directed to anything but God is Soul-led and can never attain fulfillment. At then end of Ecclesiastes Solomon shows us the only way to live lives which are not lived in vain. He says we must live fearing God as we keep His commandments which is the believer’s duty. He also revealed we need to fear God because we will all be judged by Him. Then we looked at Romans 12:1-2. The Apostle Paul (also inspired by the Holy Spirit) wrote two verses which reveal how real spiritual growth takes place. He said to grow spiritually we must do so by the mercies and power of God. Then he says to grow we must present our bodies as living sacrifices which are holy, acceptable unto God, which is our reasonable service. We found the process of presenting our bodies as living sacrifices is the same thing as living lives which fear God and keeping His commandments.
Now let’s take this concept to the next level. To become Spirit-led a believer has to start with total surrender. What is that? It is the process we just looked at. It is the giving up of our pursuit of self-gratification and start living lives which fear God and keep His commandments. When we do this we are presenting our bodies to God as living sacrifices. When we do this then God transforms us into Spirit-led believers as we renew our minds and give up being conformed to this World. The word translated “transform” in verse 2 is the Greek word which also gives us the word “Metamorphosis”. This implies the process of a believer becoming Spirit-led is like the process of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. We start as broken yet Hard-Hearted, Soul-led believers and become humble, Tender-Hearted, Spirit-led believers.
What’s our motivation for living Spirit-led lives? “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.” (2 Corinthians 5:9-11)
In the book of Revelation, Jesus had the Apostle John send a letter to the Church at Laodicea. He calls the Laodiceans, “lukewarm”. I have heard many teachings on this church. Some have said this church was full of unbelievers. Others have taught they were simply not “on fire” for the Gospel. God has shown me much since I started following hard after Him. He is faithful and will do a good work in us when we submit to His Lordship. He has taught me the Laodiceans were typical of most of the Church in our Western Culture. He means us. The Laodiceans were Soul-led, Hard-Hearted and full of unbelief. They were wealthy in the World’s goods. They lived their lives apart from God. This is what our Lord said about them, “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, “These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’–and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked– I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:14-19)
What will it be then? Are you living a life which is nothing more than chasing after the wind? If you are then you are wasting your life. You may be “saved” and will go to heaven when you die, but you will stand before your Lord in shame when He judges you. You will be spiritually poor, wretched, blind and naked—spiritually bankrupt.
We have reasoned together. Surely, you can see being Soul-led is not any way to live. Aren’t you tired of trying to be Spiritual with your own will power? It’s a waste of time and you will eventually fail.
God is inviting you and drawing you into that closer walk with Him. He is also warning you of the consequences of ignoring His call. He is asking you to come hard after Him. If you will do that then He will come hard after you. If you will quit trying to control your life as you lay it down in total surrender to Him you will find you will be in His presence. While there He will take you in His arms and teach you. He will clean you up. He will draw you into more and more prayer and worship. He will take you by the hand as you put His Yoke upon you. He will transform you into a Spirit-led believer. Once you taste that little bit of Heaven you will find where real fulfillment is and you will never want what the World has to offer. After all, the pursuit of fulfillment “Under the Sun” is nothing more than chasing after the wind.
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”” (Matthew 11:28-30)
I grew up in Oklahoma, but I was certainly no country boy. I lived on a dairy farm after I was born, but our family moved to Purcell, Oklahoma when I was 3. The only yokes I have ever seen have been in movies or pictures of farmers in Third World countries who still plow with draft animals. We may not have experienced yokes in real life, but we do need to understand why Jesus used this analogy.
When Jesus made the statement found in Matthew 11:28-30 he was speaking to Jews who were mired in a religious system which kept them in bondage to a “works” theology. The religious leaders in Judea at that time taught salvation was only for the Jews, but to get that salvation the people had to keep the Law of Moses. There was nothing wrong with the Law, but the religious leaders had added thousands and thousands of their own rules which they laid on the people. They were zealous for the letter of the Law, but had overlooked the Spirit of it.
Anyone who broke the Law or didn’t measure up to their standards was called a sinner. Also, if bad things happened to a person then these leaders assumed that person had sinned and was cursed by God. If a person became wealthy or successful then they assumed God was blessing them for keeping the Law and all their rules. That person, surely, was not a sinner.
Let’s define what a “works” theology is. It is a religious system which says salvation comes to those who earn it. If you have little or no works then you’re out of luck. It brings people into bondage because it teaches salvation is based on their worth or their goodness or their faithfulness. Under this theology, you live your life and try to be as good and faithful as you can and when you die if your good works outweigh your sins then you’re in, but if it’s the other way around you’re not going to make it. Keeping rules is very big in a “works” theology.
This book’s title is “Walking the Walk by Faith.” The last word in the title is “Faith.” We don’t walk the Walk by Works if we desire fulfillment. Real Christianity is not based on “works” as the means to salvation. Real Christianity is based on salvation by God’s Grace through Faith. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Our common salvation is based on God’s Grace not our performance or rule keeping capabilities. However, many are in bondage to religions which tell them just the opposite. They all want to add something to salvation. The verse above says it very plain; our salvation is of God and His Grace which we receive by faith alone.
To understand the Yoke of Christ and its significance to the Walk by Faith we need to do a break down study of Matthew 11:28-30. Let’s start with the first phrase in v28. What did Jesus say? He said, “Come to Me.” This is a very simple phrase with a very profound meaning. Jesus was getting ready to shine His light into the dark and dreary lives of those poor, spiritually bankrupt Souls who were in bondage to a “works” theology. He starts with the action that we must take if we are to have lives with meaning and purpose.
I have heard teachings and many sermons about these verses which imply Matthew 11:28-30 is all about salvation. It certainly can be applied that way, but how many new believers take right off with Jesus and learn to live the way Jesus indicates in these verses? The Soul-led believer is convinced all they need to do is get “saved” and then live by their own rules. They have done the “Come to me” part of these verses, but are they resting in Jesus, or taking on His Yoke or learning all about Him? I have heard the Soul-led say things like, “I don’t understand these verses because the Yoke is not easy and the burden is heavy.”
I am convinced these are key verses in the process of becoming and staying Spirit-led. We “Come to Jesus” at salvation. When we mature into Spirit-led believers we live by constantly “Turning to Jesus.” What does this mean? It means, to be Spirit-led, we need to get into and stay in the Lord’s presence. How do we do that? A few chapters ago we looked at Repentance with Joy. Remember, that is the process whereby the Spirit-led believer lives a life of constantly monitoring the activity of their Heart to keep it focused and directed to the Lord. If you need refreshing on this go back and reread that chapter. It’s called “Repentance God’s Way vs. Repentance the World’s Way.”
The phrase that Jesus starts with in these verses tells us to apply the truths He is getting ready to share we must start with Him. I have found, no matter what activity I am involved in, things will go much better if I start with Jesus. On the flip side of that, if I try to do anything like teach or pray or worship without starting with Jesus then it is nothing more than “chasing after the wind.”
Jesus says, “Come unto me.” The first word in the phrase is actually a Greek adverb which means to “come hither”. It can also mean to “follow”. The word translated “unto” means to “move toward” or “ascend to” or “near”. The third word is of course the pronoun Jesus used referring to Himself. This gives a word picture of Christ calling all to draw near to Him. It says much more than simply coming to Him religiously then moving away to do our own thing. Jesus is calling to Himself those who will draw near to Him for eternal change. He is calling those who will seek Him as Lord and Savior. This is a call to those who will come near to Jesus as Disciples.
Those who seek a Savior in Christ have come to the right place, but if they are not willing to accept Him as Lord then they can not be His Disciples. “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:37-39)
The Son did not leave Heaven to become a man and live among His creation to draw a Church full of Soul-led believers into eternal glory. He came to “seek and save the lost”. (cf. Luke 19:10) He came to be the perfect blood sacrifice, The Lamb of God, to pay the price and penalty for the sins of all. His death on the cross paid that price as all sin was placed on Him as He died. He was raised from the dead on the third day then forty days later was ascended to the Heaven. Just before He ascended He gave a command to His disciples which is for us as well. “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.” (Matthew 28:18-20) Jesus came to make disciples. He is telling us we need to be His disciples and be dedicated to making disciples as well.
The remaining eleven Apostles (Judas Iscariot betrayed Christ and killed himself) went from a group of Soul-led, vacillating, Hard-Hearted believers who were mired in unbelief to eleven Spirit-led, faithful, Tender-Hearted believers who changed the World. They were able to do this because they devoted themselves to Christ and submitted to the control of the Holy Spirit. As they submitted they were able to “go and make disciples of the whole world” (cf. Matthew 28:19)
After the call to “Come unto me” Jesus tells us whom He is calling unto Himself in the next phrase. Who are they? They are “all who labor and are heavy laden.” Who is this? The Greek word translated “labor” means to “work hard.” The subject of this phrase is “all”. Jesus is calling everyone who “works hard”. Works hard at what? Look at the second part of the phrase. The words “are heavy laden” is a combined set of words which means the subject of the phrase is overburdened with ceremony. This implies spiritual anxiety. This implies someone who has an impossible burden of religiosity piled on them which they will never be able to accomplish.
Before we go to the rest of this passage let’s pull together what we have learned so far by paraphrasing the first two phrases. Jesus is speaking to a group of people. He says, “Come near unto me, all of you who are working hard at being spiritual.” Incredible! Here is a gem of a passage which specifically addresses those who are trying to be spiritual in their own strength. Who are they? They are the Soul-led. They are the spiritually bankrupt believers and non-believers who are striving after the wind in complete vanity. Many of them are working very hard at being religious, but it is by their own will power.
What happens when the Soul-led come near unto Jesus? First, let’s look back at what we have learned so far. What do the Soul-led do when they encounter God? They flee. They can’t stand to be in His presence because of their sin and His Holiness. Their Hearts are Hard and they are in unbelief. However, Jesus is calling them to come near to Him. Who responds? Well, I was Soul-led, but I was desperate and hungry. Who put that desperation and hunger in me? The Holy Spirit did that. He drew me unto Jesus for healing and teaching and spiritual growth. My Heart became tender and broken before the Lord. Those who respond to this call are the Soul-led who are being drawn by God unto Himself. They are the ones responding to Jesus call, “Come unto me.”
The third phrase in this passage says, “and I will give you rest.” This phase is simple to break down. Jesus is saying, as a result of someone coming near unto Him, He will do something for them. The words “give you rest” is another word grouping. The grammar in this phrase suggests the one speaking will “apply refreshing” to the object. Who is the object? The one who has come near unto Jesus is the object. What do they receive? Jesus gives them the gift of rest and refreshment. This passage is usually translated with this word grouping meaning “rest”; however, I am convinced as we “rest” in Jesus He refreshes us. He sure does with me. I come to Him in desperation and anxiety all the time and He will calm me down and fill me with Joy and Peace. That is refreshment.
Once more, let’s pull together what we have broken down. Jesus is calling all who are spiritually worn out (Soul-led) to come near unto Him. When they do then He will give them a refreshing rest. This implies, in Christ, the vanity of empty religion is revealed for what it really is and those who come near unto Christ are freed from it. However, that is not all there is to this passage. We have covered the first sentence which is v28. This verse is a condensed statement by Jesus of what He will do for those who come near unto Him seeking relief from the burdens of Soul-led religiosity. Verses 29-30 are the expanded detail of v28.
In v29 we have the fourth phrase in this passage which says, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me.” Pardon me as I get a little technical. It won’t be bad, I promise. New Testament Greek is a wonderfully expressive language. It has many depths of possible meaning. For instance, Greek verbs have tense and voice as in English, but they also have mood. So, when studying verb usage in New Testament Greek you must determine the tense, mood and voice.
The first word in this phrase is “Take”. It means to take up an object and lift it up for use. The tense, mood and voice of this verb is “aorist imperative active”. Aorist imperative says this verb is a command which must be performed immediately. The Voice is active so the subject of the phrase must do this action. What is Jesus commanding? He was telling the ones who have come near unto Him who were spiritually worn out to pick up and put on His yoke.
No one is forcing them to pick up and put on the Yoke of Christ, but it is a command. This command comes right after the promise of rest and refreshment for those who come near unto Him. This shows us that the taking up His Yoke is part of the process of gaining rest and refreshment. This command is one of those either/or type test questions. As we come near unto Christ for His rest and refreshment and relief from our Soul-led walk He gives us a choice. The choice is to either submit to the Yoke of Christ (His Lordship) or to continue in self-will. If we choose the former we will have His rest and refreshment. If we choose the latter we will go right back to “chasing after the wind”.
Once again we have a picture of God showing us the way to true fulfillment. In Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 we saw the only fulfillment in this life is to live in the Fear of God. Along with that we are to keep all of God’s commandments which is our duty unto God. We then compared this passage with Romans 12:1 where Paul told us the way to become spiritually mature was to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God which is our reasonable service to God. Paul also told us we do this as God gives us the Grace and ability to do so. It should be plain both passages speak of fulfillment coming only through submission to the will of God.
Now let’s compare the Yoke of Christ to walking in the Fear of God, keeping His commandments, as we present our bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord. If all three passages are speaking of the same thing then we should be able to see clear similarities between them as well as complementary and unique elements in each. Solomon tells us to Fear God because we will all be judged. (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13) Let’s say that is step one in this progression. What is step two? If we Fear God we should turn to Christ. So step two is, “Come to Me” (cf. Matthew 22:28). We saw where that is a call for the spiritually tired to come near unto Him. What is step three? We can go no further with Christ unless we submit to His Lordship. That is where we submit to His will and take on His Yoke (cf. Matthew 22:29). This is total surrender to His will. As we take on His Yoke He will teach us (cf. Matthew 22:29) and we will respond by presenting our bodies as living sacrifices to Him by His mercy and Grace. (cf. Romans 12:1) These two are steps four and five. As we submit to Christ’s teaching and living as living sacrifices we will keep His commandments. (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13) That is step six. These are the first six steps to move from Soul-led Religiosity to a Spirit-led Walk with Christ in control. Let’s call this the “Steps to the Walk by Faith”.
Steps to the Walk by Faith (first six steps)
- Fear God (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13)
- Come to Jesus (cf. Matthew 22:28)
- Take on the Yoke of Christ (cf. Matthew 22:29)
- Learn what Christ teaches (cf. Matthew 22:29)
- Present our bodies as living sacrifices by the mercies of God (cf. Romans 12:1)
- Keep the Lord’s commandments (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13)
This sure sheds a little light on how to keep those commandments doesn’t it? If we try to be religious with our will power we are simply being Soul-led and are incapable of keeping them for long. However, as we submit to the Yoke of Christ (His Lordship) He will empower us to do it. When does it He do that? The whole process of presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, as we submit to the Yoke of Christ and His teachings, is accomplished by the mercies of God. (cf. Romans 12:1)
Let’s complete our close look at Matthew 11:28-30. We left off in the middle of v29 with the phrase “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me.” The next phrase in v29 is, “for I am gentle and lowly in heart”. The way this is phrased it is clear Jesus is telling us the process of taking on His yoke and learning from Him will be a pleasant experience because He is gentle and lowly in heart. He is reassuring us even though we are submitting to His yoke it is not a hurtful or debasing. The word translated “gentle” could be translated as “meek” or “humble.” The word “meek” in English implies cowardice or timidity. In New Testament Greek it does not mean that at all. The word actually implies one who is powerful yet humble and in-control. Jesus demonstrated his Graciousness throughout the time He walked the Earth during His Earthly ministry. His character is God’s character. The gentleness of Christ should reassure those submitting to the Yoke of Christ they will not be treated in any way that is not in their best interests. We can “Rest” in Christ’s gentleness because it is an outcome of His Love for us. Christ’s love for us is the highest form of love. In New Testament Greek that word for His love for us is “agape”. This word for Love speaks of a love which is based on the best interests of the one loved, not what the one who is loved actually desires.
The next characteristic of Jesus from v29 is “lowly in heart.” What does that mean? We must remember our example for becoming Christ-like is Christ. When we become godly, Christ-like believers we will have taken on His character. His character is one of humility which never seeks its own. This character always puts others ahead of self and God above all. Remember back in the first and second phrases of verse 29 Jesus commanded all who come near to Him to Take up His yoke and learn from Him. What are those who do this going to learn? This is Jesus teaching us how to take on His character. This is Jesus showing us what we have to let go of and what we must take on. He will be showing us the steps to fulfillment. He will be teaching us how to walk the Walk by Faith. All of this will be what is best for us. This is Jesus giving of Himself entirely so we can be fulfilled.
The last phrase in verse 29 gives us the outcome of our taking on the Yoke of Christ: “and you will find rest for your souls.” The outcome of submitting to the Lordship of Christ is rest for our souls. The word rest in this verse can mean “recreation”. It is based on the same root as the word “rest” from verse 28, but speaks of Joy rather than refreshing. I have been so full of Joy at times I would weep and weep and be totally fulfilled. The outcome was very enjoyable and lead to Peace and Contentment.
The last part of this phrase tells us where that rest or recreation will take place. This implies the Soul is where all of the hard work was taking place while being “heavy laden” from verse 28. The Soul-led religiosity, which is all about “works”, takes place in the Soul. It is wearying. It will wear us out if we attempt to work and work for fulfillment rather than submitting to the Yoke of Christ.
This submission brings our focus to God. It places the Spirit in predominance over the Soul. It causes the believer to become Spirit-led. The Soul of the Spirit-led is crucified or denied. That does not mean it is locked up somewhere and is being punished. It means the Soul takes on its original function. What was that original function? God designed Man’s Soul to express and reflect Him. (See: Who is Man?) For our Soul to take on this function, it must come under submission to the Spirit. The Spirit-led believer walks the Walk by Faith. He or she lives their lives seeking the will of God in all things. They fear God. They live their whole life continually turning to Christ in their walk in Repentance with Joy. They are wearing the Yoke of Christ in complete submission to His Lordship. They are constantly learning from Christ as they submit to His teachings. Their bodies are submitted as living sacrifices to the Lord. They are God’s empty chosen vessels. They keep the Lord’s commandments naturally. All of this is done by the Lord’s Mercy and Grace.
In verse 30 Jesus finalizes this passage with a perfect description of the Walk by Faith. He says, “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Those who are Soul-led will usually reject this verse. As I said earlier in this chapter, I have heard some of them tell me they feel Christ’s yoke is not easy, it’s hard and the burden is heavy. Of course it is. That is, it is hard and heavy and difficult and burdensome to the Soul-led because their Soul is trying to do it all. It will never work. The Soul was never designed to be spiritual. To submit to the Yoke of Christ we must become Spirit-led.
Living in submission to the Yoke of Christ is easy when living a life empowered by the Holy Spirit. All of the demands in that relationship with Jesus are simple and easy. Keeping God’s Commandments is easy. Being obedient is easy. Being Christ-like is easy. This is why: The Spirit-led is yoked up with Christ. He or she simply turns everything over to the Lord. All problems and circumstances are handled that way. All Heart activities seeking fulfillment away from God are cut off at the pass and captured before they materialize into sin. This whole activity increases Joy and Peace continually due to being in God’s presence through it all.
The Yoke of Christ is pivotal in our understanding how to walk the Walk by Faith. We can not go any further in our spiritual walk unless we submit to His Lordship. It’s your decision. If you get serious about pursing this Walk then you must come to understand the reality of fearing God. He isn’t messing around. He is not kidding or playing around with eternity. He is serious. Unless we turn from Soul-led living “Under the Sun” to Spirit-led living “Above the Sun” then all is futile. All you are doing is chasing after the wind and wasting your life.
Steps to the Walk by Faith (first six steps)
- Fear God (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13)
- Come to Jesus (cf. Matthew 22:28)
- Take on the Yoke of Christ (cf. Matthew 22:29)
- Learn what Christ teaches (cf. Matthew 22:29)
- Present our bodies as living sacrifices by the mercies of God (cf. Romans 12:1)
- Keep the Lord’s commandments (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13)
We will be defining and adding more steps to the list above. Study what we have defined so far. Meditate on those verses. Ask God to show you His Truth. Trust your Lord at His word. Come to Jesus and take on the Yoke of Christ. See you on the Walk!
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 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. (John 15:1-4)
My dad loves to grow tomatoes. When I was a teenager we were living in Yukon, Oklahoma. Our backyard wasn’t small, but it wasn’t big either. One day in early spring he came home from work and informed me we were going to dig up and turn over the dirt in a square at the back side of our yard. He told me he was sick to death of store-bought tomatoes. I really didn’t understand what he meant by that, but I did help him break up that ground.
That Saturday he came home with several very small tomato plants. He carefully planted them in neat rows. He placed some coffee cans with both ends cut out over each one. The cans were for the plants protection from Cutworms and to help protect them from frost. Over the next several weeks those plants grew and grew. As they grew tall, my dad carefully propped up the vines. By mid-summer each plant had many green tomatoes. Each day my dad would carefully check each plant to see if any were ripening. It was intriguing, I must admit. I wanted to see why it was so important to him. Over the next several days I did notice some of them were beginning to turn red.
One day I came home from work and my mom and dad proudly showed me several red tomatoes which they had picked. We had them sliced on charcoal-grilled hamburgers. I can still taste it. When I bit into those fresh, home-grown tomatoes on that thick burger I finally understood what all the fuss was about. I asked why they tasted so much better than what we bought at the grocery store. My dad told me those were picked while still green then shipped across country in trucks as they ripened. They were not allowed to ripen on the vine. Those my dad grew were awesome. No store-bought tomato I have ever bought has tasted as good as his.
Believers aren’t tomatoes. However, Jesus used the analogy of the vine and the branches to make a very profound truth pertaining to our Walk by Faith. In His analogy, Jesus uses grape vines and branches. He was speaking directly to His Apostles on his last night before His crucifixion. The Apostles would have had no trouble picking up on His meaning since vineyards were very common in their culture. Those of us not raised in an agricultural setting though might need some help understanding His point.
Let’s start with John 15:1-4. I placed those verses at the beginning of this chapter. In the first verse we read, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.” What analogy does Jesus use for Himself? He says He is the true vine. He is saying all other sources of divinity are false. He is the one and only source of fulfillment for believers because He is God. As the true vine, all branches which are part of it will receive proper nourishment and all they need to produce fruit.
The second part of verse 1 mentions God the Father. Jesus said, “…and my Father is the vinedresser.” Jesus says He is the true vine and His Father is the vinedresser. What does a vinedresser do? Well this vinedresser is God the Father. In this analogy the vine is Christ and the branches attached to the vine are believers. In verse 2 Jesus tells us what God the Father does, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”
Grape vines have two types of branches, ones which produce fruit and ones that don’t. The vinedresser will work all day in the vineyard going from vine to vine checking the health of each branch. The vinedresser’s goal is to have grape vines which produce the maximum amount of grapes. If branches are producing fruit then they are pruned so they will produce more. What happens to those branches which produce no fruit? They are cut out and thrown away.
When I lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the mid 1980’s my wife and I used to take back roads to get from where we lived to where her family lived. They lived south and east of Tulsa so we would leave the metro area and go through a town called Porter. Porter is famous for its peaches. Porter Peaches are prized. People come from all over the state to pick or buy them. When we would drive by the peach orchards it was amazing how cut back the trees were. Whoever maintained those trees would prune back the branches so all of the energy in the tree would go to producing peaches, not beautiful foliage. It looked cruel to me to make the trees look so stunted. However, those peaches were big and juicy.
What’s the point? In this analogy believers are the branches, not the fruit. As branches attached to the vine our job is to produce fruit, not be the fruit. How does a branch produce good fruit? The vinedresser prunes it. What does that mean to the believer? Well, pruning hurts. It means things are cut away and removed. The pruning forces the branch to rely more heavily on the nourishment from the vine rather than what it would store up for itself. The pruning makes the branch dependent on the vine rather than itself. When the branch is pruned as it remains in the vine it will produce fruit. However, if the branch doesn’t like the pruning and leaves the vine then it will wither and die.
True believers produce fruit. Immature believers don’t produce much fruit, but as they mature they will. What sort of believer produces no fruit? Some might say the Adolescent or Soul-led produce no fruit. It may not be much, but all in Christ will produce some fruit. The branches which produce no fruit are taken away from the vine. They are not real believers. Just because someone claims to be a believer doesn’t mean they are.
How can we know if we are truly saved? Or you may ask, “What is the fruit which believers produce?” If true salvation is as impacting on a believers life as we contend then there should be verifiable evidence or fruit manifested in that life. The problem is in knowing what evidences really prove the presence of God in person’s life and those that don’t. I have noticed most of us look at the wrong things to determine if we are in Christ. Real evidence of the presence of God in a person’s life will be the fruits of salvation. These fruits will in turn lead to outward manifestations of “goodness” or “religiosity” which, unfortunately, can be counterfeited. These outward manifestations are often what we look at to determine if we are a “good Christian” or not. That is a fallacy. Any activity or attitude which can be counterfeited by a false believer can not be used to verify ones salvation.
Let’s take a close look at these evidences that should never be used to verify our salvation. The first evidence which neither proves or disproves ones salvation is Visible Morality. We all seem to fall for the idea that if a person is a “good person” God surely will automatically accept them. Some atheists and agnostics are “good people.” However, the Bible is very clear in stating salvation comes only through a relationship with Jesus Christ. I have known many people who were kind and decent yet were not true believers. People with a strong conscience will not stray far from high standards of behavior. Believers do not have a monopoly on high moral standards.
In the book of Matthew a rich young man comes to Jesus seeking a savior. “Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good?No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “”You shall not murder,’ “You shall not commit adultery,’ “You shall not steal,’ “You shall not bear false witness,’ “Honor your father and your mother,’ and, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”‘The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter answered and said to Him, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?”” (Matthew 19:16-21; 23-27)
In these verses a “good person” with Visible Morality comes to Jesus to fill the void in his life. Jesus tells him to put away everything else he valued in his life then come to follow Him exclusively. He would not do it. He was a person with high moral standards yet he was not a believer.
The next attribute that can not be used to determine true salvation is Intellectual Knowledge. Many mistakenly believe that belief in God is the same thing as believing God. I pity the so-called Biblical scholars who have gone hard after intellectual biblical knowledge without one iota of faith. These are the same bunch who will issue statements every so often questioning the veracity of the Gospels or the Deity of Christ. I do not understand why people who are supposed to be intellectual believers do everything they can to water down and liberalize Christianity into just another religion. I don’t know what their motives are, but it is obvious they do not know Jesus as Lord and savior. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:18-21)
The majority of the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day had a great deal of head knowledge of their religion, but they were the ones who rejected Jesus as the Christ. Those who should have known and recognized Him missed Him. They had knowledge without faith. “Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,”[as it is written. For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” (Romans 2:17-25) Rightness with God comes only by trusting Jesus Christ as Lord and savior not by knowing about God and the Law.
Another snare many fall for is Religious Involvement. Man is naturally religious. Many people who are deeply involved in religion are not true believers. Being faithful in Church attendance is not an indication of true saving faith because anyone can do that. Remember only those who know Jesus as Lord and savior are truly saved. “Going to Church” is simply religious works not an act of faith.
In one of Jesus’ parables He contrasted the true believers who are wise with the lost who are foolish. “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. “And at midnight a cry was heard: “Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, “No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. “Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us!’ But he answered and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.’” (Matthew 25:1-12) The wise know Christ and serve Him obediently. The foolish think their Religious Involvement will save them so they do not submit to Him as Lord or trust Him as savior.
The fourth indicator that should never be used to prove our salvation is Active Ministry. In every Church I have been member I have seen people who have served in ministries for years who were not real believers. They thought they were, but they were trusting in religion and ministry to save them. In every case I saw each one repent and come to Christ. However, many who have the title “Pastor” or “Preacher” or “Evangelist” or “Teacher” or “Deacon” or “Elder” do not even know Christ as Lord and savior. How can I say that? I have seen the evidence myself. I have heard the testimonies of those who have gone through seminary and entered the ministry and never knew they were lost. How can this happen? The only answer I have for that question is the wrong indications of true salvation were used by them instead of the correct ones.
Active Ministry can be counterfeited. Some of the hogwash I hear from some radio and television “evangelists” verifies that statement. Jesus Himself attacked them. “Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:21-24) What did Jesus say? He said not everyone who says Lord, Lord is really saved. He says many of them perform all sorts of religious activities, but their works are actually lawlessness. Only those who are obedient to the will of God are truly saved. Remember, Active Ministry can be counterfeited.
The fifth false indicator of true salvation is Conviction of Sin. Just because someone feels guilt about their sin does not mean they are saved. The Holy Spirit convicts the lost about their sin to draw them to Christ. Until the sinner repents and comes to Christ for salvation they are still lost. When the Apostle Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea before being sent to Rome for trial he witnessed to the Roman procurator, Felix. “But when Felix heard these things, having more accurate knowledge of the Way, he adjourned the proceedings and said, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will make a decision on your case.” So he commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty, and told him not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him. And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.” Meanwhile he also hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him. Therefore he sent for him more often and conversed with him.” (Acts 24:22-26) Felix was convicted of his sins, but that did not bring salvation to him.
The sixth false indicator of true salvation is Assurance. Just because you or I might think we are saved because we believe we are does not mean we are. In fact the self-righteous are the ones who attack the truth most vigorously. They believe they have a corner on the truth and are above everyone else. They believe they are the true believers because of their religiosity, but they do not know God and His truth. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were perfect examples of this. “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.” (Matthew 23:13-14) Their pride led them to believe they had the truth, but there Assurance was based on “works” not faith.
The seventh and last false indicator of saving faith is Time of Decision. Just because someone makes a public decision to receive Christ as Lord and savior does not mean they really do. I have seen many come forward at altar calls, tearfully confessing their sins, asking to be led to Christ. Of course we would attempt to lead them to the Truth and to salvation by faith. After a few Sundays they were gone. They had no power in their life to remain faithful.
Jesus told a parable about the false and true believers. “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:11-15) The ones on the rock and the ones in the thorns are those who “believe”, but not with a whole Heart. They fall away because they didn’t really believe. Their Time of Decision was false and could not save them.
Here are the seven evidences that can not be used to prove or disprove ones salvation:
- Visible Morality
- Intellectual Knowledge
- Religious Involvement
- Active Ministry
- Conviction of Sin
- Time of Decision
True salvation produces fruit which is produced abundantly as we Abide in Christ. The more we abide in Christ more fruit is produced. We can not manufacture it. It can not be counterfeited. Since none of it can be faked we should examine each one so we can “know” whether we are truly saved or not. If these fruits are missing from our lives then we should be very concerned and seek salvation from our Lord.
The first fruit that is produce in the life of a true believer is Love for God. The true believer who learns to Abide in Christ will be living closer and closer to the Lord each day. They will be changed from the inside out. The changes they see in themselves and the enormity of the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross will bring deep gratification and Love for God. As the believer spends increasing amounts of time in the presence of God they commune with Him deeper and deeper each day. They Love the Lord their God with their whole Heart.
The Psalmist compares our Love for God as in insatiable thirst. “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God.” (Psalm 42:1) God is above all in the Hearts of the true believer. “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.” (Psalm 73:25) The believer abiding in Christ, the Spirit-led, loves God and that love grows continuously. The lost who is trying to fake salvation can not do this. It can not be counterfeited. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:5-8)
The second fruit that is produced in the life of a true believer is Repentance from Sin. True salvation produces true repentance. No matter how hard carnal people try to repent they can’t do it for long. They are simply trying to change via will power. The believer abiding in Christ will be living a life of walking in repentance. Repentance from Sin is a Hallmark of the abiding believer’s life. God changes the Spirit-led believer from the inside out. Repentance from Sin is not something we have to try to do via will power. Thank God! Our part is to determine to obey God then rely on His power to Grant Repentance in our Hearts. This is the actual transformation that takes place in the Heart of a believer who is Spirit-led. A life of repentance is a pure life. A pure life lived before God is a Holy life. There is no way a non-believer can fake or counterfeit this.
Repentance from Sin is part our responsibility and part God’s. We must seek it and pursue it, but it is God who changes us. “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:20-26 Emphasis mine) God grants repentance to those who pursue godliness. This Repentance from Sin is a work of the Holy Spirit in the Heart of the believer who abides in Christ.
The third fruit that is produced in the life of a true believer is Genuine Humility. The truly humble believer is that way because of the good work God has done in their Heart. There is false humility, but it is actually pride pretending to be humble. Its goal is to bring recognition for being seen as humble. That form of humility can be produced by a non-believer. However, Genuine Humility is a fruit of salvation. The non-believer could never counterfeit it. Why? Genuine Humility is a product of “agape” love. This form if Love seeks the best for the one loved and is not concerned with self. Genuine Humility and “agape” love are two sides of the same coin. It is the outcome of God loving others through the believer. The Spirit-led believer will abide in Christ. As they stay in God’s presence God’s love flows through them to all around them. They will never be selfish or self-seeking. They will be treating all around them as Christ would.
The Spirit-led believer is humble because they know they can do nothing without God. They approach God recognizing their utter spiritual bankruptcy before Him. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart–These, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17) They recognize they are sinful when compared to God. “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:6-10) There is no way for a non-believer to produce this fruit. Genuine Humility is a fruit of true salvation.
The fourth fruit of salvation is Devotion to God’s Glory. As the maturing believer spends more and more time in God’s presence their character is changed. It becomes more and more Christ-like. Part of this change is an understanding of how vital it is to live a life that glorifies God. God is worthy of Glory. We are not. The only good we do is submitting to God as He works through us. The maturing believer understands this. The non-believer has no clue about this fact. When a non-believer tries to please God with religion they are really after self-gratification not God’s glory.
The Spirit-led believer abiding in Christ is devoted to God’s glory. Their devotion is reflected in the next two passages from Psalms. “Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the LORD!” (Psalm 105:3) “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, But to Your name give glory, Because of Your mercy, Because of Your truth.” (Psalm 155:1) All praise and worship of God should come from a Heart directed towards God like this. The non-believer can not see this nor counterfeit it. They are dedicated to self-gratification.
The fifth fruit which is exclusive to true salvation is Continual Prayer. The non-believer does not really understand prayer. They see it as some sacred or holy exercise to try to sway God to please them. Continual Prayer is even stranger to them. The Spirit-led believer is in a constant state of communion with God. That is Continual Prayer. The Soul-led believer has a problem with this one as well. The reason they are Soul-led is they aren’t doing this. This isn’t walking around all day continually talking to God. It is consciously keeping the Lord in your Heart and on your mind all the time. All decisions are made in light of that communion. Worship is continual. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) This attitude and abiding in Christ can not be faked our counterfeited.
The sixth fruit of true salvation is Selfless Love. This is “agape” love directed towards others. It is the expression of True Humility. The presence or lack of Selfless Love for other believers is an indicator of true salvation. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brotherabides in death.” (1 John 3:14) Selfless Love can not be expressed by anyone consumed by self-gratification. It is present only in those who are owned and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Soul-led believer has a hard time with this as well because they abide in Christ intermittently. The Spirit-led express it because they abide in Christ consistently.
The seventh fruit of true salvation is Separation from the World. This fruit in the life of a believer results in the jettisoning of worldly attitudes and activities which are replaced by godly pursuits. The believer, who goes hard after God, abides in Christ and becomes Spirit-led fasts from secular attitudes and feasts on Christ’s character.
The ways of the world are going to be judged. The true believer must learn to separate themselves from them. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17)
The eighth fruit of true salvation is Spiritual Growth. The non-believer can not do this. Only the true believer, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, is being sanctified. “But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15) In the parable of the sower ,in Luke 8, Jesus portrays the word of truth being scattered throughout the World. Some of the seed falls on bad or stony ground and does not grow. Some falls in thorns and is choked out. Only the seed that falls on good ground, the true believer, grows and produces fruit. This Spiritual Growth is not accomplished by habitual religiosity or will power. It is produced in the life of a true believer only. It will be manifest mostly in the Heart of the believer who abides in Christ. The Spirit-led are growing in Christ continually. The Soul-led grows in spurts accompanied by much back-sliding.
The ninth and last fruit of true salvation is Obedient Living. This is living a life in obedience to the will of God. This is a life that is submitted to the Lordship of Christ. Many believe they are believers because of their religiosity. “Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) The non-believer does not have the ability to be obedient to the will of God. They don’t know His will anyway. The Soul-led believer may know the will of God, but they try to be spiritual by will power. It is hit-or-miss with them. The Spirit-led believer abides in Christ and is submitted to the Lordship of Christ. God’s will is imparted to them constantly as they stay in His presence. They are learning how to hear God. This can not be faked or counterfeited by a non-believer.
Here are the nine evidences that are the fruit of true salvation:
- Love for God
- Repentance from Sin
- Genuine Humility
- Devotion to God’s Glory
- Continual Prayer
- Selfless Love
- Separation from the World
- Spiritual Growth
- Obedient Living
If the evidences in the first list are true of believer, but the spiritual fruit from the second list are suspect then so is their salvation. If the spiritual fruit in the second list are manifest in a believer’s life then they will also take on the evidences from the first list. It makes sense if you prayerfully consider this argument. The first list can be faked, but no one can fake the second list. Also, there are many sincere people who are like that. They may really believe they are truly saved, but have never come to that place in their life where they have submitted to the Lordship of Christ. If that is the case they are able to be “religious”, but not have the relationship with God that results in the fruits of salvation being manifest in their life.
The Soul-led believer struggles with the fruit of salvation. They produce small amounts. They tend to doubt their salvation because of this. I pray that this study will motivate them to become Spirit-led.
What has being a true believer or not have to do with Abiding in Christ? Everything! Only a true believer can abide in Christ. What does abide mean? In the context of John 15 it means to remain. When a believer is Soul-led they are not consistently abiding in Christ. They are doing things their way for the most part. They are Hard-Hearted and self-focused. Going through those lists above for the Soul-led would be very stressful and convicting for them because they are producing only small amounts of that fruit. The Lost can’t touch the second list. They may be able to pull off the first list, but not the second.
The Spirit-led believer is in the fruit producing business. They have taken on the Yoke of Christ and His character is being manifest in them. They have come to utter dependence on Christ, their communion with Him, and their obedience to Him. As they remain (abide) in these things their lives become more and more fruitful for Christ with each day.
God the Father wants all believers to produce fruit in abundance. Why? Look at the second list again. Can you or I do any of that via will power? I can’t for long. However, if I abide in Christ then I can and will.
As we abide in Christ we stay close to Him in communion and obedience. Doesn’t this sound familiar? If you read the last chapter (The Yoke of Christ) it should. Here are the steps we came up with:
Steps to the Walk by Faith (first six steps)
- Fear God (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13)
- Come to Jesus (cf. Matthew 22:28)
- Take on the Yoke of Christ (cf. Matthew 22:29)
- Learn what Christ teaches (cf. Matthew 22:29)
- Present our bodies as living sacrifices by the mercies of God (cf. Romans 12:1)
- Keep the Lord’s commandments (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13)
As we walk using these six steps we are abiding in Him. What is the result of abiding in Christ? The more we abide the more fruit we produce. The more fruit we produce the more the Father prunes us. Pruning can relate to all sorts of things, but mostly it is the removal of those things which hinder our Walk by Faith. It is for the best every time.
Let’s look at the following quote from the book of Hebrews, “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. “ If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:3-11)
Only the Spirit-led Abide in Christ consistently. The Soul-led Abides in Christ intermittently. Abiding believers produce fruit. God the Father will discipline the abiding believer so more fruit will be produced. God the Father wants all believers to become Christ-like. (See: Salvation unto Christ-likeness) To make this a reality the believer has to become spiritually mature. To become spiritually mature the believer must learn to become Spirit-led and Walk by Faith. To make that a reality the believer must abide in Christ. Abiding in Christ involves responding to God’s pruning with total surrender. It is a process. It cycles over and over again. With each successful submission to the Lordship of Christ the believer’s faith is built up and godly fruit is produced in abundance.
Since our list of six steps are how we abide then we need to look at how this process works. The first step is to Fear God. Fearing God is our motivation for seeking to live godly lives. All will be judged in the end. Those who live God Fearing lives will have their works judged. Those who live godless lives without a Fear of God will be judged as sinners. This motivation in the believer causes us to seek the ability to live godly lives. That ability comes only by abiding in Christ. To Abide we must start with Jesus. The next step is to “Come to Jesus.” We saw in the last chapter this means to come near unto Jesus. When we come near unto Jesus he gives us rest or refreshment. He commands us to take on His Yoke. That means to submit to His Lordship. When we do that he will teach us the Truth. Then we will present our bodies to the Lord as living sacrifices as He empowers us to do so. Then we will keep His commandments.
Okay, you are abiding. You are close to your Lord. You are walking in the Spirit. You are Spirit-led. You are totally surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus. Then something happens that is no fun. Adversity enters into your life. It could be a small test or a serious trial. Tests are adversity such as dealing with inconsiderate people all around you or simply not getting something you deserve. A trial is adversity like breast cancer or the death of child or spouse or parent. You could lose your job. You could be falsely accused and suffer loss. You could be persecuted for your faith. It could be someone simply steals from you. Your insurance company refuses to pay legitimate health costs. Your car quits running and the manufacturer won’t stand behind their product. You get the idea. What’s happening? Your faith is being tested. How much do you trust God? Are you willing to patiently endure the test or trial as you prayerfully beseech God for guidance and strength? That is what God is after. He is pruning and disciplining you to bring about a life which walks by faith and produces much fruit.
You have the opportunity to make a huge leap in faith and obedience with each of these trials and tests. If you or I respond by digging in our heels and refusing to submit to them then we are no longer abiding in Christ. We have left the process. We are no longer Spirit-led. We can’t be because we are walking in disobedience. We are now Soul-led.
I hate it when I realize I have left the Lord’s presence and am Soul-led. I have learned the beauty of the Yoke of Christ. I love the abiding. I love the submission to His Lordship because only as I am there am I fulfilled. Only in abiding is there Joy. Look closely at the following passage, “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. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 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. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:5-11)
Abiding is the process whereby the Lord gives us Joy. Not abiding results in no Joy. Abiding is the process which makes us Spirit-led. Not abiding causes us to become Soul-led. Abiding causes us to produce much fruit as His disciples. Abiding intermittently causes us to produce little or no fruit and should cause us to doubt our salvation.
Walking the Walk by Faith is accomplished only by the Spirit-led believer. We become Spirit-led as we abide in Christ. We abide in Christ by living God Fearing lives by coming continually near unto Jesus to take on His Yoke and learn the Truth from Him. As we do that we present our bodies as living sacrifices by His Mercy and Grace. This enables us to keep His commandments. Then Jesus’ Joy remains in us and it is full. Then the process starts over again as each test or trial comes into our lives.
God has to put us in situations where we must act on faith. Sometimes we must wait on Him. God knows, in our submission to the Yoke of Christ, no matter what our circumstances, we will be the most fulfilled. That doesn’t sound right does it? However, it is true because when we respond with submission to His discipline He is glorified. In response to God being glorified we are edified. When we are edified we receive Joy and fulfillment. God changes our Hearts in the midst of our submission. He transforms us. As He changes us then abundant godly fruit is produced in our lives and our character will mirror His. That’s what this Walk by Faith is all about.
“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)
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
I’m not a huge movie buff, but I really like movies or stories where the main character starts out really messed up or not very nice, but as the story progresses he or she changes for the better. I don’t know why that gets my interest, but it does.
The movie “Groundhog Day” is a good example. Bill Murray’s character in that movie is obnoxious, self-centered and bitter at the beginning of the movie. Interestingly, he knows it. He is a TV weatherman. He is also in love with his producer played by Andie MacDowell. They go to Punxsutawney, PA to cover the Punxsutawney Phil ceremony on Groundhog Day. They cover it, but are stuck in town because of weather problems. For some very weird reason, Bill Murray wakes up the next day and its Groundhog Day again. No matter what he does he’s stuck in this cycle. By the end of the movie he has gone through this hundreds of times. He pursues Andie MacDowell all the way through the movie, but no matter how hard he tries to impress her it never works.
At some point in the movie he realizes there is no way out so he makes the most of by going on a self-designed self-improvement regimen. By the end of the movie he has changed so much he is nearly unrecognizable. He is nice. He is charming. He is well-educated and can play the piano. He cares deeply for the needs of everyone around him and everyone loves him. In the end he wins Andie MacDowell. The next day he wakes up and it’s the day after Groundhog Day. They never say what phenomenon allowed this to happen.
The movie “Groundhog Day” is fiction. However, I think, it portrays the deep-seeded desire in all of us to become more than we are. Everyone knows it’s better to be noble in character than it is to be obnoxious. However, some feel they will never be able to change so, in true Soul-led behavior, they make up down and down up. They go after negative glory. They try to make being obnoxious cool. You know as well as I, though, they know its better not to be obnoxious, sarcastic or mean.
If you peruse any bookstore, online or storefront, you will find hundreds of books which claim to show the way to some form of self-improvement. Some will claim to have the healthiest or safest diet for the overweight. Some will claim to have the secret of getting rich. Some will claim to give you the techniques to become smarter, healthier, wealthier, more religious, or less religious or how to simply know more about computers or the internet. You name it, the self-help or self-improvement book is out there.
As believers, we should be more concerned about our Walk before the Lord than anything else. The Spirit-led believer understands this. The Soul-led is still clinging to the mistaken idea this present world is what is most important. God is in the business of changing those in Christ from Soul-led to Spirit-led Christ-likeness. How does he do it?
Over the last few chapters we have looked at how to become Spirit-led. As a believer Abides in Christ as God takes them through tests and trials, their faith will be built up and their Christ-likeness will increase. We saw where this is a process. God designs the process exclusively for each believer. We are all unique. Each test or trial will be designed by God to prune away what keeps us from complete devotion to Him.
Not all tests and trials are bad things. Sometimes, we are called to exercise our faith as we serve Him in capacities which are impossible for us to accomplish without His strength, Grace and power. When we obediently do the tasks He has placed before us then our faith is built up and we definitely grow in Christ. However, before God will call us to this level of obedience He will often take us through numerous tests and trials which are meant to prepare us to trust Him no matter what.
Let’s look at the first scripture passage which I placed at the beginning of this chapter. I am sure you have noticed I have referred to Romans 12:1-2 throughout this book. Understanding and applying this passage is a key to spiritual growth. We also included truths from v1 in our “Steps to the Walk by Faith.” Now let’s look at what comes after step six. For review, here is the list again:
Steps to the Walk by Faith (first six steps)
- Fear God (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13)
- Come to Jesus (cf. Matthew 22:28)
- Take on the Yoke of Christ (cf. Matthew 22:29)
- Learn what Christ teaches (cf. Matthew 22:29)
- Present our bodies as living sacrifices by the mercies of God (cf. Romans 12:1)
- Keep the Lord’s commandments (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13)
We saw where these are the first six steps for Abiding in Christ. The Walk by Faith is accomplished by Abiding in Christ. God will change us through each cycle of this process. In Romans 12:2 we will see how that change takes place and its outcome.
Here is the entire passage again: “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) Verse 2 starts with “…and do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” It comes after the call to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God by His Mercy.
What does it mean to “not” be conformed to this world? The word translated as “conformed” means “to fashion” or “after a fashion”. If this was a positive statement the writer would have meant, “Pattern you life after whatever this world is all about.” Since it is a negative command to “not” be conformed to the world we should read it as saying, “Do not pattern your values after the values of this present world. What’s wrong with a believer having the same values as the world? Jesus, the Son of God, came to Earth as a man to live a perfect life then die in agony on the cross to pay the price for your sin and my sin. He came to save those who will accept Him as their Lord and Savior from this world’s coming judgment.
The ways of the world are not for the believer. The Soul-led cling to them though. Those who abide in Christ will produce godly fruit in their lives as they become more and more Christ-like. One of the fruits of abiding in Christ is Separation from the World. That means the more Christ-like a believer becomes, the less they will be conformed to this world. That means their values are becoming conformed to God’s values not the world’s values.
The concept of abiding being a process is enforced by the Greek grammar structure of the phrase, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” Both “conformed” and “transformed” are verbs in “Present tense, imperative mood, and active voice.” Present imperative indicates a command to do something in the future which involves continuous or repeated action. The Active voice indicates the reader or listener is to do it.
Let’s apply this concept to this phrase. We are to continue, as a way of life, to not conform our lives to the world. We are not to pattern our values after the world’s values as a way of life. This means not conforming to this world is part of abiding in Christ.
The second part of this phrase says, “…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” We saw where the verb “transformed” is in the same tense, mood and voice as “conformed” so we know we are being given a command to be transformed as a continuous or repeated action. What does this word mean? It is the Greek word which gives us our word “Metamorphosis.” It is the same word used to describe the Transfiguration of Christ, “Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves; and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” (Matthew 17:1-2 Emphasis Mine) The word “transfigured” in v2 is the same word which is translated “transformed” in Romans 12:2. Jesus’ appearance changed from that of a normal person to one that revealed His future Glory. His face shown like the sun and His clothes became as white as the light.
The command for believers to be “transformed” is not a call to have our faces and clothes changed. However, there is a parallel here between these two passages. Jesus was showing His Apostles His actual, but future Glory. The command for believers to be “transformed” is a call to be changed from our corrupt conformity to this World into pure, holy separation from this World. This change or transformation is akin to the process of a caterpillar going through the metamorphosis process to become a butterfly. It is changed from one type of creature to another. The process which transforms a believer from Soul-led conformity to the World to Spirit-led separation from the World is a metamorphosis unto Christ-likeness.
What causes this “metamorphosis?” Here is the phrase again, “…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” The transforming catalyst is “the renewing of our minds.” What does that mean? The Greek word translated “renewing” in this verse actually means to “renovate.” It speaks of changing something from one state to one which is qualitatively new. If you buy an old house which needs a lot of work to make it beautiful you will have to renovate it. Some rooms may just need paint. Others need a complete gut job. So what has that got to do with “renewing” our minds? This part of the process is our part and responsibility. Let’s paraphrase the whole phrase together. “Do not pattern your life after the ways of world, but become Christ-like and separate from the world by renovating your mind.” What this is saying is we are commanded to not be conformed to the world, as we naturally are, but be changed into one who is naturally separate from the World by the process of renovating our minds. The metamorphosis from worldliness to godliness requires the continuous, repeated action of mind renovation.
What is this mind renewal or renovation? In the Introduction to this book I gave you my testimony of how God changed me from being Soul-led, self-focused and powerless to being Spirit-led, God-focused and His Humble servant who has learned to Abide in Christ. In the Introduction I gave you all of the things God “drew me” to do over several months. In every case I took on more and more knowledge of God and His ways. I did that by reading and studying godly books and the Bible. I spent more and more time in His Presence (prayer and worship) and less and less time doing Worldly things. I fasted from the things of this world and feasted on God and His ways. As He took me through multitudes of tests and trials which He used to prune me I became more and more Spirit-led and less and less Soul-led.
Eventually, I came to a point where I leaned how to walk in Repentance with Joy. That is the process of monitoring what your Heart is directing itself to for fulfillment. As it moves away from God and towards fleshly things for fulfillment we are to stop it by capturing that thought and giving it to God as a sacrifice. He will then clean us up and fill us with Joy and fulfillment.
Our list of steps has changed. We now have seven steps don’t we?
Steps to the Walk by Faith (first seven steps)
- Fear God (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13)
- Come to Jesus (cf. Matthew 22:28)
- Take on the Yoke of Christ (cf. Matthew 22:29)
- Learn what Christ teaches (cf. Matthew 22:29)
- Present our bodies as living sacrifices by the mercies of God (cf. Romans 12:1)
- Keep the Lord’s commandments (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13)
- Renew our minds and become transformed unto Christ-likeness (cf. Romans 12:2)
The last phrase in Romans 12:2 says, “…that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” The grammar suggests this phrase gives us a benefit for becoming “transformed.”
When I was a brand-new believer in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1986 I desperately wanted to know what God’s will was. I didn’t want to do things which were not His will. I did want to do those things which were His will. I wanted to know what His will was for me in certain situations. I prayed to know His will. I read books about finding His will. I asked other believers how to know His will. It was like I was asking people to describe the color blue. I got very little help.
Over many years I learned much of God’s will is revealed in His Word. We also can learn it from listening to godly preaching and teaching. However, there is another level of knowing God which I was ignorant about until I learned to walk the Walk by Faith. When I learned to Practice the Presence of God by walking in Repentance with Joy I found I was able to draw near unto God and He would draw near unto me. It was, and still is, awesome. As I am in His presence He teaches me. Isn’t that one of our steps in our learning to walk the Walk by Faith? It’s step four. When we take up and put the Yoke of Christ He will teach us His will. He will teach us all about Himself. He will teach us His ways so we can walk in them. As we go through these steps we will emerge changed. We will be more Christ-like than we were before. We will also have learned the part of His will which He wants to reveal to us.
The word “prove” in the last phrase of v2 means to discern or distinguish. In the context of this phrase it means to see the value in submitting to the will of God. As we are transformed and become more Christ-like we will be able to have close intimate walk before our Lord and we will see His will up front and see it is perfect and best for us. As we submit to His will we fall in Love with Him even more because we see in submission to the Lordship of Christ is found purpose and fulfillment.
We now have eight steps in our process don’t we?
Steps to the Walk by Faith (first eight steps)
- Fear God (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13)
- Come to Jesus (cf. Matthew 22:28)
- Take on the Yoke of Christ (cf. Matthew 22:29)
- Learn what Christ teaches (cf. Matthew 22:29)
- Present our bodies as living sacrifices by the mercies of God (cf. Romans 12:1)
- Keep the Lord’s commandments (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13)
- Renew our minds and become transformed unto Christ-likeness (cf. Romans 12:2)
- Discern God’s Will and submit to it (cf. Romans 12:2)
Don’t get caught up in being dogmatic about these steps. Yes, they do take place and it is the process which brings us unto Christ-likeness, but I had no idea about these steps and God took me through them all many times. Our goal should be to become all God wants us to be, but not by doing. It comes by changing and being, not doing. As we change and become Spirit-led we will naturally do godly things. As we abide in Christ we will produce godly fruit. We can’t do anything to produce godly fruit by trying real hard to produce it. It comes as we become godly.
The biggest step for a believer is the move from being Soul-led to Spirit-led. This happens as we pursue God with our whole Heart. This means learning to walk in Repentance with Joy and strive with our whole being to stay in His presence by not allowing our Heart to stray back to the flesh for fulfillment. As we do this, the Lord will prune us by allowing distractions, problems, tests and trials into our lives. These tests and trials are designed to show us all of our problem areas which have not been surrendered to Him. As we turn to Christ and submit to His Lordship, He will teach us the Truth. In response to the Truth we submit our bodies as living sacrifices to God and get Him to help us remove our problem areas through surrender to His will by His Mercy and Grace. Also, by His Mercy and Grace, we keep His commandments. We should then go Hard after Him even more by prayer, worship and learning so we can have our minds renewed. This will make us more Christ-like. Then we will see God’s will is perfect and right no matter how painful our circumstances.
“Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:1-5)
One of the rudest awakenings many believers have is the reality being in Christ does not mean instant health, wealth and prosperity. I used to work with a fellow who told me nearly everyday I had sin in my life. He told me if I would eliminate the sin then God would bless me and my family. He said the sin in my life was why I had a cold, or my son was sick, or I was broke all the time. I asked several times what sin he was talking about, but he never could tell me.
Interestingly, at the same time he was telling me those things, I was a student in a class at church which was training us to share the gospel with the lost. I can remember many times having one of the worst days imaginable at work on the very day our team was to hit the road to go house to house to share the gospel. I can’t prove it, but it seemed to me the worse my day was the more success we had in witnessing.
On one of those days at work I was informed I was going to have to change positions and be paid less. On the way home I had several encounters with belligerent drivers. I got home, had dinner and went up to the church to meet my trainer. That evening I led one of the men we visited to Christ. I was pumped to the max when we pulled into the parking lot afterward. All of those problems seemed as nothing when compared to that.
I found, as I was called to more and more responsibility at that church, the pressure from circumstances increased as well. Over time, I became discouraged and pulled away from God. Oh, that I had not done that! Yes the tests and trials were tough, but God was in the process of revealing His work in me. He was cleansing me of being self-focused. I was Soul-led, but was learning a great deal about adversity and how it relates to our walk. However, I had not matured enough to become completely Spirit-led. I would be Spirit-led occasionally as God would use me. However, I would revert back to Soul-led behavior as I looked at my circumstances and became bitter and resentful. I would see other believers who did not seem to have to go through any of those tough trials. It seemed I was constantly in the crucible of refinement. I started believing all of the trials were God telling me to stop serving in certain areas. That was a lie from Satan himself.
To walk the Walk by Faith we must become Spirit-led. To become Spirit-led we must learn to abide in Christ. Believers who abide in Christ are those who have altered their view of adversity to match God’s.
The wrong view of adversity is the one we grew up with. In Soul-led thinking we see all adversity as bad. When we find ourselves in the midst of a major trial we usually ask the two following questions:
- Whose fault is it?
What’s wrong with asking these questions? Asking them reveals much about our focus and character. If we respond this way then it is a sure thing we are Soul-led. Our focus is all on self. We are really asking, “Why did this happen to me?” or, “Who is responsible for putting me through this?” Surely, you can see the focus of these questions.
A problem all maturing believers have is learning to grasp the correct focus. For example, I have a huge problem with wanting my circumstances to match my walk. When I have a great quiet time before work or teach from the Bible with power I usually walk right into a circumstance which brings me right back to dealing with ugly self protection issues. I get upset and struggle. I seem to want my circumstances to line up with how “godly” I am. This is fundamentally wrong thinking. This is no different than my co-worker telling me to be blessed, I should learn to not sin. If I would walk blameless before God then I would not have problems. Don’t fall for that lie. It will only bring discouragement and stumbling in your walk.
We live in a fallen world. God never promised to spare believers from the troubles that exist on planet Earth. “…that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:45) God, most definitely, allows suffering into the lives of those He loves. He will use it for His purposes in the life of the believer. He is sovereign. You and I have been bought with a price (Christ’s blood) and are His to do with according to His will. We must allow God to alter our understanding of adversity, accept that Truth, then be prepared to respond to it correctly. Responding correctly means we don’t ask, “Why me?” or, “Why not someone else?” When trouble finds us how should we respond?
The details of the correct response to adversity may vary, but there is an attitude which must prevail in the Heart of the Spirit-led believer in order to respond correctly. This attitude is one of acceptance. To mature into the believer God wants we must come to understand He is in complete control of our lives. He knows what is best for us. He wants us to come to understand that fact. He wants us to see our circumstances from the eternal perspective. When we do that then we are ready for the correct response.
Please don’t think I am minimizing your problems by telling you to just accept them and let God have His way. I know it hurts. I know it can be blinding and confusing. I know it can seem you are being destroyed. So, the first response we should express to God when we find ourselves mired in adversity is, “Help!” We need to plead to God for help. Pray for his deliverance from whatever you are going through. God will never be upset with us for doing this. In fact, when we seek Him this way He is very pleased because this opens the door of communication between us and Him. When we come to Him broken and hurting do you think God will turn away from us? One of the purposes of “God allowed” adversity in our lives is to get our attention. He wants us to respond to Him for Help and deliverance.
What is the next step? Incredibly, we should thank God for accounting us worthy to suffer. We do that with the understanding God is doing His good work in us to accomplish eternal changes in our character to make us more like Jesus Christ.
In the chapter, “Repentance God’s Way vs. Repentance the World’s Way” we looked at walking in Repentance with Joy. That is walking through life by Heart monitoring and by constantly thanking God. When we encounter trials which bring us to our knees we should embrace that same attitude. We should see our circumstances from the eternal perspective not the physical. When we do that we can see tests and trials the way God does. When we do that we become grateful because we see those problems as the molding and shaping tools which God is using to mature us into Christ-likeness.
I know that may seem impossible. I can remember people telling me things like this back when I was drowning in problems. It just seemed too hard to grasp for me. However, I can tell you from my experiences with problems, since I learned to walk the Walk by Faith, immersing myself in Christ while suffering makes them seem much smaller. When I was immature I couldn’t grasp it because I was self-focused. I was Soul-led. I ran from God instead of to Him.
I still have problems, but now I work diligently at being Spirit-led. I have good days and bad days. Sometimes I respond to problems incorrectly. I get my focus wrong and respond in Soul-led mode. When I do that I repent and move back to the Walk by Faith. But, I now ask God many questions about why it is happening. In every case He is showing me areas of my life which I have not submitted to the Lordship of Christ.
After we have cried for help from God and thanked Him for molding and shaping our Hearts we must continue with our walk. Yes it may hurt. Yes it may be humiliating or even agonizing, but we must move on with God. We must yield to His Lordship. We must trust Him. As we do this we must not get our focus back on our circumstances. We must move our focus to Christ. We must continue abiding in Him. We must continue our Walk by Faith.
I am sure you recognize the following list. Where does dealing with adversity fit into this process?
Steps to the Walk by Faith (first eight steps)
- Fear God (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13)
- Come to Jesus (cf. Matthew 22:28)
- Take on the Yoke of Christ (cf. Matthew 22:29)
- Learn what Christ teaches (cf. Matthew 22:29)
- Present our bodies as living sacrifices by the mercies of God (cf. Romans 12:1)
- Keep the Lord’s commandments (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13)
- Renew our minds and become transformed unto Christ-likeness (cf. Romans 12:2)
- Discern God’s Will and submit to it (cf. Romans 12:2)
Adversity causes us to hurt. It causes us to suffer. However, God allowed it to accomplish His purposes in us. When we submit to His will and move on as we trust Him we are doing two things. We are taking on the Yoke of Christ by submitting to His Lordship and we are presenting our bodies as living sacrifices. We are able to do this by the Grace and Mercy of God. Dealing with adversity is part of the process of Abiding in Christ.
Don’t take my word for it. Del and Charmaine Traffanstedt are members of our church in Olathe, Kansas. They consented to an interview for this chapter. God led me to them because He is revealing His work in them. They live lives which express and reflect Christ. They live their lives for the Glory of God despite going through many severe tests and trials.
Del and Charmaine met while in college. They were both believers when they married, but neither was living for the Lord. Charmaine came to Christ as a teenager at a FCA rally. She was raised Catholic, but Del was a protestant who was also saved as a teenager. They lived their lives in self-focused, Soul-led mode. Interestingly, neither knew the other was a believer when they met.
Del was raised in a church where the Bible was taught and he attended a Christian school. Charmaine, on the other hand, was not allowed to go to any church but the local Catholic Church. She enrolled herself in catechism classes, but they did not teach her anything about God and the bible. She learned only about the Catholic Church. Even though she was not allowed to go to any other church; she was the only practicing Catholic in her family.
They were both in the Army for a while. Del was an officer. He loved it. He started getting very serious about getting right with God at this time. One catalyst that drew him towards God was the birth of their daughter, Taylor. The first time he saw Taylor, Del came under heavy conviction to get right with God. God was convicting him to submit to the Lordship of Christ and be the best husband and father he could be. He was not submitting to the Lord and Charmaine was not submitting to him or the Lord. Charmaine was very rebellious about going to the churches that Del wanted to attend. She shared it seemed the fear of submitting and losing control were her biggest problems.
Del decided to leave the Army, which he loved, so he could be the husband Charmaine needed. He resented it though. He blamed God and Charmaine for his loss of something which made him happy.
They moved to Nebraska. When Taylor was old enough she was enrolled in a faith-based pre-school. While there they started church shopping. Del wanted to get involved in church again, but he and Charmaine could not agree where to go. Charmaine was dead set against the churches Del picked because of her rebellion. She was resisting, out of fear, all of the pulling and tugging that God was doing in her life. She was afraid of the submission which was called for. Del shared it seemed they were hunting a church which conformed to Charmaine rather than submitting their lives to Christ’s standards.
God was at work in their lives though. Taylor would come home from day-care and ask all kinds of penetrating questions which caused Del and Charmaine to squirm. She would ask things like, “Why don’t we go to church Daddy?” or “Do you know God Daddy?” For Charmaine, the problem was some of the questions were about Bible stories. Charmaine had no clue who David was. She had never heard the story about Joseph and the coat of many colors. This made Charmaine very uncomfortable and caused her to feel inadequate as a parent. For Del it was convicting beyond belief. He began to get serious about prayer and bible reading at that point.
Then they moved to Texas. Del’s bible reading and prayer increased over the next year. Del shared the intensity of the conviction to get right with God increased daily. After a year Del decided to attend the local Baptist church in their town. Charmaine resisted and they fought about it. Del held his ground and they went the following Sunday. Charmaine went once then refused to go back. Del attended every Sunday with Taylor, but without Charmaine. Del got involved in everything, but was still not submitted to God in all areas of his life, nor was he praying correctly.
Charmaine did not set foot in that church again for six months. Over those same six month Del was going through a transformation. God was cleaning out the inconsistencies and bad habits from his life. He confessed over that time his Heart had become more and more tender until he felt he was back to the same closeness with God he had in his early twenties.
During this time Charmaine was working with a woman who was constantly sharing her faith. One day Charmaine complained about Del taking their daughter to church without her consent. The coworker told her she should be proud of him instead of being upset about it. She offered to take Charmaine to church with her. She agreed. Interestingly, it turned out she was the wife of a deacon of the same church where Del and his daughter were attending. The message came in loud and clear to both Del and Charmaine at that point. God was at work in their lives. Charmaine began attending church with Del and their daughter. The first few months in Sunday school for Charmaine were stressful because everyone there seemed to know all about the bible and where the books of the bible were located. Charmaine still had to look in the index to get the page numbers to find where to read. However, no one made her feel ashamed or put down about her lack of bible knowledge. In fact she said they were all very loving, patient and helpful.
At this point, Charmaine’s hunger for God’s word became evident. She says she started just eating it up. She took every bible study class she could take. Taylor’s faith really took off at this time as well.
After about three months of worshipping together Charmaine said she wanted to join the church. They went forward and Del rededicated his life and they joined. Del confessed, spiritually, that event meant little for him because he had not actually done anything. However, over the next two weeks he started praying with a Christian friend at work and came under heavy conviction to submit to the Lordship of Christ in all areas of his life no matter the cost. At the end of those two weeks he had some time alone, at home, where he got on his knees and poured his Heart out to God. He prayed for God to take his life and use it. Del says it was at that point he submitted to Jesus as his Lord.
After Del prayed their trials increased instead of decreasing. He and Charmaine were surprised at first. One of their biggest trials revolved around their desire to have another child. They prayed for a new child constantly. It was at this time Charmaine started hurting all the time. She suffers from a medical condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or PCOS. Along with that she also suffers from Endometrial Hyperplasia. This means she has a very difficult time becoming pregnant and she has a great deal of pain. Charmaine endured many treatments in an attempt to become pregnant, but it never happened. Del and Charmaine focused entirely on trying to have another child. Taylor wanted a baby brother. They looked at children as blessings and could not understand why God was withholding that blessing from them. Charmaine shared at that time she became angry at God and felt He had let her down. She also suffers from severe hormonal fluctuations which cause wide mood swings. Sometimes her reactions to circumstances would be way out of proportion to reality. This added to the stress at home.
Over this same time Del was maturing. All areas of his life came under the Lordship of Christ which meant compromises over moral and ethical issues were out of the question. This brought on a great deal of pressure at work. This along with the constant pressure to have a baby created an intense cauldron of stress. They were in the crucible of refinement, but they didn’t know it.
God brought a friend into Del’s life that came along side and mentored him. He was a deacon at their church and shared many of the things which God had done in his life to turn him around. This made a profound impact on Del. Prayer for others was a huge catalyst in his spiritual growth. It was at this time Del attended a seminar on prayer. He learned what he had been doing wrong all along in his prayer life. He started approaching God correctly. Instead of demanding and wanting blessings he sought God’s will and glory. He began to pray for others. It was at this time he became more and more accepting of the fact they may never have another child.
Charmaine became involved, with Del, in the prayer ministry at their church. She experienced spiritual growth as she was discipled by some women in their church. She was being drawn into having peace with God’s will by studying the life of Abraham and Sarah. Charmaine shared some of her hurts and struggles with these women and also her resentments towards other women who had no problem bearing children. One of the ladies told her until she gave that resentment over to God she would never have peace.
About this same time Del changed jobs so he could work somewhere that would be more accommodating to his walk with God. Finally, they both agreed to give it all to God. They decided to quit the treatments. Charmaine’s hormonal problems remained as well as the pain though. However, they both now looked at their problems as “in God’s hands”. They began to see their problems as very small because God was in control. Charmaine was able to rejoice with other women as they had babies instead of being resentful. Her Heart had been changed even though her circumstances had not. She could even work in the nursery at church and rejoice with new mothers.
They moved to Olathe, Kansas. Charmaine got a new doctor who set her up with some surgery which took away much of her pain. That was a huge relief, but again, they both saw that as totally in God’s hands.
Del shared he was rejoicing in the fact God had not taken Chramine’s pain away five years earlier because neither of them would have grown into the Spirit-led believers they are today if God had not taken them through that trial. Charmaine echoed that feeling as well. Del understands God’s love for him and Charmaine much better now than he did before. He has come to love God’s ways. Charmaine has discovered closeness with God and now trusts Him completely.
Del and Charmaine are both very active in our Church and God’s good work in them is evident to all. God’s good work was accomplished through their correct dealing with adversity. It was painful and stressful, but when they surrendered to Christ’s Lordship, their faith was built up and they learned to be joyful in the Lord and live for Him.
I don’t like pain or problems any more than anyone else. I like the good times, but have come to know God much better through the bad. I have come to understand God is working through all of our circumstances, both good and bad, to refine us into Christ-likeness. Our role in this process is to submit and Walk by Faith. Prayer and worship is vital in order for us to abide in Christ.
We are to praise and be thankful to God in the good times as well as the bad. The ability to do this is not natural. It is supernatural. Where does this supernatural power come from? As we submit to the Lordship of Christ as God takes us through various tests and trials we learn much from our Lord as He transforms us. We are changed. The submission process changes us dramatically. God loves us. He knows without His supernatural power we can do nothing. To grow in Christ requires His Grace and Mercy. We are a work in progress.
One of the first couples Ina and I met when we joined our Church in Olathe back in 2001 was Jim and Rene’ Thomas. Before we were members and for several months after we joined, we were in the Pastor’s class. Jim and Rene’ were in that class as well. Rene’ tells everyone Jim is the most patient man in the world.
Rene’ was born in Louisiana, but also lived in Texas. She was raised by her grandparents. Rene’ likes to share what it was like growing up in the South for her. She says it was important for women to get “fixed-up” before they left the house. Even if leaving the house was only to go to the mailbox or grocery store the women still “fixed-up”. Getting “fixed-up” meant they wore make-up and fixed their hair even if they were sick.
In January 2003 Rene’ found a lump in her breast. She went in for a mammogram on February 13. Jim and Rene’ were informed it was indeed cancer. Rene’ likes to share Jim was like a rock for her and she considers him a blessing from God.
On February 14 Rene’ rededicated her life to Christ. She told God if she was permitted to live to see their two young girls grow up she would have a daily personal quiet time. Rene’ confessed up to that time she had not been consistent doing that. She started with the book of Psalms.
Rene’ picked Psalms because she thought it would bring comfort. As she began she would read a chapter a day, sometimes more. She would write in the margin of her bible how she was feeling on that day. When she became afraid she read verses such as “Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place.” (Psalm 28:2) and “When I am afraid, I will trust in you.” (Psalm 56:3). When she was down she saw where David, too, was crying out to God. When she was up-beat she noticed God gave her verses like “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” (Psalm 100:4).
During her chemo therapy her body changed. She lost her hair. She also became weak and tired. Rene’ was always a vibrant and active person who rarely stopped. Now she was feeling worn out and down. In August when she was at her lowest she didn’t think she could carry on anymore. She didn’t have the energy or will power to get up and go in for another treatment. She cried out to God for help. As she was in the car going in for that treatment a song came on the radio which sent a spark of hope into her. That song was “Strong Enough” by Stacie Orrico.
God infused her with his strength. He sustained her, lifted her up and she was able to make her treatment. She was relying on His strength not hers. She came to realize at that moment God’s love for her was perfect. What she was going through was His will for her so it must be right.
In October 23, 2003 Rene’ received a message from her friend who is a radiologist oncologist. She was congratulating her she had made it through all of her chemo sessions and she was a “beautiful person”. As she hung up Rene’ said to herself, “She hasn’t seen me without my wig and eyebrows on!”
That day Rene’ called the church office to ask our Pastor if she could give her testimony. She wanted to thank everyone for their prayers, the meals, the babysitting, and all of the uplifting cards that came in right when she needed a spiritual lift the most. It wasn’t until 3:00pm that same day she knew without a doubt what she would say when she stood before the church body to give her testimony. It came to her while she was in her quiet time that afternoon.
She opened her bible to read that day’s daily bible reading. For that day it was Isaiah 52. She read and stopped at verse 7 which says,
“How beautiful upon the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who proclaims peace,
Who brings glad tidings of good things,
Who proclaims salvation,
Who says to Zion,
‘Your God reigns!’”
That was when Rene’ knew for certain she had received from God what she had been praying for. It was as if God was in the room with her, talking to her personally. She cried with tears of joy for God had blessed Rene’ with a close personal relationship. She had been praying specifically for that. God didn’t care how she looked without hair and eyebrows. God wanted Rene’ to come to Him prostrate, vulnerable and with a submissive Heart. God had blessed her with something she needed. Without the horrible diagnosis of cancer she would not have rededicated her life or asked for the close personal relationship with Him. She would not be living her life for Him and with Him if that lump had not appeared. Rene’ shared her testimony that Sunday about the good work God had done in her life.
In June of 2004 Rene’ sang “Strong Enough” as a solo during both of our church’s worship services. Her hair was growing back, but it was still short. However, all I noticed was the beauty of her testimony before she sang. I remember hearing her tell why she picked that song to sing. As she sang I wept. It touched me deeply. I was in the midst of my own revival at that time. God’s deep call to me to come hard after Him was devastating as He showed me the beauty of Rene’s surrendered life.
How about you? Is God allowing adversity to come into your life? If so, are you afraid? You should be. However, if you will do as Rene’ did and move towards God, not away from Him you will find Him. When you find Him you will be changed. God wants to do His good work in you. Why? He wants all of His children to become Christ-like. We can’t become Christ-like unless He changes us from the inside out. We can never become Christ-like by trying to be godly with our own strength and will power. We must be willing and submissive as He takes us through our peaks and valleys.
Fairness, Rights and the Pursuit of Happiness
“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
“A man’s heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
I’ve got my rights! That’s not fair! Can’t I do whatever I want to be happy? Do you recognize that attitude? As I age I am constantly amazed at how stupid the world’s ways are. I am old enough to remember a time when there was always a “higher standard” that ruled over us all. It was simply understood life was not fair, it never would be, and it was best to get used to the idea. Then one day the world seemed to change. Now, there is a push to try to equalize everything. Forced equality forces the concept “everything is relative.”
Relativism is a cancer. It says there are no absolutes. It says no matter how evil or abhorrent a person’s values are to you, you must accept them because that is just your opinion. Relativism accepts all beliefs as equal. It is an illogical assumption, however. In saying, “There are no absolutes”, the speaker is making an absolute statement. The premise can not be supported logically.
Relativism says no matter how immoral or self-centered my actions are it is okay because I make up my own rules and values as I go. If you don’t like it then you are the one who must adjust not me.
When Man attempts to apply Relativism to God things get sticky in a hurry. The bible is full of statements that make it clear there is most definitely a Sovereign God on the throne who is not going to listen and give in to people’s demands to have their salvation, but forget that Lordship stuff.
The courts and legislatures in the USA have gone a long way to turn this nation away from the God and His ways. There is a movement by the secular humanists and liberal politicians to change the country along the lines of the European model which is, for the most part, godless and totally devoted to relativism.
God has blessed the USA, but it has turned its back on Him and treated Him as if He is the interloper. What is His response? Check out this quote from Psalm 2, “Why do the nations rage and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; The LORD shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure:” (Psalm 2:1-5)
The God I worship and belong to is not a figment of anyone’s imagination. He is real. He is in control. He is Sovereign. He is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. God the Son came to this planet as a man. He lived a perfect life and was murdered by sinful men. As he died, all of the sin of the world was placed on Him. He became sin so all who accept Him as Lord and Savior are redeemed and given eternal life. Sinful man is offered the free gift of salvation by a very gracious God.
Those who are defiled in their self-focused lifestyles and refuse to give them up are in for a very rude awakening. Many of them come to Christ for salvation, but refuse to submit to His Lordship. They want it all. It doesn’t work that way. The following quote is Jesus’ own words to those who want salvation, but refuse to submit to His Lordship, “…and he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38-39) True (eternal) life is found in giving up this life for Christ’s sake. (Eternal) Death comes to those who refuse to do so.
Taking up our cross and following Christ is the antithesis of the attitude, “I’ve got my rights!” If you are struggling with the concept of fairness when it comes to the Sovereignty of God then you better get over it. God is Sovereign. He owns everything because He created everything. He makes the rules not us. If you are in Christ, but are dismayed over your struggles and all of the adversity you are going through then you must seek His face, plead for His help and comfort then respond in obedience to what He reveals to you.
In the last chapter we looked at how God uses those hard things in our lives to bring us to submit entirely to the Lordship of Christ. If we bow our backs, dig in our heels and refuse to accept God’s will for us in this area we make a grave error. If we demand our rights or complain about fairness and not being happy to God then all we are doing is showing how mired we are in Hard-Hearted Soul-led behavior. The adversity God is putting us through is designed specifically to refine us unto Christ-likeness.
I heard a sermon one time about going through adversity. It was after I had learned to walk in the Spirit. I was the passenger in my pickup as Ina was driving us home from church. I couldn’t drive very well at that time because my back was out. It really hurt. The sermon was on the radio. The preacher was talking about God taking us through hardship and trials and those who God pruned and refined were being prepared for greatness. I didn’t shout for Joy or anything like that when I heard it. I do remember feeling that familiar “pang” I get when the Holy Spirit rejoices within me. I simply looked out the window and silently thanked God and felt very humble. I asked God, “Who am I?”
Abiding in Christ is how the believer matures into Spirit-led, Tender-Hearted Christ-likeness. We can not abide in Christ if we are demanding our rights. We can not abide in Christ if we think God is “not fair”. We can not abide in Christ if want happiness in our circumstances rather then Joy from His fulfillment. Submission to the Yoke of Christ, presenting our bodies as living sacrifices and learning from Christ all demand the giving up of our rights, ridding ourselves of relativism and seeking God for Himself rather than wanting happiness in circumstances.
If we are focused on circumstances we are self-focused and Soul-led. If we are self-focused everything that happens will drive us either up or down. If something good happens our Hearts try to get fulfillment from it by generating positive emotions. If something bad happens our Hearts try to get fulfillment from it by generation of negative emotions. None of the fulfillment lasts. It is all very short and is just chasing after the wind.
If we are Spirit-led then we are focused on God. Our circumstances are simply the tool we use to monitor what our Heart is up to. We must pay attention to our reactions to everything around us and what is going on in our minds and imaginations. When we do that we catch all of those attempts at fulfillment from fleshly things. When we catch them we capture them and give them to God. When we do that we are constantly in His presence. When we turn our Hearts to God for fulfillment like this we are abiding in Christ. We are not driven by circumstances. We are not controlled by relativism. We are submitted to the Lordship of Christ and are yoked up with Him.
Part of abiding in Christ is to stop being conformed to the world. The world’s ways are not God’s ways. The world’s ways demand fairness for all no matter how stupid the outcome. God’s ways demand everyone to submit to Him and His ways. The World’s ways says we shouldn’t have to wait for anything. God’s ways are to develop patience in us by having us wait on Him and His solution.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves.”? Did you know that phrase is not found anywhere in scripture? Not only is it not found in scripture it isn’t biblical or in any way conformed to God and His ways. The phrase came from one of Aesop’s Fables. The story goes a wagoner was driving a heavy wagon along a muddy road and became stuck. He couldn’t get the wagon unstuck so he jumped down and prayed for Hercules to come and help him. Hercules appeared and said, “Man, don’t sprawl there. Get up and put your shoulder to the wheel. The gods help them that help themselves.”
So, what will you do the next time someone tells you to quit waiting on God in the midst of your test or trial. They may even use the phrase, “God helps those who help themselves.” If we fall for this we are being conformed to the world. How are we to respond to tests and trials where God’s plan is for us to wait on Him? Waiting on God is part of our learning as we are being transformed by Him through the adversity.
“But those who wait on the LORD
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
Godly character, Christ-likeness, is more valuable than any treasure we could ever acquire in this physical realm. Godly character waits on the Lord. It doesn’t demand its rights. It isn’t screaming about fairness or happiness in circumstances. Godly character waits on the Lord no matter what. Godly character patiently endures tests and trials by His Grace and Mercy. What is the result of waiting on God instead of “helping ourselves”?
Those that wait on the Lord
- Shall renew their strength
- They shall mount up with wings like eagles
- They shall run and not be weary
- They shall walk and not faint
Being strong in the Lord speaks of one who is walking the Walk by Faith. They are going through the process of abiding in Christ. The Lord allows a trial which means the believer must wait for God’s solution. If they prayerfully wait on the Lord their faith is exercised and becomes stronger in the Lord.
Eagles know when a storm is approaching. When it comes close the eagle will use the wind currents to rise above the storm. They don’t escape the storm; they use it to go higher. The believer in the midst of a stormy trial who has learned to wait on the Lord will use the “pursuit of God” in prayer to become closer and more intimate with Him. God will sustain the praying believer through any trial. While above the storm, the believer takes on God’s view of the storm, not ours. That view sees the affliction as momentary and light because it is the eternal viewpoint.
I was a runner for years. I ran for fun, fitness and the thrill of competition. I ran in races all over Oklahoma. There was a period in the early 1980’s when I was running up to forty miles a week. I went on several long training runs which were over ten miles. It was amazing to be half way into a fourteen mile run and suddenly realize you are not even breathing hard anymore. I would find my body had adjusted to the running and I was not even the least bit tired. I felt like I could run like that forever. Some people call that the “runner’s high”. If we prayerfully wait on the Lord during our trials He will sustain us with internal strength to remain faithful.
I can’t run anymore because of a knee problem. However, I can still walk. During the spring, summer and fall I will walk several miles a day. After I have started walking again after winter it will take several days or even weeks of walking to get my strength back so I go out further. The stamina to do that comes from walking. You don’t get stamina for walking long distance from thinking about it or watching others walk. You have to get out there and walk.
God blesses the patient, praying believer with strength in their trials. Consider the Apostle Paul’s example: “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
Waiting on the Lord in the midst of a trial is not demanding your rights, or screaming about fairness, or becoming devastated about the lack of happiness in your life. Waiting on the Lord is a vital element of abiding in Christ and walking the Walk by Faith. As we patiently endure these trials God changes us. He matures us. He changes our viewpoint. We learn to see the trial, the suffering, the agony as “sweet pain” because it brings us closer to God.
The following quote is from a letter Brother Lawrence sent to friend who was sick, “I DO not pray that you may be delivered from your pains; but I pray GOD earnestly that He would give you strength and patience to bear them as long as He pleases. Comfort yourself with Him who holds you fastened to the cross: He will loose you when He thinks fit. Happy those who suffer with Him: accustom yourself to suffer in that manner, and seek from Him the strength to endure as much, and as long, as He shall judge to be necessary for you. The men of the world do not comprehend these truths, nor is it to be wondered at, since they suffer like what they are, and not like Christians: they consider sickness as a pain to nature, and not as a favor from GOD; and seeing it only in that light, they find nothing in it but grief and distress. But those who consider sickness as coming from the hand of GOD, as the effects of His mercy, and the means which He employs for their salvation, commonly find in it great sweetness and sensible consolation.”
Oh Lord, our eternal heavenly Father, I pray You will come along side all who read these words as they suffer the “sweet pain” with which You have blessed them. Change their viewpoint from self-focus to see all circumstances as instruments of Your Sovereignty. I pray You will accept their pain, grief and agony as offerings on the altar of sacrifice of self. I pray the reader will humbly submit to all of the pruning and discipline which You bring into their life. I pray Your good work You do in their lives will be made evident to all around them as you sustain them by your Grace, all for Your Glory, Amen.
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, 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, 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)
I began running long distance when I was in my mid to late twenties. That was the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. I started getting serious about fitness and racing about the time of the great “running boom.” I found I had the ability to run long distance a little faster than most people. I never was able to break into the elite level of runners, but I think if I had started a few years earlier I might have done that. Who know? Anyway, I enjoyed it very much. I hurt my knees by kneeling too long on hard surfaces while installing a computer room in Oklahoma City in 1998. If I try to run distance now my knees hurt too much to continue for long. I miss running, but I have something much more fulfilling in my life now.
Since I have learned to walk in the Spirit there are many things I used to passionately pursue which mean very little to me now. My focus has been altered. My value system is the same as God’s now. I’m running in a different race.
The Apostle Paul used the analogy of “running the race” for the Christian walk several times in his epistles. In this chapter we will look at a similar passage in the book of Hebrews. No one knows who wrote Hebrews, but it is a gold mine.
In each race I ran there would always be some runners who would line up on the front row who had no business being there. You could tell by looking at them they weren’t in the condition it takes to run out front at race speed for several miles. They would force themselves to the front row in front of everyone with that look on their face that challenged everyone. The gun would go off and away the pack would go.
Those ill-prepared runners would take off like a bullet and be out in front for a few yards, maybe even a few hundred yards. However, reality set in pretty quick. The experienced and well conditioned runners would never take off like that. They would set their pace and have points in the race set in their minds where they would speed up or slow down or set up for the final kick to the finish. Those “rabbits” who took off so hard would be passed quickly after a few hundred yards. Those poor guys usually didn’t finish the race.
The rest of us would pass them and run the race as we had planned it. Some of the guys I ran with would pace themselves by hanging back for the first two or three miles saving it all for the finish. I, on the other hand, was a burner. I liked to take off hard for the first mile or so then coast to the halfway point. At the halfway point I was usually ahead of the guys in my age group. However, they were hanging back and were fresher than me. I would go into a pace which was a little slower then full race speed but faster than training speed. I would hold that pace until the last mile then I would turn on the jets. It worked sometimes, but other times I got passed by those kickers who held it all to the end. It was fun, whether I won or not.
God wants all believers to get into the race. What’s the race? It is the faithful, diligent pursuit of godliness in our lives. This pursuit is accomplished by walking the Walk by Faith, consistently. I placed Hebrews 12:1-2 at the beginning of this chapter. Let’s break down these verses and compare them to running a physical race.
In Hebrews 11 the writer gives the Faith Hall-of-Fame. It is full of Old Testament heroes who made this list of glory by living lives by Walking by Faith. They are all now with God and are our “great cloud of witnesses.” Hebrews 12:1 starts with “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” Whenever you encounter “therefore” in scripture always look at what comes before so you can get the context of the statement. What is the context? In this instance the writer was saying, “Since we have this great example of biblical heroes who came before us and they are our witnesses let us also live our lives by walking by faith.”
How do we do that? The next phrase says, “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us…” A runner must carry as little weight as possible to run the race optimally. Clothes must be light. Shoes must be light. Even small things are laid aside so the weight carried during the race will be minimized. What weight messes up our spiritual race? Remember our look at Matthew 11:28-30? Jesus called all who were weary at working hard at being religious in their Souls to come to Him for rest. The term used in the verse for these people was “heavy laden” which meant ceremonially worn out. In Hebrews 12:1 the weight which must be laid aside so we can run the spiritual race correctly is all Soul-led religiosity. Soul-led religious effort will not bring fulfillment. It is all about self-gratification. If we lay aside that weight we become Spirit-led. The Spirit-led believer is not into “empty religion”. The Spirit-led is all about seeking the presence of God and staying there. The Spirit-led is running in the race without the weight of empty religion.
There is a second part to the phrase, “…and the sin which so easily ensnares us…” The word “sin” in this phrase means, “missing the mark.” Missing the mark is coming up short of God’s standards. The phrase, “which so easily ensnares us” is actually a word grouping which attempts to describe an opponent who thwarts an athlete or racer in every direction. What does that mean? We have an enemy, Satan, who desires nothing more than to distract us and keep us Soul-led and powerless, however, he is completely under the control of God and is on a very short leash. Our biggest enemy, who works overtime to keep us Soul-led, is self. We have an idol in us dedicated to self called Idolatry of the Heart. Our Heart will stray back to fleshly pursuits at the drop of a hat if we let it. Once we learn how to be Spirit-led and diligently pursue God we are actually denying our Souls the opportunity to go after fleshly pursuits. The Spirit-led’s Soul has taken on its original function, as designed by God, of expressing and reflecting Him.
If we get distracted from our diligent pursuit of God and His presence we are in danger. When we step out of God’s presence our consciences will immediately start pouring condemnation into our Souls. If we don’t catch it quickly our Hearts will start going after fleshly fulfillment. If we stumble this way we are actually stumbling in the race. The word picture in Greek is of an opponent attempting to keep the runner from running in the right direction. The danger of letting our guard down is very real. We must remain alert to stay on course so we can stay in the race, but we are easily distracted. We must receive help so we won’t lose focus.
The next phrase says, “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” The word translated “run” in this phrase is a verb which means to run on course. As we saw earlier we must also look at the tense, mood and voice of Greek verbs so we can get the correct message. This verb’s tense, mood and voice are present, subjunctive active. This tense refers to continuous or repeated action, regardless of when the action took place. The subjunctive mood suggests that the action is subject to some condition. It also implies there is some doubt, uncertainty or indefiniteness about the completion of the action. Of course, the active voice tells us the subject is doing the action. This statement is directed at believers as an exhortation.
Okay, what does all that mean? The writer of Hebrews is exhorting us to get into the spiritual race after we get rid of our Soul-led religiosity and become Spirit-led. Only the Spirit-led run the race with diligence. After we are prepared to run the race we are told to do so as a repeated or continuous action, but there is a chance we can stumble and fall out. What can cause us to stumble and fall out of the race? Our sins which so easily beset us cause that stumbling. We saw where the only way to defeat those besetting sins is to stay focused on God through our Spirit-led walking with Christ. How do we do that? Well the next part of this phrase tells us, “…with endurance the race that is set before us…” The word translated “endurance” can also be translated as “patience”. It is made up of two Greek words whose English translations are, “under” and “to abide”. This combined word tells us this word “endurance” refers to a “patience” which has the quality that does not surrender to circumstances or succumb under trial. This ability to stay above our circumstances comes from abiding in Christ. As we abide we are given the ability to remain faithful and patient, no matter what our circumstances are.
The next part of that phrase says, “…the race that is set before us…” The Greek word translated “race” is from a word family which speaks of activity which is vigorous, but implies force or violence such as in a contest which requires great physical exertion. We get our word “agony” from this word. It was often used to describe the hard, painful exertions which result from running long distance. The writer of Hebrews is giving us a word picture of what the spiritual race is like. The race we are exhorted to run is going to require diligence and endurance. How do we remain diligent and take on the godly patience and endurance called for? We must abide in Christ. The last part of the phrase we are looking at says, “…is set before us…” This simply means the race we are called to run is designed and presented to us by God. He controls our circumstances.
The last part of this passage (v2) says, “…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.” Let’s look at the first phrase in this verse. The word translated “looking” is a present active participle which means “to consider attentively.” A present active participle expresses continuous or repeated action based on the main verb in the sentence. The main verb is “run”. We saw where we are called to run the race as continuous or repeated action and we are told to do so by looking intently unto Jesus the whole time.
Let’s pull all of this together. The writer of Hebrews is exhorting all believers to take into account all of those Old Testament heroes who lived by Walking by Faith. Because of this great cloud of witnesses we too should live by Walking by Faith. Walking the Walk by Faith is compared to running the spiritual race which our Lord has set before us. We are called to run this race as part of a process. We are called to run diligently with endurance which comes from Abiding in Christ. The patience from Abiding in Christ gives us this endurance which does not yield or give in to circumstances or trials. We are called to run the race with our eyes beholding our Lord the whole time.
As a runner I can testify no one runs a long distance race successfully without first becoming conditioned. It takes the hard work of long training runs and speed-work to attain the fitness level required to run and not fall out of the race. When I was running every day to get ready for races I improved over time as I trained harder and had good speed-work runs. The training was painful, in that I was really working out my muscles in my legs and hips. However, the pain from training was nothing when compared to that of a long race at race speed. As I improved I believed that at some point I would be able to run very fast times without pain. That was a mistaken assumption. I found I did indeed get fast, but the pain increased. I could go faster and longer, enduring the pain, not without pain. The hard work enabled me to deal with the pain not do away with it. I learned, also, I had to be smart about what pain to endure and what pain to pay attention to because it could mean injury. Simple muscle pain or soreness or fatigue could be dealt with, but joint pain meant to stop right now. It took wisdom, learned from several injuries, to do it right.
The process of staying in the spiritual race means at each test or trial we stay in the race and do not give up. As we do that our faith and patience are built up and we are able to remain in the race because we do not grow weary and fall out. The ability to do this comes from God’s Grace. As we go through each trial or test our endurance is built up which enables us to become spiritually strong in the Lord. We are then able to endure more and more pain without stumbling. Just as a runner must learn to be smart about dealing with pain, the spiritual runner in the race set before them must know when to cry to the Lord for help when they see that they are becoming vulnerable and about to drop out of the race.
Look at the list below. I’m sure you recognize the eight steps to walk the Walk by Faith we came up with earlier.
Walking the Walk by Faith
- Fear God (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13)
- Come to Jesus (cf. Matthew 22:28)
- Take on the Yoke of Christ (cf. Matthew 22:29)
- Learn what Christ teaches (cf. Matthew 22:29)
- Present our bodies as living sacrifices by the mercies of God (cf. Romans 12:1)
- Keep the Lord’s commandments (cf. Ecclesiastes 12:13)
- Renew our minds and become transformed unto Christ-likeness (cf. Romans 12:2)
- Discern God’s Will and submit to it (cf. Romans 12:2)
These are the steps we discovered through some diligent Bible study as we attempted to discover how to walk the Walk by Faith. We discovered these were also the steps to Abide in Christ. Running the Race our Lord has set before us is enabled by Abiding in Christ. Running the race, Abiding in Christ and Walking the Walk by Faith are three different ways of looking at this process which matures the believer unto Christ-likeness. Why is that important? It is important because each of the three focus on different aspects of spiritual growth and what it takes to remain faithful unto completion.
We have looked closely at each of these aspects of Spiritual growth. We have looked closely at the role adversity plays in the process of becoming Christ-like. We have seen that no one can become instantly Christ-like. We are very immature, spiritually, at salvation. It takes a great deal of time and the diligent pursuit of God on our part and the Good Work of God in us to bring us to maturity.
We have spent a lot of time together looking at the process of becoming spiritually mature, always pointing to the end-result, Christ-likeness. What does Christ-likeness look like? Why is it such a big deal that we diligently pursue it? Do you remember the chapter “Metamorphosis”? In that chapter we saw the wonderful truth of becoming transformed by God as we allow Him to change us. What we are changed into is what the rest of this book is all about.
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. “(James 3:13-18)
I love fruit. I think I would rather have a good apple for dessert than a piece of cake or pie. Have you ever seen where the fruit we eat comes from? Trees in orchards are responsible for most of it. How do fruit growers get their fruit trees to produce the maximum amount of healthy fruit? The tree must be planted in good ground and be properly taken care of.
As we saw in the chapter, “Abiding in Christ”, believers are treated, by God the Father, as branches attached to the True Vine, Christ. As we Abide in Christ we will produce fruit. We will also be pruned by the Vine Dresser, God the Father, so we will produce more fruit.
We have looked at the process of becoming fruitful and how that happens. Now let’s look at the fruit produced by God in the life of a Spirit-led believer who is abiding in Christ, Walking the Walk by Faith and Running the Race.
There are two levels of spiritual fruit that God causes to be produced in the believer. The first level is called “The Fruit of the Spirit.” Think of this fruit as the building blocks for the second level of Spiritual Fruit. The second level is the fruits of salvation we looked at in the chapter “Abiding in Christ.” Let’s start by looking at the first level, God’s building blocks of believer fruitfulness.
The Fruit of the Spirit
This fruit is the outcome of that close intimate walk with God as He molds and makes us into the shape that He desires. As the believer submits to the Lordship of Christ, consistently, the Holy Spirit will produce the Fruit of the Spirit in the life of the believer. The indwelling Holy Spirit produces His fruit in all believers, but only the consistent walk of the Spirit-led does not quench it.
“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery,fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders,drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:16-26)
This Greek word for Love is “agape”. The Holy Spirit produces this part of the Fruit of the Spirit in the obedient believer. “Agape” love comes only from God and is only evident in the Spirit-led believer consistently. The Soul-led experience it inconsistently. This part of the Fruit of the Spirit is the basis for the other parts. “Agape” is the highest form of Love. As it becomes manifest in the life of a believer the spiritual fruits Love for God, Selfless Love and Humility are produced. As the Holy Spirit prompts the believer to allow God to Love someone through them Love is produced at the level of obedience by the believer. If the Holy Spirit is ignored or only partially obeyed, then Love is quenched.
The word translated “Joy” in the passage above means “exaltation” or “gladness of Heart”. Joy is our fulfillment. It is our strength. “And Nehemiah, who was the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God; do not mourn nor weep.” For all the people wept, when they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:9-10) When the believer submits to the Lordship of Christ as they handle adversity their strength to do so comes from God’s Grace and is the Joy of the Lord which is part of the Fruit of the Spirit. Focus on circumstances instead of Walking by Faith quenches Joy.
This word means “rest”. It implies it is brought about as a result of reliance on God’s promises resulting in the rest for out Souls. When we come near unto Jesus, learn from Him, take up and put on His Yoke He gives us rest and refreshment. This is the Peace that the Holy Spirit produces in us that brings assurance. The Spirit-led believer is not a worrier. In contrast, the Soul-led believer has little Peace. The Spirit-led believer meditates on God’s promises which bring Peace. The Soul-led believer worries and has no Peace. Worry quenches Peace.
This word is often translated as “Patience.” It refers to the ability to endure injuries inflicted by others and the willingness to accept irritating or painful situations. This is not natural. It is supernatural. Of course, only the Holy Spirit can bring this about in the life of the believer as they mature. Only the submitted Spirit-led believer can manifest this in their life consistently. This part of the Fruit of the Spirit is quenched by pride.
This is tender concern for others. It results in a desire to treat others gently. As the believer puts God first and everyone else ahead of self the Holy Spirit will enable him or her to be “gentle” and “kind” to everyone, even those who persecute them. Self-elevation or self-protection quenches kindness.
This is moral and spiritual excellence manifested in active kindness. However, it does not exclude sharpness when called for. When Jesus ran the money changers out the Temple he was displaying his “Active Goodness.” It does not spare rebuke that results in good either. The goal of Goodness is to line up with God’s Righteousness. Goodness is quenched by selfish, prideful behavior.
This word implies that the believer’s faith produces consistent Good Works. The closer the believer walks with God the more Faithful they will be as the Holy Spirit empowers them. Faithfulness is quenched by self-gratification.
This word is better translated as “meekness.” It is a humble and gentle attitude that is patiently submissive in every offense while having no desire for revenge or retribution. The “Meek” believer is submissive to God, teachable and considerate of others. Self-centeredness quenches Gentleness.
This is also translated as “Temperate.” It implies one who is living a life of restraint. Their passions and appetites are submitted to God. The Holy Spirit enables them to live consistently submitted lives. The Spirit-led life would not be consistent without this portion of the Fruit of the Spirit. Self-willfulness quenches Self-control.
The Apostle Paul warned the church at Thessalonica to not quench the Spirit. (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:19) Believers quench the Spirit by pursuing Hard-Hearted behavior. The Spirit-led believer is Tender-Hearted and listens to the prompting and leading of the Holy Spirit. The Soul-led vacillate between Hard-Heartedness and Tender-Heartedness. This causes an inconsistent walk and an inconsistent production of the Fruit of the Spirit. Without the building blocks of the Fruit of the Spirit being produced in the believer the second level of spiritual fruit will not be produced consistently either.
Listed below are the fruits of salvation we looked at in the chapter “Abiding in Christ”. These are the fruits which can only be produced in a believer who is truly saved. Each will be made up of the building blocks of the Fruit of the Spirit. We’ll look closely at each.
- Love for God
- Repentance from Sin
- Genuine Humility
- Devotion to God’s Glory
- Continual Prayer
- Selfless Love
- Separation from the World
- Spiritual Growth
- Obedient Living
Love for God
The reality of true salvation creates deep gratitude in the Heart of the believer. This love can never be faked or generated by the lost. As the believer matures, this love for God will grow as well. This growth will not decrease or become stale as long as the believer is Spirit-led. The fulfilling aspects of Fleshly love never last, but the deep love for God, which is growing in ever-increasing quality, never diminishes.
The believer’s love for God grows until it fills the entire being of the believer, “So he answered and said, “”You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and “your neighbor as yourself.”‘ (Luke 10:27) This sounds like a command; however, only the truly saved can experience this love.
New Testament Greek has three words which are translated “love”. However, they are all very different. The first word is “Eros” which is fleshly or sensual love. The second word is “philia” which is brotherly love or friendship. The third word is “Agape” which means benevolent love. “Agape” is the highest form of love. It is unselfish and giving. In Luke 10:27 the word translated love is “Agapao”. This word is based on “agape” and means “to apply agape”. This usage indicates a direction of the will and finding one’s joy in something. What this tells us is we are to love God by choice, with the intent to find joy in doing so. Another way to say this is the believer is to love God by delighting in Him, His presence and His ways. “I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart.”” (Psalm 40:8) As a believer matures they find “delighting” in God is the most important thing they do. In fact, all other fruits they produce are the result of living by constantly “delighting” in the Lord. When they do that they Love their Lord their God with all their Heart, with all their Soul, with all their strength, and with their entire mind. Loving their neighbor as themselves is a natural by-product of living this way. This Love for God by constantly delighting in Him is the fruit of salvation and spiritual growth which makes the rest of the fruit possible.
Repentance from Sin
The word “repent” means “to turn with regret”. In the context of “Repentance from Sin” it means to turn from sin and living my way towards God and living His way. True repentance is a Fruit of salvation and spiritual growth not simply feeling sorrowful. The Spirit-led believer walks in repentance. They are walking in Repentance with Joy. They are actively pursuing God constantly while in a state of prayer as they seek to stay in His presence. As they do that they take on that new way of life, turning from sin by completely forsaking it as they follow the Lord. The lost can not repent this way. Neither can the Soul-led, consistently. The lost can not do it because they don’t know the Lord and have not been regenerated or changed by the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Soul-led repents inconsistently because their focus is on themselves. They repent the world’s way, with sorrow. For a believer to maximize their production of the fruit of repentance they must become Spirit-led.
True repentance is not a “work” even though we are commanded to do so. It is just as much by the Grace of God as is the ability to be Spirit-led. Repentance is granted by God as a gift. It is not given as a gift to all, but to those who hear and respond in humility to the truth. The following verses give us the means of repentance and the miracle which accomplishes it. “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so they may know the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy: 2:24-26) The means of acquisition of the gift of repentance is by hearing the true word of God preached and taught or by reading it. As the believer hears the truth the Holy Spirit speaks to their Heart in such a way which draws them into an understanding of the need to repent. When the decision is made to humbly submit to the Lord’s will God grants them repentance. They will then “come to their senses” and turn back to God for fulfillment. Repentance is something we must all do, but it is done by the Grace of God as we humble ourselves and submit to His Lordship.
I am sure you have noticed, as we have looked at the first two fruits of salvation, they become manifest in a believer’s life by the Grace of God. Genuine Humility is no exception. In fact, all of the fruits of true salvation are the results of God working His miracle of regeneration which brings the believer to humbly walk before Him.
Humility is hard to grasp for anyone who operates exclusively by will power (the Soul-led). If you try to be humble you quickly find you are actually taking pride in your actions. True Humility is manifest in believers who are submitted to the Lordship of Christ, and no others. What does that look like? The best picture of True Humility I have seen is found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The verses we will look at next are often referred to as the “Beatitudes”. I agree with that one word definition except we must remember we can not take on any of these by will power. Each of these “Beatitudes” will become manifest as the believer chooses to humbly submit to the will of the Lord.
“And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:1-12)
The Greek word translated “blessed” means to be “fully satisfied.” In all usages in the New Testament this word is used to refer to the Joy that comes from salvation. Joy is not the result of favorable circumstances, but comes only by the Grace of God as the believer walks the Walk by Faith. In other words, this “blessedness” comes only when a believer is Spirit-led. As the Spirit-led believer constantly seeks to be in God’s presence their character will be altered by the Grace of God.
Genuine Humility – Poor in Spirit
The promise to the believer who is “Poor in Spirit” is “theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” What does this mean? The word translated “Poor in Spirit” indicates a “helpless” person. The realization of spiritual helplessness is the first step towards “blessedness.” Doesn’t this sound a lot like our study of the “Yoke of Christ?” We learned Jesus’ call to all who were “Weary and Heavy Laden” was to those who were spiritually worn out by being religious in their own strength. The solution was to “Come near unto Jesus, take up His Yoke and learn from Him as He brought rest and refreshment to the Soul. “ The one who responds to this call is the same one who realizes their spiritual helplessness and responds to Jesus’ call to take up His Yoke. The rest and refreshment to the Soul which comes from submission to the Lordship of Christ makes the believer blessed. The promise to the one who has humbled themselves by coming to God “poor in spirit” is “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Blessedness, Joy, comes only to the truly saved. The truly saved must have come to Christ “poor in spirit”. After salvation, they are only “blessed” or made Joyful as they remain “poor in spirit”. The Spirit-led believer can attain the presence of God only by remaining humble.
Genuine Humility – Those who Mourn
The promise to the believer who “mourns” is “they will be comforted.” As the believer comes near unto Jesus to take on His Yoke and submit to His Lordship he or she learns from Him and receives rest and refreshment for their Soul. The humble believer who has submitted to the Lordship of Christ mourns deeply over their sin and the sins of others because they know how deeply it offends and hurts God. Their deep love for God and their lifestyle of walking in Repentance come out of their Genuine Humility.
Genuine Humility – The Meek
Next in this “Beatitude” progression is “the meek.” The promise to “the meek” is “they will inherit the earth.” In our study of the “Yoke of Christ” we saw where Jesus described Himself as “gentle” and “lowly of Heart.” The word “gentle” is also translated as “meek” as well as “humble.” The meek are not craven or weak. They are powerful in the Lord, yet Humble in character. The meek seek God’s will in all things. They put everyone else ahead of self. The one truly saved who is living the Spirit-led life will be meek. If not they leave the Lord’s presence and become Soul-led. To repent of that and return to the Walk by Faith they must humbly turn back to the Lord. Those who have humbled themselves and submitted to the Lordship of Christ will “inherit the earth.” Jesus was actually quoting from Psalm 37 which is a promise to the Righteous the evil will be judged. As the evil are judged the Righteous will receive their rewards.
Genuine Humility – Those who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
The next “Beatitude” is “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Their promise is “they will be filled.” In Jesus’ call to all to come near unto Him to take up His Yoke He promises to teach them. He will teach them how to walk blameless before Him by submitting to His Lordship. Those who humble themselves in submitting to His Lordship do so because they deeply desire to take on His righteousness. They drink and eat up the truth as a person who has been lost in the desert who comes upon a cache of water and food. They learn from Christ and consume the Truth He teaches because they understand in Him alone is found the words of life. The Spirit-led believer loves God with their entire being and can not get enough of His presence. Yes they are filled and are Joyful, but they know in Him is found the strength and ability to endure the tests and trials of life so they abide in Him as a way of life.
Genuine Humility – The Merciful
The promise to the merciful is “they shall obtain mercy.” The word translated “merciful” implies one who cares for those who are in misery. They take the heartache of others and make it their own. The humble believer has submitted to Christ’s Lordship and is walking the Spirit-led life. They are “tuned-in” to the will of God. They are listening to Him. Believers are commanded to gather for fellowship and worship. Why? Worship is important. When we attend church we listen to the Truth from the pulpit and worship the Lord through praise songs. But the other part of that is the fellowship. I teach a class of young couples. I have always seen myself as a pure teacher. I wanted only to teach the word of God. However, as I have learned to walk the Walk by Faith things have changed. Now when I teach on Sunday mornings it is obvious there is a great deal of heartache in the body of Christ (the Church). My class is no exception. There are some Sundays when I don’t get very far through my lesson because of ministry needs. Their hurts hurt me too. I have seen the empathetic ministry through all of my class members as they reach out and comfort those who are hurting. I always feel inadequate during this, but our Lord is not. He desires us to humbly show mercy to the hurting by His Grace. Our church body has ministered to my wife and me many times as well.
Genuine Humility – The Pure in Heart
The next “Beatitude” is “the pure in heart.” The promise to them is “they shall see God.” Humble submission the Lordship of Christ changes us. Abiding in Christ matures us as God produces godly fruit in us. Running the Race set before us strengthens us. Walking the Walk by Faith completes us. As we become more and more Spirit-led, we become more and more pure. Purity speaks of the lack of defilement. The pure are acceptable sacrifices to God, the defiled sacrifices are not. To present our bodies as living and holy sacrifices, acceptable to God they must be pure. The following scripture is a pillar of the Spirit-led walk. “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (1 John 3:1-3) This scripture tells us those who are in Christ should pursue godliness by living pure lives. The process to do that is the Spirit-led Walk by Faith. The pure in Heart will see God by Faith because God’s character is manifest in the humble servants who live submitted to His Lordship. The humble Spirit-led believer will become Christ-like and all will see God’s very character being developed in them more and more each day.
Genuine Humility – The Peacemakers
The promise to the peacemakers is “they will be called the children of God.” The believer who has experienced God’s Peace and has been changed by God’s Grace into a truly humble servant who is walking the Walk by Faith can not be anything but a peacemaker. The truly humble believer is not only at peace with God, but with all mankind. They abhor evil just like God does, but they love the sinner. They hate the sin, not the slave to sin. Their Christ-likeness is a light shining into the darkness and all those who God draws to Himself will see that light. The peacemaking done by the truly humble Spirit-led believer is not the ending of feuds or conflicts between people, but the bringing of God’s Peace to others. “Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:18)
Genuine Humility – The Persecuted for Righteousness Sake
The promise to the one persecuted is “theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” God’s ways are not the World’s ways. The World has no problem with religious people who are religious in some corner who mind their own business. However, when a believer becomes Spirit-led and moves into humble total submission to the Lordship of Christ; God’s light will shine from them into the darkness of the World. When that happens the World doesn’t like it. Jesus was persecuted for Righteousness sake, “That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:9-11) Jesus taught His disciples they too would be persecuted, “Remember the word that I said to you, “A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:20) When a believer is persecuted because of Righteousness it brings the greatest Joy. Shortly after Jesus ascended into Heaven and the Holy Spirit had come with great power on the Day of Pentecost, Peter and John were arrested by the Jewish leaders because of their constant preaching in the name of Jesus. As a result of their refusal to stop preaching they were beaten with rods. “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” (Acts 5:41) To the Soul-led this makes little sense. To the one who is walking the Walk by Faith in all humility, totally submitted to the Lordship of Christ, it may not be fun, but it makes perfect sense because they know it’s not about them. They know it’s all about God and His Glory.
Devotion to God’s Glory
The Spirit-led believer Loves God so much they are totally devoted to delighting in His presence. As a result they walk in Repentance with Joy as God grants them Repentance from sin. This loving and repentant walk results in the believer being genuinely humble. They are becoming Christ-like in every aspect. The Christ-like believer seeks God’s glory just as Jesus does. They have learned they are God’s to do with as He pleases, all for His Glory. They fully accept and rejoice as God is glorified in their debasement and shame while being persecuted for Righteousness sake. When they do their good works they do them for God’s glory, not theirs. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) When the fruits of salvation become manifest in a believer’s life God is glorified, “By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.” (John 15:8) God is glorified when we gather together in corporate worship and prayer, “that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:8) When a believer submits to the Lordship of Christ it glorifies God, “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your bodyand in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:20) Only the Spirit-led believer is capable of this level of devotion to God. The Soul-led will flee persecution. The Spirit-led will submit to the will of God, no matter what. The Soul-led will be inconsistent in their good works, their fruit bearing and their worship and prayer. The Spirit-led believer sees all of their works, fruit bearing, worship and prayer as “in His Hands and all for His Glory.”
The Heart of man is desperate for fulfillment and will seek it from any source it can find it. To become Spirit-led a believer must bring their Heart under the control of their Spirit. Good spiritual habits must be developed to replace the bad spiritual habits which seek fulfillment from the flesh and the World. We looked at this process in the chapter “Repentance God’s way vs. Repentance the World’s way.” This process is impossible if the first four fruits are not becoming manifest in the believer’s life. Continual Prayer is the diligent seeking of the presence of God by walking in Repentance with Joy. Without praying continually it can not be done. The following passage shows us our part in producing the Fruit of Salvation. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) When a believer becomes Spirit-led their lifeline is Continual Prayer. Without it they will revert very quickly to Soul-led behavior. The only way to deny self and become Spirit-led is to get into and stay in the presence of God.
Spirit-led believers will Love God with their entire being. They will love others, especially other believers, with that same love. Of course this is “agape” love. “Agape” is the highest form of love. It is completely selfless. This love has no ulterior motives. It seeks the best for the one loved, not what the one loved wants. Selfless Love is not natural. It is supernatural. When believers gather together and there is conflict then something is seriously wrong. One or both parties in the conflict is being Soul-led. When Spirit-led believers are together this should never happen. Why? The Spirit-led is humble and does not seek his or her own. They seek God’s Glory alone and the edification of all those around them. This Christ-likeness is brought about only by God producing this fruit in the life of the believer. A very good picture of “Selfless Love” is found in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthian Church. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13) If a believer is Spirit-led their life will be marked with Selfless Love. If not, then they are Soul-led. Only those who walk the Walk by Faith (the Spirit-led) will have this fruit manifest in their lives. The Soul-led will be able to do this only inconsistently. For the Spirit-led it will be a consistent marker in their life.
Separation from the World
God loves the World, but not the World system. He loves all of the descendants of Adam and wants all to come to salvation. However, the believer is commanded over and over in scripture to not fall in love with the World system because it is the antithesis of God’s ways. They are mutually exclusive. “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4) Why can’t a Spirit-led believer be friends with the World? If a believer is friends with the World they are taking on the World’s values. They are compromising. Believers must separate from the World if they are to grow into Spirit-led believers. As God transforms a believer from Soul-led to Spirit-led the first things that change are those compromises. They must be replaced with focus on God and His ways. God does this by pruning and shaping the Heart of the Believer to His standards and according to His will. Just as Selfless Love is a marker for the Spirit-led, Love of the World is a marker for the Soul-led. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life–is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17) The Spirit-led believer abides in Christ. Abiding in Christ can only be done through Separation from the World. In the chapter “Vanity of Vanities, All is Vanity” we looked closely at the futility of compromise and conformity to the World and its ways. It’s totally unfulfilling and is sin for the believer to pursue it. The only true fulfillment is found in Christ, abiding in Him as we separate from the World. We are to be conformed to Christ as we become Spirit-led believers totally submitted to the Lordship of Christ.
The Spirit-led believer is in a constant state of Spiritual Growth. As they stumble and move into Soul-led mode this growth stops. Why? As a believer submits to the Lordship of Christ and abides in Him, Runs the Race set before them and walks the Walk by Faith he or she submits to God’s pruning which brings maturity and eventual Christ-likeness. They are transformed by the renewing of their minds as they submit their bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord. The Soul-led do this only inconsistently. The Spirit-led submit to God’s shaping and transforming. It is painful. It is suffering. But, only by submitting to God’s refining fire can a believer mature. In Jesus’ parable of the sower He reveals only believers who produce godly fruit (the ones who grow spiritually) are those who hear the truth, submit to it and bear pruning with patience, “But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15) We looked very closely at this process in the chapter “Abiding in Christ.”
The Soul-led believer produces little spiritual fruit because they are actually living Hard-Hearted lives which are mired in unbelief. The Soul-led believer wants their way in all things. They seek fulfillment in the World through their Flesh. This is another marker of the Soul-led life. The result is a life which is inconsistently obedient to the Lord. They are not completely submitted to the Lordship of Christ. The Spirit-led believer seeks God’s will in all things and is obedient because they are submitted to the Lordship of Christ. “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (1 John 2:3-6)
The Soul-led believer will be constantly in doubt about their salvation because of their inconsistent obedience to God’s will. The Spirit-led will be immersed in assurance as they walk in complete obedience. Service and Works which glorify God come from this Obedient Living.
We are called to become fruitful. We don’t produce any of the Spiritual Fruit or the Fruit of the Spirit. We are simply branches abiding in the True Vine, Christ. We are called to Abide and bear fruit as the Father prunes us. Interestingly, we bear more fruit as we abide and it is the Fruit of the Spirit which enables us to do it. The Fruit of the Spirit increases as well as we abide.
The bearing of Fruit is what we are called to do. The only way we can do it is to Abide in Christ. This means learning to Walk in the Spirit and become Spirit-led. As we mature this process will only increase. The end result is Christ-likeness.
“For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight– if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.” (Colossians 1:19-23)
Until I learned to walk in the Spirit I was very concerned about being presented holy and blameless to the Father by Jesus. I certainly didn’t think I was blameless or holy. My walk was inconsistent and no matter how hard I tried to be consistent I failed. Then the Lord answered my prayers and drew me into a closer walk with Him day-by-day, hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute. As the Holy Spirit revealed all of those areas of my life which were not of God I surrendered. He drew me to replace those godless things with Him. At some point I submitted to the Lordship of Christ in complete surrender. That was when everything changed.
No matter how godly a believer becomes it must be remembered he or she was not always that way. All believers start out as baby Christians.
I would like to present an analogy to you. This analogy, I hope, will reveal to you the wonderful truths and spiritual realities of becoming a Christ-like believer.
Last summer Ina and I took a vacation trip to Washington D.C. While there, we toured most of the Smithsonian Institute Museums. One of the exhibits which fascinated us was the Hope Diamond. It was displayed in a large, well-lit glass case. The diamond was huge. It was beautiful. It had several planes with facets cut into them. Because of the beautiful cut it appeared to burn with an internal fire. The light that was shining through it was reflected and refracted off the various facets into that blaze of light and color.
When gems are dug from the earth they are not the beautiful cut and polished stones like the Hope Diamond. They are minerals or rocks that were produced deep in the earth under tremendous pressure over great periods of time. When they come out of the mines they are rough and irregularly shaped.
Think of the new believer as that rough and irregularly shaped gemstone. The first step in becoming Christ-like is salvation. The new believer was saved out of the World. The gemstone is dug from the Earth.
For the gemstone to become a valuable gem it must be changed. For the new believer to become a mature believer he or she must be transformed. The gemstone is studied by expert cutters and polishers who know where to cut and polish to maximize the value of the finished product. The new believer is known intimately by God. He knows what shape He wants the believer to become. He knows exactly what transformation processes it will take to shape the believer into one who glorifies Him.
The gemstone goes through cutting and polishing. Much of the gem material is cut away so the correct shape will come forth. The polishing or grinding creates the many facets in the gem. The new believer has many bad spiritual habits and does not know how to walk the Walk by Faith. They have no idea that self-gratification is sin. They will participate in many things that are fleshly pursuits which are simply attempts to attain fulfillment through fleshly pursuits. They don’t know how to consistently get fulfillment from the presence of God. God takes the new believer through the cutting and polishing process to begin shaping them into a mature believer. Just as cutting and polishing seems to be hurting the gemstone, God’s pruning through adversity hurts and can seem to be destroying the believer. However, the goal is to prune away the distractions and godless behavior from their lives. As the believer submits to each test or trial they are abiding in Christ. Their faith is being built up. God is granting them Repentance. God is shaping them according to His will.
As the gemstone is becoming a valuable gem it takes on the qualities of the finished product through each cutting and polishing cycle. The believer who abides in Christ eventually learns to be a Spirit-led believer. They learn to seek God’s presence as much as possible. They are taking on the qualities of the mature believer. Their Humility has become real and evident. They have entered the race set before them. They are walking the Walk by Faith.
The maturing process is continuous for these Spirit-led believers. These believers diligently remain submitted to Christ, no matter what their circumstances are like. These believers are being transformed by the renewing of their minds as they obediently submit to the Yoke of Christ. They are learning to live by completely submitting to the Lordship of Christ. Their bodies are constantly being presented as living sacrifices to their Lord. They are constantly refocusing on Christ and His will. At each cycle of this process they not only remain in the race, but draw closer to Jesus. All of this is done by the Grace of God. Each time through this process polishes each facet and smoothes the rough edges a little more. They are taking on their God-planned shape.
As the end of the race nears this gem is no longer rough. Its edges are smooth and the facets are polished to brilliance. It has become the beautiful and priceless gem which is the Christ-like, Mature Christian. Their shape is exactly what God planned for them. Their lives glorify Him in every part. The one who has done the polishing and smoothing, Our Lord, can see His image reflecting in each facet. He is preparing to present this perfectly shaped believer, holy and blameless, to the Father.
God’s plan for each believer is unique. My planned shape will be different from yours. The race that God has set before me will not necessarily be the race He has set before you. You may experience extremely severe trials, while others don’t. Even after total surrender you may still remain in the cutting and polishing phase. Why? God is Sovereign. He is shaping us according to His will. We don’t pick our shape, He does. The cutting and shaping is painful and could not be tolerated without His Grace. To Abide in Christ through the pruning we must rely totally on His Grace. We must remain in the race, no matter how hard it becomes, by keeping our eyes fixed on our Lord. To walk the Walk by Faith we must allow Him to build up our Faith.
Abiding in Christ matures us as God produces godly fruit in us. Running the Race set before us strengthens us. Walking the Walk by Faith completes us. Of course, all three are different ways of looking at the same thing. To become the priceless, perfectly shaped gem that our Lord will present to God the Father we must start by submitting to the Lordship of Christ. After salvation that is the next big step for the believer.
Abiding in Christ gives us the view into the sanctification process that shows us that we must remain in Christ no matter how hard it becomes and bear the spiritual fruit that He produces in us. This will mature us and build up our Faith.
Running the Race give us a picture of staying in the process of sanctification through the diligent pursuit of God. We are strengthened through obediently staying on course set before us by fixing our eyes on Christ. Running the Race gives us our endurance.
Walking the Walk by Faith completes us. We are Abiding in Christ and obediently staying on course in the race set before us. As we do that we must be in the world but not be part of it. Walking the Walk by Faith means we are walking in total submission to His Lordship, going through tests and trials, while the world sees the light from Christ shining through us into the darkness. Walking the Walk by Faith includes serving obediently wherever and however the Lord wants.
Think of all of the fruit that the Lord produces in you to bear for Him and His glory. Now think of each of them as facets in the gem, which is you. Think of Abiding in Christ, Running the Race and Walking the Walk by Faith as three planes in the gem. The facets are ground and polished into those planes. Looking at the gem from every angle shows a different aspect of the priceless gem. As Jesus shapes the gem, you, into the desired shape, polished to brilliance it’s time to bring it home to present it to the Father.
“For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:19-21)
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.” (Psalm 116:15)
I have been struggling with all aspects of this chapter even before I began writing this book. I could not decide how to title it. I leaned toward “Completion” for awhile. I didn’t want the chapter to be all about death either. The rest of the book is all about the believer being transformed from the Soul-led walk to the Spirit-led walk. We saw where this is accomplished by submission to the Lordship of Christ in total surrender. However, how do we complete the Walk by Faith?
I wanted this chapter to be all about victory. I prayed for a good while about how to organize and bring this book to completion. The Lord led me to simply write the chapters in the order that you see them. When it came time to write the chapter that pulled everything together I would know because He would reveal that to me.
The Spirit-led believer’s spiritual growth is dependant upon their submission to the Lordship of Christ. Abiding in Christ not only makes believers fruitful, but also increases their spiritual maturity. Those abiding in Christ are also running in the race set before them by God. This race builds spiritual endurance as it is the constant pursuit of the presence of God no matter the obstacles and hard work. Walking the Walk by Faith completes the believer. This walk is abiding in Christ, running the race, enduring tests and trials while being in the world, but not being part of it. The believer walking the Walk by Faith is the city on a hill and the light on a lampstand shining before men.
Over time the Spirit-led believer will take on the spiritual shape that Christ desires. Refinement, pruning, cutting, grinding and shaping has removed all aspects of the believer that are not of God. All that is left is what glorifies Him. Humility marks this believer as Christ-like. This believer has learned to love God’s shaping in their life. He or she sees God’s ways as perfect. Those who mature to this point delight in God’s presence as their major pastime.
However, Jesus has completed His work of shaping this believer. It is time to take the priceless, perfectly shaped gem which is the Mature Christian and present him or her to His Father, blameless and holy.
As Mature Christians become complete they will be like Paul (cf. Philippians 1:21) who said, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Death will be seen as gain. How is that possible? They are living by walking the Walk by Faith. Their faith is strong and unshakable. They understand that this life is simply preparation for another life that is far greater than anything possible in this fallen world. However, they also accept God’s will for their life in total submission. If God wants them to remain for a season then so be it, but if not they are ready to meet their savior face-to-face. “For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” (Romans 14:7-8)
As a long distance runner I finished first overall only once. I did finish first in my age group a few times in other races. The race I won wasn’t really a race like those others. It was a contest to see how many laps we could run around a track in an hour. They had people counting our laps. One reason this event sticks in my mind so vividly is that I didn’t know I was going to run it until just an hour or so before it started. In fact, I got up early that morning and ran a five mile training run. That evening I lined up with everyone and took off around that track when they fired the gun. By the fourth lap I had lapped everyone. I did fine until my lap count got close to thirty. Fatigue really set in. My feet began to hurt and I became dehydrated because they weren’t’ giving us any water. The last several laps were run by pure determination. I ended up with thirty-six laps that night. The next closest runner finished thirty-two laps. That day I ran a total of fourteen miles. As I ran across that finish line I was so tired and in so much pain I didn’t feel much like raising my arms in victory, but I did.
Ina told me later that evening that I appeared to be in “another world” as I ran. She said that at the end of each lap my face looked more and more “spaced out.” I was concentrating so hard on my goal that I don’t remember very much else except my determination to finish. The pain was there, but it was overcome and dealt with by my drive to finish.
Running the race that God has set before us is one of the most important things believers will do after salvation. Those who faithfully run the race will be the best spouses, the best workers, the best parents, the best citizens, but most importantly they will be God’s humble servants. They will live their lives with their focus on Christ and the goal of completing the race for His glory. The agony of the race, the pruning by the Father, the cutting, grinding and polishing by our Lord are painful and take God’s Grace to endure. The runner in the race relies on God’s strength and the Fruit of the Spirit to make it to the end.
When distractions happen, and they will, the runners stumble. It is vital for the runner in the race to seek God for Repentance with Joy as soon as possible. As God Grants Repentance the runner gets back in the race. The goal is not to run in the race. The goal is to run in the race to completion. If distractions cause the runner to drop out of the race it will be very difficult to get back into it. All of the sin that has resulted from dropping out will have to be dealt with. True Repentance, granted by God must be sought. Obedience will have to come out of Repentance before the runner can reenter the race. As they begin to run again the race set before them they must run with their eyes fixed on Christ so the distractions can be dealt with quickly.
Abiding in Christ, Running the Race and Walking the Walk by Faith are accomplished by the Spirit-led believer diligently seeking God’s presence full time. This is keeping our eyes fixed on Christ as we walk the Walk by Faith in this life.
As the runner in the race nears completion distractions, tests and trials do not cease. The refining never stops until the race is over. Christ-likeness is God’s goal for each of us. Only the Spirit-led believer is living the life that is consistently in pursuit of this goal. The Soul-led believer pursues the goal inconsistently. Distractions, tests and trials are meant to refine the believer, but the Soul-led do not know that they are to submit. They must be discipled so that they will learn the sweet pain of God’s pruning.
All die. The lost and saved both die. There are three outcomes. The lost die and will be judged by God at the final Judgment. The saved die as well, but they will not be judged the same way. At death they will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ. “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.” (2 Corinthians 5:1-11) The believer’s works will be judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Those who have run the race set before them to completion will be congratulated by Christ and will be given responsibilities and authority in Heaven. Those who have not run the race or who fell out will not.
You may be thinking that abiding in Christ, Running the Race set before you and Walking the Walk by Faith sounds like a lot of pain. You may not be too thrilled with taking up the Yoke of Christ either. All this talk about submitting to the Lordship of Christ may “turn you off.” If that is you then your focus is on you and your life. If you hear the truth regularly, but never seem to mature and change then you are not Spirit-led, you are either Soul-led or you are lost.
I pray that you will hear the truth and listen to the Holy Spirit draw you into the Walk by Faith. To grow in Christ we must submit to His Lordship. Spiritual growth starts there. As we submit and live by walking the Walk by Faith we become Spirit-led. We are walking in the Spirit. We are walking by Faith not by sight. When we do that we get into the race and start Abiding in Christ. Tests and trials come as God prunes us. His call to us is to submit to and endure the refining by His Grace. As we do that we become fruitful and spiritually mature.
This process continues as long as we stay in the race. If we endure to completion we will raise our arms in victory as we break the tape at the finish line. At that moment our savior will take us as His perfectly shaped, priceless gem that is blameless and holy to present to His Father. As we are being taken to the Father, our Lord will tell us, “Well done, good and faithful servant, you were faithful in a few things…, enter into the Joy of your Lord” (cf. Matthew 25:21)
On the other hand, many will not learn to endure in the race. Many never get in the race. At the end of this life they will enter eternity incomplete. They are spiritually bankrupt. They will stand before their Lord miserable, wretched, poor, blind and naked. (cf. Revelation 3:14-22)
Dear Heavenly Father, You are Sovereign. Those in Christ are Yours to do with as You please. Oh Lord, I pray all those reading these words will be drawn by You into living the Spirit-led Walk by Faith. I pray You will reveal to them the worthlessness of everything that is not of You. I pray You will change them into your Humble Servants as they present their bodies to You as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable. I pray you will transform them from Soul-led to Spirit-led believers as they renovate their minds by saturating their lives with Jesus. I pray they will get into and run the race You have set before them. I pray they will run that race with their spiritual eyes fixed on Christ. I pray they will not despair and flee from your pruning and refining. I pray they will submit, by Your Grace, to the cutting, grinding and polishing you will do in their lives to perfect and complete them. I pray they will see submission to the Lordship of Christ as sweet service. I pray Lord they will all run the race to completion and break the tape as they step from this life into eternity with You. All for Your Glory Lord, Amen.