Day Two:  Transformed Completely by the Will of God

Day Two: Transformed Completely by the Will of God

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Zero to Hero on a Dusty Road

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God,
Ephesians 1:1a

As we embark on this adventure in prayer and the study of the book of Ephesians, let’s begin by looking at the person God chose to write this letter and evangelize the known world at that time.  His name is Paul, formerly Saul— whom the Lord designated as an apostle of His Son, Jesus Christ.

There is much to learn about this simple change of names and, more importantly, the change of identity that accompanies the new name.  And the transformation we see in Paul is the same transformation that occurred in you— if you know Christ and have experienced true regeneration and salvation.  But more on that later.

In the opening few words of his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul identifies himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God” (Eph. 1:1a).  Note that this transformation was by the will of God and not based on the strength of Paul’s personality, his own merit or hard work, nor his ambition, education, family background, or career choice.  It was by God and God alone— because only God has the power to transform lives and use individuals for His divine purposes like He did Paul and countless others throughout church history.  Paul’s life is a living testament to this.  Once he was Saul, a violent persecutor of the early church and an enemy of Christ.  Then, in a blinding light, he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.  And now, everything changed (read it for yourself in Acts 9:1-19).  As Mary Magdelene from the series The Chosen said when she was trying to explain her transformation to Nicodemus:

“I was one way— and now I am completely different, And the thing that happened in between was Him.”

This is what happened to Paul, and to each of us who Christ has changed.


From Saul to Paul or From Darkness to Light

Saul was a zealous Pharisee who dedicated his life to upholding Jewish law and tradition.  It was his passion, and therefore, he saw the early Christians as a threat to his beliefs and actively sought to silence them through persecution, imprisonment, and, ultimately, death.  However, God had other plans for Saul.  In a blinding moment of revelation and truth, all orchestrated by God and when Saul least expected it (which is often how the Lord works), Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus and confronted him with the truth he had so vehemently rejected (Acts 9:1-9).  This encounter marked the beginning of Saul’s transformation into Paul, who became one of the most influential Christians and an example to all.  He became a missionary, evangelist, church planter, apologist, and the writer of most of the New Testament.

But what happened to Paul was not an isolated event.  God is still in the business of changing lives, even yours— if you would surrender your life to Him.  But once again, we’ll talk more about that later.


What Does it Mean For Us Today?

Paul’s story is a reminder that no one, including you and me, is beyond the reach of God and His wondrous grace.  Just as God changed a violent persecutor of the church into a committed proclaimer of the Gospel, He can also transform our lives, no matter how messed up we have made them, and use us for His glory.  All throughout history, we see examples of ordinary people, like you and me, who experienced the extraordinary, life-changing touch of God:

   Augustine of Hippo was once driven by worldly ambitions and desires (he was actually a pretty nasty dude), and became the most influential theologian during the early history of the church and penned such classics as “The City of God” and “Confessions.”

   There was John Bunyan, once a profane and blasphemous man, who became a preacher and the author of the Christian classic “The Pilgrim’s Progress” after he encountered Christ.

   Then consider John Newton, a former slave trader who encountered God’s grace and became a minister, abolitionist, and the author of the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace.”

   Mary Magdalene was a woman once possessed by seven demons (Mark 16:9), who became a devoted follower of Christ and the first witness to His resurrection after she encountered Jesus and He freed her from her bondage.

   And don’t forget Chuck Colson, a former political operative involved in the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration, who found redemption in Christ while in prison and founded Prison Fellowship, a ministry dedicated to transforming lives behind bars.

   One of my favorites, Corrie ten Boom, was a humble Dutch watchmaker who the Nazis imprisoned for helping Jews escape to freedom. After the war, and after experiencing the horrors of life in a concentration camp, she traveled the world sharing her story of forgiveness and God’s unending love, touching countless lives (including mine).

   And finally, there is you. That’s right, you (put your name here ______________ ).  You were once one way before Christ came into your life and now, by His grace and the redeeming power of the Spirit, you are someone new.

And your life is just as valuable to God as those we have listed above.  All you need to do is place your new life in His hands like those heroes who have gone before us have done.  The rest, as they say, is up to Him.


Our God is the God of Second and Third (and More) Chances

These stories, along with countless others, demonstrate that God’s transformative power knows no boundaries.  He can take our broken pasts, our failures, our weaknesses, and what we are most ashamed of, and shape them into something beautiful for His kingdom.  In fact, He can do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20).  All He is waiting on is for us to ask.  So do that today.

If you find yourself feeling unworthy or too far gone and beyond the reach of God’s love and grace, remember the story of Paul.  No matter your background or the mistakes you’ve made (or are still making), God sees you through the lens of His unconditional love.  He has a plan and purpose for your life, always has, and He desires to transform you from the inside out and conform you to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29).

Remember the encouraging words from Paul:

Therefore, if anyone (put your name here) is in Christ, he (and here) is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new – 2 Corinthians 5:17.

This is His goal for you.  It always has been— and always will be.


Self-Examination and Prayer

As we reflect on God’s transformative power, let’s examine our own lives.  Think, are there areas where we need to surrender to God’s will and allow Him to work in us?  Are we open to the changes He wants to make in our hearts and minds?  Take a moment to pray and invite God to reveal His purpose for your life.  Ask Him to guide you and grant you the courage to follow His lead (and to let you know His perfect will for you), even when it means stepping out of your comfort zone and doing what may seem frightening or impossible.  This is how faith grows (see Hebrews 11).


So Let’s Pray

Be sure to make your prayer personal, just between you and your Father.

Dear Father,
I come to You today, thanking You for transforming Saul into Paul and me into the image of Your Son, just like You promised.  I cannot thank You enough for Your grace, mercy, and unconditional love.  Thank You for Paul’s example, who reminds me that no one is beyond the reach of Your grace including, and especially, me.  I pray You will continue to work in my life, molding me into the person You have called me to be.

Give me the courage to surrender my life to Your will, trusting that Your plans for me are good and perfect.  Help me to embrace the changes You want to make in my heart and mind, even when it means stepping out of my comfort zone.  And Lord, when I am tempted to return to my old habits and mindset and way of life, remind me of who I am in You.

I pray for those who may feel unworthy or think they are too far gone from Your love to ever return to You.  Remind them of Your unconditional grace and the transformative power of Your presence in their lives.  And use me, Lord, as an instrument of Your love and truth.  May my life be a testament to the work You have done in me, and may I be a light to those who are searching for hope and purpose.

I ask all these things in the precious name of Jesus.  Amen.

Leaving Laodicea | The Survival Manual for the Coming Underground Church

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Day One:  Praying Through the Book of Ephesians

Day One: Praying Through the Book of Ephesians

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Small Beginnings Lead to Great Endings

As we pray through the marvelous book of Ephesians, I want to give us an overview of some truths in this first chapter that will literally change your life.  The book of Ephesians is something you could spend your entire life studying, and still not discover all God has hidden in its pages.  It is magnificent, speaking to the very core of our being as believers in Christ, and it has an inexhaustible supply of spiritual truths and revelations that are so needed today.

As an overview, early in chapter one, we encounter a grand display of God’s sovereignty revealed by His choosing us, in Him, before the foundation of the world.  We see this in verses 3 through 6, where it says:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved – Ephesians 1:3-6.

Next, this amazing chapter ends with the proclamation of the power and might of our wonderful Lord where the Holy Spirit proclaims that God placed Jesus “far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1:21).  And as you will see later in this study, “principality and power and might and dominion” not only refers to earthly kings and kingdoms, but more specifically, demonic kingdoms (Eph. 3:10; Col. 2:10).  But we will unpack these amazing truths later.

And finally, the chapter is stuffed full of graduate-level discussions of the church, the body of Christ, and the power that rests with the church because of Christ.  In today’s turbulent times, I can’t think of anything more important than for the church to understand the power we have because of our risen Savior and Lord (Eph. 1:22-23; Matt. 16:18-19).  This is a topic we will spend some time trying to fully understand in order to be the salt and light we are commanded and empowered to be (Matt. 5:13-16).  But once again, we’ll have to wait a bit before we feast on this life-changing truth.

As you can see, there is so much for us to discover as we strive to grow into the likeness of Christ (Eph. 4:22-24).  And this is only the beginning.


Asking Important Questions

One skill I hope each of us will gain during our study is the ability to ask simple questions of the text and feel comfortable doing so.  These questions do not lead to doubt, but they allow us to dig a little deeper into what the text says and means, rather than settle for just scratching the surface.

You may recognize many of these questions from high school English, if you were paying attention, which I wasn’t (which means I had to learn this later in life, which is always harder.  Ahem).  They are what we call the who, what, when, where, why, how, and my favorite, to what extent types of questions. What we find when we ask questions of the text is that the macro (large, expansive) view becomes the micro (small, detailed, specific) view, and we are better able to grasp, understand, and internalize more of what the word of God is saying.  And we can do all of this without additional study and resources by just asking a few questions.

Let me give you an example of Ephesians 1:3-6, which are the verses we looked at earlier.  But now, let’s look at them and ask a few clarifying questions.

Blessed be (who) the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has (what) blessed (who) us with (what) every spiritual blessing (where) in the heavenly places (how) in Christ, just as (who) He (what) chose (who) us (how) in Him (when) before the foundation of the world, (why) that we should be (what) holy and without blame before (who) Him (how) in love, having (what) predestined (who) us to (what) adoption as sons (how) by Jesus Christ to (who) Himself, (why) according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He (what) made us accepted (by whom) in the Beloved – Ephesians 1:3-6.

Now read these few verses again, slowly, intentionally emphasizing the questions and the answers that naturally follow the questions.  Can you feel the impact of this passage more than you did when you simply read it to yourself?  Do you see how the Lord provides for us, in the text, the answers to the questions we ask?  And can you experience the conversation, your questions and His answers, by just reading His Word with new eyes?  I sure can.  And I hope you will learn to do so as well.


What it Says, What it Means

One final thought before we pray and close out this first day.  It is one thing to casually read a portion of the Scriptures, focusing on what you understand and skipping words or themes you are unfamiliar with.  But it is quite another thing to take your time and truly meditate on what the Lord is trying to say to each of us in His Word.  This process takes time, and obviously some work.  But the benefits are so incredible they make the added effort well worth the time.  (Note: take a moment and see what the Lord says about meditating on His Word versus simply reading it.  For once you do, you’ll never be satisfied with just reading it again.  But this is something you need to discover for yourself.  Don’t take my word for it).

For example, in the passage cited above, there are a few words and concepts that need better understanding before we can comprehend and fully appreciate what the Lord is saying to us as we pray through His Word.

Let me list just a few.

•   What are the blessings God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ have blessed us with?
•   What does the phrase, “every spiritual blessing” actually mean?
•   And where are the “heavenly places” where we receive these blessings?
•   What does the phrase “in Christ” mean?  We see it many times in the New Testament, but is there a deeper meaning to this phrase than we may know?
•   How did God choose us “in Him” before the “foundation of the world”?  What did He choose us for?  And on what basis did He choose us?
•   And it appears the phrase, “according to the good pleasure of His will” means “because He wanted to” or “because He felt like it.”  Is that true?  Or is there something I’m missing?

I hope you are as excited about this adventure through Ephesians as I am.  Together, we will mine the deep truths of this letter and turn it back to the Lord in prayer.  And who knows what God plans to do with each of us during this process?


So Let’s Pray

As we go to the Lord in prayer, we’re going to make each prayer personal, in first person.  That way, we can’t hide behind the “we ask You to forgive us of our sins” type of prayer.  But, “I ask You to forgive me of my sins.”  I hope you see the difference.

So make this prayer your own and pray from your heart.

Dear Lord,
Thank You so much for the freedom I have to read Your Word and talk with You in prayer.  And Lord, as I embark on this journey in prayer through Your book of Ephesians, will You help me grow closer to You and understand the amazing truths You are going to reveal to me in this study?  I literally can’t wait.

Please help me stay committed to this time with You and not let anything, especially the enemy and my flesh, keep me from this appointed time of prayer and study.  I humbly ask for Your guidance and wisdom in everything.

Would You open my heart and mind to receive the deep truths and revelations hidden within these pages?  And help me approach Your Word with a spirit of curiosity, freely asking questions and seeking to understand the full meaning of each verse.  And then, once You have revealed Your truth to me, please change me into the image of Your Son as I embrace the truth of Your Word.

I pray that as I meditate on Your Word (and Lord, please teach me how to do that), You will reveal to me the incredible blessings You have given me in Christ.  Help me comprehend the significance of being chosen by You before the foundation of the world and the power and authority that is available to me as a member of Christ’s body, the church.

Lord, You know my heart.  And You know my desire to grow into the likeness of Christ.  As I study this letter, please transform me from the inside out, renewing my mind and enabling me to walk in the fullness of my identity in Him.  Give me the strength to lay aside my old self and put on the new self, created to be like You in true righteousness and holiness.

Thank You for the opportunity to dive deep into Your Word and to commune with You through prayer.  I trust that as I faithfully seek You, You will guide me, teach me, and empower me to live a life worthy of the calling I have received.

In the mighty name of Jesus, I pray.  Amen.


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597:  Salvation and the Deception of Non-Saving Faith

597: Salvation and the Deception of Non-Saving Faith

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“Faith or No Faith, That is the Question”

All throughout Scripture, we see examples of people who have faith, but it’s non-saving faith.  After all, every one of us has some type of faith, and we exercise faith every day.  We have faith a car will stop while we cross the street, we have faith our prescriptions will do what our doctor told us they would do, we have faith a chair will hold us up when we sit down in a crowded restaurant, and we have faith the sun will come up in the morning as we prepare to go to the job we have faith we still have.  We all have faith— but we have faith at different levels and in different things.  And not all faith is the same.

For example, we have a certain type of faith in our government, our economic system, or the media.  But that faith is not as strong, nor of the same substance, as the faith we have in the sanctity of our marriage, or the trustworthiness of our best friend, or in our ability to keep a promise to those we love.  Each of these kinds of faith is as varied as the objects of that faith.  And none of these reach the level of faith or trust or dependence we would expect to have in Christ.  Hence, we would call these examples non-saving faith.

But what happens when a seeking person, just like you or me, comes to Jesus for salvation with nothing more than non-saving faith?  Would that person be saved?  Or would they be deceived into thinking what faith they had, bordering on intellectual curiosity, was sufficient for salvation?


The Deception of Non-Saving Faith

The Scriptures repeatedly warn about the deception of non-saving faith.  In the Parable of the Sower, seventy-five percent of the seeds sown did not lead to salvation (Matt. 13:3-9).  Those who sowed in the shallow and thorny soil were deceived into thinking that mere growth, without corresponding fruit, equates to salvation.  Or, to put it another way, faith, without corresponding fruit, leads to salvation.  And the Scriptures clearly state they don’t.

The Scriptures also talk about having a “form of godliness but denying its power.  And from such people turn away!” (2 Tim. 3:5).  We see people like Hymenaeus and Alexander, both lost, serving as prominent members of the church (1 Tim. 1:20).  There are those who come to the wedding feast dressed in clothes of their own righteousness.  The result?  They were bound, hand and foot, and “cast into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 22:13).  We have the warning from the Lord about the wide road that leads to destruction and the narrow gate that leads to life (Matt. 7:13-14).  And, in the book of Hebrews, some were “once enlightened and have tasted the heavenly gift” but never fully drank of the living waters of salvation (Heb. 6:4).

Remember, Jesus said He “did not come to bring peace on the earth, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34) and “a man’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matt. 10:36).  How?  Because our commitment to Christ must be greater than our love and devotion for those we hold most dear, even our own family. When asked, “Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?”— Jesus  said of His own family, “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:48-50).

The sad truth is many people come to Christ but never fully partake, or drink, of Him (John 7:37) and are deceived into believing they are truly saved.  Many people, most in fact, go part of the way towards Christ and end up short of true salvation.  They feel and recognize their need for Christ and acknowledge He is the only One that can satisfy their deepest longings, yet they fail to appropriate Him into their lives on His terms.  They thirst, they come— but they fail to drink.  They create their own gospel, their own way of salvation, and their own standards of righteousness, holiness, and sanctification.  Yet they are deceived— because a man-made Gospel does not lead to Christ.


Thirst, Come, and Drink

On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, approximately six months before Jesus was to celebrate His last Passover in Jerusalem and was later betrayed and crucified (John 13:1), He stood amid the crowd and gave the following invitation: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:37-38).  Jesus gives His gospel presentation to a group of people who have very different views about who He is.  And whenever Jesus presents us with Himself— He always forces us to choose.  We are forced to either accept Him on His terms or reject Him outright.  There’s no middle ground, no gray area, and it’s not open to personal interpretation.  It happened to the crowd at the Feast of Tabernacles and it happens today every time we proclaim the Gospel of Christ.

The questions are always the same:  Who is Jesus?  What is truth? (John 18:38).  Is Jesus who He says He is?  And, if He is, what does that mean for me?  Is it possible to have my sins forgiven?  How can I be reconciled with God?  Tell me, what must I do to be saved? (Acts 2:37).

In this passage, three key words describe the path to true salvation:  thirst, come, and drink.  And the promise, of course, to those who thirst, come and drink is eternal life with God and the filling of the Holy Spirit, the living water Jesus talked about (John 7:39).

Thirst – Those who thirst recognize a deep longing, an intense craving, an unsatisfied need in their life.  It’s those who come to grips with the reality that their life has no eternal purpose or meaning and they are “dead in their trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1).  They instinctively perceive there’s more to life than what they’re experiencing and, therefore, they try to fill the void they feel with all sorts of carnal sensations— sex, drugs, food, false religions and philosophies, immoral relationships, pride, selfishness, arrogance— until they finally admit only Jesus can bring light into their darkness.

Come – When the personal longings become unbearable, and the promise of redemption seems so alluring, captivating, and enticing, many come to Jesus for what He promises to offer.  These understand who Jesus claims to be, the exalted Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord— and they understand what He has done for them, redeeming them from the penalty and power of sin by dying for them on the cross.  What they know and understand about Jesus is true.  The problem, however, is what they do with that truth.

In other words, there’s more to salvation than simply coming to Jesus.  You can’t just come and receive Him on your terms as some sort of trade or barter transaction.  You must enter through the narrow gate (Matt. 7:13), on His terms, and His terms are not open to negotiation.  His terms are all or nothing, total commitment, His life for yours.  He doesn’t come to make us better or to enhance certain aspects of our lives.  No, He comes to put us to death and raise us to life again in His image, as His child, to do His will and not our own (Rom. 6:3; 1 Peter 3:18).  He is the Lord, the Sovereign One, God Almighty (Phil. 2:10-11), and we are now voluntary slaves, bondslaves, of His.  Remember the words from Romans 10:9: “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Note, it’s Jesus as Lord and nothing else.  You cannot come to Jesus as Savior only.  He is Savior, because He is Lord.

Most people never make it this far.  They never move past simply coming to Jesus, and they never progress to true salvation.  Most view Jesus as an enlightened master or great teacher or the supreme moral example for all mankind, but never as Lord.  They fail to take Him at His Word, or count the costs of salvation (Matt. 8:19-22), and give their lives to Him in abject submission and humility.  They want what He can do for them to make their life better, but they do not want Him as their Lord.  So they say a prayer and try to incorporate some behavior modification or moral changes into their life and maybe even experience a deceptive sense of salvation, like a sensation of peace or contentment, but they never yield or surrender their life to Him nor submit to His Lordship.  And, as sad as it may seem, they’re still lost.  Why?  Because their nature has not been changed (2 Cor. 5:17), redemption and regeneration have not taken place, and the Holy Spirit does not indwell them as their deposit, the guarantee of their future inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1:14).  And then Jesus will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matt. 7:23).

Drink – This is where true salvation takes place.  You have a thirst, and you come to Christ to quench and satisfy it.  Yet simply coming to where the Living Water flows does not, in itself, quench your thirst.  You must drink.  You must partake.  You must be engulfed, enveloped, saturated in Christ, the Living Water.  He must be everything to you if you are to receive anything from Him.  Salvation, being a joint heir with Christ (Rom. 8:17), requires more than reciting some prayer as a nine-year-old at VBS.  It’s a radical, unconditional, total and complete, without reservation and with reckless abandonment, pledge, vow, promise, commitment, and allegiance to Christ as Lord.  You are no longer your own to do what you wish with your life (1 Cor. 6:19).  You have been bought with a price, you now belong to Him, and you are to live to bring Him honor (1 Cor. 6:20).  You are now pilgrims and strangers on the earth (Heb. 11:13; 1 Pet. 2:11) because this world is not your home (Heb. 13:14).

This kind of all-or-nothing relationship marked the disciples, the early church, and every true believer from Pentecost until today.  And if you truly know Christ and are known by Him, it will mark your life as well.


Those Who Believed Jesus… Kinda

The Scriptures tell us when Jesus finished His invitation to the unbelieving crowd to come and drink of Him and those who would come and drink would receive, in themselves, the flowing rivers of eternal life in the person of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39), the crowd was divided.  Some believed His words, but only partially.  Some didn’t believe at all, and wanted to destroy Him (John 7:44).

Nothing much has changed.  As it was back then, so it is today.


“Truly, this is the Prophet”

John 7:40-41 states:  Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, “Truly this is the Prophet.”  Others said, “This is the Christ.”  Note, they said He was the Prophet, capitalized, and not just a prophet.  This first group asserted that Jesus was the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 18:15, in which Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren.  Him you shall hear.”  For centuries, this passage had been interpreted to prophetically speak of the coming Messiah, the Christ.  However, by the time of Jesus, the Jewish scholars, from their understanding of Malachi 3, believed the passage spoke more of the forerunner of the Messiah (Mal. 4:5-6), and not the Messiah Himself.  Now the Prophet was someone who would show men their need for a Redeemer, for Christ, and then faithfully point them to the only One who could satisfy their need.  But the Prophet was not the Messiah and could not, in himself, satisfy their thirst, need, or longing.  He could just point the way or be a path or channel, but He had no power or authority to grant salvation.

Unfortunately, many people still believe this about Jesus.

They believed Jesus came to point men towards the truth, but they would fervently deny He was the Truth (John 14:6).  They would declare Jesus came to point men to someone or something coming to satisfy all their needs, but He was not that Someone and did not possess the something they were looking for.  The men who said, “Truly this is the Prophet” (John 7:40), recognized and affirmed the special status Jesus had as a one-of-a-kind religious leader who did things and taught things unlike any religious figure before (John 7:46).  He was in a class all by Himself.  They would even go so far as to say Jesus was sent by God and had a special relationship with God (John 3:2).  But they would not receive Him as God or serve Him as Lord.  They wanted Jesus and something else, anything else.  These were those who thirsted and came, but never drank.


“This is the Christ”

The second group said, “This is the Christ” (John 7:41).  This group recognized and believed Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of Israel, the One prophesied from the Old Testament (Luke 2:11).  Yes, they knew these facts about Him to be true, but they defiantly refused, like the first group, to bend their knee to Him as Lord (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10).  They refused to commit their lives and future to Him as the Sovereign One.  The Scriptures do not indicate this group followed Jesus as Lord.  They simply said, “Yes, I believe He is the Son of God and, yes, I believe He is the Messiah and the Christ.  So what?  What does that mean to me?  Now, pass me the butter and biscuits.  I’m hungry.”

This group confessed Jesus as something, but not as Lord (Rom. 10:9).  They had non-saving faith in Jesus as the Christ.


“This is the Christ… uh, but…”

Then there’s the group that fully confessed Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (Matt. 16:16), but would rather argue and bicker and debate over trivial matters of their own theology and reject Jesus because, in their mind, He didn’t meet every jot or tittle they thought He should (Matt. 5:18).  These are the ones who argue, saying, “He can’t be the Christ because He came from Galilee and the Christ is supposed to come from Bethlehem.  Plus, the Scriptures teach the Messiah must come from the line of David, and I’m not sure where this guy comes from” (John 7:40-42).  So they compared what little they knew about Jesus with their own limited and incomplete knowledge of the prophetic Scriptures and concluded He could not possibly be the Messiah because He failed to meet all their sincerely held convictions of what the Messiah would be.  We have many in the church today who operate the same way.  They smugly elevate their own statement of beliefs or denominational creeds or preferences to the level of infallible Scripture and use them as a litmus test for fellowship or, sadly, salvation— and even truth.

But if this group had investigated further, they would’ve discovered Jesus was from the line of David (Matt. 22:42) and did come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and fulfilled all of the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah (John 5:39).  But they were more concerned with being right in the eyes of each other and promoting their own theological brand or position than in knowing the truth.  Because of their apathy and laziness, they failed to look for the truth because they arrogantly assumed they’d already found it.  And in their pride and hypocrisy, they missed their Messiah.

Again, just like the first two groups, they also missed out on eternal life.


Those Who Did Not Believe Jesus

The final group was those who hated the Lord Jesus and wanted to destroy Him.  These were the ones who wanted to take Him by force (John 7:44) but were prevented because, from God’s perspective, it was not yet His time and His hour had not come (John 7:30).  Needless to say, the people in this group did not understand Christ nor receive the gift of salvation He offered (John 7:37-39).


To What Group Do You Belong?

So where do you fit in?  What is your response to Christ?  Do you believe partially, somewhat, kinda, in Him?  Do you say, “Yes, He was a good man, and yes, He was sent from God, and yes, He’s a great moral teacher and example, and yes, He’s a path or a way of some sort to God?”  If so, that’s not enough.  Your confession of Him or your profession of faith is severely lacking.  Fatally lacking.  For Jesus, He is all or nothing.  There is no partial with Him.  There’s no halfway, no honorable mention, no consolation prize, and no kudos for trying.  He’s all or nothing, totally in or totally out, through the narrow gate only, and on His terms without negotiation or compromise.

Remember His words,

“Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.  For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed” (John 6:53-55).

In other words, Jesus gives eternal life to those who ingest Him into the core of their very being, as their strength, source of daily nourishment, and sustenance.  Jesus did not come to make us better or to enhance or improve our fallen lives.  No, He came to make us new, to put the old man to death, and to raise the new man to live with Him.  And what kind of life does He promise?  It’s beyond anything we can ask or think (Eph. 3:20-21).  He offers a peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7).  And He promises we will be children of God, and if children, then heirs, and if heirs, then joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17).  Just think, all that Christ is and all He possesses becomes ours as a joint heir with Him— when, and here is the requirement, we give all that we are to Him.  This promise belongs to those who exercise real, genuine, saving faith in the completed work of Christ.

One final thought, the seeds that fell on the path, in shallow soil, and in the soil infested with weeds and thorns, did not produce fruit (Matt. 13:3-9).  They did not lead to eternal life.  Why?  Because Jesus never said you’ll know My disciples by their profession, church membership, civic good works, non-profit activities, or from the applause of men— you will know them by their fruits (Matt. 7:16-20).

Fruits.  And nothing else.

Do your fruits show you belong to Him?


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596:  The Dependent Relationship of Jesus With His Father

596: The Dependent Relationship of Jesus With His Father

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Imitation is the Highest Form of Flattery

Jesus did something that seems so out of place for us today, living in a culture that exalts pride, ambition, and independence— He voluntarily lived in a dependent relationship with His Father and deferred all glory to Him.  But He didn’t have to live this way.  This was His voluntary choice between equals.  And remember, Jesus is God Himself, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father.  He is the Second Person in the Trinity, and not some innately subservient, second-class God.

To set the scene, Jesus is in the midst of a brutal attack by the Jewish religious elites because He said, “My Father,” showing a family relationship with God Himself.  And the Jews responded with rage and death threats.  His statement about being God’s Son seriously enraged them.

So Jesus clarified His statement and His relationship with God the Father by stating this about His dependence on the Father.  You would do well to note the implications of what He is saying.

Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly (truly, truly), I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, (why) but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He (the Father) does, the Son also does in like manner” – John 5:19.

It appears the Son has chosen to live in a dependent relationship with His Father, much like a slave (doúlos) does to their Master.  Yet, being fully God, Jesus chose this posture to ensure, as an example to each of us, the importance of seeking the will of the Father and not our own will.  And if it was good enough for the Son of God to live that way, surely it is good enough for us.


Jesus Speaks His Father’s Words

Next, Jesus reveals the importance of seeking only the will of the Father and not His own will.  And again, you would do well to note the implications of this subservient posture of our Lord.

I can (dúnamai – to be able, to have power by virtue of one’s own ability and resources) of Myself do (to carry out or perform an action or course of action) nothing (no one, none at all, not even one, not in the least).  As I hear (from the Father who sent Him), I judge; and My judgment is righteous (just, correct, right), (why) because I do not (the voluntary choice of Jesus) seek (to strive for, wish, require, demand) My own will (desire, inclination, plan of action, purpose) but (in contrast) the will (desire, inclination, plan of action, purpose) of the Father who sent Me” – John 5:30.

This passage does not say Jesus was something less than the Father or had to appeal to a power or authority greater than Himself to perform miracles.  Quite the opposite. Jesus states He is choosing, as an equal with God, to put aside His personal desire and agenda and give glory to His Father by living in a dependent relationship with Him.  And His judgment is righteous because it came directly from the Father.  So, to His Jewish detractors, Jesus was saying, “If you’ve got a problem with Me or with what I am saying, take it up with the Father.  For I am only doing what the Father commands me to say and do.”

But it continues.


His Purpose Was to Do His Father’s Will

In the next chapter, Jesus teaches the troubled masses that He is the bread of life the Father sent from heaven for them, using the imagery of Moses and manna in the wilderness (the first of seven “I Am” statements in John).¹  And in revealing this aspect of His ministry and purpose to them (using a familiar Old Testament testimony), Jesus says:

For I have come down from heaven, (why) not to do My own will, but the will of Him (Father) who sent Me” – John 6:30.

Again, this is another explicit statement about the dependent relationship Jesus assumed and maintained with the Father while on earth to teach us, among other reasons, how to relate to the Father as His child and slave (doúlos), all at the same time.  Jesus was the perfect picture of a voluntary slave, or bond slave (doúlos), that Paul used to describe himself in many of his letters to the church. (See Exodus 21:5-6 for more about being a voluntary slave).


Jesus is God, Yet Remains Dependent

Note what Jesus said about the revelation they would receive when He was crucified for their sins and how He, even to the cross, remained faithful to the will of His Father.

Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know (ginṓskō) that I am He (I AM), and that I do nothing of Myself; but (contrast) as My Father taught Me, I speak these things” – John 8:28.

Besides showing His total dependence on the Father, Jesus states He is not something less than the Father, but also the God of the burning bush, the “I AM that I AM” (Exodus 3:14).  The italicized He in this verse shows our translators added it to make it flow smoother in our English translation.  But, in Greek, Jesus actually said, “then you will know that I AM,” indicating He was just as much God as the Father Himself.  And as co-equal with God, He nevertheless assumed a posture of dependence on the Father, His equal.

Jesus may have been living out for us this truth, so we could have an example to follow:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross – Philippians 2:5-8.


Authority and Miracles?  The Father Calls the Shots

Jesus also spoke about having His Father’s authority to speak, not His own, and that the Father “dwells in Me and does the works” that we see Jesus doing.

Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in MeThe words that I speak to you I do not speak on My authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works” – John 14:10.

So even with His profound teachings, like the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), or His indescribable miracles, like raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11), Jesus depends upon His Father for everything.  And again, if that posture of a dependent relationship with the Father worked for our Lord and was what He willingly assumed, then it should also work for us.

But does it?  Have you truly given it a try?


Final Few Questions

Are you ready to assume the role of a slave to the Lord?  Are you ready to quit striving to have things your own way and simply trust and abide in Him (John 15)?  And are you ready to have the Lord use you in ways you cannot even comprehend when you completely surrender your will to the One who gives you life?

If so, good.  Welcome to the Higher Christian Life.


Notes:

1.  The Seven “I AM” statements are:

•   “I am the bread of life” – John 6:35, 48.
•   “I am the light of the world” – John 8:12, 9:5.
•   “I am the door of the sheep” – John 10:7, 9.
•   “I am the good shepherd” – John 10:11, 14.
•   “I am the resurrection and the life” – John 11:25.
•   “I am the way, the truth, and the life” – John 14:6.
•   “I am the true vine” – John 15:1, 5.


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595:  D.L. Moody and the Higher Christian Life

595: D.L. Moody and the Higher Christian Life

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“What Am I Missing?”

As believers living in the Laodicean church age (Rev. 3:14-22), we often look back and marvel at the extraordinary lives of our Biblical heroes and spiritual giants who have gone before us.  We see them in Scripture, read their biographies, watch movies about their lives, study their teachings, and aspire to experience the intimacy and devotion they had with God that allowed them to do great things.  Yet, for many of us, there seems to be a sad disconnect between the vibrant, Spirit-filled experiences we admire in these heroes of the faith and the comparatively subdued, lackluster, and lukewarm reality of our own spiritual lives.  And try as we may, we can’t seem to put our finger on why.

We find ourselves wondering, “Why does my spiritual life feel so different from theirs?  Where is the promised power they exhibited that is so lacking in my own life?”  Or, in essence, “Is this what Jesus meant when He talked about the abundant life in Him?  I sure hope not.  And if so, is there something I’m missing?”  These questions are not uncommon, and they point to a deeper longing within our hearts— a desire to experience the fullness of life in Christ we see so graphically portrayed in the lives of these spiritual giants that is clearly missing in most of the church today.

This brings us to the encouraging part of our dilemma, which is finally recognizing this longing comes from Him.  It is a God-given desire to know Him more and to experience the closeness and intimacy with God that is our promised birthright as one of His children.  This unfilled longing is your invitation to pursue what has been referred to as the “Higher Christian life”— a life characterized by a profound, transformative relationship with Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  And the door to this “abundant life” (John 10:10) Jesus promised is opened by your surrender to Him.  It is really that simple.


Time For Self-Reflection

As you begin this journey of embracing the Higher Christian life, take a moment to ask yourself a few questions about your own spiritual experience:

   Have you ever felt a deep desire for more of God’s presence in your life?
   Do you long to experience the joy, peace, and power that seem to characterize the lives of the spiritual heroes you admire?
   And have you ever wondered what it would be like to live a life fully surrendered to and empowered by the Holy Spirit?

If you can relate to these questions, great— you’re in good company.  The desire for a deeper, more intimate relationship with God is a common thread woven throughout the lives of countless believers throughout the ages.


Glimpses of the Higher Christian Life

To better understand what the Higher Christian life entails, over the next few days, we will look at the lives of a few well-known spiritual giants who exemplified this way of living and their personal experiences with surrendering to the Holy Spirit that marked a dramatic change in their lives.  I think these should prove to be not only instructive, but also encouraging.

We shall begin with Dwight L. Moody, more commonly known as D.L. Moody.


D.L. Moody
(1837-1899)

For those of you who may not be familiar with D.L. Moody, he was an American evangelist who founded the Moody Church in Chicago, the Moody Bible Institute (which still functions today), and the Pacific Garden Mission (I listen to their radio broadcasts weekly, and have for over thirty years).  It is estimated that over a million people came to Christ under his powerful and passionate preaching in both the United Kingdom and across America.  And, on a personal note, he is also one of my spiritual heroes.

Moody’s life-altering encounter with the Holy Spirit came in 1871, years after his transition to full-time evangelism, and it marked a significant turning point in his ministry.  It seems in Chicago, there were two godly women, Mrs. Sara Cooke, and her friend Mrs. Hawxhurst, who attended Moody’s meetings and had a burden on their hearts for the Holy Spirit to fill D.L. Moody.  And so, faithfully, they prayed to that end.  The lesson for us is never to underestimate the truth found in James 5:16 about the power of prayer.  Read it for yourself.

In his own words, Moody described the impact these two women had on his life:

“I can myself go back almost twelve years and remember two holy women who used to come to my meetings.  It was delightful to see them there, for when I began to preach I could tell by the expression of their faces they were praying for me.  At the close of the Sabbath evening services they would say to me, ‘We have been praying for you.’  I said, ‘Why don’t you pray for the people?’  They answered, ‘You need power.’  ‘I need power,’ I said to myself, ‘Why, I thought I had power.’  I had a large Sabbath school, and the largest congregation in Chicago.

“There were some conversions at that time, and I was in a sense satisfied.  But right along these two godly women kept praying for me, and their earnest talk about ‘the anointing for special service’ set me thinking.  I asked them to come and talk with me, and we got down on our knees.  They poured out their hearts, that I might receive the anointing of the Holy Ghost.  And there came a great hunger in my soul.  I knew not what it was. I began to cry as never before.  The hunger increased.  I really felt that I did not want to live any longer if I could not have this power for service.  I kept on crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit.”1

Then, in 1871, came the Chicago fire, in which one-third of the city was destroyed, and over 100,000 were left homeless.  With his preaching hall in ruins and so much of the city in need, Moody traveled east to solicit funds.  It was in New York that God finally answered the prayer that changed Moody’s life— the same prayer that can change yours.

We’ll let Moody describe it in his own words:

“My heart was not in the work of begging. I could not appeal (for funds to help the hurting in Chicago) I was crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit.  Well, one day, in the city of New York— oh, what a day!— I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name.  Paul had an experience of which he never spoke for fourteen years.  I can only say that God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand.

“I went to preaching again.  The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted.  I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world— it would be as the small dust of the balance.”2

This powerful encounter with God’s love and the infilling of the Holy Spirit completely transformed Moody’s ministry.  Instead of relying on natural charisma and a determined work ethic, Moody began to preach, yielding and surrendering to the Holy Spirit.  His ministry became characterized by a deep reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit, and he often emphasized the necessity of being filled with the Spirit when we spoke.  Here are just a few examples:

“I believe firmly that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and everything that is contrary to God’s law, the Holy Spirit will fill every corner of our hearts.  But if we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God.  We must be emptied before we can be filled.”3

And just how important was this experience with the Holy Spirit?  Moody is pretty clear:

“I would rather have the Spirit of God rest upon me for five minutes than to have the assurance that I would get to be with Him when I die.”4

Moody also spoke of the importance of surrender, but he did so in typical Moody fashion:

“I believe many a man is praying to God to fill him, when he is full already with something else.  Before we pray that God would fill us, I believe we ought to pray that He would empty us.”5

And finally, Moody revealed the desire and motivation that drove him to seek more than what the church of his day deemed satisfactory and to never settle for something less.  Moody was driven to love more, know more, experience more, be used more by Christ, leave nothing on the table, and make his life count.  And we would do well to emulate this same conviction in our own lives.  This is also one of my favorite quotes:

“The world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through and in a man who is fully and wholly consecrated to Him.  With God’s help, I aim to be that man.”6

This, in the words of D.L. Moody, is the essence of total surrender to Him.


“I Aim to be That Man”

As we consider Moody’s testimony, may we be encouraged to earnestly seek the fullness of the Holy Spirit in our own lives by trusting that God desires to reveal Himself to us and empower us for His service, just as He did for D.L. Moody and countless other spiritual giants throughout history.  When it comes to seeking the Higher Christian Life, let us “aim to be that man.”

If it is true there may be more to this life with Christ than what we are currently experiencing, then join me as we “press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).

He is calling and waiting.  How will you respond?


Next:  We will look at the life of Andrew Murray and how God has blessed untold thousands through a simple man surrendered to Him.

Notes:

1. Edman, V. Raymond. They Found the Secret: Twenty Lives That Reveal a Touch of Eternity (Clarion Classic) (p. 101). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

2. W.R. Moody, The Life of D.L. Moody (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1900), 149.

3. D.L. Moody, Secret Power, or the Secret of Success in Christian Life and Work (Chicago: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1881), 28.

4. D.L. Moody, quoted in A.T. Pierson, The Life and Labors of D.L. Moody (Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1900), 92.

5. D.L. Moody, quoted in R.A. Torrey, Why God Used D.L. Moody (Chicago: The Bible Institute Colportage Association, 1923), 44.

6. W.R. Moody, The Life of D.L. Moody, 441.


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