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

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

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Different Strokes for Different Folks

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

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

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

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

What changed my perspective?  The book of Romans.

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


The Path to Real Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


United with Christ

Consider the amazing truths found in Romans 6.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Life-Changing Revelation

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

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

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

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

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


Abiding in the True Vine

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

This abiding faith in Him consists of the following:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Remember the Lesson from Saul?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And begin that process today.


Leaving Laodicea | The Survival Manual for the Coming Underground Church

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579:  True Signs of a False, Counterfeit Salvation

579: True Signs of a False, Counterfeit Salvation

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Deception:  the Currency of Our Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s begin that test together.


True Signs of a Counterfeit Conversion

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

Lack of Spiritual Fruit

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

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

A Disregard for God’s Word

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

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

Continual bondage to Sin

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

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

No Evidence of the Holy Spirit’s Work

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

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

Indifference Toward Spiritual Growth

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

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

Love of the World or Worldly Things

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

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

The Eternal Danger of Self-Deception

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


So What Can We Do?

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

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

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

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

The choice is yours— so choose wisely.


Leaving Laodicea | The Survival Manual for the Coming Underground Church

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577:  Abiding – The Key to Lasting Surrender and Joy

577: Abiding – The Key to Lasting Surrender and Joy

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No More Roller-Coaster Living

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

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


To Abide

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

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

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

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

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


Remaining Connected (Surrendered) to the True Vine

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

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


The Fruit of Obedience

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

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

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

But how can we grow in abiding obedience?

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

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


The Fruit of Dependent Surrender

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

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

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


The Fruit of a Life That Matters

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

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

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


The Overflow of Joy

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

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

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


Launching into Jesus’ Harvest

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

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

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


His Final Plea: Remain in Me

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

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

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


Notes:

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


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572: The Sixth Step – Surrendering to the Holy Spirit

572: The Sixth Step – Surrendering to the Holy Spirit

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God is Three and Three in One

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

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

Or, to make it easier to digest:

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

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

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


The Vital Roles of the Spirit

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

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

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

But all that can change today.


15 Ways to Deepen Your Relationship With the Holy Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Spirit’s Transforming Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then what are you waiting for?  Do it today!


Notes:

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

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

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


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370:  When Our Saved Life Looks Like Our Lost Life

370: When Our Saved Life Looks Like Our Lost Life

When we look at the chilling words of Jesus that tell us “unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20) we are perplexed.  And rightly so.  When we then see the requirement of becoming a “new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) in order to possess the “righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,” we are faced with even more questions.

Are you a new creation in Christ?
Has God changed you from the inside out?
Do you possess a righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees?
If so, how do you know?
Can your friends and family tell?

And then one more:

Does this describe you?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law (Gal. 5:22-23).

Have you ever asked yourself these questions?  How did you answer?  What does it mean if your answers to these questions are, no?  To find out more, keep listening.

The following is a study on Matthew 5:20.

To download the slides for this message, click – HERE

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