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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.


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

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

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We’ve Only Just Begun

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

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

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

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


Start the Day Anchored in Christ

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

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


Don’t Exclude Christ from Your Daily Tasks

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

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


Look at Everything Through His Eyes

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

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


Prioritize Spiritual Disciplines

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

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


Turn First to Christ During Difficult Times

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

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


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

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

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


Immerse Yourself in Christ-Centered Influences

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

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


Make Christ the Center of All Your Relationships

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

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


Honor the Lord’s Day for Spiritual Recharge

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

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


Find Your Ultimate Fulfillment in the Pursuit of God

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

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


So What’s Next?

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

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

And let’s do it today.


Notes:

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

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


Leaving Laodicea | The Survival Manual for the Coming Underground Church

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575:  Why Did Jesus Pray for His Church to be One?

575: Why Did Jesus Pray for His Church to be One?

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Church:  The Hatfields and McCoys

We live in a world that is totally at war with itself.  Our nation is being torn apart by division – racial, socioeconomic, political – you name it, and we’ve experienced it.  But that’s not how Christ designed His church to be.  In fact, Jesus said in John 17 that when we love each other more than we love ourselves, the lost world will come to believe God sent Jesus and He is truly the Son of God.  In other words, our unity and oneness with each other will be the strongest evangelical draw we have to bring others to Christ.

But if you look around, all we see within the church is division.  Some churches believe in the sovereignty of God, while others deify man and his free will choices.  Some churches see homosexuality as a sin, while others have drag queens teaching the children on Sunday mornings.  The church has a history of dividing on trivial matters such as the mode of baptism or our posture in prayer rather than uniting around the “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).

But what did the Lord have in mind when He created His church?  And does it look anything like what we’ve turned it into today?  Let’s take a few moments and do a brief survey on what the Lord said about His church.


It’s Unity Above Almost Everything Else

As we’ve shared already, the early church was built on devoting themselves to the four disciplines found in Acts 2:42.  And as you can see, two of the four deal with building our family relationships with each other in unity (fellowship and the Love Feast, or the breaking of bread).

And they continued steadfastly in (were devoted to) (1) the apostles’ doctrine and (2) fellowship, in the (3) breaking of bread, and (4) in prayers – Acts 2:42.

Then we have the prayer of Jesus before His death on the cross.  And what was the content of His prayer?  Our unity in Him and each other.

“That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us (why) that the world may believe that You sent Me” – John 17:21.

Notice how many times Paul encouraged the church (and the individual believers) to humble themselves in unity with others like our Lord did.  It seems that being one together in Him was continually on Paul’s mind.

Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be (what) like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, (why) that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – Romans 15:5-6.

Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that (what) you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment – 1 Corinthians 1:10.

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to (what) walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, (how) with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all – Ephesians 4:1-6.

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.  Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others – Philippians 2:1-4.


Ugh, Enough Already

I know, too many passages all saying the same thing lose their power over time.  Maybe.  Or maybe several passages all saying the same thing might convict us of our sins and move us to make the changes internally we need to in order to become one with other believers.   Maybe we will realize Jesus was serious about unity in His church, and Paul just piled it on even more after Him.

And maybe, just maybe, this will move us to change how we view church and each other in order to make His name known to those who live in sin, skepticism, and denial.  And maybe when we are one in Him, our loved ones will see the incredible power of Christ and come to faith in Him.

And if so, all He is waiting for is us to obey His commands.  Are you ready?  I sure hope so.


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574:  Turning Church from an Institution into a Family

574: Turning Church from an Institution into a Family

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Fellowship is More Than a Pot-Luck Dinner

If you look at the book of Acts, you’ll find the amazing story of how the church was born and grew to 3,000 people after one 297-word sermon preached by an impetuous, former fisherman named Peter.  It’s one of the most transforming passages in all the New Testament.  But what we fail to look at is the fact that now the church had a serious logistic issue.  Like, “What are we going to do with all these people?  How are we going to feed them?  Many of them don’t even speak the same language we speak.  We don’t have training materials, a church structure, or places for them to sleep.  And we don’t even know if we like them?  All we know is they have now received the same Spirit we received, and they consider us family, and we should start acting like family.”

This was a difficult problem for the infant church, which was only hours old.  I can imagine Peter and the rest of the disciples fretting over the fact this problem was way above their pay grade.  This was something Jesus needed to figure out before He ascended into heaven just ten days ago.  But He didn’t.  He just left them His Spirit and trusted them to follow His will.

I can imagine their prayers went something like, “Lord, show us what to do.  These are Your people, called by Your name, and filled with Your Spirit, just like we are.  So please, show us what to do.”

And that is exactly what the Lord did.


They Continued Steadfastly in Four Things

As you can see from Scripture, they “continued steadfastly” or “endured to the point of devotion” to four vital disciplines that allowed them to grow from a gang of strangers into His church (Acts 4:42).  Not three.  And not five.  Just four.  But these four were essential to their growth and devotion to the Lord and to each other.

And they continued steadfastly in (1) the apostles’ doctrine and (2) fellowship, in (3) the breaking of bread, and (4) in prayers – Acts 2:42.

Note what they were devoted to and the order they are listed.

And they continued steadfastly in
(1)  the apostles’ doctrineor preaching and the study of the Word of God.
(2)  and fellowshipwhich is koinōnía and means a partnership, communion, or joint participation.  This is something more than sharing a chicken dinner on Sunday.
(3) in the breaking of breadthis is more than communion or the Lord’s Supper.  It is a shared communal meal, much like a family reunion, that was part of their worship service.
(4) and in prayersboth corporate and individual.

As you can see, there is much we are missing today that the early church deemed essential when they came together as the family of God to worship the Father.  I believe there is much we can learn from them.  But the key discipline that changes them, and can change us, from an institution to a family is in the “breaking of bread” or the Love Feast.  And it is this forgotten love feast we will explore in this message.


Leaving Laodicea | The Survival Manual for the Coming Underground Church

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