Unfolding Enough: Right Relationship

We’ve established our building blocks of faith and begun the work of Unfolding Enough. From Esther we learned about entering into and being In His Presence and lessons from David and Jeremiah revealed we are Never Misunderstood by God.

This week Unfolding Enough seeks to discover what Right Relationship with God might look like through Samson’s story.

  • Considering what you encountered this week in study, how would you describe a right relationship with God?

Living in the Land of Not Enough drives us to answer questions about faith with a system we can grasp. We make a list of items to do or say and evaluate our relationship with God based on how we perform. Right relationship with God is defined in terms of how much sin we avoid each day. Yet, we can never measure up to our standard, so we’re left with a sense that we just don’t have it right. We need to do something more.

Stacy says:

When I made the commitment to live life God’s way, I determined to be and do what I thought God required. I remember putting my head on my pillow each night and reviewing my day through eyes focused on my actions, my words, my sin. It always seemed no matter how hard I tried and asked God to show me how to live right, I failed. I hated falling short. I wanted more.

I read all the books, searched the Scriptures, made lists in my mind of how to live and not live. I used all my willpower and all my determination because I believed if you set your mind to something, you could achieve it.

My approach to living a life of faith was to manage my sin. I truly believed the less I sinned the closer I could get to God. Managing sin highlighted every area of my life where I was falling short. I was not enough.

Some call this approach sin management. Our culture teaches self-help and willpower are what we need. This worldly wisdom is rooted in the lie that we have the ability within ourselves to love God and others on our own. We don’t. The honest truth, though it may be hard to admit, is sin management is completely focused on self.

Connection

The practice of Examen helps us recognize our approach to sin and how it affects our relationship with God.

Think about your experience with the spiritual practice of Examen.

  • What did you notice about your time of reflection?
  • How did you respond to moments you felt distant from God?
  • Did this practice help you move from managing your sin to trusting God to manage it? How?

Believers must come to understand sin management doesn’t lead us into a close relationship with God. Christ’s death and resurrection is the only path into God’s presence. The more we connect with Him through the viewpoint of the cross, the more we love God, the more we find ourselves walking His Way.

Read John 1:12-13

  • Who makes it possible for us to be called the children of God?
  • What does this Scripture say we have to do?

Jesus made the way for us to be adopted or grafted into God’s family by God’s will. This is not based on what we do, but what Jesus did. We simply receive and trust in who He is and what He has done.

Read John 15:1-5

Only the word of Jesus makes us clean, purifies us from sin and guilt, and prepares us to bear fruit for His Kingdom.

  • How do we become fruitful?
  • What do you think Jesus meant when he said: “Remain in me…”?

The illustration Jesus uses gives us a clear understanding of what is required to be fruitful in His Kingdom. We must stay closely connected to Him, as a branch on a grapevine.

Meno is the Greek translated as abide or remain. It means “to continue to be present,” “to be held, kept, continually” or “to last, endure” (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon).

The original language gives a picture of our staying present to the True Vine, Jesus, and being held onto or kept at the same time. A branch is only a branch on a vine because it grew out of the vine and it remains attached solely by the strength of the vine. The vine and any fruit it bears is wholly dependent on the vine.

At this point, the vine metaphor begins to fail to hold up to the spiritual reality of our relationship to Christ. We humans, yes, all come from God, but we don’t all recognize our dependence on Him or His existence or our need for the cleansing of His Word. Therefore, Jesus tells His disciples: Abide in Me.

We must choose to remain present to the reality of our dependence on Him. Continue to remember we are His. When we accept this truth, live our lives based on this reality, He will hold us fast, enable us to endure, as we allow Him to bear the fruit of love through us. Not in our strength or effort, but in our remaining present to His continual keeping of our lives.

The branch is nothing apart from the vine.

We are nothing apart from Him.

Conversation

We explored right relationship with God by looking at Samson’s story. Let’s review how Samson came to be.

Read Judges 13:1-12

The angel of the Lord visited Samson’s mother with a clear message. She would become pregnant and because the child she would carry was to be a Nazarite she was not to drink anything fermented nor eat fruit from the grapevine. Samson’s father was both excited and anxious. This was big news to the barren couple. God left instructions for his wife, but little information on what to do once Samson arrived. Manoah wanted instructions. A how-to guide for raising this child.

  • Were you surprised Manoah wanted more info?
  • Do you find yourself doing the same when it comes to spiritual growth?
  • What how-to resources do you lean on?
  • Who do you depend on to manage your sin?

We often respond like Manoah after we hear the Good News of Christ. We embrace His divinity, acknowledge our sin, repent and enter the waters of baptism. But before our hair is fully dry we begin to wonder how to live. What should we do? How should we act? We become anxious followers wanting all the details, asking God for an instruction manual on following Him.

Read Judges 13:13-24

  • Did Manoah receive the instruction he wanted?
  • How do you imagine he felt being left with little guidance?
  • Imagine throwing out all you know about following God except your belief in Christ as God’s Son. What would your faith life look like?

Don’t misunderstand. This is not a suggestion to toss out what God has worked in you. The lessons you’ve learned are vital to your faith journey. Instead, it is an encouragement to consider who or what you depend on to deal with the sin in your life. We are not designed to will our way into a life of obedience. We are designed to be open and receptive to the One who lovingly leads us to repentance.

Read Romans 8:9-14

  • What is the flesh subject to?
  • What does the Spirit give?
  • How do we put to death the misdeeds of the flesh?

Though our flesh is subject to death due to sin, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit gives life. When we live our lives according to and by the Holy Spirit, we put to death the deeds and works of the flesh.

It is in conversation with God — prayer — where we seek, listen, and learn how to live a life free from sin.

  • Think about a time you heard Spirit’s call to repent?
  • How was it different than a time you noticed some sin because of a rule you were encouraged to follow?

Carol says:

Just recently, Holy Spirit called me to repent when it came to an authority issue in my life. I determined to set down an ultimatum in an arena where I really had no authority. As I waited for the “right opportunity” to state my case Holy Spirit began quietly speaking to my heart: This is not the way. You are under the authority of another.

Well shoot! There I was called out on my pride and arrogance. He was absolutely right and I knew it and told Him so. I repented. I turned from my plan and placed myself humbly under authority, which is where I remain in a state of resigned waiting.

The Spirit’s correction is very matter of fact, quiet but direct, and humbling. But it never comes with a spirit of condemnation. Only correction: That’s not the way. The Spirit’s desire is to put us back on course, not punish us. (Jesus already took our punishment.)

Oh! But when I correct myself over a “rule” I’ve set in place, Oh my! I berate myself, call myself names, say I’m stupid and worthless. Then the enemy affirms it by throwing his two cents in.

The correction of the Spirit is always gentle, true, and course-correcting. The condemnation of the flesh and the enemy is just that, condemning, hard, defeating, shaming, and paralyzing.

As we learn to listen to God, we are often taken aback by the Spirit’s quiet conviction exposing  some sin in our life. It moves us into deeper conversation with God to ask Him about our actions or words. When we do, God opens our eyes to the heart of the issue. He leads us to consider our motive, our past wounds, or the reason behind the sin.

Dependence on God’s sanctifying power in us allows us to not only ask for forgiveness, but to walk away free from the guilt and shame. We are quicker to recognize the temptation and call on His strength instead of our own.

When we trust God will never leave us in our sin, we can live boldly without the need for an instruction manual.

Curiosity

We continue the story of Samson in Judges 14. Samson’s Nazarite vow required him to follow an additional set of laws, besides those God gave to Moses for His people to keep.

  • What were the laws Samson was to follow as a Nazarite?

Those who were under the Nazarite vow were to abstain from drinking alcohol and forbidden to eat or drink anything from the grapevine. In addition, they allowed their hair to grow and steered clear of dead bodies.

  • Which laws did Samson follow?
  • Which ones did he break, both Nazarite and Mosaic?

We can assume Samson didn’t drink alcohol or consume anything from the grapevine, but only because it doesn’t mention he did do these things. And we find later, in his conversation with Delilah, he did not cut his hair.

However, Samson didn’t stay clear of dead bodies. And he refused to heed God’s warning about marrying a foreigner. Against his parent’s better judgement, and to their dishonor (also a lawbreaker), he wanted to marry a Philistine girl. Which subsequently led to murder and theft too.

Read Judges 14:4

  • Are you surprised to find God was behind Samson’s desire for the Philistine girl? Why?
  • What response rises in you when you consider God uses disobedience to do good?

At first glance, Samson’s story seems to contradict our basic understanding of biblical teaching. It doesn’t sit right with us to think God was behind Samson’s desire. As long as we look at Scripture as the how-to manual for a right relationship with God, what we believe to be contradictions will plague our thoughts.

Consider the quote below:

There are two ways to read the Bible. The one way to read the Bible is that it’s basically about you: what you have to do in order to be right with God, in which case you’ll never have a sure and certain hope, because you’ll always know you’re not quite living up. You’ll never be sure about that future. Or you can read it as all about Jesus. Every single thing is not about what you must do in order to make yourself right with God, but what he has done to make you absolutely right with God. And Jesus Christ is saying, “Unless you can read the Bible right, unless you can understand salvation by grace, you’ll never have a sure and certain hope. But once you understand it’s all about me, Jesus Christ, then you can know that you have peace. You can know that you have this future guaranteed, and you can face anything.”

—Timothy Keller

  • Which way of biblical reading do you most often engage in?
  • How might Timothy Keller’s quote impact how you read Scripture in the future?

Read John 14:15-21

  • Which comes first in this Scripture, love or obedience?
  • Who will Jesus send to us for help and guidance?

Love comes before obedience. We are not required to mine the Scriptures for ways to be in right relationship with God. Jesus did this work on the cross and Holy Spirit continues the work in and around us. Living enough looks at Scripture as an opportunity to come to know the God we love, not a list of rules to please Him and stay out of trouble.

When Jesus says, If you love Me, you will keep My commandments, it is an invitation to come alongside Him in His work of salvation. It is an invitation to journey with Him into a life of freedom and joy and love.

We love to do things for those we love. We love to do life with them and please them. In relationship with Jesus, obedience becomes a way to express our love to Him. Obedience is His love language. It’s what He calls us to do when we love Him and it’s how He shows His love to the Father.

And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.

2John 6 NIV

The call to a life of obedience is a sign of His placing trust in us: Love always trusts (1Corinthians 13:7 NIV). From this perspective, obedience becomes a privilege — an act of love and an invitation to be Jesus’ friend. Jesus’ friends strive to obey Him, not because we have to or to stay out of hell, but because we love Him.

A friend loves at all times…

Proverbs 17:17 NIV

Obedience is not a barometer for whether we are in right relationship with God, but our attitude toward obedience is an indicator of how much we love Him.

Community

Read Hebrews 11:1-2, 32-34

  • What is faith?
  • What are God’s people commended for?

Hebrews 11 is considered God’s hall of fame for the faithful. It is where we read of those with extraordinary faith in God, those who loved Him and were part of His community.

  • Are you surprised to find Samson listed among the faithful?
  • What acts of faith listed would you ascribe to Samson?

God deemed Samson faithful, one who conquered enemies, enforced justice, shut the mouths of lions, and whose weakness was turned to strength. According to God, Samson deserved mention in His hall of fame, even though in Judges we see an emotionally charged man whose desire for women overshadows his relationship with God and others.

Read Judges 13:5

  • What did God promise to do through Samson?
  • Did Samson’s sin change God’s plan?

Samson’s choices left him blind and imprisoned. In his final days we find him grinding grain in prison. No strength, no community of family and friends for support, no sight to fuel his desire for women.

Read Judges 16:22

  • What is the significance of Samson’s hair growing back?
  • Left with nothing, what do you imagine Samson did while grinding grain?

Samson made the choice to reveal to Delilah the secret of his strength. His long hair represented more than obedience to the Nazarite vow. It also signified a relationship with God that went terribly wrong. Being bald was a sure sign God left him. But not for good. Not forever.

God knew exactly what it would take to turn Samson around. Samson walked in circles fueling the millstone used for grinding. With each inch of hair growth, God was working out something in Samson. It is a literal picture of God returning to him. And God wasn’t finished. He intended to complete His work in Samson, to finish what began long before Samson was born.

  • Does God’s return to Samson surprise you?
  • How does it change the way you approach sin in your life?

Living enough gently unfolds in us the truth of God’s love. Our sin will never cause God to abandon the work He began in us. All is never lost in Christ. In fact in Christ, nothing is ever lost. God never walks away throwing hands up in disgust. He uses every aspect of our lives, both obedience and sin to bring us into right relationship with Him and others as well.

Story

Samson’s story ends in death. He prayed the only words we see him praying in Scripture. Anger fueled his desire for revenge. Nothing about it feels repentant or changed. Still God knows something we don’t. God knows Samson’s heart. God knows the promise He made and He is faithful to bring it to fruition in spite of the sin in Samson’s life.

  • What does this reveal about how God answers prayer?
  • Are you encouraged by Samson’s story?
  • How is your story like Samson’s?

Read Romans 10:8-15

  • What is required for salvation according to this Scripture?
  • What happens to those who call on the name of the Lord?

The only thing required for salvation is to confess (or profess) Jesus is Lord of your life and all creation. To believe the gospel, that He is God’s Son whom He sent to bear the burden of our sins and His resurrection is the sufficient evidence of His lordship. When we call on the name of the Lord in this way, we are saved.

Preaching is an important part of relaying the message of salvation to others, as seen in verse fifteen.

Kerygma is a Greek word used in the New Testament for “preaching”. It is related to the Greek verb κηρύσσω kērússō, literally meaning “to cry or proclaim as a herald” and being used in the sense of “to proclaim, announce, preach”. Merriam-Webster defines it as “the apostolic proclamation of salvation through Jesus Christ”. Amongst biblical scholars, the term has come to mean the core of the early church’s oral tradition about Jesus.

–Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kerygma

This is not just any message preached. Kerygma is the Good News Message. The only message the early church preached.

They shared the kerygma, the story of Christ, over and over.

Read Colossians 1:24-27

  • What message is central to Paul’s teaching?

From the moment Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus his life became all about sharing His story with as many people as possible. To make known the great mystery of God that He finally revealed: Christ in you, the hope of glory!

The living of our story always, always begins with Jesus’ story: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news. The story is simple. Jesus died. Jesus defeated death. Jesus is coming back.

All of our stories begin and end here. It is a story God will continue to tell through Believers no matter what we feel or think about in the moment.

  • How does your life proclaim the kerygma?
  • Do you ever find yourself adding to the kerygma? How?

All of life unfolds to tell the story of Jesus. No single act of obedience or defiance will change it. Nothing in our past, present or future can stop it. Through our struggle, failure, and success God proclaims:

Christ has died.

Christ is risen.

Christ will come again!

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