Navigating the River of Life: Salvation to Sanctification
Session 1: Stepping into the River of Life
Forgiven. Fearless. Free. These three words are the sum of my story.
Learning to follow Jesus, to be who He calls us to be, is not something that happens in an instant. We don’t walk away from baptismal waters knowing how to live as new creations. It’s a process, a growing, and it looks more like a spiral than a line. More like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. It’s messy and beautiful all at the same time.
From the time we step foot into the River of Life through faith and baptism, we begin a long journey to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.
Read Ezekiel 47:1-7
Ezekiel (593-571 BC) was a prophet to God’s people who found themselves exiled in Babylon. His messages gave warnings of the coming fall of Jerusalem. After its destruction, he received prophecies of hope to give the Israelites.
What does Ezekiel see in this passage? What does he experience?
The account of this prophetic vision began in Ezekiel 40. The Lord gave Ezekiel a detailed tour of a future temple to replace the one flattened by the Babylonians.
In chapter 47, Ezekiel is shown the doorway of the future temple where water flows from its threshold. The spring of water flows eastward, increasing in size, transforming into a large river on its journey. Every 1000 cubits, about 500 yards, the river deepens and widens. It goes from a trickle to an ankle-deep stream to wade in, then knee-deep, waist-deep, and finally, the river becomes too deep for a person to reach the bottom. Swimming is required.
Adrian Rogers (1931-2005) teaches this passage as a picture of revival. He connects the temple trickle growing into an all-consuming river as the process of sanctification in a Believer: Revival.
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scriptures has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
John 7:37-38 ESV
When Jesus fulfilled the law, paid the price of death for breaking the law without any sin of His own, the temple and its sacrificial system became obsolete. The curtain to the Holy of Holies — the division between God’s presence and His people — tore in two, top to bottom ushering in the new covenant. Since that day, faith in Jesus transforms Believers into the temple of God on earth (1Corinthians 3:16). His Holy Spirit resides in their hearts.
In his sermon titled Rivers of Revival, Adrian Rogers notes four stages of the river as related to our experience of learning to live the resurrected life or life in the Spirit as the temple of God:
- Ankle-deep in the river is walking in the Spirit.
- Knee-deep is praying in the Spirit.
- Waist-high is strength in the Spirit.
- Too deep to manage on your own is “genuine, Holy Spirit control of our lives where the water of revival is flowing out of us and getting wider and deeper.” In over your head deep is surrender to the Spirit.
One thing to note about the river is the distance between each additional depth. Five-hundred yards may not sound like much, and neither may 1.3 miles to a lot of us, at least if it’s traveled in a straight shot. But our spiritual journeys are rarely a straight line, as Stacy shared in her story.
Our 4000-cubit journey of faith most often looks like the Israelite’s Exodus — a 40-year wandering in the wilderness. God led them to the threshold of the Promised Land in a relatively short amount of time, but their lack of faith caused them to balk. Most listened to the reports of the faithless spies rather than trust God’s promise. Because of their unbelief, the majority of the congregation was not allowed to enter the promised land. Instead, they wandered until they fell dead. Their story teaches us to trust God and persevere rather than lose hope and aimlessly wander.
For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
Romans 15:4 NIV
Living the resurrected life of Jesus is the picture of living life flowing with the Spirit, surrendered to His will and way. We face life with the realization we cannot manage anything without His help.
Stepping into the River of Life begins with understanding our need for a Savior. God calls us and blesses us with the gift of faith, and we start our circuitous journey from salvation to sanctification — the process by which we mature in Christ-likeness. The first phase is learning to walk with the Spirit, discovering the fearless and free life of the forgiveness granted us through faith in Christ Jesus.
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Romans 6:4 ESV (emphasis added)
Forgiven, fearless, and free — this is the life God calls us to. It’s the journey He wants us all to take.
It’s the story in which we find ourselves in Christ. It’s our story, your story, every Believer’s story. It’s the story God wrote for us so we might live and not be lost.
Living life resurrected — fully revived in Christ.
Throughout this study, we will learn to navigate the River of Life. From salvation to sanctification, we will explore the life God promises and learn to walk, pray, and find strength in the Spirit with a goal of complete surrender.
Closing prayer exercise: Mapping the River
Close your eyes. Take on a prayerful posture. In silence, and with an open ear to God, consider these questions:
Where do you see yourself now in the River of Life? ankle-deep? knee-deep? waist-high? surrendered?
Look back at the course you have taken. Was the path that led you to this place straight or filled with hairpin curves? Did you stop along the way or get stuck in the mud? Were you ever scared you might be in over your head?
Which direction are you headed? Have you run aground or gotten lodged on a sandbar? Maybe you’re trying to keep your head above water?
Contemplate where you are for a moment. If you are unsure ask God where you are located.
What would it look like to walk further out into the deep? Is there something keeping you from moving deeper? Are you scared you might drown? .
Listen to the Psalmist’s words….
Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.
By day the Lord directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.
Psalm 42:7-8 NIV
Ask God to lead you deeper into the River of Life…
The life of faithfulness is not one decision, but many.–Pastor Stephen Davey, Wisdom for the Heart
The River of Life as a picture of our growing faith in Christlikeness leads us into deep waters. Twice Ezekiel described the deep end of the river as too deep to pass through. It is a place where swimming is required.
Swimming is a great metaphor for a life surrendered to Christ. It takes constant movement to stay the course and we are immersed in a medium that is not natural for us to move in. We are land creatures, not fish.
Living surrendered to the Spirit of God is a way of life, it moves us out of our comfort zone, and constantly into deeper depths with the banks of the world moving farther into the distance.
If you’re ready, let’s go deeper into a life lived
forgiven, fearless, and free!
Here’s a PDF of the Week 1 Study: Stepping into the River of Life:
We can’t wait until next week!Stacy & Carol