Navigating the River of Life: Salvation to Sanctification
We’re coming to the end of our study. Just one more session to go.
We hope you’re gathering with others as you venture deeper into the River of Life, moving toward living life Forgiven, Fearless and Free. We’re going deeper right along with you on this journey.
Father God, guide us, direct us, bless us with the fellowship and faith we need to live our lives fully surrendered to You. Amen.
Review: Over Our Heads in the River of Life
Free to Surrender to the Spirit’s Call
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”
Isaiah 43:1 NIV
Again this week, there are some core principles we don’t want to miss in Over Our Heads in the River of Life when it comes to surrendering to the Spirit’s call. We’ll review each section to begin this session.
Washing in the Water.
Our spiritual discipline was meditating on His Word, specifically the truth of Who I am in Christ. This practice focuses on internalizing and personalizing the message of our new identity in Jesus: I am the righteousness of God in Jesus. I am a new creation. I am a member of Christ’s Body. I am God’s workmanship, born anew in Christ to do good works.
What did you discover through the discipline of meditating on Who I am in Christ? Was it easy or difficult for you to surrender to the truth of your new identity?
If you didn’t practice this discipline, why didn’t you?
In Christ, we are far more than we could ever be on our own. He takes on what we broke and makes it brand new. In Christ, we find ourselves part of something so much bigger, grander, and greater. We go from finite to infinite. Unrighteous to righteous. A noisy din of sin to a beautiful sonnet of salvation penned in love.
Meditating on God’s Word, letting Him speak it into our hearts, is a vital part of the sanctification process. The Bible is our only source of truth about who He is, who we are, and who He is calling us to be.
Wading in the Word.
Through our Scripture reading we saw God call people by name, sometimes new names, and call them to action.
What did you discover about God’s call?
What impacted you most?
God’s call reveals the truth of who we are and brings with it life-altering change.
Jacob became Israel — one who wrestles with God — and walked away with a permanent limp. Jesus, identified as God’s Beloved Son, entered a life of ministry, starting with a call to spend forty days in the wilderness undergoing temptation from Satan. Upon meeting Simon, son of John, Jesus renamed him Peter, which means rock. Simon and his brother Andrew responded to Jesus’s call to become “fishers of men” and leave behind their lives as fishermen. Peter was called to shepherd Jesus’s people and follow Him, all the way to an unpleasant end. God called Abraham to sacrifice his son of promise, through his willing obedience, Abraham was called righteous and a friend of God. Jesus, in turn, calls all His disciples to a life of obedience, changing their identity from servants to friends.
God’s call is always concerned with growing our faith and transforming our character to be like Jesus. It is not about doing that one thing or perfecting one talent or gift to serve in a specific way. In James 2:22, we read, “faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works…” When we respond to His call by faith, doing the work He calls us to do, our relationship with Him grows exponentially. This is sanctification. Hearing His call and responding by faith, wherever we are and at whatever moment, is a love offering to God and the world. An opportunity to grow in love.
Yet, not everyone hears and receives God’s call.
What do we learn about the ability to hear and receive a call from God?
God’s call can only be received when it is heard through the gift of faith and the power of the Holy Spirit. Faith is especially important when we understand God “calls things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4:17). No amount of time or delay, as we may perceive it, alters the call of God. What He says, will be. By faith, we believe what He says about His church, His people, His Kingdom, the world, and us as individuals.
Remember your story.
Looking back on our own life stories helps us to see God in retrospect. Sometimes in places we didn’t see Him before.
What did you discover by remembering the story behind your name?
Did you ask Jesus His name for you? Why or why not?
What did you hear? Do you believe it?
It sounds a little crazy to ask Jesus what He calls you. I first did it more than ten years ago at the suggestion of John Eldredge in his book Waking the Dead. I asked by faith and received an answer I could hardly believe. Not only did the name bring me to tears but He used it to heal a gaping wound in my heart.
Years later, I did the exercise again with a Bible study I was leading, Captivating, by John Eldredge and his wife Stasi. I didn’t expect much because I believed I already knew what He called me. But by faith, I asked again and He added to the name He calls me. This name too brought healing to the history behind my given name and the conflict it caused between my parents.
Well, this time around, I thought surely there’s nothing more, but by faith, I asked again, right along with y’all. Again He added. All of it I find hard to believe, and it’s very humbling to think He answers my question: What do You call me? The name He calls me, or I believe He calls me by faith, is one that goes right along with His way of calling things that are not as though they were.
This girl, who has never felt very special, a pessimist who sees the glass half-empty rather than full, and has been told repeatedly to repent of cynicism, He calls: Treasured Song of Joy Full of Grace.
I share this hesitantly and with no hint of pride, but only with a trust that if you hear my story, the name He calls me, your spirit might be open to hearing Him speak your name to you…
Like Carol, I too have practiced this exercise over the years. My given first name, Stacy, means resurrection. As I practiced this week I dug a little deeper into my middle name. It is just three letters—Lee. Merriam-Webster’s definition caught my attention, “protecting shelter, the side of an area that is sheltered from the wind.”
I too hesitantly speak my name in front of others… Stacy Lee… resurrection, a sheltering for the Lord.
Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The same way He called people in the Old and New Testaments, He still does today. He calls us in the middle of our stories to reveal and heal. To restore and make new. To direct us toward the good works He prepared for us to do before time began.
Discover God’s story.
The call of God is a call to enter His story on His terms: Love. His call reveals something of Himself and something about us.
What did you discover from God’s stories of water-walking (Matthew 14:22-33)?
What about Jeremiah’s call to visit the potter’s house (Jeremiah 18:1-6)?
God’s sovereignty, infinite knowledge, and eternal perspective are always behind His call. God’s call sometimes comes at our request, like Peter. Once he saw Jesus approaching in a completely new way, he wanted confirmation by joining Him in His water-walking. Yet, in the call a weakness was revealed. Peter still feared the world’s howling wind more than he trusted Jesus.
Jeremiah too learned about God’s sovereignty and how He deals with man’s weakness. His love and mercy prevail. The Hebrew description of the clay vessel on the potter’s wheel — spoiled — can also mean to be marred, be corrupted, be ruined; to pervert, or deal corruptly (morally) (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon). It also implies that the ruined object is now useless (Dictionary of Biblical Languages). But God, like the potter, reworks the clay into something that seems good to Him. No trashing what has gone very bad, He just begins a work of redemption.
We can get this backward when we don’t understand the proper relationship between Creator and creation. Our complaints about how things are working out in our lives come from an upside-down view of the world. The Creator has the right to do whatever He wants with His creation. So, let us give thanks to our loving, merciful, gracious God, who would rather pour out His life on our behalf in hopes of restoring what we ruined, rather than leaving us in our mess.
Now, knowing God calls things that are not as though they were, are you willing to receive God’s call on your life? Are you ready to surrender to the Spirit’s call, by faith?
Do you hear Him calling you? Who does He say you are? To what is He calling you?
We’ll revisit these questions at the end of our final session. For now, let’s go deeper still into the River of Life.
Session 7: Learning to Swim in the River of Life
Free to Surrender to the Spirit’s Will
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
John 8:36 ESV
Living free is a work in progress, a both/and way of life.
Each day is an opportunity to live out freedom while trusting there will come a day when we will walk completely free in God’s presence.
This side of heaven living free looks like an unfolding, a little by little, step by step process. There are valleys to walk through and mountains to climb. Sometimes we will stumble and other times we’ll rest.
No matter where we find ourselves, no matter how unworthy we feel or how much wrong we’ve done. Nothing. Not. One. Thing. Changes who we are in Jesus.
Jesus accomplished the work of forgiveness. Jesus made a way for us to fearlessly come to the throne room of God.
And the most beautiful part is we don’t have to do it alone. For we have the Spirit of God living inside of us, taking our hand and walking this journey of unfolding with us.
So let’s live.
Let’s embrace our forgiveness and let go of fear.
Let’s throw our hands high and live forgiven, fearless, and free.
Over Our Heads in the River of Life we begin to understand and receive the Spirit’s sovereign loving call on our lives. The call to be still and know He is God, is a universal call for all Believers.
Read Psalm 46:10
This is the Scriptural foundation for our spiritual discipline of silence.
What are we called to do? What are we called to know?
Be still… The Hebrew word translated as “still” means to sink, relax, sink down, and to be quiet (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon). We are called to relax for a very specific reason: to know God is God.
The kind of knowing described in the Hebrew word is experiential knowledge of God as God. Not second-hand knowledge. Not what someone else told us or what we read in a book or were taught in a Bible study.
The knowing here is based on personal interaction with God. And we can only come to know Him in this way, experience Him one-on-one, when we relax… sink down… in the River of Life.
Getting deep in the sanctification process, free from the grave clothes of our past, we can begin Learning to Swim in the River of Life.
Do you know how to swim? Do you remember what it took to learn how to swim? What do you remember?
I’m sure my mom took me to swimming lessons at some point, but my earliest memories of pools and water are with my dad.
I remember him lifting me off the side of the pool and bringing me into the water with him. I clung to his neck. There was some fear involved, but mostly I trusted my dad.
And that’s mostly what it takes to learn to swim. Trust.
He would take me farther and farther from the side of the pool. Give me a push and tell me to kick. With his power behind me and my little effort I made it to the side every time.
Learning to swim in the River of Life, surrendering to the Spirit’s call is much the same. We have to relax in the truth of who God is and trust the Holy Spirit to give us the power to do all He calls us to do. To be who He calls us to be. We work by faith, like Abraham (James 2:22).
Once we hear the call and begin to surrender to it we discover there is one more step to this process. We must surrender our will too. Following Him includes understanding He knows best and has our best at heart.
Read Psalm 23
How is the Lord described in this psalm?
What do those who put their faith in Him experience?
Does He sound trustworthy? Why or why not?
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. God is safe to follow, for we will lack no good thing. He is for us.
The night after my home burned, exhausted and broken, I attempted to quiet my thoughts and emotions and rest. In the early morning hours when sleep wouldn’t come I made my way down unfamiliar stairs and onto the back porch. I couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t wrap my mind around what just happened.
So I began to pace. Back and forth, back and forth. My pace slowed and in the rhythm of my steps I began to speak the psalmist’s words.
The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and staff comfort me. You set a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
It’s a stark contrast. Losing every material thing you have in this world, compared to the words of this prayer. And yet there I stood speaking out into the night. The Lord is my shepherd. I DO NOT LACK ONE THING!
Rest. Sustenance. Protection. Good guidance. Care. Not just for a season, but for all time.
God’s will for our lives is set forth clearly by Jesus.
Read Matthew 22:36-40
God’s commandments or laws are His will for our lives.
How does Jesus sum up the whole of God’s law?
God’s will for us is to love Him with our whole being and love our neighbors as ourselves.
There’s not much more to it than that. We use the gifts of the Spirit and His call on our lives to love as God calls us to.
The hard part is setting aside our will for His. We’ve been steeped in the world’s way from the time we were born. And only since we were re-born, when we took our first step into the River of Life, have we been learning to unlearn what the world has taught us both consciously and unconsciously.
Read Mark 10:17-31
What did Jesus tell the man to do when he asked what he must do to inherit eternal life?
What more did Jesus call him to do when the man justified himself by saying he was doing what Jesus said?
How did the man respond to Jesus’s call?
Jesus told the man the way of eternal life was to follow the law. The man responded by saying he had kept the law since he was young. Probably from as early as he could remember, this man followed the law to the best of his understanding.
In a way, we can think of this man following the law according to his will, but Jesus expanded on what it looks like to live a life of faith. There is a deeper way to love God and others. The greater love that lays down its life for its friends (John 15:13).
How did Jesus feel about this man and his answer?
How did the man feel about God’s will for his life?
Why do you think the man felt this way?
We don’t know what this man ultimately decided to do. All we know is he walked away sad because he was very wealthy. Jesus asked him to lay down what the world calls life and take up the call of God’s Kingdom. Lay down his will and way for God’s will and way.
How do you feel when God calls you to do the same? lay down your way of life for His?
Sometimes, when we first discover our gifts and begin to unwrap them, we think it’s up to us to figure out how to use them. We try the best we know how to make the biggest impact with what we’ve been given. But this is not what we are called to do.
Jesus knows the way. As the Beloved Son of the Father, He knew who He was and what He was called to do.
Read Philippians 2:1-11
What did Jesus do as the Beloved Son?
How did God the Father respond to Him?
What are we to do as Believers, when we receive the blessings of God in our lives?
Jesus emptied Himself of His divine identity and the desires of His flesh to become a servant of God in the same manner as those whom He created are called to do. He humbled Himself in obedience to the Father’s will so we might find comfort in His love, compassion and mercy, and experience fellowship with the Holy Spirit just as He did on earth.
In light of the encouragement Jesus gives us, we are to share His mindset, think the same way about things as He does. Fully trusting His Father’s love, care, and will for our lives.
Jesus went so far as to give up His life in an unjust crucifixion. So upside down from what the world would say is right and reasonable. He died for the ones who killed Him, that they might be saved. Because of this great love, God the Father exalted Him greatly.
We are to walk the same way He walked on this world. Loving with greater love.
…to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
Philippians 1:21 NIV
Closing prayer exercise: Mapping the River
Finding ourselves in over our head in the River of Life, it’s time to learn to swim. Once again, let’s enter a gospel story with Jesus in Matthew 14:22-33.
Close your eyes. Set your mind on prayer.
Imagine yourself in the boat with Jesus’s twelve disciples on the wind-tossed sea of Galilee. It’s the fourth watch of the night, sometime after three in the morning.
A figure moving along the tops of the waves approaches the boat.
It’s something you’ve never seen before. A man walking on water.
What emotions well in your chest?
Who… or what?! could it possibly be?
You hear those around you shout, “It’s a ghost!”
But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
What is your first response?
Do you believe it might be Jesus?
Or could it be a lying spirit trying to do you harm?
Now, put yourself in Peter’s place.
Give the same response he did to Jesus:
Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.
Can you imagine yourself saying this to Jesus?
He’s doing something you’ve never seen Him do before, and you want to be a part of it, join Him in it.
What might He be doing that would cause you to say: Lord, if it is You, command me to join You…?
Hear Jesus’s answer to you: Come.
What stirs in your heart as you hear His invitation?
So Peter got out of the boat and walked on water and came to Jesus.
Imagine grabbing the side of the boat.
Swing your legs over… step onto the waves…
What moved you to take this first step?
How does it feel to walk on the waves? walking with Jesus in supernatural power as only He can?
But when Peter saw the wind, he was afraid…
What winds in life cause you to take your eyes off Jesus?
What gales fill you with fear?
You were just walking with Jesus doing only what He can do, but something caused you to stumble, doubt, forget the call.
What is it that steals your faith?
…and beginning to sink Peter cried out, “Lord, save me.”
What is your first response to fear? when your faith gives way?
Do you call on Jesus: Lord, save me! ?
Or do you run for cover?
What is your favorite escape?
Now, cry out like Peter, Lord, save me!
Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Feel Jesus take hold of your hand.
Hear Him say: O you of little faith, why did you doubt?
What do you feel in this moment?
And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.
And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
How does it feel to be back in the boat with the eleven others who never left?
What do you think? feel? when you notice the source of your fear has disappeared as if it never existed? What do you make of that?
Hear the others worship Jesus.
Do you join in?
Or do you wonder at what you’ve done? what He’s done?
Ask God to help you sort out your emotions and fears and faith.
Ask Him to teach you how to answer His call to go deep with Him into His will.
Your kingdom come; Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Matthew 6:10 MEV
It’s time to put all we’ve learned together.
Walking in the Spirit.
Praying in the Spirit.
Finding strength in the Spirit as an individual and in community.
Surrendering to the call and the will of the Spirit.
Let’s take hold of the prayer Jesus taught His disciples to pray as we go forth learning to swim. Not just treading water or floating on our backs, but swimming into the deep right alongside Him.
Our Father in heaven, high and lifted up be Your name.
Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today what we need for today.
Forgive us our sins to the same degree we pour out Your grace on those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation, Lord, but deliver us from the schemes of the evil one.
For Yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.
Your way is the only way for us.
Let’s go forth — Forgiven, Fearless, and Free — to live for His glory!
Here’s a PDF of the Week 7 Study — Learning to Swim in the River of Life:
With you in over our heads…Stacy & Carol