Navigating the River of Life: Salvation to Sanctification
Here we are at our final session of learning to pursue a fully resurrected life: Forgiven, Fearless, and Free. We hope our offering encourages, equips, and empowers you on your journey deeper into the River of Life.
Father God, bless us as we open our hearts to Your will for our lives.
Review: Learning to Swim in the River of Life
Free to Surrender to the Spirit’s Will
“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;
nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will..”
Matthew 26:39 ESV
Let’s review and begin to sort out what we studied in Learning to Swim in the River of Life — finding freedom to surrender to the will of God’s Spirit.
Washing in the Water.
Our spiritual discipline was a centering prayer exercise: Palms Down, Palms Up.
What did you discover through the prayer of letting go and receiving? Was there one thing you kept returning to? something you needed to let go of over and over? What did you find you most need to receive from the Spirit?
If you didn’t practice this discipline, why didn’t you?
This prayer exercise reminds us there are many things we need to release from our hearts and minds and lives. Sinful emotions and foolish thinking keep us trapped and separated from God. We need to receive His peace, strength, love, and grace to live a fully resurrected life in Christ.
When fire destroys all you have, you don’t have much of a choice in the practice of letting go. You turn palms down to comfort, security, to every material thing you’ve collected over the years. I’ve let go of so many things in such a short time.
Yet the interior letting go is much harder than the material items. Even the journey of this study is a letting go. I may have written the tiny book that spurred Holy Spirit’s inspiration, but I’ve done very little of the work. That alone is a gut wrenching palms down confession. While fire may have taken my choice about turning palms down and surrendering, there is one choice that continues to reveal itself.
I have come to believe this choice is essential in our ability to turn palms up. In order to receive, to turn palms up, we must forsake our pride. With every attempt to swim in the river of life, there is a choice to surrender any reliance we have on our own ability, to bow before the Father with hands turned heavenward trusting no matter what comes His way is the only way. And while it may not feel like it or look like it in the moment, His way is always the best.
Wading in the Word.
In our Scripture reading we looked for how Jesus decides what to do and say, what directs His every decision.
What did you discover about how Jesus operates in the world? about God’s love? about freedom?
What impacted you most?
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
Colossians 1:15 NLT
When we look at Jesus in the gospel accounts we see God. We come to know His love and how He interacts with His creation. Prayerful study of the gospels is one way we come to know Him better and begin to filter out the lies the world tells us about life and God and ourselves.
For us to walk through this life like Jesus, we need to remove all other influences from our lives except the Holy Spirit. Walking in the Spirit and praying in the Spirit are vital to the sanctification process. We need to hear His voice and toss out any ideas and philosophies at odds with God’s way of life, beginning with our own.
Living the resurrected life of Christ according to the Father’s will begins with reframing our definition of love to match His (1Corinthians 13).
If I’m honest about my current working definition of love, I’d have to say love should make me feel good. It doesn’t call me to suffer and it certainly doesn’t ask me to put down what I want so someone else can have what they want.
Love is happy-ending Hallmark channel love. Yes, there may be a conflict, but it lasts only ten minutes or so and then it’s all over and wrapped up in a beautiful ending all nice and neat. Tears dried forever.
My still skewed definition of love is probably the one thing that causes me the most grief in the process of sanctification. It’s one I continue to wrestle with.
Jesus came to earth to show us what it looks like to love according to God’s definition of love, to trust God’s love, and to live in God’s love. And He commands us to live the same way.
Read John 13:34-35
What is most significant about the new command Jesus gives His disciples? What is revealed when we obey Him?
Jesus’s disciples are known by their love. A love very different from what the world defines as love.
The age-old command to love is transformed, made a new command, by identification of the love in question with that of Jesus for us (see 1John 2:7-8).
Love of “the brethren” in this supernatural way allows us to know that “we have passed out of death into life” (1John 3:14). We simply can’t love in that way unless we have a different kind of life in us. And the “love” here in question is identified as that which is in Christ because it is one that makes us ready to “lay down our lives for the brethren” (1John 3:16).
Failure to love others as Jesus loves us, on the other hand, chokes off the flow of the eternal kind of life that our whole human system cries out for. The old apostle minces no words: “He who does not love abides in death” (1John 3:14). Notice that he did not say, “he who hates,” but simply, “he who does not love.” The mere absence of love is deadly. It is withdrawal.
Notice also that he did not say, “He who is not loved,” though that also is true. That too is death, but our purpose cannot be to get others to love us. Love comes to us from God. That must be our unshakable circle of sufficiency.–Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart
Coming to terms with God’s definition of love, His love for us, and how He calls us to love others, cannot be emphasized enough. The world defines love as something that makes us feel good. God defines love as something that gives others what they need, even if it requires suffering on the part of the giver.
We, in Christ, no longer look to others to satisfy our need for love, but only to God. In Christ, we are dead to the fleshly desires of love and are now awakened to live out the new definition of God’s love for us and serving others in His love.
Herein lies the definition of freedom: Being free from sin and death to serve others in love (Galatians 5:13).
As with love, the world defines freedom as a means of living life the way we want. Doing what feels good to us. God says freedom is found within His boundaries and is to be used to serve others in love, not serve our own flesh.
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
Mark 8:35-36 ESV
The truth is, we were created to serve others (Romans 6:16). We all give our lives to something or someone. Losing our life for the sake of Christ and the good news of His grace is the only thing worth giving our lives to. All other ways lead to death.
Think back to the grave clothes you identified at the beginning of the study. How many of them are connected to a skewed definition of love?
Remember your story.
In remembering our stories, we looked back on our history according to our understanding of freedom.
What did you discover by looking back at your definition of freedom through the years?
What have been the greatest influences on your understanding of freedom?
Ultimately, as a disciple of Jesus pursuing a fully resurrected life, our definition of freedom must move from being a means to gratify ourselves to serving others in love. We find true freedom by wholeheartedly serving God, pouring out our lives for His will according to His call, just like Jesus.
Discover God’s story.
God’s love is at the heart of all He does and says. In our study we looked for evidence of His love in His law.
The law — in its entirety — is God’s loving will for His people. One important thing to recognize at this point was the law was given to His people after He freed them from slavery in Egypt. They were enslaved physically as a people within a foreign nation, but we all, including everyone before us, enter life enslaved to sin and death.
The law was given by God to ensure their freedom. It flowed from a heart of love.
Love rejoices in the truth. The truth is there is only one God, therefore to serve another or create one of our own is a violation of truth and enslaves us to a lie.
Do you see some other connections to love and the ten commandments?
Sin and death, freedom and slavery, are serious business. Eternal consequences and destinies are at stake. The violent extreme punishments in the law of Leviticus remind us of the violence we did against God and the creation He gave us when we rebelled in the garden of Eden.
It was no small thing for Him to set things right. It cost God all His infinite Being to fix the damage we did to ourselves, our relationship with Him, and all creation. We invited sin and death into the world. We decided we knew better than God even though His boundaries are set in loving protection of our freedom.
But our broken flesh and its skewed desires and understanding find it hard to see God’s love within His law.
Read Romans 8:1-8
According to verse seven, what is our natural attitude toward God’s law?
Those who are only about the flesh and its desires are in stark opposition to God and His law. They are downright hostile to it, which may explain a lot about the world and its current direction.
But, going back to the beginning of the Romans passage, what is there for those in Christ Jesus? How is it achieved? What is the role of the law?
For those in Christ Jesus there is absolutely no condemnation for any sin — past, present, future, conscious or unconscious. The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus sets us free from the law of sin and death so we can walk in the Spirit, not according to the flesh.
The law cannot set us free or keep us free for we cannot keep the law apart from the life of God in us. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to do what’s right. This is the incredible law of the Spirit of life in Jesus. He came without a shadow of darkness within Him — pure, holy, no sin of His own — and willingly, lovingly, climbed up on the cross to take the punishment we deserve. He became guilty, condemned, so we might be free and clear, completely righteous according to the law. Even more than that, He gives us His holiness as one who never sinned.
He sets us free from sin and death to live life as He does.
But as long as we are on this earth, we live in flesh and struggle with its desires to be comfortable and in control. Even Jesus’s sinless flesh wrestled with God’s will in the garden of Gethsemane: The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
In His struggle, Jesus taught us that prayer is key to resisting fleshly temptations. He also showed us the Father’s will for those who are His is to pour out their lives and love so others may know freedom from sin and death too.
We live a fully resurrected life when our sole purpose is to love God by loving others back to Him.
Session 8: Swimming in the River of Life
Living life Forgiven, Fearless, and Free
Our study has only skimmed the surface of this deep subject and you may not yet be in the deep-end of the River of Life, but we encourage you to keep going. Keep walking. Keep praying. Keep tapping into His strength. Keep listening for His call. Keep moving toward His will. It’s important. It’s really the only thing worth spending your life on.
We need to come to the point, where we are absolutely convinced there is no other way, but Jesus’s way.
Read Philippians 3:3
Who are Believers? How do they live? What do they trust?
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul calls Believers “the circumcision” to emphasize the cutting off of their fleshly desires and ways to follow the way of the Holy Spirit. They are a people who worship God with their lives by walking with the Spirit. Believers place absolutely no confidence or trust in their natural ways or gifts, ideas or desires — or in any other person’s natural gifts or ideas. They trust God and His Spirit.
Read Philippians 3:8-15
This is Paul’s personal testimony about his walk of faith.
What does Paul teach us about a life of faith in pursuit of Jesus?
Paul discovered there is nothing better in this world than knowing Jesus. We can compare Paul’s understanding all his worldly gains as worthless with the response of the rich young man when Jesus gave him an invitation to follow Him (Mark 10:17-22). Paul rejoiced in the loss of everything, even his reputation, while the rich young man walked away sad.
However, Paul’s journey included an eye-opening encounter with Jesus that exposed his spiritual blindness and set him on a new course (Acts 9:1-22). Paul’s story teaches us those who are mature in the Spirit, those who keep walking, keep praying, keep pursuing strength in the Spirit will come to the same conclusion. But only God can open eyes to the truth (Philippians 3:15). Nevertheless, it is our job as disciples of Jesus to live out our faith to the utmost of our understanding. Walking worthy according to the call of Christ on our lives.
Read John 21:20-22
This is the end of the conversation we have between Jesus and Peter after Jesus asked about Peter’s love for Him and gave him his call to feed and tend His flock.
Who caught Peter’s attention as he followed Jesus and Peter? What did Peter ask Jesus?
What was Jesus’s response to Peter?
Peter noticed John following them as they walked and talked, and he asked Jesus: What about him? Jesus basically said: What is that to you? Don’t concern yourself with him, he’s My business. You follow Me!
What lesson should we learn from this conversation?
Our only role as a member of the body of Christ is to follow Jesus as the Head. Our only job is to stay connected to Him. We are not to let other followers distract us from our call because of their call. We are one body, yes, but individually we must be connected to Christ first.
You follow Me! In the Greek “follow” is a present tense active imperative singular verb. It is a command for us to take personally in our lives too.
We are called to an intimate walk with Jesus by way of the Holy Spirit to receive His call on our lives. We walk in the Spirit according to His will and power to answer His call, all the while trusting He knows best.
Our personal call to follow Jesus is what is best for the community and the way we are to fulfill our role as a member of His body. Very specific and important. We are not to be distracted by another’s call or think we are doing the wrong thing because it looks different than everyone else. Trusting the call we hear by faith includes trusting it is something needed within the church.
In addition to trust, we must remember our strength is found in our weakness. What we have to contribute may have been to our shame at one point, but God wants to redeem it for the good of His people. To strengthen them, a la Peter’s denial, Satan’s sifting of him as wheat.
All of us are being or have been sifted by Satan and all of our failures in the face of temptation can be redeemed for God’s glory, because all sin is common to man (1Corinthians 10:13), someone else has done what you have done. Someone else needs to be strengthened by your story. Someone needs to know there is healing and redemption for them.
In Christ, our shame is turned to glory by His grace and if we trust Him and follow Him, answer His call according to His will, these are things we must offer freely and fearlessly because we’ve been forgiven. For there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.
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? Are you ready to surrender to His will?
Since He captured my heart, I’ve found there is no other way to live except according to His will. I’ve stepped out into many uncomfortable calls. But with each step of obedience, I’ve found Him faithful and full of grace.
God calls me a “treasured song of joy full of grace.” A name so unlike what I know of me. A name undeserved and unbelievable. Because I have an ugly story, a story filled with shame and disgrace, which is only a story worth sharing because of His love and grace, His healing power and ability to take what is meant for harm and use it for good.
When I was nineteen I had an abortion. Just a few weeks before I found myself pregnant, I said I would never do such a thing. But, in the name of “love,” I had made a series of choices I never intended to make. But that’s what the world does with love, sets it up as a door to death.
It’s taken decades of healing to come to this place where I can share my story. The aftermath of an abortion left me a mess, which turned into a tangled web of fear and anxiety after Jesus snatched me up. He wanted me to know the great depths of His healing power. He wanted me to know there was joy down His painful path, but not just joy, freedom.
This is one more step in living fully forgiven, fearless, and free in Christ Jesus with my personal story. In the fall of 2019, I was privileged to walk with two sisters through a post-abortion healing study and see them set out on a new road toward forgiveness and freedom in Christ.
Since then, I’ve been looking for avenues to invite more women who have also been lied to and left for dead on the road of life by the “freedom” found in abortion. I’ve contacted counselors and a crisis pregnancy center, then a pandemic stalled the search. I’ve had no other opportunity to share. He’s brought no other women.
Only within the last month or so have I surrendered to His will of taking this gift and calling to the church. He first wants it made available to His body to feed His wounded sheep. The ones who need healing, forgiveness, and freedom from fear to strengthen the brothers and sisters and be an even greater light to the world.
So here it is. If you are hiding in shame and guilt because of an abortion, or know someone who is, contact me. I have a story you won’t believe! There is freedom and healing for you.
Your story matters, Jesus wants you to live forgiven, fearless, and free. He has a place for you in His body. Someone needs to know your story too.
Closing prayer exercise: Mapping the River
One last time, we’ll look at where we are in the River of Life. Once more we’ll place ourselves in His story to consider where we’re going. We’ve actually come full circle from the place where we concluded our first week of study on Forgiven.
Close your eyes. Breathe deep. Turn your attention toward Jesus.
Imagine yourself on the shore of the sea of Galilee with Jesus. Put yourself in Simon Peter’s place — one still trying to live into the new name Jesus calls you. (John 21)
Hear Him ask you: Do you love me?
What is your answer?
How does your heart respond?
Does your mind replay your past sins?
Is there a voice accusing you? giving all the evidence needed to prove your lack of love for Him?
Answer Him by faith: You know how much, Lord.
Hear Him call you. Listen.
What is He calling you to do for Him?
How does He want you to love Him? His people?
What do you hear?
By faith, receive the call.
Walking along with Jesus, someone behind you catches your attention, distracts you from your conversation with Him.
Look behind you.
Who do you see?
Who is a distraction to you?
Peter asked: Lord, what about him?
Now, you ask Jesus: What about them?
What lies behind your question?
Why do you care?
What’s your interest?
Hear Jesus say to you: If it is my will they hang around until I come back, what is that to you?
How does His reprimand feel?
How do you feel about Jesus having intimate relationships with other followers? things you’re not included in?
Hear Him say: You follow Me!
Turn your attention squarely back to Jesus.
Let nothing distract you.
Where is He leading you?
What emotions rise?
Are you ready to surrender your will to His call?
Going forth: An Afterword to Forgiven, Fearless, and Free.
Much of our struggle in this walk of faith is with our attempts to keep the law. To figure out what’s right and do it on our own.
…I’m reminded that it is difficult to ascertain just how God leads any of us. Within the revealed wisdom of Scripture’s riverbanks, the Spirit’s particular leading can sometimes be difficult to explain to someone else.— Ellen Vaughn, Becoming Elisabeth Elliot (emphasis added)
Remember, God’s law is not the water we swim in, nor does it provide the strength we need to follow Jesus. God’s law is more like the banks of the river. For there is no swimming beyond the banks, riverbanks provide the river’s boundaries. Scripture is the boundary within which we swim.
Forgiven, fearless and free is not uniquely my story.
First and foremost it is God’s story. The story God weaves in each of our lives to bring us to a complete understanding of who God is and who we are. Your experiences and journey will look different than mine, but the common thread of the three words remain.
Might I suggest taking a deep look at where you are. Like marking a map to find a sense of direction. Consider where you’ve come from. The story God has written in you and give thanks.
Then, look up… take another step… trust God to continue his work in you. For I am sure of this, “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 ESV).