Becoming Who We Are
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
If you like, you can think of this as a follow up to our study titled OK, I’m Saved. Now What? Having shown that once we became a believer all the sins of our life were forgiven at the cross, and the Lord no longer counts our sins against us, we now turn to the logical follow up question. How should a believer respond to such an incredible gift?
Paul devoted much time to describing the appropriate response to the free gift of eternal life and it’s summed up in his admonition “Only let us live up to what we’ve already attained” (Phil 3:16). By the wording he used we know this is not something we do to achieve or maintain our salvation. He said we’ve already attained that. We do this as an expression of our heart felt gratitude for having been given the gift of eternal life. Make no mistake here, as unbelievers we were surely destined for the fires of hell.
In Ephesians 2:1-5 Paul laid this out in no uncertain terms.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
And just in case we missed it there, he repeated it in his letter to Titus.
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.(Titus 3:3-7)
Paul took pains to describe the way God saw us before we were saved. But now, because of the cross, He sees us as a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), having attained the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21) by faith in His completed work (Romans 3:21-22). And once again, please notice the past tense of Paul’s statements above.
Knowing that all this has already been done for us and can never be taken away no matter what, let’s see what our appropriate response should be.
The Practice Of Christian Living
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:1-2).
Someone once said, “Life is what you make it. It’s not what happens but how you take it.” Everything about the practice of Christian living is within our control. We don’t have to behave like everyone else. We can be transformed and it begins with choosing to behave differently.
Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephes 4:25-32).
I believe Paul was in effect, the first behavioral psychologist. He taught that while we can’t always control the circumstances of our life we can control our response to them. We have such a glorious future awaiting us that we don’t have to worry about gaining the approval of others by acting the way they do. Our primary goal is pleasing the Lord.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:37-38)
Choosing to become more tolerant, forgiving and generous will have such a remarkable effect on our life that others will want to know what has happened to transform us. Instead of stuttering and stammering through an embarrassing attempt to “witness” to friends and neighbors we’ll find that our very life has become a witness to what God can do, and people will be drawn to us.
This is because the practice of Christian living is not all don’t do this or don’t do that, at least not in the negative sense. Remember Jesus said that He came so we might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).
To that end the Bible says we shouldn’t worry about how we’re going to get by, letting the Lord take care of that for us (Matt. 6:25-34). We shouldn’t let what Paul called the light and momentary troubles of this world get us down. We should no longer fix our eyes on the temporary things we can see, but focus on the eternal things we can’t see instead (2 Cor. 4:17-18). This is even more true for us than it was for the people of Corinth 2000 years ago because very soon we’re going to step out of this world and into the next one where the eternal things we’ve only been able to dream about will suddenly become our new reality.
In the mean time, do you hate your job because of a boss who’s hard to please? Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24)
Are your neighbors or associates hard to put up with? Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:17-18)
We who’ve been given everything don’t have to worry about anything.
The Privilege Of Christian Living
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:4-7).
Because we’ve become children of the Creator of the Universe we can rejoice in everything that happens to us because we know that God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). We can always be at peace, even when our world seems to be crumbling around us. We fear nothing, we pray about everything, and we’re thankful for anything.
Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
This world is a dark and evil place, and though we are children of God the whole world is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19). Nowhere does the Bible promise us a trouble free life. What it does promise is a life of peace regardless of the circumstances. The Lord is our over comer and because of that we are privileged to be at peace. No matter what.
I’ve heard the Christian life compared to a roller coaster ride. Once we buckle into our seat we yield control of our circumstances to someone else. But because of our faith in the operator’s ability to bring us safely through the experience, we actually enjoy the scary unknowns we encounter along the way.
So it is with our life in the Lord. He didn’t promise that there would be no trouble, On the contrary He said there would be trouble. But when we encounter it we can be at peace, knowing He has promised to see us safely through it.
Think about it. We can engage the Creator in conversation any time it suits us. He’s always in, we never need an appointment, and he’s never too busy for us. Whether it’s asking for a parking place on a crowded street or guidance on whether to pursue a career opportunity, He’s always available to listen and help.
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written:
“He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. (2 Cor. 9:6-11)
God has given us the privilege of helping Him distribute His endless resources to those in need. He so loves a cheerful giver that every time He finds one He makes them rich in every way so they will always have more than enough for themselves with sufficient excess so they can be generous to others on every occasion. Next to the gift of eternal life there’s no more remarkable promise anywhere in Scripture.
The Power Of Christian Living
Resist the devil and he’ll flee from you. (James 4:7)
Although Paul called him the God of this age (2 Cor. 4:4), Christians needn’t fear the devil because of the power we’ve been given.
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
Jesus showed us how to do this in the wilderness temptations (Matt. 4:1-11). Using nothing but Scripture He demolished every one of the devil’s arguments and sent him packing. This same power is available to us. We just have to know the Bible well enough to activate it.
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven (James 5:14-15).
As is the case with everything James wrote, this is a clear promise without exception or equivocation. The Bible doesn’t promise we won’t get sick, but it does promise we can be healed. It’s a power the Lord died to give us.
“I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:23-24)
And it’s not just healing. With sufficient faith we could literally move mountains. But faith is like our physical muscles. The more we exercise it the stronger it becomes. This is a case where the American lifestyle has become our enemy. It’s been too easy to get the things we want without the Lord’s help. It’s been hard to remember that opportunity does not equal mandate. But just because the banks will loan us more than we can repay doesn’t mean that we should go into debt to buy things we don’t need and can’t afford. Maybe the Lord is stripping those things away now to help us practice living by faith.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines (1 Cor. 12:7-11).
Charismatics often misuse their gifts in immature excesses of self glorification while fundamentalists avoid theirs like the plague refusing to acknowledge they even exist. But if the gifts of the Holy Spirit were ever used in the manner Paul described, the world would not be able to stand against their power.
Each of us has been gifted and could use the power our gifts contain to have significant effect on the little corner of the world we inhabit. Romans 12:1-8 tells us how to discover and use our gifts.
The Protection Of Christian Living
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (2 Cor. 1:21-22).
So we come full circle. Never let it be said that although God has the power to save us, He lacks the power to keep us.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-30).
A US insurance company says we’re in good hands with them, but believers enjoy the ultimate example of being in good hands. Our policy is paid in full and our coverage can never expire. Not even we ourselves can snatch us out of their hands.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephes. 6:10-12).
A soldier’s armor can only protect him when he wears it, and he would never think of going into battle without being fully protected. We’re aliens behind enemy lines and as such are combatants in an ongoing battle. We’ve been given impenetrable armor, but in order for it to protect us we have to put it on and keep it on.
The Point Of Christian Living
All this leads to achieving the goal we all want most in life. Earlier I said that after becoming saved, our primary goal becomes pleasing the Lord. But when we delight ourselves in the Lord He will give us the desire of our heart (Psalm 37:4). By combining the practice, the privilege, the power, and the protection of the Christian life we can finally achieve complete personal freedom. Although we are still in the world we will no longer be of the world. Following the instructions for Christian living frees us of all the negative emotions that have afflicted us in the past. No more worry, no more stress, no more feeling out of control. We no longer have to be concerned with having enough money, or getting ahead, or keeping up.
The uncertainties of life that so preoccupy the thoughts of others won’t bother us any more. It doesn’t matter who gets elected to what office, or how bad the economy is getting, or whether the government will continue to break its promises. We’ll finally understand the full meaning of the Lord’s words, “When the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36) Praise the Lord. Selah.