Life is a Journey - Lesson 1


Looking back over your conversion experience. It’s always a good idea to look back over your conversion experience. What do you think happened when you became a follower of Jesus Christ? Are you unclear about anything? Could you possibly have misunderstood anything? Did anything happen of which you might not be aware?

Bill Mounce
Life is a Journey
Lesson 1
Watching Now

I. “For God so loved the world”

A. Starting point

B. What happened?

C. Consequene

II. “That he gave his only Son”

A. What actually happened on the cross

B. How is this possible?

1. Merciful heart of God

2. Who Jesus is

III. “That whoever believes in him"

A. Whoever

B. Him

C. Believe into (Psalm 23)

D. Salvation is not something we earn

E. ___ Jesus is and ___ Jesus did

IV. “Might not perish but have everlasting life”

V. Count the cost

VI. God’s goal

  • Looking back over your conversion experience. It’s always a good idea to look back over your conversion experience. What do you think happened when you became a follower of Jesus Christ? Are you unclear about anything? Could you possibly have misunderstood anything? Did anything happen of which you might not be aware?

  • The change that is happening in your life. “Conversion” means you converted from one thing to another. In your case, you changed from not being a disciple of Jesus to being one. It also means that God is now at work in your life, starting to make you be more like Jesus. Does this surprise you? What actually happened when you became a Christian? What does this new life as a follower of Jesus look like? Does my life change automatically?

  • When you stumble in your new walk with God. Even though God’s power is at work within you, helping you to become more like Jesus, you will stumble. This is not to remove the joy of your new faith; it is to prepare you for the joy of spiritual growth that lies ahead. God knows this and is not surprised, and it does not affect his commitment toward you. What is “sin”? Is temptation sin? How will you tell God that you sinned and are sorry? Does he forgive? Can you be cleansed?

  • A crucial element of any relationship is communication, both listening and speaking. God has spoken to us two basic ways, through creation and through his Word, the Bible. What do the terms “inspiration,” “authority,” and “canonicity” mean? Can we trust the Bible? How do I listen to God as I read his word? Am I supposed to do anything beyond reading it?

  • Healthy communication requires not only listening but also talking. Prayer is simply talking with God, about anything and everything. He is our new Father, and he wants to hear from you. How do you pray? What do you pray about? What if I have trouble listening to him speaking?

  • When you became a Christian, you understood certain things about God. But did you know that he knows everything? That he is present everywhere? That he is all-powerful? How then should we respond to a fuller knowledge of God? What is worship? How should we respond to what we know of God?
  • Jesus is the best known person in history. He has had more affect on world history than any other leader or philosophy or political movement. Many people know the name, but who is he? What did he say about himself? What did his followers say about him? And what is the significance and relevance of these questions and our answers?

  • Jesus did many things while on earth, but the most significant of all was dying on the cross. But what exactly happened? What was accomplished? What does the Bible mean when it talks about Jesus being the “lamb of God”? Is there anything that can help me understand the significance of his death. Do I need to be reminded about it on a regular basis?

  • Christians are monotheists; we believe in one God. But we are also Trinitarians; we believe in three “persons” of the Trinity — God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Who is this third member of the Trinity? What actually does he do? What is his on-going role in my life? What does it mean to be led and empowered by the Holy Spirit? Do I have to do anything, or does he do all the work? Where would we be if it were not for the work of the Holy Spirit?

  • When you became a Christian, you started to walk with God. It is a day-by-day process in which sin has less hold on your life and you more and more look like Jesus. But some days are more difficult than others, especially when difficult things happen. Why do these “bad things” happen? Can I keep back parts of myself from God if doing so helps me avoid pain? Are there any consequences to allowing sin in some parts of my life? What does it mean that Jesus is both “Savior” and “Lord”?

  • While we become God’s children one disciple at a time, as children we are members of a new family with a new father, new brothers and sisters, and a new home. How do I relate to these people? Do I need to spend time with them? Is this an easy or difficult task? How does the early church help us understand these issues? How does my love for God show itself to others?

  • Disciples are to make more disciples. This is one of the most joyous experiences of your life as you share how God made you alive, and he will do the same for your friends, neighbors, and others. This isn’t a frightening process; it is in fact natural for people who have been changed and are living changed lives. How will people respond to you? What is a “personal testimony”? How do I tell people they too can be a disciple of Jesus? What if they don’t like me?

  • We are thankful that you have attended Life is a Journey. We trust that it has encouraged you to continue in your spiritual journey. Your next step is to take the next class in the Foundations Program, Bible Survey, A Big Screen Perspective. It will give you a broad stroke understanding of the basic structure of the Bible. Just be sure not to study alone. Get a group together that wants to learn the same information.

When we became a follower of Jesus, we started on the spiritual journey of our life. We went through the gate of conversion and started up the path of discipleship. As we travel the path, we will start to change, not because we have to but because we want to. We won't always make the right decisions; we will stumble, but Jesus and your fellow travelers are there to help you get back on your feet. The further you travel, the more you will learn about God, how to listen to him, and how to talk with him. You will learn more deeply who God is, who Jesus is and what he did, and who the Holy Spirit is and what he does for us. And you will learn about walking with other believers (the “church”) and inviting others to join you (“evangelism”). Because life is a journey, God does not expect you to get everything right the first time; we are all on a learning curve and God is patient with us. However, we were never intended to walk alone. We were saved into a new family, with new brothers and sisters, and a new Father.. In this study, you are encouraged to find an older traveler and invite them to walk with you.

The "Notebook" to which Dr. Mounce refers in the introduction is the Student Guide that you can download or order in paperback form by clicking on the link on the course page on the website (not the app).

Be sure to download the chart (to the right) that aligns questions from the New City Catechism with Life is a Journey. This way, when you have completed each lesson, you can know which catechism questions you will understand. 

While the course was originally designed for new believers, we have found that it functions well as a foundation class for all believers.

Recommended Books

Life is a Journey - Student Guide

Life is a Journey - Student Guide

When we became a follower of Jesus, we started on the spiritual journey of our life. We went through the gate of conversion and started up the path of discipleship. As we...

Life is a Journey - Student Guide

Dr. Bill Mounce
Life is a Journey
Lesson Transcript


I’d like to begin by talking with you, the new believer, about your becoming a follower of Christ. I’d like to celebrate your decision, see if you have any basic questions, and fill up your understanding of what happened when you became a disciple of Jesus Christ, a child of God. If you are unsure of anything that I say, understand that over the next 11 lessons I’ll be spelling out the details that I’m talking about in this lesson.

While there are many Bible verses I could use, I’m going to use the most famous verse of all times, the one saying of Jesus known by more people around the world. And that is John 3:16. “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who believes in him will not perish, but will have everlasting life.” As I talk through your decision to follow Jesus, I’d like to break John 3:16 down into pieces.


Notice that Jesus’s starting point is the fact that there is a God, and God is not some impersonal force or fate or mother nature. God is a personal God who loves. And this loving God created the world and created people to inhabit the world. The Bible says he created people in his image, so that among other things we could have fellowship with our creator and have a relationship with him. A dog can’t live in a relationship with God. You and I were created in God’s image. And we were made to live in fellowship, in communion, in relationship with our Creator. And our first parents, Adam and Eve, walked in the garden with God.

Regardless of what you might hear, creation was no accident, nor are we some freak chance of nature. We are not primal scum that washed up on the shore and over millions of years became human beings. We were created as the apex of all creation. We were created intentionally by God.

The creation story in Genesis 1 and 2, the first two chapters of the Bible, is talking about the creation of human beings. You and I were created with meaning and purpose. And part of that meaning and purpose is that we live in fellowship, in communion, in relationship with our Creator.

Then something terrible happened to this world. And we need to know that God wasn’t surprised. God knew this was going to happen before he created anything. And yet he still created everything. Adam and Eve, our first parents, were given one rule. Of all the trees in the garden, they can’t eat the fruit of that one tree. I wonder how many times in heaven Adam is going to have to apologize. “I know, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. All I had to do was just one thing.” I’m glad I’m not Adam.

There was only one rule he had to follow and by following that one rule, he and his wife would be demonstrating how much they love God. By following God’s rule, they were saying, “Yes, we live in submission to your Lordship. You are God and we are not.” And yet, as we read in Genesis chapter 3, Adam and Eve deliberately chose to break that one rule. They sinned and ate the fruit of that one tree.

The consequence of that sin is that they became separated from God. They were separated physically by being kicked out of the garden, but in their hearts they were also separated from God. They were hostile to God. They were alienated from him. The prophet Isaiah says, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).

They were separated from their holy God, their holy Creator. That is the consequence of sin. And the punishment for living separated from God is death; eternal, permanent separation from God (Romans 6:23). The Bible says the wages of sin is death — eternal separation from God (Romans 3:23).

What was true for Adam and Eve is now true for all people. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All have committed sin; all have done what God has called us not to do. Therefore, all of us, apart from the work of Christ that we will learn about in a second, live separated, alienated, and hostile lives from our Creator. Our God, while he is a God of love is also a God of justice. A God of justice cannot allow sin against a holy God to go unpunished, so there is punishment for sin and separation. And yet the good news is that God is also a God of love, just as much as he is a God of justice.


Jesus continues in John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave.” This is how he loved, he gave his only son. He gave his only son to live on earth, to live a perfect life, and to die on the cross.

A. What actually happened on the cross?

What actually happened on the cross? What happened was more than a man dying. Jesus lived a life of perfection. Jesus lived a life without sin. So when he died, his death was not payment for his own sin because he had not committed sin, but his death became payment for your sin and my sin. Because his death became the penalty for our sin, forgiveness is now available.

The prophet Isaiah, 700 years before the time of Christ, wrote down what was going to happen on the cross. It is an amazing prophecy. “Surely he,” meaning Jesus, “has born our griefs and carried our sorrows. Yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.” Jesus carries our griefs and our sorrows and we think God is mad at him. “But he,” Jesus, “was wounded for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities. Upon him was the chastisement, the punishment, that brought us peace. And with his stripes, we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned, everyone to his own way and the Lord has laid on him,” on Jesus, “the iniquity,” the sin, “of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6). Later on, in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes that “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Jesus lived a perfect life. His death was not a penalty for his own sin and therefore his death became the means of God’s forgiving your sin and my sin. Forgiveness is available. Because of our sin, there is a chasm that exists between God and us. Jesus’ death on the cross bridged that chasm. Jesus on the cross made a relationship with God possible. Jesus on the cross made it possible for you and me to go home to the garden and walk once again with God.

B. How is this possible?

When I hear that, one of my questions in my mind is, how on earth is that possible? Although, when you think about it, the answer is not on earth. How is it possible for one man’s death to pay the penalty for the sin of all men, women, and children? How is that possible? The answer is, I don’t know. The Bible never fully explains how that’s possible, but it does give us two parts of the answer of how it is possible for Jesus’s death to pay the penalty for our sin.

1. Merciful heart of God

One of the answers is simply that it’s buried deep in the merciful heart of God. It’s because of God’s mercy and grace. You and I don’t deserve to be forgiven. Jesus asks, “What can a person give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:37) The answer is nothing. You and I have nothing we can do. No amount of religious activity, no amount of being better than our neighbors is enough to gain forgiveness for our sin. The answer is buried down inside the merciful heart of God.

We understand that we don’t deserve salvation, but God in his goodness and his mercy towards undeserving sinners decided that the death of an innocent sacrifice could pay the penalty of another person’s sin. That’s mercy. Throughout the Old Testament, up to the cross, the entire sacrificial system is designed to teach us that the death of an innocent sacrifice can pay the penalty of another person’s sin, because God is a merciful God.

2. Who Jesus Is

The other part to the answer of how it’s possible that Jesus’s death pays the penalty for your sin and my sin is wrapped up in who Jesus is. Jesus is fully God; Jesus is fully human. We call this the “incarnation.” It is because of the incarnation that Jesus was able to bear the sin of the world and pay the penalty for your sin and my sin.

If I lived a sinless life and then died, I couldn’t pay the price for your sin, could I? Jesus had to be fully God because only God could bear the weight of the penalty of all sin. When Jesus hung on the cross, God made him sin, the Bible says (2 Corinthians 5:21). It’s just not that he was punished, but he actually was made to be sin. Jesus was made to be all the sin that all people of all time ever committed or ever will commit. No human being could bear that weight. At every level, it would be impossible. Jesus had to be God in order to bear the weight of all your sin, all my sin, and the sin of all people throughout all ages.

Yet, there is something in God’s heart that says that if you’re going to provide a sacrifice for human beings, you also have to be a human being. Therefore, Jesus had to become fully human if he were to bear sin of all human beings. In the book of Hebrews, the author writes, “Therefore, Jesus had to be made like his brothers, in every respect, so that he could provide propitiation,” so that he could provide a sacrifice for your sin (Hebrews 2:17).

I don’t fully understand how Jesus’s death could pay the penalty for my sin, much less yours. However, I do know that it’s wrapped up in the merciful heart of God and that God had to provide the sacrifice himself, but he had to provide it as a human being in order to forgive the sin of all human beings.


“God so loved the world that he gave his only son.” And then Jesus moves to our response “that whoever believes in him.”

A. Whoever believes

That word “whoever” is really important. It tells us that no one is beyond Jesus’s ability to save. Jesus’s last words on the cross before he died were, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He meant what he said. He had completed the task for which God, the Father, had sent him to earth, and that is to be the sacrifice for the sin of people. He did his job well. He completed it. He finished it. Now, when we cry out for forgiveness, no matter what we have done, and no matter what we will do, God is able to forgive whoever believes in him.

He could’ve also said, “Whoever believes in me.” Remember, we are followers of Jesus. We believe in him, in a very personal sense. None of the following is Christianity.

Christianity is not a religion. A religion is defined as people seeking God.

Christianity is not a philosophy, a bunch of good ideas.

Christianity is not a set of doctrines, although there are things we believe.

Christianity is not a church building or a religious organization or a religious way of thinking.

Christianity is not a list of dos and don’ts.

Christianity is not a spiritual spasm where we say a magical prayer and raise a weepy hand and think that’s all there is to it.

Christianity is our believing in and following Jesus. It is a relationship with a personal God, a relationship made possible because of what Jesus did on the cross for you and for me. Christianity is a relationship in which we get to go home. We get to return to the garden, and we get to walk once again with our Creator and our God.

B. Not simply “believe”

“Whoever believes in him.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t say “whoever believes.” Biblical belief, biblical faith, biblical trust, are all English words that describe the same concept. Biblical faith is not intellectual assent. It is not believing Jesus.

Biblical faith is not even theism, which is believing that God exists. In fact, if someone says he is a Christian because he believes Jesus and believes that God exists, one answer is to say, “So what? The demons believe and they shudder.” When the demons see Jesus coming, they know exactly who he is and they cry out, “Oh, holy one of God. Have you come to torment us?” (Matt 8:29) Demons are theists; they know God exists. They know who Jesus is, but they will not be in heaven.

Biblical faith is not intellectual assent, nor is it theism, nor is it believing that God will take care of our hurts and our pains. Biblical faith is not merely believing that God is going to change our lives and give us purpose and joy, though those are part of it. But none of these are conversion. Conversion is the experience of those who believe in him, in Jesus.

C. Believe into

The New Testament was originally written in Greek. In John 3:16, Jesus is going out of his way to use really poor Greek grammar to make the point. In all of recorded Greek literature, no one uses the phrase that Jesus uses here. If you’re going to translate it exactly, it would be that “whoever believes into him.” This is horrible Greek grammar, but it’s marvelous theology.

Biblical belief means that we no longer believe in ourselves. Biblical belief means that we no longer trust ourselves. Biblical belief means that we have transferred our trust out of ourselves and we have transferred it into Jesus. Biblical belief means that we have made a commitment to trust Jesus, not ourselves. Biblical belief means throwing ourselves into the merciful arms of our loving Creator, fully trusting him for everything: for forgiveness; for salvation; for care; for support; for all the things that we need as human beings. Biblical belief means we have thrown ourselves into the merciful arms of God and trust him for everything. That’s a far cry from merely believing Jesus.

D. Psalm 23

One of the most loved passages in the Bible is in a book called Psalms. In chapter 23 of Psalms, we can see who Jesus is. If we emphasize the pronouns, we can start to get a grasp of what it means to believe into Jesus. The Psalmist writes, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Think of the relationship that exists between stupid, dumb, smelly, biting, kicking sheep and their shepherd. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” And here comes the pronouns. “He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me besides still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of rightness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Why? Because I’m a strong, independent being and I can handle whatever life throws at me? No. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you,” God, “are with me. Your rod and staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup runs over. Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house,” in the presence, “of God forever” (Psalm 23:1-6).

E. Salvation is not something we earn

When we read Psalm 23, that way, we start to get a feel for what Christianity, what following Jesus, is all about. It’s understanding that we’re stupid, sinful sheep and we need a shepherd. Our shepherd not only provides for our forgiveness, but he provides for everything we need: still waters; green pastures; protection from our enemies. “God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes into him,” whoever transfers their trust into Jesus, John 3:16. Salvation is not something we earn.

There is a really important point that I want to emphasize if we’re going to understand this phrase in John 3:16. If we understand that salvation is not something that we earn, but it’s something that God does for us, then it’s pretty easy to understand that salvation is not by doing religious things. Salvation is by faith.

When you and I became followers of Jesus Christ, we didn’t come to him with our hands full of good deeds and say, “You owe me. I haven’t beaten my wife lately. I haven‘t kicked my dog lately. I haven’t cheated on my taxes lately. I go to church some of the time, and I even gave a little money last year.” We don’t come to God with things in our hands as if we deserve forgiveness or earn salvation. When we come to understand what salvation is, we understand that it is simply by faith. Salvation is trusting that when we jump into Jesus’s arms, he’ll catch us and he’ll save us.

The Bible says that the wages of sin are death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 3:23). We are saved to become friends of Jesus, not by the things that we do, as if we were earning favor with God, but by believing that God has done in Christ what we could never do for ourselves.

Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). There’s a song that says, “Because the sinless savior died my sinful soul is counted free. For God the just is satisfied to look on him,” Jesus, “and pardon me.” This songwriter and all true followers of Jesus understand that our sin is pardoned, not because we have done certain things, but because God through Jesus has done certain things. God, the Father, who is loving and just and merciful is willing to look not on our sin, but to look on Jesus’s perfection, and to treat us not as we deserve, but to treat us as Jesus deserves. Salvation is nothing that we do for ourselves. Salvation is what God has done for us. And we respond in faith, believing and trusting that it is so.

F. Salvation is believing Jesus

The way you and I become Christians, followers of Jesus — whatever language you want to use — is not by doing religious things to earn God’s favor. You and I become followers of Jesus Christ by believing that Jesus is who he says he is and by believing that he did what he said he did.

We believe that Jesus is who he says he is. Jesus says, “I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life. No one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). We believe that Jesus alone provides forgiveness of sin and he alone provides access to God so that we can have fellowship and a relationship with our Creator. Apart from Jesus, we will die because of our sin, never enjoying to live in his presence.

We believe he is who he says he is. And we believe that he has done, and will do, what he has said he has done, and will do. Jesus said, “I did not come to be served, but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). We believe that Jesus provided the ransom, the payment, to buy our freedom from sin. We believe that when Jesus cried out, “It is finished,” that he had accomplished the work on the cross and now our sin can be forgiven and we can be given access to our Creator.

Disciples are those who believe Jesus is who he says he is, and that he has done what he said he would do.


“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him,” not in ourselves, “will not perish, but have everlasting life.” If we live our life separated from our Creator, the only possible option for us is perishing. Hell is a very real place. We have a taste of it here and now, don’t we? But hell is a real place and all I’m going to say is, you really don’t want to go there. Jesus died so we won’t perish, but have everlasting life, eternal life. We understand that death is a passage into true life, lived in fellowship with our Creator. And the really good thing about the gospel is that even before death, you and I get to enjoy some of the benefits of eternal life here and now. After all, we’ve been born again, we have a new Father. We have a new family with new brothers and sisters. We have a new inheritance waiting for us in heaven. We’re aliens now on earth, but our citizenship is in heaven.

We live our lives looking forward, longing to go home and walk in the garden again with God. While on earth, there will continue to be pain. There will continue to be suffering. There will be death all around us. Guess what? There will even be persecution for our new faith. Our friends are not going to understand why we have changed. We will become, as Paul says, the aroma of death to them, but we will also be the fragrance of life to God. You and I will have new lives with real joy. The kind of joy that sees past the circumstances of our lives. It’s a true joy that is based on the fact that the emptiness of our souls has been filled by our Creator. “God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”


Jesus also says that before we make the decision to believe into him, we must count the costs because things are never going to be the same. They can’t be. Salvation is absolutely free and absolutely undeserved. There is nothing that you can do to earn it. Yet, when we make the decision to be followers of Jesus Christ, it is going to cost us everything because discipleship is discipleship under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Paul tells us, “You are not your own.” Why? Well, the answer is we were bought with a price. So glorify God and not ourselves. Glorify God in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Peter says, “For you know that it was not with perishable things, such as silver or gold, that you were redeemed from the empty way of life. But rather you were redeemed with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19)

The blood of Christ is the price God paid to redeem you and me from the pit of hell. Now, we who are disciples of Jesus Christ belong to him. The tyranny of sin has been broken and the mastery of sin over us is gone. Not only do we have lives of freedom and joy, but we also live our lives under his Lordship for his glory. Whether we eat or drink, whatever we do, we do to the glory of God. So we have counted the cost and we have joyfully made the decision to follow Jesus.

When we made our decision, God’s Holy Spirit came into our lives and he regenerated us, made us into new people and gave us new birth. We were born again. God’s Spirit stays within us and he guides and directs us. He even gives us the power to change, to become more like Jesus.


God’s will for your life and my life is that we change. His will is that we stop looking like what we used to look like and that we start looking like his son, Jesus Christ. Paul tells us that we are being changed from one degree of glory to the next (2 Corinthians 3:18). And this is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, giving us the desire to change and then the ability to change. The Bible calls these changes the “fruits of the Spirit. “

As God’s Spirit is at work inside of us, our lives start to show a kind of love that it’s never shown before. Our lives start to understand a deep-seated peace that we never felt before. We have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22¬–23) because the tyranny of sin has been broken and we are free to serve God. He is at work, giving us these new desires and then the ability to perform them.

What you have done is taken your first step in your new life of discipleship. God made the world, he loved the world. He gave his Son for the world and his Son died for the sin of the world so that those who have placed their trust into Jesus will enjoy the joyous relationship with our Creator now and forevermore.

Welcome to the family of God, my brother and my sister.

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