Lecture 11: Walking with God
Course: Life is a Journey
Lecture: Walking With God
Today, I want to talk about the whole topic of walking with God. This topic has been a very difficult talk to put together, because I didn’t know where in this series of twelve to put it; if this were a series of thirty, it would have been the twenty-eighth because it’s a little hard, maybe a little too much. However, it’s really important that over a twelve-talk period, I cover all the basic fundamental issues that we as new believers need to know. So, in biblical language, “gird up your loins” (get ready) and hang in there, because we do need to talk about this whole issue of sanctification. Sanctification is a fancy, theological term, which simply means that we are set apart from sin. Sanctification means that in our walk with God, we are to become holy. When we became Christians, we were, in a sense, babes in Christ, but just as babies are to grow into mature adulthood, so also are we to grow spiritually into spiritual maturity.
1. What does spiritual growth look like?
What does spiritual growth look like? Spiritual growth means that as we walk day in, day out, we look more and more like Jesus and less and less like the world. Spiritual growth means our attitudes and behavior more and more start to reflect the attitude and behavior of Jesus Christ. Our lives start to show the fruits of the Spirit; where there was no love, now there is love; where there was no joy, there is now a deep joy that looks beyond the circumstances of life, rooted in the peace we have with God because we have been reconciled. Sanctification is the process of looking less like the world and looking more like our Heavenly Father.
2. God’s will for your life
Have you ever asked yourselves, “What is the will of God for my life?” or “What does God want me to do?” This question is the easiest question to answer! The answer is in I Thessalonians 4:3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification....” Almost everything else is just commentary. What God wants is for us, one step at a time, to look less and less like the world and more and more like His Son, Jesus Christ. There are a lot of verses that talk about sanctification, and my favorite is Romans 12:1-2, where Paul says to the church in Rome, “I appeal to you,” I urge or beg of you, “therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” You see, this is the will of God for our lives; to look at what God has done in all of His mercy in saving us, and then in response, saying, “I give everything that I am to You sacrificially. My desire is not to be conformed to this world, not to allow it to squeeze me into its mold, but rather to be transformed. Not transformed by legalism or by all these rules I must follow, but to be transformed from the inside with the renewal of my mind showing itself in my walk.” This is sanctification; this is what our walk with God is to look like.
B. God allows difficult circumstances
The practical question of sanctification obviously is “Have we started the process of growth into spiritual maturity?” or “Have we started to change and look less like the world and more like Jesus?” In His love and His grace and His mercy and His power and His sovereignty (He is King of King and Lord of Lords), this loving God allows difficult circumstances into our lives to help us grow; to help us in our walk; to help us become more like Jesus. A good, loving, all-powerful God will allow difficult circumstances into our lives. He will allow accidents; He will allow sickness; He will allow perhaps unemployment. Then, on top of all these good things, He will allow us to be persecuted for our faith (”Oh, good!” Yes, it is.); these good things will most likely start with our friends. Our friends will look at us and say, “Hey, you’re different. What’s wrong with you? Do you think you’re better than we are? Come on, let’s keep doing the things we have always done.” Our friends will not understand when we say, “No, I don’t want to do that anymore.” Perhaps we will suffer at work; perhaps we’ll be passed over for a promotion because our bosses hate Christians. Perhaps our neighbors and even our family members will ostracize us because they think that we think we’re better than they are and we’re standing in judgement of them by being Christians. Difficult circumstances are going to come into our lives, and we know that because it comes into all Christians’ lives.
1. What did I do wrong?
We are going to be tempted to say, “What did I do wrong? Certainly, I’ve done something wrong for these difficult things to happen to me.” The answer from Scripture is, “No, you probably did something right, and that’s why these difficult circumstances are in your life.” Paul tells his friend Timothy in II Timothy 3:12, “Everyone who seeks to live a godly life in will be persecuted...” The world hates our Master, and Jesus says that, “If they hated Me they are going to hate you as well.” So when these difficult things happen in our lives, whether simply because we’re human beings living in a fallen world or whether it’s because we’re Christians, our tendency will be, “Did I do something wrong,” and the answer is possibly, “No.” The answer probably is that God wants to do something right in our lives, and so in His sovereignty and in His control and in His goodness, He is going to allow these difficult circumstances into our lives so we can grow in our sanctification and holiness.
2. We grow in the difficult times
When times are good, we rarely grow; isn’t that sad but true? When the marriage is good, the family is good, work is going smoothly, the car is not breaking down, and we still don’t have to paint that side of the house yet, when things are going good, how many of us grow in our faith and trust in Jesus Christ? Not many. Yet, when times of stress and hurt and difficult challenges come is when we tend to grow more and become more like Jesus Christ; that’s His purpose in our lives, that we look like Him.
3. Test our genuine faith
When these difficult times occur, there are all sorts of things that could be going on in our lives. One of the things that could be going on when difficult circumstances come is that God wants to test how genuine our faith is. Now, He knows whether or not our faith is real, but He wants us to know that our faith in Jesus Christ is rock solid. In the midst of these difficult circumstances, God wants us to be not only confident but He wants our faith to be refined—to be pure. In I Peter 1:6-7, Peter describes all the wonderful things that happen to a Christian; he says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” That is part of what is going on when difficult times come into our lives; we are being purified, refined, and tested so that we can know for sure and praise God in how we respond; we know that our faith is genuine and real.
4. Produce Christian character
When difficult things come into our lives, what God is sometimes doing is just trying to produce a Christian character in us. For example, in Romans 5:3, Paul says, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope...” The Christian life is a process, isn’t it? I don’t know of any one of us, who, when we first became Christians, could look at suffering and say, “Yeah”; that’s not natural, but it is supernatural! The Christian walk is a walk, a process, and it takes one step at a time; and as we get farther down this process, this walk, we learn to rejoice in our sufferings. We don’t rejoice in our sufferings because we’re masochists, but we learn to rejoice in our sufferings because we know God wants to produce endurance, character, and hope in our lives and this is how it happens. My other most favorite verses regarding these things are James 1:2-4, although sometimes I feel like taking a big black Magic Marker and crossing them out (I haven’t yet). James says: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,” (Man, I’m running for the hills! “No, count it all joy, Bill.”) “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” God’s will for your life and mine is not the avoidance of pain, but it is His will that we look like Jesus. In His sovereign control of all things and in His love and compassion, the best way that God can get us to look like Jesus is to allow difficult circumstances to come into our lives. God calls us to respond to these difficult circumstances not in fear but rather in faith, to listen, learn, and grow, walking the walk. This is how our faith is tested and made genuine and pure; this is how we become like Jesus. Many know that we lost two daughters at birth, and that’s when I got the Magic Marker out for the first time; to get rid of these two stupid verses. I don’t know how I worked through that process, but I am not who I was fifteen years ago and Robin is not who she was fifteen years ago; that was because of God’s sovereign control and love and grace and mercy. God allowed difficult circumstances into my life and Robin’s; in the midst, He said, “In the storms of life, hang on,” and that’s what we did—here we are today, and it means we have two more children waiting for us in heaven.
C. Response is to compartmentalize lives
When difficult situations come into our lives, the question is “How are we going to respond?” Hopefully, we will hang on for all God is worth. However, I know that temptations will come; temptations to run away and hide, temptations to not lean into the pain. We will be tempted to do anything we possibly can to get away from the pain and to make the pain go away and make it stop. One of the ways in which we will be tempted to avoid pain, among other things, is to compartmentalize our lives; I can say this because it is true of all Christians. We are tempted to divide our lives into sections and say, “God, I’m not going to give You all of myself,” so we shut off doors to certain rooms of our lives. We will say, “I will give you part of my life, but I’m not going to give You that part because it’s too painful and it hurts too much.” I often think of life as being a patchwork quilt, a quilt made up of many, many squares; and so we say, “Okay, God, these squares are Yours—I will give You these squares—but other squares of my life, I will not give to you because it’s too painful. I don’t trust You and I don’t think You have my best at heart, so I think I know better and I want to keep other areas of my life to myself”; and life becomes this little patchwork quilt. For those of you who are new Christians, this may be a little hard to hear. I don’t mean to be a prophet of doom, but you need to understand that these are the challenges that will lie ahead for your lives; perhaps you have already started to feel some twinges.
1. Compartmentalize time
The question is “What’s going to happen when you’re tempted to compartmentalize your lives?” For example, you will be tempted to compartmentalize your time. You will be tempted to say, “This square is Sunday morning; this is the time I’m going to give to God; this is His time. However, I will keep other days and time periods for myself over here; these are different squares of the quilt. God, I’ve give you these squares, You should be happy with Sunday mornings, but I’m going to keep Sunday afternoon and all the time I’m at work or whatever during the week for myself because they belong to me.” You are going to be tempted to compartmentalize your time. You will also be tempted to compartmentalize your money. Understand that God does not need your money because it’s all His, but Jesus says, “where your treasure is there your heart is also,” period and end of discussion. Again, this will be a temptation: we compartmentalize our money and so we have this square over here, in the patchwork quilt of our lives, which represents our loose change; now, it’s not too much so it doesn’t affect our lifestyles—this is our loose change we can throw at God. “You know what, God, You should be happy.” After the loose change, we keep the rest of “my money” over in other squares of our lives and say, “This money is none of Your business, God.” “You know, I need this money for my wealth and my portfolio so I don’t have to trust You in retirement.” “This money is for my bigger house.” “This is for a third car even though there are only two drivers in the house.”
2. Compartmentalize money
We compartmentalize our money, forgetting, of course, it’s all His. Even our bodies are His; we were bought with the precious blood of the Lamb of God and we don’t own anything. We are stewards of God’s wealth and we are called to use His wealth to advance His purposes. When we stand before the Judgement Seat, we will be held accountable for how we spent God’s money. Yet the temptation will be to compartmentalize and say, “Okay, God, here’s my loose change; the rest is mine.”
3. Compartmentalize affections
You will also be tempted to compartmentalize your affections. You will be tempted to say, “In this situation, in this square, I’m going to love God; but in other areas of my life, He can’t have my heart. I’m not going to give Him my affections in these other areas. In this area of my life, He has my affections, and I’m going to go to church Sunday morning and put on a nice religious smile, and when someone says, ‘How are you doing?’ I will say, ‘Fine.’” I think the word “fine” should be struck from the English language; it’s a terrible word. Fine means “My life is really lousy right now, but I’m not sure you care enough so I’m going to gloss it over.” At least that’s what it means at my house. We’ll go to church and we’ll put on the face and tell everyone we’re fine and we’ll also sing with smiles; however, we can’t wait to get home to visit the pornography sites, to pick up those magazines, or to molest little boys and girls. I know the statistics: 50% of American males go to porn sites once a week. 25% of women are sexually molested I also know that statistically, the church is no different than the world. So we have our affections, “Oh, I love You, God,” but can’t wait to go home and look at naked women on the Internet; that’s sick. There are many areas in which you will be tempted to compartmentalize. You will be tempted to compartmentalize your tongue. “Okay, I’m going to stop using the Lord’s Name in vain, and I might stop saying these couple of words, but oh, man, I’m going to keep gossiping, slandering, passing critical judgment, and devaluing people.” The temptation to compartmentalize is everywhere in our reality, and I wish this were not true. I really wish that God had done things differently; He didn’t ask me, but I wish it were! I wish that when I became a Christian that sin was completely removed from my life, and that there wouldn’t be these challenges or sin pulling me.
4. Give all to God
I wish that I could just give all of myself to God. I wish that I wouldn’t shut doors to certain rooms in my heart, but that’s the nature of reality; God, in His love and wisdom, saw this was the best way to do things, and He is right and I am wrong. Every time, God is right and I am wrong. This is how God has called us to grow into Christ’s likeness—in difficult circumstances and challenging times. We are to open all of the doors to all of the rooms of our lives and throw away the patchwork quilt; to have one single, big square of our lives and every last bit of it is His. I am so scared that, if you are a young Christian you will be so overwhelmed that you will run out of here saying, “Whoa, I don’t want anything to do with this.” Remember that this is a walk, a process, and it is something we do one step at a time. Sometimes, we will have two or three challenges, but often, at least in my life, I’ve noticed that God only allows one problem at a time. He says, “Okay, Bill, time to deal with this issue in your life; you didn’t respond properly to that person. In fact, you tend to react too strongly to people; time for you to work on this.” The worst thing we can do when these challenges come is compartmentalize them and say, “No, I’ll give this to You, God, but I’m keeping these parts to myself” because that’s not the deal we made. When we became Christians, we understood that Jesus is Savior, He is Lord, He is the Boss; He is Master, and we are His disciples. Paul tells the Corinthians that we are to glorify Him with anything and everything we have, including our bodies. Jesus gave all of Himself to you and to me, and He expects all of us back; I think that’s why He calls us followers. Jesus calls us disciples because He wants full-time, fully devoted disciples; that’s the only kind of crop He wants. In the Parable of the Four Soils, the only soil that is acceptable to the farmer is the one that produced the full crop. So also in the area of discipleship, the only thing that is acceptable to God is a fully devoted disciple of Jesus Christ; there are verses that tell us this all throughout the Bible. In what I think the is most important verse on discipleship, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after Me,” if anyone wants to be My follower, My disciple, a Christian, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34) If we want to be followers of Jesus Christ, then we must deny all of our wills. We must say no to ourselves, and then everyday we are to live as those who have been crucified to our own wills. Every day we must say what Jesus said in the Garden, “Not My will but Yours be done”; that’s how we follow Him as fully devoted disciples. Jesus also says, “So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be My disciple.” (Luke 14:33) The Parable of the Young Rich Ruler applies to all of us, because God demands all. Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ.” If you want to push the metaphor, he didn’t say, “I was cut by Christ,” He didn’t say, “I was wounded by Christ,” nor “I was perhaps a little maimed by Christ,” he said, “I was crucified with Christ; I died.” “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.”
D. What if we compartmentalize?
Romans 12:1-2 makes no allowance for a patchwork-quilt-kind-of-life; it does not. Romans tells us to present our bodies and everything we are to sacrifice to God, and that means we will not look like the world but we will be transformed from the inside out; this is the challenge all of us will face, and perhaps are facing. What is going to happen if we compartmentalize our lives? What will happen if we hold back pieces of ourselves from God? What are the consequences of refusing to open all of the doors of our lives? Well, it will start by harming our relationship with Jesus Christ. As we sin, we will realize there is something between God and us; we will experience guilt, and guilt is a good thing; we will experience depression. As things go on and don’t get better, God will start to remove His peace from our lives, and He will start to remove His blessing from our lives. Eventually, we are told that as a loving Heavenly Father, God will discipline His children for their sin.
E. Sufficiency of the Cross
The amazing message of the Gospel is that because God is the God of mercy and grace, He extends His goodness to those in need and those who don’t deserve it. Because of God’s mercy and grace, you and I can stop this downward spiral of sin whenever we want. The wall between God and us can be removed, and the peace and blessing can come back into our lives; all we have to do is repent; all we have to do is confess. “Yes, God, once again, You’re right and I’m wrong. Once again, I went my way and it was the wrong way. I am truly sorry.” Because God is a God of grace, His mercy will sweep through us and remove our sin as far as the east is from the west. Then our relationship and the peace and blessing of God will be restored; this is part of the Doctrine of the Sufficiency of the Cross, which we’ve talked about several times back. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was sufficient to cover all the sin of the world for all who cry out to Him for forgiveness; that’s true not only of the forgiveness that happened when we became Christians, but also the sin we will commit as His children. No matter how much we do, and no matter how bad it is or how many times we commit our favorite sin (we all have them, don’t we?), the cross is sufficient to cover our sin.
F. What if we don’t give Him all?
If we go to Christ and ask for forgiveness, He will forgive our sin and the downward spiral will stop; this is where the joy and freedom is in the Christian walk, isn’t it? There is no joy in straddling a fence—fences were never made to be straddled. As long as we try to straddle the fence, have our patchwork-quilt life of some to God and some to us, we are going to be miserable people. However, the joy and freedom that God has promised comes when we say, “It’s all Yours. All of the doors are open”; unfortunately, we don’t always do that, do we?
1. Lose our assurance as Christians
We don’t always stop the spiral; after all, there’s part of us that likes to sin even as regenerated children of God. Sometimes we don’t confess our sin. What will happen if sin continues in our lives, a spiral that continues to pull us farther and farther down into the muck? (Muck is a good Greek word, by the way; it is “mukaes” in the original — not really.) Although generally it takes years to occur, eventually when we continue to say no to God and continue to live in our sin, we are going to lose the assurance that we are Christians—we will lose the confidence that we are children of God. Understand, “we are saved by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves; it is the gift of God.” We were dead in our trespasses and sin, and not because of anything we deserve but because God is a God of mercy and grace, He plucked us from the “muckaes” of life and brought us into His eternal Kingdom. I was dead at the time; I did not help Him at all. Salvation is by grace, yet in conversion God changed us. As changed children of God, He has said that He wants our lives to change as well. The message of Scripture is if your life or my life does not continue to change, then there will come a point in which we must question whether or not we really are Christians; I will not ask you this question, I don’t believe that is my job. However, through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, each one of us will have to ask ourselves the question, “Am I really a Christian? Was my conversion real?” Assurance does not come from a single event. Assurance of salvation isn’t based on a raised hand or a prayer at camp, but rather our assurance of being a child of God, the Bible says, is all tied up with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Holy Spirit is whispering in my ears, “Yes, Bill, you are a child of God.” He is saying, “Yes, Bill, you are a child of God; look at how your life is changing.” The change that occurs in our lives is part of the basis of our assurance that, in fact, we are children of God. I am not making this up; it is in the Bible. Among many passages, there is 1 John 2:3 where John says, “And by this we know that we have come to know Him,” this is how we know that we are in a relationship with God; that we are Christians, “if,” we raise our hands at church at camp and go to church twice a year? No! That’s not what it says. “we keep His commandments.” There is our assurance. Keeping His commandments—not as an attempt to earn God’s favor, but as the response of changed lives. “Whoever says, ‘I know Him,’” whoever says, “I’m a Christian,” “but does not keep His commandments,” has a smaller house in heaven and more menial tasks to do? Wrong! “is a liar, and the truth is not in him,” In John’s vocabulary, we want the truth in us; that’s the only way we get to heaven, and it’s the only way to have a relationship with God. “But whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.” That’s the changed life. Then John says again, “By this we may be sure that we are in Him: whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked.” Our assurance, our absolute, rock-solid confidence, that we are children of God comes through the work of the Holy Spirit, confirming in our spirits, Romans 8, that we are children of God, showing us, “Look at your life, it’s changing. Do you think you did this on your own? Do you think Satan wanted your life to change? Gee, I wonder what force in this universe is strong enough to change your heart, Bill?” There is only One strong enough to change our hearts, and it is the power of the Holy Spirit. The changes in our lives are part of our confidence that we are His children. How terrifying it must have been to the people who went to the church in Laodicea when they received the written Book of Revelation. Can you imagine getting a book written by the Apostle John and it says, “To those who go to Shiloh Hills Fellowship...” Well, that’s what happens in Revelation! The Spirit speaks to seven churches, and to the Church of Laodicea, he says, “I know your works:” I know what your life looks like. “you are neither cold nor hot.” Cold water is good for things and hot water is good for things, but they are neither cold nor hot.) “Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” (Revelation 3:15-16) So you see, there’s no backseat in heaven, is there? Often we think in terms of carnality, being a second-level Christian or something, but Christians in Laodicea (I would expect at Shiloh Hills Fellowship, too), or people who claim they are Christians who are lukewarm, they will be spit out of His mouth. Later on in Verse 19, He says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” This is what happens when you and I like to sin; when we have our little areas of sin tucked away and we think that nobody can see them until somebody gets into the history of our internet browser and finds out where we’ve been. We hang onto sin and we realize we have no confidence that we were Christians at all.
2. Warning passages
Wait; it gets worse! There is a whole other set of verses that we call the Warning Passages. The Warning Passages are not meant for people who are struggling and fighting the fight, or who are maybe failing and confessing. The Warning Passages of Scripture are for the kinds of people who perhaps have made a profession of faith through camp, or whatever. (Don’t get me wrong, I love camp.) The Warning Passages of Scripture are for the people who have this spiritual event happen in their lives where they make a profession and think they got a “Get-out-of-hell-free card,” which means they think, “We can go live anyway we want, it doesn’t matter.” Their lives don’t change and they think when they stand before the Judgement Seat of God, they can put this orange, two-and-a-half-by-three-inch card in front of His face and say, “I get out of hell free!” God will look at them and say, “What’s that? I’ve never seen that before. Didn’t you listen to My word?” It’s to those kinds of people that the Warning Passages were addressed. John 8:31 says, “If you abide in My word,” if you live in Me, if you walk with Me, “you are truly My disciples...” If we don’t abide in His word, it is clear, isn’t it; we are not His disciples. Jesus says that, “the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 24:13. While starting good is important, it’s more important to finish well; it’s the one who endures and hangs in there to the end who will be saved. Paul tells the Colossians in Colossians 1:23 that they have been reconciled and are friends with God. He says, “...if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard.” The strongest Warning Passages are scattered all the way through the Book of Hebrews. In Chapter 3:14, it says, “For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”
G. God will enable us
These are not, in one sense, pleasant verse, but they are frightening verses, aren’t they? Yet how can we go through a twelve-week series of what the Bible says for new believers and not know there will be challenges coming? However, because God is a God of grace and mercy, He will enable us to hang in there and be steadfast and to endure. He is going to work through our difficult situations; He is going to refine our faith; He is going to confirm our faith; He is going to make us into the men and women of God He wants us to become because He wants us to look like His Son. Our looking like His son is more important than anything else; yet in the midst of all this, we take that step. We present our bodies as a living sacrifice. We refuse, by the power of God, to be conformed to this world, but we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. When we became Christians, Jesus became our Savior, but He also became our Lord. The Boss calls us to grow up! He calls us to grow up in our sanctification. He calls us to look less and less like the world. The last plea I will make, especially for you new Christians, is please, don’t get scared because the joy in the freedom of Christianity is in this process, one step at a time. As you open doors and as you get rid of the patchwork quilt and as you relinquish yourselves to God to His enabling, His strength, and His leading, you can take one step at a time. As Paul tells the Corinthians, you will be changed from one degree of glory to the next. I talked with someone after the first service who became a Christian last week. I asked if this was too much. She said, “No, I know what lies ahead; I’m excited!” I hope that is your response as well. We are going to fail; it’s not a good thing, but God is there. If we are confessing our sin, He is forgiving our sin. He gives us the Holy Spirit to help us to obey Him. Then He calls us to present our bodies sacrificially to Him so that we are not conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of our minds; this is God’s will for our lives and our sanctification. So the questions simply are: “Is your life changing? Is your life beginning to change? Is your life continuing to change? Are you, one step at a time, becoming a fully devoted disciple of Jesus Christ? I pray that you are.