Transformed, 18 August 2019

Series—The Power of the Gospel
Acts 9:1-31

Series Big Idea:
The gospel—“good news”—is powerful and transformative.

Big Idea:
Every person you encounter is a masterpiece with tremendous potential, regardless of their present condition.

Several years ago, my late mother-in-law invited Heather and I to her new home in central Michigan. She had warned us it was a fixer-upper, but we were not prepared for the mess she purchased. I have been in nicer tents! Perhaps we should’ve planned on sleeping in the car!

Rather than embarrassment, she was proud of her purchase. She described in detail all of the things she was going to do to this shack. Any person in their right mind would’ve done exactly one thing: knocked it down and started over! She didn’t have another place to stay, so she lived in this structure for months and months while it was renovated around her. The woman had vision, and the end result was nothing short of amazing.

Have you met people like that cottage? Their physical health might be a train wreck. Their finances are in shambles. Their relationships are a disaster. They need serious mental and emotional help.

Perhaps the person is you…or it used to be you.

In our series “The Power of the Gospel,” we’ve noted how the gospel—or good news—is, indeed, powerful. It’s all about Jesus, and this world needs Jesus. I need Jesus. We all need Jesus, whether we know it or not. It’s both a responsibility and a joy to share good news, to introduce people to Jesus. It’s up to them what they do with Jesus, but at this moment there are literally billions of people on our planet that have never been introduced to Jesus. Many have never even heard his name. This is why it’s so important for us to go and make disciples, to proclaim good news.

But what if you proclaim Jesus to someone who wants to kill you because of Jesus? We’re going to look at a true story about just such a man today. His transformation may be the greatest in human history…and it offers hope for everyone.

It’s the first century. That Jewish man Jesus has died and then resurrected. He ascended into heaven and his followers are telling everyone about him and his promised return. The early Christians are seeking to follow Jesus’ two primary commands, to love God and to love others as they love themselves. It’s a radical faith, spreading rapidly, among both Jews and Gentiles. But there’s opposition. Many of the Romans could care less about religion, but the Pharisees—the religious leaders who wanted Jesus killed in the first place—are attacking these early believers in Yeshua, Jesus. One of their leaders is a man named Saul.

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2)

How would you like to run into this guy? The first Christians were called people of the Way, and Saul was threatening to kill them while taking them as prisoners. This is not a nice man, though he thought was doing the right thing. He was religious, and he saw these Christians as opponents of his Jewish religion. Persecuting them was doing God’s word, he thought.

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him,
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:3-4)

Has this ever happened to you? You’re on your way to visit the high priest and you’re confronted by a bright light and a voice speaking your name! It must’ve been quite the scene. After all, it literally changed the course of history.

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:5-6)

Do you think Saul had a choice?!

Although this is an unusual miracle,

God still speaks today.

He speaks primarily through the Bible—which is why we must read and study it—but He does use other things to communicate with us. In my life, God has spoken through other people, circumstances, an idea at 3 o’clock in the morning, and His still, small voice. Others have experienced life-changing dreams. Prophecy, music, prayer, and nature are all conduits of God’s messages. He is speaking. Are you quiet enough to hear?

One thing that’s essential to know is
God will never contradict Himself. In other words, He’ll never tell you something which goes against the Bible. If you’re not sure a message or idea is from God, I’d recommend sharing it with someone who knows God and the Bible and see what they think.

Back to our story…

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. (Acts 9:7-9)

Saul was blind for three days. That’s a popular period of time in the Bible!

In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision,

“Yes, Lord,” he answered. (Acts 9:10)

The Lord told him,
“Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” (Acts 9:11-12)

Normally if God speaks, the appropriate response is, “Yes, LORD!”

The actual response is sometime, “What?!”

“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” (Acts 9:13-14)

Even without radio, tv, or even newspapers, Ananias knew about Saul. His picture was posted at the Christian post office (ha!). The thought of going to Saul made as much sense to Ananias as an American scheduling a meeting with Osama bin Ladin when he was alive. You’ve got to be crazy! This guy’s on a man hunt…for you and your people!

But the Lord said to Ananias,
“Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (Acts 9:15-16)

If I’m Ananias, I’m thinking “must suffer” is appropriate after all the Christians persecuted and killed on Saul’s watch. God said “go!” and Ananias obeyed, even though he must’ve been scared stiff!

Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. (Acts 9:17-19a)

This was a miracle! Saul’s conversion is—to this day—one of the most radical in history. This religious Jew encounters Jesus and becomes not only a follower, but one of the two leaders of the early Church, along with Peter.

What follows in Acts chapter 9 is a descriptions of Saul’s first days as a Christian, preaching and proclaiming the gospel, the good news, Jesus is the Son of God. His transformation was so amazing, the Jews conspired to kill him! A verses later,

When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. (Acts 9:26-27)

It took Barnabus to convince the others that Saul had really joined their team. Sure, it seemed too good to be true, but

The Gospel can reach anyone. There is no such thing as a hopeless causes with our God. There’s no person on earth Jesus’ blood can’t forgive. Good news is for everyone.

About two thousand years ago, some shepherds were in their fields when an angel appeared and terrified them.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

Good news…Jesus…the Gospel…for all the people. The Gospel can reach anyone. Kirk Franklin sings in a song, “I’m the reason why God made grace.” I love that! I am that reason. We are all in need of grace, of love, of God’s forgiveness, of reconciliation with God and one another, and that’s why Jesus came. He is the ultimate good news in a world full of bad news. And this is why I want the world to know about Jesus!

I mentioned Osama bin Ladin earlier, but I prayed many times for his salvation. I thought if he were to follow Jesus, countless lives would be influenced for good rather than evil. As far as I know, bin Ladin never trusted Jesus with his life, but even though he had done terrible things, he was forgivable. The 23
rd chapter of Luke tells of a criminal on the cross next to Jesus.

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42)

Jesus answered him,
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Is that even fair?! Does he spend eternity in the same place as Mother Theresa and Billy Graham? We don’t know the details for their afterlife, but Jesus seems to be telling this criminal in his final moments his faith is valid. God can reach anyone; even your boss, your son or daughter, your friend, your enemy. God so loved the world, which includes everyone in the world. In God’s eyes, there’s no such thing as a hopeless cause. God can reach anyone. Even me. Hallelujah!

So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews,
but they tried to kill him. When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. (Acts 9:28-30)

Saul’s ministry grew, as did his Jewish opposition.

Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. (Acts 9:31)

This was a brilliant, yet dangerous, time in the life of the early Church. The opposition was real, yet the testimony of one Pharisee who would later be known as Paul was a game-changer.

So What?

I want to challenge you today with a simple next step: pray for your greatest enemy. It might be a parent or child or some other family member. Maybe it’s your boss or neighbor. It could be a political figure you’ve never met, or a prisoner who wronged you. Whoever it is, they would be a better human being to themself and the world if they would surrender their life to Jesus. You may seek revenge, but you surely don’t want their bad behavior to continue. What if they had a Damascus Road encounter with God like Saul? Imagine their testimony for the Kingdom of God.

You might be thinking, “They don’t deserve God’s grace after all they’ve done,” but that’s a misunderstanding of grace. They
don’t deserve it. Neither do we. Grace is unmerited favor, so by definition, you cannot earn or deserve it. Jesus said to

…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:44b)

Love and pray for your enemies.
Oscar Wilde said, “Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”
But seriously, Jesus commands us to love and pray for them. That’s not easy, but it is possible with the power of the Holy Spirit. And there’s not greater power than love. There’s no force which can transform like love. We can pray for anyone to encounter Jesus! That’s the first step in proclaiming the gospel, the good news, Jesus. If the greatest gift we can give anyone is Jesus, prayer is like wrapping the gift. It’s getting it ready to be received. We can’t guarantee acceptance of Jesus, but we can pray and ask God to open their hearts, to use our deeds and words, and to transform the person.

Many people think of Christianity is all about not doing bad things. I was once told Christians don’t drink, smoke, chew, or go with girls who do! Avoiding bad behavior—or worse, hiding bad behavior—is not what it means to follow Jesus. Yes, there are many things harmful to us and God which are never good for us, but Christianity is not just about what we’re against. It’s also what we’re for. It’s about
who we’re for. We are for people. We are for sinners. We are for saints. We are for Toledo. Why? Because Jesus is, and a real Christian is someone who acts like Jesus. They love…even their enemies. They pray…for their friends and even their enemies. They aren’t afraid to get dirty, uncomfortable, or inconvenienced. They know the value of listening, even when they want to speak. They are generous, even when it might seem extravagant. They care for the least of these—the stranger, orphan and widow. You might say the SOW into the stranger, orphan, and widow. They engage with the “least of these.”

They know every person they meet is God’s masterpiece, created in His image with dignity, value and worth. Broken? Yes. Waiting for restoration? Yes.

The gospel changes lives…for eternity! You might see a mess—like what I saw in my mother-in-law’s house—but God sees potential. He has a plan and a purpose for every member of the human race, if we’ll only let them know…and if they’ll only surrender.

And one more thing…Jesus died for you, too. He’s good news for you. His grace—unmerited favor—means nothing you can do can make him love you more, and nothing you can do can make him love you less. He wants to be Savior, but also LORD. Let’s all obey him this week, proclaiming the gospel, praying for the not-yet-saved, and watching the greatest miracle of all take place right in front of us, the transformation of a human life.

Credits: series outline from D6.

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • Transformed Living, 13 January 2019

    Transformed Living
    Series—Romans: Walking in the Spirit
    Romans 12:1-8

    Series Overview: The book of Romans guides us into a life of freedom as we follow Jesus by being filled with the Holy Spirit.

    Big Idea: We can know and do God’s will when we are transformed by the Holy Spirit from worldly to godly living.

    One of the most common questions I get asked as a pastor is, "How can I know God's will? Do you want to know God's will? Do you really want to know God's will?

    Walking in the Spirit and today we’re in chapter 12, another passage packed with inspiration and information for the purpose of transformation: transformed living.

    One thing I’ve noticed about humans is most don’t like change. It’s easy to get comfortable, in a rhythm. The problem is, if we aren’t changing to become like Jesus, we’re stuck—at best—and likely losing our faith, backsliding, drifting.

    In Romans 11, Paul talks about how we have all been disobedient to God, yet He has extended His mercy to all followers of Jesus.

    Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

    One of the most common questions asked by Christians is, “How can I know God’s will?” We know Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,” but what does that really mean? The answer is found in these two verses. We must be transformed. We must…change.

    I love you all deeply, but none of you has yet achieved perfection. We are all in need of what is called sanctification, the process of being set apart, consecrated, made holy. There are actually two aspects to sanctification for the Christian.

    First, there’s positional or internal sanctification. All believers are sanctified or set apart unto God when they receive Jesus as Savior and LORD. In another book, Paul, the writer of Romans, said,

    “…you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justifed in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)

    Tragically, this is where so many Christians stop. You’ve heard me call them vampire Christians—they just want Jesus for his blood. He’s their Savior but not LORD. They
    think they’ve been given a Get-Out-Of-Hell-Free card because they prayed a prayer and do religious things, but they’re nothing more than modern-day Pharisees. They’re not walking in the Spirit.

    The second type of sanctification is progressive or eternal. This is the state of growing in divine grace as a result of Christian commitment after baptism or conversion. This is what Paul is describing in Romans 12:1-2.

    Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

    Sacrifices are rather uncommon today, but at the time of this writing, the slaughter of animals was a part of life for many, killed and placed upon an altar. The problem with living sacrifices is they can wiggle off the altar!

    This is such a challenging text because Paul is basically saying to surrender our bodies…and our minds. See, we often make the mistake of thinking Christianity just about our soul, but we are multi-dimensional creatures…and God wants all of us.

    Do you want God? Do you really want God?

    Let’s face it, in the next life it will be easy to follow God. Satan will be removed, temptation will be a thing of the past, we’ll be forever in God’s presence…but we’re in this world now. We’re expected to live as citizens of heaven while being in Toledo, Ohio!
    What does Paul mean when he speaks of the pattern of this world? One of Jesus’ best friends, John, described it this way:

    Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. (1 John 2:15-16)

    Let me break this down a bit.

    The lust of the flesh refers to our comfort, prosperity, sexual activity, eating, etc.

    The lust of the eyes includes greed, coveting, jealousy, envy, etc.

    The pride of life
    involves pride, the quest for fame and power, desiring a sense of importance, or what we call “the American Dream.

    This is what it means to follow the pattern of this world. This is why I meet so many Christians in this country that are different than their non-Christian neighbors. Most of us are pursuing the American Dream instead of God’s dream, God’s will.

    Most of us are too busy to pray.
    We’re too comfortable to fast.
    We’re too greedy to give generously.
    We’re too distracted to study the Bible.
    We’re too prideful to serve.

    If you want a wake-up call, here’s the very next verse from John:

    The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:17)

    So how do we begin to do God’s will? It begins with renewing the mind. All of our actions begin in our head. Here are two simple steps:

    Fill your mind with God’s truth. Study the Bible.

    Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2)

    Focus your mind on good things.

    Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

    This can be really difficult in a culture of cable news, Facebook posts, and online porn.
    Paul continues to describe what it means to renew our minds:

    For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. (Romans 12:3)

    I think pride is the root of most, if not all, sins. It manifests itself through both arrogance and insecurity. It got satan kicked out of heaven. It’s what drives us to seize power and control. It seeks comfort and safety. Pride may be my greatest sin throughout my life.

    For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:4-5)

    I’ve heard people say they love Jesus but not the Church. That’s like saying you love Christ but hate his Wife! The Church is imperfect, yes, but it is the Body of Christ. A Christian without a church is like a football player without a team. We need others!

    I need you. You need me. We belong together. We need to love and serve one another, not only for the sake of the members of the church, but also for our mission field: Toledo and beyond.

    We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:6-8)

    This is not a comprehensive list of spiritual gifts, but one of several in the Bible. The Alliance affirms all of the spiritual gifts mentioned in scripture. In fact, one of our seven core values states

    Without the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, we can accomplish nothing. - 1 Cor. 2:4-5

    A quick note about prophesy, it is not necessarily predicting the future, but rather forth-telling or revealing God’s truth. Perhaps you’ve heard God speak to you about someone or something and didn’t know what to do about it. We’re hosting a three-week seminar on Wednesday nights beginning February 27 to discuss the spiritual gift of prophecy, what it is, how to use it if you have it, and how to avoid misusing it as so many have done.

    I want you to see a living example of what happens when a family is filled with the Spirit, surrendered to God, using their gifts, and
    being the Church.


    Did you notice spiritual gifts in use? At least five from Romans 12 are clear:

    We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:6-8)

    serving (the needs of the mother and daughters)
    - teaching (discipling the mother and children)
    - encouraging (the four new daughters through their myriad of problems)
    - giving (of their time, home and funds)
    - showing mercy (to the mother who was incarcerated)

    So What?

    Do you want God? Do you really want God?

    Transformed living is possible. It begins with renewing our minds and surrendering our bodies. Here are a few notes about the process of transformational sanctification:

    1. Growth takes time.

    But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. (2 Peter 3:18)

    Transformation is a lifelong journey. It’s like a slow dance between the Spirit and us as the Holy Spirit guides and we respond. Don’t ever stop growing!

    2. We must take obedient action by taking off our old self and putting on a new self.

    You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22-24)

    3. We must remain submitted to God to experience lasting transformation.

    …being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

    4. We must remain humble. Christians often become prideful about how much they have been sanctified or transformed. How much you have been transformed is not so much the issue – rather the direction in which you are currently changing is much more important. 

    …make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5b-8)

    5. Growth will likely lead to both troubles and a more abundant life.

    “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:30)

    Do you want God? Do you really want God? If so, as we sing this closing song, I want to invite you to the altar. The new year is still getting started. Today is the perfect day to publicly declare your desire for more of God, to surrender, to let go and let God, to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

    Credits: I’m grateful for the research and assistance of Doug Oliver.

    You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

    Jesus our Sanctifier, The Gospel Truth, 15 March 2015

    Series Overview: The purpose of this series is to distinguish between the biblical gospel and the various misunderstandings of the word, specifically the difference between Jesus as Savior and Lord. We will use the Fourfold Gospel as our outline.

    Big Idea: Jesus is our Sanctifier, making us increasingly holy like Himself.


    This week we continue our series
    The Gospel Truth. We began last week looking at Jesus as Savior. Today we continue our look at the Fourfold Gospel examining Jesus as Sanctifier.

    It’s not uncommon for song lyrics and passages of scripture to contain unusual words. Sanctifier is one of those Christianese words that few outside of the faith understand…and few inside the faith understand! When we say Jesus is our Sanctifier we are expressing that He makes us like Himself. A year ago we said that followers of Jesus are “in Christ.” What can be said of Jesus can be said of us in the eyes of our heavenly Father, not because we are God or perfect like Christ, but because we essentially wear Jesus’ uniform. His blood purifies our sins and we can stand before a holy God who cannot tolerate sin, not because of what we’ve done but because Jesus is our Savior which we studied last week.

    Sanctification then is that God wants to make us in reality what we’ve already been declared to be in Christ. In other words, following Jesus is more than praying a prayer to ask Jesus into your heart so you’ll go to heaven when you die. Following Jesus is just that—following Him. Jesus is perfect. We are to be perfect. Jesus is holy. We are to be holy. Jesus has power and authority. We are to have power and authority.

    To be sanctified is to be holy, set apart. In one sense it occurs when we surrender our lives to God, yet it is a progressive process in which we become increasingly like Him—separated from sin and evil.

    Right about now you may be asking, “Why don’t I look like Jesus?” or “How is it possible for me to be like Christ?” That’s our topic today: sanctification, becoming holy and set apart like Jesus.


    What is your favorite food? Although my favorite dessert is ice cream, my favorite food is fruit. I love fruit! I’m not sure if it’s because most fruits are sweet or colorful or uniquely shaped or the texture but I love fruit. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a fruit I didn’t enjoy…unless it was bad fruit!

    Where does fruit come from? Meijer! Believe it or not, it does not just appear in the produce section!

    The Bible is filled with organic metaphors. God created our world, so it should come as no surprise He would use physical things to help us understand spiritual realities.

    Gardening is a powerful way to understand life. I’m an expert gardener…in growing weeds! I admire people who understand soil and plants and who can grow things
    other than weeds!

    Last week I listened to a brilliant podcast interview with Christine Sine in which she described the numerous parallels between the cultivation of her garden and the cultivation of her soul. Producing beautiful fruit requires preparation of the soil, generous fertilizer and water, enough sunlight, protection from hungry creatures, and the eradication of weeds that can choke the plants.

    Likewise if we want our lives to bear fruit we must confess our sins, flee temptation, fill our minds with the Word of God, feed upon Jesus, the Bread of Life, receive support from godly brothers and sisters, and pursue a deeper relationship with God and others. Jesus said it plainly in the fifteenth chapter of the gospel of John.

    “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:1-4)

    How do we become like Jesus? We know Him.
    How do we know Jesus? We spend time with Him.
    How do we spend time with Jesus? We pray. We study the Bible. We spend time with people who know Jesus.

    They say many old couples look alike after years of marriage. They can finish each other’s sentences. They know what the other is thinking. That’s what happens when two people do life together, spend time with one another, know each other, and grow together. That’s what happens when we do life with Jesus—we begin to resemble Him!

    It takes time. It requires intentionality. It involves effort.

    When I placed a wedding ring on my bride’s finger nearly 25 years ago that wasn’t the end of our relationship. It was a tremendously significant moment, yet it was just the beginning. More than two decades later we’ve both invested in our relationship, and it has produced fruit (including three amazing children!). I didn’t just say vows and then tell her, “Have a nice life!” Over the years I have grown to be like her, and she has grown to be like me. We are both works in process, becoming like one another, but most of all both seeking to be like Jesus.

    “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

    It’s great to ask What Would Jesus Do? It’s far better to know Jesus so intimately and be so filled with the Holy Spirit that you don’t stop and ask—you instinctively do it! It’s natural. That’s sanctification. Jesus is our Sanctifier means He wants us to become like Him. He wants us to become Christians—little Christs. He wants us to love Him and love others, re-presenting Him to our desperate world.

    Are you connected to the vine? Do know know what God is saying to you? Are you obediently following Him?

    If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:6-8)

    If you know anything at all about plants, you know every branch must be connected to the trunk which must be connected to the roots. Any disconnect will result in poor or no fruit.

    When I was a kid I remember enjoying a pretty substantial tree in our front yard. One day I had the brilliant idea of taking a hatchet and carving my name into the tree. When my parents realized what I had done, they weren’t very pleased! Fortunately I did no permanent damage to the tree, but I could’ve killed it!

    Like many of you, I witnessed first-hand the destruction of trees by a very small bug known as the emerald ash borer. The nasty beetle from Asia was first formally identified in Canton, Michigan in 2002, believed to be introduced by overseas shipping materials. They attack ash trees through larval feeding that disrupts the flow of nutrients and water. This small bug is responsible for the destruction of literally tens of millions of ash trees and threatens to kill most of the 8.7 billion ash trees throughout North America.

    What a perfect metaphor for sin! Small, unsuspected sins invade our life, slowly disconnecting us from our source of life, Jesus. Sure, robbing a bank or killing your neighbor will damage your relationship with God—and keep you away from others as you sit in prison—but most often it’s small temptations that cause us to drift from our nourishment. We get too busy to pray, too busy to study the Bible, too busy to attend worship and Life Groups, too busy to share Jesus with others. We get greedy, buying things we don’t need until we can no longer be generous and serve those in desperate need. We compromise in small things like taxes, speed limits, truth-telling, and pride until we are able to rationalize the most blatant of sins.

    A Healthy Tree

    The first words of the Psalms paint an entirely different picture.

    Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)

    That’s what I want my life to depict!

    What kind of fruit are you bearing? It could be no fruit, the result of disconnect from Jesus. It could be bad fruit such as

    sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. (Mark 7:21-22)

    Or it could be the fruit of the Spirit:

    love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a)

    If we abide in Jesus, if we devote ourselves to Him, we will bear much, good fruit.

    The Alliance website says it like this:

    Many Christians understand God’s promise of salvation but do not experience the ongoing sanctifying work of Jesus Christ in their lives. For those who neither understand nor allow the Holy Spirit's control in their lives, the results have a profound effect.

    Unsuccessful struggle against sin and a lack of power in life and ministry frustrate those who have asked Jesus to be their Savior but not their Sanctifier, resulting in a lack of joy in their walk with Christ. At the point when we are born again, we become members of God’s family. We believe He paid the price for our sin and that his followers are—set apart from those are not born again—and are seen as holy because of what Christ has done.

    The Bible is filled with biological metaphors. We are a family—brothers and sisters. We are dead in our sins and resurrected with Christ as beautifully illustrated through baptism. In the book of Romans we read these powerful words:

    In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:11-14)

    Some mistakenly think Christianity is a morality-based religion in which we are supposed to do good and be good. They see Jesus as someone who makes bad people good. Friends, the reality is Jesus came to make dead people come alive! Following Jesus is not merely an exercise in doing the right things. It is a vibrant, joy-filled journey in which possess—and are possessed by—the Holy Spirit. How?

    1. We thirst. We desire God, or at least want to want God.
    2. We ask. Invite the Holy Spirit to fill you. Daily. Maybe hourly!
    3. We surrender. In essence, let go and let God. This means letting go of your time, talents and treasures. It means placing everything on the altar. Open your hands!
    4. Abide. Love is spelled T-I-M-E. There are no shortcuts.


    Most of us live busy lives. God created us to work, but also to rest. Most people work hard during the week and crash on the weekend. We are designed to work from a place of rest, not rest from work.

    Semi-circle copy

    The semi-circle depicts a pendulum moving from rest to work and back. There are daily, weekly, monthly and annual rhythms of rest and work. When Jesus speaks in John 15 of remaining or abiding, He’s speaking of resting in Him. We need times of rest and recreation with Jesus and our our families. If we ignore Sabbath and rest with God, we will eventually crash. If we allow Him to prune us and renew us as we abide with Him during times of rest, we will bear much fruit when we work.

    Are you abiding in Christ? Are you resting with Him? Are you spending quality time with Jesus, letting Him invite you into a deeper life of intimacy and faith while challenging you to greater levels of obedience and trust?

    When we talk about Jesus as fully God yet fully man, it’s easy to think since Jesus was God He was never really tempted. Sure, Hebrews 4:15 says He was tempted in every way like us, but didn’t He brush it away like a mosquito and then do all of His magic tricks, healing the sick and opening the eyes of the blind and raising the dead?

    Jesus said no to temptation and did supernatural works because He was filled with the Holy Spirit…the same Holy Spirit available to you and me. If we abide with Jesus, if we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will change. We will grow. We will bear fruit. We will look increasingly like Jesus.

    Paul wrote these words to the Church in Corinth:

    Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

    That’s remarkable!


    Dallas Willard famously referred to those seeking salvation apart from sanctification and lordship as “vampire Christians” who only want a little blood but have no interest in following Jesus now. It’s one thing for Jesus to be our Savior and another to be truly LORD.

    A few weeks ago we said one of our family rules is the Make Disciples. Disciples are students or imitators of their discipler. We are to be students and followers and imitators of Jesus.

    It’s a life-long process, but if we hunger after God, if we ask the Holy Spirit to fill us, if we confess our sins and surrender our will, and if we abide, He will make us new. He will transform us into new creations like Jesus. He is able to take whatever mess we offer Him and make it beautiful. That’s our Sanctifier!


    Some material taken from
    The Fourfold Gospel, a C&MA/DNA publication.

    Semi-circle LifeShape from Mike Breen and

    You can listen to this message and others at the Scio podcast here. You can also subscribe to our podcast here.