Extreme Soul Makeover

Extreme Soul Makeover

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 / Ephesians 5:18

James C. Denison

Occasionally we wonder if the human race will survive another generation. These “idiot sightings” are unfortunately all true:

My family is originally from Kingman, Kansas, a small town outside of Wichita. Now I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. A man in the area called the local police to request the removal of the Deer Crossing sign on the road. He gave his reason: “Too many deer are being hit by cars out here. I don’t think this is a good place for them to be crossing anymore.”

In Birmingham, Alabama, a man was checking his luggage at the airport. An employee asked, “Has anyone put anything in your baggage without your knowledge?” The man replied, “If it was without my knowledge, how would I know?” The employee smiled knowingly and nodded, “That’s why we ask.”

At a Ford dealership in Canton, Mississippi, a couple arrived to pick up their vehicle but were told the keys had been locked inside. They found a mechanic working feverishly to open the driver’s side door. As the woman watched from the passenger side, she instinctively tried the door and discovered it was unlocked. “Hey,” she said to the technician, “it’s open!” He replied, “I know–I already got that side.”

Self-esteem is a major issue these days. Depression rates are at all time highs. Downsizing is a fact of corporate life. There is more stress on our time, finances, and families than many of us can remember. We’re not sure we’re up to the times. That’s because we’re not. But the God who lives in us is. “Greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world,” the Bible promises (1 John 4:4). How can God’s power be yours wherever you need it most today?

Why the Spirit lives in us

“You yourselves,” the phrase begins. Paul addresses all the Corinthians, no matter their past, present, or future. This church was divided, condoned sexual immorality, were suing each other, and committed every sin of their culture. And yet they were individually and collectively “God’s temple.” If they were, so are we.

We are God’s “temple.” Not heiron, the temple enclosure, but naos, the Most Holy Place, the most sacred place in all the world. That place which housed the ark of the covenant and the Ten Commandments. That place which was so holy that the High Priest could enter only one day a year, on the Day of Atonement. A rope was tied to his ankle so that if he was struck dead by the glory of God, his corpse could be dragged out from behind the curtain. Now we are that Most Holy Place where God dwells today.

Why? Because “God’s Spirit lives in you.” He literally “dwells” in us, “makes his home in us,” “pitches his tent in us.” He has taken up residence in our lives. This is in the present tense–he is living in us right now, this moment.

When we “ask Jesus into our heart,” it is actually the Holy Spirit who comes to dwell in us. Jesus is at the right hand of God, praying for us (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25) while the Holy Spirit lives in us today. God does not dwell in temples made with human hands (Acts 7:48; cf. Acts 17:24). Instead, he dwells in us. All of God there is, is in us right now.

Our status as God’s temple is so serious that “if anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.” “If anyone” is a Greek construction which assumes the reality of the condition–“if and when” would get the sense of it. “Destroys” means “corrupts” or “tears down.” The word is in the present tense: if and when people tear down the temple of God right now.

When people attack the church, dividing our fellowship, slandering or gossiping about our members, seeking to hurt the people of God. “God will destroy him”–God will do to the enemy of his church what that enemy does to his church. If a person attacks or assaults God’s people, that enemy will face the wrath of God Almighty.

This is because “God’s temple is sacred,” holy, set apart for himself, belonging only to him. And “you are that temple,” right now, where and as you are. We are not our own–we were bought with a price and must glorify God in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

It is human nature to measure ourselves by our appearance and possessions, our house and car and job and salary. But Scripture says that our chief value is this: we are the temple, the house, the dwelling of the Spirit of God.

A friend recently sent me a story about a group of successful alumni who got together with their favorite college professor. Talk turned into complaints about stress in their work and lives. Offering his guests coffee, the professor went to the kitchen and returned with a large pot of coffee and an assortment of cups–porcelain, plastic, glass, crystal. Some were plain looking while others were expensive, even exquisite.

When all the students had a cup of coffee in hand, the professor said: “If you noticed, all the nice looking, expensive cups were taken first, leaving the plain and cheap ones. It’s normal for you to want the best for yourselves, but that is the source of your problems and stress.

The cup adds no quality to the coffee. Yet you all went for the best cups, then began eyeing each other’s cups. Consider this: life is the coffee; the jobs, money, and position in society are the cups. They are just tools to hold and contain life. The type of cup we have does not define nor change the quality of life. When we concentrate on the cup, we fail to enjoy the coffee.”

We are the cup–the Spirit is the coffee. He is what makes life worth living.

What the Spirit does with us

Why is this so? Why is it so important that the Spirit lives in us? Who is he? What does he do? In my systematic theology classes we take hours to discuss “pneumatology” or the “doctrine of the Holy Spirit.” Let me summarize all of that in a page.

The Holy Spirit is a person. He is not an “it,” or a “ghost.”

He knows the thoughts of God (1 Corinthians 2:11), and loves us as God’s people (Romans 15:30). He speaks to us (Revelation 2:7), cries out to the Father from within us (Galatians 4:6), prays within us (Romans 8:26) and for us (v. 27), teaches us about Christ (John 15:26), and leads us into all truth (John 14:26).

He is grieved when we sin (Ephesians 4:30), insulted and blasphemed by those who reject Jesus (Hebrews 10:29; Matthew 12:31, 32).

He is omnipresent, so there is nowhere that we can go to “flee from the Spirit” (Psalm 139:7-10). He knows all things, the thoughts of God and of man (1 Corinthians 2:10, 11).

He is the means by which God the Father acts in the world.

The Spirit created order from chaos: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light” (Genesis 1:1-3).

He gave us the word of God: “prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

He empowered Jesus’ life and ministry, and raised him from the dead.

He is the one who made Mary to be pregnant with the Lord Jesus: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35).

Jesus lived a sinless life through the power of the Spirit: Jesus “through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God” (Hebrews 9:14).

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was anointed and empowered by the Spirit: “the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased'” (Luke 3:22).

The Spirit empowered the miracles of Jesus: “if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28).

He raised Jesus from the dead: “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Romans 8:11).

What he does in our lives:

He gave each of us physical life: “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4; cf. Psalm 104:30).

He gives us eternal life: “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing” (John 6:63).

He liberates us from sin today: “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).

He brings out the character of Christ within us, the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23).

He leads us each day: “those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14).

He gives us assurance of our salvation: “the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16).

What he does through us: the first Christians preached in the power of the Spirit (Acts 2:4), performed miracles in his power (2:43; 19:11), healed the sick and the lame (4:31); were unified in the Spirit (4:32), raised the dead (9:36) and defeated the devil (13:6-12). What he did then, he still longs to do today.

How the Spirit works through us

How can he? How can this doctrine be our personal experience today? Here’s the key, the single most important command in Scripture for any of us seeking the power of God in our lives: “be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).

The word translated “filled” means to be “controlled by” or “under the influence of” another. This is a Greek passive: “be filled,” be yielded to God. Don’t try to fill yourself–ask him to do this. It is in the present tense: “be continually being filled.”

How? First, begin the day with this commitment. You fill the car with gas before you drive it, and plug in the power tool before you try to use it.

Second, ask the Holy Spirit to show you anything keeping you from experiencing his direction and power today. Confess whatever comes to mind.

Third, submit your life to his leadership in every dimension. Pray through your day, specifically giving everything you anticipate to God. Ask him to lead you and use you for his glory.

Fourth, believe by faith that he has done what you have asked. Nowhere does the Bible say how it feels to be filled with the Spirit. Believe that he is in control, and he will be.

Last, when you step out of the Spirit, step back in. Confess your sin immediately and turn yourself fully over to him again. Do this all through the day.

The result will be a Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered life of purpose and power. You will manifest the “fruit” or the results of the Spirit every day: his love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). If you see these traits in your life, you can know that the Spirit is in control. If you don’t, he’s not.


You’ve perhaps watched or heard of “Extreme Home Makeover,” one of the more popular shows on television. Each week a construction crew builds or rebuilds a home for a deserving family. One week it’s a family who lost their father to disease. Another week it’s a family with a child facing great physical challenges, and so on. When the crew is done, the house looks nothing like it did.

God invented the idea of an extreme home makeover. When his Spirit comes to live in our lives, he wants to remake us into the nature and character of Jesus. He is working on us right now. We’re a project under renovation. The result will be worth all it costs.

C. S. Lewis put the analogy better than I can: “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.

“But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of–throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself” (Mere Christianity 174).

Who is the Master of your house today?

GPS for the Soul

GPS for the Soul

1 Corinthians 1:1-3

James C. Denison

Have you ever been lost? Not just mildly displaced or momentarily disoriented, but truly lost? I have.

On one level, it happens to me nearly every day. Janet says I’m directionally challenged–when I come to an intersection, I should decide which way I want to go and then go the other way. Minni prints maps for me to every destination before I leave. Just because I’ve been someplace ten times doesn’t mean I can find it the eleventh.

But I still remember vividly the time I was truly lost. It was the sixth grade. Our class went on an end-of-year field trip to the piney woods of East Texas. Somehow three of us managed to get separated from the rest of the class. Before we knew it, we were completely alone in the forest. We had no idea where we were or what to do next.

We should have stayed in one place and waited for help to find us, but we weren’t nearly that smart. For the rest of the day we wandered through the trees, yelling for help, hungry and thirsty and hot and tired. Late that afternoon, park rangers called by our distraught teacher rescued us.

What if we had a GPS unit, a Global Positioning Satellite device? Of course, when I was in the sixth grade we didn’t even have remote controls for the television yet, but you understand the question. A little box with a reassuring voice to tell us “turn right at the next log” would have been a lifesaver.

What in life has you feeling lost today? What decision is confusing you? What stress is frustrating you? Where are you unsure what to do, where to turn, how to proceed? We’ve all been there, and we’ll all be there again. That’s just the nature of life for fallen people on a fallen planet. But the good news is that God has given us a GPS for the soul. Let’s learn how to use it together.

How to be a saint

Paul addresses the letter we call First Corinthians to “the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy” (1 Corinthians 1:2). “Called to be saints” is how most versions translate the text. When you hear the word “saint,” what comes to mind?

A person of great personal character and pious spirit? “She’s such a saint,” we say when someone does something particularly pious.

Or you might think about a great person of God designated a “saint” by the Catholic Church. For instance, St.Genesius, Bishop of Clermont, is on the Church’s list of saints to be remembered on June 3. He renounced the world for the church back in the seventh century, founding a hospital, church, abbey, and convent. Fearing for his own soul, he made a secret pilgrimage to Rome in 661. His bereaved flock sent messengers to the Vatican, where they found him and convinced him to return. He died in AD 662 and was buried in St. Symphorian’s church at Clermont in France; the congregation is now known as St. Genesius’s church.

That’s impressive. But you and I aren’t likely to renounce the world in order to live in the church or make a secret pilgrimage to Rome anytime soon or have a church named for us when we die.

No sainthood in our future. Except that “saint” is the Bible’s most common title for Christians–all Christians:

“To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (Romans 1:7).

“To the church of God in Corinth, together with all the saints throughout Achaia” (2 Corinthians 1:1).

“To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Ephesus 1:1).

“To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi” (Philippians 1:1).

“To the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae” (Colossians 1:2, NRSV).

Sixty-one times (by my count), the Lord calls Christians “saints.” This is by far the most common designation for followers of Jesus. “Disciples” is used of the entire church 27 times (by my count); “Christians” only once (Acts 11:26).

“Saints” is always found in the plural. And so every believer is a “saint.” No halos or harps or pilgrimages to Rome required.

The word “saint” translates hagios, meaning “holy one” or “set apart one.” Thus the NIV translates, “called to be holy,” while nearly every other translation renders Paul’s phrase, “called to be saints.” The two are synonyms.

We think of “saints” as the holiest of people, sanctified and pious in every way. We think that we could never be one of them. And yet these Christians in Corinth, called “saints” by Paul in this letter, were fighting and plagued by divisions (1 Corinthians 1:10).

Paul calls them “mere infants in Christ” (3:1) and “arrogant” (4:18). He rebukes them for condoning of sexual immorality (5:1) and suing each other (6:6). Later he tells them to “stop thinking like children” (14:20).

So how can they be “saints”? Because God’s Spirit has made them so. The moment we ask Jesus to be our Savior and Lord, we become the “saints” of God. In that moment you were set apart for him.

He has claim on your life now. You belong to him: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

He is the potter; you are the clay (Isaiah 64:8). He is the head (Ephesus 5:23); we are the body (1 Corinthians 12:27). He has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18); we have none. We belong to him, for he made us, then he bought us. We are his forever.

Note that they are “the church of God in Corinth.” Where we are is not who we are. We are the saints “of” God “in” Dallas. We are not what we have or where we are. Never forget the source of your personal worth.

Know that you are the child of God, bought with the blood of your Savior and Lord. Understand that you are not your own–you belong to him. You are set apart for him. You are his.

How to become a saint

So we are the “saints” of God living in Dallas. What does that fact have to do with our need for direction and purpose today? How is sainthood a GPS for our souls?

Examine our text again: we are “sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy.” We have already been “sanctified” or set apart for God, made the saints of God. And yet we are “called to be holy,” called to become saints, called to grow into our status as the saints of God. In one sense, all of us are saints. In another sense, none of us are, yet.

The journey from A to B, from being saints to becoming saints, is God’s purpose for our lives. Becoming the saints we are called to be is north on his compass for our lives. Getting us there is the work of the Holy Spirit, the GPS who will guide our souls. How does the process work? How does the journey unfold?

First, decide that you want to be holy, set apart completely for God, his in every way.

This is the commandment of Scripture: “Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy'” (1 Peter 1:15-16). God’s purpose is that we be “conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29).

God is all about making us like Jesus–making us holy, completely and unconditionally his. Decide that you want that. Make holiness the north on your compass. Choose this definition of success. The first step to being holy is wanting to be.

Next, position yourself to be made holy by the Holy Spirit of God. You and I cannot achieve holiness in our strength and resolve. We are fallen people on a fallen planet. Only the Spirit of God can sanctify us. But we must be near his voice to hear him. We must be yielded in his hands to be molded by them. We must listen to the GPS before it can guide us home.

Jesus prayed for his disciples that God would “sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). The Bible is God preaching. It is the truth which must guide and mold our lives. Said bluntly, if you’re not meeting God in his word each day, you have no chance to fulfill his purpose for your life. You cannot get somewhere you’ve never been without a map drawn by those who have been there.

Time alone with God in prayer enables the Spirit to make us like Christ, sanctifying us as the holy children of God. Why do you suppose that even the sinless Son of God had to get up a great while before day, go to a solitary place and pray (Mark 1:35)? Why did he pray late at night, and sometimes all night? Why did he pray in private and in public?

Because even he needed the connection with his Father which comes only in prayer. Said bluntly, if you’re not meeting God every morning and through the day in prayer, you have no chance to fulfill his purpose for your life. Prayer positions us to be shaped and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the only One who can make us holy.

Through Scripture and prayer, the Spirit will speak to our hearts and guide us as a GPS for our souls. But we must turn the unit on, and listen to what it says.

Third, reject all that rejects God: “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you.  For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7).

Sexual immorality grieves the Holy Spirit. The epidemic of pornography on the Internet is a tool of Satan. Movies and television shows which endorse sexual sin are instruments of the enemy. Simply put, all sexual relationships outside of marriage are wrong. Not because God is a cosmic killjoy, but because he knows that sexual sin destroys his children. It separates us from our Father and his holy purpose for our lives, and plagues us with guilt.

If I want holiness above all else, and am willing to submit myself every day to God in Scripture and prayer, the Spirit will enable me to refuse what refuses God.

Relational immorality grieves the Holy Spirit as well. If I “wrong my brother,” I wrong my Lord. You cannot say you love me if you mistreat my sons. Slander and gossip keep us from holiness. Using others to get what we want dishonors our Lord and grieves his Spirit. To be holy, I must refuse what refuses God. To get home, I must stay out of the ditches along the way.


What happens when we choose holiness as our goal and purpose, when we submit to the GPS of the Spirit in Scripture and prayer, when we refuse the ditches which would wreck us along the way?

Every day has purpose. Every decision has direction. We become all that God made us to become. We experience the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control which are the fruit of his Spirit in charge of our lives (Galatians 5:22-23). There’s nothing like a day spent in the purpose and passion of God. There’s no joy like the joy he gives. His GPS really does work. But we must turn it on this morning.

Success in God’s Eyes

Success in God’s Eyes

John 15:1-17

James C. Denison

Tom Brady is the quarterback of the New England Patriots and winner of three Super Bowls. But with all his fame and success, when he was interviewed by 60 Minutes he said, “Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, ‘Hey man, this is what is. I reached my goal, my dream, my life.’ Me, I think, God, it’s got to be more than this. I mean this isn’t, this can’t be, what it’s all cracked up to be.” “What’s the answer,” asked the interviewer. “I wish I knew,” Brady replied. “I wish I knew.”

Most of us have experienced a measure of success in our lives and world. Now we want to be significant. We want our lives to count for something. We want our time on earth to matter. We want to know that we’re headed in the right direction, that God is pleased with us, that one day we’ll hear the most joyous words in all of eternity: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

In our summer series we have learned that our church belongs to Jesus: “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Because our church is his, we are his as well–God’s “saints,” his separated ones. He expects us to live like his saints as his new creation. We do this by being “filled” or controlled with the Spirit every day.

Now, how do we know that we’re on track? How do we measure ourselves as the church of Jesus, his saints, his new creation, filled by his Spirit? What results should be obvious if we are living in his word and will? How does he define success for us? How can you know if you are pleasing God today? If you will please God in heaven? If your time is significant in eternity or wasted forever?

Measure success by fruit

Our text begins: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener” (v. 1). This seems a strange way for God to describe himself–a spindly, prickly vine growing along the ground or climbing up a fence. But in Jesus’ culture, a “vine” meant far more than we envision.

Throughout the Old Testament, the vine was the symbol for the nation of Israel. For instance, the Psalmist said of God and his people, “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it, and it took root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches. It sent out its boughs to the Sea, its shoots as far as the River” (Psalm 80:8-11; cf. Isaiah 27:2-6; Hosea 10:1).

This image was so important to the people that they made it their national symbol. They constructed a tall, golden cluster of grapes on the doors of their Temple, and typically referred to themselves as the “vine” of God. Our symbol is the eagle–theirs was the fruit vine.

However, Scripture says that their vine had become decayed and corrupted: “I planted you like a choice vine of sound and reliable stock. How then did you turn against me into a corrupt, wild vine?” (Jeremiah 2:21).

Thus Jesus says, “I am the true vine,” the real, authentic vine of God. His Father is the “gardener,” the One who owns and tends the vine.

God “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” (v. 2).

The fruit vines which are found in Palestine grow rapidly along the ground or trellis. They spread so quickly that plants are typically spaced at least 12 feet apart. A new vine is not allowed to bear fruit for the first three years of its life, and is constantly pruned so that it will grow thicker and stronger.

When the vine matures, it bears two kinds of branches–one that produces fruit, and one that does not. An observer cannot tell them apart until the fruit appears. Then the gardener will cut off the branches which bear no fruit, so they do not take life and energy from those which do.

The discarded branches were good for nothing in Jesus’ day. Their wood was too soft to be used for building material. It did not even make a good fire for cooking or light, as it smoldered and smoked more than it burned. So the fruitless branches were “picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” as trash (v. 6).

Producing fruit-bearing branches was the gardener’s goal, but even they had no value in themselves: “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (v. 4). If a fruit-bearing branch were broken off the vine by storms or malice, it would quickly dry up. It retained its value only so long as it remained attached to its vine.

So we find in Jesus the “true” or genuine vine, in contrast to the decayed, withered vine of the nation of Israel. We have learned that three kinds of branches are attached to him.

One is fruitless. It looks good, even beautiful, but produces nothing of value. Profession without practice, words without works, all leaves and no fruit. Has your life born fruit for God? As a tree reproduces by bearing fruit, so the Church reproduces when Christians make Christians. Have you made evangelistic fruit for God? Do you bear spiritual fruit for God, the “fruit of the Spirit”? Do others see love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control with consistency in your life (Galatians 5:22-23)? Does your branch bear fruit?

The second branch bore fruit until it broke from the vine. Successful until it became complacent, now self-sufficient and fruitless. When last did you pray first? When last did you surrender your day to the Holy Spirit, asking him to “fill” and control and use your life? Are you consistently connected with the vine through prayer and Scripture, praise and worship, obedience and gratitude? Are you attached to the vine this morning?

The third branch bears fruit by staying connected with the vine. This is the gardener’s goal for his vine: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (v. 8). Bearing evangelistic and spiritual fruit is God’s goal for his people. This is how the gardener measures the vine. Is this your definition of success?

Produce fruit by love

How do we stay attached to the vine as fruit-bearing disciples? How do we find such significance in our lives and souls today? He tells us to “remain in my love” (v. 9). “Remain” is the word he used earlier for “remaining” or staying attached to the vine.

How do we do this? “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (v. 10). We stay attached to Jesus by obeying his commands.

Which commands? “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (v. 12). Later he would repeat the order: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

When we love one another in the ways Jesus loves us, we obey his command. When we obey his command, we stay attached to him as a branch to its vine. So, how did Jesus love us? How does he love us today?

First, his love is sacrificial: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (v. 14).

Earlier Jesus taught them, “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (John 10:11). His best friend, the disciple John, later testified, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” (1 John 3:16).

When last did it cost you something significant to love the people of God? Are you being asked today to show God’s love in yours, at the cost of time, effort, money, status, popularity, success? Where next will you sacrifice to love the Lord and his people?

Second, Jesus love is unconditional. My favorite promise in all God’s word is this glorious paragraph in Romans 8: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (vs. 35-39).

What is keeping you from loving one of God’s children unconditionally today? Have you been hurt without an apology? Used or manipulated? Gossiped or lied about? Neglected in some way? Is a problem or grief in your own life keeping you from loving others? Guilt in your past, fear about your future, struggles in your present?

Anyone can love when it’s easy and people deserve our affection. We prove that we belong to Jesus when we love unconditionally as he does. When last did you demonstrate such compassion? Where will you next?

And last, Jesus’ love is shown in service. On his last night before the cross, “It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him” (John 13:1-5).

Washing feet was the most menial service a person could perform in Jesus’ day. It was so lowly that no Jew could be made to do this, not even a Jewish slave. But Jesus washed the feet of Judas before he betrayed him, and Peter before he denied him, and the other disciples before they abandoned him.

Then he told us, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (vs. 14-17).

God measures success not by our title but our towel. To see if you’re a servant, watch how you react when someone treats you like one. When last did you serve someone’s need, thus showing Christ’s love in yours? Where will you next?


When we love as sacrificially and unconditionally in service as does Jesus, we obey his command. When we obey his command we “remain” in his love. When we “remain in his love” we stay attached to the vine. And when we stay attached to the vine we “bear fruit–fruit that will last” (v. 16a). Our prayers are powerful: “Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (v. 16b). And our lives are significant.

I’ve been preaching the word of God for 30 years now, and been privileged to meet some remarkably godly servants of the Lord along the way.

I’ll never forget the hour I was honored to spend with Billy Graham, part of the team which invited him to return to our area for the Metroplex Mission in October of 2002. I have been grateful to know presidents and governors, seminary presidents and professors, some of the most brilliant scholars and preachers of our generation.

But the best example of our text I have ever encountered came very early in my ministry. In the summer of 1979, on my way to spend eight weeks preaching in East Malaysia, I was first sent to Singapore for a week of training. At the International Baptist Church I was introduced one evening to a young boy, perhaps 12 years of age or so. The missionaries told me his name, he shook my hand, and he ran off to play with friends. Then the missionaries told me his story.

They had led the boy to Christ several months earlier through a Bible study they started in his apartment complex. He immediately began attending worship every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. He came to their Bible studies and prayer meetings, displaying a great hunger for the Lord and his word. But soon the missionaries began to notice bruises and welts on the boy’s body. One day they asked him what was wrong. He told them that when he went to worship and returned home, his father beat him for going to church.

The missionaries were shocked and asked the boy why he continued coming to church. “Jesus said in the Bible we were supposed to go to church” was his answer. “Why, then, do you stay at home?” they asked. Several of their converts had been cast out of their families and had come to live at the mission; they thought that this might be best for the boy as well. But his reply put them to shame: “My father’s not a Christian. If I leave home, he won’t hear about Jesus.”

I don’t know what became of that boy, or even if he’s alive today. But I do know that he was a fruit-bearing disciple of Jesus, a success in the eyes of God. And I know that I want to be like him. Don’t you?

The Normal Christian Life

The Normal Christian Life

2 Corinthians 5:17

James C. Denison

A friend recently sent me some facts about small boys. Now that both of our sons have graduated from high school, I hope not to need this information. But many of you still may.

A king size waterbed holds enough water to fill a 2,000 sq. ft. house four inches deep.

If you hook a dog leash over a ceiling fan, the motor is not strong enough to rotate a 42 pound boy wearing Batman underwear and a Superman cape. It is strong enough, however, if tied to a paint can, to spread paint on all four walls of a 20×20 room.

When you hear the toilet flush and the words “uh oh,” it’s already too late.

Certain Legos will pass through the digestive tract of a four-year-old boy.

Super Glue is forever.

Always look in the oven before you turn it on, as plastic toys do not like ovens. The fire department in Austin, Texas has a five-minute response time.

The spin cycle on the washing machine does not make earthworms dizzy. It will, however, make cats dizzy. Cats throw up twice their body weight when dizzy.

However old we are, however old our children or grandchildren may be, we’re still the children of God if Jesus is our Lord. In our series on the church, the world’s only hope, we’ve learned that the Church belongs to Christ, her founder. It is made up of saints, people who belong to God.

Now we’ll learn in more detail how to become what we already are, how to defeat the tests and temptations which come at us every day and live in the victory Jesus died to give us. What worry or fear is keeping you from the joy of Jesus this morning? What temptation or sin is preventing your peace? How do we refuse the detours so we can arrive at the destination of God’s perfect purpose for us? Where do you need the victory of God in your life this morning?

Know your identity in Jesus

Paul claims for the Corinthians and us all: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (v. 17). How is this possible? We still look the same as before we trusted in Jesus, and unfortunately many of us still act in the same ways. How can trusting in Christ make us a “new creation”?

The key is the first phrase: “If anyone is in Christ.” To be “in” Christ is to trust him as our Lord, to ask his forgiveness for our sins and invite him to make us God’s children. This is a prayer he always answers.

But how does this forgiveness make us a “new creation”? What of our sin nature? Think about the last sin you committed. Why did you commit it? Why do God’s people still disobey God’s word and will? What changes sin nature into God’s new creation?

Here’s the mystery, the fact most Christians never discover. One of the most important verses in all God’s word is Romans 6.6: “our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”

If you have asked Jesus Christ to be your Savior and Lord, in that decision God identified you with his Son. He put the person you were before Christ on the cross with him. If I put a piece of paper in my Bible, it is included with it. It goes wherever my Bible goes. When I typed my sermon into my laptop computer, it became part of the laptop. It goes with the laptop.

When you asked Christ into your life, Christ actually brought you into his life. He made you part of himself. The person you were before that decision “died,” and you were “born again” as one with him.

This is why Paul testifies, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2.20).

In God’s eyes, the person you were before you trusted Christ no longer exists. Your sins have been forgiven because Jesus’ blood covered them. Your sin nature has been replaced with his divine nature. And so you and I are “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” We are God’s children, with his genetics, his character, his nature as ours. This is our identity in Christ. The first step to God’s victory over the detours and defeats of life is understanding that fact.

Choose the life of Christ

But we still sin, don’t we? Lies white and black, failures small and large, sins private and public. Why? Because we don’t choose the Christ life.

Let me explain.

Earlier this week a friend called me about the 1965 Mustang convertible his grandfather had given him. It was having a problem, and since he knew that I’ve owned two old Mustangs and still love them, he wondered if I might know something that would help. We spent an hour on the phone getting nowhere. My advice didn’t get him one step closer to solving the issue. I was simply keeping him from calling a mechanic who could actually fix what was wrong.

Not long ago my laptop needed some work, but our church technician couldn’t fix it until I gave it to him. My efforts weren’t solving the problem, and they were only hindering him.

A lifeguard cannot save a drowning man so long as the drowning man tries to save himself. He’ll pull them both under. The lifeguard can only safely save a drowning man when the man has completely exhausted himself and has no strength left.

This is hard for us. We are self-sufficient people, used to fixing things ourselves. But this is one problem we cannot solve. So long as we are trying to please God in our own ability, to resist sin in our own strength, to grow in faith and serve God in ministry with our own gifts and hard work, we actually prevent his doing his work in and through us.

Instead, we must choose the Christ life. Listen to two crucial sentences: “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” (Romans 6.11-12).

“Count yourselves” means “to reckon, to choose to believe” that it is true. Choose to believe that you are dead to sin, that your sin nature died on the cross with Jesus. Choose to believe that his Spirit now lives in you, his character, his purity, his power. And by faith it will be so.

My Bible is black, whether I can see it or not. My sight makes the color real for me; it does not create the color itself. With faith I simply choose to make real in my life what was already real before I believed it.

So choose to believe that your sin nature died on the cross, and it will be true for you. When you do this, you can fulfill the second sentence: “do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” When you choose the Christ life, Christ defeats sin for you.

You’re not trying harder to be pure–you have his purity. You’re not working harder to be godly–you have his godliness. You’re not striving to control your mind–you have his mind. You’re not struggling to speak holy words–you have his words.

If you are a believer, you have within you all you need to live victoriously and abundantly, to defeat sin, to fulfill God’s purpose, to find true satisfaction and significance. Because you have the Christ life in you.

Live in the power of Christ

Know that you are God’s new creation, with the Christ nature living in you. Choose that nature when you are tempted by sin and self-sufficiency. But what does this choice mean practically? How does this work in our lives daily?

To experience the life of Christ, we need the power of Christ. Here’s how we live in that power every day.

First, stay surrendered to Jesus. Romans 12:1 commands that we “present our bodies as a living sacrifice” to God. Our Lord will only give us his power to fulfill his purpose. When our boys were small, we wouldn’t let them play where we knew they’d get hurt. Every day, surrender that day to Jesus. Your ambitions, desires, decisions, problems. Ephesians 5:18 instructs that we be yielded to the Spirit daily. Do this first thing every morning.

And second, stay close to Jesus. Stay connected to him, as a plug to its socket. He taught us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The character of the branch is determined by the vine. The vine produces the fruit through the branch. So the branch must stay close to the vine.

Meet him in his word and your personal worship every morning. Consult him in prayer all through the day. And you’ll live in the power he can only give when you are close to him.

This is the price we must pay to live the Christ life in the Spirit’s power. But the rewards so far outweigh their cost: living above the sin nature, experiencing the purpose and power of the Lord of the universe. We give up nothing of value, to gain everything that matters.


Whenever I have tried to find my destination and direction in life through my work, I have failed. There has been no peace. Whenever I have tried to find fulfillment and significance through hard work for God, I have failed. There has been no joy. The reason is simple: I am not what I do. I am not a pastor, or preacher, or teacher, or evangelist. I am the child of God. Preaching, teaching, evangelizing, writing–these are just ways to serve him as he leads me.

The same is true for you. You are not a lawyer, or teacher, or student. You are God’s child. What you do is just the place he has called you to serve him. When last did you throw everything over to him, yield it all, and ask his Spirit to work through you?

There is enormous peace in letting God have my life, to do with as he will. I cannot make it significant–only he can. All I can do is pray, abide in him, and serve him as he leads me. Then he will bear fruit through me. As only he can.

It all starts with a day when we decide. We know that we are God’s children, with his nature living in us. We choose to live in that nature. We choose to abide in him through prayer, worship, and obedience. We believe that his Spirit’s power will work through our lives. And so we give ourselves completely over to him. We are his, and his alone.

Watchman Nee, in the classic spiritual work, The Normal Christian Life, wrote: “A day must come in our lives, as definite as the day of our conversion, when we give up all right to ourselves and submit to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ…there must be a day when, without reservation, we surrender everything to Him–ourselves, our families, our possessions, our business and our time. All we are and have becomes His, to be held henceforth entirely at His disposal. From that day we are no longer our own masters, but only stewards. Not until the Lordship of Jesus Christ is a settled thing in our hearts can the Holy Spirit really operate effectively in us. He cannot direct our lives effectively until all control of them is committed to Him. If we do not give Him absolute authority in our lives, He can be present, but He cannot be powerful. The power of the Spirit is stayed.

“Are you living for the Lord or for yourself? Perhaps that is too general a question, so let me be more specific. Is there anything God is asking of you that you are withholding from Him? Is there any point of contention between you and Him? Not till every controversy is settled and the Holy Spirit is given full sway can He reproduce the life of Christ in the heart of any believer” (pp. 134-5).

Is today that day for you? Is this the day that you choose the normal Christian life? Let me close with the strongest call to such commitment I have ever found. Once a year or so, it seems the Lord calls me to share my favorite declaration of faith with you again. If you’ve heard me quote these words before, make them your own again today. If they are new, make them your own for the first time today. They come from a young African pastor martyred for his commitment to Christ. In his journal was found this statement of faith:

I am part of the “Fellowship of the Unashamed.” I have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I’ve stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of His. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need pre-eminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by his presence, lean by faith, love by patience, live by prayer, and labor by power.

My face is set, my gait is fast, my goal is heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my guide reliable, my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.

I won’t give up, shut up, let up, or slow up ’til I’ve preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ.

I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go ’til He comes, give ’til I drop, preach ’til all know, and work ’til He stops.

And when He comes to get His own, He’ll have no problems recognizing me—my colors will be clear.