1. WHAT IS ETERNAL LIFE
Guilt and Shame
One of the most powerful weapons Satan uses to stop people having confidence to enter into a close relationship with Jesus is guilt and shame. We now know God’s motivation toward us is nothing but love (John 3:16). We also know he wants to speak to every one of us (John 10:4), and we know he wants to relate to humans as friends (John 15:15). This should be enough for us to run into his arms. But it isn’t. We feel distant from him, and we often avoid speaking to him, preferring to do fill our lives with “stuff” or do religious rituals to make us feel better. We often think “If I do this, or attend that, I will have earned his love and I will feel better”. Guilt and shame are at the core of this way of thinking. Adam and Eve were the first to feel this way.
For some strange reason we think grace brings us to Jesus but after that event we have to perform or else. The mistakes we make after coming to him fill us with shame as we let ourselves down. So we begin to hide from him just as Adam and Eve did. However, salvation is not about earning your way into heaven. It is about the gracious offer of an intimate relationship with our creator who has deliberately blinded himself to our past and future imperfections (Isaiah 43:25). Jesus explains this process perfectly. He first mentions the term eternal life in John 3:1 and we think it is about getting a free ticket to heaven. But Jesus himself defined everlasting life in John 17:3 as intimacy with him, as intimate as a bride and her bridegroom (2 Corinthians 11:2). You see if we have an intimate marital relationship with someone then who cares if it is in a mansion or a shack. The point of our Christian walk is not actually heaven, it is closeness. Heaven is a secondary benefit.
How can we be close with him when we stuff up all the time? Well, he knows our nature better than us and knows the best way for us to improve our lives is not through rules and regulations but through relationship. A person becomes like those he or she has hangs around (Rom 12:2). As we let go of our independence from God and get to know him then the root of our shameful and guilt creating acts will begin to wither away from our lifestyle (Mark 11:12-25). We will be doing the exact opposite of the life journey of Adam and Eve. Their sin was not bad habits or actions. Their sin was a desire to live separately and hide from God. Therefore repentance from sin is not about confessing a thousand things you did wrong and suppressing bad habits or actions from then on, but coming back into relationship with our creator, it means simply to turn around and stop hiding. When you do this the bad habits will slowly fall away like leaves from deciduous tree in autumn. And even if they don’t budge then you are still loved perfectly. The whole book of Ephesians is a great summary of this process in action.
So what is Hell?
If eternal life means a close relationship with Jesus then eternal death can only be the opposite, eternal separation from him. We are born separate from him, and he offers us relationship through the sacrifice of Jesus. Most humans refuse this offer and fill their lives with distractions, gadgets and other relationships. Being the gentleman, God will respect this choice and allow you to continue to live separately to him. After death all the distractions will be gone and you will be alone with your choice. Hell is the one place in the universe separated from the presence of God. Jesus knew what this place was like and that is why he sweated drops of blood before going to the cross (Luke 22:42-44).
2. ETERNAL LIFE FROM GOD’S PERSPECTIVE
From God’s Perspective
Soften we only look at our relationship with God from our own perspective. But what thought have you given to his perspective? He is our father and he was heartbroken when we as a race walked away from him. He remains heartbroken for every one of his creation that remain separated from him. His perspective was told so beautifully when Jesus told the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).
God’s problem was that he is so pure and holy that he cannot allow a relationship with any being that is selfish, independent and unholy. Yet at the same time he loves us passionately as a dad loves his kids. He also knows this condition of ours creates guilt so we run for cover to void God. So he initiated a plan to solve both problems. So he decided to legally take away our guilt through Jesus taking our place and taking our punishment on the cross (Luke 23). This allowed God to legally blot out any memory of what we have done (Isaiah 43:24-25).
From Our Perspective
So when we come to first know Jesus as our saviour and friend we often feel like a grub. But a grub with a big future as a butterfly. Metamorphosis is the process by which a grub becomes a butterfly in a cocoon. This is a great picture of what takes place with us as we slowly change into the beautiful person God wants us to be. We are legally perfect at the beginning of our Christian walk, but our spiritual wings are formed only as we spend time with Jesus becoming more like him. We tend to see our grubbiness, but God sees the potential butterfly. Because of Jesus, he can now look at us and see perfection and holiness (Heb 10:14). He calls this process a new creation (2Cor 5:17) and a robe or covering of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10).
This is why God can now call us his children. He has legally adopted us into his family (Rom 8:15). Once we have been adopted we are simply family to our spiritual dad and spiritual big brother. Nothing can remove you from your natural family and nothing can remove you from your spiritual family. Family status is not dependent on how good you are. Salvation is our spiritual birth certificate.
From our angle we see it as the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2). Some of us are further down the track in this process than others depending on how long we have been a Christian and how closely we have walked with Jesus. It took a good three years for this process to be completed in the disciples so use that as a guideline. Yet even with them it was up to ten years later that some of them were still getting their thinking patterns sorted out (Acts 10:1-11:18).
3. ETERNAL LIFE AND GROWING UP
What is Our Destiny?
Most of us think our destiny is to be a good person, read the Bible, pray regularly and go to church faithfully. However, our destiny as Christians is to become like Jesus so we can do the same ministry he did (Eph 4:11-13, John 14:12). What did Jesus do? He healed the sick, met people’s needs, taught the kingdom of God and loved all who came to him. He said we would be doing the same (John 14:12).
Stages of Spiritual Growth
Everything in nature reflects a spiritual truth, so human growth is a reflection of spiritual growth. There are three stages of spiritual growth we pass through on our way to becoming like Jesus, which are childhood, youth and parenthood (1 John 2:12-13). These stages are not time dependent but attitude based. Little children are selfish and demand attention, they have not yet learned the skills of life with Jesus or obedience to him (Eph 4:14). Spiritual youth are competent and want to be put to work, but have not finished dying to self. Spiritual parents have a heart that yearns to see others discipled into relationship with God (I Cor 4:14-15). They reproduce and help others mature in their walk with Jesus. Jesus modelled for us what being a spiritual parent was about. He reproduced himself in 11 others over three years.
Becoming a Spiritual Parent
First of all it is not by trying to copy the very same things Jesus did. It is about hearing his voice, dying to self and loving others. The key to becoming a spiritual parent like Jesus is to firstly learn to hear the voice of our spiritual dad as a child learns to hear its parents voice (John 10:4, 27). Then we must learn to obey his instructions as a strapping teenager must. (John 14:15). When we have completed this process we will have a heart of love that wants to see those around us come into relationship with him and bring them to full maturity (Matt 28:16-20). Taking responsibility for younger believers is what Jesus did, the miracles and healings happened along the way as the need arose. Jesus modelled, trained and then released. Our role in spiritual parenting is no different.
This process is not about time but attitude. A Believer can become a spiritual parent in months as they grow quickly in their faith. Other believers can grow physically old never having exited spiritual childhood, never having a heart to see people come into relationship with their creator. It took Jesus three years to take the disciples through this process of spiritually growing up. Then they started reproducing themselves in others and the world was turned upside down.
Questions to ask Jesus
Where am I in my journey toward spiritual parenting?
What do you want me to do now?
What is my next step?
Is there someone you want me to be as spiritual parent to?
Is there anything I need to leave behind so I can grow in my love for others?
Lord, can you please teach me how to hear your voice so I can be led by you?
4. GROWING UP MEANS INTIMACY
True “Meat” is Action
Christians in the western world are surrounded by mountains of teaching and knowledge. Teaching is good in itself but its aim is to bring us to Jesus (2Timothy 3:1 & 7). The purpose of knowledge is to help us become more like Jesus, to become a spiritual parent. If we have a head full of facts but a heart lacking in character (Matt 7:21-29), passion for the lost (Luke 10:2) and love for our neighbour (Matt 22:39) then our knowledge is worthless (1Cor 8:1). Knowing the lords book is not our purpose. Knowing the Lord of the book and joining with him in the harvest of souls is the very heart of our purpose (John 4:34). Many believers have been taught in regards to Bible knowledge that there is “milk” teaching, which are the simple things of scripture, and “meat” teaching, which are the deeper things of scripture. However Jesus actually taught his disciples that spiritual milk was being a hearer of the word only, while spiritual meat was to get out there and do the will of God, bringing in the harvest (James 1:22)
True Holiness is Love
In addition to the pursuit of knowledge, many believers think that to be holy before God is to cut off all the negative habits and actions in their lives. Holiness for believers often conjures up an image of a monk living an austere life. For non-believers holiness usually conjures up an image of a regular church goer who doesn’t smoke or drink. Even when we think of the Ten Commandments we think of all the rules listed. But the first commandment is the key to all the others and it involves love. Love is what makes God holy because God is love. It is his love nature which motivates all his holy actions. Loving God and loving others is what will also make you holy (Matt 22:37-39). Jesus went about doing good, healing all those who suffered and spiritually training up the disciples (Matt 9:35). This was his way of demonstrating holiness. This is also spiritual parenting at its best because love always brings out the best in parents. So if you want to be a holy person before God then yearn to be a spiritual parent. Putting off the ways of the world is part of growing up spiritually but it is a means to an end. Going on to become a spectator saint to the main game plan is to completely miss the heat of God (Matt 28:16-19, Eph 2:10).
The true “Word” is Jesus
Often when someone tells us to get into the “word of God” we think of knowledge of scripture. However in John chapter one, we are told the original “word” was Jesus (John 1:1-5, 14). In the early days of the New Testament era there was no New Testament, so believers were taught that the words of God came from the “Word”. They were taught to listen to the voice of the Lord as delivered by the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-18). This brings us to a very different understanding of “knowing the word”. In John 5:39 Jesus instructs the Pharisees that the purpose of scripture is to know him (John 14:6). It also brings us to a new understanding of the passage where Paul says that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the “Word” of God (Rom 10:17). This simply means being directed and led by the voice of the Lord. The Bible is a means to an end and not an end in itself. It points us toward an intimate knowing of Jesus, the true word of God. It is to show us how to be led by the Holy Spirit and hear his voice. John 15:1-4 tells us we can only be fruitful if we cultivate this intimate relationship with Jesus, we must “remain” in him. When we do this we will be able to do what Jesus did.
5. GROWING UP MEANS LISTENING: LESSON ONE
The Role of the Bible
The purpose of our life in Christ is to grow from infants to mature adults who reproduce spiritual children as part of the great harvest of souls who are coming back into relationship with their creator. The role of the Bible in this is to help us learn from others who have gone before us how they progressed in this journey (2 Tim 3:16). We gain much wisdom from reading about their trials, triumphs and tribulations. Their experiences have become templates for us in how we should handle life’s situations. Jesus did this very thing when he was duelling with Satan in the desert (Matt 4:1-11).
However, even though the Bible contains the great principles we need for following God, it only contains a small proportion of all the specific instructions we will need in our individual daily situations. This is where listening to the Lord takes over. Excessive emphasis on the study or confession of the written word of God to the detriment of listening to Jesus, who is the living word of God, robs us of the opportunity to hear directly from him and so do the same amazing things he did. (John 5:39-40, Phil 4:13, John 15:5, Amos 8-11). If you have a choice between reading scripture and prayer, prayer is always the wiser choice. It is like the choice between talking to you dad on the phone or reading about him in his letter.
The Role of Listening
The early church didn’t have the New Testament for many years, and then it came in limited copies. Today most of the world can’t read or can’t get access to the scriptures. So how does the church grow in these circumstances? It grows through relationship with Jesus. Jesus himself didn’t have a written reference for every situation he found himself in. For example, when confronted with two blind people in different circumstances he chose different strategies to healing them. That shows he was always listened to his father speaking into his spirit when he needed help in ministering to people (John 12:49). When the Pharisees brought to him the woman caught in adultery, he sat down and scratched in the dirt asking his dad for instructions (John 8:1-11). As we grow from little children into sons and fathers we need to copy the modelling of Jesus and the early apostles who listened to the Father so they knew what to say and how to say it. Our maturity is not measured by our knowledge of the Bible but by how closely we walk with our Lord (Rom 8:14). Think what would have happened to the early church if Ananias had not obeyed the voice of the Lord in Damascus and restored Saul’s sight (Acts 9:10-17). Think what would be happening in your life if you regularly heard the Lord’s voice. That’s when the fun starts!
The Role of Faith
Despite all the references to Jesus being led by the father, and his promising that we will be led by the Holy Spirit, many Christians still have difficulty in believing the Lord would want to have personal conversations with them. This is an old problem as Moses found out some 3,500 years ago (Ex 20:18-20). Yet Jesus said his sheep will hear his voice (John 10:4). When the sheep can’t hear the voice of their shepherd they will be scattered. This describes well what has happened in the Western church in the last 100 years or so. Most Christians today would rather the professional clergy speak to them in a sermon than to cultivate the intimacy needed to be clearly led by the Lord. To hear from God you must first have faith that he wants to talk to you. To generate this faith simply ponder for a minute what astonishing motivation the creator of the universe must have had to become a human and sacrifice himself to take away your guilt record.
6. GROWING MEANS LISTENING: LESSON TWO
It is only when you grasp the enormity of the fact that God sees you as his perfect child will you feel the liberation in your spirit that welcomes, indeed craves, his voice. This why the previous six lesson have had to lay this foundation. Are you now feeling good about God talking to you? If not then read these lessons again and ask him to speak to you as you read. If you are ready to go then it is now time for some practical lessons.
God is spirit and will usually speak to you at the level of your spirit, Holy Spirit to human spirit. Also try to be conscious that he is there with you when you speak to him, right next to you. To receive lots of messages from God requires you to ask lots of questions. So ask him lots of questions about anything and everything. He, like you, doesn’t like listening to monologues (Matt 6:7). Next, expect him to speak to you in a way that will feel like sudden inspirational thinking, a thought from ‘left field”, a strong sense about a topic, a picture popping into your mind, a strong reply like someone talking to your mind, a “newspaper” headline, a short film clip, a burden in your heart or emotions, or a strong response in one of your five senses. (Job 33:14, John 10:27, Rom 12:2) He will use your natural emotional and intellectual strengths to talk back to you. Finally, God created you to talk to him at this level and once you begin to become comfortable with these methods he uses to talk to you it will become a daily happening. It took time for you to learn how to hear your parent’s voice so it will take a little time to learn how to trust your heavenly father’s voice.
It is good to have pen and paper ready to write an answer during these exercises. Now, imagine Jesus sitting opposite you here and now. Ask him the following question: “Jesus what do you really think of me?” Now what was the very first thing that travelled through your consciousness immediately after you asked that question? Write that thought down.
Pen and paper ready? This time ask the following question: “Lord what motivated you to go to the cross?” Write the very first thought/impression that you got after asking this question.
Pen and paper ready again? Here is the question: “Lord give me the name of someone in my family that you want me to do an act of kindness for tomorrow?” Write the name of the first person who comes to mind. Follow through!
You know the drill…”Lord please remind me of one scripture right now that you would like me to meditate on for the next minute?”
“Lord you said we were to love our neighbour as ourselves, so what would you like me to do for my next door neighbours this week?”
Do you get the idea now? It is really very simple learning to ask questions and hear replies from God. Do not believe for one minute the answers were just you thinking. Look at the things you wrote. Look at the consistency of the answers. What pattern do you see? Repeat this exercise each day and your confidence in hearing his voice will grow greatly.
7. GROWING UP AND BANISHING GUILT
Sinking Into Guilt
Initially in our walk with Jesus most of us became wonderfully aware that we have become a new creation with all our sins forgiven and forgotten. Our slate was wiped clean and we rejoiced in this unconditional love form our creator (Psalm 103:8-12, Eph 1:7-10). It was an exciting time in our lives. However, as life went on, many of us lost this initial wonder. A lot of us have switched to thinking we must do certain rituals to please God. This is the condition of believing that grace is for our past mistakes but not for our future mistakes. Living out our faith through works and rituals that tell us we must “read this”, “pray that”, “do this” and “go to that” only leads to guilt. This will trick us into believing we are unworthy of any form of ministry and could never do anything significant for God. This is a dangerous place to be. We no longer see ourselves as righteous and innocent in the sight of God, able to boldly enter his throne to converse and be his child in his spiritual lap. This way of thinking creates a condition within us that pleases Satan greatly. We begin concentrating on our faults and not on the mission we were given by Jesus (1Cor 5:18-19). We stop doing the job of imparting the love and power of God to a hurting world and concentrate on fulfilling our rituals Let’s call it “sit down” thinking. It is inward and passive. It is the state of most western Christians today.
To clear our heart of this lie of Satan we must always go back to this one truth. We have been forgiven once and for all time for everything that made and will make us imperfect (Mic 7:18-19, Rom 8:1). We must always trust that this gift of forgiveness is real and present in us, regardless of what we do in our daily walk. We will never be perfect and God knows this. That’s why our relationship with him is one of pure and absolute grace (Romans 3:20-24, Eph 2:4-9). Our walk is never about rituals and performance. But what happens if we make a mistake or offend others after becoming a Christian? Do we need to ask forgiveness afresh? For these inevitable problems he has asked us to seek the help of stronger believers who can coach us through our difficulties (Jam 5:16). Believers are family and our job is to turn spiritual children into spiritual parents. God has also given us the Holy Spirit to help us in that same journey (John 14:15-26, 1Cor 10:13). As long as you are sincere in saying sorry when you make a mistake, all will stay cool between you and the Lord. Jesus knew Peter would make mistakes and the biggest he ever made was to lie three times about his knowledge of Jesus, yet all was cleared up through sincerity of heart (John 21:15-19). God’s heart for you is always that of the loving father in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31).
Rising into Passion
The cure for passive Christianity is to take on God’s heart for the lost. Jesus came to save love and bless people (Luke 19:10). That was his passion and our mission is exactly the same. A hurting world out there is waiting for the sons of God to reveal the love of God (Rom 8:19). So ask for Gods heart of compassion to begin beating within you. Ask the lord of the harvest to send out workers (Luke 10:2). Ask to become a harvest worker. Start praying for those around you. Walk your street asking for opportunities to serve and love your neighbours. Ask God to show you what it means for the kingdom of God to come into your work place and social club. Listen for directions. If you never do anything else in your Christian walk besides getting involved in the harvest you will have found the very centre of the heart of the Father for this lost world. Guilt and rituals will fall into insignificance. Joy and excitement will take their place.
8. GROWING UP AND BANISHING SIN
Losing Your Salvation
Mistakes will always follow us because we are human. That is why God made us legally perfect for all time if we have eternal life and walk with him. But what if the mistakes we make, the sin we commit, was entrenched within us when we came to Jesus, or become entrenched in our lives afterward? Can we lose our salvation? Yes, but this only ever becomes an issue if we deliberately turn our back on Jesus and walk away from him forever (Heb 10:26-31). This is a small group. Most of us love our Lord sincerely and want to free from our human shortcomings so we are definitely not in that group. Do not let guilt and shame control your mind if you are a believer who, in your heart, love Jesus but are struggling with sin. This is Satan’s trap to keep you ineffective. If you are in relationship, you are legally perfect, end of story. Your predicament is like a learner driver who keeps grinding the gears. Your driving instructor is not angry with you. He knows you are a learner so will gently remind you of what you can do to stop the problem (1Cor 10:13). Your job is to acknowledge the mistake and try again. The important thing to remember is the relationship. While your instructor is there he will guide you into all truth (John 16:13). Your situation only becomes an issue if you have kicked your spiritual driving instructor out of the car!
Growing Out of Habitual Sin
So how do you go about dealing with habitual sin? Remember the brain took time to develop the habits that are causing you such spiritual pain. So the mind is the place where we start fixing the problem (Rom 12:2, Col 3:1-17). But it will take time because you are a learner driver. Here are a few actions that will help renew your mind:
Say sorry to the Lord when you make a mistake (1John 1:9) and ask the Holy Spirit for incremental victory (John 14:16, 25). Deal with pride because pride is the root of much sin (Rom 12:3, Pro 16:18). Your pride will create a self-justification process and keep you from acknowledging your need for help. Pride will cause you to blame family, friends and God for your situation (Jam 1:13).
Remember to get a spiritual parent to be your mentor and guide, we are not meant to deal with these issues alone (Rom 12:4-5).
Make sure you have forgiven others anything they have done to you (Matt 6:14-15). That way you are freeing your mind of any need for justice and revenge, the cause of many habitual sins. Your hurt can cause great trouble for you.
Stay close to Jesus. Spend time with him every day. Learn to listen to his voice so you know when he is speaking to you at the moment before temptation comes.
Physically leave the zone of temptation. Get up and move away. Don’t think you will stand strong if you are surrounded by sinners and sin (Psalm 1, 1Cor 5:11). Use the word of God to answer the selfish thoughts, just as Jesus did when he was tempted by Satan after fasting 40 days (Matt 4, Heb 4:12).
Finally, get thoroughly involved with loving people and the great harvest of souls (Luke 10:2). Get your mind off yourself an on to others. Sin will make you focus on yourself and this will make you useless to God. He wants you to be a spiritual parent so get out there and make it happen and sinful habits will fall away like dead leaves from a tree that is putting out new growth.