A New Way of Life
As believers, the Bible tells us we are “new creations in Christ,” (2 Corinthians 5:17) but we quickly find out that while that is true, it seems like plenty of our old ways try to cling to us.
Have you ever driven out of the church parking lot with wonderful thoughts and resolutions to change filling your head, only to get cut off in traffic and blow it? Why does that happen?
Do you have an old habit you can’t break free of? You tried promising God you would quit, but it didn’t work. Why not?
Perhaps stress dominates your life, or you are under a cloud of guilt over something? Your life has so many spiritual highs and lows, it’s like a roller coaster.
“For two years after putting my faith in Christ I struggled along, not knowing how to walk with Him, or even what to do if I sinned. I felt so inadequate and guilty. I tried to learn everything I could, but there was no one to help. Then one day a friend (who I had been in a fist fight with the last time I saw him) invited me to a Bible study. I was desperate to learn and I’d heard he was now a Christian, as was I. So I went.
It was in that simple study I first learned about what some have called “spiritual breathing,” confessing our sin (exhale) and being filled with God’s Spirit by giving Him control (inhale). Next to trusting Christ, this has been the biggest single transformation in my life. Now I was walking with God, not perfect, but growing, experiencing God’s love and forgiveness, and empowered to share this with others for the first time.”
Questions we will address in this unit:
Where do we find the power to consistently live the new way of life in Christ?
What should we do if we sin as believers?
How can we learn to walk by faith with God and live the new way consistently?
God’s desire for us is found in John 10:10. Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.”
We know God desires the abundant life for us, but many believers live in frustration. Inside, behind the Sunday morning smiles, there is a battle going on. Too often, we sound like the man Paul describes in Romans 7:14-19, 24:
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing….
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (ESV)
Have you ever felt like the person in this passage? What's one area of your life you wish you could change?
Trying harder, willpower, checklists, promises….none of these things do any good. That’s because all of these have one thing in common: they are all the efforts of our own flesh (our willpower, strength, resolve apart from Christ) to reform itself. They are human effort.
We need a different source of power for living the Christian life because, “nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh.”
Teaching / Study
What is the source we need? Jesus gave a word picture and described it this way…
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper…. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me. (John 15:1, 4-5, HCSB, emphasis added)
Since Jesus gave us a command to “remain” whose choice is it whether we “remain” or not?
Why is it impossible for the branch to “produce fruit” without “remaining?”
What good can we do apart from remaining in Christ? Is this freeing or frustrating to you?
Jesus said our daily relationship to God as believers is like branches growing out of the main part of a vine.
As long as those individual branches stay connected to the vine life is good! Nutrients flow up from the roots through the vine to the branches. The branches have everything they need. Without even trying, plump, juicy fruit develops.
From Jesus’ illustration we can see two main principles:
Closeness – branches need to stay intimately connected to the main Vine (“remain”) to stay healthy.
Dependence – branches are totally dependent on the Vine for life. The branch is not the source. It is totally dependent on the vine for life and fruitfulness.
We remain in Christ as we follow Him in faith, depend on Him, and obey His word. As we do, we begin to live the “abundant,” fruitful life Jesus intends for us.
What activities help you feel more connected to God? What happens when you miss doing them for awhile?
- What are some things that tend to distract you or make you feel less connected to God?
So, what happens if one of the branches in Jesus’ illustration got disconnected?
Have you ever cut a vine that grows way up into a tree by severing it near its root? At first it looks unchanged. But you come back two days later and it’s all shriveled. A month later it is totally dried up. It’s has been cut off from its source of life.
Jesus is saying, "Don't be that vine! Stay close and depend on Me."
While Christ will never leave us (Hebrews 13:5) and our salvation is secure in Him—because it is based on what He accomplished on the Cross—nevertheless we can choose to live life depending on ourselves. We can rebel. We can say, “I’ll take over on this one, God.” We do it the old way, the way our flesh (our old sinful self) wants to handle things.
When we take back control of our life from God it’s as if we cut ourselves off from the vine. We have grieved God’s Spirit (Ephesians 4:30).
The fellowship, joy, and closeness with God is temporarily broken, just as with any relationship.
If you have ever offended a friend you understand. So it is with the believer who disobeys God.
We will talk more about what to do when you realize you have taken control back and need to “re-connect to the vine” but first let’s look at what else the Bible say about living the new way.
Walking in the Spirit.
What Jesus called “remaining” in Him, Paul called walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16),
“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.”
Learning to depend on the Spirit is like walking. If you stumble or trip, you don’t give up on walking. You get up, dust yourself off, and keep going.
Likewise as a believer if you sin, you repent and confess your sin to God by admitting it was wrong. Then get back up and keep walking in the Spirit’s power. If you’ve offended someone, you make it right with them too.
As you learn to live by faith, by following God’s Spirit and the teaching in His Word, you will begin to see God remake you from the inside out. Galatians 5:22-23 says,
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
You can be sure that whenever the impulse or thought is to return good for evil, or to be kind when in the past you would have been rude that it is the Holy Spirit working inside you. Go with it!
By contrast, when the thought pops into your head to do it the old way, to lie, cheat, hate, take revenge, etc., you can be sure it is your flesh speaking. Don’t listen! Instead ask God to help you do the right thing, then do it. Living the Christian life without the power of the Spirit is like trying to fly without an airplane.
Who's On the Throne?
The Bible says, “Be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).
This command is in the continuous tense, meaning to be constantly filled or empowered and controlled by the Spirit. The Spirit is doing the filling, but I'm commanded to put myself in the position to be filled. How? It's like this: Picture a throne in the center of your life. As a believer every moment either you are sitting on the throne or Christ is.
When we take over we see the sinful “deeds of the flesh” start to appear in our lives (Galatians 5:19-21), and it’s a mess.
- Where are areas of your life where Christ is seated firmly on the throne, in control?
- What areas have been hard for you to “give up your seat?”
When we let Christ rule (Ephesians 3:16-17) we see the fruit of the Spirit appear, and Christ’s power working in us to take the gospel to the whole world (Acts 1:8). Paul said it this way in Galatians 2:20,
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
This verse is talking about a whole new mindset that now I live for Him and His purpose, not mine. I’m no longer trying to live “my life.” I have a new identity in Christ. He isn’t just remaking our character to make us lovable or a nice neighbor. He is giving us the power to be His ambassadors to the whole world (Acts 1:8). It’s a life of faith.
When we live like Christ, people see a glimpse of Him in us. And, if we are humble and honest about our shortcomings, they see His amazing grace, which He offers them as well. We aren’t perfect. We are forgiven, reconciled to God through Christ. In fact, the longer we seek to walk with God the more we will realize just how great His grace truly is.
How Do We Live the New Way?
First, as soon as we realize we have sinned and taken control back, we need to repent and confess our sin to Him. To repent simply means to turn around - to change direction. It involves a change of mind too. Old ways I once thought were OK I now see as sin. To confess is to agree with God that our sin is wrong. He already knows our sin but wants us to “own it,” and be completely honest and humble about it before Him, instead of excusing it, ignoring it or blaming others. Check out David’s experience:
“When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long.
Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me….
Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.” (Psalm 32:3-5, NLT)
- How does your experience compare to the David’s? Are there things to confess?
Here is a promise to stand on:
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Second, yield control to God again. That isn’t always easy. You may wrestle with an old attitude or opinion. Take it “captive” to what you learn from studying God’s word (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Third, pray specifically about what you face each day and each moment, trusting that God is at work. That is putting Him in control and relying on him. It is a step of faith.
Jesus said to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11), meaning to pray even about the routine daily activity you must do to earn a living.
Pray about that presentation, that deal, that co-worker you are in conflict with, for opportunities to share your faith, for wisdom and to be able to work heartily as unto the Lord for his glory:
“Cast all your cares upon Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:)
If you don’t bring it to God, your flesh will try to handle it!
- Take some time now to list our at least two or three things you will face today and pray for God’s wisdom, guidance and help in them:
What we don’t put in God’s hands, in faith, we risk reverting to our own strength to handle.
Jeremiah the prophet warned if we rely on our own strength we,
...will be like a bush in the desert
And will not see when prosperity comes,
But will live in stony wastes in the wilderness… (Jeremiah 17:5-6)
That bush doesn’t know when good times have come. It’s in a desert! God is working all around them but, prayerless, they can’t see it.
A shriveled vine, a bush in the desert. Do you see a pattern? Depend on God every step of the way!
This all makes sense, so why don’t we always walk in the Spirit?
It’s not automatic!
God is not in the business of overriding our choices. We must choose to walk by faith moment by moment, AND….
We have three enemies that try to prevent our remaining in Christ, that is, walking in the Spirit:
The World – not the people in the world (God loves them, John 3:16), but the prevailing system of thought, values, and culture around us that is opposed to God.
“You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God” (Ephesians 2:2 NTL).
The Flesh - Though as believers we are forgiven, have a new nature, and are destined to become like Christ, for now we still live in fallen bodies in a fallen world.
That means that a part of us—what the Bible calls the flesh—still tries to entice us to sin, and do things the old way. And the flesh is also “weak” when it comes to doing anything positive for God (Romans 7:14-20). Willpower is no substitute for the power of God’s Spirit in us to live for him and to transform us.
The Devil - There is an intelligent, active supernatural being who is constantly devising ways to deceive, accuse, discourage and tempt us and everyone in the world to disobey God.
He can’t make me sin, but he knows how to push just the right buttons! Unfortunately, my old flesh is ready to respond. But we can trust in this: God is infinitely greater than Satan.
“Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
“Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
What are some ways the world encourages us to live counter to what God commands?
We can err in our attitudes towards Satan by either ignoring his influence, or by giving him too much credit by blaming him for everything wrong we do. Do you think you lean one way or another? How can you remain alert without constantly worrying?
Joy Despite Trials, Not a “Charmed” Life.
Perhaps when you first came to Christ someone gave the impression that now you are “home,” and it would be all smooth sailing. But our true home is in heaven, not here (Philippians 3:20).
While here on earth, we are Christ’s ambassadors to share the gospel in the midst of a spiritual war.
James tells us that as believers we are not exempt from facing troubles. In fact they can strengthen our faith as we depend on God (James 1:2-3). Trials can cause us to “remain” in Him even more. Jesus called that “pruning,”
“...every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2)
Why is God more concerned with your character becoming like Christ than your circumstances remaining comfortable?
Where do you go from here?
In the next two units you will learn how to grow strong spiritually through regular time in God’s Word and through prayer. Nothing will make as much difference in your walk with God as these life long habits.
Your Spiritual Growth Plan
We grow by taking a next step!
Choose one of the three areas below and then either a “walk,” “jog,” or “run” step.
The walk steps are beginning or shot term steps, the jog steps intermediate, and the run steps more challenging.
If you are still working on steps from a previous week, don’t feel pressured to do any of these! Or choose a “walk” step for now. Perhaps mark one of these for future action if that’s the case.
1- SURRENDERING CONTROL TO GOD
Take an inventory of your life and note everything you have not surrendered to God. Share your results with a friend. How can you work on these things to surrender them to God?
Set up a plan for giving up one thing you have held back from God. You may need to ask a friend or spouse to hold you accountable to do this.
Regularly fast from the things you have trouble surrendering to God. See the “Suggestions” on fasting at this link.
2- CONFESSSING ANYTHING IN MY CHARACTER THAT DOES NOT LOOK LIKE CHRIST
Ask God to show you things you need to confess to Him. Confess each to God, then read and believe the promise of 1 John 1:9.
Evaluate your character based on the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23.
Find a spiritual partner and establish a relationship of accountability.
3- PRAISING GOD AND TRUSTING HIM DURING DIFFICULT TIMES
During a crisis thank God for all he has done for you and how he will help you grow through this trial. Read Philippians 4:6-7 and apply it. Share what you are learning with a friend or mentor.
Journal about your circumstances to see how God is working in and through them. Reflect on Romans 8:28. Spend some time reminding yourself of his work by re-reading what you have written.
Minister to others through the pain you have experienced by joining ministries at church that specifically focus on meeting the needs of those who are struggling where you have struggled. (2 Corinthians 1:4)
Parent Next Steps
Choose one or more of the Next Steps below based on the ages of your children.
Ask your preschooler:
Encourage your child to start writing their prayers to God in a journal (Younger kids can draw pictures).
1. Challenge your student to GROW in their relationship with Jesus by writing down the following (in private):
2. Encourage them to share what they wrote down with someone who will hold them accountable (You, a Small Group Leader, a friend, etc.)
If we walk by the Spirit, remaining in Christ, we will have the power to live the new way. But it’s not automatic. We must chose to live by faith each moment as we grow in our relationship with Christ.
John 15:1, 4-5
Galatians 5:16; 5:22-23
1 John 1:9; Romans 8:1; Psalm 32:1-5 (confession)
Snap Shot Summary
We are new creations in Christ, but we can be tempted to live the old way.
We must rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to live the new life in Christ.
If we sin we don’t lose our salvation, but we temporarily lose the joy and closeness of our relationship with God. We need to confess our sin and put Christ back in control of our lives.
We must chose to walk by faith moment by moment. That will involve depending on Christ by learning to pray and put things in His hands.
While the world, the flesh, and the devil oppose us, God is infinitely greater!
Victory Over the Darkness - Neil Anderson
Identity - Eric Geiger
The Gospel Centered Life - Thune and Walker
Discipleship Essentials - Greg Ogden
FAQ’s and "Hard Questions"
What you have learned in this Essentials Study we encourage you to pass along to others by taking them through this study! You can access all the materials online free anytime, anywhere.