Did you notice the order of these chapters?  God created, then man had a purpose.  We explored God first, now we look at humanity.  It is no small issue: God comes first.  You are a created being.

The great comedy and tragedy of human existence is that we are all trying to understand this life while realizing it is beyond our understanding.  We commit to following God, but we still do what we know is wrong.  We have incredible capacity for compassion while in the next moment reveals our great capacity for wretchedness.

We give our lives to Him trying to conceptualize how giving away our life will actually give us life abundant.  We live and work and store and plan all the while knowing that it all is actually loss.  Prayer—a non-action—is the most powerful action of all.  And somehow in all of this, we are trying to grasp that our weakness is actually strength.

I do what I hate

Read Romans 7:14-24.  What stands out to you?

Where does your struggle lie?  Think about the top three sin struggles you are battling right now.  What does God’s Word say about those areas of your life?
Read Romans 5:6-11.  What was/is God’s response to our unholiness?

It is so easy to fall into the trap of “Christian guilt”.  There is a difference between “guilt” and “conviction”, but often we confuse one for the other.  I would even go so far as to suggest that the “conviction of the Holy Spirit” is poorly chosen wording for what God truly seeks in our lives.  That will come later.  First, we need to understand what is “guilt” before God and what it means to us as believers.  (If you are not a follower of Christ already, then, I am sorry, but you do fall in the “guilty” category.  Use this lesson to learn where you are and where you could be.  Then, should you want to make the transition to follower, pray for forgiveness of your sin, accept Christ as your Master, and join us in the glorious walk of the non-guilty follower.)

Now, on to the guilt.

Read James 2:10; what stands out to you?

Read Colossians 1:19-23.  What comparison is made in this passage?
According to these verses, what position do followers of Christ now hold?

We did not spend much time exploring guilt—because we are so good at feeling guilty and so terribly bad at realizing our actual position in Christ.  This is where “conviction” comes in—in my opinion, this is a terrible choice of “Christian-ese”.  In any other realm of existence, “conviction” means that you were tried from a crime and found “guilty.”  As we learned in Colossians, we are no longer guilty.  So even painting pretty flowers on “conviction” and saying that it comes from the Holy Spirit simply does not make sense to me.

So rather than talk about “the conviction of the Holy Spirit”, we will spend some time learning what our true position in Christ is.

Read Colossians 2:6-10.  What stands out to you regarding the responsibility we have as followers of Christ?

As followers, we are commanded to “walk in Him.”  What does this even mean?  What does it mean to “walk” in someone.  Maybe a more relatable phrase is to walk in someone’s footsteps.  When we walk in someone’s footsteps, we take the path they took, see the things that they saw, and experience the things that they experienced.  We do not embody that person, but we do the same things they did.

This is our call in Christ.  Walking in Him means to do the things He did, see the things He saw, and experience the things He experienced.  (And yes, sometimes that does mean being crucified by those who do not know what they are doing.)

Once you become a follower of Jesus, walking in His footsteps starts with knowing what those footsteps are.

Read James 1:21-22.  What are we to receive?

And what are we to do with it?

What is this implanted word?  The Greek word for “word” here is the same word John uses to describe Jesus in John 1 (“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”).  Somehow, through some supernatural phenomenon, becoming a follower of Christ results in this word being implanted in our very soul.

Jesus Himself discussed at length how we were to live.  But He did not leave us alone in order to do it.  He also spoke of One to come and be our Helper.  Read the following passages and list what you learn about who is to come:

  • Luke 11:13
  • John 14:16
  • John 14:26
  • John 16:7
  • Acts 2:4
  • Acts 19:2

So we know we were not left alone.  The Father sent the Holy Spirit, Whom Jesus described as our Comforter.  The Holy Spirit would reveal the implanted word.  We were not left alone to walk in Jesus’ footsteps.  What is more—we were not left “convicted”.

Read Luke 12:12.  What position does the Holy Spirit hold in our lives?

Interesting that across the five most used translations of the Bible, the position of the Holy Spirit is the same.  He is our Teacher.  We are the student.

The Holy Spirit does not come to judge; He comes to teach.  His correcting pen is sometimes urgent-red, sometimes joyous-yellow, sometimes growing-green.  It comes in laughter, tears, celebration, and heartache.  The Holy Spirit teaches.  It is not guilt.  It is a lesson—learn it, and move forward.  Set aside your human-produced notion that you are guilty, condemned, and unworthy.  You were all those things—read that again—you were all those things before choosing Christ.  Now, you are reconciled—and you are a student.  Put away the switch from the whipping tree and sit under the Master Teaching of the great Comforter sent by God Himself.

Read the following passages and write out what you learn about the Holy Spirit in your life.

  • Acts 19:2
  • Acts 2:4
  • Romans 14:17
  • Ephesians 1:13

Received.  Filled.  Joy.  Sealed.  Sounds like a pretty fantastic place to be.

As you end this section, read I Peter 1:12-16.  As a result of the Holy Spirit being sent, how are we, now, to live?

Knowing that, as a follower of Christ, you are under the seal and teaching of the Holy Spirit, what commitments do you now make in regards to where your life will go from here.

Losing life to gain life

We all have likely read the scripture in Matthew 16:25 that says, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”  Human understanding cannot quite grasp it.  This is yet another situation where context can be our best friend for starting to gain understanding.

Read Matthew 16:24-26.  Who is Jesus speaking to in this passage?

Verse 25 shows some interesting consequences of our desired actions.  Using this scripture, fill in the blank.

Desired Action

Result of the Action

Save life Lose it
Lose life Find it
Gain whole world ________________________________

These verses seem to equivicate “life” with our soul.

Read I Samuel 1:9-16.  What stands out to you?

How was Hannah’s soul/spirit described in this passage?
Continue reading verses 17-18.  Eli bids Hannah peace.  In verse 18, what is the effect of this peace on Hannah’s countenance?

This passage describes Hannah’s circumstance—what we would call her “life”—yet it was her very soul which carried the burden.

When we think of our life, we most readily think about the day-to-day operations, the family, the job, the church, our friends, where we are going, what it will take to get there.  We discuss investments and retirement.  We talk about calendars and schedules.  But the verses we just read seem to equate life with something far more fundamental: your soul.

Read Psalm 19:7-11.  What stands out to you?
According to this passage, what does the Lord “convert”?
Does He change the circumstance?  Your pocketbook?  Your job?  Your family?

He converts the soul.  God’s desire is not that your circumstance be peachy-keen.  His desire is for your soul to be at peace with Him.

Why would He focus so much on the soul?

Read Luke 6:44-45 and write what stands out to you.

The soul is the well-spring from which our actions flow.  Changing the soul means changing our “lives”.  In the great mathematics of God, He need not change our circumstance to change our circumstance.  Changing our soul will (super)naturally result in a change of the circumstance—not because your spouse is kinder or you are richer or your boss is different, but because the way you view that circumstance fundamentally changes.  By changing the seed in your heart, the fruit that results from the circumstances of life will (super)naturally change as well.

What areas of your life do you need to surrender to God?

 

Ask Him for His help to (super)naturally change the way you experience your circumstances.  Commit now to following His guidance.

Counting it as loss

Read Philippians 3:1-6.  List out all of Paul’s credentials mentioned.

In the Jewish world, Paul was a leader in lineage, education, reputation, and all the other worldly measure by which the religious leaders measured humanity.  In that day and time, Paul had it all.

What would be a modern-day equivalent of Paul’s credentials?
Read Acts 7:54 through Acts 8:3.  Describe Saul.

This Saul is the same man as our Paul (God changes His name later).  Not only did his credentials bring him honor among religious leaders, his actions led to the murder of Jesus’ followers.  There was no question regarding his zealousness.

But Saul did not have the last word on his soul.

Read Acts 9:1-19.  What happened to the zealous Saul?

The risen Christ stood in Saul’s path—and that changed everything.

Read Acts 9:19-22.  After his transformation, how was Saul describe by those who knew him prior to his transformation?

Saul was no small potato in Jerusalem’s potato patch.  And his transformation was complete.  Those who knew him best immediately noticed the change—not because his “life” changed, but because his very soul was changed.  And that made all the difference.

Review the list of Paul’s credentials you created earlier.  Read Pilippians 3:7-11.  How does Paul describe his credentials?

What reason does Paul give for viewing his credentials this way?

Re-read Acts 9:22.  What was the result of Paul’s change in perspective?

He grew in strength.  Counting his worldly credentials as loss and seeking Christ led to…increased strength.  Giving up worldly power to the right Master resulted in more power—with eternal impact.

But even that was not enough for Paul.  He pressed on.

Read Philippians 3:12-16.  What is Paul’s driving purpose?

Considering Saul’s life, his transformation, Paul’s credentials, and his perspective on them, examine your own life.

What credentials do you have on which you are leaning far too hard?

Ask God for the proper perspective on each of your credentials.  Write out that perspective here:

Letting go of our reliance on credentials, reliance on worldly power, is the first step in gaining the increased strength mentioned in Acts 9:22.  If you want the strength of God, you must first give up your own strength.

What is God asking you to do right now?

Weakness is strength

Weakness is strength.  This is not my favorite reality.  As an independently-minded (stubborn), very analytical person, admitting weakness is not my favorite thing.  And yet again, I feel the comparison to the small toddler insistently demanding “myself!” when offered help by a more-knowing person.  And yet I know, if I fight the reality of weakness being strength, I will simply be fighting against the wind.

This very lesson struck home during the week I wrote this portion of the study.  Fighting a winter cold, I found myself up several times every night.  On nights when I would grumble, curse my immune system, or fret the lost sleep, I would not sleep well.  But on nights when I accepted the reality of having a cold, took care of the needs, and went back to sleep thankful for my favorite brand of facial tissue that does not chafe, I slept well.  The number of times awake did not change.  The quality of my sleep, however, changed dramatically.  When I accepted that I could only do what I could do, and I let go of the notion I could control the cold away, I could relax.  And I slept well.

Read Luke 12:22-26.  What stands out to you?

That last verse slays me. “If you are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest?” (NKJV).  Admitting that we are not in control can be very tough.  It is, however, the strongest place we can be.

Read 2 Corinthians 12:6-10.  What stands out to you?

According to this passage, what should we be boasting about?

How does this sit with you?
What weaknesses do you have in your life?
What struggle arises in your hear and mind when you think about boasting in these weaknesses?
For each weakness, prayerfully explore how God might be glorified in each one. Write them out.
Read Galatians 6:11-18.  What do you learn about boasting?

We learned earlier that Paul had, what he called, a “thorn” to buffet him.  Scholars debate what this thorn might be.  Based on the Galatians passage, I believe it was the physical infirmity of diminished sight.

What good could possibly come from a communicator of Jesus’ teachings who used hand-written letters to spread the Word having a significant sight infirmity?

What frustrations might Paul have faced?

And yet, he boasted in Christ alone.  He let go of asking for the thorn to be removed, and he focused his energy on spreading the gospel in whatever way he could—often through the use of scribes.  And by doing so, he glorified Jesus.

As a writer, there is a panic that arises at the notion of not being able to read, study, and write.  As I have struggled with sight issues in one eye, I have lived this panic—and I have begged God to remove the thorn.  And throughout it all, He reassured that He would equip where He called.  So even if I could not see, or if using a computer continued to be problematic, He would provide.  And in the process, He did not remove the thorn.  He did, however, bring peace to the circumstance.  He created a brain in all of us that can look beyond such sight infirmities—so that I no longer “see” the spot in my vision.  He created a retina specialist who does not flinch at giving hard news (“this will be a more long-term issue”)—and yet, the retina specialist has had to do nothing.  Wait and see is the current treatment plan…and that works for me.  And though one eye may tire more quickly than the other, and though differing light levels significantly detract from my ability to focus my sight, He has provided.

He provided that He would be glorified—regardless of my weakness—and in many ways, because of it.

He provided that as I shared my fears over sight with friends and family, they supported me in prayer.

He provided that years ago I would pay attention in keyboarding class—so that now, when my eyes tire from the computer screen, I can continue to write—with my eyes closed.

I have a greater understanding of the human brain—it’s complexities and abilities to create new paths.  And I praise Him for it, and stand in awe of His creative power and wisdom.

Having experienced debilitations that threaten dreams, career and life, I have faced these struggles.  And I would guess you have too.

What thorns do you have poking you in the very core of your being?
Bring each one before the Lord now.  Ask Him to show you how you can glorify Him in that thorn.  Write out what you learn.

Ask Him how you can be thankful amid the thorns.  Write out what you learn:

Spend some time in prayer, giving up control, accepting weaknesses, praising Him for His strength, and committing to look beyond your thorns and into the glorious eternal reward of boasting in Christ alone.

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