Fruit of Following God #13: Sacrificial Living for Christ

Frans Floris painting, The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ Son of God Gathering and Protecting Mankind

Eventually a growing disciple realizes that not only does Christ call His followers to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23), but he also calls them to live sacrificially. The self-life must die and Christ must live. Christ Himself was a sacrifice for us. Paul writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

In daily living, believers are to sacrifice themselves as an act of worship. Paul lived out this admonition in his own life and ministry. Writing to the believers at Philippi he says, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all” (Philippians 2:17). The author of the book of Hebrews also states, “Through [Jesus] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:15-16).  Giving up ourselves, our possessions, our time, our personal rights and perceived privileges should be part of the Christian life. Each disciple must understand the will of the Lord in such personal matters and decisions but each disciple must also ask himself, “What am I giving up in order to serve Christ and/or help fulfill the Great Commission?” C.T. Studd, the missionary pioneer to Belgian Congo in the early 1900’s, once made this compelling statement, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him” (Grubb, 141). A growing disciple becomes sensitive to what he can give up for the Savior who gave Himself for His own.

The Fruit of Following God – Part 12: Walks by Faith

Hebrews 11 is the chapter that summarizes so many demonstrations of faith in the Bible. In some ways, it is amazing that the author of Hebrews wrote such a short compilation since evidence of faith is seen throughout Scripture. Of course, the author did write:

“And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets…” (verse 32).

One might even ask, “What about Job?!” Nevertheless, God’s people indeed “walk by faith, not by sight,” (2 Corinthians 5:7). And we cannot walk by feelings either, although the presence of feelings and emotions about the Lord are not to be dismissed as inappropriate in the Christian life.  As we trusted Christ for our salvation from sin and hell, so we must continue to trust the Lord through our entire lives.

“This is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:4).

The disciple of Christ learns to trust God though the good and the bad, during the blessings and the trials. In his prayer life, the disciple is able to express desires and hopes and to cast his every care and worry upon Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Jesus exhorts the burdened in His day and assures them of His help when He says,

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

As growing disciples, we gradually learn that God has a plan for us and that He also has the power to provide for us. And He answers prayer. We can give Him our worries (Luke 12:22-26) and our future (Matthew 6:34) as He knows every need of our lives (Matthew 6:25-34). The disciple lives a life of faith even when the feelings and the sense of the presence of God is missing. Habakkuk learned this lesson as Babylon hovered over Israel and the threat of losing everything loomed large. The Lord told him, “The righteous shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). Habakkuk finally reached a point of resolution, recognizing that even if he were to lose everything, He would still have God and he could rejoice in that assurance:

16 I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. 17 Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. 19 God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:16-19)

This is the walk of faith: trusting God when all that you have is God.

I still recall working on a construction site in west Fort Lauderdale, Florida as a new Christian back in the summer of 1973. There was a Hispanic worker named Louie serving on the same site with a crew separate from ours. But he found out that a lot of our crew were Christians, as we were serving together during the summer with a Navigator ministry summer beach project. He was excited to know this, since he had just recently become a Christian. The joy in his salvation was evident and although his English was somewhat limited, he and I could both talk together about our newfound faith. But one day Louie came to work and it was obvious that he was “in the dumps” emotionally. His joy and happiness were missing – he was a young man who wore his heart on his sleeve. When I asked him what was wrong, in his simple English he replied, “God seems gone. I don’t feel Him with me.” I had been there before, so I explained to Louie that sometimes God intentionally removes His presence (or a sense of His presence) to test us and to strengthen our faith. He wants to see if we love Him or His blessings more. Louis seemed to understand and in time he was back to his “old/new” self. The Westminster Confession of Faith states that sometimes

“God withdraws the light of His countenance”; yet believers are “never truly destitute of that seed of God” in their lives (18:4).

This is what it means to walk by faith, clinging to Him and trusting Him even when the darkness appears to be prevailing!

The Fruit of Following God – Part 11: Loves Truth

Whether they know it or not, unbelievers live under the influence and the guise of the father of lies, Satan himself (John 8:44). Satan is known as the deceiver (Genesis 3) and loves to keep people in the darkness of falsehood. Yet, the follower of Christ has now determined that God’s testimony of His Son and His verdict against the unbeliever’s sin is true. She repents and believes. With this profound realization, the disciple is now liberated to fully trust God and to watch Him work in her life. She now understands the words that Jesus spoke to the Jews of His day,

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31b-32).

She has discovered that God’s Word is truth and she agrees with Jesus when He prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17). She now knows that God’s word is true and the means to change her heart and life. And not only does she value truth, she realizes that instead of living in a world of lies, she now must make integrity and honestly a defining mark of her walk with God. God knows all, sees all and calls His people to a life of truthfulness. The ninth commandment states, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” She now wishes to hear truth, believe truth, love truth and live truthfully and honestly.

This reality entered my own life just after I became a Christian. Growing up, I had never been a big cheater in the academic world. But I have to admit that I had been a desperate cheater a few times in my life while going through the public education experience. I never felt good about it, but cheating was better than the negative consequences of failing. I cheated on exams a few times in both junior high school as well as in high school Chemistry. When I became a Christian, I was just a few weeks into a difficult transition to college and I had almost quit. A few weeks later, however, I gave (or surrendered) my life to God. Soon afterward, I faced my first exam in Psychology 101. I knew that my assigned seat was situated at the perfect angle to see the exam answers on a classmate (and dorm-mate) of mine by the name of Paul. He made A’s in everything in high school and was quite accomplished intellectually. However, I still remember praying, “Lord, I am not going to cheat on this exam. I know that you do not approve of cheating. It is dishonest, so Lord, I am going to walk by faith and trust you to take care of me no matter what happens on that exam or any other exam in the future. I must live a life of honesty as a Christian.” I don’t recall exactly how I did on that exam. I do recall that I did well and not poorly. I also know that I never cheated in school again and I always looked to God for my success in the classroom, trusting Him for the results of hard study.

The decision I faced that fall day in 1972 was a commitment to Christ’s lordship over my life, an act of obedience and a choice to be true – and not false – before the only One who was really watching, the God of Truth. Trusting God’s word, believing He is truthful and living a life based on truth is an attribute of a disciple of Christ.

The Fruit of Following God – Part 10: Grows in Holiness

The disciple of Christ has a new attitude toward their personal sin. Others’ sins might bother him and society’s ills might be personally discouraging and inflaming, but suddenly he sees that the biggest problem in the entire world is his own sin. Like David, he cries out,

“For I know my transgressions,and my sin is ever before me.   Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:3-4).

Usually, after the first light of the Holy Spirit shines in the believers heart, the sensitivity to personal sin becomes enormous. As a matter of fact, on a number of occasions, I have heard young believers bemoan the fact that they didn’t realize that they had so much sin in their lives. Others have stated that they were happier as non-Christians because they could sin and not feel so badly or be convicted by it. The growing disciple hates his sin. He begins to acknowledge his sin more readily. He begins to think, “I have more sin than I thought I did. I didn’t know that I could sin so much.”

The disciple of Christ, ultimately, wanting to please the Savior so much, does not desire to be stained or ruined by personal sins, sins that he knows Christ died for. Holiness involves dying to sin and living for righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). Growth in holiness means “putting sin to death” (mortification, see Colossians 3:5-9) and seeking all the means necessary to live for Christ (vivification, see Colossians 3:1-4, 10-14).

The Christian disciple who pursues holy living recognizes that his greatest enemies are the lust of the flesh (sensualism), the lust of the eyes (materialism) and the boastful pride of life (egoism) as well as the world (i.e., the unbelieving world and its principles that are antagonistic to God), the flesh and the devil (see 1 John 2:16). As the believer recognizes that he is secure “in Christ,” he is able to pursue the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). He knows that Christ is his victory and failure is not the end. He loves the law as a means to guide him in a life that is pleasing to God. He wants to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:14-15).

The Fruit of Following God – Part 9: Submissive Obedience

The growing disciple of Christ has a new standard for his life. He wants to know what God says through His word and wants to do what he hears God say.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do,” (James 1:22-25).

This life of obedience, lived by the Spirit as well as out of gratitude for God’s grace, is a proof of love for Jesus,

“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them,” (John 14:21).


“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete,” (John 15:9-11).

Learning submission to the will of God is a true sign that one is a child of God. The Apostle Paul “kicked against the goads” (resisting God’s work) and it took a Damascus Road crisis of life to bring him into not only full submission but also zealous enthusiasm to suffer whatever cost and demands were required to live for, as well as to proclaim, Christ.

Living under grace means that the disciple strives to please the Lord. He does not abuse grace in such a way as to live a life of license (freedom to sin). In my early Christian days, the student who invested in my growth confessed to me that the year before, when he became a Christian, he continued to sleep with his girlfriend. But then he clarified his statement – he had been a “pagan” (unrestrained unbeliever) all of his life, but didn’t know it was wrong to sleep with his girlfriend. Once he was told what that the Bible says sex outside of marriage is sin, he instantly repented and obeyed God’s Word. He responded wholeheartedly to the Word of God. That submissive attitude is an attribute of a true disciple!

The Fruit of Following God – Part 8: “Grows in Christ-likeness”

After I became a Christian, the first verse that I memorized was from the Navigator Topical Memory System (TMS) and for me it was absolutely true:

“Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new!” (KJV).

The believer in Christ is changed. He realizes that his motto in the Christian life could easily be patterned after the words of John the Baptist when he states, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). The disciple of Christ wants to become more like Christ and less like self. Through the use of the means of grace (Scripture, prayer, the sacraments, worship and fellowship, etc.), he finds that his old life is no longer personally appealing and only a life that is conforming to Christ-likeness will satisfy. Of course, growth in the fruit of the Spirit and dying to the deeds of the flesh are true indicators of becoming more and more like Christ (Galatians 5:16-25).

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples” (John 15:8).

Often this growth in Christ-likeness occurs in more obvious fashion during the time just after one becomes a Christian; deeper Christ-likeness is shaped and formed over the long haul, as God uses events, circumstances, others and even suffering to purify the dross and make His children more like gold (Psalm 66:10; Isaiah 48:9-11).

Each disciple of Christ willingly asks the question of himself, “Am I becoming more and more like Jesus in my attitudes, actions, choices and lifestyle?”

The Fruit of Following God – Part 7: “Lives to Glorify God”

Ultimately, this attribute answers the questions, “Who (or what) is first in my life?” And, “why do I exist?” These questions address what is often called “The Lordship Commitment.” Does Christ hold first place in the life of the disciple? Will he or she submit to and obey His revealed will in all matters of life? Is his or her passion and motivation now upon glorifying God instead of living for oneself? The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian believers (who truly struggled with their passions), “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God,” (1 Corinthians 10:31). The growing disciple of Christ begins to discover area after area of his or her personal life that needs to be submitted to the will of Christ. He does not want to live for self but for God’s glory.

This disciple is sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading in all matters of obedience to God’s law (his expressed will). Obedience spawned by love for God and out of gratitude for His grace and forgiveness becomes a heartfelt passion, even though struggles with sin remain a reality. Self is no longer the driving force in their lives. Even though some of us may have come to faith in Christ out a motive for self survival but slowly, over time we realize that we have been captured and saved by God to live for Him and His honor alone. Although sin still has its subversive grip in our lives, we want to give God our all and be an example to others regarding a life that is now completely given over to our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no disparity between making Christ Savior and making Him Lord. We want Him to be Lord, even at our conversion (Colossians 2:7). Although the disciple does not fully understand the commitment being made to Christ when he or she trusts Him for salvation (similar to marriage I might add), the disciple wants God to rule over his or her life. He has tried life his way and found it lacking. When it comes to focusing upon Christ and the Christian life, he is “all in!” The lordship of Christ begins at salvation but becomes more fully realized as the disciple walks through life with a new master.  And with each passing day, this follower of Jesus is able to say more and more “Not to us, but to your name be the glory!” (Psalm 115:1).

The Fruit of Following God – Part 6: Demonstrates Love

The first fruit listed among the fruit of the Spirit is the fruit of love. This beautiful fruit begins to mature when Christ enters a person’s life. Romans 5:5 states:

“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

In so many ways the person who has lived life without Christ has lived life for self. No matter what great deeds a person may accomplish, the Apostle Paul states that if done without “agape” (God’s unconditional, sacrificial) love, those deeds are worth nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).  Good works have no value before God without the appropriate motivation and self love is not a pleasing motivation to God. Any semblance of self love ruins a good work in God’s eyes because the motivation is impure. Conversion to Christ is an experience of God’s great love and out of that new life flows a new and growing love.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” (John 15:12-13).

I still recall vividly seeing the expressed love between Christian believers just weeks after I became a Christian as a freshman at the University of South Carolina. I knew that I did not have a similar love for others in my heart that these believers demonstrated. How I envied them for the love they displayed and exhibited toward one another!  My life, although churched and “good” in a relative sense, had always been about me. I had little regard for others (some “common grace” – or natural care was in my heart of course) and had only concern for myself, my survival and my own well being. How could I love others? I literally begged God to give me a love for others that was presently not in my heart. And something amazing happened as an answer to that prayer. I don’t know if I had been what some would call “emotionally” damaged in my upbringing, but in almost miraculous fashion, I actually began to experience emotions for others – a caring love and compassion – that I had rarely, if ever, experienced in my entire life. I had prayed that God would make me a person of love instead of a selfish person (which was really all that I had ever known) and He began to do that work in my heart. He put love for others into my heart. What a blessing it was and still is to bear this fruit by His grace – His undeserved gift to me.

Sacrificial and committed “agape” love for others (even for their enemies) is a sign that an individual is a disciple and follower of the one who gave His life for us!

The Fruit of Following God – Part 5: A Life of Obedience

Another quality exhibited by the follower of the Lord is that of obedience, i.e. observing or keeping the commands of the Lord. Reading through this list of attributes that we’ve been studying for a few months now in Deuteronomy 10:12-13, it is difficult to imagine that even in this Old Testament context (as the “next” generation prepares to enter the Promised Land) this attribute would be seen as legalistic and perfunctory. The fear of the Lord is a heart attitude as is love for the Lord.  Service to the Lord is to be wholehearted–engaging the entirety of one’s soul. Surely the obedience of the Old Testament people of God and the obedience of any disciple of Jesus was and is motivated by a grateful heart.

The bigger context of this passage is set in the reality of salvation, i.e. the exodus of the children or people of God out of Egypt, a beautiful drama of salvation in their lives. The follower of Christ, living in His grace, is always wondering how he or she can please the Lord in daily life and that desire to grant the Father pleasure is demonstrated by expressions of trusting faith and sensitive obedience to the Father’s will. In The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “….Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” (Matthew 6:10, ESV). And as Jesus prepared to die and depart, he reminded his disciples:

“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him,” (John 14:21, ESV).

I might also suggest that the natural consequence of “fearing, walking with, loving and serving” the Lord would be heartfelt obedience. And if obedience was expected of the believer in these early days of God’s redemptive plan (salvation from Egyptian slavery), one might expect an even greater response of obedience to the full light of salvation revealed to us by the cross of Christ. Appropriately, Jesus’ Great Commission to “make disciples” appears to be an imperative and includes “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you….” (emphasis mine). Disciples of Christ are commanded to teach obedience to Christ’s commands. He is pleased when we do so as His obedient followers!