This is about Jesus – who he is, what he did, what he taught and why he came. It’s a presentation of the good news of Jesus – that there is hope for new life for each one of us, because of him.

In these lessons we will look at three things:

  1. Three steps to receiving the new life that Jesus gives (lessons 1-3)
  2. Nine characteristics of what this new life looks like (lessons 4-12)
  3. And two symbols of new life in Jesus (lessons 13-14)

We will learn this gospel from Jesus himself, from the the first three gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke (and the first part of the book of Acts). There are 14 lessons in all (see the the menu to the right).

[All Scripture references come from the English Standard Version (ESV) unless otherwise noted.]

[Click here for a PDF version of  New Life in Jesus – A Catechism]

[This material may be shared with others without cost. It may be emailed or printed in its entirety or in part, but may not be altered.]

William Higgins – 2009

1. Step #1: Acknowledge Jesus As The Messiah

The following three lessons present three steps that each of us need to take in order to receive new life in Jesus. This first lesson focuses on who Jesus is, and our need to recognize that he is the Savior.

The focus verse for this lesson is Matthew 16:16: Jesus asked,

“’Who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’”

The popular Jesus

People generally like Jesus, at least what they think they know of him. And Jesus is one of, if not the most famous person to have ever lived. So people like to have Jesus on their side. And what they typically do is take a part of Jesus that they like, and then make this to be who Jesus is for them.

Here’s some examples of popular versions of Jesus:

  • Jesus was a great philosopher – a teacher who taught love. You find this among some historians and philosophers.
  • Jesus was a prophet – a man who challenged injustice and died for his cause. You find this among some political activists as well as people of other faiths who try to make a place for Jesus in their belief system.
  • Jesus was a spiritual mystic – a charismatic person with wisdom and healing powers. You find this among “new age” folks, or in Eastern religions, where Jesus is one of many manifestations of the divine.

People make out of Jesus whatever they want. And you find this stuff in book stores, on TV and all over. But what we want to do is . . .

Meet the real Jesus

We do this by looking at what Jesus actually said and did as this is recorded in the Gospels, not just a piece here or there. And let me just say at the beginning that the real Jesus was very controversial. (If you were raised in a Christian environment, you can easily miss this). After all, what he said and did was so radical that it got him killed! He was executed by the State.

Let’s look at the real Jesus:

1. Jesus did mighty works of power. Jesus healed people. He healed, “every disease and every affliction among the people” – Matthew 4:23-24. God’s power worked through him to do this.

Jesus also did other kinds of miracles: multiplying food (Mark 6:30-44); calming a storm by his word (Luke 8:22-25); walking on water (Mark 6:45-52); and raising the dead (Luke 7:11-17). Jesus did amazing works of power.

2. Jesus cast out demons with a word. He had amazing power and authority over evil spirits. As just one example, Luke 11:14 recounts, “Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled.” Jesus did this time and again.

3. Jesus forgave sins, something only God can do. Mark 2:3-12 tells this story:

Mark 2:3-12 (ESV)
And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. [4] And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. [5] And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “My son, your sins are forgiven.” [6] Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, [7] “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” [8] And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? [9] Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? [10] But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— [11] “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” [12] And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

“And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’  Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, ‘Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, ‘Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he said to the paralytic— ‘I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.’ And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, ‘We never saw anything like this!'”

4. He taught that with his coming God’s promises are all coming to fulfillment. He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand . . . believe the good news” – Mark 1:15. Jesus is saying, ‘God’s purposes and promises are being fulfilled through me, believe it!’

5. He said that he is now the teacher who tells us what God’s will is. Speaking of himself, he said, “You have one teacher” – Matthew 23:10. He is saying is that he is now the interpreter of God’s will for us.

And, in fact, he changes Moses’ teaching – the one who was the supreme teacher of God’s way. He changes it by raising it to a higher standard. For example he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” – Matthew 5:43-44. Moses taught you this . . ., but I am now raising the standard.

6. He demanded that with his coming each one of us should now begin to live our lives differently. His message to all was “Repent” – Mark 1:15, that is, fundamentally change how you are living your life. Jesus is saying, ‘I’m here, God’s purpose is at hand, now everyone has to change how they live.’

7. He called for a higher allegiance to him than to our own families. He said, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” – Matthew 10:37. Think about your family. If you have a good relationship with them, this is an amazing statement! And this would include the “extended family” of our country, wherever we may be from. Jesus calls for an allegiance to him that exceeds all our earthly connections.

8. He called us to love him more than our own lives. He said a disciple of his must “hate . . . his/her own life” – Luke 14:26. What he is saying is that, when you have to choose between being faithful to him or losing your life, you choose him. And this isn’t just talking about life or death situations. It means that you are willing to sacrifice for Jesus on a daily basis, to give up what you want and like, if that’s what it means to be faithful to him.

9. He said that acceptance or rejection of him will determine our eternal destiny. He said, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” – Matthew 10:32-33. This is a picture of the final judgment. If we, now, deny Jesus is who he is, then he will deny us before God on that day. But if we acknowledge him, we will be acknowledged; we will be saved.

10. He said that his predictions about the future cannot fail. He said concerning his words about the future destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” – Mark 13:31. His words are more enduring than heaven and the earth we walk on.

11. He said that he would be killed and would be resurrected by God. Jesus said that he “must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” – Luke 9:22. And this is, in fact, what happened, as reported by his disciples and by the evidence of the empty tomb.

12. He said that he would return to earth and judge all people on the final day. Jesus said, “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he (or she)  has done.” – Matthew 16:27.

One thing that is clear from this brief survey is that . . .

The real Jesus is not a popular Jesus

Jesus is so much more than what any of them say, since they just take a piece of him and run with it according to what they like. It’s clear from his own statements and actions that he is:

  • much more than just another great philosopher
  • much more than just another prophet
  • much more than just another mystic

No one spoke like he did. No one acted like he did. Jesus is in a class by himself. He exercised amazing power and authority over sin, demons, diseases, nature and even death. And he claimed authority over every part of our lives.

Jesus’ claim, ‘I am the Messiah’

Jesus put all this together by saying that he was the promised Messiah. He asked his disciples one day (from our focus verse), “’Who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’” – Matthew 16:15-16. And Jesus accepts Peter’s confession that he is the Messiah, as straight from God. “And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.’” – Matthew 16:17. Jesus claims to be the promised Messiah of God.

Well, you might ask, “What is the Messiah?” It’s the Hebrew word for “anointed one” (the Greek word is “Christ”). It has to do with the Old Testament practice of anointing someone with oil when they are commissioned by God to do a task. In this case, there was the expectation among many Jews, based on the Scriptures, that God was sending someone to deliver and save his people and to bring God’s righteous rule to this earth – the kingdom of God. This was not just “an” anointed one, this was “the” anointed one. [For more read – Prophetic Predictions and Foreshadowings of Jesus, the Messiah].

So the claim here is that Jesus is this “anointed one.” Jesus is the one God has sent to save and rule over the earth. Jesus is the one with authority over all creation, including us. Another way to say it, is that “Jesus is Lord.” This is what it means to call Jesus Messiah.

This brings us back to the question we began with . . .

“Who do you say that I am?”

Jesus knew that his statements and actions would be deeply controversial. That’s why he said in Matthew 11:6 – “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” As we have seen, Jesus was a polarizing figure, and that by design.

  • Jesus forced those in his day to decide about him. Everyone had to answer the question, “Who do you say that I am?” They had to answer, “Who is this Jesus?”
  • And he forces us to answer as well. Jesus asks each of you the same question: “Who do you say that I am?”

And although like others, we may want to place Jesus in some other category, he was a good person, or just a prophet (but not everything that he claimed – a popular Jesus) Jesus himself doesn’t allow us to do this! By the sheer power of who he is, and the extreme way in which he presents himself, as we saw – Jesus leaves us no middle ground! As he said in Matthew 12:30, “Whoever is not with me is against me.” We are either with him or against him. These are the only two options, according to Jesus. We can either accept him for who he says he is, or be offended by him and reject him.

We can acknowledge that he is indeed the Messiah, and then we have to rearrange our lives and start living like this is true. Or, we have to say he is not who he says he is and that something was seriously wrong with him.

This latter option is what the Pharisees chose. They held that Jesus was a false prophet. Yes, you claim authority, but you are really only blaspheming (Matthew 9:3). Yes, you have amazing power, we can’t deny it, but it is really demonic power (Luke 11:15).

Like the Pharisees and everyone else who encounters Jesus, we have to make a choice. Which will it be for us? Jesus’ challenge to each of us is to believe that he is who he says he is; to acknowledge that he is indeed Lord; to confess as Peter did – “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And then Jesus challenges us to begin to live our lives like this is true, which is what the rest of these lessons are about.

William Higgins

2. Step #2: Heed Jesus’ Call For Repentance

Our first lesson was on acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah. Well, if we accept that Jesus is Messiah and Lord, the one sent to save and to rule over all – then we need to listen to what he says to us.

And his message is summed up in our focus verse for this lesson from Matthew 4:17:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

This is the second step to new life in Jesus. We begin with the question . . .

What is repentance?

Jesus’ parable in Matthew 21:28-31 gives us a nice definition of repentance. He said,

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?”

The answer, of course, is the first son. He changed his mind and did his father’s will. And this is a good way of explaining what repentance means – We change our minds and begin to do our heavenly Father’s will. This leads us to the next question . . .

Why do we need to repent?

We need to repent because we all give in to our “flesh.” That is, our human desires that lead us to do things that are sinful, evil and wrong. This is human weakness that leads us to be self-centered instead of focused on God and doing what is right.

As Jesus said in Mark 14:38, “the flesh is weak.” He means weak with regard to doing God’s will. God asks us to some things that are hard (as we will see below); and it seems easier to do our own thing than to try to do what God asks of us. We want what we desire, what is easy, what is comfortable.

We also all give in to “the world,” that is, the people, values and ideas in this world that are not submitted to God and thus pressure us to sin. We give in to this peer pressure; we go along with the crowd. We don’t want to look silly or un-cool.

Jesus said in Matthew 18:7 – “Woe to the world for temptations to sin!” The world is all about tempting and pressuring us to sin.

And behind all of this is Satan, the ruler of this world (Luke 4:5-6), who seeks to tempt us and pressure us to sin. He tests us by putting us into difficult situations, circumstances that test us, or tragedies that try us. And then he tells us, ‘its alright to sin; to act on your desires, to give in to your weaknesses, to take the easy (but wrong) way.’

And the bottom line is that, we have all given in. We have all sinned and done what is wrong. Jesus spoke of this in several places.

Jesus said that all Israel were sinners. Luke 13:1-5 says,

“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’”

Jesus said that all Galileans and all those who live in Jerusalem (all Israel) were sinners in need of repentance. And if the people of God (Israel) were all sinners, how much more the rest of the world that did not even know God?

Jesus also spoke of humanity as “evil” in Matthew 7:11. We have all sinned.

A summary of repentance

Given all this, repentance means having a change of heart and mind that leads us to turn away from our sins, our selfish desires which are the root of our sins, and as well, the world and Satan who pressure us to sin – in order to live a new live according to God’s will from now on.

So there is a backward looking part – turning away from our sins, and a forward looking part – living a new kind of life. Now lets look a bit more at the backward part. That’s because repentance means we have to . . .

Deal with past wrongdoing

This includes our acts of sin against God and others. In other words, we don’t just stop doing wrong, we deal with the fact that we have done wrong things.

We are to confess our sins: An example of this comes from the story of the prodigal son. After he squandered his father’s money he came back and said, “Father I have sinned against heaven and before you” – Luke 15:18. It takes complete honesty; you have to come clean about what you have done.

We are to be humble and sorrowful: Again from the example of the prodigal son, he said to his father, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants” – Luke 15:19. From another parable Jesus talks about a tax collector who, “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” – Luke 18:13. When you have done what is wrong – humility, sorrow and regret are the appropriate responses.

We are to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions: This includes trying to fix broken relationships. As Jesus said, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your sister or brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” – Matthew 5:23-24. This also includes trying to make amends for damage done to others. An instance of this comes from the real life example of Zacchaeus’ repentance. He said, “if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” – Luke 19:8. He had cheated people out of money as a tax collector and he makes amends for it here. He tries to make things right.

If this is the backward looking part of repentance, the forward looking part is to . .

Live a new life according to God’s will

Jesus didn’t just call us to live this new life, he came to show us what it looks like, through his teaching and example. We’ll look at this much more in later lessons, but for now just a few examples:

  • Don’t speak out angry words that tear others down – Matthew 5:21-22. This is a form of murder.
  • Be sexually pure – don’t engage in what God forbids. Matthew 5:27-28 gives one example, lusting after another person sexually.
  • Love your enemies – Matthew 5:43-48. Instead of returning harm for harm, return good for harm. Don’t just love those who treat you well, love those who hate you.
  • Keep your word without swearing promises – Matthew 5:37. Simply let your yes be yes and your no, no.
  • Share your resources with the poor – Luke 12:33. Don’t keep more than you need for yourself. Use your abundance to help those in need.
  • Be a witness for Jesus, even if others ridicule you – Matthew 5:11-12.

Now as you can see from all this . . .

The life Jesus calls us to isn’t easy

That’s because repentance requires us to start all over again with our lives. Matthew 18:3 says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is saying that to follow him, we must relearn how to think and act and live. Just like a child has to learn everything, so we have to start over and learn what it means to live according to the values of the kingdom of God, which are often the polar opposite of how the world thinks and acts.

Repentance also requires us to take the hard road. As Jesus said at the end of his Sermon on the Mount, where he teaches about God’s will, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14. It is easy to go along with the world; the crowd. But “The gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life.” The demands of obedience, of following Jesus, are difficult. And that’s why Jesus teaches us that . . .

It will take your complete commitment

It must be your highest priority in life. As Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” – Matthew 6:33. Following Jesus is not a casual thing, something you do on the side. It must become the supreme focus of your life, even above providing for your material needs (your career), which is the context of this verse.

It involves sacrifice. “And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” – Matthew 18:8-9. We must be willing to make whatever sacrifice we need to, to enter the kingdom. We cut off whatever gets in our way.

It will cost you everything. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” – Matthew 13:44. We must be willing to give up everything, in order to gain it.

Because it takes our complete commitment, Jesus calls us to “count the cost” of what it means to follow after him in the path of life. Luke 14:25-33 says,

“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.’”

Jesus is saying, understand what you are getting into, and make sure you are willing to do what it takes to meet the demands of repentance – before you choose to follow him.

Now, having said all this and emphasizing the demand of God upon us, let me also say at the end . . .

Repentance and new life is possible with God’s help

We can’t do this in our own strength. That’s for sure. God has to come in and change our hearts. And God has to strengthen us to do what he asks of us.  We will look at this in our next lesson.

William Higgins

3. Step #3: Receive New Life From God

In this lesson we look at how Jesus not only came to call us to live a new kind of life – Jesus came to make this new life possible for us.

The focus verses for this lesson are from Matthew 7:7-8

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”

As we will see, these verses call us to ask for and receive the new life that Jesus gives to us.

Our situation

Jesus has to act to make it possible for us to live the new life, because we are stuck under judgment. If you do evil and stubbornly rebel against God, this is the result. God judges your sin. You reap what you sow. And your sins will find you out. What is this judgment?

We have been given over to Satan. Luke 4:5-6 tells us that the whole world is under the power of Satan. And he holds on to us. In Luke 11:21-22 Jesus pictures Satan as a “strong man, fully armed” guarding us in his fortress. We are prisoners of Satan.

We have also been given over to death. As Ezekiel 18:4 says, “the soul who sins shall die.” Jesus agreed. In Luke 13:3 he talks about how everyone “will perish” because of sin. He also talks about “Hades” in several places, the prison house of the dead. This is the realm of the dead until the final judgment. We are spiritually dead and we will all physically die at some point.

So our situation is that, due to our sin, we are in prison, as it were, miserable and waiting for death. Or to say it in another way, we are not able to respond to Jesus’ call to live a new life.

But there’s good news

Despite our sin and rebellion, God has chosen to be merciful. God sees the world – its misery and suffering under Satan and death (which is God’s judgment). But God has had a change of heart. God has heard our cries. And so God has sent Jesus to save us; so that we can begin a new life in Jesus.

This salvation (or, what Jesus calls the kingdom of God) is pictured for us in the ministry of Jesus:

  • He casts out demons setting people free from the power of Satan
  • He heals people of their suffering
  • He raises people from the dead

But he didn’t just come to give us a picture, or something temporary, or partial (these people all still suffered and then later died). He came to change the whole world and how it works, inside out. He came to bring about a new creation. Jesus came to save us completely. And this required that he give himself completely for us.

Jesus’ love for us

Jesus said about himself in Mark 10:45, “The Son of Man came . . .  to give his life as a ransom for many.” As this verse says, he “gave his life.” He was not guilty or deserving of death, but he willingly gave himself up anyway. And he did this “for many.” He died for us – for you and for me. It is what we deserved; our judgment. But he bore it for us.

This reveals God’s love to us, that he sent his Son to die for us. And it certainly shows us Jesus’ love that he freely gave himself for us. So, yes, there is judgment for sin, but God’s last word is a word of love and grace, for all who will receive it.

Now lets look at how Jesus brought about salvation.

Jesus’ Victory

First of all, Jesus defeated Satan. That’s because Jesus never sinned, even though Satan tested him. His whole life was summed up in his prayer to God just before he went to the cross and an unjust death – “Not my will, but yours be done” – Luke 22:42. Yet Satan had Jesus killed – Luke 22:3-6, for no good reason. So, therefore, Satan is judged and cast down, while Jesus is exalted. God stepped in to bring justice for Jesus. So there is a reversal. That this happened can be seen from the gospel narrative itself. At the beginning of the story Satan has all authority on earth – Matthew 4:8-9. But at the end, Jesus has “all authority in heaven and on earth” – Matthew 28:18. There has been a switch, a reversal due to God’s intervention.

Jesus also defeated death. Jesus was raised from the dead. Death could not hold Jesus down. He broke out of Hades, which no human has ever done. That’s because death had no right to him. As the angel said after the resurrection, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” – Luke 24:5-6.

Jesus not only defeated Satan and death, our enemies, next we see how he makes it possible for us to be set free.

Our salvation

Through Jesus’ death, we can be forgiven. Jesus’ death has established a new covenant. In Matthew 26:28 he spoke of his death on the cross as “my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” It is like the sacrifice that established the first covenant (Exodus 24:8). The language of “blood of the covenant” is used in both places. But this is the promised new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34) that provides free and full forgiveness for our sins.

So Jesus teaches us that though his death, our sins can be forgiven; we can find God’s mercy and kindness. And since we can be forgiven, we can be freed from Satan and death! We can start over again with a clean slate. All our guilt and shame, our sinful acts, our selfish behavior can be wiped away, through what Jesus has done. But that’s not all . . .

Through Jesus’ resurrection, we can receive new life by the Spirit. Being exalted to the right hand of God, Jesus received the promise of the Spirit. In Luke 3:16, John the Baptist said, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” And after his resurrection Jesus poured out this promised Spirit upon his followers (Acts 1:4-5; Acts 2).

And when the Spirit comes into our hearts, something miraculous and amazing happens within!

  • We come alive to God and everything becomes new within. We are not spiritually dead anymore. We can know God and be in relationship with God.
  • God also enables us to live the new life Jesus models for us. For although “the flesh is weak,” “the Spirit is willing” – Mark 14:38. The Spirit strengthens us each day to help us to do God’s will.
  • And also, the Spirit gives us power to serve God, as Jesus says in Acts 1:8. We are given gifts and abilities and anointings so that we can work for the kingdom of God.

And this new life doesn’t end here. We can live on into eternity. At the resurrection, when Jesus returns, the righteous will be raised up and given new bodies (like Jesus has) and will live forever. In Luke 20:35-36 Jesus said – “those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead . . . cannot die anymore . . ..” He also said in Matthew 25:46, talking about the final judgment – “the righteous (will go) into eternal life.”

Because of what Jesus has done for us, in his great love, we can receive all this.

What must you do to receive new life?

Having acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah and Savior, and having heeded Jesus’ call to repentance, ask God for forgiveness, for mercy, for a new start, for cleansing. Forgiveness is a gift of God to us, but you need to ask for it. No one else can do it for you. You have to come before God and ask yourself. It doesn’t happen if you don’t ask. God holds out the gift, but you have to reach out to receive it.

The promise comes to us from our focus verses – “Ask, and it will be given to you.” – Matthew 7:7. This applies to all of God’s “good gifts” to us, as it says in Matthew 7:11. And it certainly applies to forgiveness. Claim God’s promise in faith for yourself and receive the gift.

Also, ask for the Spirit to come into your life and make you new. The Spirit is God’s gift to you, but you need to ask for this, as well. Pray – “Come into my heart, fill me, bring me new life!”

Again the promise is: “Ask, and it will be given to you” – Matthew 7:7. In Luke 11:13 Jesus specifically applies these words to asking for and receiving the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Claim this promise in faith for yourself and receive God’s gift to you.

William Higgins

4. A New Life Of Righteousness

In lessons 4-12 we will look at nine characteristics of what this new life in Jesus looks like, as we heed Jesus’ teaching and follow his example. This lesson gives an overview of what new life in Jesus looks like with regard to a morality that is different than the way the world lives.

The focus verse comes from Luke 6:46. Jesus said,

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”

This obviously makes the point that if we call Jesus Lord; if we acknowledge him to be the Messiah, we must do what he says. It is meaningless to call him Lord and then do your own thing.

But what does it mean to do what Jesus says, when it comes to a new moral code? First of all . . .

Jesus agreed with what was taught by Moses and the prophets

Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them . . . .” – Matthew 5:17. [Follow the link for more on the question Should Christians Obey the Law of Moses?]

Here are some examples of his upholding the teaching of the Law:

  • When the rich young ruler asked what he must do to enter life (or the resurrection), Jesus said, “You know the commandments: Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'” – Luke 18:20. Jesus quotes to him several of the ten commandments.
  • He also condemns “sexual immorality” – Mark 7:21. [Follow the link for more scriptural teaching on Sexual Purity]

There are many other examples, but the point is that Jesus agreed with Old Testament teaching.

But, we also have to take note of what he says in the rest of Matthew 5:17, “I have not come to abolish the Law or the prophets, but to fulfill them.” Jesus came to perfect or to bring to completion what was taught by Moses. He does this in several ways . . .

Jesus fulfills the Law by giving it a perfect focus

Of all the commandments in the Old Testament (Orthodox Judaism lists 613) which are more important or central? Does it have to do with purity laws (the Pharisees) or the Temple procedures (the Sadducees)?

Jesus highlights a different focus, citing what he calls the two greatest commandments. In Matthew 22:37-40 he says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

So, love of God and others is the focus of it all and how you pull it all together.

Jesus also fulfills the Law by raising it to a higher standard

Jesus taught a form of righteousness (or God’s will) that went beyond Moses and the practice of Moses by the teachers of his day. He raised the bar of God’s moral code. Again, his teaching doesn’t do away with Moses, rather it builds on it and intensifies it.

To put it another way, what Jesus is really doing is showing us more clearly what loving God and loving others looks like.  Here are some examples:

1. Put aside destructive anger. In Matthew 5:21-22 Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, (that is by Moses and the prophets) ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be liable to judgment . . . and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” God is not just concerned with physical murder. God is also concerned with our anger that strikes out to insult and verbally tear down another person. This goes beyond Moses.

2. Don’t lust after another person. In Matthew 5:27-28 Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus teaches us here that faithfulness to our spouse also includes not looking at another with lust. This goes beyond what Moses taught.

3. Keep you marital commitment. In Matthew 5:31 Jesus said, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’” Moses permitted divorce.

Here I skip to Matthew 19:6, where Jesus gives a more concise answer. He says that when two people marry – “They are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” So he teaches that we are to keep our covenant of marriage even when it is very difficult. (Jesus only allows divorce between two believers when the marriage has already been broken by an act of sexual immorality – Matthew 19:9).

4. Keep your promises without swearing oaths. In Matthew 5:33-37 Jesus said, “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not break your oath, but carry out the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool . . . Let your word be ‘Yes,’ ‘Yes,’ or ‘No,’ “No,’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” Moses allowed promissory oaths.

But Jesus teaches, instead of swearing promises – “I will do this, I swear,” simply be a person of your word. Just say “yes” or “no” and leave God and God’s name out of it.

5.  Love your enemies. In Matthew 5:43-44 Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . ..” Moses taught that under certain circumstances we can return harm for harm, for instance during a war.

Jesus teaches us that we are not only to love our neighbors – those who are like us and do good to us – we are also to  love our enemies. Instead of returning harm for harm, we are to give good in return for evil, even with our enemies. [Follow the link for more scriptural teaching on Jesus’ command to Love Your Enemies.]

6. Don’t condemn others. In Luke 6:37 Jesus said, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Moses taught that you should judge sin in others’ lives, even with the death penalty in some cases.

Jesus teaches us that when we see someone else sin, we are to respond with mercy, just as God has had mercy on us. We are not to dismiss them, or look down on them as condemned by God; or seek to harm them. Rather, we are to work and pray for their repentance. And if they have sinned against us, we are to give mercy and even forgive them when they repent.

7. Share your wealth. In Luke 12:33 Jesus said, “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail . . ..”  Jesus is saying, don’t keep more than you need for yourself, for your comfort and security. Use your abundance to help those in need. This goes way beyond what Moses taught on giving tithes.

Finally, . . .

Jesus fulfills the Law by calling us to give up our entire lives out of love for God and others

Jesus taught in Mark 8:34-35 – “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

If what we saw before dealt with seven specific examples of the new life, this is the whole of what God wants from us. God wants all of us. Every part of us. Self-denial and taking up the cross is the summary of the Christian life.

This is what Jesus did when he came, served and died on the cross – out of love for God and others. And this is what Jesus call us to do, to lose our lives out of love for God and others. We are to deny ourselves and our selfishness. We are to give up our lives; our ambitions in order to do whatever God tells us to do.

Three things to remember

1. Obedience is not optional. Although we are saved by what Jesus did for us on the cross, he does require us to obey. As Jesus said at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:20, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” And as he said at the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

This last verse shows us that even some who acknowledge Jesus as Messiah and Lord, will not make it in. Only the ones who do what Jesus teaches.

2. God makes our obedience possible. Obedience is only possible because God makes it possible for us. Otherwise it is too hard.

When the rich young ruler thought that God’s way was too hard, Jesus said, “What is impossible with people (or – mere humans), is possible with God.” – Luke 18:27 (NLT). Jesus said in a time of real testing, that although the flesh is weak, “the Spirit indeed is willing” – Mark 18:38. The Spirit helps us in our weakness to do God’s will. The Spirit of God enables us to obey.

3. When we fail, we seek forgiveness and renewal. Jesus taught us to pray regularly, “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” – Luke 11:4. He also said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” – Matthew 6:14.

When we do fail; when we give in to the weakness of our flesh (our fears and insecurities); when we don’t rely on the strength of the Spirit – we seek God’s forgiveness.

William Higgins

5. A New Pattern Of Prayer

A crucial part of our new life in Jesus is prayer.

The focus verse for this lesson comes from Matthew 6:8:

“Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

As the language of this verse makes clear . . .

Prayer comes from our new relationship with God

Because of what Jesus has done, now God is our “Father” (Matthew 6:9), and we are a child of God (Matthew 7:11). And prayer flows out of this relationship.

  • As God’s children, we want God’s purposes to be fulfilled. We have repented in order to do God’s will and we want God’s will to be done in the lives of others.
  • And as our Father, God wants to care for our needs. As Jesus teaches in Matthew 7:11, God is better than any earthly parent and gives us what we need.

So this leads us to ask for God’s will to be done and for our needs to be met, as well as the needs of others.

Lets look at prayer and what Jesus has to say about it. First of all . . .

Jesus teaches us to pray

Jesus said, in Matthew 6:9, “Pray, then, like this . . .,” and then he goes on to give the Lord’s prayer. But the point is that he teaches us how to pray, because Jesus wants us to be praying. As Luke says in Luke 18:1, “And Jesus told them . . . that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” Jesus emphasized the importance of prayer through his teaching.

But we also have . . .

The example of Jesus’ prayer life

Luke highlights for us that Jesus prayed often:

  • Luke 3:21 – “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened . . ..” Jesus prayed at the beginning of his ministry.
  • Luke 5:16 – “Jesus would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” This was his characteristic pattern.
  • Luke 6:12 – “In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God.” Jesus engaged in intense, all night prayer.
  • Luke 9:18 – “Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
  • Luke 9:28 – “Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.”
  • Luke 11:1 – “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’” They wanted to learn from him, having seen him pray.
  • Luke 22:41 – “And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed.” Right before the cross, when he was facing his most difficult situation, he prayed fervently.

We can take at least two lessons for Jesus’ example of prayer:

1. Jesus practiced the Jewish pattern of daily prayers. He offered prayer in the morning and the evening. This comes out a little more clearly in Mark’s references to Jesus’ pattern of prayer:

  • Mark 1:35 – morning prayers
  • Mark 6:46-47 – evening prayers

His example commends this as a pattern for us to follow as well. We too should have regular, set times of prayer each day. We need both a disciplined routine as well as spontaneous times of prayer, as there is need.

2. If Jesus needed to pray so much, how much more do we? As followers of Jesus we should have an active and regular prayer life. This, then raises the question . . .

What should we pray for?

In a typically Jewish fashion, Jesus taught his disciples a “set prayer” which we now call the Lord’s prayer or the prayer of Jesus. In other words, we are to pray for these specific things in our times of prayer. It is a kind of prayer template.

lords-prayerAs you can see, there are five requests that Jesus highlights. (In Matthew the second and the fifth are expanded, but they are the same request). What is most important, God’s agenda, comes first (above the line), and then come our most important needs, out of the hundreds that we could pray about. Lets look at these five requests briefly, to get the basic sense:

1. “Hallowed be your name.” Hallowed means set apart as special; as amazing. God’s name refers to God’ reputation. The basic idea is, “God, show who you are so that people come to know you and thus honor you.” We are asking that God act in the world and work in people’s lives. And that they will come to know who God is and praise him.

2. “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The basic idea is, “God, let your transforming power, set in motion by Jesus, spread to all people. Bring forth your salvation, new life, righteousness, peace and joy in this world.”

Now these first two requests also can have a ‘last day’ focus:

  • “Hallowed be your name” – we can pray for the full revelation of who God is on the final day when all will kneel and acknowledge who God is and glorify God’s name.
  • “Your Kingdom come” – we can pray for the coming of the kingdom in its fullness on earth, with the return of Jesus, the resurrection, the rule of God and the end of all evil.

3. “Give us each /this day our daily bread.” The basic idea is, “God, provide for our daily material needs of food, clothing and shelter.” And notice that it is not just for you as an individual. We pray give “us” our needs. This refers to the whole Christian community throughout the world (and, of course, we can pray for others as well).

4. “Forgive us our sins /debts.” This is pretty straightforward, “Give us your mercy of forgiveness and restored relationship when we fail.”

5. “And do not lead us into testing, but deliver us from the evil one.” A little background here:

  • God allows us to be tested, that is, to go through difficult times in our lives. He uses these to train us and make us stronger.
  • But Satan, who is the one who actually tests us, hopes that in our weakness we will give up, or take the easy way out that leads us to sin.
  • So, because we are weak and might fail, Jesus teaches us to pray to be spared testing, even though God allows it.

The basic idea is, “Spare us difficult situations that test our faithfulness to you. Deliver us from the evil one who tests us.” We will talk more about testing in another lesson.

There are other requests that Jesus refers to. We are to pray:

  • for relief from injustice – Luke 18:1-8
  • for those who abuse and persecute you – Luke 6:28; Matthew 5:4
  • for kingdom workers, to do God’s work in the world – Matthew 9:37-38
  • for the Spirit in your life; that the Spirit might continue to be powerfully present – Luke 11:9-13

Some things to remember when you pray

1. When you pray, be to the point. Jesus said, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” – Matthew 6:7-8.

2. Don’t pray in order to be seen by others. Jesus said, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:5-6.

3. When you pray, forgive others. Just as we pray in the Lord’s prayer, “forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.” – Luke 11:4. Jesus also says in Mark 11:25, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”

4. When you pray, be persistent. Jesus said, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a fiend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’  And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will now get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” – Luke 11:5-8.

5. When you pray, have faith in God. Jesus said, “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” – Matthew 21:22. When we pray for God to accomplish his purposes, we must actually believe that he will, and not doubt.

A powerful prayer promise

Jesus said in Luke 11:9-10, “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” This assumes, as always, that we are praying according to God’s will. But the promise is powerful. God will hear us and God will provide for us.

Finally, just a note to say that . . .

God also speaks to us

There is something called listening prayer; where we listen for what God says back. But also, even if we aren’t praying, maybe we are reading the Scriptures, or doing something else – God will at times speak to us, most often in the depths of our heart.

But whatever we hear must always be tested against what we find in the Scriptures. This is the definitive voice of God. It is easy to get things wrong and so we check everything against what Scripture has to say.

William Higgins

6. A New Pattern Of Study

As we have seen, we have a new relationship with God through Jesus. And we not only speak to God in prayer, but God also has much to say to us. And the way that we learn what God has to say to us, above all else, is through study of the Scriptures.

Our focus verse for this lesson comes from Mark 4:24:

“Pay attention to what you hear.”

Now in our context, as we will see (now that Jesus’ words have been written down) we might want to say, “Pay attention to what you read.”

The Scriptures

What are the Scriptures? Well first of all there is the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. This is made up of 39 “books.” They can be divided into four rough categories:

1. The Law of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

2. The Story of Israel: Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther

3. Wisdom literature: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon

4. The Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk,  Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi

These preserve the ancient Hebrew testimony to what God did and taught among them as God’s people.

Then we have the New Testament, made up of 27 “books” under four categories:

1. The Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John

2. The Story of the Early Church: Acts

3. Letters: Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1 & 2 Peter, 1, 2 & 3 John, Jude

4. Prophecy: The book of Revelation

Jesus wrote nothing. Rather, he authorized his original disciples to speak for him. He told them, “Make disciples of all nations . . . teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:19-20. He said to them, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” – Luke 10:16. The New Testament is the record of this apostolic witness to Jesus. It comes from the apostles and teachers from the apostolic church.

The point of our lesson is that we are to study these Scriptures. So we begin by looking at . . .

Calls to study and learn from the Old Testament

Moses said to Israel – “Listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live . . ..” – Deuteronomy 4:1. Also, the Lord said to Joshua, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.” – Joshua 1:8.

The Old Testament lays out the overall plan of God’s work in this world, especially God’s work through his people Israel. It also provides God’s foundational teaching concerning his will for people. We need to study and understand it. But as we have already seen . . .

God has spoken to us even more clearly and fully through Jesus

And so we can rightly say, how much more do we need to study and understand what he says!

  • Jesus is our one teacher – Matthew 23:10. He is the one who interprets Moses correctly.
  • Jesus is the fulfiller of the Law of Moses – Matthew 5:17. He intensifies and perfects what is found in the Old Testament.

This is why, when Moses and Elijah (representing the Law and the prophets; the Old Testament) were there on the mount of transfiguration with Jesus, the voice of God came and said about Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him!” – Mark 9:7. We are to listen to Jesus.

Jesus brings together and sums up all of God’s plan and will for us. He is the fulfillment of all that has come before and he is the perfect and final revelation of God to us. And so for good reason . . .

Jesus calls us to learn from him

He said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30. A “yoke” refers to a teacher’s teaching. He invites us to take his yoke and learn from him, both his teaching and his example.

Jesus also said in many places in reference to his teaching, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” – Mark 4:23. And from our focus verse Jesus said, “Pay attention to what you hear”- Mark 4:24, talking about his teaching.

Not only does Jesus call us to learn from him, this idea of learning and studying is built into the very name we are given by Jesus. We are “disciples.” This is simply another name for “students.” So as disciples of Jesus we are called to be students of Jesus.

As Jesus says, the goal of a disciple is to be like their teacher: “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.” – Matthew 10:24-25. We seek to live and act just as Jesus lived and acted.

How do we learn from Jesus?

Well, today we read and study the Scriptures:

1. We learn about Jesus from the Old Testament. The Old Testament  points forward to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection as the culmination of God’s plan of redemption for the world. Jesus said, “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” – Luke 24:44.

The Old Testament is also the background for understanding what Jesus teaches about Gods will on any given topic. As Jesus said about his teaching, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” – Matthew 5:17. There is a connection between what the Old Testament teaches and what Jesus teaches and to understand Jesus you need to understand the Old Testament.

2. We learn from Jesus by studying the gospels. These contain the apostolic witness to what Jesus said and did. As Luke puts it:

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” – Luke 1:1-4.

Here we learn in detail about Jesus – who he is, why he came, what he taught and how to follow in his footsteps and  how to be ready for his return.

3. We learn about Jesus from the rest of the New Testament. This points back to Jesus and helps us to understand the significance of his life, teaching, death and resurrection and his future return.

So it is all about Jesus, whether directly about him – the Gospels, or pointing forward to him – the Old Testament, or pointing back to him – the rest of the New Testament.

It is not always easy to understand Jesus

The disciples often didn’t understand what Jesus was teaching (Mark 7:17-18; 8:14-21). And we are separated by time and culture. And so it will take some work on our part; study. We have to take time to understand what things were like in those days in order to make sense out of the Scriptures.

But God helps us. Just after Jesus said, “Pay attention to what you hear,” he said, “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you” – Mark 4:24. Jesus encourages us to put effort into listening to and learning what he says. What he is saying is that the effort you put into it, is what you will get out of it. Except that God is generous and will add some more to our understanding. God will help us.

Study the Scriptures!

There you will learn about Jesus. There you will be equipped to live your new life in Jesus:

  • you will find guidance to know God’s will for your life
  • you will find encouragement through stories of others’ faithfulness, reminders of God’s character and power and Jesus’ love for us
  • and you will be challenged to grow

So spend time in the Scriptures, study them and learn from them. Make it a routine part of your life. In the words of Joshua 1:8 – “meditate on it day and night.”  This will strengthen and help you in your new life in Jesus.

William Higgins

7. A New Trust In God

A central part of our new relationship with God through Jesus, is that God is our heavenly Father. (We saw this in our lesson on prayer). Since God is our Father, we can trust God with all of our life problems.

The focus verse is from Matthew 10:31:

“Fear not.”

We do not need to give in to fear and anxiety. God will take care of us.

Jesus calls us to trust God for our material needs

He talks about this in Matthew 6:25-34:

[25] “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? [26] Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? [27] And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? [28] And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, [29] yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. [30] But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? [31] Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ [32] For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. [33] But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. [34] “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Jesus focuses on this issue because it causes us to be so fearful. Lets look at how this works. It starts with the fact that life isn’t easy. As Jesus says in v. 34, “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” And this includes issues of providing for our material needs. So Jesus isn’t naïve in his call to give up anxiety. The problem is real.

What happens is that all this trouble creates fear in us, which is the essential problem Jesus is addressing here, especially anxiety over tomorrow – v. 34. Jesus focuses on such basics as food and clothing, but there are more things that we fret about: housing, providing for children, having enough to care for our health needs, retirement and more.

The bigger point of Matthew 6:19-34 is that given these troubles and our fears our natural response is to store up lots of resources to calm our fears. Jesus refers to this in Matthew 6:19 when he talks about laying up “treasures on earth . . ..” We want control over the future, to try to ease our fears. And the way we do this is by laying up resources for ourselves for the future – more than we need (see Luke 12:16-21).

If we don’t have enough to lay up, we are fearful. And even if we do have enough to lay up, we fear that it will be taken away somehow. So, we are fearful either way!

So what happens is that this seeking after and storing up of resources becomes the focus of our lives. Jesus says in Matthew 6:32, “For the Gentiles seek after all these things.” Jesus is saying that they are anxious for tomorrow and make protecting against future troubles the focus of their lives – storing up resources, or striving hard to do so.

The result is that our fear leads us to begin to trust in money to take care of us instead of God (Matthew 6:24), which is a breaking of the most important commandment – to love God alone. And it also leads us to stop being generous with others in need, since we need to cling to our resources to calm our fears (Matthew 6:19-20). This is a breaking of the second greatest commandment to love our neighbor.

In this passage Jesus calls us to give up anxiety that causes us to focus on, trust in and hoard our resources. And he calls us to a faith that frees us to focus on and trust in God, and to be generous with others.

Why should we give up our fear and trust God? 1) Because life is about more than our material needs. Jesus says in v. 25, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” In other words, even if we are ‘dirt poor,’ with only food and clothing, we still have our life and can have joy in serving God. (Remember, Jesus was ‘dirt poor’).

And also, in v. 33 Jesus teaches us that life is not about seeking after material things, but about seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness. We can’t let our fear lead us to get focused on what is not important. What is important is God. And we can have God without material possessions.

2) Because our anxiety doesn’t solve anything. Jesus says in v. 27, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” In the parallel passage in Luke 12:26 he adds a second question, “If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?” If our fear can’t add a single hour, how can it help us with providing for our material needs? Our fear and worrying about tomorrow is futile. It doesn’t actually help us.

3) Because God will provide for our needs. Jesus teaches us that God provides food to the birds, and we are more valuable than birds – v. 26. Also, God clothes the lilies, and we are more valuable than grass – vs. 28-30. As Jesus says, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need” material provisions – v. 32. And so we should not be those of “little faith” – v. 30. This is how we break free from our fear, and all the problems it leads to. We break free of fear by choosing to trust in God.

The promise Jesus gives us is this: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness . . . (give yourself fully to God, focusing your life on what God wants for you) . . . and all these things (the material provisions you need) will be added to you.” – v. 33.

Jesus calls us to trust in God in difficult circumstances

He says in Luke 12:11-12:

“And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

The specific situation here is one of persecution for your faith. You have been brought before the authorities to give an account of why you believe in and follow Jesus.

Again, we are told “do not be anxious.” It is not because it is not a fearful situation. It is because God is there with us to help us. As the passage says, “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what to say.”

Now, certainly, if God can help us in such a difficult circumstance, God can also help us in less difficult ones. No matter where we find ourselves, in a dangerous or a difficult spot, God is with us, and God’s Spirit can help us with our need and give us the wisdom to do and say what is right.

Jesus calls us to trust God with our very lives

Jesus says in Matthew 10:29-31:

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Jesus is talking about death. As he says right before our text in v. 28, “do not fear those who kill the body.” Again, the context is one of persecution, where we might be killed for our faith.

Jesus teaches us that God watches over even small animals. And not one of them dies without his knowing about it and allowing it to happen. He also tells us that God knows how many hairs are on each of our heads. God knows all about our situations; all the details. Jesus makes the point in the parallel passage in Luke 12:6 that we are not forgotten before God.

So Jesus tells us, “fear not.” God is always watching over us. God loves us and is concerned about us. And if we are walking in God’s way, we are not going to die, unless its time for us to die (even if people are trying to kill us -Luke 4:28-30). We are more valuable than sparrows, who do not die apart from the Father. We can trust God with our very lives.

William Higgins

8. A New Community

Jesus came, not just to call individuals to new life, but to form a new community. And he calls us to be a part of this.

The focus verse is from Matthew 16:18:

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

This teaches us, among other things, that Jesus will build his new community on the basis of the apostolic testimony that Peter had just confessed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v. 16).

An overview of what the church is

1. It is the assembly of the people of God. This is what the word “church” means – “a regularly assembled political body.” Just as in the Old Testament, God had his own people or nation, apart from all the nations of the world, so the church is God’s people; God’s distinct nation (Matthew 21:43).

2. It is the remnant of Israel, the people of God. Only a portion or remnant of Israel in Jesus’ day responded to him. From this remnant he re-formed the people of God. Just as there had been 12 tribes, now Jesus symbolically chooses 12 apostles to signal this.

Jesus said to the leaders of Israel who rejected him, “Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits” – Matthew 21:43. This “people,” or “nation” is the church, made up Jews and Gentiles who have responded to Jesus.

3. It is Jesus’ new community. Here is a comparison of the people of God before and after Jesus:

Moses was the leader

Jesus is the leader – “my church” (Matthew 16:18)
The exodus was the foundational event Jesus’ exodus through death to resurrection is the foundational event
The temple/festivals as a focus for worship Jesus as the focus of worship – the Lord’s Supper, his resurrection, etc.

Jesus is the foundation and focus of God’s people now.

4. It is made up of those who choose to do God’s will as Jesus teaches this. Jesus said his community is made up of “whoever does the will of God.” – Mark 3:35. He said it is made up of people from all nations who observe all that Jesus has taught – Matthew 28:19.  Jesus calls out a remnant from every nation. And we all find a new identity in the nation of Jesus.

So this means you can’t be born into Jesus’ community. It doesn’t matter who your parents are. You have to make the choice yourself! And as Matthew 28:19 indicates, this choice is made through the act of  baptism.

An overview of what the church does

We gather together to worship:

  • We pray together. We pray “our Father” – Matthew 6:9. We pray as a community.
  • We remember, celebrate and recommit to Jesus in the Lord’s supper – Mark 14:22-25; I Corinthians 11:23-26.
  • We baptize new Christians – Matthew 28:19.
  • We learn the way of Jesus – Matthew 28:20.

We love and support each other. This shows up in the familial language. We are Jesus’ family – Mark 3:33-35; we are all “brothers and sisters” – Matthew 23:8. And as Jesus’ family we love and care for each other:

  • We humbly serve each other – Mark 9:35.
  • We forgive each other – Mark 11:25, Luke 17:3.
  • We work hard to be at peace with one another – Mark 9:50.
  • We are careful not to cause others to stumble – Mark 9:42.
  • We help each other with needs – Luke 12:33.

We hold each other accountable to our commitment to Jesus. In Matthew 18:15-17 Jesus taught: “If your brother (or sister) sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

If someone is not interested in doing God’s will anymore, then they aren’t seen as a part of the community anymore (“a Gentile and a tax collector”). This is determined through the three stage process outlined by Jesus of lovingly calling the person to repentance.

We work and witness for the kingdom. As the parable of the talents indicates, Jesus gives each of us tasks to spread the gospel and build up the kingdom community (Matthew 25:14-30).

Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses” – Acts 1:8. We share with others what Jesus has done for us. This is about inviting people to become disciples of Jesus, as he said, “make disciples of all nations” – Matthew 28:19

And this is not just an individual thing. Jesus said to his community, “You (as a community) are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” – Matthew 5:14. We bear witness to the world of a different way of living and treating each other.

Being a part of Jesus’ community is not optional

To truly follow Jesus you need to be a part of Jesus’ community. Following Jesus is not a private, individualistic experience. This is everywhere assumed by Jesus. For instance:

  • we can’t serve one another, if we are isolated by ourselves.
  • we can’t help each other with needs, if we aren’t in relationship with each other.
  • we can’t be accountable to others, if we don’t belong to the community.

We need the support and help of fellow Christians in order to be faithful in a world that doesn’t follow Jesus and would seek to have us give up our commitment to him. Without others to come alongside and help us, we become weak and give in to the peer pressure around us. We just blend back into the culture and society out of which we came.

Portraits of the early church

Luke records for us in Acts several descriptions of the apostolic church and they present for us an ideal for what the church should be like:

Acts 2:42-47: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Acts 4:32-35: “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.”

Jesus’ promise regarding his church

This comes from our focus verse, where Jesus says, “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” He is saying, death itself will not destroy his community. Just as Jesus overcame death and was raised to new life, so we will be raised and live on as a community in the coming kingdom of God. We will be the only community that will survive death intact and continue on.

Although for now we seem small and insignificant. Then we will reign. Speaking to his disciple community, he said, “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 5:3. He also said, “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” – Matthew 5:5.

William Higgins

9. A New Life Focus Of Serving God

A key part of our new life in Jesus is that we have a new life focus and orientation. We live now to serve God and work to advance God’s kingdom. We don’t live for ourselves, or others, or anything else.

Our focus verse comes from Matthew 25:21:

“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

This is the response of Jesus to those who have worked hard to serve God with their earthly lives – when they see him on the final day.

This comes from a parable in Matthew 25:14-30 (sometimes called the parable of the talents). Here it is:

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.

After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

‘Take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For those who have will be given more, and they will have an abundance. As for those who do not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'” (TNIV)

We’ll come back to this text. Let’s first notice that . . .

Jesus was a man with a mission

He worked hard to promote the kingdom, to make it a reality on earth. As Matthew 9:35 says, “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.”

Jesus gave himself to this completely and constantly. Serving God was his life focus and orientation. As he said in Luke 4:43, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.”

The Gospels tell us that Jesus

  • taught God’s way
  • healed the wounded
  • loved the loveless
  • and served the needy

He served God in all these ways in order to spread God’s kingdom message and to build up God’s kingdom community.

Jesus also calls others to be a part of his mission

During his earthly ministry he frequently said to people, “Follow me.” Now this phrase included in it an invitation to repentance and faith in him – but most especially it was a call to ‘Come and work with me to advance God’s kingdom.’

One example of this is found in Mark 1:16-20:

“Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.”

Jesus called many people when he walked this earth. And now that his earthly ministry is over, Jesus calls us to serve God; to work hard to spread the kingdom and finish the mission he began.

So we will draw now on our Scripture reading, as well as other passages where Jesus talks about this, and see what. . ..

Lessons we learn from Jesus about serving God

These are things we can take away from these Scriptures that will help us, encourage us and equip us for the task of working for the kingdom.

1. Each of us are given tasks to do. Just as the servants in the parable were to take what was given them from their master and increase it, so we are each given kingdom responsibilities and we are to advance the kingdom in those areas. We all have responsibilities, according to our ability. Some have heavier duties, some lighter, but we all have something to do.

2. These tasks can be anything that further God’s kingdom. Just as with Jesus’ example, we can

  • teach God’s way
  • heal the wounded
  • love the loveless
  • and serve the needy

Whatever God assigns to us to spread his kingdom message and to build up his kingdom community.

So, find out what it is that God wants you to do. Look at the gifts that he has given you – natural talents or gifts of the Spirit. Find out what brings you joy in serving God. And then get busy at it!

But also, help out with whatever needs to be done, even if you don’t feel tremendously gifted, or called in that area. In any Christian community there are things that just need to be done for the community to work. And you don’t need a heavenly vision or a warm and fuzzy feeling to do it. Just a servant’s heart. Give of yourself in these areas as well.

3. The focus of all our work is bearing witness to Jesus. It is about testifying to the coming of the kingdom with Jesus; it is about sharing who he is and the salvation he gives. Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” – Acts 1:8.

  • We do this as individuals, sharing as we have opportunity about what Jesus has done in our lives; inviting people to church.
  • And we do this as a community. Jesus calls us “a city set on a hill” (Matthew 5:14). As a community, we live by a different standard than the world around us, and this is a witness to Jesus.

Let’s remember that Jesus tells us – don’t put your lamp under a basket, but let your witness shine before others – Matthew 5:14. We don’t need to be fearful. And he tells us don’t be ashamed of him before the world – Mark 8:38. We are to share our faith in Jesus boldly with others.

4. The goal of our work is to make disciples of Jesus. In the words of the great commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:19-20. We are to bear witness to Jesus so that people will begin to live a new life in Jesus for themselves and be a part of the kingdom of God. We are not just sharing information about Jesus, we seek to lead them to commit be disciples of Jesus as well.

5. Jesus calls some to give their whole lives to working for the kingdom. They may have to leave family and career behind, to help finish the work that Jesus has begun. As we saw in Mark 1:16-20, the first disciples did this. And in Mark 10:29 Jesus speaks of those who leave family and homes behind “for my sake and for the gospel.”

And God might well ask some of you to do this. Are you open to hear what God has for you? Perhaps God will call you to be a missionary or a pastor or to give your life fully to work for the kingdom in some other way.

6. Jesus calls others to stay in their place in life and work for the kingdom. To the healed demoniac who wanted to be a traveling missionary with Jesus, he said in Luke 8:39 – “’Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.” It was God’s will for him not to go, but to stay home and serve and witness there.

7. We are to support those who give themselves fully to working for the kingdom. Jesus said, speaking of these, “the laborer deserves his wages.” – Luke 10:7. They can’t do what they are called to do without your support.

8. God’s Spirit gives us the power to work for his kingdom. Just as Jesus was empowered by the Spirit, so are we. Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . ..”

We can’t do anything in our own strength. We need God working in and through us to accomplish something for the kingdom, whatever our gifts and callings.

9. Be prepared to give an account. This brings us back to the parable  in Matthew 25. We have each been given tasks, and we will have to give an account for how we have done. The parable is meant to impress in our minds the exacting nature of our master.

It teaches us – don’t be lazy, doing nothing to increase God’s kingdom; doing nothing to finish Jesus’ mission. For those who do nothing, will not enter the kingdom on that final day when Jesus returns. And the parable ends with this ringing in our ears in order to make an impression on us.

Rather, find out what God wants you to do and work hard! Give your all for the work of God. Be a man or woman with a mission, just like Jesus.

And if you do, you will be blessed to have joy with Jesus for eternity, as our focus verse says. This is a reward that far surpasses anything we give up to work for him; anything we have to sacrifice to advance God’s kingdom.

A final thought

All of our lives are so busy today. It is a part of our culture that we are always doing things. There are so many things, good things, to do. The challenge for each of us is to have a “a final day perspective” on what we choose to do with our limited time. In other words, what will God really care about, in terms of all you do, when you stand before him on the final day?

What I am saying is, of all your many commitments, make serving God and working for the kingdom the top commitment. And schedule the rest of your lives around that.

William Higgins