Discipleship Project


Lesson #1

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Lesson #7

Lesson #9

Lesson #8

Lesson #2

Lesson #4

Lesson #6

Lesson 1

What I want to do in this class is teach you not only how to overcome the power of sin in your own life and establish a close and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ, but how to help others do the same - in short, how to be a disciple-maker. I truly believe that's one of the two most needed yet neglected ministries in the Body of Christ; the other, of course, is teaching believers how to evangelize - meaning lead the unredeemed to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

There are several matters I need to clarify right at the "get-go" ...

  1. Overcoming the power of sin is not easy - especially when it has assumed the form of an addiction. There are no short-cuts, no mystical incantations, no secret gnosis - nothing at all that can make it easy. However, if a person is willing to put out the effort, any sin - regardless of how besetting it may be - can be overcome.
  2. Sanctification is not a private venture. Put a little differently, sanctification is not a solitary quest for personal holiness. It can only be undertaken corporately. That's the way God has designed it. Ultimately, sanctification is designed by God to build the church, linking individual believers into a corporate whole.
  3. Sanctification is built around faith - and the dynamic underlying faith is exactly the opposite of secular psychology. The two are utterly incompatible.
    • Faith renews the mind and gives it prioroity over the emotions - the emotions follow behind, enriching life and giving it passion and color. Secular psychology, on the other hand, gives priority to the emotions - meaning how a person feels.
    • Faith, more often than not, pits a person against his emotional inclinations. Secular psychology "works" the emotions - massaging them to make a person "feel" better.
    • Faith enables the mind to acknowledge the truth, giving truth a concrete objective reality that is universal in nature; secular psychology cares little for objective truth - often making truth a relative matter with no objective foundation.
    • The pivotal question faith poses is, "Are you obedient?"; the pivotal question secular psychology poses is, "Do you feel better?"
  4. Yes, fellowship with Christ - meaning abiding in Christ - is a fundamental key to achieving victory over sin; but that fellowship is meant to revolve around God's purposes - what I have chosen to call "the heroic deed." Without it, fellowship with Christ often spins off into a nebulous realm that produces no tangible results.
  5. Sanctification and personal choice go hand-in-hand. In otherwords, sanctification is not a blind, knee-jerk phenomenon. It's based always on a wholly conscious decision to be obedient.
  6. Sanctification requires probing deeply into doctrinal issues - which, tragically, runs counter to the inclinations of many new believers now crowding into the church. The passages in the Bible spelling out the dynamics of faith - what it is and how it works - are among the most challenging in all the Bible. Those inclinations must, therefore, be decisively opposed and set aside.
  7. Finally, deliverance from the power of sin, sanctification, is not deliverance from the presence of sin, glorification; and glorification will not occur until we're resurrected - and until then, we will find ourselves continually confronting sin in our lives.

Every week or so I will be sending you a new lesson. Please read it over very carefully. Then, get back to me via e-mail with any questions or concerns you might have. There is no specific time-table that we will be adhering to; instead, we'll stick with each lesson until you've "got it down" and all your questions and concerns have been addressed and answered. If you're teaching a class yourself, let me know how the class is going - and any concerns you might want me to help you resolve. I'm here to help you become more effective and better able to help others break the power of sin in their lives.

If you know of anyone else wanting to take this class, simply send his name along to me - and I'll fit him into the class at whatever level is most appropriate.

This a work in progress - and I consider you to be a fellow-worker. Please feel free to pass along any insights you believe will help this course be more effective.

There is one book I would like you to prayerfully consider purchasing right off the bat. It's a book I wrote several years ago - with a Forward by Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum. It's not expensive and will help you get a handle on what makes me tick and some of the concerns that have been at the heart of my life and ministry over the last fifty years. You can purchase it on line at Amazon. Simply press this link. Please do not be put-off by the technical language used in the book. I originally wrote it for college students, pastors, and theologians. Stick with it and you'll find it to be quite useful during the whole of this course. Don't worry about understanding all it lays out at first. Just read it through several times - not all at once, but over time.




A Vexing Difficulty

Screenshot20131011at12443PMOver almost 50 years of ministry - twenty eight years as a senior pastor - the most vexing difficulties I faced always revolved around a single issue: helping believers overcome the power of sin in their lives. 

Justification, meaning deliverance from the penalty of sin, is an event, not a process. It's a free gift - requiring little of a person except to thankfully embrace it - to gratefully lay hold of it. Sanctification, on the other hand, is much different. It's a process, not an event - an often painful process at that; and it calls for effort on our part. 

  • It requires that we actually make use of the power God graciously tendered us when we first asked him into our heart; that rather than allowing it to lie dormant, we put it to work in our lives to effect the kind of transformation that glorifies God. 
  • It requires that we rejoice in whatever tribulations beset us; that rather than running from trouble, we turn to face it - and that we learn how to use tribulation to propel forward our deliverance from sin. 
  • It requires that we pray, that we read the word, that we fellowship with other believers, that we memorize scripture, that we attend Bible studies, etc.
A Big-time problem
And therein lies the rub: too many believers today refuse to exert the effort sanctification requires. They refuse to embrace the painful choices it almost always entails - the discipline it requires. They want their sanctification to be free of pain - and to require little or no effort. They live in a culture that touts instant gratification - a culture that plays down the need for accountability, criticism, and hard work. And they carry that mindset over into their Christian lives - and expect the church they attend to honor that mindset.

"Just give me what I want - make it quick - make it easy - and make it painless."

Let's get real with whatScreenshot20131011at12738PM
sanctification requires     
I can't begin to count the number of believers I've counseled who are convinced that sanctification should be automatic; that, having been justified, sin should simply fall away from their lives with no effort on their part. And they're confused and often terribly disappointed when it doesn't - when, instead, they find themselves still wrestling with sinful inclinations - and often still succumbing to them ...
  • drug addiction, 
  • alcoholism, 
  • a bad temper,
  • lying, 
  • cheating, 
  • pornography, 
  • gambling, 
  • promiscuity, 
  • chaos
  • etc. 

Screenshot20131011at13007PMWhat's especially distressing is the incontrovertible fact that many pastors today fail to emphasize the truth that sanctification requires discipline, hard work, and accountability. They promise short-cuts that inevitably lead to a bitter disappointment on the part of those whom they're counseling. And pastors who don't, run the risk of arousing the ire and indignation of their congregants - with the often heart-breaking result that they leave for another church that promises the same results but with little or no pain.

I don't care how addicted you might be or how addicted the persons you're counseling might be, victory is within reach. The only reason you or they haven't achieved victory is that nobody has ever taught you or them how sanctification works. I sincerely believe that God's End Days warriors will arise from a cesspool of addiction and general discontent - "he who has been forgiven much loves much" - a repeat of 1 Samuel 22:1 ...

David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father's household heard about it, they went down to him there. All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him ...

1 Samuel 22:1

Bear in mind: it was these very distressed, in debt, and disgruntled individuals who eventually became David's "Mighty Men of Valor" - and helped him defeat the Phillistines and establish his Kingdom. The same can be true of you and anyone you're teaching or counseling.


The One Book Most Devoted to Sanctification


Let's begin with Romans 1:16-21 ...

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.
For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,
since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became vain (meaning they rationalized the truth to excuse their sinfulness.) and their foolish hearts were darkened (meaning they were hardened).

Romans 1:16-21

The word “suppress” means to “hold down.” The truth about God and his hatred of unrighteousness is inherent  - and to avoid facing it requires effort; it’s not easily done. The truth must be restrained forcefully. It’s not possible to simply walk around it - to ignore it.

“The Truth”
What truth? The truth sketched out in Romans 1:16 – 18 ...
  • Man is a sinner;
  • he’s guilty of unrighteousness;
  • his only hope is to throw himself on God’s mercy.

The phrase “suppress the truth” doesn’t necessarily imply that the whole truth is being “suppressed.” In the case of a hypocrite (Romans 2:1 and 2:17), it’s his own sinfulness that’s being suppressed, not the sinfulness of mankind generally (cf. Calvin on the Ropes).

Screenshot20131011at123651PMThat alone, however, is enough to prompt the rationalizing Paul describes in verse  21a ("their thinking became vain"), which, in turn, leads inevitably to the hardening ("darkened heart") he describes in verses 21b-23 – a hardening which is entirely of his own making. That, in turn, may, though not necessarily, lead to the still further hardening described in verses 24-32. Whether or not it does is up to God. Some men God hardens; others, he doesn’t. It’s his call – which is the meaning of Romans 9:18 (cf. Calvin on the Ropes).
Spiritual Fact
The spiritual fact you and your students have to grapple with is simple, but profoundly meaningful: anyone who over many long years has excused his sin - meaning rationalized it - whatever it might be - suffers from a darkened (i.e., hardened) heart - meaning a desensitized, seared conscience; it doesn't prompt sufficient revulsion and disgust to turn him back from committing the sin that has him so terribly entangled and trapped. That means he can't enlist it in his struggle against sin, at least not in the short run.
What this means for you
and your students
In their struggle against whatever besetting sin is plaguing them, they can't rely upon their conscience to be of much help. When "push comes to shove," it's by and large useless. What, then, can they enlist in the war they're waging?

Have them bathe themselves in Bible Reading. Let God's Living Word cleanse and strengthen them. Not just ten minutes or so in the morning - scanning one or two chapters, but longer - reading through three or four chapters - both in the morning and in the evening. Find a good Bible reading program on line and get them started. Encourage them to use it every day. Remember, however, that it alone won't be sufficient. It's a start; but they must commit themselves to more time in the Word than most programs provide. .  

For the word of God is living, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword,
piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints ... ~ Hebrews 4:12

Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. ~ John 15:3

Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to your word. 
~ Psalm 119:9

Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word ...
 ~ Ephesians 5:25-26

  • Have them memorize the Word - specific passages of scripture.  

Your Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against you. 
~ Psalm 119:11

  • Encourage them to listen to Christian hymns and songs. Have them download songs and hymns to their androids or ipods.
  • Encourage them to break off old friendships that facilitate sinning on their part.
  • Enccourage them to establish new friendships with fellow believers.
  • Encourage them to confess their sins with one another - their temptations and struggles. Hiding the truth has seared their conscience so that they can no longer enlist it in their struggle against sin. Facing up to the truth - the truth of their temptations and struggles - will gradually reverse this process - reviving their consience. This, however, is a long and drawn-out process. But they must start.


Peace with God

Overcoming the power of sin - what the Bible calls “sanctification” - is the topic Paul takes up in detail beginning with Romans Chapter Six - and extending through to the end of Romans Chapter Eight. However, its basis is laid out for us in Chapter Five, the last chapter Paul gives over to the topic of justification, meaning deliverance from the penalty of sin. Consequently, we’ll begin our study there ...

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:
By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
~Romans 5:1-2

Verse 1 sums up the meaning of justification - that it puts us at peace with God. What exactly that means is encapsulated in a single word Paul uses in verse 10: “reconciliation” ...

... we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.
~Romans 5:10

In short, when Paul tells us in verse 1 that justification puts us at peace with God, he means that ...

  • it not only terminates our enmity with him - a truth highlighted in Romans 5:9 by the phrase “saved from his wrath” - but, in addition,
  • it restores us to fellowship with him as well - which, of course, is the meaning of the word “reconciliation” in verse 10.

Think about it ...

  • How astonishing it is that God, under no moral obligation to do so and at such infinite cost to himself, redeemed us - meaning delivered us from the penalty of our sins.
  • But even more so - how utterly incomprehensible it is that he restored us to his fellowship as well - and not just that: he made us his sons and daughters.

A human judge might pardon us, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that he will become our friend. Not true, however, with God. Fellowship is why God created us. Therefore, when God redeems us - meaning when he pardons us - it’s for the purpose of restoring his fellowship with us. That’s what Paul means when he tells us that justification entails peace with God.

Screenshot20131011at124026PMVerse 2 adds to the meaning of verse 1. It tells us that we’ve been put into a “state of grace” - which is what Paul means in the first clause of Romans 5:2 ...

... we have access by faith into this grace ...
~Romans 5:2

It’s not simply that God has tendered us grace; it’s that we now live in grace - that grace, meaning God’s unmerited favor, is now our state of being. We have, in short, been taken from a state of wrath ...

... and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
~Ephesians 2:3

... and translated into a state of grace - what Paul, quoting David in Romans 4:5-8, tells us is tantamount to the forgiveness of sins ...

But to him that works not, but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Even as David also describes the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputes righteousness without works,
Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.
~Romans 4:5-8

The verb tenses here in Romans 5:2, though they don’t often draw our attention, provide further elaboration. Verb tenses in Greek add a dimension that’s missing in English. In English, verb tenses denote only timing - whether an event is occurring in the present, has occurred in the past, will occur in the future, has occurred in the past and is continuing to occur in the present, etc.

In Greek, however, verb tenses often denote not only timing, but a state of “consummation” as well - that an event has not only occurred, but that the result arising therefrom is in a final state - nothing more can be done to change it or take it any further.

And so it is with the Greek perfect tense. When an event is cast in the Greek perfect tense, the consequences arising therefrom continue indefinitely into the future; they’re final. And that’s what we have in Romans 5:2 ..

... through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
~Romans 5:2

Both the verb “we have” (ἐσχήκαμεν) and the verb “we stand” (ἑστήκαμεν) are cast in the Greek perfect tense. The meaning of Romans 5:2 is, therefore, much better rendered ...

... through whom also we were put into a state of grace and are now forever established in it, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
~Romans 5:2

We are forever established in a state of grace - meaning we have forever escaped God’s condemnation and are no longer in danger of his wrath; we now live in that state - and draw our being from it.



Footnotes for Lesson 2

  1. Justification, as a whole, extending all the way back to Romans 1:16, is, of course, its actual basis, not just its summary in Romans 5:1-11.
  2. The word “wrath” in the New Testament, when applied to God, is a technical term meaning “execution of the sentence of death.” Anyone “under the wrath of God” is awaiting execution of that sentence.
  3. The sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.
  4. For a complete explanation of redemption - its Biblical meaning, see Douglas Shearer, Calvin on the Ropes (Xulon Press, 2009), pp. 165-188.
  5. Romans 8:15
  6. Once again, anyone “under the wrath of God” or “in a state of wrath” is awaiting execution of the sentence of death pronounced against him.
  7. The word “blessedness” is more accurately translated “blessing.”
  8. ... which, of course, is entirely in keeping with the teleological mind-set of the ancient Greeks; cf my book Calvin on the Ropes, pages 17 ff.
  9. Eugene Van Ness Goetchius, The Language of the New Testament (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1965) 293-6.
  10. Ibid., pp. 293-6.



The Love of God Is not What's at
Issue in Sanctification


Let’s now probe a little more deeply. Romans 5:8-10 tells us plainly that God’s grace - meaning, once again, his unmerited favor - arises from his love of mankind; in short, it’s his love that prompted God the Father to send God the Son to the Cross - unfathomable mercy - incomprehensible - a divine mystery we’ll never get to the bottom of - that will stagger us throughout eternity ...

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

~Romans 5:8-10

Look closely now at verse 8: God sent Christ to die for us while we were still his enemies - still covered in sin and corruption, repulsive and filled with hate, still shaking our fist at him in defiance. Infinite love bestowed on mankind at the very moment we were hanging him on the Cross.

And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left.
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

The point here is this: what’s at issue in sanctification is not the love of God. If God loved us infinitely at the Cross, that settles the whole matter of his love.

No, now that we’ve been justified, it’s not that God will love us any less if we fail to press forward our sanctification ...

  • it’s that we will fail to develop a personal relationship with Christ;
  • it’s that we won’t grow spiritually;
  • it’s that we won’t overcome the power of sin in our lives;
  • it’s that we will be disqualified from ruling and reigning with Christ in his coming kingdom - a privilege and responsibility only the spiritually mature will be entrusted to carry out.

God can never love us any less or any more than he loves us now. That’s the truth Paul wants us to wrap our minds and hearts ever so tightly around before taking up the topic of sanctification. Why? Because we can’t press forward our sanctification unless we truly believe it - unless we’re able to walk in it.

Let me underscore that again: unless we’re convinced - truly convinced - that we’ve been delivered from all condemnation - meaning we’re forever safe from God’s wrath - and that God himself guarantees it - we’ll find ourselves unable to overcome the power of sin in our lives.

Condemnation Aborts Sanctification
The reason is clearly highlighted throughout the Bible, beginning with Genesis Chapter Three ...

... and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God ...

Gen. 3:8

Likewise, we have Jesus’ own admonition ...

... men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

John 3:19

In short, condemnation drives us into darkness - away from the presence of God; and because sanctification is all about abiding in God’s presence, there’s no way we can walk it out if condemnation is always nipping at our heels.

Once again, that’s ...

  • why Paul at the very outset of his teaching on sanctification stresses so insistently - so forcefully - the importance of believing we’re at peace with God - that God is not our enemy, threatening to hurl us into hell; and
  • why, in addition, he starts off Chapter Eight, the climax of his exposition on sanctification, with the unforgettable declaration ...

There is therefore now no condemnation to whose who are in Christ Jesus ...

Rom. 8:1

In my own ministry, I’ve counseled hundreds of believers struggling to overcome besetting sins - a bad temper, gluttony, inordinate fears of various kinds, alcoholism, drug addiction, pornography, outright adultery, bitterness, and a whole host of other specific sins. And always one of the primary obstacles impeding their sanctification has been condemnation. That’s because when they fail - and failure will occur - they flee back into darkness. Rather than facing God, confessing their sins, and believing that God doesn’t love them any less, they run from his presence and hide from him; and that always aborts sanctification.

The Comment Form below has been provided to enable us to "talk" to one another. I will try to answer quickly whatever questions you may have concerning this lesson. But more than that: your opinion, insights, and feedback are very important to me.