Devotional: James 2:14-26…Let’s Clarify What Really Saves a Person

James 2:14-26

14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,
16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?
17 Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
19 You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe– and tremble!
20 But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?
22 Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?
23 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God.
24 You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
25 Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. 

 

Let me start this devotional by stating this very plainly: salvation is by grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ. Acts 4:12 states, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” I edited this devotional and felt it quite necessary to establish the truth of the Gospel from the outset.

If there is one thing we must be sure to clarify in this life, it is the issue of faith. What saves a person, does a person need saved, and in what or who must they trust? As a Baptist pastor, I have seen many forms of faith over the years and we tend to pick them out as Baptists: faith in works, faith in character, faith in religious ordinances like baptism or perhaps communion, faith in our good deeds outweighing our bad deeds, faith in a plethora of various deities or religious figures, and on the list goes.

Perhaps what will hit most closely to home in a typical evangelical, Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching church will be the more indistinguishable line of an alternative form of works righteousness. Can it exist in Bible-preaching churches that exalt Christ and the Gospel? I believe the answer is “Yes, it can and does.” What would it be, then? Let me suggest that it is the dividing line between those trusting in their sincerity of faith and those trusting in Christ through the promises of God.

It’s hard to distinguish between the two because they often look quite the same on the surface. If all you’ve ever trusted in, though, is your trust itself, I would beg you to consider whether you’ve ever actually trusted in Jesus Christ. Guilt and shame seem to somehow still accompany those who have only trusted in their sincerity, and it may baffle them as to why this is so; I believe this comes down to the fluctuating nature of our sincerity, and if our sincerity is “strong” one day only to wane the next, we have all reason to fear though we preach the Bible and claim salvation by grace through faith alone. If we are not careful, we may miss having trusted in our intentionality in asking for forgiveness or walking an aisle in church or claiming something like the truths of the “Roman’s Road.”

Since I have grown up in mostly Baptist churches, I will speak once again to our greatest danger which is as subtle as a snake in tall grass: churches that are filled with those who have trusted in their trust and those who have trusted in Christ sharing the same room. It can cause conflict and make no sense when it’s assumed we are all on the same page, which we may not be. For this reason, it’s not crazy that there are people who sometimes in Bible-preaching churches “get saved” years after they “got saved.”

James practically gives us a sermon here in James 2:14-26. There are about five illustrations used to help explain faith and the same conclusion restated multiple times: faith without works is dead. The five examples are this:

1. V. 15-16: showing concern for others in need without giving tangible assistance
2. V. 18: comparative forms of righteousness, purely “faith” vs. purely “works” (we need both)
3. V. 19: demons believe–but do not submit to what they know is true
4. V. 21-23: Abraham offered Isaac as a sign of his faith in response to God’s test
5. V. 25: Rahab had faith that the spies were men of God and that their God was the true God

This has probably been such a contentious passage over the years for how people understood “works” and the divisions that may have been drawn over thinking that James was preaching works righteousness vs. justification by faith. Let’s be clear, he wasn’t advocating works righteousness, but calling out a professed faith that had no substance.

If you and I were in a room and I told you that I had just learned there was a bomb in the room and that it would explode in the next few minutes, would you alter your behavior? Would you run? Would you panic? Would you laugh and sit and look incredulously at me? You see, if you trusted me, you’d be running for cover and get away as far as you could. If you saw kids, you might rush to grab them and do what you could to get them to safety. You’d probably scream and warn others and all the things someone does when danger is imminent. You wouldn’t sit there and be apathetic if you believed me.

The “works” that James speaks of are the evidence of someone being persuaded of information as truth. The “works” are also evidence of trusting God. It is possible that someone doubts God or His intentions and has works; it happens all the time. This very well may be where sincerity pops up for the more Bible-based types. It’s not that we shouldn’t be sincere, by the way, but we are really called to trust God to uphold His promises to us in seeking His forgiveness and acceptance by placing our faith in Christ. Anything else, any other false savior, will only lead to a powerless “gospel” that runs more on willpower than the Holy Spirit’s empowerment. Willpower gets tiring, but God can sustain us even when our own tanks are running empty.

The hope and strength of any true believer’s relationship with God will always be the God who sustains them! If you’ve trusted in your own trust, recognize that the willpower it takes to keep being sincere can get tiring; we often learn to posture and fake it when grace-empowered lives seem quite distant. God has a better way: trust in Him, rest in the Gospel, and live knowing that you are loved by Him and secure in Christ.

Faith without works is dead. James says it again and again, and he is pointing to a trust in God that is evidenced by actions that are done out of trust. Works are as natural to faith as fans cheering for their team–but it’s a necessity that works accompany faith even if the fans don’t cheer for their team. My hope for you today is that you will consider your faith: is it legitimate or is it all talk? Where has it been placed? How has it changed you? Has it changed you?

Last thought: where we find assurance of our faith is often the breadcrumb trail leading us back to what we have been trusting in all along. If I asked you, “Why would God let you into Heaven when you died?” I wonder what you might reply. When someone says, “I prayed…” I have to wonder (not trying to judge) if their faith was in the act of asking or if it were in the promise of God being pressed upon. Remember that it’s not the quality of the request, but the God who answers the prayer.  Faith banks on God’s character, not one’s own; this is so different than how people often view religion.

Another illustration for you: if I asked you to sit in a chair and told you that the chair could hold you, would believing me be enough? Maybe you’d be satisified with that response (you don’t care to sit), but until you sat in the chair, you wouldn’t have fully trusted the chair’s ability to hold you yet. Now, if you sat down and looked at me and said, “Wow, my faith is keeping me held up on this chair,” I might laugh. You see, your sincerity is not keeping you supported, but rather, the strength of the chair. It doesn’t matter how much you trust, even if you’re sitting in the chair; the only thing keeping you up is the chair, not your “belief power.” If the chair isn’t capable of supporting you, you will fall; so too, when people place their faith in anything less than Christ, it will not end well. Translate this into a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ: it is not the fact that you trust or that your trust is so strong that you would be held secure in the grip of God, but rather that God is holding you by His will to love you, forgive you, justify you by your faith in Christ’s substitionary death on the cross and accept you as His own forever.

Please, please, please hear these words today. I don’t care if you’ve been a faithful member of a Bible preaching church for fifty years or you’re just a kid reading this, this is the distinction you must make in regards to what it means to be saved. Your eternity is at stake and both Heaven and Hell are real, whether or not that is popular in our day and age. Offense will not matter on the other side of the grave but Whom you have trusted in will. May God be with you as you consider these words today.

Yours in Christ,

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Devotional: James 2:10-13 “Perfect in Christ”

James 2:10-13

10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.
11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.
13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

 

Today’s passage has one of the most powerful verses that speaks to all of us on the issue of sin. It’s often taught in casual ways that people are accepted into Heaven on moral grounds, the good outweighing the bad and God knowing that a person’s heart is in the right place. Most teachings about being righteous enough to inherit God’s blessing of eternal acceptance are variants of an emphasis on human performance, some teaching general goodness, some moral perfectionism, and some on religious acts of piety.

Such notions are simply untrue, because Scripture teaches even right here in James 2 that any deviation from the standard of God’s perfection is worthy of the condemnation and wrath of God Supreme. Rather than trying to console ourselves over the general goodness of humanity, we would do far better to focus on the goodness of God to a lost and dying world in the provision of the Gospel, that Jesus Christ died as a perfect sacrifice for sin upon the cross, rose again, and that all who place their faith on Him for His wrath-removing sacrifice are forgiven and incur the righteous record of Jesus Christ in the sight of God. It is honoring to God to trust in what Christ has done while a tremendous disservice to emphasize our moral performance as though that was what made us right with God. Any “gospel” that does not preach faith in Jesus Christ alone is a flimsy, man-made gospel that does not save.

Now, that being said, we ought to remember that this portion of the text comes from a line of reasoning linked by the idea of partiality, which is both ungodly and dishonorable in the sight of God. Those practicing favoritism are not behaving like God in that God Himself shows no favoritism, but freely bestows His grace upon whom He wills for His glory. In the vein of partiality, James is reminding the reader that though they be morally upstanding in many areas, if favoritism (contextually) is part of how they are treating others, they have missed the mark of God’s righteousness: they are sinners who are sinning.

Verse 11 continues the thought of verse 10 on by clarifiying, “He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” It’s interesting that in James 4:1-2, James will bring up this idea of murder again: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.” If we define murder by how Jesus defines it in Matthew 5:21-22, we see it goes beyond physical murder and steps back into sinful anger within: “You have heard that it was said to those of old,`You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother,`Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says,`You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” So consider this: sin is not just the physical manifestation, but also the internal intent at play. Additionally, this is a good place to be reminded of the two types of sin: sins of commission (doing what we shouldn’t) and sins of ommission (not doing what we ought to do). The more that we broaden the scope of what constitutes sin and where it takes place (in our hearts and flowing out into the world), the more it becomes impossible to deny our sinfulness if we are truly honest with God and ourselves. I think genuine believers often find that the depth of their sinfulness was hard to fathom in the early days; the further we go, the more we seem to uncover. Once again, thank God for His grace and kindness towards us in contemplating this humbling ordeal.

Verse 12, in relation to this premise, says, “So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.” I would suggest here that the converse to being judged by the law of liberty is to be judged by our own estimations of whether we’ve sinned or not and whether we are indeed righteous. We do not get to judge ourselves, though; this is only for God! God judges with impartiality, looking at the sin and the sinner and always judges appropriately in His determinations. The verse here is calling for us to not be partial, especially towards ourselves, in how we might estimate ourselves to be in a favorable standing before God. Only through faith in Jesus Christ can we be found righteous in the sight of God.

Verse 13: “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Personally, as I read this verse, I’m reminded of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:23-35:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying,`Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying,`Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying,`Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him,`You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. `Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”

The standard by which we must judge others is with mercy and grace; it is in line with how God is towards us. A heart that refuses to submit to the authority of Jesus Christ, though it may claim Him as Savior, stands suspect as one that is truly won over at all to the Gospel. Acting in alignment with the heart of God is crucial in reflecting on the verity of our true spiritual nature. Now, how do we know that that’s where James is going in his line of logic? The remainder of James 2 will be focused on the concept of “faith without works is dead”; vocalized faith means nothing if it lacks the works that manifest that faith. Faith is more than just a religious stamp, more than just a subscription; it must be evidenced in the lifestyle and it will be evidenced if it truly is in our hearts.

“Mercy triumphs over judgment,” verse 13 concludes. Mercy is the act of withholding what one deserves punitively, and grace is the act of giving someone what they have not deserved or earned. Christianity is such a blessing in that being a believer means that we receive both mercy and grace from God, and both can be much more rich and complex than we often limit them to be. Mercy triumphs (which is to hold power over) judgment, which is condemnation. The mercy of God thankfully outweighs and overpowers the condemnation that we ought to have incurred. Jesus Christ suffered such condemnation in our place upon the cross, though we were the guilty party. Paul says in Romans 5:20 that “where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.” Those who have grasped the mercy and grace of God towards themselves are far more likely to give grace and mercy themselves.

What a powerful passage and what great consolation is the Gospel to those who believe. It is not on the basis of merit but rather God’s determination to love and save and offer hope in the cross. Our hope is not in our moral performance but in the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and God’s pleasure in His Son’s atonement for sin.

Are you growing to be more like your Lord? Do you find hope in yourself or in Jesus Christ? Do you see that Jesus is enough, all you ever needed and are you resting in that? If not, you still could by placing your faith in Jesus. The hope is not in us, but in the Lord Jesus Christ, and to Him we must align and realign every day.

 

Thank you for your time and may God bless you in the contemplation of His word!

 

In Christ,

 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

James 2:1-9 “Dealing with the Sin of Partiality”

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James 2:1-9

My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.

2 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes,
3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,”
4 have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?
7 Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?
8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well;
9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

 

We live in a world that is riddled with sin, and one of the ways that sin manifests itself is within the issue of partiality. The news actually seems to be full of the idea of partiality (or favoritism) these days, but how it addresses the issue and where it assumes the problem comes from are completely debased from Scripture. We may hear terms relative to racial privilege (by the way, not original to me, but there’s only one race, the human race) or inequality (now the bigger term is “equity”), but rather than chase things down a political rabbit hole, we’d be far better off to understand what is Scriptural. Christians, if not careful, easily go down paths of politics and so forth, but the answer has never been in fine-tuning our ability to weed out what is wrong as much as becoming grounded in what is right. Counterfeit currency has often been taught to be identified not by falsifications, but rather on what is genuine; what is false quickly is detected by being honed in on what is true.

In James’ day, the issue that he addressed was that of partiality being shown within the church. It is a matter of dispute as to what scenario James is referring to, but some scholars believe that he is talking about two people being judged by the church in a matter. This passage has often been portrayed as a worship service and the treatment of people within it, but in all likelihood is probably more parallel to other texts such as 1 Corinthians 6:1-8.  The first couple verses say this:

“Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?” (1 Cor. 6:1-2)

Please keep in mind that this was never advocating that the legal system be bypassed where laws had been broken. Many of the things a church may address may very well be sinful and wrong, yet not technically against the law. The early church was family in ways we often do not understand in American culture; to follow Christ meant cultural ostracization, potentially losing jobs, safety, etc. Christian community was perhaps the only community many of the early church believers had once they had decided to follow Christ.

Even in the earliest part of the church, “there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellinists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution” (Acts 6:1). We could also see something similiar in Philippians 4:2-3 where it says, “I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.” It says in 1 Timothy 5:19-20, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Those who are sinning rebuke in the presence of all, that the rest also may fear.” Notice that there is a common thread throughout the New Testament, which is the judging and discerning in matters within the church and the authoritative nature of those decisions.

So, back to our passage: “do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ…with partiality.” This is the primary command of this portion of the text, which is followed by the reasoning behind not only the command but also the illustration of the failure. “For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” James is pointing out the problem by showing us the differences in the people’s responses and the pride that fuels such a response. The rich were treated with honor whereas the poor were treated with contempt. James highlights the externals of both the rich and the poor and that on such a flimsy basis, people are showing partiality (this will be contrasted later with the character of these individuals versus their outer attire).

James’ audience are supposedly followers of Jesus who believe in grace (unmerited favor), but the favor that they give is “merited,” even though it hasn’t been earned from them at all. The term for “evil” refers to morally worthless thoughts, the judges using morally worthless thoughts as their guide rather than faith. Why would they do that? Treating the rich with favoritism has the p

otential advantage of return, whereas treating the poor with favoritism may have little if any social return. It’s no wonder that these verses fall on the heels of the last verses of James 1, which speaks of true religion (God-fearing) as looking out for orphans and widows and keeping one’s self unspotted from the world. Looking out for orphans and widows would have only been an act of love, not an act with return in

mind. It would probably have cost far more to help these neglected groups than to not help them, and this steps into Chapter Two’s words on partiality.

James reminds the recipients of his letter with these words in vv. 5-7: “Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?” Does poverty make a person favored in the sight of God? No, it doesn’t, because salvation is not based upon what we had or didn’t have in this life, but only based upon faith in Jesus Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Poor people, though, can often only rest in the richness of faith (trusting God for needs) when they go without and the greatest hope of a poor believer is a rich inheritance in Heaven.  There is poverty in America, but there is often massive poverty in third world countries and many believers in those countries may go without much at all until glory. Some people will follow Christ and die in poverty or oppression, hunger and thirst. I do not say that to belittle their lot, but to be reminded that following Jesus does not mean that life will be easy, and in fact it may be very hard even until the end.

The value of a person comes from God’s love for them and His design of them, not from their knowledge, achievements, finances, popularity or power. When we forget why God values people and run on pride-based valuations of others, we will judge some better than others, to be sure. In the Gospel, though, all are equal in their destiny and God’s love and sacrifice for them. He makes us each different and diverse based upon His determinations, not our worth and despite our backgrounds and experiences, we are each offered the very same Gospel with the same benefits.

Additionally, James reminds the people that the rich actually caused them a great deal of problems, such as “dragging them” into courts and blaspheming Christ. They did not act in a godly fashion or evidence faith in their behavior, but they had received favorable treatment for their social status. Losing sight of the blessings of God in exchange for the short-term benefits of human esteem will always be a challenge we must fight against in this life. We all want to be treated well and nobody ever really took well to being treated poorly, did they?

The last part of today’s passage says this to us: “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” Take note that James speaks with royal terms here: a noble name and a royal law. Christians are children of the King of the universe, God Himself. We were saved by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ. Every believer is part of the heavenly royal family. Unity cannot be attained nor partiality eschewed unless hearts are united to Christ by faith and living in submission to His authority. Sin is the problem and if we don’t label it as such, we will only seek social reformation rather than soul regeneration.

Partiality throws us back into carnal ways of judging others, and it is a transgression; it is a sin. The only way to properly deal with partiality is to place ourselves under the authority of the Gospel, to believe every day the truth that people are saved by grace rather than works or merits, and that God sent His Son Jesus Christ to the cross with a love for humanity. In Christ, we are all equally loved by our Father, brothers and sisters in the Lord. Praise God that He loves people like you and me enough to not only save us but also sanctify us and prepare us for an eternal home with Him in Heaven.

 

Thank you for your time and consideration of God’s word today!

 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Devotional: James 1:26-27 “Does God Honor Religion?”

James 1:26-27

“If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.
27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”

 

Today’s passage is a bit unique to the Scriptures in that the term “religious” is only used here in the New Testament. The closest usage might be “religion,” (which is used twice afterwards) but the idea of being a religious type of person would only be found specifically in James 1:26. Depending upon who you talk to, the term “religious” can be either negative or positive; Bible-believing Christians tend to shy away from such a term typically in the association of being nothing more than a devoted church-goer or someone who believes in God. “Religious” might be a term we hear more from those that don’t consider themselves “religious,” saying something to the effect of, “Oh, my friend is pretty religious,” and things of the like. It is a very overgeneralizing term typically, as it tells us very little of what a person believes, only enlightening us to the fact that they believe something that affects them somehow, or creates an identity for others to associate with them.

 

What does the term “religious” mean? Strong’s Concordance details the word as follows: fearing or worshipping God; to tremble (Strong’s, reference G2357). Why does the Bible talk about fear when it is tied to worship? Fear causes us to pause, to adjust ourselves, to act in caution and to treat something or someone with great respect. If you have a fear of heights, walking on the edge of the Grand Canyon might very well cause you to step away, freeze in place, move slowly or become very aware of both yourself and your surroundings. Nervousness and shaking would not be far-fetched in such a scenario.

 

Fear alters us towards that with which we are afraid. Biblical fear is not simply terror, but it also entails reverence, which is a great deal of honor shown. James says that if someone thinks (dokeo, which means “considers”) himself to be a God-fearing (religious) person, then there should be a correlation of life to belief. A brief trip through the Bible would introduce us to multiple occurrences in which a select few individuals stood in the presence of God, and in those instances nothing came over them of simple respect, but pure terror to the point of falling in absolute fear in His presence. We know that the world and ourselves have not yet seen God when we have yet to have such a response to God, but one day, this will change. The only thing that will keep any of us from the greatest terror of our lives is the righteousness afforded to us on the basis of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross; without this, we would all feel a fear that will never have any equivalent. Thank the Lord that we can not only avoid such terror, but actually find the greatest sense of comfort at the thought of meeting face to face.

 

Why does James begin talking about worship right after talking about being doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves? Look back at v. 25 once more: “But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” What James is speaking of is a faith that actually translates into an altered way of life in response to a reverential attitude towards the Bible. He uses a similar line of thought in v. 26 when he says that a person who considers himself or herself religious but does not “bridle” his own tongue but deceives his own heart…has a useless religion.

 

The word for bridle means “to hold in check,” and we could more easily say, “restrain.” Restraint is done as a response to what someone believes; we do good things in faith to please God, but we also resist the temptation to do wrong things out of honor for God, too. Restraint usually comes as a response to a negative interaction, where we might easily lose our temper or give any number of improper responses, but rather than doing what appeases our flesh, we choose rather to honor God by restraint. Restraint can be an active choice but it can also be a reactive response; the more we learn to practice restraint, the more it comes naturally. Mind this, restraint is not just external, but internal, too; we can be collected on the outside and boiling with bitterness on the inside, and restraint would be holding ourselves in check in our thoughts and so forth just as much as our physical expressions.

 

So what is James getting at? When we consider ourselves God-fearing, but do not practice this in real-life, our consideration of ourselves as religious people is “useless.” The word for useless, mataios, could be translated as “pertaining to being of no use, idle, empty, fruitless, useless, powerless, lacking truth” (BDAG, Bibleworks). Paul uses this word in 1 Corinthians 15:17 when he writes, “And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile (mataios); you are still in your sins!” It is quite clear that the idea of being religious but not acting in accordance follows the prior thoughts of James in the self-deception of being hearers but not doers of the word.

 

Is v. 27 a complete idea of what it means to be religious? More than likely, James is using some real-life examples of what being restrained by one’s faith would look like (there are many more ways of being a God-fearer than just the few mentioned here). “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this…” Pure refers to being free from moral guilt, while undefiled refers to unsoiled morally, which is tied to the last part of the phrase of v. 27, “unspotted from the world.” Note that this is not religion in accordance with the approval and definition of other people, but it is that which is “before God and the Father.” The ESV translates God as “God the Father,” NASB identifies Him as “God and Father,” whereas in the NKJV we see “God and the Father.” It is not differentiating between God and Father as though God is not the Father, but rather identifying Him both as God and Father to every believer.

 

So what does God honor? What is approved in His sight? What is God-fearing in substance? James gives two primary examples: first, “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble.” Visiting is not just stopping by to chat (though this can be service to others); it is the act of stepping into another’s life with the intention of helping them. It is making sure that they are not simply overlooked and that their needs are met. Even in the book of Acts, this was a major function in the development of what we now know as “deacons,” (literally, “through the dust” referring to servants). The passage being referred to is Acts 6:1-4, which states,

 

“Now in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists, because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution. Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business; but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 

 

Remember that in the days of the early church, there really were no benevolence systems like we might think of in America. Believing in Christ meant the potential for suffering great loss of social status, jobs, income, and ostracization. It also often meant oppression, so the church very much had to have each other’s backs as a group. Being a widow or orphan at those times meant incredible destitution if worse came to worse; an inability to take care of one’s self and no one to step in to help unless someone so moved. There would be little or no return for any help offered to an orphan or widow, but certainly it was honorable in the sight of God to do so. It meant entering into someone else’s life and determining to care for them. The principle is far more an act of agape love, selfless and determinate in nature, not one of care with an expectation of return. The nature of such care is the heart of being a God-fearing person, or a truly religious person in God’s estimation.

 

The second part of pure and undefiled religion before God was this: “to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” We can probably track with most of those words, so the word to hone in on most is “unspotted.” BDAG defines the usage of the word aspilos here (unspotted) as, “pertaining to being of untainted character, pure, without fault” (BDAG, Bibleworks). “To keep” refers to the act of preservation. Preserving ourselves from that which would taint our character is a form of pure religion in the sight of God. It is done to His honor and for His glory. Both of the examples that James gives speak to the intent of the heart in the actions prescribed; it’s not simply acts that look religious, but those actions which are directed at the benefit and/or honor of others and God.

 

The preacher D. Martyn Lloyd Jones once quipped, “Religion is man seeking God; Christianity is God seeking man.” Man-made religion, which is generally how some of us hear the word “religion,” is typically self-focused with an intent on self-preservation. The religion that God honors, though, is focused on the Lord and preserves us for His sake while also looking out for the spiritual good of others. We must be careful as we reflect upon our own hearts as to whether our relationship with God is all talk and no walk, or if it is a growing relationship with more of God and less of us as the focus. This can only come from an assurance of our standing before Him; when that assurance is doubtful, the outcome will always default to religious acts done in an attempt to soothe our consciences as we contemplate our eternal futures.

 

Jesus Christ died on the cross to offer salvation that we might believe on Him and by believing on Him, find newness of life and a steadfast hope as we move towards eternity. We cannot outgrow our level of trust in the promises of God; sanctification is not just a process of passively being made more like Jesus, but also actively growing in our belief of what He has said is true and living in light of the truth.

 

Thank you for your time and I hope this devotional finds you well. Happy New Year!

 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Devotional: What Makes a Gift a Gift? Romans 6:23

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

Have you ever thought about what makes a gift a gift? How people relate to the idea of gifts is often revealing as to whether they understand what a gift really is or is not. On multiple occasions I have met folks who refuse to receive gifts, many who do not like giving them, and occasionally some who find far more joy in giving than receiving. Certainly plenty of folks do like receiving gifts, too. It’s important to comprehend what the Bible means when it says that God gives us gifts, first and foremost salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

Failure to grasp the nature of God’s gifts will quickly transform into legalism or license; in fact, more than likely the foundation of either direction would essentially be misunderstanding God, why He gives gifts, or what God intends when He gives them. Is it possible to distrust His motives in giving? Absolutely, and it happens all the time, but not without harming our potential for closeness with Him. No one who misunderstands the gifts of God will evade distancing themselves from Him; it goes with the turf.

 

Let’s start today’s devotional by looking at Romans 6:23. Romans 6 speaks primarily towards the issue of how we should live; if we are free from the power of sin, why would we live any longer as though we were still lost in our sin? That’s the gist of Romans 6, which works it’s way down into v. 23, telling the reader that if sin is so great, then why would it’s outcome be death (and wrath)? If we believe sin to be an affront to God, and the path of those who remain in their sin to be death and judgment, why would we throw ourselves back into that lifestyle? Once again, if we fail to understand the gift of eternal life, we very well may start to not only entertain conclusions that are not true, but will inevitably see these thoughts trickle down into our choices and our character. The first half of Proverbs 23:7 states, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.”

 

Romans 6:23 is a comparison-by-contrast verse intended to show us the consummation of either a life devoid of faith in Christ or a life submitted to God by faith in Christ. Paul reiterates in various ways the challenge to not let our thinking be tainted by temporal desires in a world filled with carnal ambitions and activities. The wages of sin is death; this is not referring to simply the death of the body, but rather, eternal separation from God. The just payment for sin without a Savior is eternal separation from God under the outpouring of His wrath. This speaks far more to the holiness of God than the corruption of man, for it is not that humans are as terrible as they possibly could be, but that God is holy and in His holiness, far holier than we could possibly imagine.

 

The gift of God is really the point of this devotional. The gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. By nature of comparison, this is in part how we can tell that death is referring to eternal separation rather than the act of dying or being physically dead. Notice that the action of sin merits eternal death, whereas the grace of God freely bestows eternal life by faith in Christ. Eternal life is not earned and if not earned, then also cannot be lost through “demerit.”

 

The word for gift is “charisma” (from which the modern term “charismatic” is derived) and refers to “that which is freely and graciously given” (BDAG, Bibleworks). When we speak of spiritual gifts (see 1 Corinthians 12:1, 14:1, 14:12), we are talking about God-given abilities within the confines of being spiritually alive and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, gifts which come not on the basis of merit but are given as God desires for His purposes. The gift of eternal life is also something that God gives freely by His choice and not our works. It is on this very issue where confusion gives people and denominations directional variance within Christianity. The two primary paths that are taken with false conclusions on the gifts of God would be legalism and licentiousness. 

 

If a gift is given with merit attached, is it really a gift, or is it a wage? Biblically speaking, it is a wage and not a gift when someone must do something or be something in order to receive something. That may strike us funny, because as Christians we might say something to the effect of, “But I have to believe in order to receive eternal life,” and this is true. Nevertheless, believing itself is not a meritorious activity, and still many people have subtly subscribed to just that sort of thinking. It is the work of Christ on the cross that was the saving act, and believing on that act is the necessary response for a relationship with God and an eternal life in Heaven. Still, God is granting life freely on the basis of faith, not because His hands are tied by what we do.

 

Theoretically, we could believe on Jesus and still go to Hell because God is not obligated by what we do to honor our faith. Of course, this is not what God does! What does He do, then? Well, He honors His word to us when we believe. Hebrews 6:17-18 says, “Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.” Side-note: it is impossible for God to lie because everything that God says is true, for He is the source of truth; that will never change.

 

God is fully committed to His glory and holds Himself accountable to the promises that He makes, and we should be glad for that. His offer of salvation is tied to His promises, and He is not a God who lies; it is not in His nature to do so, and therefore, what He says is true and trustworthy and as good as done. The New Testament is full of words in the doctrinal parts that speak of believers as glorified (see Romans 8:29-30, for instance) using past tense verbs for a future tense reality. Translation: good as done. What would our lives looked like if we were fully convinced of the things the Bible said were true of us?  That’s a huge element of sanctification right there!

 

We must be so careful that our faith is not in our faith, but in the Lord Jesus Christ’s atonement on the cross for sin, as well as in trusting God to keep His word. If the gift of God is contingent upon our keeping some sort of moral arrangement with Him, please understand that it is not a gift, but a contract if that’s how we relate to it. This is exactly why some strongly believe against any form of eternal security; unknowingly, they have actually bought more into a soteriology (theology of salvation) of contract than a theology of grace. A contractual paradigm of Christianity is the fastest way to inevitably turn the Christian life from humble awe over God’s grace towards us into legalistic perfectionism with our focus far more on keeping ourselves in good graces than what Jesus already accomplished. If the gift of salvation is nothing more than a veneer of contractual obligation with the potential for the contract to be completely abolished, count me out, and I hope you would feel the same if you have grasped grace for what it is: unmerited favor.

 

Given that Romans 6:23 came from a passage more on license than legalism, we might ask then how the gift of God can come with any sense of responsibility, accountability, and obligation to obey? Let me say this: salvation is a transformative happening. It is offered freely and it comes with no strings attached. Yes, in some sense, you could live however you wanted and not lose your salvation. The problem, though, is that if salvation has truly taken root in your heart, the gift begins to flourish, much like a seed planted in good ground.

 

A view of salvation that makes Christianity of no effect in the life of a “believer” is a Holy Spirit-absent view of salvation, and thus it is not salvation at all. The problem, therefore, is not that there are folks who were saved but then completely abandoned it, but rather that they were never truly saved to begin with. (This very issue has haunted many evangelical churches over the years in attempting to make sense of people who seemed on board who completely jumped ship).  1 John 2:19 states, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.”

 

There is no such thing as Christianity without conformity, one of the strongest reasons being that the Spirit within is on a mission of spiritual transformation. Living however we please with no conviction while constantly reminding ourselves we’re forgiven nonetheless is a fool’s remedy for the appropriate guilt and self-doubt that should accompany such activity. To paraphrase John MacArthur from a sermon I once heard him preach, “Confidence in our salvation is a gift for the obedient.” The simple point was that there will be doubt over our salvation if we do not walk with God, no matter how much we might try to rehearse truths we had been taught.

 

Salvation does not mean immediate moral perfection but it also does not mean moral indifference. We live for Christ, submitted to Him and pursuant of Him, because the gift of grace is growing within. This does not mean that we earned the gift of salvation, nor that we maintained our morality enough to keep our salvation. What it does mean, rather, is that truly regenerate people will never be the same again upon salvation and though they may stumble along the way, the anchor of their souls that keeps them from completely abandoning submission to God is the Holy Spirit within.

 

Salvation theology (the thirty-cent word is soteriology, pronounced sew-teer-ee-ology) is a Christmas gift to you and to me. There is nothing more precious and important to be reminded of in the season of gift-giving than the gift of eternal life. The giving of Jesus Christ by God the Father to this world was absolutely unmerited but completely necessary. The death of Jesus on the cross to pay for sin was absolutely unmerited, too and without His sacrifice there would be no hope beyond the grave. Salvation is not just something to claim, but also to continually learn that we might appreciate it more and proclaim it better. When Christmas comes (this was written on Wednesday, 12/23/20), take a moment to ponder not only the gifts you may give or receive on that day, but if you are a believer, remember the greatest gift of all: the righteousness of Christ credited to our account on the basis of faith in Him.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

 

Merry Christmas and may God bless you-

 

 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

Devotional: James 1:21-25 “Celebrate Jesus, For Real”

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James 1:21-25

Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

The world of Christianity is full of professors and yet far fewer possessors. That is, many are quite willing to subscribe to the title of “Christian” while not following through on lives submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Claims never cost what the sacrifice of obedience does; it’s not a question of interest in Jesus, but loyalty to Him that is always at stake.

 

Today’s passage may be very familiar to you; it certainly is to me if boiled down to the phrase, “Be doers and not hearers only.” The truths of Scripture, especially those doctrinal passages of the New Testament letters, are often a cascade of theology, one point laying the foundation for the next. James 1:20 concluded a two-verse discourse on anger, that the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Upon the foundation of the righteousness of God, therefore, we step into verse 21.

 

Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. Once again, be reminded that “therefore,” often raises the question of, “What is it there for?” In relationship to a pursuit of the righteousness of God, believers are called to “lay aside…” It is the same phrase (one word in the Greek, apotithemi) used in Hebrews 12:1, which calls the reader to “lay aside every encumberance, and the sin which so easily ensnares us.” It is a word figuratively used towards removing clothing, to rid oneself of the carrying of something. Here, in v. 21, we are called to cast aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness. Another way to translate “filthiness” is vulgarity; obviously, both terms are meant to speak towards repulsive behavior. The “overflow of wickedness” speaks towards an abundance; think of living life in submission to sinful desires with little restraint, unbridled in such conduct.

 

A passage that would rightly fit with v. 21 would definitely be Romans 6:12-15, which says,

“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!”

 

We must carefully avoid the mentality of license as believers, that forgiven sin equals a form of spiritual fire insurance. On the contrary, a heart that has been gripped by the grace that it has received will be inclined to please God, not provoke Him. Grace is a concept that is often learned first and emulated second; anyone can learn the theology of grace, but to be transformed by it in our relating to others and to be certain of it for ourselves before God is the grounds of redemptive living.

 

Putting aside a life of wickedness and unbridled sin is meant to have such energy parlayed into obedient living, growing over the course of time all the more to be a doer of the word of God rather than just a hearer. Consider this: what would it be like if every person who postured themselves spiritually as best they could actually lived up to the front that they gave? If you’ve ever been somewhere like Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, you would know that on Main Street there is a row of buildings that look quite compelling from the street. Even Cinderella’s castle is like this; all looks but far less than what meets the eye. This would be what Paul speaks of in 2 Timothy 3:5, “having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” Form is the outward formal structure; denying is to disregard the power behind such form. Translation: (in the last days) there will be hypocritical fakers. Paul knew this, and James knew this in calling people to not just be hearers, but also doers of the word of God.

 

Given the length of the verses in scope today, I will not attempt to explain every definition, but there are some points to certainly be noted in the passage at hand. To receive with meekness the implanted word refers especially to the manner in which we are to hear God’s word. Think carefully about this one, because it absolutely applies to how we listen to sermons, lessons and reading Scripture ourselves. Meekness is “the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance,” (BDAG, Bibleworks); in other words, with humility. It isn’t simply that God calls us to hear His word, but He also calls us to the manner in which we hear that word. This means that we need to check ourselves before listening, and that prayer is important not just for those presenting the word but also for those listening to it. Both the preaching of the word of God and the hearing of the word of God are incredible responsibilities that God entrusts us with. I would wager to say that many folks simply do not listen with a sense of responsibility, and that has hurt the church very much over the years. What does it create but exactly what James warns against? Hearers who are not doers of the word, people who are versed in Scripture but not necessarily empowered by it or committed to it.

 

How resilient is our faith in God and our commitment to obeying Him? It’s not often apparent in the seasons of ease but far more in pressing times of difficulty. Prayer is not a habit to start picking up when the soldier is in a foxhole with bullets flying overhead. Doing the word and being more than a hearer of it is not something to put off until life’s final moments begin taking form. It is a daily practice that if neglected will only result in people whose faith cannot withstand the storms of life, whose righteousness is nothing more than wishful fantasy rather than cemented reality in Christ. It is quite possible for any believer to fall into the rut of being a hearer and not a doer, but it poses a major theological problem if this “house of cards” is all that stands over the course of a lifetime. Ultimately, if all we do is hear Christ but not follow Him, we are not followers and have deceived ourselves. 1 John 2:4 says, “He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

 

Notice that the meek reception of the implanted word of God in our hearts is able to save (our) souls. Listening to the word, being informed of it while not regarding it does not translate into salvation. Many church-goers are in for a rough awakening if they have only trusted in the act of association with Christianity rather than the Holy Spirit’s indwelling found by faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus can live outside of us or He can live inside of us; one will never save, and one will forever save. It has been stated that many folks have missed heaven by a mere 18 inches; that is the general distance from the head to the heart.

 

What does it mean to deceive ourselves? This is an important question to answer in regards to the passage. It refers to miscalculation or false reasoning. We may very well sell ourselves on the idea that we are pleasing to God, acceptable in His sight when we are very much not. Religion is full of this very kind of thinking. We, even as believers, may have fallen prey to outward faith without any inner passion, conviction or submission, and in this case we would be self-deceived. This logic would be akin to stealing something but not considering it as stealing so long as we treat the stolen object with care or eventually return it after having used it for our purposes. People go to great lengths all the time to justify their actions; this is the art of self-deception.

 

Finally, let us consider the imagery James uses in this passage. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. Let me summarize this very briefly: imagine that you went to your mirror, saw that you had ketchup on your face, your hair made Einstein’s look tame, and you had dirt smudges on your cheeks. Then, after making such observations, you walked away and forgot entirely what you looked like and you made no alterations. How would that go in a social environment? You see, we look in mirrors to do quick check-ups on ourselves to make sure that we are publicly presentable. We look into the word of God to see what we ought to be and to recognize where we stand in relation to that standard.

 

But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. There is no blessing to be had in an unaltered life lived in relationship to the Scriptures. When the Bible calls us to believe in Christ, it does not assume that informing us of the necessity of believing in Jesus is the saving act itself; no, it is the follow-through of personal response in faith that saves. It is not the occasional glance is the spiritual mirror of the Bible that sets us right, but the continued perseverance in the word, living by it and submitting to it as the standard of our lives that alters us long-term and conforms us to the image of Christ.

 

This Christmas season, many people will give lip service to the Lord for a brief moment. Don’t let that be you; be a person who gladly goes to the Bible, spends time before it, looks and ponders not only what it says but who you are in relationship to it, and follow through by being a doer of the word. If you don’t know the Lord as your Savior yet, how about today? If you sense Him speaking to your heart, go before Him and place your genuine faith in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ upon the cross as a perfect sacrifice for your sins. That’s why Jesus came into the world in the first place: He was born to one day die upon the cross of Calvary. I hope you can celebrate Christmas this year with a greater sense of adoration for what that manger scene really means.

 

Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

 

Be blessed.

 

 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Devotional: James 1:19-20 “Anger Management”

James 1:19-20

19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;
20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 

 

2020 will be closing in just a few short weeks. Can you believe it?! Who knows what 2021 will hold in store, or the next decade for that matter? God does, but we as humans do not. The past year has run the gamut of experiences and emotions for many people. What emotions would you highlight from the past year? In asking that question, feel free to refer not only to yourself, but to emotions that seem to have been on display at large. There are negative emotions, like fear, stress, frustration, worry or anxiety, feelings of hopelessness or plain old anger. People marched in streets and protested, and in the same year many people stayed in more than they may ever have before. Certainly it has been a year of friction, disagreements, and those things relative. Positively, perhaps there has also been great moments of happiness, closeness, clarity, joy, peace, and love. While life is full of uncertainty, we can always relate to our God who is never uncertain, who always remains in control.

 

Unfortunately, in many varieties anger was on display this past year. Today, we want to look more specifically at James 1:19-20 and ponder these two verses in regards to how we handle ourselves with anger and how Scripture speaks into that. James begins v. 19 with the phrase, “So then.”  The New King James translates a form of the word “oida” here, which speaks of being informed of certain knowledge. Given our context, we must look backwards to see that we have been speaking about God and His nature, especially as it relates to trials, temptations and gifts from above. It seems that a theme has formed through the first half of chapter one, which is that God is pure in His motives, giving freely and without ulterior plans in mind. Unlike man, who wavers and sins and fails time and time again to understand the meaning of the circumstances of life, God is faithful and true and holy.  Keep this in the front of your thoughts as we look at James 1:19-20, because on the basis of God’s character, we are called to fall in line.

 

James addresses, “my beloved brethren,” in this verse. You will notice that he begins his letter in v. 2 saying, “my brethren,” and will call the “brethren” to not be deceived in v. 16. Upon searching, the term comes up 15 times in the book of James in the NKJV. Why do you think that might be? Look at the times that it shows up and it appears that it comes when he is lovingly putting his verbal arm around them and exhorting them of truth they need to hear. The letter is directed very much to the believing brethren and speaks towards how they ought to live before God and among each other. John, in the books of 1 and 3 John, speaks in familial terms to the believers he has worked with as well, often calling them “beloved.” Both authors are drawing upon the connection believers share in the spiritual family of God.

 

The command portion of this verse is important to recognize as such. It is not a suggestion or a piece of advice, but a call with a subsequent reminder of why it is important. We might think of this verse in its converse; when people are angry they are typically slow to hear, quick to speak and quick to wrath in an effort to produce their desired results. Generally, those results may be to inflict pain of some sort or to gain control, but sometimes people may actually believe that anger somehow will bring another person around to being sensible and godly. This has certainly happened many times over in the church at large. If godliness is living with an awareness of God, it would be farfetched to say that our anger and lashing out ever results in people feeling closer to God. Yes, Jesus went into the Temple and drove out the moneychangers with visible anger, but His anger was appropriate; while we can certainly have appropriate anger, the greatest concern the Bible would press upon is how we handle it. Even in James 1:19-20, the verse is speaking not about being angry, but how one deals with others. Notice that the verse is giving us insight, too, in showing us that if the goal is to produce righteousness, this will not be accomplished through the manipulation tactic of anger. We may invariably create other people who simply fear consequences for having experienced our own wrath, but this does not produce repentance, only posturing. We must be very, very careful that we are not commandeering situations with the use of volatile anger or perhaps the opposite, some form of passive aggression by punishing another with silence or veiled resistance. However anger may come out of us (clamming up, blowing up, messing up), it may all still share some commonality as found in the unwillingness to listen, say or not say what we ought, and alter ourselves to the harm of another person.

 

Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” We might consider the scope of the audience in view here when it says “every man.” Brethren and men are both masculine terms, but in all likelihood are speaking to both males and females in a masculine address. Is this referring to every person out there, or to believers more specifically? Well, contextually James is speaking to believers with the knowledge that if they are believers then they are under the authority of God. Is it wise for all people to handle their anger better? Of course it is, and no one would be remiss for applying such a biblical principle as self-control in areas such as anger. Nevertheless, given the context, it is more likely speaking to every believing person as it assumes biblical authority over their lives as well as a general direction they all must move towards: the righteousness of God.

 

Let’s break down these terms briefly starting with “swift to hear.” The word for “swift” refers to being hasty or fast, and is sometimes translated with the idea of fleeing. What do angry people tend to think about the most? Their own anger, and not often the other side. Often one of the greatest failures of those who rush to judgment is their aversion to seeking to hear someone out or to check out the one-sided stories of others. “Hearing” is not simply acknowledging that someone else is making noise; it’s listening with an attempt to understand. If you want to win someone over to the Lord, one of the biggest hurdles you must realize is the art of listening. People listen to others when they feel heard themselves, but when they don’t feel like their voice matters, the conversation begins breaking down. If the goal is producing the righteousness of God, there must be a willingness to listen in an attempt to establish mutual communication. I have often found, on an evangelistic note, that though I may want to talk about the Gospel message, it’s also important for me to hear what a person already believes before moving into what I believe. Showing the respect of listening has far greater potential for opening up the door of being heard. Contention is often resolved on the same premise.

 

Slow to speak,” refers to a slowness often tied to mental or spiritual slowness in understanding; here it is speaking to self-control over what we say. Imagine telling a joke and the person you’re telling it to starts laughing five minutes after the punchline; they are slow to understand. Life is full of time-sensitive responses, but sometimes being time-sensitive means letting the clock tick a little more before talking. Quickness and slowness are both strategic in James 1:19; quick where we should be quick and slow where it is appropriate. Slowness to speak may mean thinking about our words, or it may also mean not shelling out unsolicited advice. Here, especially, it is referring to answering a matter prematurely because of judgment and anger. Speaking refers to expressing our opinions or emotions, and it is important to pause and consider before responding rashly. Remember, James gives us the goal in v. 20, and that’s important because without living with that goal in mind, we very well may be slaves to our anger because our goal is our sense of justice rather than God’s glory. Imagine if people took more to the streets for God’s glory than for their own angst!

 

Slow to wrath,” once again speaks of being slow and controlled in the wrath that could come out. What will it accomplish, and will I regret it? Will I be obedient to God in what I do? “Wrath” is speaking of strong displeasure displayed in the emotions; you might think of the emotional volcanic eruption or implosion for that matter. Whatever display may be shown, is the end result a desire for the other person to love God more? Obviously, it’s a rarely a question asked when we choose to follow through on most forms of anger. Anger, if handled appropriately, should move us to take action that will result in the proliferation of the righteousness of God. There certainly have been people over the years who were moved by anger towards sin and injustice that sought to make things right and bring more accessibility to the Gospel. Anger that leads both us and those we unleash it upon away from God is never a righteous form of anger, nor is it God-focused. In fact, it very well may be alerting us to the diminishing focus we have on God when anger becomes more of a motif of our lives.

 

Now, why should we follow these commands? James begins v. 20 with, “for,” and in this we are seeing the reasoning behind v. 19 and the goal of putting this into practice. We have already looked at the word “wrath” so let’s look at the latter part of the verse. “Produce” is speaking of accomplishing or achieving something as a result of effort. The wrath of man, which takes quite a bit of energy, does not achieve the righteousness of God. “Righteousness” as used here is “the quality or character of upright behavior” (BDAG, Bibleworks). Character that is in line with who? God. Godly character is not brought about by sinful anger. Perhaps this is a good time to consider Romans 2:4, which says, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” Notice that Paul points primarily to positive qualities, especially kindness, as the means by which God leads His children to repentance. We might assume that “the anger of God leads us to repentance,” but anger does not produce change, only fear. Biblically speaking, the wrath of God is best thought of in a punitive sense, not a redemptive one. When someone recognizes their sin and how dark and ugly it is, how unworthy of God’s love they are and that they deserve punishment for their sin, they are often in for quite a surprise when grasping the Gospel. God, who rightly could condemn and destroy us, offers forgiveness and grace and reconciliation with Him. The kindness of God breaks a penitent heart with great effect, but anger in itself only follows through on what is already expected. Our goal is to help others and ourselves in growing to be more like the Lord, not like people attending a spiritual masquerade. Be more concerned about the heart of others, be they a child, parent, friend or enemy, fellow believer, etc., because while we may succeed in intimidating others into our agendas for them, our goal must be higher and greater. As much as you can, work to not manipulate others into behavioral compliance but be deeply concerned about their soul.

 

Today’s verses offer us a challenge: consider how we listen to others, the slowness in which we speak and the long fuse we must develop if we are to be winsome towards the Gospel and the goal of building others up in Christ.

 

Thank you for your time and may God bless you as you ponder His word.

 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Genesis 3:15–Celebrating the Promised Deliverer

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Genesis 3:15

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed;

he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

We don’t have to go any further than three chapters into the book of Genesis before sin enters the picture. It is amazing how fast things progressed in that direction once the serpent came into the Garden. It didn’t take much to tempt them when we pause and realize that it was just a veiled question acted upon that did them in.

Have you ever thought about what should have happened when God made His presence known in the Garden of Eden following their disobedience? Pure justice would have meant the immediate destruction of both Adam and Eve, and perhaps the complete banishment of the Devil from existence. As to the latter, this poses the truth that God does not annihilate willful creatures from existence, but rather designates them for eternal ends (Matt. 25:41). Why He allows Satan to linger is not an easy answer, but the fact that He does speaks far more to the purposes of God than the power of Satan. All creations of God (at least angels, demons and humans) have a destination, which also speaks into what God thinks of what He creates. Creation reflects upon Creator and never surprises God even in the cases of such great deviance. The Devil himself exists only within the permission and plans of God. 

Regarding Adam and Eve, what we approach in Genesis 3 is not only a God who upholds His word, but also a God who shows mercy. Perhaps you have or have not thought of this, but God never told the first couple that there would be mercy before they chose to sin; He only told them that there would be consequences should they choose to disobey (Gen. 2:17). If our Gospel were only a message of consequence, it would be a woeful, hopeless message that no one would want to touch upon or bring up or find identity in. There are some in this world who only preach such a terrible lot, but that is not the Gospel and they are never a popular sort. Far more common are the groups claiming we either do not need a Savior or that we are all morally acceptable in the sight of God, which is also quite untrue.

Man, when left to himself, is hopeless and incapable of changing himself to meet the necessary requirements to be pleasing in the sight of God, righteous and acceptable to Him. When the first two humans sinned in the Garden, there was no immediate message of hope, no promise of deliverance, no mediator of mention. There was a serpent who was hellbent (literally) on ruining the relationship of man and God, a fallen angel rubbing his hands in delight (so to say) at observing a couple who had fallen from their innocence. All these two could do was hide, seek covering of their own device, and hope that somehow God might not catch on.

How could God not catch on, though? And how could anyone hide from the eyes of Him who sees all? And how could some leaves knitted together ever provide the covering for the guilt and shame boiling within? For all that the first couple did to cover themselves, their newfound consciences were screaming at them with full volume. Man, when left to himself, is hopeless, hopeless, hopeless. No one on this planet can conjure up a suitable fix for the problem of sin, for it is beyond us. The broken cannot fix their own brokenness.

So there they were, a serpent looking on at his own demented form of success, two people hiding in torment from the guilt within, God nowhere in sight but soon…the sound of His steps. Oh how each step must have shook within them, the couple waiting for the impending judgment, the end of their lives, something only spoken of in promise but not yet understood in experience. Death surely sounded bad, but it had not yet been observed. Then came the voice of God Himself, asking where they were, and then their blameful response, and then His further probing. Then came the consequences, brought not by a God who was wrong to enact them, but by those who chose to ignore them as though God would not follow through. It would have been wrong for Him not to follow through, you know, for what good is it to have a God who speaks and commands but does not uphold that which He promises? God does not waste His words. We can be both thankful for this and properly fearful of this, for what God says will and must come to pass.

Nevertheless, within the consequences we hear words of hope, and the greatest hope spoken is that of Genesis 3:15: the promise of Eve’s Seed coming forth and though bruised in heel by the bite of that contemptuous serpent, He would deliver mankind by the crushing of the serpent under His foot. The power would exchange, the serpent no longer holding mankind in some kind of deadly grip as the Son of God would come into the world and crush Him, breaking out the fangs and rendering the bite of no lasting effect. A venomous serpent lacking the teeth to inflict the pain, a head crushed under the weight of power, is a writhing mess causing unease to the onlookers. The Devil does continue to work, but he knows his time is limited, and he knows that the Gospel is greater than all he can muster. He does not want you or I to be cognizant of this truth, but it is true nonetheless. He can only look on with disdain when the hand of God is at work, for He cannot undo that which God does.

Dying upon the cross, the Son of Man would be laid in a tomb for three days, but to the dismay of the Devil and his fallen angels, as well as all those who have chosen to remain enemies of the Lord, up from the grave He would rise in victory. He is the promised Seed, the one spoken of in Genesis 3:15, and He is the reason we can celebrate times such as Christmas in hope. It isn’t a hope of vanity, but a hope of depth and substance, the power to change and not merely alter but be conformed to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ. It isn’t just a hope of change for a temporal time upon this planet, but a deep soul-grabbing truth that death is only a passage into a glorious eternity with the Lord of Lords, the pains and disappointments of this life left in the rearview mirror of such a spectacular future. 

Genesis 3 could have gone many different directions, and if it were only justice, it would have been only a message of defeat and despair. Very likely, we would not be here to even contemplate such a messagenews, for it could have all ended for humanity that very day recorded in Genesis. It didn’t, because God had determined to show mercy and grace in the face of the hopeless state of people when left to themselves.

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.” (Acts 2:22-24)

Christ is the Hero of our story; He is the greatest cause for celebration every day of the year, but oh how quickly the celebration is lost when we forget our fallen origins. How quickly we forget when the sin that still permeates the fibers of our existence somehow is not recognized as the incredible problem that it is. How soon the hope flees when the destiny we rightly deserve is not on the horizon of our mind’s eyes, but rather the passing pleasures or pains of a life that is all too soon brought to an end. 

As we approach that time where we remember the Lord’s birth, we ought never divorce from our thoughts the necessity of His death and subsequent resurrection. We ought not forget the incredible price paid on God’s behalf to show us the grace and mercy we so often toss around like careless children playing with fine China. In the face of times like now, it is important to remember that the the fears of many people are in losing lives in a fallen world full of its disappointments when gaining a future far greater than this, as a person inconceivably better than we currently are, sits openly on the table for the taking. Praise the Lord for the Gospel message. Praise the Lord for the freedom to worship Him, a freedom that cannot be taken away by any form of oppression or despair.  Praise the Lord for Christmas and what it means to welcome a Savior we don’t deserve into a world He made and was always better than. Praise God for a Seed that came and, though bruised, crushed the head of Satan and delivered us from the power of sin and death. We have all reason to rejoice.

1 Chronicles 16:34 

“Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.”

Prayer from 3 John 2:

Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.

 

God be with you my friends!

 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Devotional: James 1:16-18 “Sorting Out a More Biblical View of God and Ourselves”

James 1:16-18

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.

18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

 

The last portion of Scripture we looked at in the book of James (in these devotionals) was found in verses 12-15, which spoke to the truth that temptations do not come from God, because He can neither be tempted with sin nor does He tempt with sin. Rather, temptation is deeply connected to the sin nature itself, which when enticed becomes the drawing power of committing sin. The very nature of temptation is an attempt to cause someone to fail morally in an effort to derail them and dishonor God; reasons that help understand why God does not tempt. No one can be tempted with that which they have no desire for, and every sin offers some kind of reward for sinning in the moment, oftentimes good things made superior to God (like comfort, control, pleasure, etc.). The sin nature turns desires into demands, and temptation sells the need to act upon the potential.

 

It’s important to remember vv. 12-15 because verses 16-18 speak of the gifts of God, almost in contrast to temptations which do not come from God. Now, let’s get into the breakdown of the verses, for it’s often found that assumption of meaning may quickly trump gleaning from the text. If we are to learn what Scripture is getting at, we must be careful to not draw conclusions prematurely when seeking to determine what is being said.

 

Verse 16 says, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.” In the Greek, the first half of the sentence is actually just two words (me planasthe), and it is a command. The word means “to proceed without a proper sense of judgment” (BDAG, Bibleworks) and James says not to do this. It is in the passive tense, meaning that it is something that happens to us rather than us acting upon someone or something else. What would we be misled by? Contextually, it would seem to be ourselves, perhaps the voices of others at times, with false conclusions drawn about God and His treatment of us. James also addresses this to “my beloved brethren,” whom he has addressed earlier on as the believers which are scattered abroad. Scripture again and again warns believers to be watchful and to be on guard as spiritual warfare is just as much about prevention against deviance as it is in Gospel promotion and righteousness. 

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Verse 17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” The book of James on numerous accounts speaks to the rich and how they not only treat others, but also how they esteem themselves (1:10-11, 2:5-6, 5:1). The distinctions drawn and the arrogance on display are addressed within this letter. Verse 17 fits into this mental framework, because if a person assumes they are the reason for their blessings, they are apt to get a big head and to diminish God’s role in giving provisions in their lives. One of the most common deceptions both in the Bible and in the world today is the act of seeing prosperity and assuming God’s favor, or seeing poverty or difficulty and assuming God’s displeasure; the heart often has a way of informing us of conclusions that are not biblical but are persuasive nonetheless. 

 

Every good gift” refers to those things which are useful or beneficial. “Good” in Scriptural definition as found here is not necessarily a loose idea of moral agreeableness but rather, usefulness (especially usefulness to God).  Think about that: we often call someone or something “good” because of we benefit and “bad” when we are brought harm. “Perfect gift” refers to being of the highest standard, like we think of traditionally with our use of the word perfect.

 

Don’t be misled and miss the blessing of recognizing the gifts of God as from God while also giving your thanks to GodThese gifts don’t just come from anywhere, certainly not ourselves; they “come down from above.” It’s not hard to imagine in reading James 1 that people easily can conclude false assumptions about God, either that He has tempted them because He wants to see them fall so as to punish them (the idea of “reproach” from v. 5), or that if we want good gifts, we must fight for them because they don’t necessarily come from God. James is clearing that up so that false conclusions are not drawn; God is the source of our blessings. A prideful heart loses sight of God and begins to imagine that one has created their own success, and this is just not true. If left unchecked, this kind of thinking can create a monster within anyone that harbors such thoughts.

 

The last part of verse 17 says that these gifts “come down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” Does the sun give off shadows? No it does not; shadows are cast by objects standing in the way of the sun’s beams as the light shines down. The sun has never cast a shadow of its own accord, only light. Think about the sun in a very elemental sense, too: in simplistic terms, it never changes. It Free the sun Images, Pictures, and Royalty-Free Stock Photos - FreeImages.comalways is bright and continuous, at least from our perspective. The clouds may come out and the earth may turn so that one half of the world cannot see it for a part of a 24 hour period, but it’s always there doing what the sun does: emitting light and heat. As we could not live without the sun, we absolutely and even more profoundly could not live without God.

 

It is very possible that James was using the sun here to teach us about God: light comes from Him, and truth is a light in itself. God never changes and there is no figurative shadow cast from Him in turning away from us, for He is always the same and always faithful. All of this to say that God is constant, trustworthy, true and has nothing to hide. He is perfect and holy in His intentions. This part of the text likely harkens back to verse 5 where it says that God “gives to all liberally and without reproach,” the word reproach referring to a determination “to find fault in a way that demeans the other” (BDAG, Bibleworks). The gifts of God are not a ploy meant to trip us up and betray our trust, but are pure in their design and meant for our good and His glory. 

 

Verse 18 goes on to say, “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.” Sometimes it’s very helpful to think in contrasting ways to examine text; the converse of this verse might say, “of our own will He brought us forth by our request, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of our own doing.” In many ways, the converse I just portrayed tends to be how many have assumed salvation, but such would be a false conclusion. There may be over reach there in the contrast, but let me explain the text. The word “will” speaks to intention; “brought us forth” speaks to being born or birthed. ᐈ Offering stock pictures, Royalty Free offering photos | download on Depositphotos®Of God’s will believers were born through the word of truth. The “word of truth” is the Gospel and in a larger sense the Bible. It is through the use of biblical truth applied to the heart that a person believes this truth regarding faith in Christ and is brought to spiritual life. This verse very much parallels passages like John 1:12-13, But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

 

Additionally, we might reference Ephesians 2:4-7, which says,

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

 

The latter part of verse 18 tells us the purpose of why God has done things this way (from the first half of the verse): “that we might be a kind of firstfuits of His creatures.” The term “firstfruits” refers to those first fruits or portions that were dedicated to holy consecration before the rest was used for common purposes (BDAG, Bibleworks); think of the Old Testament sacrifices. Even when Cain and Abel came before the Lord in Genesis 4, the practice was already understood that the first and best portion was to be given to the Lord as an offering before there was to be personal partaking of the remaining resources. In a sense, the verse is telling us that God, of His own unconstrained will, brought us forth spiritually by His word that we might be an offering dedicated to His pleasure. Of all creatures, believers exist as an offering well-pleasing to God by His determination and directive. While this is not the case of every person, those that are redeemed are intended in their redemption for this very purpose (and every believer will definitely be pleased within this ultimately, too). 

 

Notice throughout James 1 that there is a dualistic lesson to be learned: God is good and right and true and pure and holy. Man, even redeemed, runs the risk of doubting and being tempted and misunderstanding God and being selfish. Man changes all of the time, but God never changes. Man sets out with a determination to find identity and success, but God is the one who determines man’s steps and to be a believer is to be a person called into the privilege and call of pleasing God and growing in truth. In reading Chapter One of James, it becomes clear that God is not the problem, but sinful man is, and the only remedy is salvation, maturation and submission to God. 

 

As we go through the book of James, realize that James is teaching us both about understanding God and deciphering ourselves, too. We are often prone to underestimating God in His character while simultaneously overestimating the merit of our own character. We must listen to the word, consider it, contemplate it, put it into practice and live with truth as our guide. There is no other way to succeed spiritually as a believer than to live humbly in the sight of our Lord.

 

I hope today’s lesson has served to help you in your walk with God. If you have questions or are curious about salvation, please reach out to us and we’d be glad to help. Thank you.

 

In Christ,

 

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Welcoming the Christmas Season

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Isaiah 53:1-10

Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
2 For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
3 He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
4 Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.
8 He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
9 And they made His grave with the wicked– But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth.
10 Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.

 

 

Thanksgiving is now behind us and the Christmas season is upon us. I hope that, however this may find you, there are many things you could think of to thank God for. It’s a choice, you know, whether we place our focus on what we lack or what we have. It’s a choice to be negative or positive, and whether we will be a help to others or a hindrance. For all of the difficulties we may rehearse, please keep in mind all of the blessings we can give God praise for, and focus on the good. We can thank God for everything, though, because we know as believers that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Take a moment and think over the verses for today from Isaiah 53. These verses are rife with difficulty, aren’t they? When we celebrate the Christmas season, we generally think of a gentle baby lying in a manger and a soft setting surrounding Him. Jesus Christ came into this world in very humbling circumstances and was put on the cross in absolute humiliation by the crowds surrounding Him. Do you think that He knew the words of Isaiah 53 in reference to Himself before He came? Of course He did, He’s the Son of God, equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah 53 is powerful, in part, because the Lord knew what He was walking into when He came into this world. He knew how He would be treated, how would be misunderstood and sinned against and the incredible injustices He would suffer, even to the point of death. Yet He also knew Whom He was serving: the Father. He knew why He was here: to proclaim salvation and to provide it through His sacrificial death on the cross. He knew the price He would pay, and yet He came and dwelt among men and suffered at their sinful hands to provide us with life and truth.

In bridging Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s often our perspectives that can keep us from seeing how good we really have it. We may only focus on what we don’t have, such fleeting desires at times, only to fail to see that the Lord Jesus Christ, the one spoken of in Isaiah 53, has made Himself our Lord upon faith in Him. How would you respond if you went through the things listed above? Would it drain you of your hope? Would it make you cynical and isolated? Would you complain and fight back? Regardless of what we might do, Jesus went through it all and never wavered in His commitment to the Father’s will or in His perfect character. Isaiah 53 speaks both to the character of Jesus and the character of sinners and the stark contrast between the two. God is so, so good to us despite the ways we have treated Him. Despite our failure to be thankful like we should or to give Him praise or top priority in our lives. His faithfulness to us is the most beautiful thing about our relationship to Him. As Christmas draws near, don’t forget the goodness of God in light of the sinfulness of people just like you and me. Grace is never merited, only freely bestowed upon those God chooses to bless.

Please keep my family and others in your prayers as we had been exposed to COVID a couple days ago. Our love goes out to the church and we hope you are all staying well yourselves.  Thank you.

 

 

60 Bible Verses about Prayer - DailyVerses.net

 

God be with you!

 

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.