Devotional: James 4:11-12

James 4:11-12

11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?

Today’s passage is nothing more than a continuation of a thought process seen throughout all of ch. 4.  It’s important to remember that, because whenever we should grab a few verses to look at them, it’s very easy to isolate the verses in neglect of the thought flow from which they come. Remember that James 4 speaks of a breakdown in relationships because of selfish desires and a failure to submit to God in humility (vv. 1-10). There is also a call to repentance, the promise of God’s assistance and the devil’s fleeing should he be resisted. God gives grace to the humble but resists the proud.

Given the context, it’s not overly surprising that James steps back into how his readers are to relate to one another again. He started with human relational breakdowns, went further down into the spiritual issues at play, and then resurfaces back into the treatment of others.

It is necessary that we see a spiritual dimension to our interactions with others; God is always present and ready to assist, but the devil is always seeking unsuspecting prey to devour, oftentimes pitting people against each other in an effort to destroy them with their own hands. Spiritual awareness of a real spiritual battle is tantamount to how we see our interactions with others; forget the spiritual, and we live for lesser reasons and fight with little sense that we may be falling prey to Satan’s plans.

Verses 11 and 12 take the reader to the issue of speaking evil of as well as judging the law. What does this mean? Speaking evil refers to being degrading and judging refers to criticism. There is a mirror effect in this verse: it says that when we degrade and criticize a brother (another person), we do it to the law.

Now what is the law? Most simply, it’s the Word of God, the Bible. More exclusively, we might point to the 10 Commandments as “The Law.” Jesus, though, pointed out many times that it wasn’t just the external keeping of it, but doing so in the heart as well. Let me highlight that briefly from Matthew 5:27-28:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old,`You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

The term “law” comes up ten times in the book of James found within three separate passages. We find them here:

  1. (James 1:25) “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.”
  2. (James 2:8-12) “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.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.
  3. (James 4:11) “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.”

If speaking evil of a brother and judging a brother is regarded as equivalent to doing so to the law, consider John’s words in 1 John 4:20:

“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”

John is saying that to hate one’s brother is to hate God; James says that to speak evil of and judge a brother is to do so to the law of God. When there is inconsistency between proclamations and character, it ought to put up a major red-flag.

James is saying that those who willfully sin and yet justify it degrade the standards of God and criticize those standards in a reinterpretation of what is good and acceptable to do. When a Christian remains in sin, they are functionally dethroning God and taking up lordship of their own life, defaming God and distancing themselves from Him. When we rewrite the rules, we are not doers of the law, but critics (judges) of the law; to do this to the law is to dismiss God’s authority in favor of our own.

James reminds the reader that there is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? Only God can save, only God can destroy. Very similar in wording is Jesus’ statement found in Matthew 10:28:

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

“Who are you to judge another?” forms a rhetorical question given in light of one Lawgiver identified in the Lord. No one answers to another creature on judgment day, but to God. When we choose to sin, we must inevitably move God’s boundary lines in our hearts to accomadate the justification we may seek in harboring sinful attitudes. Poor treatment of others, especially believers, is inconsistent with a love for God and a keeping of His word. Only a person in denial who has subtly shifted the boundary lines could feel okay in their conscience when hating a brother and deceving themselves that they love God or His word at the same time. We really need to do some self-examination in those areas where there are inconsistencies between what we saw we agree with and what we functionally believe.

Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to

I encourage you (as well as myself) to pray to the Lord for the help to follow His word as He commands it, not as we would have it. We must repent in those areas of reinterpreting sin as anything less and move away from the crossing of those lines before God. Finally, remember the laid out plan provided in James’ earlier words in chapter 4 as a gameplan for repentance:

7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:7-10)

May God’s word find you well today and whatever your state may be, may you be sensitive to Him and submissive to His desires for you today.

In Christ,

 

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

Devotional: James 4:5-10 “The Mercy and Grace of God in Repentance”

James 4:5-10

5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?
6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. 

In looking over today’s text, I think that we can come away from this passage positively by recognizing the hope of God’s mercy and grace in the call to repentance. Repentance (Greek “metanoia”) comes from two words, “meta” meaning with and “noia” coming from “nous,” or the mind: literally, with the mind. It is referring to a change in thinking, but also in emotions and intentions and actions. Repentance is an upheaval within, a 180 degree turn from going our own direction to now submitting to God’s ways.

Keep in mind, though, that it’s not just following, but also the alteration of thinking that now comes into alignment with how God thinks. Where do we find how God thinks? Not in our imaginations or assumptions, but in the very Word of God, the Bible. Repentance can sometimes be mistaken for simply actinglike there’s heart change without any genuine alterations within: think of a child who, after being told again and again by their parents to sit, finally shouts back, “Fine, I’ll sit, but I’m still standing on the inside!” That is often how the Gospel has been misconstrued, as though it were comprised only of outer professions and public posturing without actually changing within.

Repentance means conforming progressively to the heart and mind of Christ. I like to think of the new nature here, reminded that it is the nature of who we are that drives the activities of who we are.  A cat may act like a dog for a moment, but inevitably will be back to being a cat in no time; an unbeliever may act like a Christian for a season but cannot resist their true nature when all is said and done.

Let’s look at the passage and consider the grace and mercy of God in the activity of repentance. First of all, (Or) do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”? This is said in connection to verse 4, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Or, therefore, is stated in relationship to being a friend of the world and an enemy of God, or at least acting like one within the scope of being a believer. The passage is not calling for a repentance of salvation, but a repentance of stagnation and deterioration from a worthy walk with Christ. We know this in part because of the prescribed actions to take in the verses that follow.

James says these things in relationship to desires going unmet, prayers being selfish, and warring and fighting taking place as a result of carnal living. Rather than being Christ-centered, his audience is acting in self-centeredness. Consider a parallel in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, which is stated in relationship to sexual immorality but has the same spiritual effect:

18 Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.

What is comforting is the fact that God offers grace rather than a dismissive cutting of ties with those who have failed Him. James says in light of the Spirit’s yearning that He gives more grace: more unmerited favor, that is. Verse 6 very well highlights both the mercy and grace of God towards His children: God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” When believers are proud, resistant to submission and determined to do as they please, God in His mercy resists them. He stands in opposition to them in that He will not enable sinfulness but He will frustrate their heart idolatry. We see that in the first few verses of James 4 as they take matters into their own hands for not getting what they want, but still don’t get what they desire. Conversely, God shows His grace to the humble (BDAG refers to this as acting unpretensiouly: BDAG, Bibleworks). God shows grace to everyone living in the form of common grace (it rains on the just and the unjust–Matthew 5:45), but in the context of James 4, mercy and grace are stated in relationship to the heart attitude of believers before God.

Notice James’ command on the basis of God’s resistance and grace: therefore, submit to God. The word for submission is hupotasso, and it means to place one’s self under the authority of another. It is a command, but it is also a choice and an act of humility and love. It is very fitting that James continues the thought on with resist the devil and he will flee from you: living lives of arrogant pride is actually submission to the devil’s plans. The devil opposes God, and those who live in sin live in opposition while doing so. Can a believer live in opposition to God, submitting to the devil? Yes, but they will have to sear the Spirit in doing so, the very Holy Spirit who yearns jealously for them. It seems to me that the devil himself is one of the last characters people think of when they choose to sin, but it’s important to remember that he very much is alive and active and that we effectively submit to his deviance when we choose to harbor sinful attitudes and actions. Satan cares far more that we are deceived and sunk into a rut of sin than that we are aware of whom we are functionally serving.

Ten commands are listed to those who would repent in response to the mercy and grace of God: submit (to God), resist (the devil), and draw near (to God), cleanse (your hands) and purify (your hearts) are the first five. Those who desire the closeness of God and the comfort and security of that closeness would do well to recognize that it is our sin, our stiffness to submit and our choice in doing so, that has caused God to both resist us and to remove the sense of His closeness. It’s not that God has left (He’s omnipresent), but the sweetness of relationship is on hold for good reason when we are living in defiant self-absorption. Why should God reward us with a relationship that isn’t affected when we live in sin? Nobody sins and continues in sin without a direct hit on their relationship to God, a downward spiral of distancing from Him that goes with the turf of disobedience and desensitization to the Holy Spirit within. When this all happens, it is not surprising to find that someone is very insecure in their eternal destination no matter how well versed they may be.

Notice in those first five commands listed that two are related to God, one to the devil, and two to the self. Three commands are external (who we submit to and who we resist) and two are internal (purification from dirty, sinful hearts and the hands that carried out the actions). Cleanse your hands, you sinners has that emphasis on wrong-doing in highlighting “sinners” whereas purifying the heart of the double-minded is addressing the divided heart of loyalty to God and to the self, purifying being that act of washing away those doubts that have caused hesitancy and back-and-forth living. (Double-mindedness flows throughout the book of James, by the way).

The last five commands are found in verses 9 and 10: Lamentand mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. I have underlined the five command words (all are Greek imperatives, which are commands). These are outer signs of inner repentance. Perhaps we might think of Job, how after he had lost his children and servants and livestock and so forth, we find him sitting in sackcloth and ashes, mourning deeply.  Here’s what Job says in regard his sorrow (Job 16:12-20):

12 I was at ease, but He has shattered me; He also has taken me by my neck, and shaken me to pieces; He has set me up for His target, 13 His archers surround me. He pierces my heart and does not pity; He pours out my gall on the ground. 14 He breaks me with wound upon wound; He runs at me like a warrior. 15 “I have sewn sackcloth over my skin, and laid my head in the dust. 16 My face is flushed from weeping, and on my eyelids is the shadow of death;17 although no violence is in my hands, and my prayer is pure. 18 “O earth, do not cover my blood, and let my cry have no resting place!19 Surely even now my witness is in heaven, and my evidence is on high. 20 My friends scorn me; my eyes pour out tears to God.

The brokenness of Job was easily recognizable. Job’s circumstances had brought him to his knees, caused him to self-examine, and left him with only the hope of God’s care. A more relavent passage to James 5:5-10 is where Paul speaks to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 7:9-11 on godly sorrow:

9 Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. 11 For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter. 

Repentance is not just a salvation issue, though it does reflect the nature of redeemed heart to have repeated patterns of repentance. It is a return to health in a believer’s life who has grown spiritually unhealthy. It is marked by internal changes that have gone so far as to have affected the entire person, not just their behavior nor just their heart.

As I stated at the outset of this devotional, this passage is a positive call that highlights God’s great grace and mercy. It shows us that mercy can mean God’s resistance and distancing if this keeps us from destructive ends. It also shows us God’s grace in that there is an offer to repent and holistic means to do so as we submit to His authority. Where we should perhaps read only of punishment in response to failure, we find yet again that God is deeply concerned for the spiritual welfare of His children and will do what it takes to bring them to Christlikeness. I hope you find comfort in that; I know that I do as I contemplate these verses. Don’t forget that it’s a call to us as well to humble ourselves before God, to draw near to Him, to purify our hearts and to be broken over our sin. Repentance leads to abundant living where life was confined by sinful selfishness and the absence of joy. God wants the best for us.

Thank you for your time and may God bless you as you contemplate His word today!

In Christ,

 

 

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

Devotional: James 4:1-4 “Wisdom and Foolishness Manifested”

James 4:1-10

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?
2 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.
3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.
4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously “?
6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

 

James 4 continues on in the line of logic from distinguishing false wisdom from true wisdom going back to James 3:13 and following. Much of what James says towards the selfishness on display in verses 1-4 is still in sync with James 3:14-16:

14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.

We have to wonder in James’ questioning in v. 1 if he is asking them a rhetorical question to which they are already informed or whether he is probing an area of blindness. The connection between 3:13-18 and 4:1-10 may be this: wisdom is manifested in humility (4:6-10) and foolishness is manifested in selfish pride and the behaviors that come from that (4:1-5).

Let’s first consider the negative manifestation of selish pride as a sign of foolishness:

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 2 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. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously “?

Fools are potentially aware of information but fail to put it into practice. Fools act in both arrogance and ignorance. When Christians should be foolish, they choose to submit to the old idols of their hearts rather than the God who has saved them. Make no doubt about it, this is the wrestling match of the Christian life (consider Romans 7:14-25): choosing every day and every moment whom we will serve.

James says that fights are the result of deep desires. Interestingly, the Greek word for “pleasure” in v. 1 is hedonon from which we derive the words “hedonism” or “hedonistic”: pleasure-seeking and pleasure-driven self-indulgence. Furthermore, at heart the act of hedonism comes from pleasure-worshipping.

Whenever we take a good thing (such as pleasure) and make it an ultimate thing, we have displaced God and erected an idol to worship. Pleasure, comfort, control, power, love, security, etc. are all emotional states that often determine how we relate to others, to money, to material goods, to work, and to God for starters. Think about this: in addictive behaviors, the addict is not actually seeking the substance nearly as much as they are seeking the emotional state that that substance has taken them to. Aside from addictions, all sin functions on the same premise of temporary emotional states in exchange for a compromise in morality and ultimately in obedience to God.

Total deprativity is the doctrine that we are tainted in all parts of who we are: intellect, emotion and will. Not that we’re as bad as we can be, but that all parts of us bear the stain of sin.Heart idolatry will shape your dreams and desires, prayer requests, what a “good day” means to you as well as what a “bad day” means, and that’s just a handful of the ways it affects you or me.  The reason not everyone is affected the same way by similar situations is in part because of idolatry; if I worship something and everything frustrates that (I want to be happy), I will have a bad day. If you should have a similar day but aren’t driven by happiness, you may not be as affected by it as I was.

When James says the people are warring, fighting, murdering, etc., notice that he ties it all to both having desires and those desires going unmet. As an alternative to asking God for things (needs/wants), they take matters into their own hands and sin to achieve their desired ends. They compromise. When they do ask God, they ask for the wrong reasons, to appease those idols that they worship which would be to their detriment: they are seeking to fulfill their pleasure. A good understanding of the nature of God should remind us that God is in the business of removing idols, not appeasing them; therefore, He allows His children at times to suffer frustration as a result of their unmitigated greed. God is jealous for His children and is more invested in where He is taking them than what they want along the way. The issue of adulterers and adultresses is found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament in that when people give away their loyalty and hearts to anything other than God (often false gods), He often reminds them both of their adultery and His holy jealousy for their worship.

 

Secondly, let’s consider wisdom as it is manifested in humility and I think you will see that in the passage:

6 But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. 

God gives grace; grace to live without our desires being met, grace to endure when life is hard, grace to meet what we truly need. Contextually, He gives grace in response to humility. He stands against pride; He does not reward pride nor does He serve to enable it. I am reminded very much that when anyone starts approaching God more as a dispenser of desires than our Master and Lord, we run the risk of assuming mastery over God. Prayer was never meant to be a dictation of our wants and desires that put God in a bind to perform in response to what we want; far more, it pulls us into alignment with His plans rather than calling Him to submit to ours. Humility is prerequisite in a meaningful prayer life.

James further identifies some of the necessary elements of humble repentance: drawing near to God, cleansing hands and purifying hearts (repenting of sin both in heart and behavior). Purifying the hearts of the double-minded means clearing up the wishy-washy division of direction and aligning one’s self to God’s desires. “Choose whom you will serve,” says Joshua in Joshua 24:15. Furthermore, lament (be distressed) and mourn (sorrow over your condition) and weep (cry)–these are all signs of conviction and repentance. They are the physical alterations that take place when someone really feels sorrow and grief.

James makes it clear that laughter and joy are not always appropriate, nor are they always the goal. Laughter, joy and pleasure all stand as witnesses against those who should not be so! There are times when people live in sin and it would be better for them to be overcome with feelings of conviction because their state of happiness comes from arrogance, not humility. Humility before the Lord leads to God’s exaltation of us rather than our own manufactured exaltation. There’s nothing better for the soul than being in sync with God.

As I’ve tried to “state my case,” I believe this passage is referring to wisdom as displayed in humility versus foolishness as displayed in selfish pride. It is good for us to be humble before God, to feel conviction that sometimes overwhelms us for our sin and carelessness, and it is good for us to wait on the Lord when we are in such a state of brokenness. It is not good for us to be held in the clutches of our sin and idolatry, living lives full of selfishness and insensitivity, but it happens quite easily and is a daily battle.

One of the simplest questions we can ask ourselves as a result of reading this passage is, “Why do I do what I do?” We might also ask, “Who am I living for?” It is a call for deep self-examination, for if we are in a broken, sinful condition, hopefully God will help us to see it that we might be convicted and repent. That would be mercy and mercy is what we need. One of the greatest kindnesses of God is to show us places where we’ve had “blind spots,” to move us to see it and feel it, to sense conviction but then to move us into humbling ourselves before Him. Awareness of our condition is a sign of God’s mercy. Awareness that we cannot fix this condition but that it’s only through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is mercy and grace. Humbling ourselves before God and casting ourselves at His mercy only to find grace? That’s the heart of the Gospel. We’re not done learning the intricacies of this Gospel, no matter how long we’ve been saved, you know?

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

 

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

Devotional: James 3:13-18 “Wisdom vs. Foolishness”

James 3:13-18

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.
14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth.
15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.
16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.
18 Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

 

What a powerful passage to speak into something that plagues many a church in our modern times! This portion of the book of James speaks into wisdom and the character of a wise person. James is comparing those who boast in their intellectual prowess with those who are truly governed by the godly characteristic of wisdom.

Verse 13 begins, who is wise and understanding among you? The BDAG lexicon defines the usage of wise here as “pertaining to understanding that results in wise attitudes and conduct” (BDAG, Bibleworks). Wisdom is the application of knowledge learned either through instruction or experience and especially tied to biblical knowledge. Every person well-trained in the Scriptures has the potential for becoming nothing more than a smart fool; that is, a person who is learned but who does not or will not put into practice what they know. Foolishness is categorically an issue of choosing to not apply knowledge; the old saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly while hoping for a different outcome,” would fit under the umbrella of foolishness. Understanding refers to “pertaining to being knowledgeable in a way that makes one effectual in the exercise of such knowledge,” (BDAG, Bibleworks). It is referring to the matter of expertise.

We may ask, what exactly is this expertise and wisdom related to? In a more broad sense, it would appear that a person is claiming to be wise and understanding as an identity, and that this identity is found in the context of the church. How would this person be recognized as wise and understanding? It wouldn’t be because they flaunt their intelligence; it would only come, as James points out, in the showing of good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. Wisdom is displayed through the governance of such wisdom in the actions of an individual and their character through the process. Conversely, much like a spring of water sending forth both fresh and bitter water (v. 11) or many of the other similar illustrations used in the prior verses, wisdom is not simply a claim; wisdom is more of an underlying principle giving structure to good character.

But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. Bitterness and selfishness both betray the claim of being wise. Can we be both smart and bitter, an expert on the Christian life and selfish? Yes, but we cannot be wise and be both. This is why I said earlier that such is a smart fool. Fools can be incredibly intelligent and well-versed in the Bible and yet at the same time be incredibly selfish and envious to the point of being bitter. When the church moves away from being doers of the word and becomes hearers only, the outcome is the breeding of educated fools, and such will only thrive in environments where doing is secondary to knowing. Make no doubt about it, that’s where our culture has headed over the years and how the church is being affected for that matter, too.

I don’t feel it would be far-fetched at all to say that the church at Ephesus of Revelation 2:1-7, the church that was very discerning but had lost it’s first love for Jesus Christ, had grown to become discerning fools. “Fool” may sound harsh, but remember that foolishness is what happens when one knows what to do but does not do it. Foolishness, too, is when one has chosen to make primary what is secondary and make secondary what is primary, that being the neglect of one’s heart before God in favor of growing one’s education for their own ends. James says to this inconsistency, “do not boast and lie against the truth.” Don’t brag about being wise when it’s just not true. Church, do not confuse the wise with the foolish.

This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. There are two types of “wisdom” being highlighted, therefore: true wisdom and fake wisdom. True wisdom is the sound application of knowledge, whereas fake wisdom is the posturing of being wise and the swapping of a life governed by wisdom to a life governed by conceitedness. This is the second time in the book of James that he will speak of the demonic; the first time was in James 2:19, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe– and tremble!” The breakdown of James 2:19 is that the demons believe there’s one God (how could they not since they saw him as angels and oppose Him daily?) but they did not submit themselves to him. Satan and all demons are extremely intelligent, and the Bible has never given us reason to think otherwise. Far more intelligent than any of us–but wise? Absolutely not. Anyone functioning like this is functioning with a wisdom that does not come down from above but is earthly, sensual and demonic in nature. Foolishness is demonic because it acts in the same mentality: knowing truth but refusing to either put it into practice or submit to such knowledge and the God who has given it.

For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. The conclusive nature of James’ definition of the wisdom that is earthly, sensual and demonic is that is nothing more than evidence of confusion and evil. A dog is only as free as the length of leash it’s given; so too is a person only as wise as their willingness to put into practice that which they know. The Bible makes clear that the beginning of wisdom starts with the fear of the Lord (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, 9:10); conversely, wisdom ends when that fear goes. Fear could be understood not simply as terror (which isn’t crazy to read into that), but also the respect that is part of the fear that governs how one lives. If you fear heights, you will respect walking on the edge of the Grand Canyon. You will fear falling off. You will alter course. If one does not alter course when they are confronted with the knowledge of God, they are living dangerous lives of foolishness though they may proclaim loyalty to God nonetheless.

James ends this line of thought with these words: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” In many ways, this passage is a passage of discernment; in fact, the book of James is filled with lines of reasoning built upon discernment. The wisdom from above, in contrast to the false wisdom of this world, is first pure (referring to holiness), then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield (versus fighting/argumentative), merciful and full of good (spiritual) fruit, impartial to others and without hypocrisy (saying one thing but doing another). Notice that wisdom is not based upon intelligence but rather a disciplined character where one has brought into line their actions with their biblical understanding. Our intelligence may take us far but our character will be our Achille’s heel. Lastly, the fruit of righteousness is sown in a peaceful manner (rather than a contentious, self-seeking manner) by those who make peace. Wisdom is highlighted by character that is reflective of biblical principles, not book smarts or membership tenure in a church.

We must be very careful that we are not simply wise in our own estimation or in the estimation of others who have revised what it means to be wise. Biblical wisdom is the practice of biblical knowledge in good discretion. The passage is not simply calling us to be people who are wise, but also people who are discerning as to what wisdom is. In our day and age alone, for lack of discernment we are shooting ourselves in the foot for identifying what godliness truly looks like and what churches should be pursuant of in character. It is a slippery slope indeed when we begin to exchange any biblical definition for a more suitable, man-made version that hollows out what God has defined.

I would like to additionally add at the end of this devotional a link to a great article by Ligonier Ministries on the issue of discernment here. I believe it could be a great help to you if you have a few minutes to read it as well. Thank you.

 

May this find you well–

In Christ,

 

 

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

Devotional: James 3:1-12– Considering the “Stricter Judgment” and its Relation to the Tongue

James 3:1-12

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.
2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.
3 Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn their whole body.
4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires.
5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!
6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.
7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind.
8 But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God.
10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.
11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening?
12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh. 

 

Today’s passage speaks primarily to the power of the tongue. Obviously, the tongue is more a representation of where sin can make its way out than a source of sin itself. Consider this passage in relationship to Jesus’ passage on the eye and the hand in Matthew 5:29-30:

“If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”

The short-term solution to any kind of sin is not the removal of those body parts used to commit the sin, but to address the heart that is sourcing the sin coming out of those parts. James never says to cut out the tongue, but it wouldn’t be far-fetched for him to call for that in a metaphorical sense. No, rather than call for cutting it off, he calls the reader to examine the difficulty in which the tongue is to tame, and how something so small can control so much of the direction of one’s life.

It may make us wonder why the beginning of James 3 starts with teachers and a stricter judgment and how that has anything to do with the tongue and the multitude of illustrations that follow. Two things I have caught in overviewing various commentaries is this: 1) teaching is an act of the usage of the tongue by instruction and 2) this reference is especially tied to the teacher of spiritual things within the church. In that vein, consider Matthew 15:8-14 which may help shed some light on the concept:

8 `These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” 10 When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” 12 Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 13 But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14 Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”

We have two issues in these verses to highlight: first, using the tongue to feign worship but not having a heart behind such vanity; secondly, the blind (teacher) leading the blind. There is absolutely a greater judgment to be had by those leading others astray in this passage than those who are being led astray. Partially, that is because one false teacher can lead a multitude of people down the wrong path, and not just immediately, but oftentimes even generationally as false teachings are passed down. Those who disseminate spiritual truth (or lies) have immense power to do either great good or great damage in this world. The stricter judgment is a judgment not absolute but potential, meaning that it is a judgment tied more to failure than a judgment of works righteousness. We must absolutely keep in mind that in Christ through the Gospel, we will be judged but not as some form of good works versus bad works and potential for a loss of salvation or a severe punishment. That punishment took place on the cross by the perfect Son of God, Jesus Christ; nevertheless, it is imperative that those who would consider teaching recognize the weight of such a position within a group. Parents, consider also how you raise your children and the incredible weight there is to the training (or failure in training) a child who will become an adult leading others (perhaps their own kids) someday themselves.

As a side note, the term for “judgment” is krima in the Greek. It refers to condemnation and contextually to a more severe condemnation at that. Once again, we must consider such words in relationship to Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation (katakrima, literally “judgment against”) to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” False teaching especially is a powerful place of condemnation and every generation on this earth has had teachers who will receive severe punishment for leading many astray. It is quite possible too that this passage has more than just the judgment of God in mind; that is, the judgments of people. In this case, the idea of blamelessness (see 1 Timothy 3:2, 10 and Titus 1:6-7) is key to a ministry that is not disqualified or distracting from the ministry of the word to others. Blamelessness is not sinlessness, it is simply not having charges unresolved that might stand against. People do judge teachers and pastors all the time and whether or not they are accurate in their assessments, there is certainly a greater strictness to the standards by which a pastor or teacher are held. I would say to that, though, that whether or not we are held to higher or lower standards by our peers, in the sight of God, we are judged individually in accordance with His holy standards and not on a curve in relation to one another’s deeds and misdeeds.

We should also consider in the context of this passage that James 2 ended with a repeated principle: faith without works is dead. As an extension of works by which faith is exemplified, the tongue and what it is used for is absolutely a channel by which either faith or doubt, acceptance or rejection, are manifested. It is a revealer of what is inside; that’s why Jesus said that it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles a man. It’s not what we feast upon, but what we spew forth, that defiles. This defilement is essentially taking a poisoned heart and spreading such poison into the lives of others, whether that be false beliefs, sinful motives, or sinful attitudes. If you keep company with a bitter person, don’t be surprised if you start to cop such an attitude soon yourself. If you spend time around people who speak with gentleness, love, and talk about God, don’t be surprised if you should be influenced by that–or if that’s not your heart, that you soon find an exit. James 3:1-12 uses many examples to highlight a tongue that is hard to tame because of a heart that needs redeemed or needs sanctified. Invariably, while we live in this world even as sinners saved by grace, we will have struggles with sin to the grave, but we don’t celebrate our performance; we celebrate Christ’s provision for people who would never be good enough to earn God’s eternal favor.

What comes out of us when the pressures of life come is only indicative of what is already inside of us. Like the squeezing of a sponge with water pouring forth, no one squeezes water from a dry sponge. That which is not present is impossible to draw out no matter how much pressure is applied. You can’t start a fire in a cave to chase out a bear that isn’t there in the first place, right? You don’t turn on an oven to 425 degrees for 20 minutes in hopes of having a cooked pizza come out if there was never one in there, do you? What the tongue says, and often what it also does not say, is indicative of the condition of a person’s heart. You won’t hear people who don’t love God being moved to praise Him; it just doesn’t happen. You won’t think of a person who constantly complains as content, will you? Words are an extension of the thoughts of a person, very much like the tip of an iceberg. Perhaps some folks let most of what’s in their head out but it’s quite common that most people will have far more thoughts in their head than their tongue puts out there.

If someone says they are a messenger of God but their message is contrary to the word of God, it is their words that either establish or destroy their claims. Verses 10-12 speak to that: a mouth that produces both blessing and cursing, a spring that sends forth both bitter and fresh water, and a fig tree that produces figs versus a grapevine that produces figs. If a dog magically came up to me and claimed to be a cat, but he still barked like a dog, walked like a dog, chased cars and so forth, I’d say he was a liar of a dog. Why? Because we act in accordance with our nature, not our claims. Let’s put that statement on repeat: we act in accordance with our nature, not our claims.

Lastly, what was this whole passage really getting at anyways??? Well, most of the verses are simply reestablishing the primary verse of James 3:1. Illustrations are being used, not to get to a point, but because a point has been made. Verse 1 is not intended to scare everyone away from teaching, nor is it meant to encourage us to not pursue doing so as it would seem wise to simply avoid stricter judgment by not even volunteering in the first place. It is, however, meant to give a very solemn warning in view of the power of such a position of influence, that its gravity is great and the extent of what is taught far-reaching. Don’t you think that’s the point of bits in horses’ mouths and rudders on great ships? If a forest can be set on fire by a flame, so too can a great multitude of people be led down paths of destruction by the words of a single man or woman. Praise God for those who are still proclaiming the Gospel faithfully and the people who are following that teaching by trying to live it out themselves through God’s grace. Thank God for His word, the Bible, and may we continue to seek to mine it’s truths, faithfully interpret what we find and adhere to the principles found therein.

Thank you for your time and consideration of James 3:1-12. May God use this study to help you in your growth and understanding of His word, and please, by all means, search the Scriptures to see if these things are so. May God bless you today.

In Christ,

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

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.