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 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 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: 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.

 

Sunday, September 6th– Grounded in the Truth of Jesus’ Lordship

Let’s start this morning with some worship if you cannot see the video, use this link. 

Philippians 2:9-11

Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,

 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,

and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Time is short, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s easy to forget this fact in the midst of events and circumstances that vie heavily for our attention. If we’re not careful, we can lose sight of where God is taking us, the control He has over everything we go through, or even God Himself. Unfortunately, when this happens, we often find ourselves prone to distractions in an attempt to numb our emotions or keep ourselves happy. As I write that, I’m reminded that sometimes God wants us to be in difficult places and to be weak and vulnerable, as some lessons can only come not only from difficult circumstances but also the emotional distress that accompanies them and where we go in such dark times, as well as to whom.

 

In calling believers to have the mind of Christ and to follow in His humble orientation to God the Father, we find in Philippians 2:9-11 a bit of a digression from the call that highlights the Lord Jesus Christ and His eternal designation on the basis of His sinless life and perfect sacrifice for sin upon the cross.

 

In reviewing the previous verses, we see in Jesus a humble attitude residing in the Maker of the universe, dwelling among men but not making it a point to remind them of how much He had condescended to be among them. The mind of Jesus was set on the Father’s will and the fulfillment of that will.

 

This is why, in conclusion to His life and death, the Father has determined to magnify the Son eternally. Even now, it is our duty to magnify Him who will forever be set at the center of it all, for He gave His life that we might have life eternally with God found through faith in Jesus Christ.

 

It’s September 2020, and it’s been quite the year. Some might say that we have lived nearly a decade in this one year, for that’s how it has felt. It’s very easy to get bogged down with the rest of the world in the constant changes we face, as well as the great uncertainties that abound in nearly every direction we look. 

 

How ought we to face such uncertainty, and what can anchor us when the world around us seems to be quickly loosening from its moorings? Look no further than the Scriptures and the Lord Jesus Christ found therein. 

Today, let’s look at Philippians 2:9-11, a brief set of verses that show us three powerful concepts to contemplate regarding Christ.   This passage is a great place to go when we find that we need grounded once again. My family was able to go on vacation the last two weeks, and it was great, but I’ll tell you, there’s no place like home.  That’s what grounding is, that place where things that are off-kilter get reestablished.  The three concepts we’re going to look at from this passage are: 1.  Authority; 2. Certainty; 3. Finality.  Join me for a bit of an explanation:

 

  • AUTHORITY  Verse 9 says, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name.” There are many voices speaking into our lives today, and all claim some level of authority on life and the issues therein. To speak authoritatively that which is false will certainly lead to failure and confusion, for speaking into matters when not based upon what is true will only flop in time. Who can speak authoritatively into all matters that take place but God alone? He created all things, holds all things together, has determined the end of all things, and is sovereign over all people, spirits, and circumstances.  God the Father, according to v. 9, has highly exalted the Son and given Him preeminence to all others. We can see this preeminence as well in Colossians 1:15-20:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that  in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.”

No one on the TV or in the headlines has the authority in any comparison whatsoever to that of Jesus Christ. What He says is true, reliable, and resolute.  His authority is the supreme authority of all authorities.  Rest in that, for what the Scriptures tell us need to speak into our lives today; we need to slow down, listen, and trust what He says is true no matter the day or age.

 

  • CERTAINTY  Philippians 2:10-11 says,  “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The NASB translates “should bow” and “should confess” a bit more emphatically in our modern vernacular as “will bow” and “will confess,” the point being that it’s not just the hope of the design that this will transpire, but that it is certain that at the appointed time, all beings will bow the knee and all tongues will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. 

 

Sometimes, given the diversity of beliefs out there and the backlash that Christianity faces, it feels like things will never be set straight. The fact of the matter, though, according to Scripture, is that every person out there is going to recognize the truth in time, whether they accept it or reject it in this lifetime, and they will absolutely know that Jesus is Lord and confess it as such. 

 

There are a lot of uncertainties in our lives. We don’t know what this week will look like if we’re really being honest, and we certainly don’t know what to expect of the rest of 2020 nor 2021. There are hopes as well as disappointments, but regardless, no one really knows, nor do we know our personal parts in those times to come. What do we know from Scripture? The certainty of the future is under the sovereign hand of God, and Jesus Christ will be magnified in time. Thinking and living in light of the truth of Philippians 2:9-11 can certainly bring peace and firmness to our hearts and minds today; make sure you don’t forget how this all “ends.” 

 

  • FINALITY Once again, vv. 10-11 say, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

 

Think with me just a bit here over the many times we have thought, “finally…” only to have that sense of completion undone. You’ve finally gotten the house cleaned, only to have it get dirty again the very same day. You’ve finally got your finances under control, only to have another surprise expense come knocking at the door of your bank account. You’ve finally lost those last five pounds…and then the holidays hit or the diet just doesn’t seem to work like it once did. There are many moments in life that we look forward to only to soon find ourselves back in the rut of waiting for the next great milestone, none of them truly fulfilling us like we had often hoped.

 

Consider this kind of cycle within 2020: what if some other coronavirus comes out in 2021 or this decade? We’d hate to think it, much as its affected policies and procedures in so many ways and our whole way of living socially, but it is always possible. Wars are always possible; what if a war breaks out in the 2020’s, making 2020 itself feel like it wasn’t that bad of a year? I don’t want to be a fear monger here, but the point is that we do not know, and while folks hope for finality in various ways throughout life, it can only be found ultimately in Jesus Christ. 

 

When Philippians 2:9-11 speaks about Jesus and His authority, it speaks of all other persons having that final moment of recognizing, bowing, and confessing His Lordship. It’s final, because this will not waver. It won’t be a moment of recognition that is taken back later on; Jesus Christ is Lord and all will know it. 

 

Not only is there a finality to the activity of all created beings, but there is also a finality to God’s glory: He will be glorified and that glory will endure. 

 

All time is headed in the direction of this passage coming to fruition. No matter what takes place between now and then, we must remember that Philippians 2:9-11 is a destination towards which we are all headed. Saved or unsaved, all people will recognize the authority of Jesus Christ. The great question to the reader is, “On which side of that day will I be on, and will it be a moment of joy or a moment of shame?” 

 

Remember that the Lord died upon the cross to offer us eternal life through faith in Him. Only Jesus is enough for acceptance with God the Father, and salvation means trusting in Him that the death He died and the record He has might both cover our sins and grant us that righteous record before the Father for full acceptance as beloved children in His presence. So we will close today’s time with these words taken from Acts 16:31: “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” That is a promise that we too can claim and I encourage you to do so if you have not already.

 

Authority, certainty, and finality: the more you and I trust in the claims of Scripture, the more it will affect our lives today by our hope for the future. Preach His sovereignty to your heart!

Let’s close with this worship song today. Click this link if you do not see the video below. 

 

Prayer:

Lord, help us to look to You for our hope in this life. Lead us back to the Gospel today, and help us to be reminded that it’s your grace and mercy that make us acceptable in Your sight. Help us to be good stewards of the time and resources You have given us, and help us to live in light of the truth of the coming day when all will bow the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord.  I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Blessings upon you today, my friends!

 

 

 

 

Signs of Repentance–Jonah 2:10-3:3

Jonah 2:10-3:3

 “So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying,

‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.’

So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD.”

 

Reluctancy would be a good word to use for many portions of the book of Jonah, but that is not the case as we begin Chapter Three.  Jonah had gone through a time in the sea in the belly of the great fish, and in that time cried out to God in a repentant spirit and great humility. Truly, though, the testing of his repentance would come after God showed him mercy.

 

By the way, notice that the mercy of God is one of the great themes of the book of Jonah.  God showed mercy to the sailors on the boat headed to Tarshish; God showed mercy to Jonah in saving him from perishing in the belly of the fish; God led Jonah to show mercy to the Ninevites by calling them to repentance and by relenting from the promised judgment against them when they would later cry out to Him upon hearing Jonah’s call for repentance.  This book may at times be read with a focus on Jonah, but the hero of the story is God and His kindness to pagans and pouting prophets.

 

We see in Jonah 2:10 the sovereignty of God once more over His creation.  God spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” Whenever God commands His creation to obey, it obeys; only those with minds and wills does he implore to obey, whereas nature and animals are made subject to His will in a reactive sense (He commands, they respond).

 

God’s word came to Jonah the second time and in doing so, He returned to his first command to go to Nineveh.  This time, though, Jonah obeyed in immediacy much like the fish in vomiting him forth.  Jonah did not protest the command of God, nor did he try to tailor God’s word to suit his pleasure.  Repentance has come when we no longer try to barter with God over His terms, but rather are seized in the heart before Him, torn over our sins, and in agreement with His judgments and His righteous offer. The salvation God offers is never something that humanity can concoct on its own terms; our justification before God can only come in line within the parameters God has laid out, and given that His word makes it clear, we do have the responsibility of searching the Scriptures, studying them well, and placing ourselves under the authority it speaks over our lives.  

Repentance before Salvation? – Media 4 Life Ministries

Genuine repentance is shown, in part, by submissiveness to the Lordship of God, and in our time it would be better put, the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Jonah displayed submission to God by hearing the command and promptly acting upon it as he was commanded without trying to negotiate the terms. Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord.  Much like the progressive sanctification of a believer today, though, there would still be failures on the part of Jonah as the story progresses.

 

I am reminded in mentioning progressive sanctification that the trajectory of the believer ought never be assumed to be a straight ascent upwards.  Much like a stock market graph, we know growth takes place over the long run when the “highs” get higher, and the “lows” get higher. The direction of the heart, though it has its many failures along the way, is set in the general trajectory of the glory of God.  

 

It’s hard to see any point in the story of Jonah that isn’t teaching us something about God, even when Jonah has his worst moments. God is good and His mercy is relative to His determinate will towards whomever He chooses to bestow it upon, never as a result of their performance, but of His own free will and goodness. I, for one, am thankful for the grace, mercy, and love of God, all completely dependent upon a faithful God who keeps His word and blesses in accordance with His good pleasure.  I hope you, too, can bask in the glory of God as shown in the beauty of the Gospel of grace and have claimed that grace through faith in Jesus Christ. There’s no gift greater than the gift of eternal life and no hope higher for the believer than the steady, patient hand of God guiding us along the way to meet Him one day in Heaven as glorified children of God.

 

Blessings to you-

 

Deep Worship–Jonah 1:17-2:9

Jonah 1:17-2:9

17 Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish’s belly.

 2 And he said: “I cried out to the LORD because of my affliction, And He answered me. “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice.

 3 For You cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, And the floods surrounded me; All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.

 4 Then I said,`I have been cast out of Your sight; Yet I will look again toward Your holy temple.’

 5 The waters surrounded me, even to my soul; The deep closed around me; Weeds were wrapped around my head.

 6 I went down to the moorings of the mountains; The earth with its bars closed behind me forever; Yet You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD, my God.

 7 “When my soul fainted within me, I remembered the LORD; And my prayer went up to You, Into Your holy temple.

 8 “Those who regard worthless idols Forsake their own Mercy.

 9 But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.”

 

God knows how we will respond both to favorable as well as adverse conditions.  Nothing takes Him by surprise; in fact, He allows things to happen far more often with the intent of showing us what’s inside of us.  In his book “A Grief Observed,” C.S. Lewis wrote these words as he reflected on his grief in the loss of his wife:

“God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.” Lewis, C. S. (2001). A Grief Observed. United Kingdom: HarperCollins, p. 52.

 

Today’s passage shows a quite different person as it comes to Jonah from the man we saw in chapter one. It’s a man held in the grasp of death, whose greatest concern in the book of Jonah tends to highlight his own preservation but here is also humbled before God. Compare how he responds to nearly dying with seeing people respond in repentance throughout the book and you may soon begin seeing that Jonah’s reluctance had much to do with the focus of his life: his life! This of all things on Jonah’s behalf was more than likely something God was working out of him in directly calling him to the task of preaching to the Ninevites (and the rest of this ordeal for that matter).

Deep Blue Sea Wallpaper posted by Sarah Simpson

 

Let’s look at this passage positively, though, for the heart expressed in words shows a side of Jonah that has a relationship with God and reverence for Him. What we do when we come to very difficult circumstances says much about who we are, which is why Jonah’s prayer tells us more about him than simply his reluctance as well as his sulking at the end of the book. 

 

What this book shows us is that not all of Jonah was out of sorts, but there were certainly parts of him that God was performing surgery on out of love for Jonah. It is inevitable for every believer that no matter the calling and positioning of our paths, we will have elements of our character that are being beautified as well as those painful places where character is being buffed out or idols of the heart are being removed. The path of transformation will always be a path of pleasure mixed with pain.

 

All of this being said, let’s take a moment to highlight a handful of points to be made about today’s passage:

1.There was no question that the events unfolding were from the Lord. Jonah knew God controlled the circumstances and even that (v.2) the Lord used affliction to move him to cry out. Jonah was unmoved and attempting to isolate himself from God in chapter one; in chapter two, he could clearly see God pulling him back into Himself. “All your waves and billows passed over me.” Think about that–Jonah recognized the calamity at hand not in isolation from God but in submission to Him. All things that come to pass, in the hands of God, are either determined or permitted but nothing happens outside of God’s sovereignty. 

 

2. One of the marks of having a true relationship with God is a spiritual sensitivity. In saying that, what I refer to is the awareness that God is at work. It is quite possible to be a religious person but to completely lack spiritual sensitivity; in this “setting,” all Christian events happen as a matter of education and duty (not that that’s bad, but there’s more to it than just head knowledge and service). Spiritual sensitivity happens, for example, when we are confronted with sin and convicted or confronted with truth and gripped by it, and other happenings of the like. Really, though, it’s the awareness that God has caused the conviction, the gripping of truth and the circumstances that move us back into Him. Jesus says in John 10:27, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Consider spiritual sensitivity from the words of Jonah: he was highly sensitive to God in the belly of the fish.

 

3. The mercy of God is on great display in our text today. Mercy moved the storm; mercy sent the fish; mercy made it impossible for Jonah to not be thrown overboard. Mercy allowed Jonah to be swallowed whole and kept alive miraculously in order that repentance might take place in the most unlikely of places. Mercy moved Jonah to remember the Lord as his “soul fainted” (v. 7). Mercy also moved God to allow Jonah to be used even after he tried to abandon God and His plans.

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4. Repentance is the heart of this portion of Jonah. Jonah did not just give lip service to God in hopes that God would bail him out. There was an awareness of his failure, an awareness of God’s righteousness and sovereignty, and a forsaking of his ways as he called upon the Lord. In a play on words, Jonah’s prayer in the belly of the fish was deep; in his most vulnerable of moments, Jonah prayed in a manner that reflected sound theology. God is found even in the moving of Jonah’s thoughts in this passage, for the things Jonah knew about God came to the surface of his mind in the depths of the sea. He was not alone and he knew it.  Once again, let me tie mercy, #3, to repentance, #4. Repentance and mercy are deeply intertwined.

 

Paul writes in Romans 2:4, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” The goodness of God leads us to repentance; a true believer will look at their repentance and not pat themselves on the back, but look to God as the cause of their repentance before Him. In looking over Jonah 2, it would be very safe to say that Jonah, too, saw that he needed correction and that the correction that came was from the loving hand of God, to whom He submitted. 

Remember that when God has us where He wants us, and He’s working upon us, the proper response is always worship!

I hope you have enjoyed this brief portion of Scripture; go over it again and just read through it, seeing if there’s anything else you might take note of. Jonah 2 is very applicable to gaining insight into repentance and whether we’ve truly done so, as well as God’s hand in the circumstances we face. Take a moment to thank Him for His goodness on a personal level, as well as the sensitivity to Himself that He gives in His grace. 

 

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

 

Blessings to you–

 

 

 

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