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Pure and undefiled religion

I’m glad the Navigators (the organization that designed our Daily Bible Reading Plan) placed the readings from James to follow Galatians. Some — even Reformer Martin Luther — don’t like James. But this is a good way to show the balance between faith and good deeds.

In today’s Bible reading, James concludes the first chapter talking about pure, wholesome religion. Many consider themselves to be “religious”. Others consider themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious”. Others simply say they aren’t religious, they just love the Lord.

In James’ day, some would claim to be very religious. They were devout. They were very dedicated in their faith. Some described pure and undefiled religion as social justice: taking care of the disenfranchised, the destitute, the marginalized. Others claimed to be religious and defined pure and undefiled religion as separation from the world. We see the same extremes in our day.

So which is it? Should religion aim for social justice? Or should religion aim for separation from all things “worldly”?

Application

James says that pure and undefiled religion is both social justice and godliness. The two are not mutually exclusive. Rather they are mutually inclusive.

Look around and you’ll see some churches emphasizing liberal causes. Others emphasize conservative causes, separation, and holiness.

Why can’t we just take the Bible as it reads? Why do we tend to read only the parts that agree with our personal and political agenda? The political and religious divide in our nation is very wide. If we want to see healing, we will have to read the whole Bible, in its context and try to apply it to our context. We have to let the Bible speak for itself without imposing our agenda on it and reading it accordingly. But why can’t we do that? It’s because we are all fallen creatures who have inherited a propensity, a proclivity, a bent toward ourselves and away from God. Our default setting is disobedience and rebellion from God. Until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will continue dealing with the struggle between doing what we want and doing what God wants. We are involved in spiritual warfare.

Both extremes are wrong when taken alone. Instead, we should aim at glorifying God by reaching out in social justice AND live a holy, God-pleasing life.

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contented

In today’s Bible reading we complete our reading through Hebrews. The writer of the book of Hebrews encourages his readers to avoid the love of money and be content with what you have. Then he reminds them that Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” He adds, “So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'” (Hebrews 13:5-6 ESV)

Application

How much time do we spend worrying about tomorrow? What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? Throughout Scripture, we hear that God promises to take care of His children. (Psalm 37:25) God withholds nothing from those who live righteously. (Psalm 84:11) Jesus plainly told his Disciples, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow has enough worries for itself.” (Matthew 6:34)

I said yesterday that the primary lie of the Prosperity Gospel is that Jesus isn’t enough. The true Gospel says that Jesus is more than enough. If Jesus promises “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (the eight words) we can truly say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”. (Hebrews 13:6; Psalm 118:6)

If God promises to provide for His children and then He promises to never leave us, what could we possibly need?! And what could we ever worry about?

Aside from a brain chemical imbalance, I suggest that if you’re consumed with worry and anxiety, you might need to go back and revisit the verses in this devotional from time to time. Memorize these precious promises from God in His Word.

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Today’s Bible reading says that if you were saved and backslide, you cannot be restored to faith. (Hebrews 6:4-6) In other words, if you were saved and lose your salvation, you can never get it back!

People don’t like to hear things like this. God is a God of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. There’s nothing that you can do that God won’t forgive you for. Right?!

These are great questions. The problem is that oftentimes, we approach this issue of salvation from a man-centered orientation rather than from a God-centered orientation. The ultimate question comes down to the question of how lost were we before we were saved? How deeply was mankind — and each of us individually — affected by the Fall? The Bible’s answer is that we were all — and individually — affected to the very depths of who we are. (Psalm 14:1-3, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:23)

We wrongly think that our standing is based on our behavior. But it isn’t. Misdeeds can’t make us less righteous and good deeds can’t make us more righteous. If we could just behave ourselves into making God happy with us, then Jesus wasted His life and death. Wasted!

Application

Our standing before God has everything to do with what we’re doing with Jesus’ death. Being justified before God — having a right standing before God — is based on position, not behavior. Sure, behavior is important, but not on the front end of salvation.

Salvation is based on the finished atoning work of Jesus on the cross. Either we are trusting in His payment for our sin-debt, or we’re trusting in our own. Either we’re in an adopted covenant relationship with God or we aren’t. And if we’re not, we’re ultimately in a transactional religion, which God never agreed to be a part of.

Adoption is based on the choice of the adopting parent, not the behavior — or potential behavior — of the adoptee. Every one of my friends who adopted children initiated the adoption with their kids. Not one of their kids initiated the adoption by asking to be adopted, even if they could have.

Jesus’ atoning work on the cross was either sufficient to secure you in an adoptive covenant relationship or it wasn’t. And if you can sin your way out of having a covenant relationship with God, then Jesus’ atoning work on the cross was incomplete, and thus insufficient to hold you in the relationship.

That’s why the writer to the Hebrews says that if it is possible for someone to taste salvation and share in the Holy Spirit, and later to fall away, then it is impossible to restore that person to a covenant relationship with God.

Your behavior cannot get you into an adoptive covenant relationship with God. And your behavior can’t get you out of an adoptive covenant relationship with Him either.

And that’s great news!

So are you in an adoptive covenant relationship with the Creator of the universe? If not, please reach out to me. Let’s talk!

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drifting on an inner tube

The salvation message was secured by Jesus. The salvation message was declared by angels and proven to be reliable. God Himself bore witness to the salvation message and validated it with signs and wonders. The question from today’s Bible reading is, “Are you drifting from your salvation? Are you neglecting this great salvation message?”

How would one go about neglecting a great salvation like the one provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection? The Greek word that’s translated neglect means, “to pay no attention to”. (Hebrews 2:2) The writer of the book mentions “drifting away from” the message. (Hebrews 2:1) The word drift has to do with gradually giving up one’s belief. Both of these ideas are related to each other. I don’t know of anyone who woke up one day and decided to shipwreck their faith, to walk away from a deeply-committed faith. It just doesn’t happen.

A long time ago, my dad and sister and I were floating with an inner tube at the beach. We enjoyed playing around a little until we realized that we had drifted much further out than we had planned. In fact, the lifeguards had grown concerned and began blowing their whistles. As we tried to swim back toward shore, we realized that we had been caught in a rip current. Thankfully, it wasn’t a strong one! But getting back to shore required a lot of hard swimming against the current. We didn’t plan to get out so far. But we weren’t paying attention to our surroundings. We had drifted away.

Application

Because of our fallen condition, our natural inclination — our natural bent — is to not be interested in the things of God. It takes work to maintain your faith. It takes a conscious effort to maintain your faith.

It’s like trying to create a garden in the middle of a wild field. Just digging some holes in the ground, dropping in a few seeds, pouring on a little water one time won’t cut it! You have to dig up the weeds by the roots. You have to add the right amount of the right kind of fertilizer. You have to add the right amount of water. And you have to do it in the right temperature for the kind of seeds you’re planting.

Maintaining your salvation takes work. It requires spiritual disciplines like reading your Bible, praying, sharing your faith, worshipping and fellowshipping with other Believers, giving of your time, talent, and treasures to your local church fellowship. If you are not actively pursuing these spiritual disciplines, you will drift away.

Does that mean that you can lose your salvation? The Bible consistently teaches the security of your salvation is guaranteed by God Himself. If you have a legitimate salvation, you cannot lose it. In fact, the likelihood of losing a legitimate salvation is as likely as God the Father walking away from the Holy Spirit, since the Spirit is the downpayment (earnest money) toward your ultimate salvation and glorification. (Ephesians 1:14)

But all of this presupposes a legitimate salvation in the first place. Just because you walked an aisle, prayed a prayer, or were baptized doesn’t mean that you have a legitimate salvation. One of the marks of having a legitimate salvation is a desire to maintain it.

If you made a decision for Christ and nothing has changed in your life, you need to go back and see if you were truly saved. What changes should happen? Do you have a desire for the things of God? Do you have a desire to grow closer to God? Do you feel uncomfortable sometimes when you read things in the Bible? Things that go against the way you live and the choices you make?

Note that these are heart questions, not behavior questions. Yes, your behavior will change. But behavior change alone won’t save you. And there’s the rub. Only God can make changes in your heart.

Ask God to do a transforming work in your heart. Ask Him to change your desires and attitudes. As you do this, practice the spiritual disciplines. And watch your heart and behavior change.

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We finish reading through Acts with today’s Bible reading. We find Paul and his companions shipwrecked on the island of Malta. To keep the prisoners from swimming to shore and escaping, the soldiers considered killing the prisoners, but the Centurion wanted to save Paul.  Everyone survived; even those who couldn’t swim made it to shore by holding onto parts of the ship.

The people of Malta welcome the survivors and built a fire so they could warm themselves. Paul collected a stack of sticks to add to the fire. A venomous snake latched onto Paul’s hand. The Maltese believed that Paul was guilty of some kind of heinous crime and the snake bite was his punishment. But Paul shook off the snake and didn’t swell up; he didn’t suffer any ill effects from the bite so the people believed he survived because he was a god.

The chief man on the island was Publius. His father was suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul visited Publius’ father and miraculously, instantaneously healed him. Dr. Luke then tells us that others on the island brought their sick relatives and they were cured.

Dr. Luke’s description of what happened is very important for us. He distinguishes between the instantaneous, miraculous healing performed by the Apostle and the curing that he did as a physician. The Greek word Dr. Luke employed is the basis of our English word, therapy.

Application

The strong application from this story is that when we are sick, we should seek God’s healing. We should also seek medical help if God sovereignly chooses to not heal in a miraculous way. Many Believers choose to only pray, believing that God is obligated to heal His children. Many Believers choose only seeking medical help because they don’t believe that God heals in miracles anymore.

Both of these extreme positions are wrong. Nowhere do the Scriptures tell us that God will cease using miracles. So we can assume that we should pray for God to miraculously intervein. At the same time, God has given us foods and medicines as well as medical professionals who can use these to bring about therapy for restored health.

There should be no shame for seeking a miracle. And there should there be no shame for seeking medical help. If a doctor prescribes medicine or medical devices, take them and thank God for His provisions.

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1 2 3 32

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