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Covenant

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Taxes. Laws. Government Officials. Law Enforcement Officials. What do these have in common? Like them or not, they’re all part of Citizenship in the United States of America.

Believers are citizens of two kingdoms. In today’s Bible reading, Paul asserts that a believer living with a Kingdom of God mindset will be a good citizen of the world in which he/she lives.

Paul says, “Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.” Romans 13:1 (CSB)

Yes, obeying the inconvenient traffic laws, honoring and praying for government officials from the “other” political party, even paying your income taxes. All of these will mark a child of God who lives with a Kingdom of God mindset. Why? Because it’s an expression of Christlikeness. (Romans 13:14)

I remember walking into an IRS audit (my only one). I had heard horror stories. I knew I had been honest in reporting my income and deductions. And yet, I was still nervous. There was a red flag, but not a violation. After reviewing my paperwork, the IRS agent told me that I was “in compliance”. When I asked what that meant, she replied, “It’s all good.” I asked her how often says that to people under audit. She replied, “Let’s just say that we earn our money.” Ouch!

Application

Being a good citizen in the Kingdom of God doesn’t mean that I’m not involved as a citizen of the USA. In fact, my Kingdom of God citizenship informs my US Citizenship. It affects how I vote. It affects how I pray. It affects how I interact with the police officer when he pulls me over. It affects how I respond to the Red Light Camera citation in my mailbox.

Look, I’m not perfect. I struggle with laws (eg, Red Light Cameras) I don’t like. And when called to account, I paid the fine. I didn’t want to. I feel they’re unconstitutional (you can’t face your “accuser” in court). But as a citizen of the Kingdom of God, I had to suck it up and write the check for the fine.

There are speed zones I don’t agree with. There are politicians I don’t agree with. But being a good citizen in the Kingdom of God will influence my citizenship in the United States of America.

And if you’re a believer, you’re a citizen of two kingdoms. As a child of God, you’re called to be a good citizen of both. Doing so is a reflection of Christlikeness.

This devotional was originally published May 31, 2019.

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A living sacrifice

Today’s Bible reading presents a difficult visual. Paul appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices. (Romans 12:1-2)

Look carefully at what Paul says. He appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices in the light of God’s mercies. He doesn’t give the appeal in a vacuum. It’s in the context of the last few verses of Chapter 11.

In just three verses (Romans 11:30-32), Paul uses the word mercy four times before launching into a hymn of praise. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to miss the connection between 11:30-32 and 12:1, given the chapter division in our Bibles. Given that our daily readings were broken between chapters eleven and twelve, the problem is compounded. But in Paul’s mind — and in God’s mind — the intended connection is there.

It’s in light of God’s mercies, Paul invites his readers to die. The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to die. Jesus said that if anyone wants to follow Him, he should deny himself and pick up his cross daily. (Luke 9:23) A cross was an instrument of death. Picking up one’s own cross is a willingness to die. And picking up one’s own cross is a daily choice. Paul’s choice of grammar in Romans 12:1 means that one doesn’t just make a one-time sacrifice. It’s a continual sacrifice.

It’s in light of these mercies that he appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices. Could Paul have been thinking of 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 when he made this statement? I think so.

Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body. (CSB)

Paul says that because God’s Spirit lives in us and we have been bought with the blood of Jesus, we can — and should — glorify God with our bodies. Actually, the context suggests that glorifying God doesn’t stop with our physical bodies; it extends to all that we are and all that we have, not unlike the Great Command to love God with all that we are. (Matthew 22:37)

Presenting all that we are is a daily choice. Every day we make the choice of staying on the altar … or crawling off.

The problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar!

Application

Every single day, each of us has a choice to make. Am I going to continue following Jesus? Am I going to die to my choices? Am I going to pray that His will be done, realizing that that includes that my will not be done?

Every. Single. Day.

Will you stay on the altar? Or will you crawl off?

I like the way that Eugene Peterson translated Romans 12:1-2:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Romans 12:1–2 (The Message)

This devotional was originally published on May 30, 2019.

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chosen by God

Before we begin with today’s devotional on our Bible reading, we need to start with a basic understanding. It’s crucial that all discussion of justification begins with this basic thought: God is God and I’m not (and neither are you).

So much discussion in churches and Bible studies — and just basic conversation — is very man-centered, and not God-centered. Look at a lot of evangelism training. A lot of it is merely sales training. “Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to pray this prayer so you can go to heaven?”

Seriously? Where is the thought of counting the cost of following Jesus? Where is repentance? Is God even in the equation?

It is of utmost importance that when we’re talking about any theological issue, we approach it from a God-centered, Bible-based position. It’s all about God! And it’s all about His initiating a relationship with His fallen creation. If you’ve been around church for a long time, you’ve probably sung, “O, how I love Jesus … Because He first loved me.” Note the order.

In some people’s minds, Romans 9 shouldn’t even be in the Bible because it sounds like God is too harsh and it seems to contradict a lot of what we think the Bible teaches. But God inspired Paul to write this chapter. And we must take it as seriously as God does.

God says some pretty blunt things through Paul’s pen:

Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Romans 9:6b (CSB)

As it is written: I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau. Romans 9:13 (CSB)

What should we say then? Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not! For he tells Moses, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then, it does not depend on human will or effort but on God who shows mercy. For the Scripture tells Pharaoh, I raised you up for this reason so that I may display my power in you and that my name may be proclaimed in the whole earth. So then, he has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy and he hardens whom he wants to harden. Romans 9:14–18 (CSB)

A few days ago, I mentioned the doctrine of depravity. That anyone would believe and be saved is a miraculous work of God. For anyone to be saved from eternal punishment demonstrates that God is completely gracious and merciful. That anyone would even be interested in the things of God is a miraculous, sovereign work of God. (John 6:44)

If we are truly depraved to the core of who we are — even to the point of having a depraved will (Romans 9:16) — then it requires a miraculous, sovereign work of God for anyone to be saved.

These are all hard words because we have heard so many times that “God is a God of love”, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”, and “God wouldn’t want anyone to go to hell.”

God spells it out clearly and in so many words that He will be merciful to whomever He chooses to be merciful. (Romans 9:14, 18; Exodus 33:19)

Look, I don’t understand why God would choose to be merciful to some people and to choose to not be merciful to some other people. But I have to let Him handle that one. Remember, I’m not God! And neither are you. There are some things that we just don’t — and won’t — understand. And God never says that He owes us an explanation! But I know that God always works according to His infinite wisdom and will always use everything to bring honor and glory to His name. (Romans 9:17) God is in heaven and does what pleases Him. (Psalm 115:3)

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and untraceable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? And who has ever given to God, that he should be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:33–36 (CSB)

I don’t know to whom He will choose to be merciful, so I have be ready to tell everybody about my hope in Christ. (1Peter 3:15) Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:19-20). He promised Holy-Spirit-equipping-power for believers to take the gospel around the world. (Acts 1:8)

Application

If you are a believer, you have been chosen by God to be one of His adopted children. That’s fantastic news!

God didn’t choose you because you did something that other people didn’t do or because you didn’t do something that other people did. God didn’t choose you because of any good that He saw in you. No, He chose you despite the lack of good in you. (Romans 7:18)

God didn’t choose you because you chose Him. In fact, Jesus said “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” John 15:16a (CSB)

Praise God for His goodness and mercy that He has shown in choosing you.
And pray that He will use you to tell other people about His goodness and mercy.

For further reading, see Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:20,27; 11:10; 14:4,7; Deuteronomy 2:30; Joshua 11:20; John 12:40; Romans 11:7,25

This devotional was originally published May 25, 2019.

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Adam and Eve are tempted

Paul continues developing his thoughts on justification by grace through faith in today’s Bible reading. He says, “So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is justification leading to life for everyone.” Romans 5:18 (CSB)

Each of us is responsible for our own sin, yet each of us inherited a fallen condition from our first parents (specifically the First Man, Adam) because of one act of disobedience: eating the fruit from the one tree that God had warned against eating.

But that wasn’t the end of the story! Another Man, also called “the Second Adam”, brought righteousness through His one act: sacrificial atoning death on the cross. And in His death and resurrection, He reconciled the broken relationship between God and His people, whom He relentlessly pursues through covenant throughout the rest of the Bible.

As much as sin, death, and judgment followed the one act of Adam’s disobedience, how much more did the one act of Jesus’ obedience bring life, righteousness, and forgiveness. In fact, Paul uses this phrase how much more four times in this one chapter. And counting his final parting shot, “where sin multiplied, grace multiplied even more.” Romans 5:20 (CSB), Paul drives home his point a fifth time!

Application

There is no sin you have ever committed — or ever will — that will ever be so massive, so horrendous, that God’s grace cannot overcome. If you’ve ever felt that you’ve blown it and that you’ve done something God can never forgive, rest assured, you aren’t that powerful! You aren’t that bad. You haven’t surprised God. God’s plan to redeem Adam’s descendants didn’t arrive as Plan B. God planned redemption from before He spoke, “Let there be light.”

Wherever there is sin, there is even more grace. God’s grace is free for the taking from an unconditionally loving, reconciling God.

I love how Eugene Peterson translated Romans 5:20-21 in The Message Translation:

Sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.

That’s good news! That’s the Gospel!

This devotional was originally published on May 21, 2019.

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Paul continues to develop his argument for salvation by grace through faith in today’s Bible reading from Romans 4. If you aren’t familiar with the Jewish Patriarch Abraham, let me briefly bring you up to speed.

Abram and Sarai were an aged couple who had never had children. God established a relationship with Abram and told him to leave his homeland and go to a land where God would show him. Abram packed up his wife, his servants, and his belongings and set out from modern-day Southeastern Iraq to the Northwest, then West, then South and settled in modern-day Israel.

God told Abram that he would be the father of many nations. Despite being very old and Sarai being postmenopausal, Abram took God at His word. Because she knew she would be unable to get pregnant, Sarai offered her servant Hagar to Abram. Nine months later baby Ishmael was born. Abram was 86 years old.

Thirteen years later, God repeats His promise to Abram (who is now 99 years old). He changes Abram’s name to Abraham and He changes Sarai’s name to Sarah. God tells Abraham to circumcise every male in his family as well as his male servants. Abraham obeys. A year later, as promised, Isaac is born. Abraham is 100 years old and Sarah is 90. There’s a lot more that goes on and you can read Abraham and Sarah’s story in Genesis Chapters 12-22.

Note: Islam traces its lineage back to Abraham through Ishmael. However, the Bible presents Isaac as God’s promised child because He was born to Abraham and Sarah.

The key to Abraham’s story is found in Genesis 15:6: Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. Paul refers to this passage in several of his letters.

In describing what God had done with Abram in Genesis 15:6, Moses (who wrote Genesis) used an accounting visual where Abram’s faith, apart from obedience to the Law (which God gave to Moses four hundred years later), was put in the “Assets” column of God’s Righteousness Ledger.

It’s important that Abraham didn’t just say, “Ok, I believe.” Paul says that Abraham was fully convinced that God was able to do what He promised: make Abraham and Sarah into a mighty nation of people. (Romans 4:20-21)

Application

It’s crucial that we come to God in faith, fully convinced that God has done what He promised in sending Jesus to be the ultimate fulfillment of His promise to bless the world through Abraham’s offspring.

Have you put your faith in God’s promise? Are you fully convinced that Jesus’ death is sufficient to pay for your sin-debt?

You don’t have to have a lot of faith; you just need to have faith. Faith is your response to God’s activity. Believer, when you were given new life in the Spirit, you were able to trust God to make good on His promises. And because you responded to God’s activity, God credited the unlimited righteousness of Jesus to your account on His Righteousness Ledger.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, ESV)

Note the six things that Paul is driving home in just two verses:

  • Grace is undeserved favor.
  • You have been saved through faith. (passive on your part — something that happened to you — and done in the past)
  • This salvation is not of anything you have done, or will do — or can do.
  • Salvation is God’s free gift.
  • It’s not of works. No one can do anything to gain salvation or contribute to salvation, otherwise, salvation wouldn’t be grace, but wages.
  • Because salvation is a free gift of God despite what you have done (or will do) you have nothing to be proud of, to boast of, to brag of. You were no more deserving of salvation than anyone else who ever lived.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
2 Corinthians 9:15 (CSB)

This devotional was originally published on May 18-19, 2019.

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