There are so many things about God and His Kingdom that I don’t understand. And it seems the longer I walk with Him, the more I know… and the less I know.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul talks about a partial hardening of the hearts of Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25) I think what this means is that God has hardened their hearts — as He did to Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus 4:21 — for a time, and all for His glory. And as soon as the set number (who knows what it is?) of Gentiles are saved, God will remove the veil that covers their eyes to see God’s Kingdom at hand. Until then, God will continue to graft Gentiles into the True Vine.
I’ll repeat what I said a few days ago: we need to approach things from a Biblical, God-centered viewpoint when we ask questions about God’s unconditional election of some people. (I say “unconditional election” because there is no condition that anyone can meet that would earn God’s approval.) If no one deserves salvation in the first place, and if only a miraculous work of God can save someone, then we can only plead for God to save our family members and friends who don’t (yet) know Jesus.
Yes, plead for their salvation. Plead for their sensitivity to God’s voice. Plead for a soft, moldable heart. Plead for God to overwhelm them with a sense of His presence so that they call out to Him. Plead for opportunities for you and others to talk with them. And tell them lovingly about how good God is. For what it’s worth, lovingly telling them what God is doing in your life and how their lives can be changed will probably work out better than continually beating them over the head with a 25lb Bible every time you talk with them.
To be able to answer the question of why God would save one and not save another is above my pay grade. I have to leave that up to God because I know that He is good and His ways are always right. I have to leave it up to God, but I have to be willing to be part of bringing them to Christ. Oftentimes, we are — at least partly — the answer to our own prayers.
You may be heartbroken about a child or grandchild who no longer goes to church. Or maybe it’s a sister or a brother. Maybe it’s a friend. People can become disenfranchised with church for any number of reasons. If you’re part of the reason by being a stumbling block to them, or if you have hurt them in some other way, seek reconciliation today. Live at peace with everyone as far as you have control over the situation. (Romans 12:18)
But also realize that it isn’t about going to church. It’s about a relationship with Jesus Christ. If someone dropped out of church, it may have nothing to do with church and everything to do with not having a relationship with Jesus; in other words, they aren’t saved! Perhaps your prayers should be, “God, please bring them back!” Or perhaps your prayers should be, “God please save them!”
This devotional was originally published May 29, 2019.
In today’s Bible reading from Romans 10, Paul points out that the Jewish people were attempting to establish their own righteousness. He says, they may be very zealous, but they haven’t submitted to God’s righteousness. What does that mean?
I have heard people say that it doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you’re sincere. That statement is borne out of the belief that all religions are basically the same, that all religious expressions are equally valid. It sounds as good as a “Coexist” bumper sticker; you’ve probably seen them with each letter of the word a symbol from a different religion, the “C” is a Muslim Crescent and the “t” is a cross.
The problem with this belief is that Jesus made some very exclusive claims that are at odds with every religious expression out there. If Jesus is correct in His exclusive statements, then all religions are not equally valid. And if all religious expressions are not equally valid, then our response to Jesus’ statements on salvation affect our eternal destiny which begins on this side of eternity.
So what were some of Jesus’ exclusive statements? I’ll just call your attention to just one: John 14:6 “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (CSB)
That statement cannot coexist with statements made by any and all other religious leaders. Jesus was not just another “good moral teacher” among many; CS Lewis was correct when he said that Jesus didn’t give us an option to consider him just a good moral teacher.
Getting back to Paul’s statement… Paul says it doesn’t matter how sincere you may be, if you aren’t submitting your idea of righteousness — regardless of how sincere you may be — to God’s righteousness, you’re sincerely wrong. And that wrong belief will cost you blessings with God now and blessings in your destiny in the eternal future.
So how do you submit to God’s righteousness? First of all, you have to reject your own attempts to establish your own righteousness. Next, Paul answers the question in Romans 10:9-10:
If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation. (CSB)
The message of the Gospel is simple, but it isn’t easy. It is as simple as believing that Jesus was raised from the dead (something that no other religious leader predicted, much less fulfilled) and verbally expressing that belief. And if you truly believe that Jesus rose from the dead and really believe Jesus is Lord, then your other beliefs, attitudes, and behavior will be affected over time.
Note: Lordship is necessary for salvation. It means that Jesus is your ruler, your master, your boss, while at the same time, He is the lover of your soul. Yes, being a disciple of Jesus is about obedience (Matthew 28:19-20). But being a disciple is borne out of a relationship. This is the knowledge that Paul is talking about in Romans 10:2-3.
“This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God,
and the one you have sent—Jesus Christ.” John 17:3 (CSB)
Don’t miss out on the message of the Gospel;
come to know God through Jesus today!
This devotional was originally published May 28, 2019.
In today’s Bible reading, we read the parable of the Kingdom of God through the vineyard manager. In it, some day laborers are hired in the morning. They agree to work for a day’s wage. Several other times during the day, new workers are hired and agree to work for a day’s wage.
At the end of a hard day’s work, the owner told the foreman to arrange the workers according to when they were hired. Beginning with those who worked the most hours, the vineyard owner paid each worker the daily wage. All were paid the same. Those who worked all day grumbled when they saw that the short-day workers were paid the same as they were.
The owner rightly pointed out that no one was being cheated. Every single worker was being paid what he had agreed to. The key verse here is Matthew 20:15, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (ESV)
We are so man-centered in our thinking. And that man-centered orientation twists our understanding of EVERYTHING.
I have heard many people accuse God of not being fair. It isn’t fair that God allows some people to live with lots of blessings and excess while other people aren’t even paid a living wage. I haven’t heard as many people decry the ultimate unfairness that some people spending eternal rest in heaven while others spend eternal punishment in hell. That isn’t fair!
No, that isn’t fair…. from our man-centered orientation.
But if God is the owner of the vineyard, if God is the owner of everything, He can do anything He wishes. And being the only perfect being in the universe (or even outside of it!), He gets to call the shots. He gets to determine what is fair and what isn’t. Fallen human beings don’t get to judge the perfect God. Fallen human beings don’t get to make up the rules of how things work and what’s fair and what isn’t.
So, given the fact that God owns it all, given the fact that God is perfect and completely righteous, and given the fact that we are none of those things, the very idea that God would save anyone is simply shocking. That God would stoop to save a single person demonstrates His all-surpassing love, grace, and mercy.
It isn’t fair that God would send His perfect Son to die that even one fallen person would be saved. Not because the person was worth it, but because the offense was so heinous against such a Holy God.
No, it isn’t fair that any be sent to hell. But the more pressing point is that it isn’t fair that God would save anyone. Fair means that every fallen creature that has ever lived spends eternity separated from the Holy Creator.
Trust me: You don’t want God to be FAIR!
You want God to be GRACIOUS!
You want God to be MERCIFUL!
And because God is gracious,
because God is merciful,
He is worthy of all of our praise.
Jesus tells a series of parables in today’s Bible reading. Each is different, yet all have a common theme: judgment.
Judgment isn’t something we like to talk about. It isn’t very kind, is it? It isn’t very nice. It’s kind of … well, judgey and we aren’t supposed to judge, right? (Matthew 7:1)
But these parables aren’t about our judging, but rather God’s judgment. And God being our Creator, He gets to call the shots. He’s the judge. And He always judges with righteousness without playing favorites. From today’s Bible reading, Jesus continually drives home the point that a time is coming when God will judge everyone. Every. One. Including Believers. We will all face the judgment of a Holy and Righteous Judge.
So when that Day comes, what will you do? What will you say? If you aren’t a Believer, it won’t matter what you say. You have chosen to reject God’s offer of salvation based on Jesus’ sacrifice on a cross. And God’s offer will expire. You will not get a second chance.
But, if you are a Believer, what will you do? What will you say? You have chosen to accept God’s offer of salvation based on Jesus’ sacrifice on a cross.
In either case — Believer or not — you won’t get extra time to get better. You won’t have an opportunity to work off some sins in order to gain a higher place or earn a few more jewels for your crown. (Hebrews 9:27)
No one knows when the harvesters will come for them. But when the angels come to separate the wheat from the weeds, their separating judgment is final. And when you stand before God’s judgment seat, the only question will be, “What did you do with Jesus?” Nothing else will matter. It won’t matter how good or bad you behaved. It won’t matter how much money you gave to support God’s work. It won’t matter how many people you bring into heaven with you. It won’t matter how kind you were.
All that will matter is what you did with Jesus.
You either have faith in Him or you don’t.
So what have you done with Jesus? Have you sought to follow Him? Have you made Him the Lord of your life, working diligently to kill indwelling sin in your life? (Luke 9:23) Have you treasured Him above all else in your life?
If you can’t answer yes to these questions, please reach out to me. I’d love to tell you more about a life-transforming life of following Jesus every single day.
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”?
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.