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Faith

free gift

Paul paints a pretty grim picture of fallen mankind in today’s Bible reading. We saw him paint the same picture a few weeks ago in the beginning few chapters of Romans.

He says we were dead. He says we were alienated from God. He says we lived according to our fleshly desires (that’s all we had!). He says we lived according to our enemy’s rules. We were by nature children of wrath. I can’t think of anything he could have missed. There is nothing positive that Paul says about us in our lost, fallen condition. Nothing. And then two of my favorite words….

But God.

While all of these bad things were true of us, God steps in and makes all things new. He makes all things good. He makes all things right so that we might be justified — to have a right standing before Him, not just on judgment day, but today. Jesus served as the final, ultimate, once-for-all atoning sacrifice that made all things right between a holy God and a fallen humanity.

In Romans 5:8, Paul puts it this way. “God shows His love for us us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.”

God made us alive. He raised us up and sat us next to Jesus in the heavenly places so that at some point in the future, he can display the immeasurable riches of His grace through kindness. (Ephesians 2:5-7)

And then in just two verses, Paul drives home the fact that all of this is a miraculous work of God. The only thing we brought to the bargaining table is the sin that made Jesus’ sacrifice necessary.

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)

  • Grace is unmerited favor. He gave it because He wanted to.
  • We have been saved. This is a passive mood in Greek. It happened to us. We didn’t do it to/for ourselves; it happened from outside of us.
  • We have been saved. This is the perfect tense in Greek. Salvation is a done deal. There is nothing left for us to do to complete it.
  • Salvation is through faith and it (the process of salvation) is not of our own doing.
  • Salvation is the gift of God. It’s something given, not earned.
  • Salvation is not of works. Again, we didn’t earn it by doing anything for it. Otherwise, by definition it wouldn’t be grace, it would be “wages“.

SEVEN TIMES IN TWO VERSES!

No one can boast of salvation. Why? Because we were passive in the process when it happened to us from outside of us, not of our own doing, but rather was a gift that we didn’t work for.

Paul highlights the fact that this was a miraculous work of God because He wanted to do it (He wasn’t obligated to do it)!

Application

As they say, “If that doesn’t light your fire, your wood is wet!” How else could anyone respond to such a great salvation that God has given to His kids, but respond in joy and praise!

Spend some time doing that today!

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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.

grafting one branch onto another

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.

Application

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!”

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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!

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After posting Saturday’s devotional, I realized that my picture of God’s Righteousness Ledger was wrong. I have corrected it on the original post but wanted to make sure that my subscribers saw the corrected version of the picture. And I have a few more things to say about it.

The original version of the picture:

The updated version of the picture:

My reason for updating the picture is that Abraham’s faith — and our faith — is not unlimited. But when we put our faith in God’s Promise, He credits Jesus’ unlimited righteousness to our account.

Application

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)

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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 is 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?

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