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Faith

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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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wheat field

My dad grew up on a farm in eastern North Carolina. Each year my grandfather and his sons would prepare the fields for harvest by planting whatever they felt they needed to grow that year. They had to be careful not to grow the same thing in the same field year after year; instead, they rotated their crops.

One year they would plant corn. Another year, they would plant cotton. But you know what? Each year at harvest time, they would reap what they had sown that year. Never in my Granddaddy’s career as a farmer was he surprised when harvest time came. Never. If he planted corn, he reaped corn. If he planted cotton, he reaped cotton. Never once did he go out to harvest corn and find a field of cotton instead. Never.

In today’s Bible reading, Paul reminds his readers about the spiritual principle of sowing and reaping. He says,

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Galatians 6:7-10

Application

Now, when I refer to the Biblical principle of sowing and reaping, I’m not talking about the very popular belief of transactional religion where God is obligated to do something for you if you do something for Him. You’ll never find that in the Bible!

So what do you want to harvest spiritually? Looking back in five years, ten years, twenty years, where do you want to be in your walk with God? I can promise you that if you watch Christian TV and listen to Christian Radio without wisely screening what your eyes see and what your ears hear, you won’t get there. Unless you don’t want to see any growth in your walk with God. And that in itself is very telling.

If you want a close walk with God, you’ll have to do a lot of sowing of what you want to reap. Do you want to have a deep understanding of the things of God? Then you’ll need to sow a lot of time in God’s Word and prayer. You’ll need to share your faith. A lot. You’ll need to get involved in your church. You’ll need to give financially to support the work of God through your local church. You’ll have to go all-in with Spiritual Disciplines. And you’ll have to give up some things.

Whatever you want to reap in the future, you’ll need to sow. Now. And as a friend of mine once said, “This isn’t rocket surgery.”

God is not mocked. You will reap what you sow.
So sow wisely. And sow generously.

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Faith Ledger

In today’s Bible reading, Paul directly addresses the claims of the Jewish legalists. They claim that they are the heirs of the covenant promise God made with Abraham. But Paul rightly points out that the covenant that God made with Abraham was based on faith rather than obedience to the Law. In fact, Paul reminds the legalists that the covenant predated the law by over four hundred years.

Paul refers to Genesis 15:6, “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (ESV) He also refers to Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (ESV)

The covenant extends to Abraham’s sons through Jesus Christ. All who are “in Christ” are heirs of the promise. Paul writes extensively about the blessings to those “in Christ” in his letter to the Ephesians.

Application

Abraham believed God and that belief was credited to him as righteousness. Looking at the diagram above, we can see that on God’s Faith Ledger, God kept a record of Abraham’s — and our — sin in the Liabilities column. Then He added faith to the Asset column on His Faith Ledger.

Given Jesus’ infinite righteousness, the balance at the bottom of the Ledger shows that Abraham — and we — are fully justified, due to the infinite righteousness that was added to the account. God justified Abraham on the basis of his faith, his belief. And like their spiritual father, those who put their faith in Jesus Christ are the heirs of the covenant promise. We receive the covenant blessing in order to share the covenant blessing with others, bringing them into the Household of Faith.

Have you put your faith in Jesus Christ? If you’re interested in learning more, please reach out to me.

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Keep the behavior cart behind the grace horse

In today’s Bible reading, Paul talks about rebuking Cephas (Peter) for his hypocrisy. It’s very appropriate for Paul to bring this out in light of the heresy of the Galatians. They had deserted the real Gospel for a false gospel (Galatians 1:6–7) that said if you want to be a good Christian, you have to be a good Jew, submitting to all of the aspects of the Law, particularly circumcision.

As I said yesterday, Paul spent seventeen years digging into his Bible (the Old Testament) reconciling the Jewish faith with the new revelation of Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection. So when Paul heard Peter — the apostle to the Jews (Galatians 2:7) — preaching this false gospel and siding with the legalistic Jewish Christians, he knew that the error must be exposed.

Paul drives home the point that everyone — Jews and Gentiles — is justified the same way: (1) by grace (2) through faith (3) in Jesus Christ alone (Galatians 2:15-21, Ephesians 2:8-9), three of the key doctrines recovered during the Reformation.

Application

The legalism heresy Paul exposes in today’s reading still lives. It didn’t die with the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). It just morphed a little, but it’s still the legalism heresy. It says that Jesus isn’t enough to give us a right standing before God. But Paul concludes chapter two saying emphatically that if we could contribute to our salvation, Jesus wasted his life and death; He died for no reason. (Galatians 2:21)

People today — people in the church — often say that if you want to be a good Christian, “You can’t drink, dance, or chew or go with girls that do”, you have to be in church every time the doors are open, and you have to give 10% of your income (the “whole tithe” Malachi talked about [Malachi 3] was closer to 30% and was a tax to support the Levites and their service in the Temple), among other things. A moralistic life looks really good, but it’s empty transactional religion instead of a relationship with Jesus that Paul spoke so much about.

Yes, Christians’ behavior will reflect a growing faith. yes, church attendance is very important. And yes, giving sacrificially from a grateful heart is very important. But doing these things will not make God think any more of you. Not doing these things will not make God think any less of you.

Those who would add to (or subtract from) the true Gospel demonstrate their ignorance of the true Gospel. Jesus is sufficient to give us a right standing before God. And Jesus is sufficient to keep us in a right standing before God. Let’s keep the horse (grace) before the cart (behavior) and avoid the Galatian heresy.

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God is faithful

Today’s Bible reading is the famous “Hall of Faith”, listing the great accomplishments of the Old Testament heavyweights of faith. The writer of the book cites numerous examples of people we should look up to who lived by faith.

He adds, “And without faith it is impossible to please him.” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV) The opposite is also true: With faith it is possible to please Him. All of these spiritual giants lived by faith and thereby pleased God. So what does it mean to “live by faith”?

Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:7, “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7 ESV) The writer of Hebrews says at the beginning of this chapter that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV) Given that faith is the noun form of the verb, “Believe”, we can rephrase 11:1 to say that “Believing is seeing” We tend to believe what we can see. But walking by faith — living by faith — is a life of trusting God, believing Him despite how things look.

Application

As I said yesterday, we are living in the midst of the Covid-19 Coronavirus scare. Spring Break has been extended by two weeks across the area. Students have returned early from study abroad programs. Many churches are following recommendations from Emergency Management officials and closing their doors today. Those that are able to are live streaming their worship services today. In fact, our church will try to live stream our Morning Worship Service on Facebook Live.

Grocery store shelves are running low. Customers have hoarded all of the toilet paper. Hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes are nowhere to be found. People are buying up bottled water. When I went to the store a few days ago, I felt like I was buying in preparation for a paralyzing storm.

Despite how things look, God is still on His throne. Despite how things look, this is not the end of time. We will survive this. And Believers have a unique opportunity to speak the truth in love. We also have the opportunity to express our belief in God and our absolute trust in Him. Unfortunately, many Believers are panicking at least as much as unbelievers.

Instead, we should exercise our faith. At this time, we should walk by faith and not by sight. We should express our unwavering trust in God. We should see through the eyes of faith that God will take us through this.

Our living by faith will make God happy.

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1 2 3 14

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