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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
In today’s Bible reading, we see that a majority of those voting said it would be best to sail, hoping to make it to Phoenix, a harbor on the island of Crete before Winter. (Acts 27:12)
It seems obvious that the Roman commander and the ship’s owner were more interested in efficiency than safety. And they paid little attention to a prophetic word from Paul.
If you’ve been around church very long, you’ve probably heard that the majority rules. At least in Baptist circles, a simple majority can dictate everything. That can be a good thing. But like in the case in today’s Bible reading, it can also be a very bad thing. Normally we assume that because there is a majority consensus, we know what we are supposed to do.
But is that how people in the Bible determined God’s will? As I type this, I can’t think of a single time the early church went with a plan simply because more people voted one way than another. When I think of the ways the early church made decisions, just about every time — if there was a vote at all — the vote wasn’t just a majority; it was unanimous. But it should be noted that even a unanimous decision can be counter to God’s plan.
The normal way the early church made decisions was through prayer and immediate obedience. When Paul planned to go one way, he might have a dream in the middle of the night, wake up in the morning and go in a different direction.
But today’s reading is a classic case in point that not everyone was seeking God’s plan. Some people had other motives than to glorify God. Some had selfish motives. And there’s the rub when it comes time to make decisions. Not everyone has pure motives and pure goals in mind.
So how is a church — or individual Believers — supposed to go about determining God’s will? First off, pray. Second, pray. Seek God’s plan. Seek God’s timing. Seek God’s way. Trust the leadership that God has put in place. And last, pray. And then pray some more.
Only with a yielded, unified heart can a church hope to successfully move with God’s agenda in God’s timing.
Yes, bad decisions will be made. But with a humble, yielded heart a church can seek God’s heart and make adjustments as he leads.