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Grace

1 2 3 19
Don't judge others just because they sin differently than you.

In today’s Bible reading, James warns his readers against judging other people. He says, “If you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” (James 2:9-10 ESV)

Let’s be clear. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 ESV) That means every one of us. Every. One. Of. Us. James agrees and points out that “For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.”

Application

You may tend to look down on other people because they participate — and may even celebrate — a particular sin. But don’t judge them just because they sin differently than you. You sin too. Your sin may not be a “grievous” as someone else, but your sin — as “mild” as it may seem — put Jesus on the cross. Jesus died to cover your sin just like He died to cover that other person’s sin.

Grace is never deserved. Wages are deserved for service rendered. Grace isn’t just unmerited favor. But grace is favor granted to someone who deserves condemnation.

When seen in that perspective, it’s easier to extend grace as grace has been extended to you. You are no more deserving of grace than anyone else. In fact, to view grace in that way only proves how much you don’t understand grace.

If you have freely received grace (which you have), then freely extend grace to others.

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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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No advantage

In today’s Bible reading, Paul warns the Galatians that if they accept the requirement of circumcision, they are obligated to keep the entire Law. James says something similar, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” James 2:10 (ESV)

But note what else Paul says.

I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. Galatians 5:3–4 (ESV)

You may have heard of this term “fall from grace”. Normally the term is used to say that someone has lost their salvation. But in this context — and this is the only place in the Bible that mentions it — it doesn’t mean that. It means that if you choose to fall back to the Law for justifying you before God, you have fallen from grace to legalism.

The Message translation may help us to see this more clearly.

The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law. I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. (Galatians 5:3-4 The Message)

Application

Believer, if you’re concerned that you have committed some sin (or a lot of sins) and therefore have fallen from grace and lost your salvation, go back and re-read that!

“Falling from grace” doesn’t mean losing your salvation! It means that you have chosen to use a lower form of justification before God. Don’t do that!

Instead, choose the higher form of justification: grace.

Paul’s whole point of Galatians is that the Law is insufficient to justify us because we could never keep it. The whole point of the Law is to show us that we don’t measure up to God’s standards. And if we could measure up to God’s standards on our own, then Jesus wasted His life and death.

The bottom line is you’re either resting on the finished work of Jesus on the cross, or you’re working to justify yourself. Find your rest in Him. Accept the atoning sacrifice that Jesus already paid for your sin.

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Religion vs. Sonship

In Galatians 4:6–7, Paul brings out the fact that believers are not servants; they are sons. There is a tremendous difference between the responsibilities of a servant and the privileges of a son.

Several years ago, some friends of ours adopted a baby girl from an unwed teen. It was a win-win-win and to this day, the girl’s (or young woman now!) biological mother is still involved in her daughter’s life. But as our friends went through the legal process of adopting their daughter, I learned that US adoption laws are based on Biblical adoption laws. I also learned a mind-blowing fact about adoption: Adoptive parents are legally more responsible for their adoptive children than they are for their biological children. Being an adopted son or daughter brings tremendous benefits, even over being a biological child, including the security of knowing that if you are an adopted child, you can never be disinherited.

Application

Believer, do you see you see yourself as a servant of God? Or do you see yourself as a child of God? How you see your relationship will determine how you feel about God, how you pray to God, how you give to God, and how you talk about God.

If you are an insecure servant of God and get into trouble, you will respond, “I’ve messed up. My Father’s going to kill me.” But if you are a secure child of God, you will respond, “I’ve messed up. I need to call my Dad.” One view brings a response of paralyzing fear, while the other brings a response of feeling lovingly supported.

If you are a child of God, rejoice!
You have a loving Father Who will never disown you.

Note: I originally published this 3/26/19 and every time I see the graphic above, I still tear up. It’s a fantastic picture of the difference between religion and relationship! Which do you have?

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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1 2 3 19

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