In today’s Bible reading we fast forward a few years and Jesus and His cousin John (the Baptizer) are about thirty years old. John steps into the Jordan River and preaches that people should repent of their sins and be baptized.
By today’s standards, John was a very politically-incorrect preacher. Nowhere do we hear him talk about self-esteem. Nowhere do we hear him say that God loves everyone and has a wonderful plan for them. Nowhere do we hear him talk about God’s grace and mercy. Nowhere do we hear him talk about how God wants you to have health and wealth if you would only have enough faith. Nowhere does he apologize for offending his hearers. .
No, John simply preaches the Law. He preaches the bad news that people are sinners and in need of forgiveness. Sinners? Surely not! Where is the gospel, the good news?
Recent conversations with Facebook friends have revealed to me the massive divide between what I believe the Bible teaches and what they believe. For these friends, our deepest need is to be saved from not being good stewards of our planet. To be Christlike is to be more loving and accepting, and less judgmental of others. There is no mention of the word or even the concept of sin as described in the Bible. There was no admission of guilt for any sin on their part. Sin is a problem other, less tolerant people must deal with. These were people who were raised in the church. And today, they are leaders in mainline churches.
Until people hear and understand their helpless, fallen condition (the bad news), they won’t have a desire for deliverance from that condition (the good news). Look back at our earlier readings from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. He begins with the bad news.
Look at the response of John’s audience in Luke 3:10, 12, 14. The exclaim, “What shall we do?” The Philippian Jailer asked the same question in Acts 16:30.
It isn’t until Romans Chapter 8 that Paul says that there is no condemnation for believers. (Romans 8:1) From that statement, Paul strongly implies that non-believers are still very much under God’s judgment.
Have you come to a point in your life where you realized that in light of God’s holiness, you have absolutely no claim to spending eternity with Him, much less walking with Him on this side of eternity? You may be better than many (or most) other people, but how do you compare with Jesus, the perfect man who was tempted just like we are, yet was without sin? (Hebrews 4:15)
I’m not just asking if you have sinned. Everyone (except Jesus) sins. I’m asking if you have ever come to God and confessed that you have offended your Creator and that you have an issue with a sin condition that separates you from His holiness?
This devotional was originally published June 29, 2019.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul completes his statement of what being filled with the Holy Spirit looks like as it applies to relationships with parents and children and with masters and servants (employers and employees in our context). He concludes the chapter discussing Spiritual Warfare.
Most believers think they’re being persecuted for being a believer when they can’t wear Christian-themed jewelry at work. Or they can’t wish “Merry Christmas” to customers in the checkout line.
Let me say this as strongly as I can: Most Christians (especially in the West) have no idea what real religious persecution is. OpenDoors, Voice of the Martyrs, and similar organizations give real examples of real persecution of real people. Check them out. (and pray for them)
Most of what believers call “spiritual warfare” isn’t.
So why would I make such a bold statement? Do I believe spiritual warfare doesn’t exist? Nothing could be further than the truth! Spiritual warfare is very real. Believers are victims of spiritual attack every single day. But most of what believers call spiritual warfare isn’t. Believers can be very nearsighted about spiritual warfare just like we are about “persecution”.
Most believers think they’re under spiritual attack when they get sick, or when they run out of money before the end of the month, or they lose their job, or when their car gets a flat on the way to church. Some of this may be spiritual warfare, but most of it isn’t.
Paul tells the Ephesians to put on the full armor of God: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. Most of the armor is defensive; it protects you from attack from the front. But notice that there’s no protection to your back if you tuck tail and run in heat of the battle!
But there’s one key piece of the armor that isn’t spelled out as clearly as the others. It’s easy to see that the sword of the Spirit is an offensive weapon. But if you don’t see it in this passage, you completely miss the other offensive weapon!
Paul mentions it at the end of the list: the spear of prayer. Unfortunately, since he doesn’t spell it out like he does the others, it doesn’t make it to the picture hanging in our Sunday School classrooms and Children’s Picture Bibles. And not seeing this piece of armor in this passage prevents you from learning to use it in one of the key aspects of the very nature of the warfare!
Spiritual warfare is well, spiritual warfare. Things happening to you in the physical realm may or may not have a counterpart in the spiritual realm.
Paul says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.” Ephesians 6:12 (CSB)
He begins the next sentence, “For this reason“. Because the war field is in the spiritual realm, we have to take up spiritual armor. A good friend of mine has rightly said, “You will never win a spiritual war with a fleshly weapon.” Elsewhere, Paul expounds on the nature of spiritual weapons.
For although we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh, since the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every proud thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ. And we are ready to punish any disobedience, once your obedience is complete. 2 Corinthians 10:3–6 (CSB)
Our weapons destroy strongholds, arguments, and anything else that rises up against the knowledge of God. We use our spiritual weapons in the spiritual places to accomplish spiritual purposes namely, to point our eyes to God so we can worship and obey him.
Getting sick, running out of money before the end of the month, losing your job, and getting a flat tire can happen to anyone: believers and unbelievers alike. What you do when those things happen is where spiritual warfare can occur. But most of the time, only believers are attacked spiritually when those things happen.
The spiritual warfare occurs when those things cause us to lose focus from thinking about God rightly, when they keep us from worshiping Him, and when they keep us from obeying Him.
Yes, spiritual warfare happens in spiritual places, and one of the battlegrounds is the mind of the believer. That’s why we need to put on the whole armor of God so that we can stand our ground. Note that Paul mentions standing three times in four verses. Standing in spiritual warfare must be pretty important!
Whenever you feel that you are under spiritual attack, ask God if that’s what’s up. He’ll tell you. And if you are under attack, Paul tells you what to do: Put on the full armor, not just a few of your favorite pieces.
Catching a nail in your tire on the way to church isn’t spiritual warfare. But if that causes you to question the goodness of God in allowing it to happen in that place at that time, it is spiritual warfare. If it causes you to not thank God for His provision of a helpful stranger to change your tire, and if it keeps you from using the opportunity to share the gospel with him, yes, it is spiritual warfare.
So to deal with this spiritual battle in a realistic way,
- You put on your helmet of salvation to protect your thoughts and think about God’s wise provision in the timing and location of this.
- You grab your shield of faith to reject those attacks that suggest that God isn’t in control and that this flat tire caught Him off-guard.
- You draw your sword of the Spirit and meditate on Bible verses you’ve memorized on the goodness and faithfulness of God; you use those verses to attack those thoughts questioning God.
- You protect your heart with the breastplate of righteousness to keep your heart right before God in this battle.
- You hold it all together remembering the truth that all of this is about maintaining your focus on Jesus, worshiping Him and obeying Him.
- You put on your shoes to be ready to share the good news of peace with God with this stranger.
- And you offer to pray for this helpful stranger; he may have a need for you to pray with him about. Also, pray for the helpful stranger to respond to the call of the Gospel and you thank God for the opportunity to be His instrument of reaching out to this stranger.
God’s Word is very applicable in showing us how to win spiritual battles. If we will just step back to get our focus on God, worship Him, and obey Him.
This devotional was originally published June 13, 2019.
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….
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)!
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!
Taxes. Laws. Government Officials. Law Enforcement Officials. What do these have in common? Like them or not, they’re all part of Citizenship in the United States of America.
Believers are citizens of two kingdoms. In today’s Bible reading, Paul asserts that a believer living with a Kingdom of God mindset will be a good citizen of the world in which he/she lives.
Paul says, “Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.” Romans 13:1 (CSB)
Yes, obeying the inconvenient traffic laws, honoring and praying for government officials from the “other” political party, even paying your income taxes. All of these will mark a child of God who lives with a Kingdom of God mindset. Why? Because it’s an expression of Christlikeness. (Romans 13:14)
I remember walking into an IRS audit (my only one). I had heard horror stories. I knew I had been honest in reporting my income and deductions. And yet, I was still nervous. There was a red flag, but not a violation. After reviewing my paperwork, the IRS agent told me that I was “in compliance”. When I asked what that meant, she replied, “It’s all good.” I asked her how often says that to people under audit. She replied, “Let’s just say that we earn our money.” Ouch!
Being a good citizen in the Kingdom of God doesn’t mean that I’m not involved as a citizen of the USA. In fact, my Kingdom of God citizenship informs my US Citizenship. It affects how I vote. It affects how I pray. It affects how I interact with the police officer when he pulls me over. It affects how I respond to the Red Light Camera citation in my mailbox.
Look, I’m not perfect. I struggle with laws (eg, Red Light Cameras) I don’t like. And when called to account, I paid the fine. I didn’t want to. I feel they’re unconstitutional (you can’t face your “accuser” in court). But as a citizen of the Kingdom of God, I had to suck it up and write the check for the fine.
There are speed zones I don’t agree with. There are politicians I don’t agree with. But being a good citizen in the Kingdom of God will influence my citizenship in the United States of America.
And if you’re a believer, you’re a citizen of two kingdoms. As a child of God, you’re called to be a good citizen of both. Doing so is a reflection of Christlikeness.
This devotional was originally published May 31, 2019.
He responds to his own question by saying that such a thing is unthinkable: How could someone who has been set free from sin’s grasp continue to live in bondage to it? Paul says that believers have died to sin and have been buried, and because of Jesus’ resurrection, we have been raised to walk a new life. In case you missed it, this is where we get the imagery of baptism by immersion.
A few days ago when we looked at Romans 4, I said that Abraham believed God and God credited Abraham’s faith as righteousness. The word credited or accounted in Romans 4 is the same word that Paul uses in Romans 6:11 for how we should consider ourselves as dead to sin. Another translation may say that we should reckon ourselves as dead to sin. Again, this is using the language of an accounting ledger where we reconcile accounts. When God reconciles His Righteousness Ledger, He sees Abraham’s faith, your faith, and credits Jesus’ righteousness to the bottom line.
Believer, you, too should reconcile your own account and realize that Jesus’ righteousness is right there on the bottom line! Don’t forget that you have been set free from sin’s reign. You have died to sin and now you’re living a new, free life in Christ. Reckon yourself as dead to sin and alive to Christ.
Don’t turn back to the desires that once controlled you. Realize that what God has done for you in Jesus is so much more valuable, attractive, and satisfying than anything sin ever hoped to offer you.
Don’t live on the wages of sin.
Instead, receive the free gift of God’s grace.
This devotional was originally published May 22, 2019.