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Holiness

Today’s Bible reading is the beginning of The Sermon on the Mount. Throughout the Sermon, Jesus gives some very practical behaviors that believers should strive to emulate, not to give you a right standing before God, but because you have a right standing before God.

Hidden in today’s reading from Matthew 5, we find a striking statement. Don’t miss it!

So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother or sister has something against you,  leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23–24 (CSB)

Jesus says that our relationships with other people need to be right and healthy before we give an offering to God. In fact, he adds that we should do everything we can to have a good relationship with our adversaries. (Matthew 5:25-26)

Application

How are your relationships with your friends? Your family? Your spouse? Your coworkers? Your superiors/inferiors at work? How are your relationships with others in your church?

How are your relationships with people who seem to always know which buttons to push to push you over the edge?

You will never grow in intimacy with God if there’s something within your control that isn’t right with someone else. Yes, it’s that important!

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Jesus is tempted

In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 4, we see a familiar passage on Jesus’ temptations. In the first two temptations (Matthew 4:3, 6), the devil begins with, “If you are the Son of God….”

There are three ways that the Greek language conveys conditional (“if“) statements. It would be accurate to translate these two temptations, “If you are the Son of God — and we both know that you are…” or “Since you are the Son of God…” Satan acknowledged Jesus’ deity. He never called it into question. but he did try to get Jesus to submit to his temptations. Three times. And the three temptations are basically the same as the ones you and I face every day: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.

And we can fight our temptations just like Jesus did: respond with applicable Bible verses that we have treasured in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), and remember that God is much more to be desired than anything the enemy can tempt us with (Psalm 16:11, Matthew 6:33).

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15 (CSB)

Application

I believe it was Martin Luther who said, “I can’t keep birds from flying over my head, but I can keep them from nesting in my hair.” Looking at this and with today’s scheduled reading, it’s good to know that Jesus knows what it’s like to be tempted. He knows the enemy’s schemes, yet he never sinned.

The next time you’re tempted to some sin — and you resist — don’t accept the enemy’s accusations that you’ve sinned. Being tempted is not sin. If it were, then Jesus sinned.

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We begin to read through Matthew’s Gospel in today’s Bible reading.

I like how Matthew begins his gospel grounding Jesus in his lineage. Jesus doesn’t just drop out of the sky. He doesn’t just appear on the scene. He was born just like every other human being has been born.

Matthew doesn’t gloss over some of the notable people, including some morally-compromised people, including King David, an adulterer, and a murderer. Matthew, like other Gospel writers showed that Jesus was born in a line of real people who lived in a real time in history. And Jesus is thoroughly grounded in Old Testament history.

But Matthew is very quick to point out that Jesus was born of a virgin. Very clearly he says that Joseph married Mary, but he kept her pure until Jesus was born. This was indeed a miraculous conception. Never before and never since has anyone been born without a biological father. But to throw out the virgin birth of Jesus is to discount a major part of His history. And yet, so many people do simply because it seems too spectacular to be true. And if it is true, then Jesus is special. He is divine. He is to be obeyed. And people don’t like to be told what to do.

Application

What about you? Do you believe that Jesus was born of a woman who had never “known” a man? If not, why not?

If Jesus was born of a virgin (not just a “young woman” kind of virgin, but a “virgin” kind of virgin), then He is who the Bible writers claimed He is, and who He said He is: God, made flesh. And if He is God, made flesh (or God in a “dirt suit” as a friend of mine has said), then He isn’t just some guy who was born in a legend in someone’s mind. He is a special human being, as much a human being as you are. The differences are that He never sinned and He is also as much God as God the Father is.

It also means that His sacrificial death makes it possible for you to have a relationship with a wholly, Holy, and righteous God. If you have trusted His payment for your sin, you are justified — you have a right standing — before this righteous judge.

So what difference does that make in your life?

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If you watch movies or TV shows about exorcism or hear people talk about their thoughts regarding spiritual warfare, you might think that there’s always a loud, violent battle and you never know who the winner is going to be.

However, in today’s Bible reading in James 4, spiritual warfare sounds pretty simple. Straight-forward. And not loud and violent.

Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7 (CSB)

As with other passages, we need to not just “rip and read” this verse without noting its context, otherwise, we’ll miss the point. James has told his readers the root of their warring passions is that their hearts aren’t right and their priorities are wrong. He quotes Proverbs 3:34 (James 4:6) and delivers the two-step simple solution. Then he concludes the chapter talking about yielding our plans to God.

Application

temptation

I can’t talk about anyone else, but I know that my approach to spiritual warfare isn’t always this two-step method. I suspect I’m not the only one who tends to either submit to God, but not to resist the devil or to not submit to God, but try to resist the devil. Neither single-prong approach will net a “win” in spiritual warfare. Both submitting to God — wholeheartedly — and resisting the devil — wholeheartedly — are required if you want to win a spiritual battle. A friend of mine rightly points out that you will never win a spiritual battle with a fleshly weapon. But how often do we try!

Paul adds that when we’re tempted, God will always provide a way out. You will never be forced to give in to a temptation.

No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide a way out so that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 CSB)

The next time you find yourself facing a temptation — regardless of what you are being tempted to do — take a step back. Ask yourself if you are wholeheartedly submitting to God. If you are, then wholeheartedly resist the devil.

If James is right — and he is — this battle, for this time, is over!
You won!

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repent

In today’s Bible reading from James 2, we see the issue I mentioned yesterday about a supposed contradiction between James and Paul on the basis of our justification before God. Paul says that we are justified by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) and James says we are justified by works (James 2:24). So which one is right? And isn’t this just proof that the Bible is full of contradictions?

On the second question, no. No, the Bible is not full of contradictions. It may have differences in the way it presents things (like this topic), but if something seems like it’s contradicting something else, there’s more you need to dig into.

On the earlier question of whether James or Paul is correct, the answer is that they are both right. Huh? Their statements are complementary, not contradictory. Paul is looking at how we have been saved, James is looking at how we prove/demonstrate that we are saved. There are different aspects of our salvation: believers have been saved, believers are being saved, and believers will be saved. Paul is looking at the first aspect, James is looking at the second aspect.

Look at what they say: Paul agrees with James that our salvation will work itself out (Ephesians 2:10). And James agrees with Paul; even demons believe (“believe” [verb] and “faith” [noun] are the same word), but they aren’t saved.

Application

Believer, look at your life. Is your life any different than when you were lost? Assuming you weren’t saved yesterday, your life will experience some changes. It may be behavior, it may be attitudes, but your life will be different if you are really saved. And if your life hasn’t changed, you need to revisit the question of whether you are really saved. Walking down the aisle of a church doesn’t save you. Praying a prayer doesn’t save you. Being baptized doesn’t save you. Saying you believe doesn’t save you.

Putting your trust in Jesus’ sacrifice for your sin
and turning from your sin to embrace a relationship with God
does save you.

Have you done that?

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