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Humility

Justification: How people can be made right with God

Three times in today’s Bible reading Jesus talks about people who misunderstand justification. Justification has to do with the question of, “What does it take for a person to be right with God?” It was the central question of the Reformation. As I said in my sermon series on the Five Solas of the Reformation, the Bible alone tells us that people are made right with God by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone and God alone is glorified in justification. (Note the five solas, the five alones)

In today’s reading from Luke 18:9-14, the Pharisee misunderstood justification in thinking that he could be justified by his righteous behavior. Looking at his behavior, he glorified himself. But the tax collector was justified by grace alone, because of his faith … alone.

In our reading from Luke 18:18-30, the Rich Young Ruler also looked at his behavior, thinking that he would be justified on those grounds. Jesus said that he needed to sell everything he had to give it to the poor and then to follow Him. The young man went away sad because he had a lot. Actually, a lot had him! He wasn’t willing to deny himself, take up his cross daily to follow Jesus. (Luke 9:23) Again, he didn’t understand that justification came through grace alone through faith alone.

In the final instance, the Blind Man wanted to recover his sight. (Luke 18:35-43) When Jesus asked him what he wanted, he responded, “I want to see.” He thought he wanted to see in the physical realm, but Jesus gave him spiritual sight in addition to physical sight. Jesus highlighted that he was saved because of his faith alone. As a result, the man glorified God alone.

The Bible alone tells us about justification. You cannot hear the truth of how people can be right with God anywhere else but the Bible. Not your own thoughts. Not other “holy books”. Not other religions. Only in the Bible will you hear that you can’t earn justification. And that glorifies God alone!

Application

Have you put your faith in Jesus Christ alone for your hope of being right with God? Nothing else but faith in Jesus will give you a right standing with God. It isn’t Jesus plus anything. You can only be justified by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone. It’s a very unfair exchange. We bring sin and Jesus brings holiness. God makes us righteous because of what Jesus did, if we will only put our faith in Jesus.

Because the Bible alone reveals that people can only be justified by grace (unearned favor) alone, through faith (not behavior) alone in Jesus Christ (no other religious leader) alone God alone receives the glor.

That was the heart cry of the Reformation.
And that’s the gospel truth!

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Sparrow

Jesus says a lot about priorities in today’s Bible reading. Most importantly, He talks about people who are consumed by worry. He says, don’t worry about what you’re going to eat, what you’re going to drink, what you’re going to wear. (Luke 12:29) Instead, rest in the knowledge that God knows everything about you and He will take care of you. So often, we worry simply because we forget this basic truth.

Jesus says that God cares for sparrows and His kids are worth far more than sparrows. He says that God clothes the flowers more elegantly than Solomon clothed himself.

I’m staggered by the reality that, looking at the size of the universe — so big that some of what we think are stars are actually galaxies of thousands of stars — how a God Who spoke all of this into existence, a God who keeps everything in motion, a God who is in control of every atom in the universe could care for such an insignificant piece of His creation. In fact, not only does He know me, He has numbered every hair on my head. (Luke 12:7)

How could that be?

For God to number the hairs on the head of a single individual on the third rock from a small star in the Milky Way Galaxy, how truly awesome is this God? How absolutely mind-blowing is this God? How unlike us is this God? And yet He has done just that!

Application

In light of the awesomeness of God, Jesus tells us to keep our priorities straight: Focus on God and His kingdom instead of worrying about all of those insignificant things that will last an insignificant amount of time on the infinite timeline of eternity. He says that wherever we put our treasures, our heart will be fixed on it.

Where are your treasures? Where do you spend your money? Your time? Your emotional energy? Where are your deepest concerns? How do these things line up with and relate to God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness?

Spend a few minutes today thinking about the vast expanse of the universe. If you’re able to look up at the sky tonight and observe the stars, try counting them. Then again, don’t bother because you can’t! A God who merely spoke everything into being from absolutely nothing has made Himself available … to you.

Call out to Him today. Thank Him for being there. Thank Him that He didn’t just create and then walk away. Thank Him that He is there, that He is not silent, that He is not distant, and that He is only a prayer away.

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep
to gain that which he cannot lose.

— Jim Elliott —

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Jesus is greater than Me

I was going to title today’s devotional: “Perfect Humility and How I Attained It”. I was afraid no one would read it because the title would be a complete lie and everyone would know it.

I’m reminded of a song I played as a Country Music DJ many years ago: “O, Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way. I can’t wait to look in the mirror, ’cause I get better looking each day. To know me is to love me. I must be one heck of a man. O Lord, it’s hard to be humble, but I’m doing the best that I can.”

In today’s Bible reading from Philippians 2, Paul talks about true humility.

When many people think of “humility” they may picture someone groveling in the dirt, crying, “Woe is me.” Or they may picture someone self-flagellating, attempting to make atonement for their sins.

Funny… I don’t see that picture in Scripture except for the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9–14. The parable describes humility, but it doesn’t prescribe that everyone should do exactly what the Tax Collector did.

Pride is to be avoided. But I think in many people’s minds, humility is a virtue, but few people actually see humility as worth pursuing. After all, if you ever attained perfect humility and told someone that you had, well… would it be prideful to say so?

Paul actually prescribes humility in the first part of Chapter 2. He says, “Be humble like Jesus. Have the same mindset that Jesus did.” And then he gives us a picture of perfect humility.

Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross. Philippians 2:5–8 (CSB)

If anyone who every walked on this planet had a right to be proud, it would be Jesus! He was the embodiment of perfection. However, Jesus didn’t exploit that truth. Instead, he humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of a humiliating death.

Just before he points to Jesus as our model, he tells the Philippians to be humble. He says, Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:3–4 (CSB)

Note that Paul doesn’t say that we shouldn’t look out for our own interests. Instead, he says, “Don’t look out for just your own interests, but include the interests of others as well.” That’s the key.

How different would the world be if we didn’t just look out for ourselves, but also looked out for everyone else, also? Instead, we are affected with a severe case of narcissism. If you don’t believe me, just look around. And then, look in the mirror.

Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself.
It’s thinking of yourself less.

Application

We’re told we need to have a healthy self-esteem. People are applauded for their self-confidence and self-sufficiency. While these traits are to be admired, we must be on our guard against pride. Pride is so subtle. And the lines between self-confidence and self-sufficiency on one hand, and pride, on the other hand, are so easily blurred.

Why isn’t humility listed in the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:16? Could it be that humility is something that we must actually work on, instead of something that is (super)naturally produced as fruit as we grow in our walk with Christ?

I think Paul answers that question in Philippians 2:12-13: Work out your salvation with fear and trembling as God works in you. He isn’t telling his readers they can work for their/our salvation. He says them/us to work out your salvation. Work it out from the inside, knowing that God is working in you to will and to work according to His purposes. (Philippians 2:13)

Humility: I’m not there yet. And neither are you. Let’s work on it.

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get the big picture

Yesterday, I said that believers tend to be shortsighted. As a result, we don’t always get the big picture. In today’s Bible reading, Paul tells the Philippians about the big picture.

Many of us enjoy reading our favorite authors and bloggers. We enjoy our listening to our favorite podcasts. We enjoy our favorite Bible teachers. The people, Bible teachers, podcasts, etc. that we align ourselves with could be called our “tribe”. Everyone is a part of a tribe.

We tend to think our tribe is the best. As a result, we don’t often associate with other tribes. We don’t read other authors. We don’t listen to other podcasts. We don’t expose ourselves to other Bible teachers.

I think one of the biggest downsides to all of this is, since we think our tribe is the best, we think the other tribes are less desirable and even to be avoided in some cases. Such was the case with some who were preaching the gospel in Philippi. Paul says,

To be sure, some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. These preach out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. Philippians 1:15–17 (CSB)

Paul says, “Yes, some Bible teachers have wrong motives. Some are selfish. Some are vindictive and downright mean.” But look at his next statement.

What does it matter? Only that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice Philippians 1:18 (CSB)

Paul tells the church at Philippi to step back a bit and take a look at the big picture. He would say, “Not every one of these Bible teachers is correct in all they say and they way they say it. Not every one of these Bible teachers is even sincere and some even want to desparrage my name while I’m locked up in prison. But as you take a few steps back, you’ll see that Jesus is being lifted up, even by the meanspirited and envious ones. And that’s what matters.”

Paul knew that it wasn’t about him; it’s about Jesus. And so long as Jesus is being exalted, it doesn’t matter what people think of him.

The Christian group, Casting Crowns has a song that I believe Paul would sing if given a microphone. In “Only Jesus”, singer Mark Hall sings, “I don’t want to build a legacy. I don’t care if they remember me. Only Jesus.”

Application

I know it’s hard to give grace to other people, especially people who don’t always want the best for me. But Paul would say, “Don’t worry about that. Just keep your eyes on Jesus and aim to make His name famous.”

That’s a good reminder for all of us.

Enjoy the song I referred to earlier, “Only Jesus”

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Holy Spirit

In today’s Bible reading, Paul talks about living a consistent Christian Life. (Ephesians 5:15-22) Nobody wants to see a hypocritical Christian. And nobody wants to live a hypocritical Christian Life. So how do you live a consistent Christian Life? Paul answers the question in verse 18.

And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled by the Spirit Ephesians 5:18 (CSB)

Paul contrasts getting drunk on wine with being filled with the Holy Spirit. Many years ago, I heard a preacher say, “Getting drunk on wine makes you do foolish things. Getting drunk on the Holy Spirit makes you do things that seem foolish.”

Being controlled by alcohol leads to reckless living. And Paul spells out what being controlled by (which is what the Greek word “filled with” means) the Holy Spirit leads to:

speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of Christ. Ephesians 5:19–21 (CSB)

Being controlled/filled by the Holy Spirit expresses itself in praise and thanksgiving to God. It also expresses itself in mutual submission to other believers.

In the following verses, Paul expounds on how being filled with the Holy Spirit and submitting to each other expresses itself: it bubbles up and overflows into marital relationships, relationships between parents and children, and relationships between employers and employees.

But what is being filled with the Spirit? First off, the verb expresses a continual process. In other words, you aren’t just filled with the Spirit once and that’s all you need. Paul says, “Keep on being continually filled/controlled by the Holy Spirit.” Being filled with the Holy Spirit isn’t a one-time experience; being filled with the Holy Spirit should be a moment-by-moment experience.

Next, being filled with the Spirit results in relationship changes, beginning with a believer’s relationship with God and extending to the believer’s relationships with other believers.

So how is someone filled with the Spirit? Some would say by someone laying their hands on you and you speaking in ecstatic words. But is that what Paul says? Look at what Paul tells the Colossians in a parallel passage:

Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:16–17 (CSB)

Just like being filled with the Holy Spirit is a continual, moment-by-moment process, letting the word of Christ live in us is a continual, moment-by-moment process: Let the word of Christ “keep on continually living in you”.

Notice: The expressions of being filled with the Holy Spirit are identical to letting the word of Christ live richly among you: relationship changes between the believer and God (praise and thanksgiving) and relationships with other believers. Just like he does in the verses following Ephesians 5:18, Paul spells out these marital, parent/child, and employer/employee relationships in the verses following Colossians 3:17.

So being filled with the Holy Spirit is the same thing as letting the word of Christ dwell in you. In other words, as believers spend time reading God’s Word, studying God’s Word, and memorizing God’s Word, our relationship with God and our relationships with other believers change. These changes won’t happen overnight. It’s a continual process as we keep on being filled and as we keep on letting God’s Word fill our lives.

Application

Are you keeping on being continually filled with the Holy Spirit? Do you let the word of Christ live in you? Do you read it? Do you study it? Do you memorize it?

How would you describe your relationship with God? Are you full of praise and thanksgiving to Him?

How are your relationships with other believers? Is your life characterized by mutually submitting to other believers? How is your relationship with your spouse? Your children or parents? Your employer or employees?

Again, being filled with the Holy Spirit and letting the word of Christ live in you is a continual process. Don’t be discouraged by the process. Trust the process. Spend some time in the Word today. And spend some time today just praising and thanking God.

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