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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….

But God.

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)!

Application

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!

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Today’s Bible reading presents a difficult visual. Paul appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices. (Romans 12:1-2)

Look carefully at what Paul says. He appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices in the light of God’s mercies. He doesn’t give the appeal in a vacuum. It’s in the context of the last few verses of Chapter 11.

In just three verses (Romans 11:30-32), Paul uses the word mercy four times before launching into a hymn of praise. Unfortunately, it’s very easy to miss the connection between 11:30-32 and 12:1, given the chapter division in our Bibles. Given that our daily readings were broken between chapters eleven and twelve, the problem is compounded. But in Paul’s mind — and in God’s mind — the intended connection is there.

It’s in light of God’s mercies, Paul invites his readers to die. The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to die. Jesus said that if anyone wants to follow Him, he should deny himself and pick up his cross daily. (Luke 9:23) A cross was an instrument of death. Picking up one’s own cross is a willingness to die. And picking up one’s own cross is a daily choice. Paul’s choice of grammar in Romans 12:1 means that one doesn’t just make a one-time sacrifice. It’s a continual sacrifice.

It’s in light of these mercies that he appeals to believers to present their bodies as living sacrifices. Could Paul have been thinking of 1 Corinthians 6:19–20 when he made this statement? I think so.

Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body. (CSB)

Paul says that because God’s Spirit lives in us and we have been bought with the blood of Jesus, we can — and should — glorify God with our bodies. Actually, the context suggests that glorifying God doesn’t stop with our physical bodies; it extends to all that we are and all that we have, not unlike the Great Command to love God with all that we are. (Matthew 22:37)

Presenting all that we are is a daily choice. Every day we make the choice of staying on the altar … or crawling off.

The problem with living sacrifices is that they keep crawling off the altar!

Application

Every single day, each of us has a choice to make. Am I going to continue following Jesus? Am I going to die to my choices? Am I going to pray that His will be done, realizing that that includes that my will not be done?

Every. Single. Day.

Will you stay on the altar? Or will you crawl off?

I like the way that Eugene Peterson translated Romans 12:1-2:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Romans 12:1–2 (The Message)

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reading One Book

In today’s Bible reading, we see a couple of occasions when the Jewish leaders posed “academic” questions, trying to entrap him, or at least distract him. “Should we pay taxes or not?” “Who will be a woman’s husband in the resurrection if her husband dies, her next husband dies, etc.?” “Which is the greatest commandment?” “What is the Messiah’s relationship to David?”

To think… The Sadducees asked Jesus questions about a Resurrection they didn’t even believe in.

Only one of these questions really mattered. I confess, it’s easy to get distracted with “academic” questions. I remember spending many late nights discussing deep theological issues in the stairway in the Men’s Dorm at Southwestern Seminary. Some of the questions were good and challenging. Many were just distractions from studies and many were distractions from my walk with the Lord.

I’m glad that someone asked Jesus which is the greatest commandment. The Jewish leaders had developed a commentary on the Old Covenant Law. Then they developed a commentary on the commentary. By this point, they had over six hundred laws that divided hairs on what could and what couldn’t be done without breaking the Sabbath. At least someone had the guts to ask Jesus that question!

As He often did, He cut right through all of the “academics” and went straight for the heart: The greatest commandment is to love God with all that you are and to love others as you love yourself.

Application

I’ve been there. I’ve done that. I have several T-shirts to spare. It’s easy to get distracted with the “academics” and miss the “heart of the matter” which is actually the “matter of the heart”. It’s so easy to amass a library of hundreds of books about the Bible, prayer, the Christian life, etc. written by godly people and not read the one Book that God wrote. Making the connections between my head and my heart is a daily struggle.

How about you? Do you find yourself talking about God or talking with God? Do you find yourself reading about the Bible or reading the Bible? Do you find yourself talking about loving others or loving others? Do you find yourself talking about holiness or pursuing it?

Take some time today to think about what you think about. Then take some time to get to know the One you talk about by taking some time to actually open your Bible and read it, study it, and meditate on it.

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looking for God's will

A common concern for many Christians is finding God’s will. They read books. They listen to Bible teachers. They go on retreats. They fast. They pray, “God, I want to know your will. Show me your will.”

Many years ago, I learned an important principle in knowing and doing God’s will. Actually, the principle was the first point in a brand new Bible Study at the time from LifeWay called Experiencing God (affiliate link). The principle is to find out where God is working and join Him in what He’s doing.

In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 21, we see several instances where people missed out on what God was doing. There were lots of people in Jerusalem when Jesus came riding in on a donkey. Although they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Matthew 21:9 CSB) many (most?) of them had no clue Who Jesus was; they were just celebrating the beginning of the Passover and welcoming everyone who had made the pilgrimage.

Jesus entered the Temple and overturned tables, driving out everyone who was making a mockery of God’s sacrificial system. The chief priests and scribes saw Him healing people. Instead of rejoicing like the little children, they were jealous that Jesus was attracting so much attention.

The leaders asked where Jesus got His authority to do what He was doing. He turned the tables on them and asked where John the Baptizer got his authority; they refused to answer, knowing that their hearts had been exposed.

Jesus tells a story of two sons whose father asked them to work in a vineyard. One said no, but did anyway; the other said he would, but didn’t.

Jesus tells another story of a vineyard. The owner sent out his people to collect the fruit that had been harvested. Instead of giving them the harvest, the workers beat the men who went to collect the fruit. This happened several times until the owner sent his own son to collect the harvested fruit. This time, the workers killed the owner’s son so they could keep the fruit and the vineyard.

So many people missed out in so many ways because they were unaware of God at work in the world around them. Many expected God’s blessings on what they were doing apart from His will. Many didn’t care about God’s will or His blessings.

Too often, we get caught up trying to discover God’s will,
when God is already at work, inviting us to join Him.

Application

It’s easy to miss God’s will when you’re spending so much time and effort looking for it. Instead of investing so much looking for God’s will, try looking for God. When you find Him, join Him in what He’s already doing. You’ll find God’s will there.

Do you want to find God’s will? Wherever you find God working, you’ll find God. And wherever you find God, don’t miss being a part of the greatest adventure you could ever dream of.

Where you find God, you’ll find God’s will.

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sin

Two words emerge from today’s Bible reading from Matthew 18:SIN and FORGIVENESS.

Jesus talks about causing a child to stumble and says that it would better for the person who causes this offense to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied to his neck.

Next, He says that if your eye or hand causes you to sin, it would better to pluck it out and cut it off because it would be better to enter the Kingdom of Heaven maimed than to suffer in Hell because you didn’t deal with your sin.

Later, He emphasizes the importance of restoration when someone sins. Note, he says restoration and not punishment. Relationships are very important: relationships between people and people’s relationship with God. (Matthew 18:35, Matthew 6:14-15)

Finally, Jesus turns to the need to repeatedly forgive an offender. The math of 70×7 works out to 490, but Jesus’ emphasis is not on counting how many times you forgive, but that you forgive.

Application

The bottom line of Matthew 18 is the seriousness of sin. Sin is bad. Really bad. And we should do whatever it takes to avoid it. John Piper quotes Puritan John Owen when he said that if you are not killing sin, it is killing you. Owen wrote a book, The Mortification of Sin in Believers based on Romans 8:13.

The second main point of Matthew 18 is the seriousness of forgiveness. As bad as it is when people sin against you, it is equally bad when you withhold forgiveness from them — whether or not they ask for forgiveness.

Someone wisely said that withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison, hoping the offender gets sick. They may not even be aware that they sinned against you. Withholding forgiveness will eat you alive, so don’t do it. It will shortcircuit your walk with Christ. And that isn’t worth it, regardless of what the other person has done to you.

Now hear me out: the fact that someone sinned against you is bad. Really bad. Forgiveness does not respond by saying, “That’s ok.” It’s not OK! But we are called to release that person to let God deal with their sin. And if you really want to go deep in forgiving the other person, ask God to not hold this sin against them when they stand before the Judgment.

God is infinitely better at dealing with sin
than you will ever hope to be.
And yet, God is infinitely better at forgiving sin
than you will ever hope to be.

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