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Law

Paul continues to develop his argument for salvation by grace through faith in today’s Bible reading from Romans 4. If you aren’t familiar with the Jewish Patriarch Abraham, let me briefly bring you up to speed.

Abram and Sarai were an aged couple who had never had children. God established a relationship with Abram and told him to leave his homeland and go to a land where God would show him. Abram packed up his wife, his servants, and his belongings and set out from modern-day Southeastern Iraq to the Northwest, then West, then South and settled in modern-day Israel.

God told Abram that he would be the father of many nations. Despite being very old and Sarai being postmenopausal, Abram took God at His word. Because she knew she would be unable to get pregnant, Sarai offered her servant Hagar to Abram. Nine months later baby Ishmael was born. Abram was 86 years old.

Thirteen years later, God repeats His promise to Abram (who is now 99 years old). He changes Abram’s name to Abraham and He changes Sarai’s name to Sarah. God tells Abraham to circumcise every male in his family as well as his male servants. Abraham obeys. A year later, as promised, Isaac is born. Abraham is 100 years old and Sarah is 90. There’s a lot more that goes on and you can read Abraham and Sarah’s story in Genesis Chapters 12-22.

Note: Islam traces its lineage back to Abraham through Ishmael. However, the Bible presents Isaac as God’s promised child because He was born to Abraham and Sarah.

The key to Abraham’s story is found in Genesis 15:6: Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. Paul refers to this passage in several of his letters.

In describing what God had done with Abram in Genesis 15:6, Moses (who wrote Genesis) used an accounting visual where Abram’s faith, apart from obedience to the Law (which God gave to Moses four hundred years later), was put in the “Assets” column of God’s Righteousness Ledger.

It’s important that Abraham didn’t just say, “Ok, I believe.” Paul says that Abraham was fully convinced that God was able to do what He promised: make Abraham and Sarah into a mighty nation of people. (Romans 4:20-21)

Application

It’s crucial that we come to God in faith, fully convinced that God has done what He promised in sending Jesus to be the ultimate fulfillment of His promise to bless the world through Abraham’s offspring.

Have you put your faith in God’s promise? Are you fully convinced that Jesus’ death is sufficient to pay for your sin-debt?

You don’t have to have a lot of faith; you just need to have faith. Faith is your response to God’s activity. Believer, when you were given new life in the Spirit, you were able to trust God to make good on His promises. And because you responded to God’s activity, God credited the unlimited righteousness of Jesus to your account on His Righteousness Ledger.

“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)

Note the six things that Paul is driving home in just two verses:

  • Grace is undeserved favor.
  • You have been saved through faith. (passive on your part — something that happened to you — and done in the past)
  • This salvation is not of anything you have done, or will do — or can do.
  • Salvation is God’s free gift.
  • It’s not of works. No one can do anything to gain salvation or contribute to salvation, otherwise, salvation wouldn’t be grace, but wages.
  • Because salvation is a free gift of God despite what you have done (or will do) you have nothing to be proud of, to boast of, to brag of. You were no more deserving of salvation than anyone else who ever lived.

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
2 Corinthians 9:15 (CSB)

This devotional was originally published on May 18-19, 2019.

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Without Jesus lost people are hopeless.

In today’s Bible reading, Paul continues his allegations that no one has an excuse when it comes to having a right standing before God. Paul quotes Psalm 14:1-3 and Psalm 53:1-3 to say that all are guilty. None are righteous and no one seeks God.

Just Friday morning, I saw a group post on Facebook where a small church pastor asked for prayer. He said he was preparing to preach a funeral of a nonbeliever who worshiped a lot. I responded that nonbelievers may go to worship services, but nonbelievers are incapable of worship of God. Those who have the Law are condemned by the Law and even those without the Law are condemned by the law in themselves.

Application

Paul makes it crystal clear. Fallen people don’t have it in themselves to be sensitive to spiritual things. It takes a miraculous act of God to spark life in us that enables us to even be interested in the things of God. But when we experience God’s miraculous act of salvation, we so quickly latch onto the promises of God! We know instantaneously that God is all that He claims to be in Jesus Christ.

God is gracious to reach out to us in the midst of our fallen condition. Under what other condition could we be? Those without Jesus are in a desperately hopeless condition. They may think they’re only slightly affected by the Fall. But Paul couldn’t be clearer that apart from Jesus, we are lost. We are hopeless. We are helpless. By definition, we are unworthy of God’s grace.

And recognizing our condition is the best place to be to cry out to God and to receive His grace and mercy. We may think this heartcry is our initiative. But Paul says it’s simply a response to God’s initiative.

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Don't judge others just because they sin differently than you.

Paul seems to condemn himself in today’s Bible reading. He tells his readers to not judge, but he seems to do that very thing as he progresses through Romans 2. So what’s going on?

Jesus told his followers to not judge, lest they also be judged. (Matthew 7:1) But Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t judge” in a vacuum. He says,

Why do you look at the splinter in your brother’s eye but don’t notice the beam of wood in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ and look, there’s a beam of wood in your own eye? Hypocrite! First take the beam of wood out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye. Matthew 7:3–5 (CSB)

Jesus points out — as does Paul in today’s reading — that everyone sins. Everyone. And to point out someone else’s sin while not acknowledging our own is the problem with judgment. Jesus’ main idea in Matthew 7:3-5 is that every one of us has problems seeing properly. And Paul says that every one of us is a lawbreaker. Whereas we judge on a sliding scale — with us on the “good” end of the scale and not worthy of the worst punishment — God judges without showing favoritism: Everyone is equally guilty of breaking His covenant laws and therefore equally worthy of eternal separation from God in eternal torment.

Jesus’ main idea in Matthew 7:3-5 is that every one of us has problems seeing properly. And Paul says that every one of us is a lawbreaker. Whereas we judge on a sliding scale — with us on the “good” end of the scale and not worthy of the worst punishment — God judges without showing favoritism (Romans 2:11): Everyone is equally guilty of breaking His covenant laws and therefore equally worthy of eternal separation from God in eternal torment.

Paul brings out a crucial thought at the end of the chapter: It’s all about relationship! While Jewish readers might point out their physical differences with Gentiles, claiming God’s special blessing because they were circumcised, Paul says that what really matters is that someone’s heart is circumcised. The problem isn’t doing the right things and not doing the wrong things. The problem is Fallen Humanity has a heart problem. Jesus said that the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. (Luke 6:45) Hence, when we speak in judgment of someone with partiality — as we are prone to do — our words reveal what our heart really believes.

Application

Do you judge? Do you talk down about other people in order to make yourself look better? That’s the problem that Paul is talking about. CS Lewis said, “The true Christian’s nostril is to be continually attentive to the inner cesspool.” Until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will continue to deal with that “inner cesspool”.

Anytime you think you’re “all that”, remember that you, too are cut from the same piece of fabric as the rest of humanity, no better and no worse on God’s holiness scale. You are no more deserving of God’s grace and mercy than anyone else who ever walked on this planet, hence, your need for grace and mercy.

By definition, grace and mercy are undeserved. If someone deserved grace and mercy, it wouldn’t be grace and mercy; it would be “wages”. Because of sin, God owes you nothing. There is nothing you can bring to a negotiating table with God. And that’s what makes the gospel message so beautiful!

This devotional was originally published May 16, 2019.

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Justification

Today’s Bible reading begins Paul’s letter to the Romans, one of my favorite books of the Bible. OK, all of the books of the Bible are my favorites. But Romans holds a special place in my heart because in, Paul lays out the Gospel Message in the most plain and developed way. In Chapter One, he says that he is not ashamed of the gospel because it reveals the righteousness of God.

Any discussion of the gospel must begin with God’s righteousness. Why? Because any other discussion of the gospel would begin with some other subject, mostly mankind. The gospel begins and ends with God. Period. Any other focus distracts from the introduction that our Creator created everything — from nothing — in a perfect condition. Perfection. But the world isn’t perfect now. So what happened?

THAT is the question!

Everything hinges on our understanding of God. If we begin discussing the gospel — either academically or practically — with God’s love, God’s goodness, or any other topic, we miss the importance of Paul’s presentation and the emphasis of the entire book of Romans. If we don’t see God’s righteousness and His sovereignty over everything, we’ll misunderstand things like the doctrine of election. We’ll miss how deeply fallen humanity is. We’ll miss the point that Jesus is the only suitable acceptable atoning sacrifice to give us a right standing with God.

Beginning with the righteousness of God brings us to the pivotal question of,
“How are fallen people to have a right standing with a holy God?”

Application

Spend a few minutes today thinking about — really thinking about — the gospel message Thank God for the centrality of the cross in the process of salvation. Worship God for His plan of reconciling lost people to Himself. Thank God for doing everything necessary to secure your salvation.

And if you don’t know God, or if you don’t understand what I’m talking about, please reach out to me. I’d love to talk with you more about this!

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Jesus died on a cross to pay our sin-debt.
source: LumoProject

In today’s Bible reading from Matthew 27, we see Jesus’ last moments as He dies on a cross just outside Jerusalem. He cries out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46 CSB)

Billy Foote’s song You are My King (Amazing Love) begins, “I’m forgiven because You were forsaken. I’m accepted. You were condemned.”

As I am typing this and considering the verse, Billy’s description, and the picture, tears are welling up in my eyes. Jesus voluntarily became God’s sacrificial lamb, dying on the cross and taking the wrath of God head-on, becoming the atoning sacrifice for sin that wasn’t His — it was mine and it was yours — all to bridge the chasm between our Holy Creator and us, the fallen creation.

His death accomplished what our feeble attempt at obedience to the Law wasn’t able to — and wasn’t designed to do: give God’s people eternal forgiveness and eternal life. His death reestablished a relationship between God and His people, a relationship that had been severed a long time ago in a garden (Eden). And Jesus’ battle in another garden (Gethsemane) secured the victory over sin, a victory that God’s people experience vicariously.

Application

Jesus was abandoned. Jesus was condemned. Jesus died. He endured all of these things so that you wouldn’t have to. Believer, your sin-debt has been paid. You have been adopted and you will never be abandoned by your Father. Because Jesus died and rose from the dead, power and desire to walk a life that pleases God is available to you.

Spend a few minutes worshiping God. Spend a few minutes expressing your gratitude for the incredibly selfless act that Jesus accomplished for you “on a hill far away”.

This devotional was originally published on May 11, 2019.

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