Today’s Bible reading is the entire book of Philemon. It’s no longer than a typical chapter in other books of the Bible, and this one-chapter-book is short and sweet. Paul writes this letter to Philemon who owns a slave named Onesimus. Onesimus has become a believer under Paul’s ministry and Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon with instructions to receive him back as a fellow believer, not as a servant. Paul tells Philemon that if Philemon has incurred any costs or damages because of Onesimus’ desertion, to charge those costs to Paul’s account. Then Paul reminds Philemon that he owes his very life to Paul. (Philemon 19)
Paul basically tells Philemon to do what’s right with regards to Onesimus, but he doesn’t really tell him what the right thing to do is. That’s a mark of a good leader. He gives the expectation, and he empowers his follower(s) to make wise choices. The mature follower will apply what he/she has learned to situations that present themselves. No one wants to be a robot, only doing what he/she has been told and no more, no less.
Finally, Paul tells Philemon to prepare his guest room for him to stay in the next time he’s in town. I think this is Paul’s final hint that he expects Philemon to treat Onesimus well. Paul basically says, you better do what’s right because I’m going to check back with you to make sure you did the right thing.
I remember some really good advice we received when our first child was born: The goal is not to raise a compliant child (who does everything they’re told), but to raise a wise child who can make mature decisions.
How about you? Do you make your choices based on what you’ve been told is right and what is wrong? Or do you make your choices based on the principles instilled in you through your relationship with Jesus and what you see in God’s Word?
The mature believer will make godly choices because they know it’s the right thing to do, even without being told what the right thing is.
This devotional was originally published June 26, 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!
There are so many things about God and His Kingdom that I don’t understand. And it seems the longer I walk with Him, the more I know… and the less I know.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul talks about a partial hardening of the hearts of Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25) I think what this means is that God has hardened their hearts — as He did to Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus 4:21 — for a time, and all for His glory. And as soon as the set number (who knows what it is?) of Gentiles are saved, God will remove the veil that covers their eyes to see God’s Kingdom at hand. Until then, God will continue to graft Gentiles into the True Vine.
I’ll repeat what I said a few days ago: we need to approach things from a Biblical, God-centered viewpoint when we ask questions about God’s unconditional election of some people. (I say “unconditional election” because there is no condition that anyone can meet that would earn God’s approval.) If no one deserves salvation in the first place, and if only a miraculous work of God can save someone, then we can only plead for God to save our family members and friends who don’t (yet) know Jesus.
Yes, plead for their salvation. Plead for their sensitivity to God’s voice. Plead for a soft, moldable heart. Plead for God to overwhelm them with a sense of His presence so that they call out to Him. Plead for opportunities for you and others to talk with them. And tell them lovingly about how good God is. For what it’s worth, lovingly telling them what God is doing in your life and how their lives can be changed will probably work out better than continually beating them over the head with a 25lb Bible every time you talk with them.
To be able to answer the question of why God would save one and not save another is above my pay grade. I have to leave that up to God because I know that He is good and His ways are always right. I have to leave it up to God, but I have to be willing to be part of bringing them to Christ. Oftentimes, we are — at least partly — the answer to our own prayers.
You may be heartbroken about a child or grandchild who no longer goes to church. Or maybe it’s a sister or a brother. Maybe it’s a friend. People can become disenfranchised with church for any number of reasons. If you’re part of the reason by being a stumbling block to them, or if you have hurt them in some other way, seek reconciliation today. Live at peace with everyone as far as you have control over the situation. (Romans 12:18)
But also realize that it isn’t about going to church. It’s about a relationship with Jesus Christ. If someone dropped out of church, it may have nothing to do with church and everything to do with not having a relationship with Jesus; in other words, they aren’t saved! Perhaps your prayers should be, “God, please bring them back!” Or perhaps your prayers should be, “God please save them!”
This devotional was originally published May 29, 2019.
Before we begin with today’s devotional on our Bible reading, we need to start with a basic understanding. It’s crucial that all discussion of justification begins with this basic thought: God is God and I’m not (and neither are you).
So much discussion in churches and Bible studies — and just basic conversation — is very man-centered, and not God-centered. Look at a lot of evangelism training. A lot of it is merely sales training. “Is there any reason why you wouldn’t want to pray this prayer so you can go to heaven?”
Seriously? Where is the thought of counting the cost of following Jesus? Where is repentance? Is God even in the equation?
It is of utmost importance that when we’re talking about any theological issue, we approach it from a God-centered, Bible-based position. It’s all about God! And it’s all about His initiating a relationship with His fallen creation. If you’ve been around church for a long time, you’ve probably sung, “O, how I love Jesus … Because He first loved me.” Note the order.
In some people’s minds, Romans 9 shouldn’t even be in the Bible because it sounds like God is too harsh and it seems to contradict a lot of what we think the Bible teaches. But God inspired Paul to write this chapter. And we must take it as seriously as God does.
God says some pretty blunt things through Paul’s pen:
Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Romans 9:6b (CSB)
As it is written: I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau. Romans 9:13 (CSB)
What should we say then? Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not! For he tells Moses, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then, it does not depend on human will or effort but on God who shows mercy. For the Scripture tells Pharaoh, I raised you up for this reason so that I may display my power in you and that my name may be proclaimed in the whole earth. So then, he has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy and he hardens whom he wants to harden. Romans 9:14–18 (CSB)
A few days ago, I mentioned the doctrine of depravity. That anyone would believe and be saved is a miraculous work of God. For anyone to be saved from eternal punishment demonstrates that God is completely gracious and merciful. That anyone would even be interested in the things of God is a miraculous, sovereign work of God. (John 6:44)
If we are truly depraved to the core of who we are — even to the point of having a depraved will (Romans 9:16) — then it requires a miraculous, sovereign work of God for anyone to be saved.
These are all hard words because we have heard so many times that “God is a God of love”, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”, and “God wouldn’t want anyone to go to hell.”
Look, I don’t understand why God would choose to be merciful to some people and to choose to not be merciful to some other people. But I have to let Him handle that one. Remember, I’m not God! And neither are you. There are some things that we just don’t — and won’t — understand. And God never says that He owes us an explanation! But I know that God always works according to His infinite wisdom and will always use everything to bring honor and glory to His name. (Romans 9:17) God is in heaven and does what pleases Him. (Psalm 115:3)
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and untraceable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? And who has ever given to God, that he should be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:33–36 (CSB)
I don’t know to whom He will choose to be merciful, so I have be ready to tell everybody about my hope in Christ. (1Peter 3:15) Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:19-20). He promised Holy-Spirit-equipping-power for believers to take the gospel around the world. (Acts 1:8)
If you are a believer, you have been chosen by God to be one of His adopted children. That’s fantastic news!
God didn’t choose you because you did something that other people didn’t do or because you didn’t do something that other people did. God didn’t choose you because of any good that He saw in you. No, He chose you despite the lack of good in you. (Romans 7:18)
God didn’t choose you because you chose Him. In fact, Jesus said “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” John 15:16a (CSB)
Praise God for His goodness and mercy that He has shown in choosing you.
And pray that He will use you to tell other people about His goodness and mercy.
This devotional was originally published May 25, 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.