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Moralism

transformation of a butterfly

Paul offers hope for perpetual sinners in today’s Bible reading.

Some will tell you that your sin defines you, that once you discover your “true self“, that’s who you truly are and you should celebrate your true self.

But what if your “true self” is opposed to the revealed Word of God? How do you handle this epic conflict?

Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 (CSB)

Paul names several sins and says that those who commit those sins will not inherit the Kingdom of God. That’s a pretty strong statement, Paul. You’re being very judgmental, Paul. Paul, you’re lacking grace. You need to be more loving, Paul. You need to be more inclusive, Paul. You need to be more tolerant, Paul.

You could write off the Bible as an old, outdated book written by closed-minded men. Or you could say that their statements were culturally-conditioned and therefore don’t apply today. Or you could say that what the biblical writers referred to (eg, homosexuality) wasn’t what is referred to by that word today. Or you could say that the biblical writers didn’t have access to modern-day science that dismisses their theories. Or you could dismiss the authority of the Bible completely, rejecting its claims to be God’s revealed Word.

Or you could repent and turn to God.

Application

Paul gives sinners hope! Paul says that your sin doesn’t define you! Paul says you can change!

Notice that right after Paul lists the sins, he says, “And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:11 (CSB)

The clear implication is that you don’t have to continue to do what you used to do! You don’t have to live the way you used to live!

You used to be a drunkard, but you don’t have to be now! You used to be greedy, but you don’t have to be now! You used to be sexually immoral, but you don’t have to be now! You used to be verbally abusive, but you don’t have to be now!

The Gospel Message is one of hope! Grace isn’t limited to getting you into heaven. Grace includes the power of getting heaven into you, to change you from the inside out. (Galatians 5:16, Romans 1:5)

This isn’t about behavior change. This is about life transformation from a life of sin to a life of obedience to God.

Are you being washed? Are you being sanctified? Is your life being renewed by God’s Holy Spirit?

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What will you do with Jesus?
Photo credit: LumoProject

Dr. Luke continues his narrative about Jesus’ trial in today’s Bible reading. Pontius Pilate is convinced that Jesus is not guilty of anything worthy of the death penalty. He learns that Jesus is from Herod’s district so he sends Jesus to Herod. Herod can’t find anything worthy of death either, so he sends Jesus back to Pilate.

Pilate is in a quandary. What to do with Jesus?

He offers to have Jesus flogged and the religious leaders aren’t interested. Actually, the only thing they’re interested in is Jesus’ execution at the hands of the Romans. If the Romans kill Jesus, then they can always claim that their hands are clean. To them, it doesn’t matter that Jesus is not guilty of breaking the Roman Law. It doesn’t matter that Jesus is not guilty of breaking the Jewish Law. It doesn’t matter that they have to lie — breaking the Jewish Law — to get rid of Him.

Jesus’ only offense is upsetting these religious leaders’ apple cart. He humbly came on the scene without any fanfare, miraculously healing people from lifelong illnesses, delivering people from spiritual oppression, and feeding crowds of hungry people. And He spoke with authority, not as the religious leaders did. (Luke 4:32, Mark 1:22)

How could it be that so many religious leaders could hate someone so bitterly that they are willing to lie and send an innocent man to His death?

The people loved Jesus and He loved them. And that ticked off the religious leaders. The people were supposed to look up to them. The people were supposed to be impressed with them. The people were to love them.

Anger, rage, and jealousy have driven people to do things they wouldn’t have done on their own. When you add more and more people with more and more anger, rage, and jealousy, you end up with a mob rule of anarchy. The religious leaders wouldn’t listen to reason. They had already moved past that.

So Pilate decided what to do with Jesus. He have Jesus executed. And the religious leaders were happy.

One of the criminals crucified with Jesus decided what to do with Jesus. He joined the mocking crowd, “If you’re the Messiah, save yourself!”

The other criminal crucified with Jesus decided what he would do with Jesus. He defended Him and then asked, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

Application

So what will you do with Jesus? That is the question!

When you cross over to the other side of eternity and face your Judgment Day, the only question that will matter is, “What did you do with Jesus?”

It won’t matter how many times you read your Bible. It won’t matter how many people you told about Jesus. It won’t matter how fluently you pray publicly. It won’t matter if you were baptized. It won’t matter if you went through a confirmation class at church. These things won’t matter.

It won’t matter which religion you claim. It won’t matter how many people you proselytized to your religion. It won’t matter how much money you gave to charitable causes. It won’t matter how many glasses of cool water you offered to thirsty people.

All that will matter is what you did with Jesus.

So?

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Has Jesus changed your life?

Today’s Bible reading presents the famous story of the “wee little man”, Zacchaeus.

From an early age, I felt like I could relate to Zacchaeus. Those of you who have met me know why. Neither Zacchaeus nor I will ever be the tallest man in the room! It doesn’t bother me so much now compared to my “wonder years”. At some point, I finally embraced the fact that it is what it is.

But Zacchaeus’ stature isn’t what the story is about. The Sycamore Tree isn’t what the story is about. The central focus of the story is Zacchaeus’ radical transformation from being a greedy tax collector to a repentant Christ-follower after his encounter with Jesus.

As I just typed that, I realized how strange that redundancy should sound: a repentant Christ-follower. Every Christ-follower should be marked by a changed life as a result of encountering the One we follow. And following Him involves — even requires — repentance: Turning from us and turning to Him.

Tax collectors weren’t the most popular people of Jesus’ day. Evidently, tax collectors lined their pockets with whatever extras they could exact from their taxpayers. And from Dr. Luke’s description, Zacchaeus was really good at his job. Dr. Luke even hints at that in naming Zacchaeus a “Chief Tax Collector”. (Luke 19:2)

Other than the disdain of the religious leaders that Jesus had gone to “stay with a sinful man”, Dr. Luke doesn’t give us any details of Jesus’ visit to Zacchaeus’ home. He only gives us the result of the encounter: Zacchaeus will never be the same. His behavior changes because his heart changes. An encounter with Jesus is always a heart encounter first. Then it overflows into a behavior change. In expressing his repentance (Luke 19:8), Zacchaeus promises restitution to those he has wronged. This is straight out of the Law (Leviticus 6:5, Numbers 5:6–7)

Philosophers will sometimes use the “Prime Mover Argument” in an effort to prove God’s existence. It says that everything in the universe is in constant motion. Therefore, there had to be a Prime Mover who set the first thing into motion; that Prime Mover is God.

Zacchaeus climbed the tree because he wanted to see Jesus. But before Zacchaeus needed the tree, God put that tree where Zacchaeus would need it. God is always the “Prime Mover”. God is the One Who seeks. Jesus said that the Father seeks spirit-and-truth worshipers. (John 4:23) That’s a good thing! Because on our own, not one of us would seek God! (Romans 3:10–12) And in our reading today, Jesus said that He was sent to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10) And the day our first father sinned, it was God who was seeking. (Genesis 3:8–9)

Application

The religious leaders criticized Jesus for being with sinners. The underhanded accusation was that Jesus was with hanging out with sinners because he was one, too. But note that in every situation where Jesus hung out with sinners, the sinners changed but Jesus didn’t. Every situation. He never compromised on the Truth of His message. And neither should we.

It is admirable when Christians reach outside our comfort zone and roll up our sleeves to rub elbows with people unlike ourselves. But in reaching out, we must be very careful to “love the sinner” and not share in their sin, nor encourage them in their sin. Like Jesus, believers should love the sinner out of, and away from, his/her sin.

In case you’ve missed this major theme, everyone is a sinner. Our goal in discipleship/becoming more like Jesus is to become in our experience who we already are in Christ Jesus. In Jesus, we are saints. But until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will struggle with becoming more saintly in our beliefs, our attitudes and our behavior, and less as a sinner.

The Christian life isn’t about behavior change. If it were, it would be just like all of the other religions. Instead, the Christian life is about having a relationship with Jesus Christ. But as we grow in our relationship with Jesus, our behavior will change. Just like Zacchaeus!

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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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Your heart is darker than you think! (Jeremiah 17:9)

Dr. Luke records Jesus’ Beatitudes from His “Sermon on the Plain” in today’s Bible reading. It’s very similar to Matthew’s version from Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”.

Dr. Luke juxtaposes the blessings in verses 20-22 against the judgmental attitude of the Pharisees in verses 1-11, and then his instructions on judging in verses 24-26 and 37-45.

The key verse in the “don’t judge” part of the passage (Luke 6:37-42) is at the end of verse 45:

“A good person produces good out of the good stored up in his heart. An evil person produces evil out of the evil stored up in his heart, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” Luke 6:45 (CSB)

The Pharisees’ words only revealed their hypocritical, judgmental hearts. And Jesus warned that when we judge, our judgment will return to back to us … in abundance. (Luke 6:37-38)

Application

Moralism looks good. That’s when you’re doing all the right things and not doing any of the wrong things. It looks really good … on the outside. But the Pharisees’ problem was not their behavior — which was exemplary. Their problem was on the inside: their wicked hearts. And their hearts couldn’t be fixed by their behavior because behavior follows the heart, not the other way around.

Remember, the Christian walk isn’t about behavior change. It’s about a relationship with Jesus Christ. Don’t focus primarily on your behavior. Instead, look at your heart. Ask God to reveal your heart when you’re inclined to judge. Hint: Your heart is darker than you think! (Jeremiah 17:9) Deal with your heart and your behavior will follow.

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