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Reformation

pruning a rose bush
Spring pruning roses in the garden

Reading the Bible can sometimes be a little unpleasant. If in your Bible reading, you are always comforted, always affirmed in your relationship with God and never feel a sense of conviction of sin, you should ask if you are truly saved.

In today’s Bible reading, Jesus points out some things about divorce and remarriage, as well as money. His words are uncomfortable because His words are not accepted by many, even those who claim to follow Jesus.

I am surprised at how quickly Christians turn to divorce and how quickly remarry someone else. It’s as if they forget that it’s better to not make a vow and not fulfill it. (Ecclesiastes 5:5) Christians seek a church wedding — for the marriage to be blessed by God — and so quickly renege on the vows they made to their spouse and to God. It isn’t right (according to Jesus). He allows (though doesn’t require) divorce in very limited circumstances. And yet, they idolize their own happiness instead of seeking the eternal pleasures that are at God’s right hand. (Psalm 16:11)

Finally in Matthew 19, He addresses a man who self-righteously asks Jesus about obtaining eternal life. When Jesus points him to the Law, the man claims to be blameless. And then, Jesus pokes him in the idols. He tells him to sell everything he has and give the proceeds to the poor. Matthew tells us that the young man went away sad because he had a lot of possessions. I would rephrase that to say that a lot of possessions had him. There’s nothing wrong with having money. God blesses many people with more money than they need to survive. And with these blessings, God expects those blessings to be passed on to others. (Luke 12:48)

Application

Reformer John Calvin said that our hearts are idol factories. I cannot refute that statement. It is so true! I need no help from the world or the devil to come up with all kinds of things to distract me from living wholeheartedly for the glory of the Lover of my Soul.

As I began this devotional, I said that if in your Bible reading, you are always comforted, always affirmed in your relationship with God and never feel a sense of conviction of sin, you should ask if you are truly saved. I meant that. Either you’re only reading comfortable parts of the Bible, or you are merely letting your eyes skim the ink on the page.

As you read, ask God to show you those areas where your behavior, attitudes, and beliefs don’t line up with His Word. (Psalm 139:23–24) And be prepared for Him to answer that prayer. The Holy Spirit will let empower you to make changes in your beliefs, attitudes, and behavior.

Notice that behavior is only part of what needs to be changed as we grow in our relationship with God. Our idols live in our beliefs and attitudes and they express themselves in our behavior. Behavior that doesn’t line up with God’s revealed will in the Bible is fruit. It’s the leaves and branches that we tend to focus on, thinking that if we can just control them, we can have a good relationship with Him. But pruning leaves and branches actually work to bring out more of what you’re attempting to cut off. It’s true of pruning your rose bushes and it’s true of attempting to prune your behavior to enhance your walk with God.

God completely loves you with an everlasting love. He completely accepts you as you are when you come to Him. But He loves you too deeply to let you continue living with your idols.

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In today’s Bible reading, we see Peter and John approach the Temple to worship. They are approached by a lame beggar — we aren’t given his name — who asks for a donation. The only other thing we know about this man is that he has never walked; he was lame from birth. And because he has been lame from birth, he’s completely dependent on someone to carry him to the Temple and place him where he can receive gifts from the worshipers. (Acts 3:2)

Perhaps this nameless beggar has sat at this same spot for decades. If so, many Jews have passed by this man on their way to worship. Occasionally, they will throw him a few coins. But this day is different. What happens this day changes his life.

Peter and John tell the man that they don’t have any money to give him. But they do have something better than money. They command him to get up and walk. And reaching out, they help him stand to his feet. But he doesn’t just stand. He walks. He runs. He leaps.

And for the very first time in his life,
he is able to enter the Temple and worship God.

Application

Imagine for a moment being able to go to the Temple every day for all of your life. But you aren’t able to go into the Temple to worship God because you can’t walk. (Leviticus 21:18) Because of no fault of your own, you aren’t welcome to enter and worship God. Your only knowledge of what goes on in worship is what people tell you because you can’t experience it for yourself.

And then one day, someone tells you to stand up. As they lift you to your feet, your muscles, ligaments, and tendons begin to strengthen. You can stand! You can walk! And you can go in and worship!

I think we don’t consider how fortunate we are as Christians in Western Society. For his entire life, this poor man couldn’t go worship God. As much as he may have wanted to, he wasn’t permitted.

In the Twenty-First Century in Western Society, we are able to go to church to worship with our friends and family. But just because we are able doesn’t mean that we do.

Because of the (literal) sacrifices of many who lived hundreds of years ago, many of us have multiple copies of the Bible in various English translations. We have access to even more translations through our phones and computers. But just because we can doesn’t mean that we do. Or even that we want to. And yet there are still many people worldwide who do not have any access to a Bible in their native language. Many don’t have access to a New Testament in their native language. And many don’t have a copy of the Gospel of John in their native language. They don’t have a Bible, New Testament, or Gospel of John, not because they haven’t been given one. They don’t have access to God’s Word because it hasn’t been translated into their native language. There’s not a Bible to give them. There’s not a New Testament to give to them. There’s not even a single verse for someone to read to them!

You may have all of the blessings of multiple modern translations in your native language, but if you don’t regularly read your Bible, study your Bible, and memorize Bible verses, you have no real advantages over those who don’t have a single verse in their native language.

Spend some time today thanking God that He preserved His Word through the ages and blessed scholars who could faithfully translate His Word so you could read it. And study it. And memorize it. And share it.

The Illuminations Project

Here’s another application point: Prayerfully consider partnering with the Illuminations Project to help translate the Bible for every people group on the planet in the next thirteen years. Ten Bible translation organizations are coordinating their efforts to eradicate Bible poverty in this generation.

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Reformation Day

Five hundred two years ago today, a young man aired his ninety-five grievances against the church. The resulting Reformation turned Christianity upside-down. Or, rather, it turned Christianity rightside-up.

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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free gift

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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