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exam

I’ve had my share of tests. I’ve done well on many. I’ve done poorly on some. In today’s Bible reading, Paul urges the Corinthians to examine themselves to see if they pass the test of faith. (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Actually, Paul asks the Corinthians two question: 1) Are you in the faith? and 2) Do you see Christ in you? Paul implies that if the answer is no, then you don’t pass the test.

Paul uses two different Greek verbs when he asks the questions. The first verb means “to try to learn the nature or character of someone or something by submitting such to thorough and extensive testing.” [1] The second verb means to “try to learn the genuineness of something by examination and testing, often through actual use.”[2]

Another way to ask the questions might be, “Examine yourself to see if you’re you a Believer” and “Test yourself as to how genuine your faith is.” In other words, Paul asks the Corinthians quantitative (yes/no?) and qualitative (how well?) elements of the tests. It isn’t enough to say, “Yes I’m a believer.” or “Yes, I adhere to certain religious beliefs.” Paul digs deeper.

Christianity is unlike every religion. Religions are based on believing certain teachings and seeking to appease a deity and/or to rid oneself of deficiencies. Some religions add an element of eternity, others do not.

But Christianity is a relationship, initiated by God, established by the sacrificial death of Jesus, and sealed by the Holy Spirit. It is completely different when seriously compared to every religion out there.

Application

I believe we need to ask these questions on a regular basis. It keeps us on our toes. It adds a present-day application of our faith test.

I mentioned to our church last Sunday that if you were married several decades ago and you have not had an ongoing and growing relationship with your spouse, something is seriously wrong!” If you claim to have been saved for several decades, but don’t have an ongoing, growing relationship with Jesus, something is seriously wrong!

Christians often rattle off that they have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But let me ask with Paul, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?” and “If so, then how personal is your personal relationship with Jesus Christ?”

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 331. Print.
[2] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 331. Print.

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Recently, the Parker County Sheriff’s Department (in the county where I pastor) issued a warning about counterfeit money being passed off as being legitimate. In a news conference, they highlighted the easily-discerned marks of these counterfeit bills. Anyone who has handled much money should be able to spot these counterfeits, if you just look at the bills instead of their denominations and the dead president pictures. Instead of noting these were bills of the United States Treasury, these bills clearly state that they are “For Motion Picture Purposes”.

Paul wasn’t happy with the Corinthians. They had lost all semblance of discernment. In fact, in today’s Bible reading, Paul rebukes them for opening wide their doors and accepting people peddling another Jesus, a different Spirit and a different Gospel than what he had preached to them earlier. (2 Corinthians 11:4)

A few years ago, after many hours arguing the details on some tertiary issues with some cultists, it dawned on me that I was arguing the wrong things. Paul squarely hits the nail on the head when he lists these three subjects: Jesus, the Spirit, and the Gospel. Every religion and every cult distort all three of these subjects, or outright reject the historic orthodox Christian belief.

If my doorbell rings tomorrow and some nicely-dressed young men ask me if I want to talk about Heavenly Father’s plan, I’ll invite them in, but I will only discuss three subjects: Jesus, the Spirit, and the Gospel. If an older and younger couple of women knock on my door and ask if I’d like to talk about living forever on Paradise Earth, I’ll invite them in, but I will only discuss three subjects: Jesus, the Spirit, and the Gospel.

I have encouraged classes at church to limit their conversations with cultists and other religious adherents to these three subjects. Why? Because it keeps you on task on three of the most important subjects in light of eternity. If you only discuss three subjects, you know very clearly where you stand on these important doctrines, and you can easily demonstrate where they don’t line up Scripturally … where things really matter.

When discussing the nature of the Gospel in Galatians, Paul says that if anyone — including an angel from heaven — preaches a Gospel contrary to the one he preached, let that person be accursed. (Galatians 1:8-9)

I’ve heard that no one is taught how to recognize counterfeit money. Instead, bank tellers and even the checkers at your local big box retailer are trained in some key features of real money. Just a few months ago, I was waiting for the customer ahead of me to check out, when the checker told the customer she couldn’t accept her $100 bill. The marker the checker used to validate the bill didn’t reveal the correct color. She called in a supervisor who also swiped the bill with the marker and immediately told the customer they couldn’t accept her money. This customer was trying to make off with goods she hadn’t legitimately paid for, and the checker would have been disciplined for accepting funny money.

Application

So how do you recognize spiritual counterfeits? The same way the checker recognized counterfeit money. She was familiar with the real thing. When the customer presented the fake bill, it didn’t bear the marks of the real thing.

The only way you’ll recognize spiritual counterfeit is to know your Bible. Read your Bible. Study your Bible. Read and study with other Believers. Carefully choose whose books you read and whose teachings you listen to and watch. The more familiar you are with the real deal, the more easily you’ll recognize a fake.

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chalkboard, books, and chalk

In today’s Bible reading in 1 Corinthians 4, Paul tells the church at Corinth that he wants to be a good manager of the mysteries of God. As I read that in the CSB, I thought, that really sounds strange. The ESV translates the word as steward, a word that sounds more applicable. The Greek word here means, “one who has the authority and responsibility for something—‘one who is in charge of, one who is responsible for, administrator, manager”[1]

The bottom line is, Paul says that everyone, including the Apostles, are accountable. One might think that the Apostles are at the “top of the food chain” so to speak in authority. But Paul says that he only wants to be seen as a good administrator of God’s mysteries. He doesn’t really care what the Corinthians — or anyone else for that matter — think of him; he is only accountable to God.

I shared a meme on Facebook a few days ago that took on a life of its own as a “Facebook Friend” took it completely out of context, making it appear to say something it clearly didn’t say. It showed a young lady gleefully saying that only God could judge her. Just below her picture was a picture of Charles Spurgeon saying, “That should scare you.”

Narcissists think that “Nobody can judge me.” So this meme takes it one step further and says that God is the only one who can judge me. Indeed! But they don’t realize the gravity of standing before a holy God to account for their life.

I remember taking a few classes in college on a pass/fail basis. It meant that at the end of the semester, my grade average could be anything from a 100 to a 70 (or whatever the bell-curve worked out to be) and still pass the course. Guess what! I didn’t push myself very hard in those classes. Why? Because there was very little incentive to put in the extra effort. In hindsight, those classes didn’t leave enough of an impression on my mind to be able to remember which classes I took as pass/fail.

In our attempts at self-justification, we must realize that — as Paul did — God doesn’t grade on a curve. A sliding scale doesn’t appear in God’s grade book. It’s either pass or fail. And for all eternity past and future, Jesus blew the curve! So you either score 100% or you fail. It doesn’t matter if you score in the top 10% or even in the top 1%, you still fail! God doesn’t compare us to Hitler. If He did, most of us would be in pretty good shape. God compares us to Jesus! Ouch! So yes, only God can judge us. And that should scare us!

But the Good News of the gospel is that I can have Jesus’ 100% score put in the place of my score. I can score 2% and Jesus turns that into 100% because of what He’s done. Now, I can tell you that this unfair crediting my grade with Jesus’ grade makes me work so much harder than I ever dreamed of in my pass/fail college classes. And my motivation to work hard isn’t in order to receive the 100%. My motivation to work is because I already have the perfect score and I want to please the One Who gave me the perfect credit.

Because Jesus’ perfect obedience has been applied to my account, my motivation to obey God has been turned on its head! I want to spend time in God’s Word. I want to pray. I want to worship. I want to be a good steward of my finances so that I can give more to help further the work of the Gospel in my church, in my city and in the world. I want to tell other people about Jesus. And I want to spend time helping other people to grow in their relationship with God.

Application

Have you ever realized your inability to please God? Have you ever really given up your attempts to make God happy with you? Have you ever asked God to apply Jesus’ perfect score to your score?

Jesus’ perfect score is available for the asking! God isn’t stingy with His grace and His mercy! He lavishes them on us as the Perfect Father would!

If you haven’t turned your life over to God, today’s a good day to do it! And once you’ve done that, watch how He empowers you to please Him. Watch how He gives you new desires to please Him.

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 476. Print.

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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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