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Religion

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Pure and undefiled religion

I’m glad the Navigators (the organization that designed our Daily Bible Reading Plan) placed the readings from James to follow Galatians. Some — even Reformer Martin Luther — don’t like James. But this is a good way to show the balance between faith and good deeds.

In today’s Bible reading, James concludes the first chapter talking about pure, wholesome religion. Many consider themselves to be “religious”. Others consider themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious”. Others simply say they aren’t religious, they just love the Lord.

In James’ day, some would claim to be very religious. They were devout. They were very dedicated in their faith. Some described pure and undefiled religion as social justice: taking care of the disenfranchised, the destitute, the marginalized. Others claimed to be religious and defined pure and undefiled religion as separation from the world. We see the same extremes in our day.

So which is it? Should religion aim for social justice? Or should religion aim for separation from all things “worldly”?

Application

James says that pure and undefiled religion is both social justice and godliness. The two are not mutually exclusive. Rather they are mutually inclusive.

Look around and you’ll see some churches emphasizing liberal causes. Others emphasize conservative causes, separation, and holiness.

Why can’t we just take the Bible as it reads? Why do we tend to read only the parts that agree with our personal and political agenda? The political and religious divide in our nation is very wide. If we want to see healing, we will have to read the whole Bible, in its context and try to apply it to our context. We have to let the Bible speak for itself without imposing our agenda on it and reading it accordingly. But why can’t we do that? It’s because we are all fallen creatures who have inherited a propensity, a proclivity, a bent toward ourselves and away from God. Our default setting is disobedience and rebellion from God. Until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will continue dealing with the struggle between doing what we want and doing what God wants. We are involved in spiritual warfare.

Both extremes are wrong when taken alone. Instead, we should aim at glorifying God by reaching out in social justice AND live a holy, God-pleasing life.

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No advantage

In today’s Bible reading, Paul warns the Galatians that if they accept the requirement of circumcision, they are obligated to keep the entire Law. James says something similar, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” James 2:10 (ESV)

But note what else Paul says.

I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. Galatians 5:3–4 (ESV)

You may have heard of this term “fall from grace”. Normally the term is used to say that someone has lost their salvation. But in this context — and this is the only place in the Bible that mentions it — it doesn’t mean that. It means that if you choose to fall back to the Law for justifying you before God, you have fallen from grace to legalism.

The Message translation may help us to see this more clearly.

The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law. I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. (Galatians 5:3-4 The Message)

Application

Believer, if you’re concerned that you have committed some sin (or a lot of sins) and therefore have fallen from grace and lost your salvation, go back and re-read that!

“Falling from grace” doesn’t mean losing your salvation! It means that you have chosen to use a lower form of justification before God. Don’t do that!

Instead, choose the higher form of justification: grace.

Paul’s whole point of Galatians is that the Law is insufficient to justify us because we could never keep it. The whole point of the Law is to show us that we don’t measure up to God’s standards. And if we could measure up to God’s standards on our own, then Jesus wasted His life and death.

The bottom line is you’re either resting on the finished work of Jesus on the cross, or you’re working to justify yourself. Find your rest in Him. Accept the atoning sacrifice that Jesus already paid for your sin.

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Religion vs. Sonship

In Galatians 4:6–7, Paul brings out the fact that believers are not servants; they are sons. There is a tremendous difference between the responsibilities of a servant and the privileges of a son.

Several years ago, some friends of ours adopted a baby girl from an unwed teen. It was a win-win-win and to this day, the girl’s (or young woman now!) biological mother is still involved in her daughter’s life. But as our friends went through the legal process of adopting their daughter, I learned that US adoption laws are based on Biblical adoption laws. I also learned a mind-blowing fact about adoption: Adoptive parents are legally more responsible for their adoptive children than they are for their biological children. Being an adopted son or daughter brings tremendous benefits, even over being a biological child, including the security of knowing that if you are an adopted child, you can never be disinherited.

Application

Believer, do you see you see yourself as a servant of God? Or do you see yourself as a child of God? How you see your relationship will determine how you feel about God, how you pray to God, how you give to God, and how you talk about God.

If you are an insecure servant of God and get into trouble, you will respond, “I’ve messed up. My Father’s going to kill me.” But if you are a secure child of God, you will respond, “I’ve messed up. I need to call my Dad.” One view brings a response of paralyzing fear, while the other brings a response of feeling lovingly supported.

If you are a child of God, rejoice!
You have a loving Father Who will never disown you.

Note: I originally published this 3/26/19 and every time I see the graphic above, I still tear up. It’s a fantastic picture of the difference between religion and relationship! Which do you have?

Today’s Bible reading says that if you were saved and backslide, you cannot be restored to faith. (Hebrews 6:4-6) In other words, if you were saved and lose your salvation, you can never get it back!

People don’t like to hear things like this. God is a God of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. There’s nothing that you can do that God won’t forgive you for. Right?!

These are great questions. The problem is that oftentimes, we approach this issue of salvation from a man-centered orientation rather than from a God-centered orientation. The ultimate question comes down to the question of how lost were we before we were saved? How deeply was mankind — and each of us individually — affected by the Fall? The Bible’s answer is that we were all — and individually — affected to the very depths of who we are. (Psalm 14:1-3, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:23)

We wrongly think that our standing is based on our behavior. But it isn’t. Misdeeds can’t make us less righteous and good deeds can’t make us more righteous. If we could just behave ourselves into making God happy with us, then Jesus wasted His life and death. Wasted!

Application

Our standing before God has everything to do with what we’re doing with Jesus’ death. Being justified before God — having a right standing before God — is based on position, not behavior. Sure, behavior is important, but not on the front end of salvation.

Salvation is based on the finished atoning work of Jesus on the cross. Either we are trusting in His payment for our sin-debt, or we’re trusting in our own. Either we’re in an adopted covenant relationship with God or we aren’t. And if we’re not, we’re ultimately in a transactional religion, which God never agreed to be a part of.

Adoption is based on the choice of the adopting parent, not the behavior — or potential behavior — of the adoptee. Every one of my friends who adopted children initiated the adoption with their kids. Not one of their kids initiated the adoption by asking to be adopted, even if they could have.

Jesus’ atoning work on the cross was either sufficient to secure you in an adoptive covenant relationship or it wasn’t. And if you can sin your way out of having a covenant relationship with God, then Jesus’ atoning work on the cross was incomplete, and thus insufficient to hold you in the relationship.

That’s why the writer to the Hebrews says that if it is possible for someone to taste salvation and share in the Holy Spirit, and later to fall away, then it is impossible to restore that person to a covenant relationship with God.

Your behavior cannot get you into an adoptive covenant relationship with God. And your behavior can’t get you out of an adoptive covenant relationship with Him either.

And that’s great news!

So are you in an adoptive covenant relationship with the Creator of the universe? If not, please reach out to me. Let’s talk!

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Jesus sat down.

With today’s Bible reading, we begin reading through the book of Hebrews. No one knows for sure who wrote the book. It could have been Luke, Paul, or some other individual. But it doesn’t bear the marks of any other Biblical writer. One thing is certain, the letter was written to show how Jesus is better than the old covenant and the old way of doing things.

Straight out of the box, the writer says that Jesus was involved in the universe’s creation and He is actively maintaining it today. (Hebrews 1:2-3) Next the writer says that after completing his atoning work, Jesus sat down. The significance of this simple act is revisited in Hebrews 10:11–12, “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”

What the writer wants us to see is that in contrast to what was going on in Jerusalem when the book was written (which was before AD 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans), Jesus’ work was completed in one single action. Once Jesus completed His work, there was no need to keep standing. The job was done. It was finished, never to be repeated.

Application

This is the Gospel message. Jesus died for our sins and finished the job. Never again do fallen people have to try to appease God. Never again do fallen people have to worry if they’re good enough. Jesus was good enough so we don’t have to be. Not that we could be anyway! If we could, Jesus wasted His life and death. Wasted.

While religion teaches that we have to work to be good enough, the relationship that God offers through Jesus Christ is more than enough to give us a right standing before Him. All we have to do is believe. Have faith. Trust. While religion says, “Do”, “Do”, “Do”, “Don’t do”, Don’t do”, and “Don’t even think of doing”, Jesus stretches out his nail-scarred hands and declares “DONE!”

Have you trusted Jesus to be your atoning sacrifice for your fallen condition before God?

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