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Salvation

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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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account reconciliation

Again, I’ll highlight what I have said before, that when you see a word or phrase repeated in close proximity in the Bible, it’s a signal of its importance. In today’s Bible reading, Paul uses reconcile five times in only three verses. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

The word reconcile is used in accounting. You may have reconciled your checkbook to make sure that your income and expenses come into agreement. Hmmm…. come into agreement. That’s what it means to be reconciled!

One of my Greek lexicons (a fancy word for dictionary) says this about reconciliation:

to reestablish proper friendly interpersonal relations after these have been disrupted or broken (the componential features of this series of meanings involve (1) disruption of friendly relations because of (2) presumed or real provocation, (3) overt behavior designed to remove hostility, and (4) restoration of original friendly relations)—‘to reconcile, to make things right with one another, reconciliation.’[1]

The fact that God reconciles people to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18) demonstrates that the relationship was broken in the first place. And the relationship was broken by Adam and all of his descendants. Otherwise, Paul could speak of us reconciling ourselves with God.

But God is the one Who takes the initiative because we, as fallen creatures cannot. In fact, even if we could take the initiative, we would not. Yes, we are that fallen! We are that broken!

Until we can understand the gravity of our sinful condition, we can’t grasp the incredible goodness, grace, and mercy of God to reconcile us to Himself. Because God has reconciled His children to Himself through Jesus Christ, we can have peace with God and peace with each other! “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:15, (CSB)

And we get to be a part of God’s ministry of reconciliation! He has made us His ambassadors to plead with our family, friends, and acquaintances, “Be reconciled to God!” What an amazing priviledge!

And what an amazing responsibility!

Application

Have you been reconciled to God? Have you recognized your infinite debt to God due to your own sin? He has done all that is necessary to restore you to Himself, if you will only accept His offer! Be reconciled to God!

If you have been reconciled to God, have you told your family, friends, and acquaintances about this glorious God Who has extended His grace to you, and to them?

Who can you tell today?

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 501. 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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Lost and Found

Have you ever lost something that you treasure? Maybe it was a family heirloom. Maybe it was a gold coin that you put in a “safe place” so you wouldn’t lose it, but you lost it because you forgot where the “safe place” was. If you’ve been around church for very long, you’ve heard the three parables that Jesus uses in today’s Bible reading from Luke 15: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and the Lost Son.

I think we have named these parables incorrectly. The parables aren’t about what was lost, but rather the seeker who doesn’t stop seeking until what was lost has been found. With each story, Jesus says that there’s a party once what was lost was found. It’s a cause for celebration! Whether it’s a celebration in the neighborhood, in Heaven, or around the backyard barbecue pit, everyone celebrates with the person who found what was lost. Perhaps these parables should be named The Searching Shepherd, The Searching Woman, and the Searching Father.

Leaving ninety-nine sheep may seem pretty foolish. Think about it. What if while you’re looking for the one lost sheep, several of the other sheep wander off? Then you have to look for all the other lost sheep. You’re only down 1% of your original flock. Why not just count your losses? Why risk running into the bear that’s enjoying its fresh lamb chops? You still have ninety-nine sheep that need to be tended to. Yes, it seems pretty foolish to leave the ninety-nine. Unless you’re the one lost sheep. Once you find the sheep, you have to share the joy; it’s uncontainable and it doesn’t seem like the joy is complete until you share it!

You lose one of your ten silver coins. Where did you leave it? Maybe your other pocket? No, it’s not there. Maybe in a mug in the cupboard? No, it’s not there either. Where could it be? You’ve lost 10% of your coins. Ten percent of your savings. You’ve got to find it! So you turn on the lights and open the blinds. You make an excuse to rearrange the furniture so you can vacuum up the dust bunnies and look for that lost coin. And when you find it, you want to share your joy with your friends and family! You have to share the joy; it’s uncontainable and it doesn’t seem like the joy is complete until you share it!

One of your sons runs away from home, taking a third of your assets with him. (The older son gets a “double-portion” when you die, so the second son gets a third) You’ve just lost half of your offspring. This hurts a lot worse than losing one percent of your sheep. This hurts a lot worse than losing ten percent of your assets. You still have your older son who works alongside you. He never complains about the hard work he does out in the hot field.

Then one day, as you scan the horizon — just as you’ve done every day since your younger son left — you see something moving toward you. Is it a deer? Maybe a bear? As whatever it is comes closer you squint a little more to try to figure out what that is. And then… Could it be? No, it can’t be! Surely your mind is playing tricks on you. No, it’s HIM! It’s your long-lost son! You’ve searched the horizon every single long day since he left, longing for his shadow to grace your property again. You drop everything and run toward him. It’s been years since the last time you ran. So you huff and puff, gasping for breath as you get closer. He looks a little skinnier than when he left. His clothes are very worn and dirty. Wow, you’ve never seen him with a beard, and man, is his hair shaggy! And just before you get to him, it hits you. It’s so strong it takes your breath away. You’ve never smelled such stench ever before! Ever! Oh, it’s horrible! He must not have bathed in months! In addition to the nose-hair-curling BO, he smells like … pigs! DISGUSTING! There’s nothing nastier than pigs! You raised him to be better than this!

But despite all of the disgust you feel, despite all of the disgust you smell, your heart melts as he falls at your feet. You throw your arms around him and give him the biggest bear hug ever! He’s home! He’s finally home! Your lost son has been found! He starts mumbling, asking something about coming back as a servant. What? How could you ever treat him as a servant? He’s your son! He’s always been your son. And he’ll always be your son! You shout to your servants! “We’re having a party! You, go grab the family ring! And you, go kill the best-of-show steer!”

One of your servants whispers something in your ear that rips away the celebratory mood. So you set out looking for your older son. You’re just as intent to find him as you were to find your younger son. As he angrily shares his heart you discover that he too was lost. He was right beside you all these years, but he was so far away. Your work is cut out for you. You have to build relationships with both sons to restore both of them back to their rightful place in your family.

Application

That’s your Father’s heart! Maybe you rebelled and sowed your wild oats. Or maybe you sulked your oats in bitterness as you watched other people experience God’s blessings. Regardless of how, just like all of us, you rebelled. But your Father has been waiting. Not passively waiting, but actively waiting. Actually, He pursued you in your rebellion. It may seem like you ran so far away. He may have seemed to be so far in the distance. But He never lost sight of you. And He’s ready to restore you to your rightful place as His son or daughter.

Repent. Come back.

And watch Him celebrate!

The Lord your God is among you, a warrior who saves.
He will rejoice over you with gladness.
He will be quiet in his love.
He will delight in you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17 (CSB)

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