Sanctification & Growth
Jesus has some hard words for would-be disciples in today’s Bible reading. Many would say that Jesus wouldn’t turn away anyone, but He actually does! In Luke 9:23, He says, “Then he said to them all, ‘If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.'” He implies that if someone wants to follow Him, but doesn’t deny himself, or if someone wants to follow Him and doesn’t take up his cross daily, he cannot follow Jesus. In fact, later in the chapter, Jesus says, “But Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62 (CSB)
A few years ago, John MacArthur wrote a controversial book, The Gospel According to Jesus. He looks at verses like these and rightly asserts that there is no such thing as salvation that doesn’t include Lordship. I remember one of my seminary professors, Dr. Roy Fish, said that you can come to Jesus as Savior and later come to understand Him as Lord, but you cannot come to Jesus as Savior and reject Him as Lord. I think that’s what Jesus is getting at here. Elsewhere, He says that a would-be disciple must count the cost. (Luke 14:28)
Instead, in an effort to count nickels and noses, preachers have softened their evangelistic invitations and offered a cheap grace that doesn’t require a commitment.
But that isn’t the Gospel Jesus preached!
Grace is free, but it isn’t cheap! If you came to Jesus as a response to a preacher’s invitation, yet have never “made Him Lord”, you need to go back and revisit your salvation experience! He is Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all.
I know, it’s easy to “backslide”. But right now, do you have an interest in the things of God? Do you desire to know God more than anything else? Yes, all believers can and should grow in our desire for God and the things of God (not the stuff from God, but the things of God). But do you have a hunger for God? Do you desire to know Him more? Or are you content to do religious things and hope to go to heaven when you die? Let me tell you, that won’t work! Biblically speaking, you don’t have a leg to stand on if you choose to bet your eternal destiny on merely doing religious things. You cannot separate salvation from a desire to know God. (John 17:3)
Spend a little time today asking God to give you a deeper hunger for Him and the things of God. (Colossians 3:1-2) Ask Him to give you a hunger and thirst for His righteousness. (Matthew 5:6) Ask Him to help you seek His Kingdom and His righteousness first. (Matthew 6:33)
This devotional was originally published July 9, 2019.
Today’s Bible reading is the entire book of Philemon. It’s no longer than a typical chapter in other books of the Bible, and this one-chapter-book is short and sweet. Paul writes this letter to Philemon who owns a slave named Onesimus. Onesimus has become a believer under Paul’s ministry and Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon with instructions to receive him back as a fellow believer, not as a servant. Paul tells Philemon that if Philemon has incurred any costs or damages because of Onesimus’ desertion, to charge those costs to Paul’s account. Then Paul reminds Philemon that he owes his very life to Paul. (Philemon 19)
Paul basically tells Philemon to do what’s right with regards to Onesimus, but he doesn’t really tell him what the right thing to do is. That’s a mark of a good leader. He gives the expectation, and he empowers his follower(s) to make wise choices. The mature follower will apply what he/she has learned to situations that present themselves. No one wants to be a robot, only doing what he/she has been told and no more, no less.
Finally, Paul tells Philemon to prepare his guest room for him to stay in the next time he’s in town. I think this is Paul’s final hint that he expects Philemon to treat Onesimus well. Paul basically says, you better do what’s right because I’m going to check back with you to make sure you did the right thing.
I remember some really good advice we received when our first child was born: The goal is not to raise a compliant child (who does everything they’re told), but to raise a wise child who can make mature decisions.
How about you? Do you make your choices based on what you’ve been told is right and what is wrong? Or do you make your choices based on the principles instilled in you through your relationship with Jesus and what you see in God’s Word?
The mature believer will make godly choices because they know it’s the right thing to do, even without being told what the right thing is.
This devotional was originally published June 26, 2019.
As a pastor, I receive emails from time to time asking me to complete a survey in exchange for a copy of an ebook. I completed one of those surveys this morning. To be honest, I really didn’t like my answers!
Today’s survey questions asked about my prayer life:
- How much time do you spend praying?
- What do you spend the most time praying for
? How often do you pray with other people?
- When was the last time you spent more than ten minutes in prayer?
- When was the last time you spent more than thirty minutes praying?
- When was the last time you spent more than an hour praying?
- How satisfied are you with your prayer life?
In today’s Bible reading from Colossians 4, Paul tells the Colossians to devote themselves to prayer. In light of today’s survey questions, I thought I’d dig a little into what Paul actually wanted his readers to do.
The English word devote is translated from a couple of different Greek words. But the words Paul uses in Colossians 4:2 are used elsewhere in a similar way. Here are a few examples.
- They all were continually united in prayer, along with the women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. Acts 1:14 (CSB)
- They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Acts 2:42 (CSB)
- Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the
temple,and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts, Acts 2:46 (CSB)
- But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. Acts 6:4 (CSB)
One of my Greek lexicons (a fancy word for a dictionary) says that this Greek word means,
1. to adhere to one, be his adherent, to be devoted or constant to one.
2. to be steadfastly attentive unto, to give unremitting care to a thing.
3. to continue all the time in a place.
4. to persevere and not to faint.
5. to show one’s self courageous for.
6. to be in constant readiness for one, wait on constantly.
Another lexicon says this Greek word means, “to continue to do something with intense effort, with the possible implication of despite difficulty—‘to devote oneself to, to keep on, to persist in.’”
Let me merge a couple of those definitions: To give unremitting care to something with intense effort, despite
In other words, “devoting oneself to prayer” is much more than “saying your prayers”. It’s much more than going through a list of prayer requests. In the context of praying with other people, it’s much more than merely updating the names of people and their needs on our corporate prayer list.
My answers didn’t fit very well with what Paul was telling the Colossians to do!
How would you answer those questions? Would you be satisfied with your answers?
So what are some practical things you can do today to change your answers to fit more with the actual instructions Paul was giving the Colossian church?
Write your answers in a journal. Then devote yourself to prayer.
Periodically go back and review your answers and see how God has grown you in the spiritual discipline of prayer.
 Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon 1995 : n. pag. Print.
 Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains 1996 : 662. Print.
This devotional was originally published June 22, 2019.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul talks about living a consistent Christian Life. (Ephesians 5:15-22) Nobody wants to see a hypocritical Christian. And nobody wants to live a hypocritical Christian Life. So how do you live a consistent Christian Life? Paul answers the question in verse 18.
And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled by the Spirit Ephesians 5:18 (CSB)
Paul contrasts getting drunk on wine with being filled with the Holy Spirit. Many years ago, I heard a preacher say, “Getting drunk on wine makes you do foolish things. Getting drunk on the Holy Spirit makes you do things that seem foolish.”
Being controlled by alcohol leads to reckless living. And Paul spells out what being controlled by (which is what the Greek word “filled with” means) the Holy Spirit leads to:
speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,submitting to one another in the fear of Christ. Ephesians 5:19–21 (CSB)
Being controlled/filled by the Holy Spirit expresses itself in praise and thanksgiving to God. It also expresses itself in mutual submission to other believers.
In the following verses, Paul expounds on how being filled with the Holy Spirit and submitting to each other expresses itself: it bubbles up and overflows into marital relationships, relationships between parents and children, and relationships between employers and employees.
But what is being filled with the Spirit? First off, the verb expresses a continual process. In other words, you aren’t just filled with the Spirit once and that’s all you need. Paul says, “Keep on being continually filled/controlled by the Holy Spirit.” Being filled with the Holy Spirit isn’t a one-time experience; being filled with the Holy Spirit should be a moment-by-moment experience.
Next, being filled with the Spirit results in relationship changes, beginning with a believer’s relationship with God and extending to the believer’s relationships with other believers.
So how is someone filled with the Spirit? Some would say by someone laying their hands on you and you speaking in ecstatic words. But is that what Paul says? Look at what Paul tells the Colossians in a parallel passage:
Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:16–17 (CSB)
Just like being filled with the Holy Spirit is a continual, moment-by-moment process, letting the word of Christ live in us is a continual, moment-by-moment process: Let the word of Christ “keep on continually living in you”.
Notice: The expressions of being filled with the Holy Spirit are identical to letting the word of Christ live richly among you: relationship changes between the believer and God (praise and thanksgiving) and relationships with other believers. Just like he does in the verses following Ephesians 5:18, Paul spells out these marital, parent/child, and employer/employee relationships in the verses following Colossians 3:17.
So being filled with the Holy Spirit is the same thing as letting the word of Christ dwell in you. In other words, as believers spend time reading God’s Word, studying God’s Word, and memorizing God’s Word, our relationship with God and our relationships with other believers change. These changes won’t happen overnight. It’s a continual process as we keep on being filled and as we keep on letting God’s Word fill our lives.
Are you keeping on being continually filled with the Holy Spirit? Do you let the word of Christ live in you? Do you read it? Do you study it? Do you memorize it?
How would you describe your relationship with God? Are you full of praise and thanksgiving to Him?
How are your relationships with other believers? Is your life characterized by mutually submitting to other believers? How is your relationship with your spouse? Your children or parents? Your employer or employees?
Again, being filled with the Holy Spirit and letting the word of Christ live in you is a continual process. Don’t be discouraged by the process. Trust the process. Spend some time in the Word today. And spend some time today just praising and thanking God.
This devotional was originally published June 12, 2019.
Taxes. Laws. Government Officials. Law Enforcement Officials. What do these have in common? Like them or not, they’re all part of Citizenship in the United States of America.
Believers are citizens of two kingdoms. In today’s Bible reading, Paul asserts that a believer living with a Kingdom of God mindset will be a good citizen of the world in which he/she lives.
Paul says, “Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.” Romans 13:1 (CSB)
Yes, obeying the inconvenient traffic laws, honoring and praying for government officials from the “other” political party, even paying your income taxes. All of these will mark a child of God who lives with a Kingdom of God mindset. Why? Because it’s an expression of Christlikeness. (Romans 13:14)
I remember walking into an IRS audit (my only one). I had heard horror stories. I knew I had been honest in reporting my income and deductions. And yet, I was still nervous. There was a red flag, but not a violation. After reviewing my paperwork, the IRS agent told me that I was “in compliance”. When I asked what that meant, she replied, “It’s all good.” I asked her how often says that to people under audit. She replied, “Let’s just say that we earn our money.” Ouch!
Being a good citizen in the Kingdom of God doesn’t mean that I’m not involved as a citizen of the USA. In fact, my Kingdom of God citizenship informs my US Citizenship. It affects how I vote. It affects how I pray. It affects how I interact with the police officer when he pulls me over. It affects how I respond to the Red Light Camera citation in my mailbox.
Look, I’m not perfect. I struggle with laws (eg, Red Light Cameras) I don’t like. And when called to account, I paid the fine. I didn’t want to. I feel they’re unconstitutional (you can’t face your “accuser” in court). But as a citizen of the Kingdom of God, I had to suck it up and write the check for the fine.
There are speed zones I don’t agree with. There are politicians I don’t agree with. But being a good citizen in the Kingdom of God will influence my citizenship in the United States of America.
And if you’re a believer, you’re a citizen of two kingdoms. As a child of God, you’re called to be a good citizen of both. Doing so is a reflection of Christlikeness.
This devotional was originally published May 31, 2019.