Category Archives: Discipleship

Falling from grace

Galatians 5:1-6 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 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. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

What does it mean to “fall from grace”?  We have this impression in our minds that when someone commits a serious sin or gets found out for some secret sin, that all of a sudden grace is gone and the person is left to the wolves, unable to be saved.  But when that person is already saved, when that person has already been forgiven for every sin they’ll ever commit…how can they “fall from grace?”  This is contradictory to the gospel.

I was reading a book earlier today called Jesus + Nothing = Everything (I highly recommend reading it), and one part in particular struck me.  It struck me because I had never thought of things in the terms of the author, but they were no less true.  He pointed out the passage I’ve quoted up above and caused the reader to look at the part where Paul tells the Galatians that some have fallen from grace.  Notice he doesn’t say that they fell from grace because of some heinous sin.  He says they fell from grace because they accepted legalism as a way to salvation.  Legalism is the enemy of grace.  It is literally the WORST enemy of grace.

For those of us who have been redeemed by the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, those of us who have saved by grace through faith, we have been set free.  That freedom means we’re not under legalism anymore.  We’re not under the yolk of slavery that legalism brings.  We’re free to obey the law, not oppressed by it.  So when we fail and miss a step, either intentionally or unintentionally, it doesn’t mean that Jesus’ grace doesn’t still cover us.  His grace is sufficient for all our sins, for all time.  No sin can separate us from Him once we’ve already been justified and found not guilty.  He already paid the price for our sin, so we can’t just fall away from His grace because we did something wrong.  No, we can only fall from grace in one way.  If we don’t trust in Him alone for that justification.

When we begin to think that it’s Jesus plus some other act or ritual that gets us to God, we’re not accepting grace, we’re trying to win God’s favor through our actions.  That’s just not the way things work.  He forgives us in one way and it’s through Jesus.  When Christ died, the holy, sinless Son of God took on the sin of the whole world and bore the punishment for us all.  In exchange, when we believe in Him for our salvation, we gain His righteousness, the perfect standing before God that only someone who has lived a perfect life can every receive.  Because He already won the victory, we don’t have to worry about losing His grace.

God’s grace is powerful.  It’s so powerful that once we’ve received it, we’re set free in a way that nothing else could achieve.  His grace is enough.  We don’t have to add to it.  We’re not only saved by His grace, He continually works on us through His grace (sanctification) and ultimately brings us to Himself through grace.  We can depend on that, we don’t need to depend on ourselves to earn standing with God.

New Law or Gospel Freedom?

Colossians 2:20-23 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”  (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?  These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

What is Christianity all about?  Have we vowed to follow Christ only to replace the Old Testament law with new law?  Is this new life just about more rule-following?  Observing some of today’s churches, you would think so!  Sermons so often focus on behavior modification or bettering the life of the Christian through specific actions. We trade in the true power of the gospel for the belief that being a good Christian means listening to the right music, wearing the right T-shirts, not swearing or drinking, and being “nice.” Congregants lack the joy of Christ because they fail to keep up with all of the things they are “supposed” to do.  Moralistic, therapeutic deism fails to deliver.

The truth is that no formula for behavior modification will ever work because the root of sin is in our hearts.  No amount of keeping up with strict law or disciplines or rituals will keep us from being what we are: fallen and sinful.  Religion seeks to justify the believer through their actions. True justification comes from Christ (Romans 4:25). Only He can liberate us from sin.

It can make us feel good for a while to try to earn our own merit, but in the end we will always fall short (Romans 3:23). We’ll never be good enough, do enough, deprive ourselves enough to be free from sin. If we fully rely on Jesus it means we trust that His sacrifice was good enough, that we don’t need to be under the law in order to receive forgiveness from God for our transgressions, that He died once, and for all (Hebrews 7:27-28).  Nothing we could ever do could make Him love us more.  And nothing we fail to do could ever make Him love us less.

 

Overcoming the World

1 John 5:1-5   Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Our faith is the victory that has overcome the world.  And what is it that comes from faith?  Good works.  A natural response to faith is obedience.  When we know God and experience His love for us, we want to keep His commandments and follow everything He says to do.  If we remain faithful in this, nothing can stop us.

This passage says that everyone who has been reborn overcomes the world.  Are you overcoming the world?  Have you taken the time to actually evaluate whether or not you’re overcoming the world?  What does it even mean to overcome the world?  Does that mean we don’t ever fall into temptation or that we don’t sin?

Sadly, most of us don’t think in terms of victory when we look at our lives.  We’re not operating in our spiritual gifts or showing any fruit out of the faith we proclaim.  Some of us aren’t even showing love to our fellow Christians, let alone to the people out in the world.

But we’ve been equipped.  We’ve got the victory already if we’ll just do the next thing God calls us to do.  That’s what obedience is.  It’s not some lofty, unachievable goal.  Obedience is doing the next thing God calls you to do.  And when you’ve done it, do the next thing He calls you to do.  Then the next.  Obedience is a lot like walking.  It’s one foot in front of the other.

Walk in victory, knowing that Jesus has already won the battle.  The odds are in your favor.  You can’t lose.

Children of God

1 John 2:28-3:10   And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.  See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.  Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

Are you doing what you ought to be doing?  How are your actions speaking to other people about Christ?  Are they giving a good witness or repelling people from the gospel?

This part of John’s letter is a powerful thought about our obedience.  Not only is he saying that followers of Jesus should do good, he’s saying that if you don’t do good, you’re not a follower of Christ.  You get that?  John’s saying that if you don’t do good, you’re on the opposite team.  If you’re not for Christ you’re against Him.  There’s no middle ground.  If you continue to practice sin regularly, you’re not a Christian.  Ouch.

We all need to take this passage to heart and assess ourselves from the inside out.  Are we really practicing righteousness?  When we received Christ we were empowered to walk with God and obey Him in a way that was impossible before our salvation.  But are we doing it?  Are we walking the walk?

No one who is born of God (reborn, we would say) makes a practice of sinning.  Are you a child of God?  Are you acting like it?

The New Commandment

1 John 2:7-14  Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

I am writing to you, little children,
because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God abides in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.

What is this old commandment that’s a new commandment that’s really an old commandment?  What does John refer to?  He is speaking of the commandment given to him personally from Jesus himself.  Love God and love others. What was given in the Old Testament as Law (Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18) was confirmed in the New Testament by Jesus as being relevant even after His coming (Matthew 22:34-40).

Notice John’s reference to darkness and light, just like how he speaks in his presentation of the Gospel (John 1:1-13). He’s presenting a contrast for us to realize that the world’s darkness can’t overcome the light of Jesus.  When we obey the command to love God and love others, we shine a light in the darkness so bright that it can’t but be seen.  It’s a shining city upon a hill, giving off a beacon of light for others to recognize.

When we love, we show God to the world.  When we serve, we show them the character of Christ and glorify Him.  When we obey, we do a great work of evangelism (Matthew 5:16).


Do Not Love the World

1 John 2:15-17   Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

What’s more important; the things in your life or your relationship with God?  Before you answer that, pause.  It’s easy to jump at answering what we know we’re supposed to say, but take a moment.  Think about what really matters in your life.  How do you spend your money?  Your time?  What do you pursue?  Now is your answer still the same?

It’s tempting to be overtaken by our flesh, to give into every craving we have for pleasure or entertainment, or material things.  But those things won’t last and they don’t matter.  They’ll be here one day and gone the next.  These things rot and rust, they deteriorate and fail to satisfy.  But God is eternal and He’s never going to leave us.  Shouldn’t we put more into walking with Him than we do in walking in worldly desires?

John goes so far in God’s Word to say that if we love this world we don’t love God.  Let that sink in.  If you spend more time trying to gain pleasure out of this life than you do trying to walk in God’s will, then you really don’t love God.  It sounds harsh, but put it in human terms.  If I marry a woman and then spend most of my time trying to make myself happy through every means besides her, then do I really love her?  If God is really our love, then we should be pleased by Him and not need all of the other things of this world.  They won’t matter to us because all we’ll want is more of Him.

Be encouraged

Ephesians 6:21-22 So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.

We all need people in our lives who we can talk to and who we can expect to encourage us. Without people like this, times can get very tough. We start to believe lies about ourselves and we need someone to pull us out of that funk.

With all this talk of spiritual warfare in Ephesians, it’s important to note that not everything that feels like attack is actually opposition from the enemy. I’m quick to blame spiritual attack when sometimes I’m being disciplined by God. He disciplines those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:6, Proverbs 3:12, Revelation 3:19). Sometimes it’s discipline that comes as a result of our sin, and sometimes He’s just conforming us into who He wants us to be.

I’m thankful for the brothers in Christ that I can turn to that help me to realize when I’m in a season of discipline and pruning and when I really need prayer against spiritual opposition. It’s encouraging to hear from someone that he has the same struggles and I’m not alone. It’s also highly encouraging to hear an uplifting and wise correction when I’m thinking about giving up.

Do you have people like this around you? If not, it’s highly recommended that you find someone from among the body of believers who can speak into your life. Be encouraged.

How to be a light

Ephesians 5:8-10 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.

Before we’re rescued from our sin, before we put of faith in Jesus to forgive us, we pretty much do whatever we want, yet we’re slaves to our sin, unable to actually make choices that will please God. Once we’ve been saved we’re given God’s help to know what pleases Him. The problem is that sometimes we try to walk back into the darkness instead of remaining in the light.

Many a Christian has asked how far they’re able to go with this or that before it becomes a sin. That’s not how following Jesus works though! It’s not about finding the line and figuring out how much can be done before it’s wrong. It’s about trying to learn what pleases God and doing that. Is that how you live your life?

The Apostle Paul urges us to walk as children of the light, which is what we are once we’ve been adopted into the family of God. We’re not in darkness anymore, we’re not slaves to sin. Make no mistake, we will still sin, but we’re not captive to the sinful heart anymore. When we make choices to cross the line, it’s on us. It’s not because we didn’t know better and it’s not because we couldn’t help it. It’s because we chose the darkness.

We have been given the greatest gift to help us live as God wants us to live. He dwells in the hearts of believers, giving us His guidance and assurance. It’s amazing when you think of just how much God wants us to succeed in following Him. He’s rooting for us to win!

Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People?

 

For as beautiful as faith is, for as wondrous as the hope that it brings can be, the devout and determined Disciple meets with challenges to it daily.

I sat across from a friend recently, and I had to ask, “How is your faith?” I could hear it in his voice, the pain and the struggle. Life, it gets hard for all of us, and in those moments as we feel the weight of it bearing down on us, we can’t help but wonder to ourselves. We feel angry but once the anger subsides, as the fairness, or lack thereof, of it weighs down on us, it turns to a sort of quiet depression as we try to figure out what’s the point of trying when all trying seems to do is lead to disappointment.

After a brief moment of silence he met my eyes, and with a slight sigh, shrugged as he answered, “Not as strong as it used to be…”

His problem, his challenge, the question that lingered on his mind was a simple one, one that we all perhaps battle with now and then, but that we don’t give much thought to during the good times in our lives when things seem simple and easy for us. When the rough times come though, it plagues us as we try to hold on to our faith while remaining a good person, while trying to live the life that we know we should live.

“Why do bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people?” That was the sum of his problem, the one question that he couldn’t quite wrap his head around. The truth is that I’ve been there, I’ve toiled and struggled with the same question, with the same thought rolling around my mind. I’ve wondered why and how a loving God, a caring God, one who is meant to draw His children so near could let them slip so far away from Him. In the depths of depression I wondered how He could be so far removed from the toils of us mere mortals He so loved, that He loved so dearly that He gave His only Son as a sacrifice for. (John 3:16)

The question though answers itself. Yes, it seems as if “good things happen to bad people” while “bad things happen to good people” but the question of why that is the case isn’t so much a mystery, or at the very least, isn’t as big of a mystery as we perhaps let it become in our own minds.

Let’s consider, for a moment, the nature of this world. Despite the imperfections of it, despite our own imperfections, God is not removed from us, nor is He, even in His own perfections, distant from this world. (Romans 3:22-24) Yet in this He warns us that this world that we live in, because of its flawed nature, is going to be a battleground, it is going to be a place of a deep and lasting spiritual warfare. The temptation of Christ (Luke 4:1-13) itself is very telling of just that, not just because our blessed Savior faced the challenge of the sin and the Devil as we did but because he tempted Him in every way he knew would possibly make Him stumble.

This is what he does with us. He looks into our hearts, he examines and he explores our spirits and our souls, searching them for the weaknesses that we have, for those small shreds of self-doubt, for those little bits of vanity, for any piece of pettiness or pain that might plague us. He uses them against us, he turns them against us, to swallow us whole in them and thus devour us himself. (1Peter 5:8)

Why though would he use such tactics against “The Bad” when he knows already that he has won with them? Why would he use them against “The Bad” when he can hold them up as an example of the good things that can happen if you just succumb to temptation and yield to him, relenting in your effort to try and live that good life, that righteous life you have been called to? This is a weapon in his arsenal that he uses to wage his war, that he uses to win his battles and he is going to use it against the faithful Disciple in order to try and win that they may fall on the fields amidst their struggles and their wounds.

Our Heavenly Father, He does not abandon us during these challenges (Joshua 1:5) regardless of how distant He may feel. He arms us that we can stand (Ephesians 6:10-18) knowing that, through Christ, we can find the strength we need to stand triumphant in all the battles, in all the adversity that we may face. (Romans 8:37) This is the promise He has made to us in the love that He has for us, and it is never removed from our lives even as our old and ancient Adversary seeks to put a wall between us and Him that we may not gaze upon the love that He has for us in the faith He has granted us.

It isn’t a question of God’s grace or even a question of faith, but rather a question of how you stand, how you push back when you feel the weight of your enemy, the weight of someone trying so hard to steal your peace from you. Good things may happen to bad people and bad things may happen to good people in this world, but the real victory, it comes not just from knowing this but knowing that the truest rewards, they come to those who accept that and live with faith, hope and love in their hearts, refusing to let this have any power over them, understanding that the real power comes from the blessing they can be despite it all as they hold fast to the wondrous miracle of grace in their life.

God is there for you, He always has been and He always will be. This is His promise to you, hold fast to it in the love that He has for you and you will stand firm against the challenges that this world has, refusing to let imperfect notions, thoughts and understandings create imperfections within you.

What path will you choose?

Genesis 24:57-58 They said, “Let us call the young woman and ask her.” And they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will go.”

Sometimes in life we’re given a choice.  A path is laid out before us and we have the choice either to walk down that path or to take our own path.  Which way we decide to go can change our destiny and affect many others.

We often hear “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” because those men were called by God and given a promise.  But the very same God also called Rebekah to take part in fulfilling the covenant He made.  When Abraham’s servant left Canaan to find a wife for Isaac, he found Rebekah because he had prayed for God to show him which young woman had been chosen.  Yet the choice of whether to go with the servant was left up to Rebekah.  Though her family and the servant believed God’s hand was in all of this, they let her decide.

With three simple words, “I will go,” Rebekah made a choice that would have a profound impact.  It was through Rebekah that Jacob and Esau would be born, two men who were critical to the plans God had.  Her obedience to God was more than she could have even known.

What path has been laid before you?  What way has God called you to follow in obedience?  What might happen if you choose His way over your own?  There’s only one way to find out.

 

This devotional is derived from a sermon message by Matthew J. Cochran.  Listen to the sermon here:

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