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.

Watch your mouth

James 3:8-10 “But no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!”

The tongue and the power it holds. The power to praise the Most High, and in the same breath, the power to breakdown those He has made. A power we have no control over. Restless, evil, poisoning the world around us. Letting loose haunting words, words that roll off others tongues, deep into us. Words that lash from our tongues, colliding into others. Explosive words, words that set the world on fire.

This untamable tongue of ours. Whatever can we do? The answer is, absolutely nothing. Nothing man could ever do would ever change the nature of our tongues. Nothing we could ever do could control it for it is truly uncontrollable. But that’s ok. At the end of the day it all comes down to the heart.

Jesus said in Mark 7:15-16 “It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.” Our tongue is fueled by our heart. Our heart by it’s very nature doesn’t seek after God, but rather seeks out it’s own sinful desires. So that’s it! It’s as simple as a change of heart! Once again, we would be setting ourselves up for failure if we thought there was anything we could ever do to change our hearts. But that also is ok. What it really all comes down to is the Gospel.

A life submitted to Christ is a life setup for the miraculous. For all these things that are impossible for man, are more than possible for God. When we accept God’s precious gift of salvation, we invite Christ into our hearts, and He begins to change us from the inside out.

This is why it’s so important that everyday we submit our hearts to Jesus Christ. In Philippians 4:7 it says “His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Jesus is the antidote for the poison that has infected all of mankind, but only when you let him. So the question is, what will your tongue be used for today? Submitted to Christ and used as God’s blessing or submitted to yourself, untamed, out of control, and spewing curses. The choice is yours. Submit yourself, guard your heart, watch your mouth.

Godless: Part 4

Romans 1:28-32 “Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.”

I can’t imagine the pain Christ endured on the cross for my sin, let alone the entire world. When I read the scripture above, it’s like I’m looking out my front window at the world we live in, and Paul is describing it. There’s nothing new under the sun. Man has had the same sinful heart since Adam, and there is nothing we can do to change it, no matter how hard we try. No amount of self-help, therapy, or inward meditation will ever heal the brokenness. Nothing we can do.
But there is something He has done. As awful as the above scripture makes me feel, I rejoice in what Christ has done. Christ has made all of the above statements not apply to me or anyone who believes in His name. And through His grace, through the power of the Holy Spirit, every day as we submit ourselves to Him, He molds us more and more to His likeness. Christ is patient with us and wishes none of us to perish, but all of us to be saved. Why? Because He loves us.
Some of us who call ourselves Christian would read the above scripture and think of the world with judgement. With a smugness we would say the people of this world deserve what’s coming to them. I’m a big fan of Clint Eastwood and all the westerns he starred in. One of my favorite quotes of his was from the movie The Unforgiven. He’s waiting under a tree to collect a bounty on some men he and his partner just killed. The young man who is with him is struggling with what they have done. Trying to comfort himself he says “Well, I guess that he had it coming” to which Clint replies “We all have it coming kid”.
We all have it coming. There’s not one of us that hasn’t fit the above scripture at one point in our life or who wouldn’t slip back into our sinfulness without the power of Christ living in us. What we should feel when we read the above scripture is pity. We should feel pity and our hearts should be broken. As broken as the world that surrounds us.
The focus of this devotion series is to bring attention to one thing. This world is broken and there is no fixing it. There is no saving this country, or the world for that matter. The world will keep going through this cycle of sin until the day the Lord returns to put an end to it all. The only hope the people of this world have is in the Gospel and it’s power to redeem those who don’t deserve redeeming. This world may be godless, but thankfully we serve a God who love’s it anyway. So much so that He sent his only Son, that whosoever shall believe in His name, shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
I’m just a weak man and I’m not sure how He’s going to do it, but would you join me today and pray this prayer. “Lord Jesus, use me as you may. Use me to show the world your mercy, your love and your glory. Use me to show a godless world, that a godless man such as myself could call on your Holy name and become a child of God. Amen.”

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!