What’s your lens? (Philippians 1:12-20)
What’s your lens? What gives you meaning in life, and what helps you make sense of all that happens in your life?
As he writes to the Philippian believers, the apostle Paul is a prisoner of Rome because of his faith in Jesus. We know he was confined to ‘house arrest’ for two years, and yet he is isn’t found complaining in his letter to the Philippians.
Consider this for a moment, what would you have been writing about if his experience was yours?
It’s hard to know for sure how I/we would have responded, but a brief analysis of our prayers when life is feeling unfair or hard for us now are probably a good indication.
And yet Paul was rejoicing! (vs18) How could this be?
Paul’s joy, his sense of meaning and purpose was clearly not tied to his personal comfort or freedom – since he wrote this from a period of imprisonment, most likely chained to a Roman soldier.
His lens for life, his life purpose was that the good news of Jesus would be proclaimed & that Jesus would be glorified through his life or death.
And because of this, he wrote; “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (vs12)
His imprisonment gave him access to the praetorian guard (vs13) – a special unit of ten thousand selected soldiers in Rome that had unusual privileges & were influential. He could write that the whole guard knew that Jesus was the reason for his imprisonment. It seems as though God, through Paul’s imprisonment, had inserted him inside the ranks of those who were influential in the great city of Rome, sowing gospel seeds for the future behind enemy lines.
There was meaning in his suffering, in the curtailment of his freedom. And so there could be rejoicing because his lens was God’s purpose, plan and God’s glory, not his comfort or liberty.
What’s your lens? Your lens will focus your attention and define your reaction to life’s varied circumstances.
Paul was strengthened in his imprisonment, knowing that the Philippians were praying for him & knowing that the Helper was with him. And so he was confident that God would deliver him either in the present from Roman captivity or in the glorious future at the return of Jesus (vs19).
Paul embraced his circumstances because of his lens which was that all of his life was to proclaim Jesus and to bring glory to Jesus in how he responded to all of life’s circumstances believing that God was sovereign in them.
And so he wrote;
“…it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” (vs20)
What’s on display here is the focus of Paul’s life – that Jesus Christ would be honoured by my life whether that means I live or whether I die – Jesus be glorified.
What an inspiration! May his lens be your lens and mine. May Jesus being proclaimed and Jesus being glorified be the priority that pulsates through our every decision and our every thought in every circumstance we endure.
Authentic Faith (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10)
Paul and his companions were convinced that the Thessalonians were true believers because:
- The Gospel proclamation was accompanied by signs and wonders & by the power of the Holy Spirit displayed (vs5).
- The Thessalonian believers received the good news about Jesus with full conviction. They weren’t uncertain about what they had heard & believed (vs5).
- These believers also began to imitate the faith and the life-example of Paul and his ministry companions; they learnt his ways and changed theirs (vs6).
- So much so, that they became an example to other believers elsewhere as the testimony of their faith spread (vs7-9).
True believers in Jesus, turn from worshipping anything else to worshipping and serving the one true God. More than this, they live then with eager expectation for the return of Jesus Christ the Son. The one whom God raised from the dead, the one who alone can deliver those who believe in Him from the wrath to come (vs9-10).
The Gospel doesn’t just change our eternal address it transforms our lives, our thinking, our speech, our lifestyles, our rhythms, our habits, our community…
What an amazing clear testimony these believers in Jesus had. The evidence of their changed lives testified loudly to the authenticity of their faith. People were speaking about the changes that had occurred in them.
When we truly make God the centre of our lives, everything begins to revolve around Him and find it’s proper perspective or orientation to Him.
Is your faith crystal clear like that of the Thessalonians? Is it evident to others that you have forsaken any other “gods”? And that in their place you are passionately focussed on, worshipping and serving God with your whole life?
This is the only “reasonable response” (see the NIV or ESV footnote of Romans 12:1) if you have grasped the wonder of who Jesus is and what He has done for you.
May you, may we live lives that are radically focussed on Jesus, worshipping and serving Him for His glory, while we wait for His glorious return!
Faithful God (Numbers 15)
God judged the ten spies who had brought the bad report, and so they died instantly – a sign of God’s judgement. Then, despite Moses’ telling that generation that they would not enter the Promised Land, some still attempted a conquest to enter into it (Numbers 14:39-45)!
Unsurprisingly, this unauthorised rebellious attempt without God or Moses failed, and they were beaten back from the Promised Land to a place called Hormah by the Amalekites & Canaanites.
These were painful days. Just over a year before, they were singing songs of God’s deliverance (Exodus 15), they were in a place of faith and expectation of the imminent fulfilment of God’s promises to give them the Promised Land.
Now they were camped in the Wilderness of Zin at Kadesh-Barnea, most likely feeling bummed out – defeated & dejected. They would never enter the Promised Land, their sin of unbelief and their fear had robbed them, a life-time of Wilderness wandering awaited them.
And then God does what can seem a strange thing. He gives them some instructions (similar to the instructions for worship recorded more fully in Leviticus 1-7) for their worship and sacrifices. But why now?
After-all these instructions can’t be fulfilled by the nomadic people in the Wilderness of Zin. They don’t have vineyards for wine production or fields for grain or much livestock for offerings. So why give them? And why now?
Twice God repeats the words; “When you come into the land…” (Numbers 15:1&17).
God speaks with certainty – it’s not “if” but “when”. But God is speaking to a whole generation to whom these instructions do not apply! These are instructions for their children, the next generation who will inherit the Promised Land. So why give it now?
I believe God wanted these people to know that their children would not die in the Wilderness – like they said they would (Numbers 14:3). But that instead, they would inherit God’s promises, and they would worship God in that future moment as God had instructed this current generation to do (Leviticus 1-7). God is faithful; not one of His promises falls to the ground.
So, although they had lost all that God intended to give them. As parents, they could know that God would be faithful to His promises to bless their children.
These words from God, remind me of God’s words to a later generation who also disobeyed God continually. Until God eventually sent them away into exile in Babylon. And yet again, even while sending them into exile, God promised that He would bring them back to Jerusalem after 70yrs had passed. Even in judgement, God is faithful and merciful, pointing to future hope in His faithfulness.
God is slow to anger and abounding in love, but sin is serious and has serious consequences. However, through everything, God is always faithful to His people and His promises.
You and I only have one precious life. I urge you to use every moment of it to honour and obey God, confident in His exceeding goodness and faithfulness. After all, if this is how God treats those who He is displeased with. Then how much more will He reward and bless those who live to please Him?
At the end of the chapter God instructs His people to wear tassels on their garments to help them; “remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.” (Numbers 15:39-41)
God’s desire is for a people who live for Him, obeying His commands, living holy lives, set apart for Him & in relationship with Him – their God.
Gospel Clarity, Certainty, Confidence & Responsibility (Romans 10:12-21)
I love the remarkable inclusivity & certainty of Romans 10. Paul is determined to make two things abundantly clear;
1. That ‘everyone who believes’ (Romans 10:4), ‘everyone who believes in Him (Jesus)’ (Romans 10:11), that ‘there is no distinction’ (Romans 10:12) between various groups of people ‘for the same Lord is Lord of all’ (Romans 10:12), that God will ‘bestow His riches on all who call on Him’ (Romans 10:13), for ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord’ (Romans 10:13) will be saved!
It could not be clearer; the Gospel is the good news to whoever believes in Jesus. The Gospel is the most significant unifying force in the world! Nothing else unifies human beings in this way. We all have a common problem (sin), and God has made His solution to our problem available to everyone who will believe. Which leads to the second matter Romans 10 makes abundantly clear…
2. That everyone who believes in Jesus ‘will be saved’ (Romans 10:9), the one who confesses this belief ‘is saved’ (Romans 10:10), such a person who believes in Jesus ‘will not be put to shame’, but God will respond to their faith by ‘bestowing His riches on all who call on Him’ (Romans 10:13) for those who call on Jesus’ name ‘will be saved’ (Romans 10:13).
What assurance! What confidence and clarity the apostle Paul is writing with. There is no uncertainty, no qualifying statements such as “if…” just absolute pronouncements of what God will do in response to anyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ.
No wonder Paul was not ashamed of this Gospel; no wonder he believed that it really was the power of God to save people (Romans 1:16). Do you share his conviction? The conviction that the Gospel is for all people and that you can share the Gospel with confidence knowing that anyone who simply believes in Jesus will be saved by Jesus from their sin and will be welcomed by God into eternal life with Him?
How assured are you of your salvation? God wants you to be assured and at peace if you have put your faith in Jesus if you have believed the Gospel that’s on display in the book of Romans. Do you battle wondering whether you genuinely are accepted by God or not? Read Romans 10 again and again, be fortified by the inclusivity and certainty.
Because it is clear that the Gospel is for everyone who will believe in Jesus, and because we have certainty regarding the power of the Gospel to save completely all those who believe in Jesus we can and should share the Gospel with an incredible confidence knowing that it is the power of God to save people (Romans 1:16).
People will not believe unless someone shares the Gospel with them (Romans 10:14-17), and it is the responsibility of every generation to reach their generation with the good news about Jesus.
So, who are you investing in relationally, reaching out to, living in proximity with so that you can share the Gospel with them? How will they be able to believe the Gospel without you sharing it with them at some stage? Remember that ‘faith comes by hearing’ the word of Christ (Romans 10:17) and God has placed you in the lives of people, in proximity to people who God wants you to share the Gospel with so that they can hear and believe.
Don’t hide behind the often quoted nonsense that says; “preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necesary”; when Scripture makes our words necessary! “It’s simply impossible to preach the Gospel without words. The Gospel is inherently verbal, and preaching the Gospel is inherently verbal behaviour.” – Duane Liftin
The Gospel is the announcement about the good news of WHO Jesus is and WHAT Jesus came to do and offer to all those who will believe in Him. That announcement, those words of life must be shared by people living out transformed lives which put that Gospel power on display through their lives, but the power to save people is the good news about Jesus not the good news about your behaviour.
May the Gospel’s clarity & certainty fortify us giving us the confidence to take up our responsibility to share it will all those God has sent us to in our everyday lives.
Salvation: It’s believing not sincerity or morality that saves! (Romans 10:1-10)
Sincerity is not enough for salvation. It is possible to be sincere and yet sincerely wrong. Paul desires & prays that religious Jewish people who are in fact lost, might be saved.
He knows that many of them are sincerely zealous and yet simultaneously spiritually ignorant of the true Gospel. Because of this ignorance of the right relationship that is possible by grace through faith in Jesus – such people try to attain their own righteousness through human effort and law-keeping, which will never lead them to salvation.
But Jesus is the end of the law (Romans 10:4), both in the sense that He has fulfilled the law and also that through Him, God has announced a righteousness that is apart from the law (Romans 3:21). Paul is passionate about the salvation of his fellow Jews, sincerely religious people, who sadly are putting their faith in the wrong thing – in their own righteousness, their own law-keeping ability, their own morality which Paul knows is futile and will not lead to salvation. Only faith in Jesus will.
Paul was living with an earnest and intense passion and longing that people would come to faith in Jesus Christ. This passion directed his life; it informed his decisions and ultimately led him to massive self-sacrifice. Is the Gospel and the salvation of those you know, those you are near to a directing passion in your life? Does the Gospel feature highly in your decision-making process and your priorities? Spend some time reflecting and speaking to God about this.
The Gospel is simply this;
“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)
- Anyone (Romans 10:4) who confesses these things will be saved.
- Anyone who confesses or acknowledges WHO JESUS really is – God
- Because they’ve believed that to be true in their heart
- Anyone who believes WHAT Jesus did in dying & rising again for them will be saved.
- They will be justified, declared righteous before God!
- On the basis of WHO they believed in (Jesus) & WHAT they believed Jesus did for them on the cross.
Sincere religious people do not go to heaven, sincere morally good people do not go to heaven – believers in Jesus do.
What do you rejoice in? (Romans 5:1-5)
What types of things get your joy-juice flowing?
And what form does your rejoicing take?
In popular culture, the most common public expressions of joy are often supporters arms aloft, jumping, hugging strangers and yelling because their team scored.
I have the joy of serving with a fantastic fellow elder, Sibongiseni Dlamini who simply cannot contain himself in certain moments in church life. He can not stop his feet and arms from doing a little high-speed mini-dance at certain times. Like when he sees God at work in someone’s life, or that moment in one of our church services (www.recroadchurch.co.za) when a diverse crowd of Christ followers is passionately worshipping God’s name all in unison or when someone comes to faith in Christ – pure joy!
What do you rejoice in?
In Romans 5:1-5, Paul mentions two but lists four things we rejoice in as Christ followers.
1. We are at peace with God
2. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God
3. We rejoice in our sufferings
4. We rejoice that God has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit
1. We rejoice because we are at peace with God
May we never tire of rejoicing in the wonder and goodness of our salvation – that God has justified the ungodly (Romans 4:5). We were saved FROM the consequences of our sin, but we were saved FOR relationship with God and access into His presence continually.
Those who have been declared righteous by God because of their faith in Jesus now are in a position of ‘having peace with God’. We were God’s enemies (Romans 5:10), but now we have been reconciled to a right relationship with Almighty God.
More than this as we will discover in later in Romans 8 we are granted the privilege of being adopted as the children of God because of our faith in Jesus (John 1:12) and therefore we have free access into the presence of the Holy God, calling out “Daddy” as we come to him (Romans 8:14-17).
When they were young (and to some degree still today) my children never asked if they could please interrupt me by bashing open my office door or bedroom door! If they wanted me, they came in without hesitation. They were confident and secure that whatever I might have been focused on was not as important as they were.
Come like that, rejoicing that you are at peace with God because you have been declared righteous (justified) by the grace of Jesus. Come knowing this is where you belong.
2. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God
We rejoice knowing that we are not what we once were (‘sinners’ & ‘enemies of God’) and that we are not all that we will one day be! The best is yet to come. Although we have access into our Holy Father’s presence already, there is greater unlimited access & proximity to come in the new heaven and the new earth when this will happen;
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new..Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 21:1-5 & Revelation 22:20)
This is our hope. Unrestricted eternal access in the presence of God living in a new earth where all of the damage of sin and death and suffering has been eradicated! It’s hard to imagine, but it is our eternal and sure hope which we rejoice in. The future is very, very bright for the believer in Jesus.
3. We rejoice in our sufferings
Oooooh. This seems to be the odd one out. Seriously is there not a typo here? The most challenging word here is the word “knowing” in verse 3. Paul expects the believer in Jesus to rejoice in sufferings because they know something. Do you KNOW it? You need to KNOW it before you’re in it because once you’re in some suffering/pressure/hardship that will not be the right to try to get to KNOW this thing that Paul assumes you KNOW.
We rejoice in our sufferings because we KNOW;
1. That although in this age we suffer because of the sin of others, and because of the effects of the fall all around us in our bodies, creation & society around us. We know that Jesus is both with us in it, and ultimately is coming back to make all things new!
We know that; “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
2. We also rejoice in our sufferings in that we know that they are not outside of the loving, sovereign control of our Heavenly Father who will use even the worst things, even sinful things to shape us more and more into His likeness and show us His love for us. We KNOW that suffering with a right perspective (Hebrews 12:10-11) results in us developing the muscle of endurance. A muscle which can only grow with the resistance training of hardship. We also KNOW that endurance produces authentic character in us, Christ-like godliness, which is only formed under pressure. And lastly, we KNOW that godly character results in a view of the world that is filled with hope because we are convinced of what Scripture says about the future coming age of Christ.
It is only possible to rejoice in sufferings if you KNOW God is still in control, if you KNOW God loves you, if you KNOW your loving Father is able to work through all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), if you KNOW that this suffering has some purpose & that it will end and be swallowed up by eternal life to come and superseded by glory!
4. We rejoice that God has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit
We rejoice because God the Father loves us with a love that is purer, deeper and more powerful than anything else in all creation. And we rejoice because this love has been given to us, not in some small measure, it hasn’t been rationed to us, it has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit! So rejoice, that you get to drink deeply of the love of God, by at any time inviting the Holy Spirit to overwhelm you again and again with the fullness of God’s love.
We have so much to rejoice in!
The Father of Faith (Romans 4)
At this point in his letter to all the believers in Rome, Paul brings out Abraham as a test case for this righteousness of God that comes through faith and not works/human effort.
To the believers in Rome of Jewish origin, Abraham would have been a very significant figure. They considered themselves to be children of Abraham, the chosen people. Paul is about to cause them to consider Abraham from a new perspective – the father of faith!
The question is, how did Abraham come to a place of being in right relationship with God, being righteous before God (Romans 4:10)?
Was it by something he did?
Or was it because he believed God?
Quoting Genesis 15:6 Paul exclaims the latter. It was because Abraham believed God that he was “counted” as righteous (Romans 4:3).
Paul argues that Abraham believed God before he was circumcised, circumcision (which is a ‘work’) didn’t make him righteous it came after he had been made righteous because he had believed God (Romans 4:11).
More than this Paul then shows how the promise of being a father to many nations that was given to Abraham did not come through obedience to the Law (since the Law had not even been given yet) but came through the ‘righteousness of faith’ (Romans 4:13).
Paul is unhitching for the Jewish believers any sense that they can be made right before God through either their Jewish heritage, anything they can do or any keeping of the Law. The promise of blessing to Abraham came by grace through faith to all who share in the same faith as Abraham (Romans 4:16-17).
And what was Abraham’s faith like?
- Abraham believed that God could create something out of nothing, could perform miracles (Romans 4:17)
- Abraham believed God what God had said to him even when there was no circumstantial evidence for his hope, Abraham believed what God had told him (Romans 4:18)
- Abraham’s faith remained robust when it was challenged by what he knew that contradicted what God had said (Romans 4:19)
- Abraham’s faith was strengthened as he continued to worship God in the midst of delay (Romans 4:20)
- Abraham’s faith was anchored in the character of God – he believed that God was able to do what He had promised. He believed that God did not lack in power and God did not lack in character either (Romans 4:21)
And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him, reckoned him to be righteous before Him. Abraham’s faith in God, his believing God was the key that caused God to “count” him as righteous.
And God will do the same for us if we like Abraham believe God, put our faith in Jesus Christ our Lord who was handed over to die in our place for our sin and was raised again so that we could be declared righteous by God because of our faith in Him (Romans 4:24).
May you and I have faith in God like Abraham did and may we rest assured that God counts us as righteous because we have put our faith in Jesus our Lord.
The Gift of Grace (Romans 4:4-5)
Imagine the scene. You’ve worked your first month in your new job. You feel like you put your best foot forward, did all that was required of you, didn’t mess anything up. You know you worked hard, put in some extra hours wanting your new boss to be happy with the new hire!
It’s payday, and you get called into the office, presumably to collect your first payslip. It feels good, you know you earned it, and as you walk to your boss’s office, your mind is already thinking ahead a little spoil – maybe some dinner out or something.
As you enter their office though you’re a little taken aback, as they stand up to greet you with the words; “Phil, I have a gift for you!” They say as they hand you your payslip all wrapped in ribbons. A gift? No mate, I earned that. That’s not a gift, that’s my wages, that’s what I worked so hard for, that’s what you owe me – you think to yourself as you smile and stretch out to receive your payslip.
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. (Romans 4:4-5)
Paul is at pains here to show us that the righteousness that is from God (Romans 3:21) is not a reward for good behaviour or hard work. Our salvation is not God responding to something good or deserving in us.
On the contrary, our salvation is a work of God, despite us and in spite of what we have done and or not done. God saves the person who didn’t work to earn God’s forgiveness. God saves the person who ‘believes in Him who justifies the ungodly’ (vs5).
Tim Keller says; “And what is the gospel? It is that you are so lost and flawed, so sinful, that Jesus had to die for you, but that you are also so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for you. Now you are fully accepted and delighted in by the Father, not because you deserve it but only by free grace.”
God saves, God justifies the ungodly vs5 says! Jesus similarly said He came to help the sinner (Matthew 9:13) & the lost (Luke 19:10) not those who thought they did not need him! God saves ungodly people, not good people. As Angus Buchan says; “good people don’t go to heaven, believers in Jesus do.”
Friend, throw off all attempts to earn God’s favour or forgiveness! It can’t be done. That’s not how the righteousness of God is obtained. You can’t earn it, won’t ever deserve it. The only way to be made right with God is to receive God’s GIFT of salvation and forgiveness by believing in Jesus Christ, in His life, death & resurrection for you.
This gift of salvation is the most glorious gift of grace. And if you’ve ever given someone a massive gift, you’ll know that God doesn’t want you to now feel indebted, doesn’t want you to try to pay Him back, but rather is most honoured when you thank Him, appreciate the gift and love Him who paid the price for that gift.
Is your confidence in yourself or in the majestic goodness of God’s grace?
Repent of any pride of self-righteousness & revel in the glory of grace.
But God (Romans 3:21-31)
I remember dark cold nights as a parent with screaming teething kids or sick kids who would not sleep, at about 3-4am it feels like the darkest time, the bleakest time when emotional and energy resources are spent, and a sense of desperation has sometimes set in.
And yet there is the light of dawn just around the corner. I remember seeing the first hints of the sunrise and almost instantaneously feeling like life was not so desperate after all.
Similarly, after the bleak section from Romans 1:18-3:20 in which Paul has been at pains to detail our human problem of sin, Romans 3:21 is a new dawn of unspeakable joy!
No one is righteous; no one is good enough; no one can be justified through law-keeping…BUT NOW.
What glorious words. A new era has dawned. A seismic shift has occurred in salvation history and now everything is different forever and ever.
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
- No one is righteous (morally right & or right before God) (vs9-18)
- No one can be made righteous through law-keeping (vs20)
- But now a righteousness from God has been revealed (vs21)
- The whole Old Testament hinted at its coming… (vs21)
- A righteousness of God that comes through faith in Jesus Christ (vs22&26)
- A righteousness that is a gift (vs24)
- A righteousness graciously bestowed on those who believe in Jesus because of Jesus’ self-sacrificial act of averting the wrath of God that should have been spent on us by taking it on Himself (propitiation/atonement). (vs25)
- A righteousness that results in that person not just being declared right before God but also freed (redeemed) from their prior slavery to sin, Satan & death. (vs24)
Our salvation is entirely unmerited. We did not initiate it or deserve it; God stepped in to do what we could not do. In giving us Jesus as our atoning sacrifice, God gave us Himself to save us from Himself, His impending wrath against our sinfulness, so that He could save us for Himself, to be in right relationship with Him forever.
God worked salvation in such a way that as the Holy God, He could somehow be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (vs26). The cross of Christ was the only way for God to be both just & the justifier of those who trusted in Jesus’ saving work for them on the cross.
After all, God would not have been just in forgiving sinners if He had not substituted Himself in our place for our sin. Someone had to pay the penalty for sin for God to be just, and yet God did that for you and me. God Himself took on Himself the penalty for sin SO THAT He could justify us, declare us to now be not guilty of the sin we had done. God could do this and still be just because the guilt, shame and punishment that was ours had been transferred onto Him on the cross so that He paid it in full SO THAT we could have His righteousness transferred to us making us right with God.
As 2 Corinthians 5:20 (NIV) summarises;
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Praise Him. Thank Him. Worship Him. Love Him. Live your whole life for Him.
Faith & Works (James 2:18-26)
Learning to drive a manual shift car one has to learn to coordinate the mind, the feet & the hands. Once you have been driving for a while, you don’t even think about these diverse tasks that need to happen in synchronicity. But during the learning phase, synchronisation is the goal but not always that easy to achieve. Sometimes the engine is getting all the petrol it needs to go forward from the foot, the correct gear has been selected by the hand and head but the clutch hasn’t been released by the other foot, and so much despite their being much in the way of noise and fumes there is no momentum.
Faith and works are a little like the accelerator and the clutch. Having faith without works is like pressing down the accelerator without releasing the clutch.
James uses two examples in our passage from biblical history to show how faith and works are so inextricably intertwined.
The first is the account of Abraham in Genesis 22 when God told him to take Isaac his beloved promised son, and to give him to God as an offering! Hebrews looking back on this moment says; “He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” Abraham believed God’s goodness & trusted in God’s unseen plan, and so he put his faith into action by placing Isaac on the altar. We know the story, how God intervenes and how the angel of the Lord comes to Abraham to bless him for his act of obedience, his faith in action saying at one point you shall be blessed because; “you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:18) Abraham didn’t just SAY he believed God, his faith; “faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works” (James 2:22).
The second example is the account of Rahab, the prostitute from Jericho who also believed God and acted on that faith. Rahab turned from faith in the gods of her people, she believed that the God of Israel was the one true God and so acted on her faith and harboured the foreign spies making a deal to save her family.
Abraham the father of faith and Rahab a disreputable foreigner, both joined faith and action. In using these two people as examples, James has linked faith and action in such a way that the point he is making in this passage applies to us all without exception!
Our lives, our actions demonstrate that we truly have believed in God. We put no faith in our actions to save us, but having placed our faith in Jesus alone to save us, our actions that follow show that we genuinely have put our faith in Jesus. Our faith is ‘completed’ by our works in response to our faith (James 2:22).
Fake Faith, Authentic Faith (James 2:14-17)
Authenticity matters. Appearances are not convincing to the modern person, we know too much about marketing and fake news. The savvy person knows that carefully constructed facades sometimes hide not so impressive realities.
Authentic faith isn’t just words but faith in action. Fake faith, like fake news, is just hot air, empty words with no changed life undergirding those words.
James says in vs14-17 that authentic faith is not what you think or say but what you do because of what you believe. James must have had the words of Jesus ringing in his ears still when he penned these words as Jesus had said to James and the other disciples;
“If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them…A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:17,34-35)
Works/actions are not the basis of our faith, but they are to be the result of our faith. Faith unaccompanied by resultant actions of love and a changed life is useless faith, unauthentic faith.
So, seeing a brother or sister in need and merely saying nice things to them is useless, it belies authentic faith. Real faith in God, results in a person being overwhelmed by the gracious & generous love of God and being transformed by the love so that in turn they too love others with the very same love they have received.
Jesus loved us by inconveniencing Himself, leaving heaven, living a humble obedient life, suffering opposition and then ultimately by giving Himself for us on the cross.
Authentic faith replicates that love. Loving God back by laying down our whole life for His purposes (Romans 12:1-2) which will cause us to love other people with self-giving actions just as Jesus loved us.
– In what ways is your faith on display in actions that are rooted in you responding to God’s love for you?
– Is there someone God is calling you to love with actions today?
Expectations (James 1:2-4)
James has been described by some as the book of Proverbs in the New Testament. It is a book filled with wisdom. Wisdom concerning how one is to think and act in this present age as a believer in Jesus. An age in which the believer could be described as one being in ‘exile’ – scattered amongst a pagan people and in a world that is not their ultimate home (James 1:1). This challenging context for faith in Jesus Christ is the context for everything in this letter and the context for every believer in Jesus.
Realistic expectations are wise. Climbing into a steel cage with a cage fighter with no expectation of danger or the need to defend oneself – is unwise. Going fishing on the beach and not expecting to smell like bait and fish – is unwise. Being a new parent and expecting to have broken sleep for several years – is wise…
So what is the wise expectation of a Christ Follower in this age?
James says; ‘expect to meet trials of every kind in this age’! That’s a wise expectation. To believe that life and the journey of faith in Jesus in this age will be easy – is unwise. The New Testament is clear that in this age we have an enemy who is bent on undermining our faith, robbing from us & even devouring us. We live in an age where temptations & struggles abound. To have any other expectation leaves one unprepared and prone to wrong conclusions and even a crisis of faith.
So, James prepares us with a realistic expectation in these verses, but then goes beyond mere counseling the Christ Follower to have a reasonable expectation when he writes that we ought to ‘consider’ (NASB) it ‘all joy’ when we encounter such trials! This is more than having a reasonable expectation, this is ‘embrace trials’.
How can this be? Only because we know something.
Knowing the endgame can fortify one to press through incredible hardship or pain. They say it takes two months to climb Mt Everest, two months out of normal life, living in compromised accommodation and discomfort and at an average cost of R600k-R800k! Why do people do it, endure it? Because they know they want the endgame of standing on the peak and being one of just a few who have done so.
James says; ‘you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness’ and he says that steadfastness produces something else in us; ‘that we may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing’ (vs4).
So do you know what James assumes you do?
Is your expectation of life as a Christ Follower a biblical one or unrealistic in some way? And do you believe Scripture, which says that the road to the goal of a complete life that lacks nothing is through suffering and trials?
Trials test the genuineness of our faith. Are you a ‘fair-weather’ believer who believes but only when life is rosy, and God seems to be blessing us and answering all our prayers? Or are we robust believers whose faith under fire results in endurance/perseverance, consistency in our faith whether life is rosy or really hard?
In this present age as exiles, the road following Jesus can be hard and long. The call on us is to remain steadfast when startling, unexpected trials come, and to endure through them and then to go on enduring. We know the destination towards which we are headed, because James tells us – it is that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing in our life and faith.
So, wisdom is to arm yourself with a biblical expectation & to arm yourself by knowing that God wastes nothing and that any and every trial you will face has a God-ordained purpose. So be strengthened & remain steadfast when you meet any and every type of trial.
We tend to reach for the eject button, tend to pray for God to remove us from trials. Yet the prayers of Scripture inspire us to pray that we (or those we love)
- might know God’s will in the midst of trials,
- that we might walk in a manner worthy of God in the midst of these trials,
- so that we might be fully pleasing to Him
- and in order that we might bear much fruit
- that we might be strengthened by God’s power in the midst of trials
- so that we would remain steadfast (see the prayer in Colossians 1:9-14).
And when we do this, we become more like Jesus who did the same when he endured the cross scorning its shame because he knew what was the endgame (Hebrews 12:2) and so he was steadfast! May I, may we be like Him.
Is seeing believing or believing seeing? (Luke 24:13-35)
It’s common to hear people say things like; “seeing is believing” and yet in this encounter with Jesus and the two men on the Emmaus road we see that believing leads to seeing.
So often, we want to see and then we will believe but in the Kingdom of God, on the journey of faith with Jesus, it is in fact the opposite way around. Faith is what opens our eyes to see the realities of the King and His kingdom.
The disciples on the road were not seeing Jesus. They were not recognising Him being right there with them, they were not understanding the events in Jerusalem and even the events from that morning with the empty tomb and Mary’s testimony – that they were telling the unknown traveller about… Oh how similar I and we are to them!
Jesus gently rebukes them calling them “foolish ones”, ones who can’t understand who haven’t seen and then Jesus gives the reason they didn’t see or understand;
“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25)
Believing leads to seeing. Hebrews 11:3 says; “By faith we understand…” Note the order there. Faith leads to understanding in God’s kingdom.
How often aren’t there circumstances in our lives which are hard to understand or make sense of, circumstances that undermine our faith, and yet it is faith that is needed to help us to understand in those moments.
These disciples were in the midst of mind-bogglingly tough days. Jesus their hope, the One they were following and the One they were increasingly feeling was in fact the Messiah was captured. Jesus was tried and crucified! Some then saying He had risen again?
What these disciples needed was to have faith, to believe all that the Old Testament had foretold about Jesus and all that Jesus Himself had told them about what would happen to Him and what He had come to do. Because of their lack of faith, they were perplexed, unseeing, unable to recognise what was happening and who in fact was right there with them through it all.
And yet, Jesus is so gracious and kind. He opens their minds and their eyes and shows to them who He is, gives them the sight they were lacking and helps them to see who He was that was walking with them and how all of the Old Testament foretold these events!
May we remember in those life moments when we can’t see or can’t understand that faith is the key to seeing. Our faith in who God is, our faith in what Scripture says, that faith is the key to seeing and understanding or even experiencing God’s presence right there with us in the midst of it all.
May you seek to grow in your faith so that you might see life and circumstances through the eyes of faith, and may you call on Jesus who is so willing to gracious help you in your faith!
Do vs believing it’s DONE (Matthew 19:16-30)
A young man, an achiever in life wants to know how to ensure that he obtains eternal life. He seemingly has everything he wants in this life, but maybe he is intrigued by things Jesus has been saying about eternal life and he wants to know how to obtain it.
So he asks Jesus what he needs to DO to get what he wants (vs16). This young man is steeped in religion. Religion always gives one something to DO in order to be accepted.
Following Jesus is nothing like religion and so Jesus is going to reveal the difference between following Him and religion. The man wants to DO something to gain God’s acceptance (that’s religion) and so Jesus plays along with him;
“Keep the commandments” – Jesus says to the man. “Done” the man says, I have kept them all (vs20). ‘You want to be perfect?’ Jesus effectively says to the man? ‘You want to know you DID enough, then just do one more thing’, Jesus says.
Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:21-22)
This man, in fact no person can DO enough to satisfy God’s requirements. No one is righteous (Romans 3:11-12), all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), the only way to be right before God is to accept the righteousness of God that’s apart from what you DO (Romans 3:21), a righteousness that’s from God through faith in Jesus (Romans 3:23).
That’s grace, that’s the gospel, that’s the good news Jesus brings for each one of us – the way to eternal life is to believe in Him, to trust in what He has DONE for us. And that is the only way to obtain eternal life.
It’s a funny thing, but grace is not appealing to all people. Although God’s grace offers us forgiveness and acceptance soley on the basis of believing in what Jesus has DONE for us, that very offer is offensive to a religious person! How so?
It’s offensive, because in order to receive grace you have to accept that you have not been able to DO enough yourself! In order to receive grace you have to accept that you need grace and that is a humbling hit to the pride that religion breeds.
Scripture says that the young man went away sorrowful, he did not believe Jesus who answered the question he had asked at first. He did not believe that letting go of everything that he had been trusting in, to trust in Jesus was worth it, was the right choice. He didn’t want to humble himself so as to receive grace, and so he went away sorrowful…
Receive Jesus’ grace daily. Trust in what Jesus has DONE for you and don’t ever put your trust in what you can DO in order to please God.
Believe Jesus, believe Scripture. Believe that nothing in this life is worth living for, saving up or hoarding when compared to what Jesus offers those who will lay everything down to believe in Him and to follow Him. Surrender your whole life, all you have to Jesus – you will never reget it. Not in this life and not in eternity either.
Courageous Faith (Mark 10:46-52)
If you think about it, this is quite an introduction we have to the blind man who cries out to Jesus in Mark 10. As Jesus is leaving Jericho with a large crowd and His disciples in toe, Jesus encounters a man who is introduced in Mark’s gospel as; ‘Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus’ (vs46).
A little digging reveals that this is not a flattering introduction at all. This man’s name means ‘son of the unclean or foul one’! What’s the story behind that name? Now this extended family was seemingly not into uplifting names as Bartimaeus’ dad’s name means ‘foul or impure’. And if that’s not enough Mark’s gospel records that this man who is son of ‘the unclean one’ is also tagged as a blind beggar! He is disabled in his body, and due presumably to his condition he is one who makes a living by begging from others.
How terrible to have names such as these, tags such as these attached to a person’s identity! How damaging must that have been to him, how degrading, to feel like all you can do is to sit on the side of the road and call out to people you hear walking past, asking daily for their mercy and alms.
What’s your name? Do you have a derogatory name or nick name, or a name that tells a sad story that has somehow become your story?
Well for this man, that day recorded for us in Mark 10 is going to be no ordinary day. That day Jesus the son of God was going to pass by Bartimaeus. He couldn’t see Jesus but he could hear the commotion, and when Bartimaeus was told who it was passing him by Bartimaeus began to cry out; “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (vs48)
We know from Jesus’ own assessment (see vs52) that this cry of Bartimaeus was a cry of faith in Jesus. Faith is “believing God”, and Bartimaeus believed that Jesus in that moment was worth risking calling out to. There were crowds with Jesus, self-important scribes and Pharisees. According to those around Jesus, Bartimaeus did not warrant Jesus’ attention, he was not worthy of bothering Jesus. But Bartimaeus believed that it was worth pushing through the opinions of others, if it meant he could get Jesus’ attention. And so Bartimaeus reaches out to Jesus, believing that Jesus can transform his situation and believing that Jesus maybe saw him differently to all the others who could not get past his name, his upbringing, his disability or his way of scrapping a living…
Sometimes we have to overcome obstacles in our heads to get to really encounter Jesus. When you are in a meeting and you feel like you want to respond for prayer during the worship or after the preached word, you face something milder but similar to what Bartimaeus faced. “What will other people say or think?” or “I am embarrassed, and I don’t want anyone looking at me.” And so often it is possible to feel Jesus’ presence in the room in the moment and to feel like you want to encounter Jesus but you hold back for fear of others and what they will say.
But not Bartimaeus! Those people who were trying to shut him down and keep him quiet only served to make him louder, insistent and more urgent; “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (vs48) And because Bartimaeus pushed through, Bartimaeus stopped the Son of God, got Jesus’ attention (vs49) and had Jesus ask him; “What do you want me to do for you?” (vs51)
Bartimaeus was healed because he did not allow the thoughts of others to dissuade him. Bartimaeus was more interested in encountering Jesus than bothered about caring what other people thought of him.
Resolve today to be like Bartimaeus, to press through the thoughts of others or even just your perception of the thoughts of others – don’t let anything stop you from encountering Jesus, calling out to Him, for He loves to stop for those who seek Him out like Bartimaeus did. And next time you have an opportunity to be prayed for – take it, take it with both hands, encounter Jesus and have your life transformed like Bartimaeus did.
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