Pleasing God

Gospel Clarity, Certainty, Confidence & Responsibility (Romans 10:12-21)

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Clarity, Certainty, Confidence & Responsibility

I love the remarkable inclusivity & certainty of Romans 10. Paul is determined to make two things abundantly clear;

Clarity

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…

Certainty

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?

Personal Reflection:

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.

Confidence

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).

Responsibility

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.

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The Gift of Grace (Romans 4:4-5)

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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.

Listen in… (James 5:1-6)

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There were many instances in the Old Testament when the prophet of God spoke in harsh words of God’s righteous judgement against a foreign nation or king for their rejection of God or injustices.

Many times, the subject of the prophecy wasn’t in fact in earshot of the words of God, but God’s people were. And because of the way God’s word works and always accomplishes that which God intended it to (Isaiah 55:8-11), it didn’t even matter if King Cyrus or Nebuchadnezzar or Pharoah could hear God’s word of judgement. Nothing could stop what God had proclaimed against them (Isaiah 43:13).

When God spoke through the prophet against the wickedness of a foreign king, within the earshot of God’s people, they had the opportunity to hear who God is, what God is like & what He will not leave unpunished. And so when they overheard God’s judgements of foreigners, they had an opportunity to reform their ways, adjust their lives & thinking to God’s revealed will.

But what does that have to do with James 5:1-6 though I hear you ask?

Well James is a little like an Old Testament prophet at times, he speaks the truth in agitated and urgent ways, his words cut to the heart, not to hurt but expose our hearts to reform them.

And just like the Old Testament prophets sometimes spoke in terms of judgement towards those, not in the room. Similarly, James here is writing to Christians speaking in judgement to unsaved people who will face the wrath of God for their wicked ways.

I say this because we who are Christ Followers will not face the wrath of God for our sin because Jesus paid for our sin. The believer has no fear of punishment to come – we will regret that we did not respond more wholeheartedly in this life to God’s gift to us but ought not to have any fear of condemnation – Romans 8:1.

But as we listen in to James scathing pronouncement of the judgement of God on those who have not put their faith in Jesus – we can learn about God, we can be sensitised to the things that please and displease our Father in Heaven (Ephesians 5:10). And because we listened in, we can repent if any of these things are still resident in us so that we can change to be more pleasing to God our Father.

So what can we listen in on, to find out what pleases & displeases our Father in James 5:1-6?

1. Humility (vs1) – wealth tends to pride (1 Timothy 6:17). Trust in self. Here James calls for humble contrition & reflection. May we be humble, contrite & thinking about today in light of eternity!

2. Temporary vs eternal, hoarding vs investing (vs2-3) – the things of this life are passing away, are not eternal. Thinking short and not long is foolishness in the extreme. Jesus advised us to store up for ourselves riches in heaven where moth and rust can’t destroy them (Matthew 6:19-24). We are not to hoard wealth for ourselves here on earth; we are not to functionally be putting our trust in our wealth, which is so uncertain but to be ‘rich in good works’, ‘generous & ready to share’ thus investing for ourselves treasure for eternity! (see 1 Timothy 6:17-19).

3. Injustice (vs4&6) – God hates injustice. God always sides with; God will defend the marginalised, the abused & the downtrodden. Wealth = power in this present life and the rich use their power to control people, use their power to use people to enrich themselves further. Here James warns us strongly about such injustices as not paying proper wages to those who work for us – the Lord of hosts hears the cries of injustice from the poor and the righteous (vs6), and He will act on their behalf. So, how are you treating anyone who works for you? The Lord of hosts is watching, sees everything. Does anything need to change?

4. Self-indulgent Comfort (vs5) – the god of this age is comfort. So much of our technology serves our god of comfort and convenience. We live in an age where food is no longer primarily about nutrition but has been turned into art & recreation & entertainment we watch! Jesus’ parable in Luke 16:19-31 warns us about living self-indulgently while ignoring the plight of those around us.

In South Africa, these verses are even more relevant than in some other contexts. We have a dark, sad history of injustice and oppression of disempowered people and the lingering legacy of that corrupt system of Apartheid. And we have a continuing story of injustice and corruption with the widespread abuse of power for personal gain at the expense of the poor, that we have witnessed since 1995.

If you are a believer, have you truly repented of the sins of our nation and have you acknowledged how you might have benefitted from that injustice and still benefit today? Do not the cries of the poor in our nation with its excessive levels of inequality come before the Lord of hosts?

Are you using whatever wealth or possessions you might have in such a way that results in much good to others, are you rich in good works, are you generous and ready to share? (1 Timothy 6:18)

If you are, you are godly & you are thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life (1 Timothy 6:19).

May I urge you to listen in, to James’ scathing rebuke of rich ungodly wicked people, and in so doing may you and I know more about what matters to our Father who is in heaven, and may we live to please Him in these things.

Set Your Life-Dial on Humility (James 4:13-17)

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The things we say to one another have a way of exposing the underlying operating system of our hearts (Matthew 12:34). So, what matters is not just the words we say but why we say them.

Taking James 4:13-17 too literally would lead to one prefacing everything or ending everything you say with “if the Lord wills…” To do so misses the whole point – it’s not about what you say so much as why you say what you say. It’s about the attitude of the heart that is the reason you think and speak as you do.

James 4:13-17 is all about us, setting the dials of our lives on humility, not arrogance. Living with a certain humility that comes from knowing who we are and how temporal and not in control, we are.

Who hasn’t spoken words similar to those in vs13?

  • Next year I’m going to study at…
  • Next month I’m moving to…
  • I’m going to have three children…
  • When I am married…

We don’t typically intend to be boastful when we speak like this, and yet if we are not careful these sorts of statements about the future and our future plans are devoid of a sense of;

  • Reverence for God (Proverbs 9:10)
  • Laying our lives & plans down in submission to God’s will (2 Cor 5:14)
  • An awareness of our frailty & our transience (vs14)
  • And our inability to control very much of what happens in our lives (vs14)

Jesus taught us to pray; ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done’ (Matthew 6:9-10). This is how to set your life-dial on humility. To pray like this, think like this, live like this. To live surrendered to God, wanting to do His will not boastfully thinking and speaking about the future as if you’re in charge of your life but living your life in reverent worship of Him who is Lord of all.

So, set your life-dial on humility – don’t invite God into your plans for your life, but humbly, daily ask Him to show you His plans for your life.

To Befriend or not? (James 4:1-6)

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FRIENDSHIPJames has been at pains to describe in his letter, that true faith/religion;
– Endures through trials of all kinds
– Seeks wisdom for God
– Is not double-minded or sharp-tongued
– Does not just hear the Word of God but acts on it
– Doesn’t show partiality
– But loves people
– Results in lives that are not full of quarrels or jealousy or selfish behaviour but rather lives that are pure and peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy…

Then in James 4:4-5, as believers, we are warned strongly, even rebuked for being unfaithful to God because we have befriended the world. The language used here is severe and thought-provoking indeed – ‘You adulterous people!” Serious stuff this.

But this raises some questions;
How are we guilty of befriending the world and so being adulterous to God?
And how can we reconcile this with God’s love for the world (John 3:16) and God’s mandate for us to reach the world with His love and the message of how His Son loved the world by dying on the cross for our sin to offer us forgiveness?

A) Befriending the world
James is using the language of the Old Testament here, where God speaks to His people through the prophets several times (e.g., Jer. 2:20; 3:6–10; Hos. 1:2) about their unfaithfulness to him being like adultery. They had broken the relationship, had placed their hope and trust in other things, small-g-gods, their ability etc. So may we heed the warning and we not live worldly lives that are characterised by a lack of exclusive trust in God alone & a prioritising of our relationship with God above all else.

B) Are we to love the world or not?
We know that God was so moved by love for the world stuck in its sin and shame that God, the Father, sent God the Son to come and die in our place for our sin. John 3:16 is explicit that God has loved the world & that love for the world was the motivating force behind the incarnation and the cross of Christ. So are we not to love the world too? To be like God.

We are not to love the world in the sense of being unfaithful to God and not trusting Him alone. We are not to love the world in the sense of living with the very same passions and desires that the world has and so find ourselves unfaithful and in compromise. Be we are to love the world in the sense that God has through sending Jesus. We are to love all people because they are like sheep without a shepherd and God is calling them to return to Him, to repent so that they can receive the good news about Jesus and be saved.

God loves you, and I jealously (vs5), God does not want to share you and your affections with anything or anyone else. So give all of yourself in worship to God, be wholehearted and love and worship and trust Him exclusively. Be ruthless with sin and compromise so that it can not be said of you that you are enamoured with the world and what it promises but that you are infatuated with God!

True Religion (James 1:19-27)

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love-god-love-peopleWhat does true religion look like? We live in an age in South Africa where there are sadly repeated news stories of people claiming to be ‘Christian leaders’ doing horrific things.

Many people on a survey form would indicate their religion as ‘Christian’, but their lives belie such characterisation. James says that there is such a thing as ‘worthless religion’ (James 1:26). So, what does true religion look like? What should the life of a Christ Follower be like?

James 1:19-27 offers a few answers to these questions. These 6-things should characterise the believer in Jesus:

1. Restraint, doing more listening than speaking (vs19)
2. Self-control, being slow to anger for anger is not godly (vs19-20)
3. Transformed lives (vs21)
4. Obeying God’s word, acting on it rather than merely listening to it or studying it (vs22-25)
5. Caring for the disadvantaged like orphans and widows (vs26)
6. Keeping one’s life unstained from the sin of the world, being Holy (vs27)

James and Jesus’ thoughts concur we are to be those who bear fruit in keeping with our repentance (Matthew 3:8). Those who have truly believed in Jesus can be seen by the fruit of their lives (Matthew 7:30). We don’t earn our way into God’s heart through good works or a transformed life, we come by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.

However, having come to faith, that faith and the love and power of God at work in us produces change from the inside out – that’s true religion. A changed life from a melted heart leading to a faith that’s real and observable both by ourselves and others.

Lord, fill me, fill us again. Make me, make us more and more like You. May, my life, may our lives reflect these transformations and may others be touched by your love in us because we have been touched and transformed by your love for us. Amen.

9:1 (Luke 17:11-19)

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Ten people all in a desperate situation.  All outcasts excluded from society, from relationships and normal interactions.  Everyone of them with their lives on hold because of a circumstance brought on by a physical condition.  They all needed God.    

One day none other than Jesus walks on to the horizon of their lives.  Can you imagine the conversations bouncing around this motley gathering of people, united by misery?  

“Is that Jesus of Nazareth?”  “Isn’t he the man they say raised the young girl back to life?”  “I heard he healed a man born blind” “Isn’t he the one they say calmed the storm on the lake with one command from his mouth?”… 

It’s not hard to imagine the conversation excitedly ramping up then to something like; 

“Guys this is our moment!  If the stories about him are true maybe he will perform a miracle and heal us!”  And so they cry out; “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13)

Testimonies, God-stories about others encountering God can have an effect on our own faith.  There is no evidence that this band of 10 believed at all in Jesus prior to this moment.  But when Jesus was present, the testimonies of others primed their own faith causing them to believe that Jesus could have mercy on them and free them from their painful circumstances.

Jesus sees them.  Jesus acknowledged these people who were outcasts and untouchables in that society.  Jesus gives them dignity by responding to their cry for help.  Jesus stops his journey to speak with them, Jesus is not too busy, not too self-important to stop for them.  Jesus is amazing!

Just the other night I was convicted by the Holy Spirit of being totally unlike Jesus was here in this encounter.  I had taken my wife out for a date and we had just had a nice meal.  A man I had not seen before appeared out of the shadows near our car as we tried to get into it (as often happens in South Africa).  He was looking for some money, which I was going to give, but then as we got really close he started suddenly pleading urgently and awkwardly and I baulked, got in the car and drove off – I am sad to say.  In the moments that followed my sense of having not been like Jesus increased and so I repented and asked for God’s forgiveness.  Now one could make arguments against giving in certain settings, but that’s not the point – the point is Jesus stopped and still stops for people and I want to be more like Jesus!

Jesus tells these 10, to go and show themselves to the priests which in our day equates to Jesus saying, “Go, get checked out by the Doctor and you’ll find you’ve been healed and can re-enter normal life!” (see vs14)  They must have looked down at their various sores and lesions which Scripture did not say were healed instantly, rather it says; “And as they went they were cleansed.” (vs14)

It appears as though the healing required a second step of faith.  Step 1 was believe Jesus can heal you and cry out to Him.  Step 2 seems to have been for them believe Jesus that you won’t be wasting your time getting checked out to see if you’re healed because I am going to heal you.  Step 3 “and as they went” they were healed.  They had to take a step of obedient faith and then they were healed.

All 10 are healed as they go on their way and it seems 9 of the 10 just keep going and never come back to thank Jesus.  

Sadly I have seen this pattern repeat itself over and over again over many years.  We have prayed for countless unemployed people, or people wanting a better job, or marriages that are in need….and then when God breaks into people’s lives, in the moment that they should be thanking God, telling the God-story for God’s glory and then continuing to live for God – they disappear.  God warned Israel of doing this to Him in Deuteronomy 8:11-20 saying; “take care lest you forget the Lord your God” (vs11) when God answers your prayers for a Promised Land, “beware lest you say in your heart, my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this” (vs17).

But one of the men did return to Jesus, fell on his face before Jesus’ feet and gave thanks worshipping Jesus for the miraculous and instant healing he had received.  May we be like this guy!  May we be those who honour God as the source of all good gifts to us.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)

May we be those who don’t only remember God when we feel like we need Him, but who remember God when we need to praise, honour, worship and thank Him.  After all God is worthy of praise always, everyday, for giving us Jesus who died on the cross for our sins and healed us not of some disease but delivered us from sin and sin’s punishment to come.  Live your whole life as a response of love to Him.