How can I respond to skeptics who deny that Jesus is God? Part 5

41 Then many came to Him and said, ‘John performed no sign, but all the things that John spoke about this Man were true.’ 42 And many believed in Him there.” John 10:41-42

We have learned from Jesus’ response to His Jewish audience, several ways to respond to skeptics who deny Jesus is God in John 10:32-42:

– Confront them with questions (John 10:32-33)

– Communicate biblical truths with relevance to them (John 10:34-36).

– Call them to believe in Christ because of the evidence of His miracles (John 10:37-39).

Consider our beginnings (John 10:40).

Jesus found it necessary to leave Jerusalem and Judea because of the growing hostility toward Him (John 7:30, 44; 8:59; 10:31, 39). So He crossed over to the other side of the Jordan River to Bethany of Perea where John the Baptist started his ministry and where Jesus was baptized which also was the start of His ministry (John 10:40; cf. 1:28).

From Jesus’ time in Bethany of Perea we learn the final way to respond to skeptics who deny Jesus is God – CONVEY THE TRUTH ABOUT JESUS TO OTHERS WITH YOUR LIFE AND LIPS (John 10:41-42). While John the Baptist had already died by this time (cf. Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 9:9), his ministry had not died. “Then many came to Him and said, ‘John performed no sign, but all the things that John spoke about this Man were true.’ ’’ (John 10:41). Many people were now seeking Jesus. Why? Because the witness of John the Baptist earlier had prepared the people of Bethany to seek out Jesus. While John had performed no miraculous “sign” at Bethany, he did bear witness to Jesus and his witness was “true.” What had John said? Let’s look back in John 1:15-18, 29-34:

15 John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, ‘This was He of whom I said, “He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me. 16 And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him…’ 29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is He of whom I said, “After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.” 31 I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.’ 32 And John bore witness, saying, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” 34 And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.’ ”

John spoke the truth about the greatness of Jesus Christ. He drew an accurate picture of Jesus Christ through his witness. Then when Jesus came, the people recognized the original truth John had given to them. John had been dead for some time now, but his influence continued. His words were still treasured by others. John had prepared the people to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, God Himself.

“And many believed in Him there.” (John 10:42). After realizing that Jesus was the Son of God, God Himself, many of the people believed in Christ there. Remember, it was John the Baptist who said to the people of Bethany a few years earlier, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36). These people now believed or trusted in Jesus alone for His gift of everlasting life! John’s influence led people to seek Jesus out, but their faith in Christ was because of their contact with the Lord Jesus Himself.

Notice the contrast between the Jews back in Jerusalem who had miraculous signs, and the people of Bethany here who had no miraculous signs. The Jews refused to believe even though they had sufficient evidence through Christ’s words and works that He was their promised Messiah-God. But the people of Bethany did believe the word of Jesus without any miraculous signs. What made the difference between the receptivity of these two groups? The witness of John the Baptist.

One big difference between growing churches and stagnant churches is that growing churches who are winning the lost to Christ are sowing the seed of God’s Word in the lives of unbelievers, but stagnant churches are not.

When I was a young believer working in an orthopedic trauma unit as a nurse’s assistant in a hospital in Iowa, I loved to share the gospel with all my patients. One of my patients was a retired doctor who simply did not like me because of my Christian faith. He claimed to be an atheist and did not want to hear about Jesus. He would greet me with a scowl when I entered his room and start complaining about my work. But the Lord gave me favor with his wife who sat by his bedside every day. She would say to him, “Be nice to this young man. He is here to help you. He has been so good to you, the least you could do is show him some respect.”

Every work day the Lord enabled me to show His love to this grumpy, unbelieving doctor. With a smile and with gentleness, I would daily give him his bath and change his bedding. I would clean his wounds and help him use the commode on his bed. Gradually, this hard-hearted doctor began to change. After a few weeks of caring for him, he would crack a smile as soon as I entered his room because he knew I was there to care for him. God used acts of kindness to open this doctor’s heart so that he was prepared to hear the gospel. Eventually, both the doctor and his wife discovered the truth about Jesus Christ and said they believed in Him for His gift of eternal life!

Many of you are preparing others, including skeptics, to believe in Christ by the truth you convey about Jesus to them through your words and works. What kind of picture are you drawing of Jesus with your life? Will people recognize Jesus when they see Him in the Word because of the picture you have drawn of Him with your life and lips? God is not looking for perfection in us. But He is looking for us to share Christ’s faithfulness to us with unbelievers in our lives.

There are many hurting people in the world today and God wants to use you to extend His healing grace to them. You may not see them come to faith in Christ just like John the Baptist did not see these people of Bethany come to faith in Jesus during his lifetime. But one day at the Judgment Seat of Christ, you will know who does believe in Jesus because of your influence while you were on earth. That day will make all the sacrifice and suffering you invested in that person’s life worth it all! Christ will faithfully reward you for your faithfulness to Him (Revelation 22:12)!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I can be so impatient when I do not see instant results! I want to see people believe in Jesus now, not later! Forgive me for being so demanding and proud. Right now I want to surrender to You to use my life and lips to prepare people to believe in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life. Like John the Baptist, I may not see those people come to You in faith during my lifetime, but what matters is that they do come to You before it is too late for them. Please use me to sow the seed of Your Word in peoples’ lives now so You can reap an abundant harvest of souls. I claim Your promise which says, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11). To You my Lord and my God be all the glory! In Your mighty name I pray. Amen.

Since eternal life is free and can never be lost, why would I want to live for the Lord?

In John 10:28-29, we discovered that believers in Jesus are secure forever because eternal life is a gift which can never be lost. But someone may say, “Since eternal life is free through believing in Jesus and cannot be lost, why would I want to live for the Lord? What is to keep me from living like the devil since I know I will go to heaven after believing in Jesus? There are several incentives for living a godly life after believing in Jesus for the gift of eternal life. We will look at four of them:

1. GRATITUDE: When a sinner believes in Christ alone for the forgiveness of his sins and the gift of eternal life, the most natural response is a heart full of thanksgiving.  The Bible says, “We love Him because He first loved us.” (I John 4:19). When you are convinced God loves you no matter what and that His arms of grace are always open for you no matter how badly you fail or fall, you will want to do what He tells you to do out of gratitude and because you know He wants the best for you (2 Corinthians 5:15; Galatians 2:20).

For example, let’s say you are drowning in the ocean, and a man on the seashore hears your cries for help and swims out to save you from certain death. After he brings you safely back to shore, you ask him, “How can I ever thank you for saving me?” He replies, “You would have done the same thing for me,” and then he drives off on his motorcycle. Two weeks later you are driving your car down the highway and you notice the same man standing beside the road next to his motorcycle which has two flat tires. The man is frantically waving his hands to get you to stop, but you just wave at him and keep going. That, my friends, is no way to thank the man who saved you from drowning. Likewise, when we fail to live for the Lord, we are still saved, but that is no way to thank our Savior who saved us from an eternity burning in the lake of fire.

2. GOD’S DISCIPLINE: Just as an earthly father disciplines his wayward children, so God will discipline His disobedient child (Hebrews 12:5-11). It is possible for a believer to be more miserable living outside of God’s will than it would have been to remain a non-Christian. If a believer continues in sin long enough, God may even take his or her physical life (cf. I Corinthians 11:29-32). Knowing the price of sin in a Christian’s life ought to be a strong motivation for godly living. “For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23).

3. YOUR NEW IDENTITY: When a person believes or trusts in Christ for the gift of eternal life, God’s grace gives him a new identity or capacity to overcome sin and live for the Lord (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:14-20; I John 3:1-9). Romans 6:14-18 says, 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”

When we become Christians, we are under a new authority. We are now under God’s grace, not the law. When we realize and submit to Christ’s rule over us, regardless of our feelings, our sinful flesh progressively loses its domination over us, and the grace of God is activated in our lives. We then obey because of our relationship with Jesus. Some immature Christians might think that living under grace means they can go on sinning. But Paul refutes this thinking. If you are living under grace, you will actually keep the law. And if you don’t keep the law, it only proves you’re not operating under the grace of God. Christians obey the standard, but the motivation isn’t the standard. The motivation is God’s grace. The more believers experience the grace of Jesus, the more he or she wants to live in way that is consistent with his or her new identity in Christ.

At this juncture, I believe it is important to talk about sanctification. Sanctification is being “set apart” or made holy to God. The Bible alludes to pre-conversion sanctification whereby the Lord sets apart the unbeliever for salvation and/or service (Jeremiah 1:5; Acts 9:15; Romans 1:1; I Corinthians 7:14; Galatians 1:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; I Peter 1:2).

For the Christian, sanctification is realized in three ways. All believers are positionally sanctified when they first believe by virtue of being in Christ (I Corinthians 1:2; 6:11; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 10:10, 14).  That is, they are completely and permanently set apart from their sin and shame, and placed into the body of Christ. God totally accepts the believer at the moment of faith in Jesus regardless of how much or little they manifest His holiness.

Christians are personally or progressively sanctified as they allow the Holy Spirit to guide their lives, and begin to produce the fruit of the Spirit (Luke 14:25-33; John 8:31-32; 15:1-8; 17:17; Romans 6:12-23; 8:1-17; Galatians 5:16-26; Ephesians 5:26; Hebrews 5:13-14; I Peter 1:15- 16; 2:1-3; 2 Peter 3:18).  Therefore, obedience to the Word of God, while not necessary for obtaining everlasting life, is the essential responsibility of each Christian to grow in the Christian life (Romans 6:12-23; Hebrews 5:13-14; 1 Corinthians 2:14–3:4). However, the Bible does not teach that this obedience will be manifested in all believers. If a believer does not yield to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in his experience, failure will result, evidenced by sinful acts or even prolonged disobedience (1 Corinthians 3:1-15; 10:1-13; Galatians 5:16-21).

Christians will be ultimately sanctified when they become completely conformed to the image of Christ in His presence (Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 1:22; I John 3:2-3; Jude 24- 25).  There will be no more sin in their words, thoughts, actions, or motives.

For example, the apostle Paul in writing to the church at Corinth, says, “To those who are sanctified (hagiazō) in Christ Jesus, called to be saints (hagios).” (I Corinthians 1:2). Paul calls them “saints” which means, “set-apart ones” (I Corinthians 1:2). He was not referring to their behavior because they were acting very immature and disobedient (I Corinthians 1:11-6:20; 11:17-32; et al.). He was obviously talking about their identity or their position in Christ, which was sourced in their spiritual birth. Paul calls them “saints”(positional sanctification) in chapter 1 and then challenges them to act like the saints they really are (progressive sanctification) in the remaining chapters of the book.

When the Corinthians were committing sexual immorality with prostitutes he questions their knowledge about their new identity in Christ, not their salvation (I Corinthians 6:13-20). Paul describes believers’ future resurrection bodies which will be “raised in incorruption” and “put on incorruption” (ultimate sanctification) to encourage Christians to remain faithful to the Lord in the present (I Corinthians 15:42, 53). Because Christians will receive future resurrection bodies that no longer yield to sin, they are to abound in the work of the Lord now knowing He will reward them for their faithfulness in the future (I Corinthians 15:58; cf. 3:8-15; 9:24-27).

4. ETERNAL REWARDS AT THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST: The last book of the Bible (Revelation) provides an outline of future events (see picture) beginning with the current church age to the eternal state…

1. We are living in the Church Age which began at Pentecost (Acts2) and will end with the rapture or removal of the Church from the earth which could take place at any moment (John 14:1-3; I Cor. 15:51-52; I Thess.1:10; 4:13-5:11; Revelation 4-5). Knowing that Christ could come for us at any moment motivates Christians to live faithfully for Him so they are prepared to face Him as their Judge.

2. Soon after the Church is taken in the Rapture, seven years of Tribulation begin on the earth.  This period begins when the Beast of Revelation makes a covenant with the nation of Israel (Dan. 9:26-27). This will be an awful time of death, disease, hunger, famine, earthquakes as never seen, warfare, entire seas turned to blood, darkness, scorching of the sun and multiple other judgments (Revelation 6-19). It will end when Jesus returns to earth with His Church and Christ will destroy His enemies (Revelation 17:12-14; Revelation 19:11-21). At that time, the Antichrist and False Prophet will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 19:20) and the Devil will be bound for a 1000 years (Revelation 20:2-3).

3.  Then Jesus will reign as King over the entire earth for a thousand years from the city of Jerusalem (Zechariah 14; Revelation 20:4-6). This period is called the Millennium which means “one thousand.”

4. At the end of the Millennium God will destroy the entire creation (2 Peter 3:10). Every person who did not believe or trust in Christ alone for the gift of salvation will stand before God as He sits on the Great White Throne to judge each unbeliever according to their works to determine the degree of their punishment in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-15). Satan will receive his final judgment in the Lake of Fire at this time.

5.  Then a New Heaven (Universe) and New Earth are created which are perfect and beautiful (Revelation 21-22). This will be the eternal home of believers in Jesus.

Knowing the future should motivate Christians to live for what is eternal and not what is temporary. Why? Because there is another Judgment. During the Tribulation, in heaven, Christians will give an account for all their work for Christ. While Christians will never be judged to determine their eternal destiny since they already have eternal life (John 5:24), they will face another kind of judgment to determine what if any rewards they will receive in Christ’s eternal Kingdom. In Revelation 4:4, 10-11, “the twenty-four elders” represent faithful (overcoming) believers in heaven who possess “crowns” (rewards) received at the Judgment Seat of Christ and will rule with Christ in His coming Kingdom (cf. 2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:10b, 2:26-27; 3:5a, 3:11, 21).  This Judgment is to motivate Christians to be faithful disciples who obey the Word of God. This is called the Judgment Seat of Christ.

God wants to reward all Christians for their faithfulness to Him at the Judgment Seat of Christ. “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”(2 Corinthians 5:9-10). Paul was motivated to live a life that pleased the Lord knowing that he would appear before Christ at the Judgment Seat in the future to determine what if any rewards he would receive (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 4:5; 9:24-27; Revelation 22:12). Every Christian must appear before the judgment seat of Christ to answer to Jesus for the “good” and “bad” things he has done since becoming a Christian. The word “bad” (kakon) means “worthless, wicked, and evil.”

Is this scary for you to think about? Certainly! Even the apostle Paul was afraid to face the Judgment Seat of Christ. He writes, “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” (2 Corinthians 5:11). Why would Paul fear the Judgment Seat of Christ? He was afraid of the possibility that his life will be revealed as one wasted and spent in selfishness rather than in devotion and obedience to Christ. Selfish living and wasted opportunities will bring more regrets when Jesus evaluates a believer’s life than most of us care to think about. Knowing this should be sufficient  motivation for God’s people to aim to please the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24).

Knowing that we can earn eternal rewards should motivate believers to live for Christ now. Christians can earn heavenly treasure (Matthew 6:19-21) by giving a cup of cold water to God’s servant (Matthew 10:42), doing a charitable deed in private (Matthew 6:3- 4), praying in private (Matthew 6:6), and fasting in private (Matthew 6:17-18).

Christians who remain faithful in their service to Christ to the end of their lives will be given rewards that include wearing special white garments (Revelation 3:4-5), ruling with Christ (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26-27; 3:21), eating the fruit of the tree of life (Revelation 2:7), eating hidden manna (Revelation 2:17), receiving a white stone engraved with your own special name that only the Lord and you will know (Revelation 2:17), and receiving a special entrance into the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:14).

Christians can also earn a crown of rejoicing for making disciples (I Thessalonians 2:19), a crown of righteousness for loving the appearing of the Lord Jesus (2 Timothy 4:8), a crown of life for enduring trials and temptations until death (James 1:12), a crown of glory for faithfully shepherding others as a servant leader (I Peter 5:4), and an imperishable crown for living a disciplined life (I Corinthians 9:25).

By focusing on the Judgment Seat of Christ, Christians will develop a desire to please God rather than men. Because Christ is first in the life of a disciple and could come back at any moment, a disciple should seek to win as many people to Christ as possible and become more like the Judge who will evaluate his or her life at the Judgment Seat.

Knowing we have eternal life which can never be lost does not give Christians a license to sin or live like the devil. God did not save us to live for ourselves, but for Him who died and rose from the dead on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:15). We have looked at several motivations to live for Jesus untill we go to be with Him in heaven.

I will close with some thoughts from Dave Breese in Living for Eternity said, The child of God is a creature of eternal destiny. For him no day is without consequence, and no fleeting moment can be called incidental or unimportant. The hours he spends and the decisions he makes have implications that carry on into eternity. What he does today will matter a thousand years from today.” (Larry Moyer, Free And Clear: Understanding & Communicating God’s Offer of Eternal Life [Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997], pg. 145).

Keeping our faith alive in uncertain times

Inspired by a true story, the movie Rugged Gold is about a pregnant newlywed named Martha Martin who is separated by an earthquake from her son and miner husband in 1950s Alaska. This is a story about survival – staying alive under horrible circumstances. Martha Martin overcomes severe injuries, delivers her own baby, faces off with a Grizzly and wins, and endures a brutal winter with the hope of being reunited with her son and newlywed husband. Martha did everything she could to keep herself alive.

As we face all kinds of challenges this year including COVID-19 and social unrest revolving around the color of a person’s skin, it is essential that we as Christians be willing to do whatever it takes to keep our faith alive.

But how does a Christian do this? How does a believer in Jesus Christ keep their faith alive and energized? Turn to James 2:14-26 and find out. Many people have understood James 2:14-26 to teach that good works are necessary for eternal salvation. These verses are misunderstood by some to be written to professing Christians whose faith must be tested to see if it is genuine. But James is not addressing the eternal destiny of his readers because they are genuine Christians. James describes them as… “brethren” (James 1:2, 16, 19; 2:5, 14; et. al.), those who are “born from above” (James1:17-18), and those who “hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ” (James 2:1). James understands, however, that it would be easy to downgrade works where it was taught that justification before God was by faith alone in Christ alone.

Although these were genuine Christians, they were immature and disobedient (cf. James 3:1-5:6), and they were in danger of experiencing both the damaging consequences of sin now (James 1:15-16, 21; 5:19-20) and an unfavorable evaluation at the Judgment Seat of Christ in the future (James 2:12-13; 5:7-9). To preserve their souls/lives from the ruin of sin now and a negative assessment at the Judgment Seat of Christ in the future, they are to obey God’s Word (James 1:21-25). So James is writing to them to help them put their faith into action – to keep their faith alive.

How do we keep our faith alive in these uncertain times?

1. GET INVOLVED WITH OTHERS (James 2:14-17). “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14). This verse has caused a lot of concern for many people over the years. Martin Luther was so distraught over this verse that he wanted to take the book of James out of the Bible because he felt it contradicted the great truth that led to the Reformation – Paul’s justification by faith alone apart from works. Clearly, James makes works a condition for salvation as the question, “Can faith save him?” (James 2:14b) expects a negative answer. “Of course, faith without works cannot save him.” James says a faith without works cannot save you.

But the apostle Paul says a faith with works won’t save you. “Now to him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul and James seem to contradict each other. James says you cannot be saved without works. Paul says you cannot be saved by faith with works.

The reason James and Paul differ with each other is because they are talking to two different groups.  When Paul is talking to sinners about how to become a saint, he says it is by faith alone apart from works (Romans 4:5-6). But notice who James is talking to. Christians or non-Christians? “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?” (James 2:14). Notice the phrase,  “My brethren…” These people are brothers in Christ. They are saved from hell. So when James talks to saints about how to experience the God who has already saved them from hell, he says it by faith with works (James 2:14-26). If you want to know how to get to heaven, read Paul. If you want to know how to bring heaven to earth because you are already saved from hell, read James.

So do works have any part in getting us to heaven? No. Faith in Christ alone is the only basis of eternal salvation from hell. Eternal salvation is a gift, not of works lest anyone should boast. No person can take credit for his salvation from hell because it is apart from works. “And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.” (Romans 11:6). If works are made a condition for getting to heaven, then eternal salvation can no longer be said to be attained by grace. So James cannot be talking about eternal salvation by grace because God’s Word does not contradict itself.

So what kind of salvation is being addressed in James 2:14? Faith without works cannot save us from what? The word “save” (sozo) in the New Testament doesn’t always refer to salvation from hell. In fact 70% of the time the word “save” in the New Testament refers to deliverance from circumstances. For example,  when Jesus’s disciples were about to drown in the midst of a storm at sea, they said to Jesus, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” (Matthew 8:25). They were referring to being saved from physical death. In I Timothy 2, when Paul was talking about the role of men and women in the church, he said, “Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” (1 Timothy 2:15). The context is talking about women being restricted from teaching or leading men in the local church. So Paul is talking about women being saved from this restriction through childbearing, that is,  she is able to teach and lead her children and be fulfilled doing so if her children continue in these godly virtues.

What James is telling us is that faith without works will not save us from what he has already discussed in the book. First, faith without works won’t save us from A LIFE RUINED BY SIN. James 1:19-22 says,19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; 20 for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James tells the saved how to save their souls from a life ruined by sin. They must be doers of the word and not merely hearers.

James warns his readers, “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” (James 1:15).  If believers pursue sin long enough and hard enough, it will ruin their lives and the lives of those around them. So the way to be saved from a life ruined by sin is to do what God says to do.

Secondly, faith without works will not save us from AN UNFAVORABLE JUDGMENT AT THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST. “12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:12-13). The Bible tells us that all Christians will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ after they die or are raptured to have their Christian lives evaluated to determine what if any rewards they will receive (Romans 14:10-12; I Corinthians 3:8-15; 2 Corinthians 5:9-11). If we are critical and merciless toward people now, then God will show less mercy to us when He judges our lives in the future. So can faith alone save us? No, James says faith without works cannot save us from a life ruined by sin or from an unfavorable judgment in the future at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

James then gives an illustration of this. 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15-16). Just as words of assurance from some ungenerous believer cannot save his naked and starving Christian brother or sister from physical death, so too, faith without works cannot save our lives from the consequences of sin. Correct beliefs, such as Jesus is God, the Bible is God’s inerrant Word, or salvation is by grace through faith alone in Christ alone, cannot save us from a life ruined by sin any more than warm wishes will save a needy brother from physical death.

You can have accurate theology and be useless to God and others. There are Christians who have sound theology but they are useless to God! They can dot their i’s and cross their t’s but they are not seeing their souls saved from the power of sin. They are not seeing their lives transformed by the grace of God. Why? Because their orthodoxy has not become orthopraxy. Because they are not putting their faith to work. Sometimes we say, “I’m waiting on God.” But could it be that God is waiting on you? If we want to keep our faith alive in these uncertain times, we must go beyond the well wishes and desires to help others and actively get involved with them.

For example, we can say, “I love people of all colors,” but if we are not actively getting involved with people from other cultures or ethnicities, we are not demonstrating the truth of our words. Our faith will not grow in this area if we are merely hearers and not doers.  

Notice that James is talking about helping a needy Christian “brother” in these verses. He is not talking about giving handouts to some stranger who is begging for food or clothing. We are to give priority to believers first. This was especially true in James’s day when Christians were actively being persecuted by the Roman government. We need to balance this with other Scripture. Galatians 6:10 says, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Second Thessalonians 3:10 says, “For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” Free food (or clothing or money, etc.) should not be given to those who can work but choose not to. To do so rewards laziness and irresponsibility. God wants us to get involved in needy peoples’ lives, starting with the church.

If you are feeling down, one of the best ways to get picked up is to focus on the needs of other people. Just talking about it isn’t going to benefit the needy people in your church or community. We must put our faith into action. The more you get involved with needy people, the stronger your faith will become in the Lord.

Look at what James says next, “Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17).Faith without works is a “dead” or useless faith that has lost its fervor or fire for Christ. Faith without works is dead – useless, unproductive just as idle words are useless to a brother or sister in need.

If all we ever do is talk about reaching and teaching people for Christ, but we never act on it, then our faith becomes useless to others. Reaching and teaching people for Christ is what the United States of America needs more than anything right now in the midst of these troubling times. Until people obtain peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1), they are not going to have peace with themselves or other people regardless of the color of their skin (cf. Ephesians 2:8-18).

A dead faith means the believer has lost his fire or fervor for Christ. If I were to visit another church and upon leaving I said to my wife, “This church is dead,” I’m not saying there are no born-again Christians there. I am saying that church is not on fire for Christ. Our faith won’t do anyone any good if we don’t exercise it.

What does a dead body and a dead faith have in common? Both are immobile and inactive. They also tend to decay and stink. If we fail to do good works, our faith will lose its vitality, it will weaken, and eventually decay and stink. Like a dead car battery, it is useless. It was once alive, but it has become dead or useless due to a lack of use. But the way to jump start a dead faith is to put it to work.

In James 2:18-19, James encounters a skeptic. This skeptic insists that there is no connection between faith and works in order to justify his carnal lifestyle (James 2:18-19). This skeptical person objects to James’s view of faith and works by saying it is absurd to see a close connection between faith and works. “But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18). In other words, this person says, “Let’s say you have faith and I have works. You can no more start with what you believe and show it to me in your works, than I can start with my works and show what it is that I believe.”

Then in James 2:19 the objector tries to illustrate that there is no connection between faith and works, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19). The skeptic is saying that the demons believe in the oneness of God, the same way James does, who does good, but they only tremble instead of doing good. He is saying that faith cannot be made visible in works! Why would someone argue this way? Because his beliefs are not supported by his behavior. “Faith and good works are not related to each other so don’t criticize me if I don’t practice what I preach.”

Some use James 2:19 to say that believing in Christ is not enough to be saved from hell because the demons believe in God, but are not saved because they have not submitted to God or obeyed Him. Let me point out some things to note about James 2:19:

1. Jesus did not die for demons, He died for people (Romans 5:8; Hebrews 2:16). Therefore, demons are not savable. Demons are unsaved because they willfully rebelled with Lucifer against God (Isaiah 14:13-15; Ezekiel 28:11-19) and are condemned to everlasting fire in hell prepared for the devil and his demons (Matthew 25:41), not because they lack insufficient faith. Nowhere in the Bible does God offer demons eternal life because demons are not savable.

2. Belief that God is one is not saving. What makes faith saving is the object of faith, not the amount or duration of faith. Demons do really believe there is only one God, but believing that God is one does not get anyone to heaven. There are many world religions and cults that believe God is one, but you will not see them in heaven because they have missed the object of saving faith – believing in Jesus Christ alone, who died for their sins and rose from the dead, to give them everlasting life (I Corinthians 15:1-6; John 3:14-18; 6:47; 14:6 20:31; Acts 4:10-12). What makes saving faith saving, is the object, not some special kind of faith. Not all facts about God are saving. Believing in Christ for eternal life is a saving fact. Believing that God is one is not a saving fact.

3. Since the words of James 2:19 belong to a skeptic, they should not be used to prove such an important theological point. Using this verse to dismiss the use of the word “believe” in gospel presentations misunderstands the author’s intended meaning and leads to misapplication. 

The second way to keep your faith alive in uncertain times is to 2. GIVE GOD YOUR OBEDIENCE (James 2:20-26). In James 2:20-25, James refutes the skeptic’s arguments by referring to two supreme examples of faith’s connection with works. The way to fire up a Christian’s faith is to PUT IT TO WORK like Rahab and Abraham put their faith to work and were justified before men (James 2:23-25). “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:20). James reaffirms that faith without works is dead or useless. The issue is that your faith is unproductive. The Lord is pleading with us in this passage to put our faith in gear and move out! Don’t sit back on the fact that you are saved forever and God’s never going to kick you out of His family, and therefore you become a lazy Christian.

He then states that Abraham was justified by works. “Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?” (James 2:21). It was well known to James and his readers that Abraham was justified before God by faith alone (Genesis 15:6) about thirty years before he offered up Isaac (Genesis 22). His justification before God was apart from works (Romans 4). If Abraham had failed to obey God in offering up Isaac, would he have remained justified before the Lord? Yes, because justification before God is always based on faith alone, not good works whether before, during or after your conversion. “5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works.” (Romans 4:5-6).

James goes on to say in “Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (James 2:22). Abraham’s original justifying faith was strengthened and matured by his act of obedience in offering up Isaac. How? His faith grew from a conviction that God could overcome his inability to have children to the assurance that God could actually resurrect his son’s own body from physical death. Hebrews 11:17-19 says,17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 of whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called,’ 19 concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead.”

James continues, “And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God.” (James 2:23). Abraham’s original justifying faith before God was “fulfilled” or “filled-full” of meaning as a result of this act of obedience. His obedience revealed his faith to men. The Scriptures were fulfilled in that Abraham showed his faith by his works. His obedience justified him before men in such a way as to show him to be righteous on a practical level. People could say Abraham was a “friend of God.” Friendship with God requires obedience. Jesus said, “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14). Jesus was speaking to the believing disciples when He spoke these words in John 15. They were already saved. This is why James 2:24 speaks of two kinds of justification.

“You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” (James 2:24). The word “only” is an adverb and modifies the verb “justified” implied in the second clause. Thus it could be translated, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not only (justified) by faith.” There is a justification by works and a justification by faith. Justification by works is before men. “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.” (Romans 4:2). People can be justified by works, but not before God. Why? Because God can see faith without works. He knows life is there apart from our works. This is why justification before God is by faith alone in Christ alone (Romans 4:5; cf. Genesis 15:6). But people cannot see faith apart from works. Hence, justification by works is before men, justification by faith is before God. James never speaks of justification by faith and works. He doesn’t say Abraham was justified by faith and works at the same time, nor does he say Rahab was.

“Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?” (James 2:25). The story is clear. The Israelites were going to take Jericho. The Jewish spies came in to spy out the land. Rahab, “the harlot” – the prostitute, the hooker, the whore – the woman who lived a life of failure – hid them and then secretly sent them out so they could escape. Rahab’s physical life was saved because she had works. God saw Rahab’s faith when she “received the spies” (Hebrews 11:31). But men could not see her faith until she acted on it by “sending them out another way” (James 2:25b). Rahab was truly a friend of God because she was their friend. While all of Jericho perished under God’s judgment, Rahab lived because her faith lived! So yes, faith can be shown to men from our works. Abraham did it and was called the friend of God. Rahab did it by sending the spies away safely.  

We are called to act upon the faith that we have. We can know what is right. We can already be saved from Hell. We can come to church two or three times a week. We can be on our way to heaven and yet not experience heaven as a part of history! Until we act upon the Word of God and start living it out, what does it profit? Faith without works will not profit a brother or sister in need of food or clothing nor will it profit the Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26). James compares faith to the body and works to the spirit. When does a human body die? When it loses its spirit which keeps it alive. When does a Christian’s faith die? When he stops using it. Like a muscle, if you stop using it, it atrophies and withers away. You won’t experience the transforming power of God if you stop putting your faith to work! Just as the human spirit gives life to the body, good works give life to your faith (James 2:26). You can have correct belief and lots of Bible knowledge, but if you stop acting on that belief and knowledge, your faith will weaken and become a creedal corpse.

A little girl who really believed in prayer, had a brother who made a trap that caught little sparrows, and she prayed that it would fail. Suddenly, for three days her face was radiant when she prayed and her absolute faith in the futility of the trap was so noticeable that her mother asked, “Julia, how can you be so confident?” Julia smiled, “Because, dear Mama, I went out three days ago and kicked that trap to pieces.” She literally put her faith to work.

If we are going to keep our faith alive in these uncertain times, we must put it to work. Not by kicking traps, but by meeting the felt needs of the people God is calling us to reach – by introducing them to Christ and by discipling them and sending them out to do the same. We can decide today how we will live our lives in these chaotic times. Will you choose to keep your faith alive and vigorous by putting it to work in obedience to God? God wants our faith to thrive, not die. What about you?

Prayer: Precious Lord, this message really cuts deep into my apathetic heart. My knowledge of the truth can grow greatly, but if I do not put it into practice, my faith becomes dead or useless to You and to others. No wonder I have lost my fervor for You Lord Jesus. My head is swollen with Bible knowledge, but my heart is cold because I have not applied what I already know to be true. This world would be a much better place if all Christians would put what they know into practice. Lord, I want to be a part of the solution to the world’s problems by putting my faith to work. It is so easy for me to sit back and criticize others for doing very little while I, too, talk about faith more than I live it out. Forgive me, Lord, for being preoccupied with myself and what I know to be true instead of putting it into practice. Please show me whom You want me to get involved with so they can benefit from my relationship with You and come to know You as their Savior. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

How can I be Jesus’ friend?

23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. 24 But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men.” John 2:23-24

During the week-long feast of Unleavened Bread, Jesus did many miracles. As a result, many people believed in Christ for eternal life. “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did.” (John 2:23). Some argue that these people were not truly saved because their faith was based on miraculous signs and because Jesus did not entrust Himself to them as we shall see in a moment. However, the reasons for understanding that these people are genuinely saved are as follows:

  1. The phrase “believed in His name” is always used of people trusting Jesus to get them to heaven in John’s writings. This phrase “believed in His name” in John 2:23 is used in John 1:12-13 to refer to saving faith. Those verses prepare the reader to understand John 2:23 in the same way. Grounds for condemnation are based on the fact that one has not “believed in the name” of the Son of God (John 3:18). In John 20:31, a believer may have life “in His name.” Thus, there is nothing in John’s usage of “believe in the name”to suggest that the faith in John 2:23 is not saving faith.
  2. The “believe in” (pisteuō eis) construction is a common Johannine expression for saving faith (John 1:12; 3:16, 18, 36; 4:39; 6:29, 35, 40, 47; 7:5, 31, 38, 39, 48; 8:30; 9:35, 36; 11:25-26, 48; 12:11, 37, 42, 44, 46; cf. I John 5:13). Nothing in John 2:23 suggests a different understanding.
  3. Nothing in the gospel of John suggests that belief based on Christ’s miracles is unsaving. Jesus even taught unbelievers to believe in Him because of the works or miraculous signs He did (John 10:38; 14:11). John finds fault with those who fail to believe in Christ after observing His miracles (John 12:37). John recorded Jesus’ miraculous signs to elicit saving faith in the Person of Christ (John 20:31). The miracles Jesus did in John 2:23 fulfilled the very purpose for which they were recorded. However, it is true that a saving faith based on visible miraculous signs is not as noble as a saving faith based on God’s Word (cf. John 20:28-29; cf. 4:1-53)

“But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men.” (John 2:24). Since these people are saved, then what does it mean when Jesus refused to “commit Himself” or “entrust Himself” to these new believers? Keep in mind that although the main theme of the gospel of John is how to get to heaven, a sub-theme is discipleship or intimacy with Christ. Jesus entrusts Himself to new believers who are ready to be His friends. For Christ to disclose more of Himself to a believer, the believer must be trustworthy and obey Him. “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” (John 14:21). Christ “manifests” or discloses more of Himself to the believer who “has…and keeps” His commandments.

Friendship with Christ is conditioned upon obeying Him. “You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15:14).  This friendship refers to Jesus disclosing His thoughts to those who obey Him. Thus, Jesus’ friends are those to whom He entrusts Himself.

Notice that the word “commit” in verse 24 is in the imperfect tense. This particular tense speaks only about action in the past, so it leaves open to question what Jesus might do at a later point in time. Hence, Christ could entrust Himself to these believers later should they obey Him. 

When the word “commit” is used in the passive sense (“entrust”) in the New Testament, its objects are: riches (Luke 16:11), Christ (John 2:24), oracles of God (Romans 3:2), stewardship (I Corinthians 9:17), the gospel (I Thessalonians 2:4; Galatians 2;7; I Timothy 1:11), and the preaching of the Word (Titus 1:3). None of these instances suggest a salvation context. These passages suggest that the person receiving the object is regarded as trustworthy. The object is being committed to them in confidence. It follows that Christ refused to commit Himself to those who had believed (John 2:23-24) because He had little confidence in them at this time to be His friends, that is, to obey Him even to the point of publicly confessing Him (John 15:14-17; 12:42-43).

Therefore, the issue is not whether these people are saved or not, the issue for these new believers is whether they are trustworthy. Intimate fellowship with Christ requires obedience to Him. How did Jesus know whether to entrust Himself to these new believers? Look in verse 25.

“And had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.” (John 2:25). Jesus refused to have fellowship with these new believers because He supernaturally knew that their hearts were not ready for intimacy with Him; that is, they were not ready to obey Him yet. They were not ready for a close friendship with Christ.

Part of obeying Christ may involve publicly confessing our faith in Him before others like at work or school. It is possible to have a saving faith alongside a reluctance to express that faith publicly. Thus, these verses introduce the theme of “secret believers” who are genuinely saved, but they are afraid to express their faith openly due to the threat of persecution (cf. John 19:38).

For example, many of the ruling Pharisees had saving faith but were afraid to express that faith to others: “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:42-43).

Zane Hodges makes an astute observation when he writes that, “Later in the gospel of John ‘Jesus ‘commits Himself’ very extensively to the men who had accompanied Him to that point in His ministry. He ‘discloses’ Himself in a very intimate way to them….But Nicodemus (whom we shall meet shortly) was not with His disciples in the Upper Room. Why he was not there becomes gradually obvious as the Fourth gospel unfolds. As a result, on the pages of John’s gospel, Nicodemus stands as the prototype of a believer who is hindered from intimacy with Jesus Christ by competing interests.” (see Zane Hodges, Faith in His Name [2015], p. 51. See also, Keith Vande Vred, “A Contrast Between Nicodemus and John the Baptist in the Gospel of John,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (Dec 2014): 715-726). Nicodemus is an example of a “secret believer”(cf. John 19:38) who initially came to Jesus “by night” (John 3:2) or secretly and got saved, but was reluctant to express his faith until later in his Christian life (cf. John 3:1-21; 7:45-52; 19:38-42).

Some of us don’t know Jesus any better today than the day we became a Christian. For some of us that may have been years ago. But Christ will not disclose Himself to us if we are not willing to go on and obey Him. Jesus refuses fellowship with Christians who are not ready to obey Him.

For any relationship to grow deeper, there must be mutual trust. I’m not going to be transparent with you until I develop a certain level of trust with you. Likewise, you’re not going to be transparent with me until you have cultivated more trust in our relationship. The same is true of our relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus knows our hearts. And He knows if we are ready to obey Him and grow deeper in our relationship with Him or not.

If you have been under the weight of religion (man-made rules), and you are weary – you feel like giving up on God – please know that Jesus fights for you to get you out from under that system, and He wants to heal your hurts. He wants to lighten your load (John 2:12-17).

Jesus also wants His disciples (followers) to take sin seriously in their lives (John 2:18-22). He wants us to trust Him to cleanse our lives of all sin and corruption. He wants us to rely on His resurrection power to help us say “No” to sin and “Yes” to the Savior. Once we begin a relationship with Jesus by believing in Him for eternal life, Jesus wants to reveal more of Himself to us and get closer to us. But for Him to do this, we must be willing to obey Him. We must be willing to surrender control of our lives to Him and let Him start directing our lives. Some of us need to come out of denial and admit that we are addicted to running our own lives. Friends, things are not going to get any better until we give up on ourselves and give in to Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for the free gift of everlasting life which is received simply by believing in You alone. But to be Your friend and have intimate fellowship with You, I must be willing to obey Your commands. Lord, You know my heart better than anyone, including myself. You know that I like to be in control because I feel so vulnerable when I am not. Because I long to know You more intimately, I want to surrender all control to You. Right now, I voluntarily surrender everything to You my Lord and my God. By Your grace, Lord Jesus, please enable me to walk in obedience to You. Thank You for disclosing more of Yourself to me as I live for You. Although I sin every day, Your shed blood on the cross makes it possible for me to enjoy close fellowship with You the moment I confess my sins to You (I John 1:7, 9). Thank You for Your cleansing truth and grace. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

How can a holy God come into my life and cleanse me from all my sin?

“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up…’ But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.” John 2:19, 21-22

We learned last time that the temple of God is located in every believer in Jesus Christ now (I Corinthians 3:16; 6:19). You may wonder, “How can a holy God come into my life and cleanse me from all my sin?” The next several verses in John 2 explain.

“Then His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for Your house has eaten Me up.’” (John 2:17). Jesus’ zeal or enthusiasm for God would ultimately lead to His death. Do we have this kind of zeal for God’s kingdom? God’s work? Are we willing to risk our lives or reputations for the Lord? This kind of enthusiasm comes from a dynamic relationship with the Lord. We cannot manufacture this kind of zeal on our own. It comes from knowing and loving Jesus!

“So the Jews answered and said to Him, ‘What sign do You show to us, since You do these things?’ ” (John 2:18). The Jews did not question Jesus’ actions, but they did question His authority. Who does He think He is by doing this? They demanded a miraculous sign to prove He has the right to take such action. I love Jesus’ response here. He confuses them even more. “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’” (John 2:19). He used this statement to stimulate the thinking of these Jews. “Then the Jews said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ ” (John 2:20). Such a massive and enduring structure was not likely to be destroyed and rebuilt in three days.

Thanks to John’s post-resurrection perspective we know that Jesus is not speaking of destroying the literal temple, but rather He is talking about His own body – that it will be destroyed and then raised back to life. “But He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this to them; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had said.” (John 2:21-22). It is not the Jerusalem temple but the human body of Jesus that represents the presence of God. Let me remind you of something. Christianity is not about buildings. It is not about a church building. It is not even about a philosophy of life. Christianity is about a relationship with the One who died and rose again for our sins so we can have eternal life.

So the reason a holy God can come into our contaminated lives full of sin is because of Christ’s death and resurrection. God’s holiness demands that sin be punished, but His heart desires that the sinner be pardoned. Hence, God sent His Son Jesus to take the punishment you and I deserved.

The United States was shocked in 1998 by the tragic news of two young boys who opened fire on schoolchildren as they ran from their building in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Four children and a teacher were killed and five others were injured. The teacher died when she stepped forward to shield one of her sixth graders. She saved the girl but lost her own life. The teacher became her substitute and died in her place.

Jesus Christ died as our Substitute. Just as the teacher took the bullets for the young girl, Christ took the punishment for our sin and died in our place. Jesus Christ did what our good works could never do. We are saved by Christ’s dying, not by our doing. Three days after His death Jesus came back to life. By rising from the grave on the third day He proved He had conquered sin and death and that He is God (Romans 1:3-4).

Christ’s death and resurrection make it possible for a holy God to live inside of us. Praise Jesus for laying down His life so we may enjoy fellowship with Him both now and forever! While going to heaven to live with Christ in the future is extremely important, it is also important to know that Jesus wants His disciples (followers) to take sin seriously in their lives now. He wants us to trust Him to cleanse our lives of all sin and corruption. He wants us to rely on His indwelling resurrection power to help us say “NO” to sin and “YES” to the Savior.

Prayer: Precious Savior and Lord, it is mind boggling to know that the holy God of the Bible indwells every believer in Jesus Christ, including me!!! Thank You, Lord Jesus, by making this possible through Your shed blood on the cross which not only paid the penalty for all of my sins (John 19:30), but also continues to cleanse me of my daily sins so I may enjoy closeness with You (I John 1:7). Thank You for Your resurrection power which is always available to help me to say “No” to sin and “Yes” to holy living. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

When the Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want for righteous living

“He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” Psalm 23:3b

In Palestine, there were any paths sprawled across the terrain. Some have been worn by travelers going from city to city. Others by robbers who want to lead a flock aside to attack the shepherd and steal his sheep. Other paths have been made by the winds that have blown across the sand. To the untrained eye, they all look like real paths. But when you follow them, they lead nowhere.

David asserts that when he trusts the Lord as his Shepherd, he shall not want for righteous living because God leads him in the right paths. God not only leads us to the right places, He also guides us to the right kind of life. When we make decisions, we often only want to know where God wants us to be, whether it is in California, Iowa, the Philippines, Nigeria, or India.

But God’s leading is not so much to a place as it is to a position and character. Maybe you are at a crossroad in your life. You may be facing a career change, a move to another place, a new school, or a new season in your life. Where does God want you to be? The emphasis in the Bible is not on where God wants us to be geographically, but on who He wants us to be. Not where I am but who I am.

There are not any verses in the Bible that tell you a specific college to attend, state to live in, job to apply for, mutual fund to invest in, or a specific name of a person to marry. Do you know what God’s will is for you today? First Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” We need to realize, that if we are what God wants us to be, then He will place us where He wants us to be.

The word “He” is key here. “He leads me…” This guidance grows out of a personal relationship with our Good Shepherd. God does not give us a set of directions and tell us to follow them. Instead, He Himself goes before us to take us to the place of His choosing.

In Palestine, shepherds used fruit to get sheep to follow them. He led them as He fed them. For us as Christians, I believe the “fruit” is God’s Word. God works through His Word to show us His will for our lives (cf. Psalm 119:105). He can also work through circumstances, people, personal guidance from the Holy Spirit, and even His peace in our hearts to confirm His leading. But the primary way God leads us is through the Bible (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Why is the Lord so concerned about leading us “in the paths of righteousness?” How can we be certain we can trust His guidance? Because our Good Shepherd has a reputation (“for His name’s sake”) to maintain. If a shepherd were to lead his sheep down the wrong path or lose them to wolves or thieves, he would be disgraced and no one would trust other sheep into His care. God will not lead us astray for the sake of His reputation and His name. God safely leads all His sheep that put their trust in Him. He leads them down the paths of righteous so that His reputation is upheld.

Before we can trust the Lord as our Shepherd to meet our daily needs, we must first trust Him as our Savior to meet our eternal need. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Jesus Christ died in our place to pay the penalty for all of our sins. Whether we have sinned once or a million times, we need a Savior to save us from the penalty of our sins which is “death” or separation from God for eternity (Romans 3:23; 6:23a; Revelation 20:15). After Jesus died in our place, He rose from the dead three days later just as He promised to prove that He is God and had conquered sin, death, and the devil (I Corinthians 15:3-6; cf. Matthew 16:21).

Christ is alive today and He says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved” (John 10:9). Jesus does not say, “I am a door,” leaving open the possibility of other ways into the fold. He is “the door.” He is the only way into God’s fold. The phrase “by Me,” is in an emphatic position (at the beginning of the sentence). Literally it says, “Through Me, if anyone enters, he will be saved.” Only Jesus can provide access or entrance into God’s sheepfold through faith in Him. There is no other way for people to be saved from their sins and enter God’s family except through Jesus Christ (cf. John 1:12; 3:16; 14:6; Acts 4:12; I Timothy 2:5-6). Notice what Jesus promises the person who enters through Him – “he will be saved.” He does not say, “he might be saved,” or “he could be saved.” “He will be saved.” His salvation is absolutely certain and complete.

If you have never understood this before, simply believe Jesus’ promise, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved.” Believe or trust in Christ alone, and you will be saved from eternal separation from Him and enter the sheepfold of His family forever.

Once you believe in Christ, you can begin to trust Him as your Shepherd to meet your daily needs, including the need for righteous living.

Prayer: Good Shepherd, thank You for saving me the moment I believed in You for everlasting life! I am trusting You now to lead me in the paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake. Thank You for Your personal leading in my life that is molding me into Your image. I can trust Your guidance because You will never lead me in a way that would undermine Your reputation. Your leading is always consistent with Your righteous character. There are so many voices to listen to today and paths to take, but Your voice and Your leading is my heart’s desire. Thank You for not abandoning me, but for leading me to be the person You created me to be. I praise Your holy name for never giving up on me. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen. 

How does God want us to respond to His intimate concern for us?

“19 Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God! Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men. 20 For they speak against You wickedly; Your enemies take Your name in vain. 21 Do I not hate them, O Lord, who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? 22 I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies. 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties; 24 And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:19-24

How does God want us to respond to His intimate concern for us (by creating us and planning out our lives)?

1. By disassociating from evil (139:19-22). First David says, “Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God! Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men” (139:19). David uses very strong language here. He wants God to kill the wicked. Have you ever prayed this way to the Lord? David is giving his anger to God as he prays. He wants nothing to do with the wicked in view of God’s loyal love to him. The reason for this is given next. “For they speak against You wickedly; Your enemies take Your name in vain” (139:20). David was opposed to God’s enemies because they spoke against the Lord with wicked intent and for deceitful ends.

Then he writes, “Do I not hate them, O Lord, who hate You? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies” (139:21-22). David affirms his loyalty to God by rejecting those who have rejected the Lord. We are to completely disassociate ourselves from those who reject God and rebel against Him as we consider that they are our enemies as well. For example, those who kill unborn children have rejected the Lord and His handiwork. We can disassociate from the evil they commit by supporting political candidates who respect and defend human life in the womb, and thereby show our loyalty to God.  Another way to show our loyalty to God is…

2. By being open to and led by Him (139:23-24). We need to be accountable to God because our hearts are self-deceived (cf. Jeremiah 17:9). We trick ourselves into calling evil good. David prays to God, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties” (139:23). Thus he ends this psalm like he began it—with a reference to God’s searching knowledge. David wanted God to “try” or test him, as a refiner tests metal, to show that he was loyal to the Lord. Since God knows all, he would know David’s anxious thoughts. Likewise, we are to ask God to examine our thoughts and motives which may not be thoroughly committed to Him.

Then David prays, “And see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (139:24). David is asking the Lord to see if there is anything in him that is hurtful to the Lord. And if there is, he asks God to guide him in the right way. Have you prayed like this recently to the Lord? The more we understand God’s intimate love and concern for us, the more we will open our hearts to Him. He will not reject us nor condemn us for our struggles. He already knows all about them. He understands us better than we do, and He still loves and accepts us. Knowing this invites us to approach Him honestly and openly.

Prayer: Father God, the more I understand and believe Your intimate concern and love for me, the more I want to be loyal to You. You deserve my very best, not my leftovers. Forgive me for closing my heart off to You; for thinking that Your love and concern for me are imperfect like my own love and concern for You. The more I embrace You and Your outrageous love for me, the more I want to disassociate from evil and embrace what is right in Your eyes. Because You know everything about me, and still love and accept me, I come to You with an open heart right now asking You to show me if there is any area in my life that is not fully committed to You. If there is anything in me that is hurtful to You, please show me and guide me in the right way. I also want to pray for unborn children in the world right now. Please show their mothers that they are carrying a human being inside of them that is made in Your image. Direct these mothers to give birth to their children. Help those who are overwhelmed with their pregnancy to choose life and put their children up for adoption rather than destroy Your handiwork. Please bring Jesus’ peace and forgiveness to those who have already aborted their babies. May they find everlasting life and forgiveness through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Please bring an end to the slaughter of unborn children. I beg You, Lord, to forgive our nation’s sins, our church’s sins, and our own sins. Please lead us in Your everlasting way. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Does assurance of salvation hinder or enhance holy living?

22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed pure with water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:22-23

Before we study the verses above, let’s look at the verses preceding them. The Old Covenant animal sacrifices could not “perfect” its worshippers, but instead served as a reminder of sins since they could not remove sins or the guilt that accompanied them (10:1-4). Since these Old Testament sacrifices did not completely satisfy God’s demand to punish sin, Jesus Christ came to do God’s will (10:5-9) and has “sanctified” believers through His death “once for all” so that they are in a permanent state of being separated (“sanctified”) from their sin and guilt before God (10:10).

The author of Hebrews emphasizes that the perfecting of the sanctified believer is accomplished through the finished work of Christ (10:11-14). The writer quotes Jeremiah 31:33-34 to show that the final forgiveness which the New Covenant promised, and Christ’s death provided, meant that there was no other sacrifice which one could turn to for forgiveness (10:15-18).

Think about this for a moment. When you as a Christian sin against the Lord, are you confident that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient to pay the penalty for that sin and all you must do is confess your sin to restore your fellowship with the Lord (I John 1:9)? Or do you try to atone for your own sin by spending more time in prayer or Bible study? Do you try to earn God’s forgiveness by feeding the poor or volunteering at an orphanage or by going on a mission trip? Do you punish yourself with negative self-talk instead of resting in the punishment Jesus endured on the Cross in your place? The Bible says, “Now where there is remission [forgiveness] of these (through Christ’s sacrifice – 10:10-14), there is no longer an offering for sin” (10:18). If you turn to some other sacrifice whether it be your own or someone’s other than Jesus,’ your search for forgiveness is futile. Only Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient to perfect us and give us total acceptance before God. God wants you to rest in His finished work on the Cross so you can now focus on living a life of faith for Him (10:22-23).

After establishing our total and unconditional acceptance before God on the basis of Jesus’ all-sufficient sacrifice on the Cross (10:1-18), the writer of Hebrews gives us two commands: “Let us draw near…” (10:22) and “Let us hold fast…”(10:23). Let’s look at each one.

We are to “draw near” to God “with a true heart in full assurance of faith” that Jesus Christ’s death has removed our guilt for sin, and has made us acceptable to God (10:22). We can have “full assurance” of our “faith,” since our confidence rests in the sufficiency of what Christ has done for us (John 19:30), not what we do for Him. Knowing that we are totally accepted by God on the basis of Christ’s sufficient sacrifice for our sins invites us to draw near to God without any doubts that we are truly saved and going to heaven when we die. God wants His children to know that they are forever His the moment they believe in His Son Jesus Christ (cf. John 1:12; I John 5:13). Having this complete assurance that we are God’s children empowers us to approach Him with a true heart, not a false or disingenuous heart that withholds our true selves from our Father in heaven. Because of God’s complete acceptance of us in Christ, we are free to present our true selves to God without fear of rejection or shame. Why? Because Christ’s sacrifice completely cleansed us inwardly of all guilt (“from an evil conscience”) and outwardly of all impurity (“our bodies washed with pure water”) so that there is no consciousness of sin or shame.

Many Christians are afraid to draw near to God because they are being taught that they must clean themselves up first before He will accept them. They are told to repent or turn from their sins before God will welcome them into His family. The nagging question they have is, “How many or which of my sins must I turn from before God will accept me?”

Imagine a child doubting that he or she was truly their parents’ son or daughter on the basis of their behavior!?! Think of the insecurities and fear that child would have. Instead of drawing near to his or her parents when struggling with sin or shame, he or she would hide their struggles and try harder and harder to overcome them, only to experience more defeat, fear, and shame. This is a terrible cycle of shame that God never intended His children to endure. Yet Christians are being taught this at many different levels within evangelical Christianity.

Christians are also being told that assurance of salvation keeps believers from living holy lives. In other words, if I can know I have everlasting life which can never be lost, then what is to keep me from living like the Devil the rest of my life? Doesn’t assurance of salvation give me a license to sin? The writer of Hebrews answers these questions in Hebrews 10 with an absolute “No!”

Total acceptance before God is based on the finished work of Christ alone (10:1-18) and trusting in His work alone (John 3:14-15). This truth is foundational for Christians to draw near to God (Heb. 10:22). We can draw near to God with a “true heart” because Christ’s sacrifice has removed our consciousness of sin and shame and has made us acceptable before God. Christ’s death has removed our inward guilt and outward impurity. We are no longer defined by our sin and shame, but by the love and light of Jesus Christ (Ephes. 5:2, 8). We can approach God boldly now because Christ’s perfect love which was manifested when He died in our place (Rom. 5:8; I John 4:9-10) casts out our fear (I John 4:18).

This assurance of salvation that is based on the finished work of Christ, enables believers to obey the second command: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (10:23). Being liberated from our sin and shame through Christ’s death on the Cross empowers us to persevere (“hold fast”) in our Christian faith. Instead of focusing on our past shame and failures, we can now focus on our future “hope” of receiving rewards from Christ “without wavering.” Why?  Because “He who promised is faithful.” Our faithfulness to God now is based upon His faithfulness to our future.

The writer of Hebrews warns, “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has a great reward” (10:35). To throw away one’s confidence or Christian confession (cf. Heb. 3:1, 14; 10:23) results in the loss of “great reward” which is synonymous with the promised inheritance-rest (4:1, 11: 9:15) and inheritance-salvation (1:13-14; 2:3; 5:9; 6:9; 7:25; 9:28; 11:27) of Hebrews which includes deliverance from Christ’s enemies (Heb. 1:13; 10:13) and sharing in His joyous reign (Psalm 2:7-9; Heb. 1:5-14; 12:1-:2; cf. 2 Tim. 2:12; Rev. 2:25-27).

In conclusion, Christ’s sufficient sacrificial death on the Cross (10:1-18) provides both the basis for our confident approach to God (10:22) and our persevering faith which will be richly rewarded (10:23). Instead of undermining holy living, assurance of salvation bolsters holy living by empowering us to draw near to God with boldness to receive the resources we need (“grace” and “mercy”) to finish our Christians lives well for the Savior (Hebrews 4:14-16; 12:1-2).

Prayer: Because of my total acceptance before You, Father God, through the sufficient sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross, I can now approach You with full assurance that I belong to You forever. Thank You for paying the penalty for all my sins when You died in my place on the Cross, Lord Jesus. There is no longer anything I need to do to earn Your forgiveness. Because of this complete acceptance before You, I am compelled to persevere in the faith knowing You are faithful to reward those who do so. Help me to give You my very best each day because You alone are worthy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.