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).

How can I overcome spiritual blindness? Part 3

“His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’ ” John 9:22-23

As we continue to look at the man born blind whom Jesus healed (John 9:1-12), we will discover a third symptom of spiritual blindness. After the parents of this healed man testified that this was their son who was born blind (John 9:20), they would not tell the Pharisees how their blind son gained his sight. They said, “But by what means he now sees we do not know, or who opened his eyes we do not know. He is of age; ask him. He will speak for himself.” (John 9:21). They said nothing about how or by whom he received his sight because they were afraid of being excommunicated from the synagogue. They evade this issue by saying their son was an adult capable of answering for himself.

22 His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’ ” (John 9:22-23). The parents say nothing of Jesus. If these parents allowed their son to beg, then it was unthinkable for them to confess Christ before the Pharisees. Because no one could conduct business with a person who was excommunicated from the synagogue.

The Jews had three types of excommunication:

1. The Nezifah (“reproof”), the mildest formwas applied “when someone had insulted a prominent or learned person. It lasted seven days and the offender could not appear before the one he displeased. He had to retire to his house, speak little, refrain from business and pleasure, and manifest his remorse.” 1

2. The Niddui (“separation), was imposed when “the offender was first publicly warned three times at the regular service in the synagogue. During the period of discipline … (30 days according to the Jerusalem Talmud) no one except the members of his immediate household were permitted to associate with the offender, or sit within four cubits of him, or eat in his company. He had to observe all the laws that pertained to a mourner and could not be counted among the number necessary for the performance of a public religious function.” 2

3. The Barem (“ban”), “was the most rigorous form of excommunication. This extended for an indefinite period during which no one was permitted to teach the offender, work for him, or benefit him in any way. It meant exclusion from the religious community and intercourse with Jewish society.” 3

Whatever form of excommunication was enforced then, the threat was serious enough to keep the parents quiet about the identity of their son’s Healer. This is the third symptom of spiritual blindness – DESIRE THE APPROVAL OF OTHERS AT THE EXPENSE OF THE TRUTH (John 9:21-23). The parents of the former blind man withheld the truth about Jesus as the Christ (Messiah) because they did not want to be excommunicated from the synagogue and lose the opportunity to do business with others. In other words, they wanted the approval of the religious leaders but not the approval of God.

How many people have avoided the truth to please others? Maybe you come from a strong religious background and if you embraced the truth about Jesus Christ, you would suffer persecution from your family and religious community. Believing in a generic God is safe, but confessing Jesus Christ as the Messiah-God will bring opposition ranging from ridicule and mockery, to possible torture and death.

The sad part of this is people can end up in hell because they sought to preserve their own lives and livelihood like the parents of the man born blind instead of seeking the truth about Jesus Christ. Let’s put this in perspective. Would you rather avoid temporary sufferings on earth by rejecting Jesus Christ and then experience eternal punishment and torment in the lake of fire after you die or would you rather endure temporary sufferings on earth now by believing in Jesus Christ for eternal life to possess eternal bliss and joy in heaven with Jesus after you die? Is your comfort now more important than your comfort in eternity? Many people will be separated from God forever in the lake of fire because they sought the approval of people instead of seeking the truth about Jesus Christ. What will you choose?

The Bible says, “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). Heaven and hell are in the balance my friends. If you do not believe or trust in Christ alone as your only hope of heaven simply to avoid suffering on earth now, you will regret this forever as you suffer torment in the lake of fire. On the other hand, if you will transfer all your trust onto Jesus Christ, Who died for your sins and rose from the dead, for His gift of everlasting life now, you will enjoy Jesus’ presence forever in a perfect and problem-free place called heaven.

If you are a believer in Jesus, it is possible to have a reluctance to express that faith publicly for fear of persecution. For example, many of the ruling Pharisees had saving faith but were afraid to express that faith to others because they loved the approval of people more than God’s approval: 42 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; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:42-43).

Does this sound familiar to you? We do not want to speak up for Christ because we are afraid of what people will think or do to us. When we refuse to openly tell others about Jesus’ saving grace, we are no longer walking in the light. We are hiding in the darkness because we are ashamed of the precious cleansing blood of Jesus Christ (I John 1:7; 2:22-23; 4:15). When we turn away from God to please people, we are telling God, “I don’t want Your praise, Father. I don’t need it!” In other words, we are out of fellowship with God (I John 4:15).

It is important to understand that confessing Christ before others is not a condition for receiving eternal life. Only believing in Jesus is necessary for salvation from hell (John 3:14-16, 36; 5:24; Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9). God can see our faith in Christ alone apart from any good works or outward manifestation (Romans 3:21-4:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:4-7). But confessing Christ before others is necessary to grow in our Christian lives.

Romans 10:9-10 is referring to believing in your heart “unto righteousness” which is justification before God (Romans 3:21-5:9a) and confessing with your mouth for salvation from the present-day wrath of God (Rom. 1:16-32; 5:9-10) which is sanctification or growing in the Christian life (Rom. 5:9b-8:39). Failure to confess Christ before others now, will result in the loss of eternal rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ, particularly, the loss of ruling with Christ in the world to come (Matthew 10:32-42; 2 Corinthians 5:8-11; 2 Timothy 2:12). 

Let’s make every day count for eternity. As a Christian, live for the audience of One, Jesus Christ, and He will make your life eternally worthwhile (Colossians 3:23-24; Revelation 22:12).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for reminding me that my choices now will determine what my eternity will be like. The most important decision anyone can make is what they will do with You, Lord Jesus. Will they believe in You for Your gift of everlasting life and enjoy eternity with You in heaven or will they choose not to believe in You and suffer torment forever separated from You in the lake of fire!?! I beg of You, my Lord and my God, to remove the blinders from those who are more concerned about their comfort on earth than about their comfort for eternity. Help them to believe that You, Jesus, are the Christ, the Son of God, that believing they may have eternal life in Your name alone. For those of us who believe in You, Jesus, please enable us to live for Your approval and not the approval of people. In Your everlasting name I pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pp. 177-178.

2. Ibid, p. 178.

3. Ibid.

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.

Two Roads in Life

1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” Psalm 1:1-3

The Psalmist tells us that we will be “blessed” (1:1) by God when we avoid the following subtle attacks of the enemy and the world in which he rules. Notice the progression of verbs: “walks… stands…sits.” Listening to the “counsel” or advice “of the ungodly” while walking with him slows us down to “stand” or fellowship with “sinners,” resulting in assuming the position (“sits”) of “the scornful” who despise God. God reminds us that we will be “blessed” by Him when we do not pay attention to the advice (“counsel”) of those who do not seek to please God (“the ungodly”), when we do not fellowship (“stands”) with those who are established (“path”) in a sinful lifestyle (“sinners”), nor assume the position (“sits”) of those who despise or detest (“the scornful”) God.

All Christians are capable and vulnerable to being drawn away from God by the world and all its lusts. It begins with slowing down enough to listen (“walks”) to the world’s advice. We may be exposed to this advice in our schools, work places, on the internet or TV, in politics, or among our families or friends. The counsel of the world may say:

– “Everyone is doing it so it must be okay.”

– “It won’t hurt anyone because no one else has to know.”

– “It is the greatest sign that you are loved.”

– “It will help you forget about your pain and problems.”

The longer we listen to this counsel, the more we will slow down (“stands”) to focus on what is being taught. More lies will be introduced to us at this stage from those who are established (“path”) in a sinful lifestyle. Lies that say:

“It feels so good it must be okay.”

“My loneliness and pain are gone.”

“I feel loved and accepted.”

In the final stage, we assume the position (“sits”) of those who despise God and His ways (“the scornful”). We embrace lies that say:

– “I don’t need God or Christians any longer.”

“I don’t care what the Bible says. It is full of errors.”

“If God really loves me, He would not let me experience so much pain and suffering.”

– “Since life is so short, I might as well enjoy myself and live it up.”

Verse two begins with a very important word – “But.” The Psalmist introduces a very significant contrast. Instead of paying attention to the world and all of its allurements (1:1), the blessed person craves (“delights”) for “the law of the Lord” (1:2). The word “delights” (chephets) means to “desire or bend toward” much like a house plant that bends toward the rays of sunshine coming through a window to receive its nutrients. He “meditates” or ponders God’s Word “day and night” so that he is able to receive all of it’s life-giving nourishment (“like a tree planted by the rivers of water”) that he needs. As he focuses on God’s Word, the Lord produces “fruit in its season” that remains (“whose leaf shall not wither”) and makes him “prosper” in all that he does.

Every Christian has a choice between two roads in life: the road of the godly or the ungodly. The road of the godly focuses on the unchanging Word of God which leads to many blessings including life-giving nourishment, fruitfulness, and prosperity from God. The road of the ungodly focuses on the world and all its lust which leads to instability (“the ungodly…are like the chaff which the wind drives away” – 1:4), condemnation and guilt (“the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment” – 1:5), and eternal ruin or loss of reward (“the way of the ungodly shall perish” – 1:6).

Prayer: Father God, help me to avoid the way of the world and all its lusts by staying focused on You and Your Word at all times, knowing that Your Word gives me the nourishment and stability I need in changing times. This nourishment produces fruit that remains, so that whatever I do for You, shall prosper both now and in eternity. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Growing toward Christlikeness in God’s family

“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous.” I Peter 3:8

I read a story recently about an older lady who was impressed with the nice young man next door. He was extremely helpful to her raking her leaves, mowing her lawn, etc. One day she asked him, “Son, how did you become such a fine young man?” He replied, “It is all due to the fact that I had a drug problem when I was younger.” “Really!?!” the woman exclaimed. “Yeah,” the young man replied, “My parents drug me to church on Sunday morning, they drug me to church on Sunday nights, and they drug me to youth group on Wednesday nights.”

God wants the church to be a place where Christians become more Christlike in our dealings with one another. The apostle Peter speaks of this in I Peter 3:8. He begins by saying, “Finally, all of you…” This is something God wants for “all” believers in Jesus, not just some.

It is important to acknowledge that the church is not a building or a place. The church is a family of people who believe in Jesus Christ. However, being a part of a family can have many benefits and many challenges. Before we look at the benefits of being a member of God’s family, let me address some of the challenges.

The church is comprised of imperfect sinners who are saved by God’s grace. Just as earthly families can struggle to get along with one another, so can church families. There can be misunderstandings and conflict in a church. Personalities can clash with each other. People get their feelings hurt and hold grudges. Selfishness and stubbornness can keep people from growing spiritually.

There is a saying that summarizes these challenges well:

What a joy to love the saints above

When I get home to glory.

To love below, the saints I know,

Well, that’s another story!

The apostle Peter understood these challenges all too well. So he encourages his Christian readers who have been scattered across the Roman Empire (I Pet. 1:1) to obey Christ’s command to love one another as He had loved them (cf. John 13:34). He begins by saying, “Finally, all of you be of one mind.” The word “one mind” (homóphrōnes) means to be like-minded or have the same eternal perspective. Since all Christians are bound for heaven due to their faith in Christ, they are to have this same eternal perspective. This is not our final home. Heaven is our final destination and we are to live like citizens of heaven (cf. Philippians 3:20).

Secondly, we are to have “compassion for one another.” The word “compassion” (sympatheis) is where our English word “sympathy” comes from. This sympathy for one another stems from understanding one another. I cannot sympathize with you if I do not take time to listen to you and understand your needs.

As we listen to one another and understand one another, we will learn to “love as brothers.” The word translated “love as brothers” (philadelphoi) is where we get the word “Philadelphia.” The love God wants us to have toward other Christians is the affectionate love we find between members of a healthy family.

This kind of love is “tenderhearted” (eusplanchnoi) or merciful. Literally this word means to show “gut-level” empathy for others. We care for one another from the depth of our being. We put ourselves in the shoes of the other person and are able to be sensitive to their needs. Rather than make quick judgments about others, we take time to see life through their eyes. We are merciful to them, not merciless.

Lastly, Peter says to “be courteous.” This word (tapeinophrones) means to have a humble opinion of ourselves that is produced by comparing ourselves to the Lord rather than to the shortcomings of others. The more we experience the compassion and grace of Jesus Christ, the more we will be able to offer it to others. We cannot give what we do not possess.

The world is filled with broken and lonely people. God intends for the church to be a safe place where sinners can gather to receive the healing and hope that only Jesus Christ can give. Will you choose to be part of this wonderful process whereby the Lord Jesus heals you from the inside out to display His compassion, comfort, and courtesy to other broken sinners?

Prayer: Father God, please produce in me the same eternal perspective You want all Your children to have, showing sympathy to one another that stems from understanding we are all broken sinners in need of Your grace. Help me to see other Christians as You do so I will love them affectionately and tenderly, withholding any judgment they may deserve just as You have done with me. Grant me to be courteous toward others, having a humble opinion of myself that is produced by comparing myself to Your perfections rather than to the shortcomings of others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Relying on the Holy Spirit for spiritual victory

“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:1

The key to living the Christian life is how a believer relates to the Holy Spirit who indwells him or her. The Bible tells us that “those who are in Christ Jesus” (all believers) who “walk… according to the Spirit” will not experience “condemnation.” Some translations of the Bible do not include the last part of verse 1 (“who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”) This is unfortunate because the majority of Greek manuscripts along with some of the early manuscripts contain these words at the end of verse 1 which fit beautifully in the context (Rom. 8:1-4).

Paul is saying that believers who walk according to the flesh will experience “condemnation.” The word for condemnation (katakrima) means penal servitude in this context which talks about enslavement to sin (Rom. 7:25; 8:2, 4). Paul is not referring to eternal condemnation in this verse which is in the midst of his section on sanctification (Rom. 6:1-8:39). Prior to Romans 8, Paul describes the spiritual defeat of a believer who is trying to grow spiritually by placing himself under the Law (Rom. 7:13-25). Beginning in Romans 8, Paul answers the question, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (7:24).

How can we walk according to the Spirit and not experience slavery to sin? By setting our “minds on the things of the Spirit” (8:5). When we focus our minds on the things of the Spirit recorded in God’s Word, our minds are “renewed” (12:2) by the Holy Spirit Who applies these truths to our thinking so we do not remain enslaved to sin

It is important to understand that spiritual growth involves a battle of the mind (cf. 2 Cor. 10:3-5). Believers who are enslaved to sin have their minds set upon their sinful flesh, trying to gain victory by living under the Law which arouses their fleshly desires (Rom. 8:1, 5; cf. 7:1-25).  But believers who are walking in the Spirit are renewing their minds as they permit the Holy Spirit to apply God’s truth to them.

Our behavior is based upon our thinking (Proverbs 23:7). But some Christians turn that around and believe that their thinking is based upon their behavior. So they focus on changing their behavior to change their thinking. This is called reformation. But God wants to change our behavior by changing our thinking first. This is called transformation. The more God changes our thinking through the Holy Spirit’s ministry of God’s Word, the more our behavior will change and become more Christlike. If we try to change our behavior first like Paul did when he placed himself under the Law, we will experience spiritual defeat and continual enslavement to sin (Rom. 7:1-25; 8:1a). But when we let God change our thinking first by focusing on the Holy Spirit and His Word, we will experience freedom from slavery to sin (8:1), resulting in “life and peace” (8:6).

For example, when we focus exclusively on the command not to commit adultery, our sinful flesh is stirred up to commit adultery (cf. Rom. 7:5-11). Simply trying in our own strength to keep that command will result in spiritual defeat or “death.” Failure to keep the Law produces fear and shame which isolates us from God and others. But when we focus our minds on the things of the Spirit which includes not being given “the spirit of bondage again to fear,” but being given “the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father’” (8:15), we are inclined to trust the Holy Spirit to apply that command against adultery to our thinking, enabling us not to commit that sin (Rom. 8:1-6). Walking in the flesh involves fear. But walking in the Spirit involves faith. The more we perceive God to be our good and loving “Abba Father” (8:15), the more we will trust Him and not be afraid. As we walk in the Spirit we will be convicted of our sin which leads to trusting in the Spirit to make godly changes in our lives.  So the key to victory is in trusting (grace), not in trying (law).

When we wake up in the morning we have a choice to either walk according to our sinful flesh or walk according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:1, 5, 12-13). We have the choice to live (in fellowship with God) or die (experience broken fellowship with God).

Prayer: Lord God, please lead me to spiritual victory as I learn to trust Your Spirit to apply Your Word to my thinking instead of trying harder to keep Your Law. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Will I serve my Savior or sin?

“Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” Romans 6:6

The moment I believed in Jesus, my “old man” or unregenerate self was joined spiritually by the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross that the summation (“body”) of my “sin might be done away with,” that I “no longer” must be a slave of sin (Romans 6:6; cf. Romans 6:3-11; I Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:2, 26-27). The former person I was without Christ died when Jesus died. And now I have a new Master in place of sin. His name is Jesus Christ.

Jesus has already defeated sin in my life by joining me both to His crucifixion which broke the power and control of sin in my life (cf. Hebrews 2:14-15) and to His resurrection which gives me the power to live as a slave to Jesus and His righteousness (cf. Romans 6:18, 22). Every day I have a choice to make – do I serve my Savior or sin? I cannot have two masters. I must choose one or the other. If I choose the Savior I will enjoy “life and peace,” but if I choose sin I will experience “death” (Romans 8:6).

Prayer: Lord Jesus help me reject the lie that says I cannot change or resist sin and its lusts in my life. Help me believe the truth that says the victory over sin has already been won by You, Lord. All I must do is place myself under Your authority and control to experience this victory You have already won. Since I am under Your authority now, please tell me what You want me to do and help me to do it. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

How are Christians to respond to those who differ with them about their Christian liberty?

“Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.” Romans 14:1

The apostle Paul is writing to Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome who had differing views about how God’s will was to be practiced with regard to nonessential issues (“doubtful things”) such as food, drink, and observing certain “religious” days. Jewish Christians wanted Gentile Christians to observe their Jewish customs and Gentile Christians wanted the Jews to practice their customs. These practices are not wrong in and of themselves. Examples today may include food, drink, recreation, clothing, personal grooming, birth control, schooling, holiday observances, etc., when no sin is involved.  Paul instructs believers to do the following:

1. They are to “receive” or accept one another even though they differ about what their Christian liberty permits them to do because God “receives” them in Christ (14:1-5a). For example, the stronger Christian whose faith permits him to eat all foods and observe every day the same, was not to “despise” or condemn the Christian whose faith did not permit him to exercise his Christian liberty to the same extent. Nor is the “weaker” Christian, who does not believe he has the liberty to eat all foods or view all days the same, to “judge” his more liberal Christian brother because “God has received him” (14:2-3). 

2. They are not to “judge” one another for these differing practices …

a. Because they can observe them “to the Lord” for His approval (14:5b-8). In Paul’s day, Jewish Christians observed the Sabbath and Jewish feast-days while Gentile believers did not. Paul says it does not matter what days you think are sacred, what matters is that you seek to please the Lord.

b. Because only Jesus Christ is qualified to judge them, and He will at “the judgment seat of Christ” (14:9-12; cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10).  

Does God elect some to go to heaven and some to go to hell?

Some students of the Bible understand Romans 9 to teach that God sovereignly chooses some people to go to Heaven and some to go to Hell. However, this understanding ignores the argument of the book of Romans and the context of Romans 9.

The book of Romans is dealing with salvation from the present-day wrath of God which involves God giving the unrighteous over to the downward spiral of the degradation of sin (Rom. 1:16-32). Because God is holy and hates sin, we must first be delivered from His wrath toward sin through justification which is by faith alone in Christ’s death (Rom. 2:1-5:10a). We can then experience deliverance from God’s present-day wrath and the perversion of sin through faith in Christ’s life (Rom. 5:9-8:39).

The argument of Romans up to the end of chapter 8 is a direct challenge to the commonly held belief of first-century Jews that because they were God’s chosen people they would be saved from hell simply by being of Jewish descent and by keeping the Law (cf. Rom. 2:17-3:20). This assumption, says Paul, is absolutely false. The problem is that the Jews were confusing election to service with election to salvation (cf. examples of election to service: Jeremiah – Jeremiah 1:5; Paul – Gal. 1:15-16; John the Baptist – Luke 1:13-17; John 1:23; the disciples (John 15:16). They assumed that because God chose them as the means by which “all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen. 12:3), He also chose them, simply as Jews, for salvation. But now they hear Paul saying, “No! Jews do not have a unique path to heaven; on Judgment Day they will be treated like everyone else.” So now they are thinking, “That’s not fair! God has just been leading us on, giving us promises He never meant to keep. He is going back on His word! Where is the justice?”

So in Romans 9 Paul is defending God’s righteousness in His dealings with the Jews and the Gentiles. The Word of God has not failed (Rom. 9:6a). When God says that only those Jews will be saved who trust God’s promises, like their father Abraham did, He is not breaking His original promises to Israel. His choice of the nation as a whole was not a guarantee of any individual Jew’s salvation. God graciously and sovereignly chose Israel to be the nation from which “Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God” (Rom. 9:5). God’s choice of the nation of Israel to bring the Messiah-God into the world was not based upon their natural descent or works (Rom. 9:6-11), but upon His merciful and sovereign choice (Rom. 9:11b-16). And God certainly has the sovereign right to use any individual or group that He chooses for such a purpose, without any promise of personal salvation from Hell being attached.

An example of God choosing someone for service without providing individual salvation from Hell for him is Pharaoh (Rom. 9:17; cf. Judas whom Jesus chose to bear fruit in ministry even though Judas never believed in Jesus – John 6:64; 13:10-11; 15:16; 17:12). God both “had mercy” on Pharaoh by choosing him for an important role in birthing the nation of Israel, and He also “hardened” him in order to accomplish the same purpose (Rom. 9:18). An example of a nation being chosen for service and not salvation is Israel at this present time (Rom. 9:31-10:4). The nation of Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah which led God to show mercy to Gentiles by including them in the church. An elect person or nation is never guaranteed justification. In the Old Testament, God chose the nation of Babylon to discipline Israel (see Habakkuk). Likewise, He chose King Cyrus of Persia to help Israel and to subdue the nations (Cyrus is even called God’s “shepherd” and “anointed” in Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1). But neither of these sovereign choices proves anything regarding individual or corporate salvation from Hell.

If God chooses individuals and nations to service based upon His merciful and sovereign will, and not human behavior, “Why does He still find fault?” Paul’s listeners would ask him (Rom. 9:19). Paul responds by saying that people are not in a position to criticize their Judge because He is the standard by which we measure justice (Rom. 9:20-30).

God chose the nation of Israel to service and blessings for the purpose of sharing those blessings with others. But since they failed (Rom. 9:31-11:10), God saw fit to elect another group called the Church (composed largely of Gentiles) to accomplish this task (Rom. 11:11-25). Fortunately for Israel, because God is gracious He will again return to them and fulfill His promises and plans (Rom. 11:23-32). How unsearchable is God and His ways (Rom 11:33-36)!?

Conclusion: God’s election relates to His merciful and sovereign choice to choose individuals and/or nations for service (not salvation), especially as it relates to sharing His blessings with others, including the gospel. Just as the nation of Israel was chosen by God to bring the Messiah-God into the world (Rom. 9:5) and be a channel of blessing to all families/nations (Gen. 12:3), so believers (both Jews and Gentiles) in Christ today, are sovereignly chosen by God to be His mouthpieces of blessing to others (cf. Luke 6:13; John 15:16; Acts 1:2, 8; 9:15; 10:41; 15:7; 22:14-15; 26:16-18; James 2:5; I Pet. 2:9).

Overcoming sin through a relationship, not rules

“I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” Romans 7:25

In Romans 7 the apostle Paul talks about his struggle to grow spiritually when he placed himself under the Mosaic Law. After saying that we are now under grace and not the law (6:14-15), he begins by saying that “the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives” (7:1). Paul illustrates this truth by referring to “the law” which binds a wife to her husband until he “dies” (7:2a). But when he dies she is “released from the law of her husband” and is free to remarry (7:2b-3). Since believers died with Christ (cf. 6:2-10) they “have become dead to the law” so that they are no longer under any obligation to keep the Mosaic Law because they are now under grace which avails them to the power “of the Spirit” that enables believers to obey God (Rom. 7:4-6).

Paul’s own experience warns believers not to look to the Law to grow spiritually (Rom. 7:7-25). The result will be defeat. Paul describes his early Christian experience whereby he looked to the Law which only reveals sin without correcting the problem (Rom. 7:7-12). Verse 9 particularly shows that Paul was “alive” in fellowship with God “without the Law” (6:8, 11, 13), but as soon as he tried to include the Law in his Christian life, he “died”experientially when his sinful nature aroused sin to a greater degree which broke his fellowship with God. 

Paul shows that the Law is not to blame for our broken fellowship with God, but “sin” was to blame (7:13). The Law was like the bait that brought sin to the surface. Paul strengthenshis argument about the goodness of the Law by saying the Law “is spiritual,” but he is “carnal, sold under sin” because of his fallen nature which he still possessed (7:14). Sin is still appealing tothe believer especially if he places himself under the Law to grow in his Christian life. 

In Romans 7:15-25 Paul uses the present tense to describe his present struggle as a result of trying to use the Law to grow spiritually. This struggle is between the new “inward man” or born-again-self (Romans 7:22; cf. Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10; I John 3:9) and the “old” disposition or sinful flesh. For example, Paul writes, “For what I [the new] will to do, that I [the old] do not practice; but what I [the new] hate, that I [the old] do”(7:15b). Within every believer there are two competing dispositions – the flesh against the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-17) – which fight to gain control over the Christian. 

It is possible that Paul struggled for years to live the Christian life by trying to fulfill the Law inhis own strength. He explains that even a desire to do what the Law says results in evil that he had no intention of doing (Rom. 7:18-19). He summarizes, “Now if I [old disposition] do what I [new disposition] will not to do, it is no longer I [the person’s desire] who do it, but sin [sin principle dominant in the old nature] that dwells in me” (7:20).

Paul discovered from his experience of trying to grow spiritually under the Law that there is aspecific “law” deeply rooted in his being that exposed his sinful nature and the reason why he could not keep the Law’s commands (7:21). Paul explained his desire for God’s Law even if he cannot carry it out, “For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man” (Rom. 7:22). The “inward man” is something within believers that can be “renewed” daily and “strengthened” by the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 4:16; Ephesians 3:16). Paul equates the “inward man” to “the law of the mind” (7:23a). Paul identifies another law which is “the law of sin” which had defeated or brought “into captivity” Paul’s inward man because at that time when Paul was under the Law his fallen nature was stronger (7:23b).

Having experienced this fruitless battle of trying to grow spiritually under the Law (7:14-23), Paul cried out, “O wretched man that I am!” (7:24a). He acknowledges that an inner desire to do good and obey the Law could not overcome his sinful flesh or disposition. He wants to know who can deliver him from this “body of death” or sin’s power that dwells in his physical body (7:24b; cf. 6:6). Paul concludes by introducing the discovery he made during this struggle early in his Christian life about how to experience victory over sin. He thanks “God” who “through Jesus Christ our Lord” supplied the means to “deliver” him (and all believers) from this struggle between his inward man (“with the mind I myself [new disposition] serve the law of God”) and “the flesh” (old disposition) (7:25). The solution is revealed in Romans 8 – walking in the Spirit.  

In summary, the key to gaining victory over sin in our Christian lives is to focus on our relationship with Jesus Christ, not rules. Rules tell us what is wrong, but they do not provide the power to grow. Only a relationship with the living Lord Jesus Christ can transform our lives. We must look to our Savior, not our sin, if we are going to become more like Him.