How do I overcome doubt? Part 4

“And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ ” John 20:28

In John 20:24-29, we are learning how to overcome doubt. So far we have discovered we can overcome doubt when we…

– Restore our fellowship with other Christians (John 20:24).

– Readjust our unrealistic requirements for belief (John 20:25a).

Redirect our wills toward believing (John 20:25b-27).

Today we learn that the fourth way to overcome our doubts is to RENEW OUR CONFESSION OF FAITH (John 20:28). After Jesus gave Thomas undeniable evidence that He was alive and invited him to believe (John 20:26-27), “Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ ” ( John 20:28). A personal encounter with the risen Lord Jesus caused Thomas’ doubts to vanish. He then makes one of the greatest confessions in all of the Bible. “My Lord and my God!”

When you hear the word “confession,” it may have a negative connotation to you. You might have this image of sitting in a booth in a church. It is there that you confess your sins to this guy you cannot see sitting on the other side of a partition. Or you may have an image of a windowless room in a police station somewhere with a bright light on you and you are being asked to confess a crime. I understand how these first two images can be unnerving. But the kind of confession we are talking about in this verse is a positive confession where we say the truth about someone or something. In this instance, we say the truth about God. 1  

The apostle John uses Thomas’ confession to connect us back to the prologue where we read, 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth… 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.(John 1:1, 14, 16-17). At the beginning of his gospel, John wanted us to know that the Word, Jesus Christ, “was God.” He also tells us that Christ’s glory consists of being “full of grace and truth.” Jesus extends “grace for [after] grace” to His doubting disciple. Thomas knew that Jesus was God and also that Jesus was “full of grace” toward him despite his sinful unbelief. And now we see Thomas soaking up the riches of Christ’s grace as he worshiped his risen Lord and God.  

This confession by Thomas is the high point of the gospel of John. Here was a skeptical man, confronted by the evidence of Jesus’ resurrection. He announced that Jesus, the Man of Galilee, is God manifest in the flesh. Thus the truths in the first chapter were realized personally in this apostle (1:1, 14, 18). The Resurrection (a) demonstrated that what Jesus predicted about His being raised was true (Mark 8:31; 9:9, 31; 10:34; John 2:19), (b) proved that Jesus is the Son of God (Rom. 1:4) and was sent by God (‘vindicated by the Spirit,’ 1 Tim. 3:16), (c) testified to the success of His mission of salvation (Rom. 4:25), (d) entitled Jesus to a position of glory (1 Peter 1:11), and (e) proclaimed that Jesus is the ‘Lord’ (Acts 2:36).” 2

“John’s other witnesses to Jesus’ deity were John the Baptist (1:34), Nathanael (1:49), Jesus Himself (5:25; 10:36), Peter (6:69), the healed blind man (9:35), Martha (11:27), and John the Apostle (20:30-31).” 3

“The thing that God used to make a believer out of Thomas is the same thing God wants to use to make a believer out of any skeptic – the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” 4 Atheists have tried to disprove Christ’s resurrection only to be persuaded of its truth. People of other faiths have tried to dismiss this most important event in history only to be converted to Christianity.

There are several things we learn from this confession. The impact of this confession is underscored when we look at each word contained therein. 5  The first word is “my.” This is a personal word. A word of ownership. It is saying that faith does not belong to someone else. It belongs to me. It is mine.

The next word is “Lord” 6  which refers to one who is in a position of authority.  It can mean “Master” and is a common designation for God. 7  When Thomas says, “my Lord,” he is declaring that Jesus is his Lord God. When I say Jesus is “my Lord,” I am saying that He is the One I look to for advice, direction, and guidance. He is my Boss and my Manager.

The third word in this confession is “and.” It is such an easy word to skip over. But in this confession it reminds us that one cannot contain the Person of Jesus Christ in one word. Jesus is “my Lord,” but He is so much more than that, isn’t He? He is not only my Lord, but He is also my Creator (John 1:3), my Master (Luke 6:46), my Friend (John 15:14-15), my Savior (Titus 2:13), my great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14-15), and my King (I Timothy 6:14-16). He is so many more things. It is amazing that this former skeptic now recognizes the greatness of Jesus Christ.

Then Thomas uses the word “my” again when he says, “my Lord and my…”  That tells us how incredibly personal his confession of faith in Jesus Christ is. It also reminds us how personal our confession of faith in Jesus needs to be. Yes, we gather together and sing together as the family of God. And yes, we need to draw from one another’s faith. But no one else can have faith for you or for me. No one else can trust in Jesus Christ for you or for me. It has to be your decision and my decision. 

The final word in this confession is the most powerful word – “God.” Thomas looked at Jesus and says to Him, “my Lord and my God.” The Man Thomas has been walking with for over three years is so much more than a mere man. Thomas sees the truth about Jesus. Perhaps he sees it better than the other disciples. He says, “Jesus, You are not just a Messiah sent from God.” In some miraculous way that Thomas may not have totally understood, he said, “Jesus, You are God. You are the Creator. You are the One Who made me. You are the One Who is in charge of everything. You are the One Who is worthy of all my love, my devotion, and my worship. My Lord and my God. The Director of my life Whose Being cannot be contained in mere words. You are the One I look to for my very existence and purpose.”

Throughout the Bible, we observe that worship takes place as people encounter Who God is and at that same moment, they see who they are in His holy presence. For example, when the prophet Isaiah saw God on His throne encompassed by angels proclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isaiah 6:3), Isaiah immediately cries out, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5). For Isaiah, that was a moment of overpowering worship!

When Peter had fished all night without catching any fish and Jesus, Who was in the boat later that same day, provided a miraculous boat-sinking, net-breaking catch of fish, Peter’s immediate response was to “fall down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,’ ” (Luke 5:8). Peter got a glimpse of Who Jesus was and spontaneously worshiped his Lord. Later on when Christ calmed the wind and the waves that threatened to sink their boat, His disciples were afraid and marveled. They said to one another, “Who can this be? For He commands even the winds and water, and they obey Him!” (Luke 8:25). They witnessed the mighty power of Jesus which exposed their own weaknesses, and then they worshiped Christ.

Thomas has the same experience when he encounters the risen Lord Jesus, Who materialized behind locked doors (John 20:26). Thomas hears Christ quote what he had said to the other disciples when Jesus was not there with them (John 20:25, 27). Immediately Thomas realizes that Jesus is not only risen, but He is also all-knowing! Thomas also recognizes his own sinful unbelief in doubting the resurrection. He spontaneously cries out, “My Lord and my God!” He was now believing in the risen Lord Jesus and was worshiping Him.

Some skeptics, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, claim that Thomas was expressing shock like the common American expression, “O my God!” But that would violate the command not to take the name of the Lord our God in vain (Exodus 20:6), and Jesus would have certainly corrected Thomas. And, like Peter when Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him, Jesus would have rebuked Thomas and said, “Stand up; I myself am also a man.” (Acts 10:25-26). But instead of correcting Thomas, Jesus commends his confession and worship of Him as an example of the faith that all people are to have who have not seen Christ personally (John 20:29). All of us are to believe in and worship Jesus personally as “my Lord and my God.”

In the gospel of John, God wants us to believe specifically “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). He wants us to believe that the risen Jesus is “my Lord and my God.” If Jesus is anything less than the eternal Lord and God of the Bible, it would be a terrible sin to worship Him. But if He truly is the eternal Lord and God (and He is), it would be a terrible sin not to worship Him.

What will be your response? Can you say that Jesus is your Lord and your God? If not, what is keeping you from saying that? Your bitterness? Your disappointments? Your family? Your guilt or shame? Your ignorance? Your past? Your pride? Your presuppositions? Your religion? Your unwillingness to move toward believing?

Thomas experienced the fullness of Jesus’ grace when He encountered Jesus behind locked doors. Have you experienced God’s abundant grace in Jesus Christ? He sends His Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin so we may see our need to believe in Jesus (John 16:7-9). He convicts us of our need for God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus instead of our own righteousness (John 16:10; Romans 4:5). He convinces us that we rightly deserve the same judgment that will be given to Satan in the lake of fire (John 16:11; cf. Revelation 20:10, 15).

But then God’s Spirit opens our eyes to the good news that Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, including you and me (1 Timothy 1:15). And we realize that God does not save sinners after they have worked hard to clean up their lives and earn it. No, God saves sinners by His grace through faith alone in Jesus alone. A former persecutor of Christianity writes, “However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.” (I Timothy 1:16). Eternal life is a free gift that we receive by believing in Jesus. No amount of our good works can earn this gift. It has already been paid for through the death and resurrection of Christ (John 19:30; I Corinthians 15:3-6).

But then after believing in Jesus, we still have doubts, just like Thomas did when he doubted the resurrection. What are we to do then? Like Thomas, we are to be honest with the Lord about our doubts. When we do this, we make a personal connection with Jesus so He can answer our doubts.

What doubts are you struggling with right now? Some of us may have doubts about God’s direction in our lives. Perhaps we doubt God’s ability to provide for our needs. If you have doubts, don’t hide them. Talk to the Lord Jesus like Thomas did. When you start to make it personal between you and Him, He can start to answer those doubts. That is the beauty of what Jesus can do.

Thomas teaches us some important principles about confessing our faith in the middle of our doubts. 9

1. Confessions are important. Without them faith can lose its vitality. If I am not telling God what He means in my life then my faith will be less alive. If I am just listening to others talk about God or someone else sing to God, then my faith is going to become dead or useless. But when I confess my faith together with other believers and personally to God, my faith will grow in vitality.

2.  Confessions are personal. Thomas said, “my Lord and my God.” The Bible’s idea of confession is a personal declaration of belief. You cannot live on borrowed faith. It doesn’t matter if it is your parent’s faith or your friend’s faith. It must be personal for you to overcome your doubts.  

3.  Confessions are visible. They are heard by others. We are to confess our faith with our mouths before other people. The Bible tells us, 9That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10). The “salvation” spoken of in these verses includes both salvation from hell and salvation from the power of sin after we become Christians. For this kind of “salvation” or deliverance to take place in our lives, you must first “believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead” to receive God’s “righteousness.” After we are justified and reconciled to God through faith alone in Christ’s death (Romans 3:21-5:9a), we can then be saved from God’s present-wrath (Romans 1:16-32) or the power of sin through faith in Christ’s life (Romans 5:9b – 8:39). 

This second type of salvation requires confessing “with your mouth” and believing “with your heart.” God’s people could not ask for assistance (with the “mouth”) from Christ to obey God’s commands without first believing (with the “heart”) in Christ resulting in God’s righteousness. Verse 10 explains (“For”) this sequence: “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” We come to know Christ by believing in Him from the heart resulting in God’s righteousness (Romans 10:10a; cf. Romans 3:21 – 5:9a). We make Christ known to others by confessing Him with our mouths resulting both in salvation from God’s wrath on present-day sin (Romans 10:10b; cf. Romans 1:16-32; 5:9-10) and victory in our Christian lives (Romans 5:9-8:39; cf. Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8). To believe in the heart resulting in God’s righteousness is justification. To confess with the mouth resulting in salvation is sanctification. 

This sequence is confirmed by Romans 10:14-15a when the verbs in these verses are reversed – “sent …preach…hear…believe… call on Him.” We see that calling on the name of the Lord (confessing Christ) is done after believing in Christ and is therefore something Christians do after their conversion to obtain divine assistance in living the victorious Christian life (Romans 5:9-8:39; cf. Acts 9:21; I Corinthians 1:2). 

These verses tell us the importance of making our confession of faith visible so other people can know about our faith. Obviously there are people who can’t speak but they can make their faith visible in other ways. The key is to be willing to share my faith with other people. This is what makes my faith real. One of the reasons we may have doubts about our own faith is because we are not telling other people about it. But once you start to let other people know about your faith in Jesus, you will find out what Thomas found out. Confessions of faith are vital to having a faith that is alive and growing.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we must admit that there are times when we struggle with doubts. Although we may have fewer doubts now than we used to have, there are still things we are not sure of. Some of us may have doubts about a decision we need to make or uncertainty about Your constant love for us or even doubts about Your forgiveness. Like Thomas did two thousand years ago, we need to admit we are doubters and talk to You about it so You can answer our doubts. Because of Your radical love for us, You can transform out doubt into faith if we will simply be honest with You. Lord, we cannot figure it all out on our own. So we come to You confessing our need for You. Help us to hear from You now, knowing that You want to be personally involved in the doubts we are facing. You have a personal answer for each of us. Please fill us with Your loving answers to our doubts. Grant us the courage to make our faith known to others so that our faith is alive and growing. In Your mighty name we pray. Amen.  

ENDNOTES:

1. Adapted from Tom Holladay’s August 28, 1996 sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

2. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 700.  

3. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Kindle Edition, pg. 383.

4. The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, copyright 2014 EvanTell, Inc.), pg. 1193.

5. Adapted from Holladay’s sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

6. In the Greek it is Kurios.

7.  Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: Third Edition (BDAG) revised and edited by Frederick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000 Kindle Edition), pg. 577-578.

8. Adapted from Steven J. Cole’s sermon on September 6, 2015 entitled, “Lesson 103: The Aim of the Gospel (John 20:24-31)” at www.bible.org .

9. Adapted from Holladay’s sermon entitled, “How to Have Faith.”

How can we pray more like Jesus prays? Part 4

“17 Sanctifythem by Your truth. Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” John 17:17-18 

The night before Jesus was hung on a cross, Jesus turned to His Father in prayer in John 17. In this prayer, we have one of the most intimate glimpses anywhere in Scripture of the heart and mind of the Lord Jesus. This is the longest of our Lord’s recorded prayers. We are learning from this prayer, how to pray like Christ prays. So far we have learned that like Jesus, we are to pray…

– For God to be glorified when we face trials (John 17:1-5)

– For those we disciple (John 17:6-19) which includes…

  ~ Praying fortheir receptivity to God’s Word (John 17:6-8).

  ~ Praying for their protection from the world and the evil one (John 17:9-15).

The third way to pray for those we disciple is to pray for THEIR PURIFICATION THROUGH GOD’S WORD (John 17:16-19).  Jesus prayed, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:16). Jesus repeats that the disciples “are not of this world” in their position just as He was “not of the world.” They were to become less and less influenced by the world. How?

Next Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17). The word “sanctify” (hagiázō), literally means to “set apart1  from the world or “to make holy.” This is not referring to perfection. It is referring to spiritual growth or maturity – becoming more like Christ. How? We are to be “set apart” from the world’s influence and its values “by” the Father’s “truth” which is His “word,” the Bible. We cannot grow spiritually apart from God’s Word. So the way we grow in holiness is by renewing our minds in accordance with the truth of God’s Word (cf. Romans 12:1-2). Disciples of Jesus must abide in His word if they are to know the truth of His word and be set free from the lies that enslave them to sin (cf. John 8:31-36). We must feed upon God’s word to experience the victory Jesus has already won for us (John 16:33).

Diagram 1

At a meeting, a Native American Indian said a black wolf lived in his heart, but when Christ became his Savior, a white wolf came to live in his heart, and the two wolves were then fighting all the time (see diagram 1). After the meeting, someone approached him and asked, “Which wolf wins, the white one or the black one?” The Indian replied, “The one I feed the most.” If we feed upon God’s Word and do it, we are going to experience more victory over the world and Satan in our Christian lives.  But if we feed upon the lies of Satan, we will experience more defeat in our Christian lives and be conformed to the world. I like what D.L. Moody wrote on the flyleaf of his Bible. “This book will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from this book.” That’s the truth. If I let this book become more and more a part of my life it will keep me away from sin. Or sin can keep me away from reading His word.

Tony Evans writes, “This process happens through internalizing the eternal truth of God’s Word. Think of the Word like food. You can chew it all day, but unless you swallow it, you receive no health benefits from it. You internalize God’s Word, not by merely hearing or reading it, but by trusting and obeying it. Then its work of spiritual transformation is activated in your life (see 2 Cor 3:17-18).” 3

Diagram 2

Sanctification or spiritual growth takes place as we learn and as we love and as we live God’s Word. It is a balance of those three things – learning it, loving it and living it. We learn it with our mind. But that’s not enough. We probably know a lot of people who have learned the Bible with their minds and can even quote verses, but they are not growing because they don’t love it. They don’t love it with their hearts. And they are not living it with their will. They are not deciding to do the things it says. It is like a three-legged stool (see diagram 2) – learning it, loving it, living it. You can’t leave out any of those things. We may know some people who are trying to live God’s word without loving the One who wrote it. When we do that, the Bible is just a law. There is no relationship with God. When we start to learn His word and what it says, we start to love it with our hearts, and live it with our wills. when we have all three legs of that stool together, we’ve got a solid foundation for growth (cf. Matthew 7:24-25).

Next Jesus prayed, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18). Now Jesus is setting His disciples apart through prayer to do the same work He had done. Instead of taking the disciples “out of the world” (John 17:15), Jesus was sending them “into the world.” Christ had trained them to continue what He had come to do – reveal the Father (cf. John 1:18). Notice that sanctification or spiritual growth (John 17:17) and sending (John 17:18) go together. Christ wants the world to see what He is like through disciples who are growing spiritually. If believers are not going into the world to make Christ known, they are not growing spiritually because sanctification (John 17:17) leads to reaching out to a lost world (John 17:18). If we are becoming more like Christ, we will develop the same love for the unsaved that Jesus has for them.

Earlier in His ministry, Jesus called His first disciples, “Follow Me,  and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19). If we are not fishing for men (evangelism), then we are not following Christ. Notice, however, that it is our responsibility to follow Jesus. Christ’s responsibility is to make us fishers of men. Do you feel inadequate to evangelize the lost? Do you ever think that you do not know enough to share the gospel with non-Christians? Ask the Lord Jesus to help you follow Him daily and He will teach you all you need to know about evangelism. The best way to learn to talk to unbelievers is to walk and talk with Jesus.

Then Jesus prayed, “And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.” (John 17:19). How did Jesus, the sinless Son of God “sanctify” Himself? Keep in mind that the word “sanctify” can mean “to set apart.” Jesus set Himself apart from the world to do the will of His Father which involved His sacrificial death on the cross “for their sakes” (cf. Hebrews 10:5-10, 14). In dying for His disciples (and all of us), He did for them what they could never do for themselves. He also died so His disciples “may be sanctified by the truth.” Christ’s death permanently set believers apart from their sin and guilt (cf. Hebrews 10:10, 14) and it also broke sin’s control over them (cf. Romans 6:5-11).

How important it is for us to understand that our spiritual growth and development is being nurtured by Christ’s prayers for us. We are also to pray for one another’s spiritual growth. Pray for God’s Word to shape us and mold us into Christlike people. Pray for one another’s commitment to holiness and godliness.

Diagram 3

The water spider is an amazing little creature (see diagram 3). Called the frogman of the spider world, it lives in rivers and streams. How does this fascinating species survive in its watery environment? It spins a tough basket-like web of silk, a kind of diving bell, and anchors it under water to plants or other objects. Then it captures a surface air bubble, which it pulls down and ejects into its underwater house, filling it with air. This combination of web building and bubble trapping allows the water spider to live in an environment that normally  would destroy it.

As Christians, we also live in an environment which could destroy us. The world’s values, attitudes, and practices threaten to drown us unless we are able to protect ourselves from them. How are we to survive spiritually in this hostile world? We are to build a “bubble” of protection around ourselves by praying for and with one another. Prayer for one another can insulate our minds and help to keep us safe and secure in the Lord. As the water spider lives in the water but is not of the water, so we are to live in the world but not of the world.

Are you building a safe bubble by praying with and for other believers? Do you have a prayer partner? Sometimes our pride keeps us from asking for prayer from others. Jesus’ prayer reminds us that we need to be in a community of people who pray. We cannot grow spiritually in isolation from one another nor apart from God and His Word. We need both to influence the world for Christ.

Prayer: Father God, we live in a world where Satan uses politics, the media, the educational system, the economy, the laws of the land, and our unsaved family and friends to draw us away from You and make us less sensitive to Your Word. But You have called us to become less and less influenced by the world’s values through the transforming truth of Your Word, the Bible. Please activate Your Word in our lives as we learn, love, andlive Your Word. Renew our minds so that our thoughts align more with Yours. And as we grow closer to You, Lord Jesus, Your love for the lost people of this world will become ours. Increase our love for those for Whom You have died. Thank You, Jesus, for sending us into the world just as the Father sent You into the world. Please teach us all we need to know to effectively share Your gospel message with those who are perishing without You. Help us to build a “bubble” of protection around ourselves by praying for and with one another to keep us safe and secure in You, Lord Jesus, as we live in this hostile world. We desperately need You, Your Word, and one another to accomplish Your mission of making disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19-20). Thank you, my Lord and my God, for giving us all we need to honor and glorify You in this process. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 307.

2. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, compiled by Walter Bauer, trans. and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and augmented by F. Wilbur Gingrich and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pg. 8.

3. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1815.

How can we respond to those who refuse to believe in Christ? Part 4

“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

The people to whom Jesus spoke had important decisions to make before Christ was crucified.  We are learning from Jesus’ response to this crowd how we can respond to those who refuse to believe in Christ. So far we have discovered we must…

– Challenge them to seek God while there is time (John 12:34-35).

– Counsel them to believe in Christ while there is time (12:36).

– Contemplate the Scriptures’ explanation for their unbelief (John 12:37-41).

The fourth way to respond to those who refuse to believe in Christ is to CONSIDER THAT SOME ARE SECRET BELIEVERS (John 12:42-43; cf. 7:50; 19:38-39). John does not want to leave us with the impression that none of the Jewish leaders believed. “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.” (John 12:42). Although much of the nation of Israel was spiritually blind, “many” of its rulers believed in Christ for His gift of salvation. They became “sons of light” (John 12:36). But now they tragically refuse to walk in the light of fellowship with Christ. They choose not to “confess Him” to others because they are afraid of being “put out of the synagogue.” They were not willing to follow Jesus’ example of enduring trials to glorify God. Why did they refuse to openly identify with Christ?

For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:43). Because they cared more about what people thought of them instead of what God thought of them. They were people-pleasers, not God-pleasers. They chose to walk in the darkness by refusing to confess Christ before others. They wanted the approval of men more than the approval of God. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were like this (cf. John 7:50; 19:38-39).

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. 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 (cf. I John 4:15).

God’s praise and opinion of us is more valuable than anyone else’s. God is the most important Person in a believer’s life. What matters the most is what He thinks of us, not what other people think of us. We cannot have everyone’s approval anyway. Trying to only makes our lives worse. There are believers working extremely hard to please others in the church, or more often than not, they are still trying to please their own parents. They are not trying to please God. God does not put those kinds of standards on us. God has not called us to serve others in a way that wears us out. He has not called us to do it all. He has called us to only do our part. We need each other to do our part.

The verb “confess” (hōmologoun) is not just telling others about our conversion, it also refers to calling upon the name of Jesus publicly when praying or seeking deliverance (Romans 10:9-15). It involves experiencing Jesus’ presence and power to save us from the power of sin in our lives!

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 3:14-18, 36; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; Acts 16:31; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; I Timothy 1:16; I John 5:1, 13). 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 (Romans 3:21-5:9a) and confessing with your mouth for salvation from the present-day wrath of God (Romans 1:16-32; 5:9-10) which is sanctification (Romans 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 10:32-39; Matthew 25:21; 2 Timothy 2:12).

Loving “the praise of men more than the praise of God” now will result in forfeiting the praise of Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Jesus said, 32 Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33). If we confess or publicly identify with Christ before people now regardless of the cost, Jesus will give us a good confession before His Father in heaven when we stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ (e.g. “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord,” Matthew 25:21). But if we deny Jesus our confession of Him before people now, He will “deny” us a good confession before His Father in heaven at the Judgment Seat of Christ (e.g. “You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming I would have received back my own with interest,” Matthew 25:26-27).

In summary, when people do not seem to believe in Christ when we share the gospel with them, keep in mind that they may be secret believers. They have truly believed in Jesus for His gift of eternal life, but because they love the praise of people more than the praise of God, they are not willing to make their faith in Christ known to others yet. Continue to meet with them and disciple them. As they grow in their new relationship with Jesus, they will learn to put Him first in their lives instead of the opinions of other people. Pleasing Jesus will become their top priority so that their fear of people will fade away.

Prayer: Father God, I want nothing more than to hear Jesus give me a good confession before You in heaven when I stand before His Judgment Seat. So many believers in the world are afraid to make their faith in Christ known to others because they are afraid of the consequences. They still have everlasting life, but they will lose rewards in heaven if they value the praise of men more than the praise of God. There have been times when I was ashamed to confess Jesus before the unsaved for fear of rejection or persecution. Please forgive me for thinking only of myself instead of You. I pray Your Holy Spirit will stir up the warrior in me that will boldly proclaim Christ to a lost world regardless of the cost. Use me, Father God, to equip and empower Christians around the world to boldly make Jesus known so they will receive His praise when they give an account of their lives to Him in heaven. In Jesus’ most precious name I pray. Amen.

Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 7

“Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ ” John 11:39a

As we study through the seventh miraculous sign recorded in the gospel of John (11:1-44), we are learning why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. He may do this to …

– Display more of His glory (John 11:1-4).

– Declare His love toward us (John 11:5-6).

– Deepen our sensitivity to His will (John 11:7-10).

– Develop our faith in Him (John 11:11-16).

– Disclose more of Christ’s identity to us (John 11:17-27).

– Discover Christ’s compassion (John 11:28-37).

The seventh reason why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it is to DEMONSTRATE THAT OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST ACCESSES HIS RESURRECTION POWER (John 11:38-44a). “Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it.” (John 11:38). Again, Christ felt the same angry emotion (“groaning” – cf. 11:33) as He approached the tomb. He may have been angry that the Jews who came to comfort Mary did not believe He could raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:37). They thought He could overcome sickness but not death.

Tombs were often cut into limestone making a cave in the side of a wall of rock. A large stone was placed over the entrance. “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ ” (John 11:39a). To do so was to risk defilement according to Jewish law and customs. But Jesus is not bound by man-made laws or customs. The people standing next to Jesus may have thought, “Doesn’t He have the power to move this stone?” Yes, He does, but He did not use that power to move the stone. Why? Because their obedience was necessary for them to realize and experience Jesus’ resurrection power.

“Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.’ ” (John 11:39b). Lord, Lazarus already stinks. Nothing can be done. It’s hopeless!” When we see death, we see no further. But Jesus sees beyond death to life. 

“Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?’ ” (John 11:40). Christ called Martha “to demonstrate her faith in Him by her action – allowing the stone to be removed. Jesus didn’t want her explanations about bodily decay; He wanted her to walk by faith, putting one foot in front of the other. Faith is acting like God is telling the truth. Then, demonstrating the “glory of God” would be up to Jesus. Faith must precede sight if we want to see God’s supernatural intervention in our circumstances. We can never know what God plans to do in secret until we obey what He has clearly revealed.” (Dr. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition), pg. 1791. All the people there would see this miracle. Only those who believed would see God’s glory revealed in the raising of Lazarus.

41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.’ ” (John 11:41-42). Jesus had already pleaded Martha, Mary, and Lazarus’ case to the Father. This is the second time He had prayed about it. He states this so those around Him can believe the Father sent Him.

Jesus’s prayer for His Father’s supernatural intervention also illustrates His current intercessory work of deliverance for believers when we respond in faith and obedience (cf. Hebrews 7:25). This is why we pray to the Father in the name of Jesus. The Father responds to what the Son endorses. When we face disappointments, Christ prays for us (cf. Luke 22:31-32). He can overcome our circumstances even when there seems to be no hope.

Earlier Jesus had said that men would hear His voice and come out of their graves (John 5:28) and that His sheep hear His voice (John 10:16, 27). “Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ ” (John 11:43). If Jesus had not said Lazarus’ name, all the dead would have come out of their graves. “And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth.” (John 11:44a). The One who is the Resurrection and the Life revealed His power by summoning Lazarus from the grave. Lazarus did not come out by his own power, but by the power of the One who commanded him to come out. This is the glory of God! Only God could reverse the process of decay and restore Lazarus from death to life.

If the people with Jesus had not obeyed His command to remove the stone over the entrance to Lazarus’ grave, they would not have witnessed the resurrection power of the Lord Jesus. Likewise, we must obey the Lord Jesus to experience His resurrection power in our daily lives. The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8:11, 13: 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you…13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

As believers live “by the Spirit”through obedience to Christ (Romans 6:1-14; 8:1, 4-5; Galatians 5:16-26), they can experience Christ’s resurrection power to put to death the sinful deeds of the body. We cannot overcome sin and its consequences unless we walk in obedience to Christ. We cannot access Christ’s resurrection power unless we obey Him. When we face disappointments, we may not “feel” like obeying the Lord, but this is key to experiencing His resurrection power in our lives. Step out in faith and obey Christ so He can manifest His power in your life.

This resurrection miracle is a beautiful picture of conversion. Lazarus was unable to raise himself from the dead. None of his friends or religious leaders could reverse his death. Likewise, before we become Christians, the Bible tells us that we are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1-3) without the life of God. And our sin separates us from God (Romans 6:23). We are unable to come to God apart from His drawing (John 6:44a).

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He was giving us a foretaste of what is to come. One day, Lazarus would physically die again. But he would eventually participate in a future everlasting bodily resurrection whereby He would live with Jesus forever along with all who believe in Christ alone (John 11:25-26; cf. I Thessalonians 4:14-17)!  

Only Jesus Christ can give eternal life to people, and this gift is based upon His finished work on the cross, not our works (John 19:30; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; cf. Isaiah 64:6). We cannot save ourselves. Other people or religions cannot save us. Only Jesus can do this. We receive eternal life by faith alone in Christ alone (John 3:15-16, 36; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26; et al.). Each time God saves a sinner He reveals His glory.

Prayer: Father God, thank You for this incredible miracle which demonstrates that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. As the Resurrection, only Jesus can guarantee a future bodily resurrection that lasts forever to all who believe in Him. And as the Life, only He can give spiritual life that that never ends to all who believe in Him alone. Father, thank You for demonstrating that my obedience is necessary to experience Your resurrection power daily in my Christian life. I cannot overcome sin and its consequences unless I walk in obedience to Jesus. When I am tempted to sin, please help me to step out in faith and obey Christ so He can manifest His resurrection power in my life to say “No” to sin and “Yes” to You. I also ask You to use me to share this good news of Jesus’ resurrection power to all who are dead in their sins and separated from You. Please persuade them to believe in Jesus alone as the Resurrection and the Life so they may have eternal life in His name. In Jesus’ powerful life-giving 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).

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.