The Minimization Of Sin!

-All Sin Is Against God!

All sin is ultimately against God! After sleeping with another man’s wife & then having that man killed, to hide his sin, King David prayed to God:  “Against You—You alone—I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight. So You are right when You pass sentence; You are blameless when You judge” Psalms 51:4. He didn’t say that he sinned against the woman by sleeping with her! He didn’t say that he sinned against the man by having him killed! His sin was against God ALONE, because God, alone, is the LAWGIVER!

-Caught In Sin’s Carnage!

It was God, who said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”; and, “Thou shalt not kill.” We minimize our sin when we say that we sinned against a human being— whether it’s spreading lies, or gossip, etc. No! Those sins are against God alone! You may “wound” someone who’s gotten caught up in the carnage of your sin! But, the sin was against God; and, that’s why there is judgment! That’s why there is pain, suffering & death; because, in Adam, we sinned against God & brought the curse of death on ourselves!

-God’s Plan To Save Man!

But, in Genesis— the book of beginnings— God also reveals the beginning of a plan to save mankind from their sinful depravity! No sooner had Adam & Eve “missed the mark” of obedience; no sooner had they sinned against God; then, God shares a plan to redeem them from the deadly consequences of their sin! It’s found in Genesis chapter 3, verse 15; and, it’s a veiled prophecy pointing forward to a coming redeemer! A Savior! Amid His judgment against Satan, for the part he played in Adam & Eve’s Fall, God says, “I will put hostility between you (Satan) and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.” And, that prophecy comes together in the New Testament. Satan strikes a wound to Jesus’ heel when He dies on the cross! But, Jesus strikes a mortal wound to Satan’s head in that very same act on the cross; as, His death atones, for their sin, and, negates everything that was lost in their disobedient act against God! Now, all members of the human race can be FORGIVEN… REDEEMED… and, made RIGHTEOUS by repenting, of their sin, and trusting in Christ’s work on the cross!

-God Makes A Way!

God makes a way to undo what sin did, in the beginning, back in the garden! And, He plans to use a nation—Israel & the Jewish people—as the people group, through whom, Messiah would come! The book, of Genesis, really sets up the rest of the Biblical narrative. It begins with the Creation & the Fall. We’re then introduced to Abraham, whom God, according to His promise, makes a great nation, Israel. Let me draw this post to a close, by getting a little personal with you. You are part of this whole thing! God is your Creator! You’ve sinned against His authority over you! But, to the praise of His Glory, God has made a way for you to be saved! Have you ever personally accepted His gracious offer? He is willing to move you from death to life! Don’t presume on His grace! Come to this awesome, loving God; and, trust Him for salvation!

 

A Faith That Doesn’t Serve!

-It’s A Questionable Faith!

Faith that fails to serve is, at best, questionable! Listen to what James writes, in his epistle:  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” James 2:14-17.  “Is that even saving faith?” James seems to be asking,  “What good is that kind of faith?

-Can That Faith Save Him?

If I understand the text correctly, in the original Greek it has the definite article relating to “faith”; so, the question James really seems to be asking is, “Can THAT faith save him?” Can a faith that has no passion for serving the needy & the less fortunate even be genuine, saving faith? It’s questionable! The Apostle Paul wrote this to the Church of Galatia: “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” Galatians 5:6. In other words, if we are “in Christ” HE will produce a faith, in us, that is working through love! God IS love! So, if God— in Christ— is IN us, we’ll love more & more as we are sanctified more & more. We’ll look like Jesus!

-Looking Like Jesus!

He loved the rejects of society, the wounded, the hurting, the forgotten & those who’ve been kicked to the curb! So, if the Spirit of Jesus is “in us”, that has to work its way out through acts of love & service! If you don’t care about those in need around you, perhaps you ought to question if your faith is the real thing! James seems to say that any faith that fails to serve is worthless! What good is it?  Young’s literal translation asks, “What is the profit” of a faith that doesn’t serve? It’s worthless! Jesus lived the most profitable, worthy life ever lived because He lived it for God the Father & for others! For US! He gave Himself up for all the sins of all people of all time! So, how can we say we love Jesus if we live our lives just for ourselves? That’s the message James is trying to get across to the churches he’s writing to:  “A loveless faith is worthless!” It has no value to God; or, to anyone else! He finishes by saying that any faith that fails to serve is DEAD! (v.17)

-As Good As Dead!

He says, “…faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” (v.17).  He’s NOT preaching that we are saved by good deeds; or, that we serve others to earn our salvation! No! It’s in the serving & the ministry that our “faith” PROVES to be ALIVE! Otherwise, “…it’s dead by itself.” It’s just empty words! The 16th-century reformer, John Calvin, once said:  “It is faith alone that justifies, but faith that justifies can never be alone!” There have to be acts of service & works of love to prove it’s genuine faith. So let me close by making this appeal to you—seek service & ministry opportunities both within your faith community & your city! Not on the basis of obligation; but, because your faith is genuine; and, like Jesus, you’re a “friend of sinners.”

 

The Proof Of Your Faith!

-As You Wish!

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Princess Bride.  It’s a romantic comedy; and, if you haven’t seen it, you need to! It’s a classic! It begins in the home of Buttercup, who’s dressed in the drab brown clothes of a peasant girl; but, orders everyone around as if she were royalty. Another peasant, named Wesley, is a laborer on Buttercup’s farm; and, the narrator—Peter Falk, he of Columbo fame—says that Buttercup’s greatest pleasure, in life, came from tormenting Wesley. She calls him “farm boy” & orders him to do all kinds of menial, boring jobs. But, regardless how menial the task, Wesley always responds the same way— ”As you wish!” While she’s incredibly condescending toward Wesley, he never refuses her demands; and, his attitude is always kind & willing. One day, she has an epiphany; and, the narrator says:  “That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying, ‘As you wish’ what he really meant was ‘I love you.’”

-Communicating Love!

I love that line because it fits so well into a Biblical conversation about service. It’s Buttercup’s realization that Westley was communicating his love for her, through his service to her, that holds such a remarkable spiritual parallel to something the Spirit of God inspired James to write:  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” James 2:14-17.

-The Invisibility Of Faith!

By its very nature, faith is invisible! You can’t see it! I can tell you that I have faith; but, I can’t show it to you.  James says, however, that faith can be seen through good works or acts of service & ministry.  He uses this imaginary person who claims to have faith; though, it can’t be seen. But, James disagrees:  “Yes, you can!” he argues, “You can see faith! You see faith when a believer offers to serve someone who lacks food; or, the necessities of life.” And, then, he uses the example of Abraham in the verses that follow. You can see Abraham’s faith, in his obedience to God, when he offered Isaac, his son, on an altar, James argues.

-Works Cooperate With Faith!

Abraham’s works were cooperating, with his faith, so that His faith actually became visible through his works. He offers Rahab, as another example, in his text.  In essence, James shows us that saving faith always produces acts of service that evidence it’s genuineness.  That’s why it must be a core ministry value, for every community of faith, to serve widows & orphans & others who are marginalized by their neediness. God’s word tells us that’s really the only way people can SEE our faith! Our faith is seen in the way that we love people! That means that any “faith” that fails to serve is, at best, questionable! James asks, “What good is it my brothers if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” It’s no good!

 

Compassion Ministry Validates Faith!

-What Does Faith Look Like?

If you’re one that believes your salvation is solely about what and whom you believe in, James epistle has to be a bit unnerving for you! I say that because James lays down 3-part evidence for what genuine saving faith looks like; and, it includes (1) Self-control over one’s speech; (2) A Ministry of compassion to the needy; and, (3) Practical Holiness. I am alluding to the words, written by James’ hand while inspired by God’s Holy Spirit— ”If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” James 1:26-27.

-Compassion Ministry!

James places the ministry of compassion on an equal plane as living a holy life & getting rid of your potty mouth! Unfortunately, many believers tend to separate them and elevate one area over another! Many think that becoming HOLY— or, “…keeping oneself unstained by the world” as James says here— is more important to God than taking care of widows & orphans! God doesn’t see it that way! Each one plays an equal part in living out our faith in Jesus, which is exactly what James means by “pure religion.” Ignore the chapter break— which isn’t inspired; but, added by well-intended individuals— and; discover something even more scandalous! James declares it “favoritism” to look past the needs of orphans & widows.

-Pure Religion Shows No Favoritism!

See how it flows without the chapter break:  “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. My brothers, do not show favoritism as you hold on to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ” James 1:27-2:1. Failing to minister to the needs of orphans & widows is FAVORITISM! Don’t do that, he says! He then goes on to illustrate favoritism, for us, in ch.2. So, I think it’s biblically accurate to say that the “pure and undefiled religion” in 1:26,27 is the same thing as “faith in Jesus” in 2:1. So, is this how you would define genuine faith? If not, perhaps you need to redefine faith the way that God does! It’s His definition that counts!

-Let God Define Genuine Faith!

That may seem obvious to those of you who are passionate about serving Jesus! But, unfortunately, that’s not the case with many in the church who claim to be Christians! I’m referring to the authority, of Scripture, to dictate every area of our lives! EVERY AREA! There is not one part, of my life, that I can claim authority over! God & His Word have complete authority over every area of my life— my thought life, my work life, my sex life, etc. God’s Word has complete authority over all of it! What “I think” and what “I believe” have to be submitted to the Revelation of Scripture; and, repented of & changed when what, “I think” & what “I believe” doesn’t match up with it! Are we in agreement? That is a fundamental of authentic faith in Jesus Christ! It’s no longer a Holy Bible when we start cutting out those parts we don’t like!

 

God Makes Us Fruitful!

-Through An Encounter With Jesus!

No one has a genuine encounter with Jesus Christ & walks away unchanged! The deaf were made to hear! The blind were made to see! The lame could walk again! The hungry were filled! The ignorant were instructed! The guilty were forgiven! And, sinners were set free from their sin! There is nothing in scripture to support the “cheap grace” religion so prevalent in the western church— that someone can be saved without becoming Jesus’ disciple! That repeating the word to some kind of “sinners prayer” is like a “get out of hell” free card!

-Saved From A Self-Absorbed Life!

Jesus didn’t save us to live a self-centered, self-absorbed life! He didn’t just die, on the cross, so we could listen to a good sermon & some worship music every Sunday morning! This post is about FRUITFULNESS! God makes us fruitful when we enter into a genuine salvation relationship with Him! Just as you anticipate that an apple seed, planted in the ground, will grow an apple tree that produces more apples; so, God will produce the fruit of the Spirit, in us, when the seed of the Gospel is planted & His Spirit begins to indwell us! Always! Every time! Let me tell you why that’s important! It’s important because if you don’t get this right it could lead to eternal judgment & condemnation!

-Gotta Get This Right!

If you’re holding on to some prayer, that you repeated in 3rd grade Children’s Church, as proof you’re going to heaven, you may have been misled! The scriptures never encourage us to hold onto something WE did or said; or, our parents or pastor did or said, as proof of our salvation! God’s Word focuses on a changed life & a progressively changing life now! “If anyone is in Christ, HE IS A NEW CREATION; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come” 2 Corinthians 5:17. “If you love Me,” Jesus said, “YOU WILL KEEP My commandments” John 14:15. Our life will be marked by a love for obedience to God’s Word & a hatred & abhorrence for all sin we stumble into! The Apostle John wrote: “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that YOU MAY KNOW that you have eternal life” 1 John 5:13. The written Word, inspired by God’s Spirit, was written to act like a mirror to reflect back, to us, our spiritual condition.

-Test Yourselves!

Seek proof, of your conversion, from the Scriptures! “Test yourselves TO SEE IF YOU ARE IN THE FAITH. Examine yourselves,” the Apostle Paul wrote, “Or do you yourselves not recognize that Jesus Christ is in you? Unless you fail the test” 2 Corinthians 13:5. Test your life according to God’s Word! Examine yourselves! Is there any evidence of a changed life? Is there FRUIT, in your life, that can only be produced by a genuine encounter with Jesus Christ? Listen to Jesus’ Words: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” John 15:1-2. Evidence, of genuine faith, is produced by life IN JESUS!

 

How Pain Brings Us To Our Knees!

Going On Vacation! Next Post July 17th

-Does God Really Love Us?

We are tempted to ask how it is that God could truly love us if He allows us to suffer through painful experiences. In fact, it is because He loves us that He choreographs pain and suffering into our lives. Let me explain. It is not our natural tendency to seek closer fellowship with God when our lives are filled with blessings attached to this world. No, it is our tendency to stray from God when life is good! We get more comfortable leaning on this world’s blessings for our daily support. So, God— in His Love & Sovereign grace— places a “wake up call”, in the form of a painful experience, in front of us. He shakes us back to reality with something to get our attention re-focused on Him. To force us to our knees in prayer to Him.

-Our Greatest Satisfaction!

He does this because He knows that nothing will ever offer us greater satisfaction than a Spirit-filled relationship with Him.  All of this world’s goods and services are but cheap substitutes for a walk with God. If you follow the narrative, from the first chapter in the book of Acts, you’ll see 120 disciples waiting, in an upper room in Jerusalem, for the promised Holy Spirit. And, in chapter 2, the Spirit comes to indwell and fill the believers so they’d have the supernatural power, of the Spirit, to obey Jesus’ commission to take the gospel to every people group & to disciple them.  Immediately, God begins to use them in His supernatural work as 3000 were saved & became disciples that day! And, then, more and more were added!

-Comfortable & Complacent!

But, as you read the next few chapters, it seems like the church becomes complacent & comfortable with their success and God’s work begins to slow down! So, God, in His Sovereignty, brought persecution! Stephen is stoned! And, then James is killed & Peter is imprisoned. And, it’s this crisis of faith that unsettled them & they returned to their knees in prayer! They were humbled! They got back to Biblical prayer! They expressed their helplessness & total dependence on God’s power to see Peter released from prison! “So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church” Acts 12:5.  In the verses that follow, God sends an angel to spring Peter from prison (vs 6-11).

-The Lost Confronted By Answered Prayer!

There’s another prayer principle that God reveals to us by His answered prayer to release Peter from incarceration. God will use a mighty display of His power to confront the lost with their sin! King Herod had imprisoned Peter and assumed he had more power than he actually had! So, God says, “No, Herod, you’re plans to kill Peter won’t work!” Someone once said: “We make our plans & God laughs!” I love that! Don’t lose heart, church! It may appear the world is out of control. But, God hasn’t lost it. In His Sovereign timing He will display His power again & confront the lost with their need for repentance. So, let’s get the bigger picture when we find ourselves in a painful place! Don’t pray that God will take it away! He may be doing a special work in your life or the life of someone watching! Trust His plans!

 

Don’t Worship God Empty-Handed

-Bring An Offering!

So, my last few posts have focused on King David’s communication to Israel, in 1 Chronicles 16, about the proper way to worship God.  It’s never acceptable to worship God according to our own homespun rules! We must worship Him in the way that He demands to be worshiped! One way, that David commanded the congregation to worship God, was with an offering! “Ascribe to Yahweh the glory of His name; bring an offering and come before Him. Worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness” v.29.  In other words, do NOT come to worship God empty-handed!

-We’re Not Owners!

Remember that we’re stewards of God’s “stuff.” Nothing, we have, actually belongs to us! We’re not really an owner of anything! We’re managers of a portion of God’s estate! God owns it ALL; and, proper worship includes a return, of a portion of His blessings to us, in the form of an offering! He’s the Creator! He’s created all the wealth, in the universe; and, He lends it to us! So, worship God because He’s the Creator! That’s how David continues his admonition to the people of Israel:  “…the world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken. Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, “The Lord is King!” Let the sea and everything in it resound; let the fields and all that is in them exult. Then the trees of the forest will shout for joy before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth” v.30-33.

-All Creation Worships God!

All of creation—the heavens, the earth, the sea & everything in it; the fields and all that is in it; the trees of the forest—ALL creation worships Him! Finally, David concludes with a charge to worship God NOW because it’s what we’ll do for all eternity:  “Give thanks to the Lord, “ he says, “for He is good; His faithful love endures forever. And say: “Save us, God of our salvation; gather us and rescue us from the nations so that we may give thanks to Your holy name and rejoice in Your praise. May Yahweh, the God of Israel, be praised from everlasting to everlasting” v.34. Clearly, it’s a sign that a believer has not spent a lot of time in prayer & the Word when they express a fear that heaven may be boring!

-We Can Only Imagine!

After a billion years, in heaven, we’ll still not know God entirely! No amount of intimacy, with Him, will close the gap in our knowledge & understanding of an eternal, infinite God! I’m certain that I’ll find Him more fascinating than all the Super Bowls and Star Trek reruns I’ve ever watched! Then all the people said “AMEN” & “Praise the Lord” v.36. And, there was great joy as God dwelt with His people as His Glory descended on the Ark of His Covenant with His people! One day, the book of Revelation says, “God will dwell among us”; literally, “He will pitch a tent among us.” Joy flows from worship! If we’re genuine God worshippers, we won’t be able to hide it! It’ll show on our faces! Grumpy Christians just aren’t worshipping God as they should! So, worship God! It’ll change your life! It’ll change everything!