Jude 1

Read the book of Jude

Jesus has atoned for our sins. Nothing can separate us from God’s love and we are fully and finally forgiven. So why not sin and live it up?

Some people think we should. They might not put it that directly, but they encourage us not to worry about giving in to our sin nature or striving for holiness. Like a player in Monopoly who draws the “get out of jail free” card, we have a permanent fire escape from hell and it can’t be lost or voided. So, some say, don’t worry about how you live because it will turn out fine in the end.

Jude taught us in this chapter/book that those who teach this way are “ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.” In what way do they “deny Jesus Christ?” They deny that he is “our only Sovereign and Lord.” In other words, they discount that he is king and, as his redeemed citizens, we live under his rules and are accountable for our lives.

Fortunately, Christ’s “rules” come with a new nature that desires holiness, the Holy Spirit that stimulates holiness within us, and a community of others to help us grow. This is why Jesus said that his “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light” (Matt 11:30). But if we fall under the false influence of ungodly teachers, we can do much damage to ourselves and others by living in ungodly ways.

Our defense against this corruption of the gospel is to “keep yourselves in God’s love” (v. 21a). How do you that? “By building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit.” It is so important to cultivate spiritual growth by daily learning the word, obeying what it says, and praying.

You’ve made it this far in our trek through the New Testament. I hope it has helped you grow stronger in your faith. But keep going “as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life” (v. 21b)–a reference to the return of Christ.

Romans 16

Read Romans 16.

This closing chapter of the book of Romans was quite personal.

It began with Paul’s personal recommendation of Phoebe (vv. 1-2), then a long list of personal greetings (vv. 3-16). Just before his closing remarks, Paul warned the believers about “those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way” (v. 17b). Those “divisions and obstacles” were “contrary to the teaching you have learned,” also according to verse 178.

Paul was concerned about false doctrine because that divides the body of Christ. Verse 18 told us that these false teachers would divide the church because of “their own appetites.” In other words, their doctrine was deliberately chosen and differentiated from the truth in order “to deceive the minds of naive people” (v. 18) for the personal profit of the false teachers.

Think about that long list of personal greetings in verses 3-16 and this warning in verses 17-19. Paul had seen many churches where there was once warm fellowship and strong friendships torn apart by false teachers. This entire letter was written to establish a doctrinal base, to teach the gospel Christ gave him to this church that had formed apart from Paul’s direct ministry. Paul wanted each person mentioned in this letter to fully understand the gospel, to believe it themselves and to welcome all–Jews and Gentiles alike–who believe it.

It would be a bad, sad thing, therefore, if “Ampliatus” (v. 8) pulled away from and stopped talking to “Rufus” (v. 13) because Ampliatus had departed from the gospel or because he had stopped accepting Jewish beliers as genuine Christians or because he had broken fellowship over which day was the Sabbath and how that Sabbath was to be observed.

A proper understanding and acceptance of the gospel, a commitment to serve rather than be served, and an understanding that Christ has accepted many who don’t hold all the same convictions about everything should unify believers, not divide us.

For us, we should recognize that truth is something to be explored and that exploration involves questions and sometimes debate. But when God’s people know what they believe and why, it should unify us rather than divide us. When others come in with different teaching, we should examine their teaching carefully but also be suspicious about their motives.

Too many believers uncritically accept different teachings from some bestselling Christian author or TV personality or webpage they read. False teachers can be very persuasive; hold on to the gospel and reject everything that departs from it. The unity of Christ’s body is at stake.

Acts 20

Back to Acts for 1 chapter, then we go to Romans tomorrow, according to the schedule I’m following for these devotions.

Read Acts 20.

As we read 2 Corinthians, we noted that Paul was coming to Corinth both to collect an offering for the believers in Jerusalem who were suffering (2 Cor 8) and to deal with those who were living in sin in the church at Corinth (2 Cor 13).

Here in Acts 20, Luke noted that Paul did in fact go to Corinth as he said he would (vv. 1-3). Paul continued on to Jerusalem stopping in Philippi (vv. 3-6) and Troas (vv. 7-12). He decided to travel by ship to Jerusalem and that ship stopped in several places (vv. 13-15). Paul decided not to go back to Ephesus, where he had spent so much time back in Acts 19, but he called for the elders of the church at Ephesus to meet him (vv. 16-38). His meeting with them was emotional because God had told him that he would suffer in Jerusalem (vv. 22-23) so he expected that he would not see the Ephesians again (vv. 35, 38).

If you had spent several years of fruitful ministry in a city but believed that you would never go back there, what would you say to the people you had discipled and mentored and taught? Paul’s message which Luke recorded in this chapter is summed up in verse 31: “So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” Paul knew that the church would face some difficult problems in the days ahead (v. 29), so he urged the elders to do the work of shepherding to protect themselves and the flock (v. 28).

But what was he getting at when he said, “Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears”? That statement is, in essence, “Don’t forget my teaching and my example. When false doctrine comes in, remember what I taught you. Stick to it because it is God’s word; don’t stray from it.”

This is truth worth remembering.

There is a lot of teaching out there, some that claims to be biblical and Christian and some that makes no claim to be Christian but does claim to be true. People sometimes get enamored with new ideas or attracted to big promises to change their lives in some way. If what you are learning is biblical, it will align with what you already know to be true from scripture. If it takes you away from the doctrines you learned when you were saved and discipled, however, it is a trap that will hurt your spiritual life, not help it. So, evaluate everything and don’t ever forget the gospel and the word of God that was taught to you when you first became a believer.

Although Paul was deeply concerned about what the church at Ephesus would face, he did not stay there to try to protect the church himself. Instead, he expressed faith in God’s own oversight of the church and his word: “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (v. 32).

When people we led to Christ move away or our children grow up and go out on their own, we can become concerned about the many threats to their spiritual lives that they will encounter and rightly so. It is good to be concerned, to express your concern, and to urge believers you love to watch themselves just as Paul did in this chapter.

However, it is impossible to control another person so you can only do so much to try to protect their faith and their doctrine. Instead of being fearful, at some point we must release them and trust God to do what we can’t.

Paul ended his time with the Ephesian elders with prayer (v. 36) and we know from his letters how earnestly he prayed for the spiritual life of all the believers and churches. This is the best way to care spiritually for those we cannot be with directly–pray for God’s continued work in their lives, for their protection from sin and from false doctrine, and for God to watch over their spiritual lives.

Are you sending a kid off to college soon? Have a young adult child who is moving to a different area to start a new life? Do you know anyone who is leaving our church or another good church but there is uncertainty about where they will worship? Pray. Warn them and express your love for them, but trust God to watch over them and pray daily for them to walk with him. There’s really nothing better you can do for another person spiritually.

2 Corinthians 11

Read 2 Corinthians 11.

Despite a lifetime of love, discipline, and teaching from good parents, young people sometimes reject their parents, even denouncing them, and choose instead to make foolish and sinful decisions.

That is the kind of heartbreak that comes to mind when I read 2 Corinthians 11 today. Paul poured his heart and soul into the Corinthian church. He loved them, wrote to them to give them guidance, and visited them when necessary, all to present them to Christ like a good father would present his virgin daughter to her husband. Despite his work and ambition for them, he dealt with constant concern that they would follow another Jesus or a different spirit than the Holy Spirit. This was due to the fascination that so easily overcomes us. Adam and Eve simply needed to trust God and keep his commands but Eve was fooled by the prospect of something greater than what God offered (v. 3). Likewise, the Corinthians flirted constantly, it seems, with false doctrine and new religious ideas. Instead of maintaining “sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (v. 3), Paul was concerned that they would leave Christ for something a bit more sophisticated or seemingly more spiritual.

This danger continues for us today.

Instead of studying the scriptures looking for a greater understanding of God’s character and Christ’s glory, Christians may become enamored with religious symbols and ceremonies because they feel more spiritual.

Or, instead of looking into the Word for God’s revelation, they turn instead to books where the author claims to have fresh revelation from God. Jesus may be—often is—referred to by these churches, preachers, or authors, but the Jesus they speak of is not the one who calls us to childlike faith and simple obedience. Their Jesus is a distortion, a false Christ, who claims to offer more than what the scriptures give us or who demands that we do more than fall on his grace for our spiritual life and take his word by faith for our daily growth. Christ is all that you need; as the infinite Son of God, he is more than enough. His work on this earth in life, death, and resurrection can save your soul eternally. His words and his church offer more than enough to satisfy the longings of your soul. Don’t be Eve-like, looking for something better than Christ or additional to Christ. Cling to him and follow him all the days of your life.

Galatians 5

Read Galatians 5.

Paul continued passionately, here in Galatians 5, to argue that the Galatians must not try to mix faith in Christ with obedience to the Law of Moses (vv. 3-6).

Verses 7-10 are a slight parenthesis in Paul’s argument. Paul stopped teaching about our freedom in Christ (vv. 1, 13) and began to wonder in print about who was responsible for the false teaching that had invaded their church (v. 7). In verse 9 he wrote, “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” In other words, if the church tolerates just a little false doctrine, false doctrine will eventually pervade the entire church. Like cancer cells, false doctrine consumes the body of Christ slowly, but steadily.

Also like cancer, false doctrine is often unseen and undetected for a long time, sometimes until it is too late. Paul wrote this letter like a spiritual surgeon, seeking to cut out the spreading cells of false doctrine before it metastasized and killed the whole body.

False doctrine has existed in every age of humanity and, in our digital world, we have access to more of it than ever. Have you been sampling false teaching through TV broadcasts, books, podcasts, or online videos? Remember that it only takes “a little yeast” (v. 9) to leaven the entire loaf. We must be on guard, then. We must test everything against the teaching of scripture and reject everything that conflicts with God’s word.

Galatians 1

Read Galatians 1.

As our society becomes more secular, it is a relief when we find others who profess to know Jesus Christ. However, many people and groups have adopted the name of Jesus without embracing everything that the Bible teaches about Christ. Since they claim to love Christ and may say many things about Christ that we find agreeable, we want to affirm them as Christians and fellowship with them, too.

But, the scriptures warn us here (and elsewhere) to be on guard against “a different gospel” (v. 6). The church at Galatia was caught in a struggle over “a different gospel” when Paul wrote this letter to them. After receiving the good news that Christ alone saves people by grace alone through faith alone, they welcomed teachers who said that true faith in Christ must be accompanied by obedience to Old Testament law.

Paul said that was a “different gospel” and was “really no gospel at all” but rather an attempt to “pervert the gospel of Christ” (vv. 6b-7). It was “no gospel at all” because the good news has been replaced by the old news—obey God or else. Our faith in Christ teaches that the merits of Christ’s good works on earth (theologians call this his “active obedience”) and the penalty Christ paid for sin (Christ’s “passive obedience”) are applied to us by faith. You don’t need to obey the Law because Christ obeyed it perfectly and, by faith, God has credited you with that perfect obedience.

You don’t have to fear God’s penalty for your sins because Jesus paid the penalty fully through his death on the cross. Any “good news” that requires something more than what Christ has done for us is not good news at all; it is very bad news because we can’t save ourselves or contribute to our salvation in any way. We are fallen so we will inevitably fail to do whatever good works that other gospel would require of us. And, God isn’t impressed by our good works anyway, so we wouldn’t earn anything from him even if we could be perfect.

Note that Paul warned them and us to beware of the messenger in verse 7. Even if Paul himself were the messenger or if an angelic being appeared with supplementary instructions, that messenger would deserve, not God’s blessing but God’s eternal curse (v. 8). Just in case we missed it, Paul repeated this truth in verse 9.

It is so comforting to find someone else at work who believes in Jesus, isn’t it? Our tendency when we feel isolated in a secular world is to hold on to anyone else who claims to follow Jesus, too. If they truly do follow Jesus, that is an extraordinary gift.

But, if that person tells you that you need Christ plus something else, beware! The message they have believed is not good news that sets you free from the power of sin; it is, instead, a perversion of our faith (v. 7b) which will enslave you.

1 Kings 16, Amos 2, Psalm 119:41-88

Read 1 Kings 16, Amos 2, and Psalm 119:41-88 today. This devotional is about Amos 2.

What made idols so attractive to God’s people?

What benefit did they get out of worshipping pieces of wood and stone?

What was so powerfully compelling about their theology that all the prophets, judges, and many kings could not root idolatry out of Israel?

There are several answers to that question but a powerful one is alluded to in Amos 2:7d-8b: “Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge.” Those verses suggest that idols were attractive because “worshipping” them involved sex. It was immoral and against God’s law to commit adultery but, according to these false religions, you could have sex with someone else beside your spouse as part of your offering to a false god. That activity was wicked in God’s sight, as we see here Amos 2 but it was acceptable in the culture at large when it was done as an act of worship.

No wonder God’s people were so devoted to this type of false worship. “Sex sells,” as the advertising proverb goes. There are no false religions in our setting, that I know of, which offer sex as part of the liturgy. But, as you know, sex is used to sell products, to sell movie tickets, and to get plays on music videos.

Sex is also packaged and sold as a product in itself through pornography, prostitution, and strip clubs. Our world is as interested in and as obsessed with sex as any generation in human history has been; sex is now the idol instead of being a feature of worshipping an idol.

The Bible commands us not to commit adultery or fornication but it also commands us not to lust after other people sexually. Loving and serving God requires us to guard our hearts and our eyes and to remind ourselves continually that our bodies belong to God and to our spouse. 

Have you drifted into sexual sin or flirted with it in your mind?

Are you careful about what you see and where your mind goes when it wanders?

Are you thinking inappropriate thoughts about someone in your life who is not your spouse?

Have you acted on those thoughts at all?

Let this fragment of two verses this morning turn your mind in repentance toward God. Ask him to purify your heart and be obedient to that desire in how you act toward others, think, and look. Don’t join the idolatry of adultery; ask God to help you glorify him with your mind and body.

1 Kings 12, Joel 1, 2 Timothy 4

Read 1 Kings 12, Joel 1, and 2 Timothy 4 today. This devotional is about 1 Kings 12.

Just as God promised, the kingdom of David and Solomon was torn apart into two kingdoms: Judah and Israel (aka “the Northern Kingdom”). This division happened as a consequence of Solomon’s idolatry, a divine act of judgment, as we read yesterday. That was the divine side of the division.

The human side was accomplished by the foolishness of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. Instead of lightening the burden of taxation on the people of Israel, he promised to make things worse than ever. The Northern kingdom rallied around Jeroboam, a capable leader from Solomon’s administration, and made him king.

David and Solomon reigned over Israel for a combined 80 years and the two of them centralized political, economic, and spiritual power in Jerusalem. Jeroboam was delighted to be king but he worried that his fragile kingdom would “likely revert to the house of David” (v. 26) if people kept going to Jerusalem to worship. Instead of trusting God, who decreed this division and prophesied about it before it happened, Jeroboam decided to make his own gods to keep people from traveling to Jerusalem. Verse 28 told us that he ordered the creation of two golden calves. If you’re making your own religion, you might as well make it easy for people and offer them two convenient locations (vv. 28, 29). Everything he did made sense on a human level. What does not make sense is his statement in verse 28: “Here are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

What?!

These idols were so new, so freshly manufactured, that they were still warm from the gold smelting furnace. Yet somehow the people were to believe that these idols had led God’s people out of Egypt generations earlier? 

Well, yes, if the calves represented gods rather than actually being gods. That seems to be what Jeroboam was saying to the people. “You don’t need no stinkin’ Ark of the Covenant to be the place where God is represented. Let these calves represent our gods instead. 

This was a clear attempt to appropriate Israel’s redemption story for Jeroboam’s advantage and apply it to the idols he made.

That’s often what false doctrine–false religion–does. It claims aspects of God’s true revelation and reapplies it some significant but false way.

A little bit of truth can help people swallow a whole lot of error.

Ask Jeroboam; he built his career on that principle.

Someone who knew God and wanted to be faithful to Him should have pointed out that the God who brought Israel out of Egypt was One Lord (Deut 6:4) not two calves.

A faithful servant of the Lord should also have said that the God who rescued them from Egypt commanded no graven images.

The same person should have pointed out what happened when Aaron made a golden calf for Israel to worship after the Exodus.

Instead, the Northern Kingdom liked the ease of having two convenient locations for worship as well as the ability to keep their redemption story without maintaining any connection to Jerusalem.

As Christians, we should be very careful. Many self-help books quote scripture but are filled with advice that is directly unscriptural. Don’t allow our faith to be pasted like a label on a can of manmade ideas. 

Ruth 3-4, Ezekiel 13, Ephesians 2

Read Ruth 3-4, Ezekiel 13, and Ephesians 2 today. This devotional is about Ezekiel 13.

In today’s reading, Ezekiel received a word from the Lord about the many false prophets that had infected Israel’s theology. As he typically did with Ezekiel, the Lord used Ezekiel’s vivid imagination to deliver this prophecy. God told him that they were “like jackals among ruins” (v. 4). Instead of fixing the walls (v. 5) by preaching repentance, the false prophets arrived to pick apart the carnage that was left after the disaster of brought on by God’s judgment. The source of their “knowledge” was themselves (v. 3: “follow their own spirit”), not God (vv. 6-7) though they spoke in his name and presumed his authority.

After pronouncing God’s judgment on these false prophets in verses 8-9, the Lord described the ruinous affects of their false words in verses 10-12. Their words provided a false assurance of God’s peace (v. 10a), but it was a whitewash (vv. 11-12).

It is interesting that we still use the metaphor of “whitewash” today. It describes an attempt to cover serious problems by making everything appear to be OK. That’s what the false prophets were doing. Instead of calling people to real repentance and faith in God, they were giving false assurances of peace.

Their message promised impenetrable security, as if they were safe behind a steel door when in fact the door was made of plywood and covered with aluminum foil. Those who believed these words would be swept away by the flood of God’s wrath along with those who gave the false prophecies (vv. 11-16).

One thing that was unique about Ezekiel’s prophecy against the false prophets is that he specifically called out some women who were speaking these lies in the Lord’s name (vv. 17-23). And why did they do this? For personal gain (v. 19: “a few handfuls of barley and scraps of bread.”).

So what do false prophets look like? They make stuff up and call it God’s word, they give a false sense of security by promising good things instead of warning of judgment and calling people to repentance for sin, and they do it for personal gain.

Not much has changed since Ezekiel spoke these words. Even today we have prosperity teachers and “possibility” speakers who speak encouraging, motivating words. However, these words come from their own ingenuity, not from God. They never speak of the need for repentance or call people to desire and follow holiness. They never warn of God’s judgment but instead promise his peace and favor. They profit at the expense of their listeners without conscience (v. 18b). The New Testament tell us that many such false prophets have gone out into the world (1 Jn 4:1), so be on guard. Watch what you read, whom you listen to and watch. Look for these things; a relentlessly positive message may be as palatable as candy, but it will cause you to rot spiritually.

Judges 8, Lamentations 2, Romans 14

Read Judges 8, Lamentations 2, and Romans 14. This devotional is about Lamentations 2.

The book of Lamentations records the poetic but mournful outburst of the prophet Jeremiah to the overthrow of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. All the devastation that God had warned about through Jeremiah happened in his lifetime, before his own eyes.

Jeremiah’s lament described the toll that the Babylonians exacted from Judah. Their pride as God’s people (vv. 1-4), their city and its magnificent temple (vv. 5-9), and the death of many people (vv. 10-22) were all causes for weeping by Jeremiah and the survivors of this battle. But why would God allow such devastation to fall on the people to whom he had promised so much? Of course the answer is their sin and rebellion against him, but Jeremiah speaks of that in a particular way in verse 14: “The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The prophecies they gave you were false and misleading.” It was a lack of truth by those who claimed to be prophets that lead to this judgment of God. The key phrase in verse 14 is, “…they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.” If the people had only repented of their sin, they could have received a great deliverance like David’s deliverance over Goliath. But many people did not know how angry the Lord was with them for their sin and those who did (because they heard Jeremiah and other true prophets like him) chose to believe the lies of the false prophets.

So we see in this passage how much damage false teaching can do. It gives false assurance to people who need to repent. It tells people that God loves them and is pleased with them instead of calling them to look to God in faith to find their acceptance in the merits of Christ. We live in an era where enormous masses of people have been assembled into churches, yet there is little hunger for truth there. The message they hear may talk of salvation in Christ, but it is salvation from guilt, from financial hardship, from divorce, from childhood wounds, from addictions, from a meaningless life or whatever. Yes, Christ has the truth for all of these things, but that was not the core message he gave us to proclaim. Our message is not primarily about how to feel better and perform better; it is to bow in reverence and repentance before a holy God, loving him for his perfections, thanking him for his grace and mercy, desiring to become like him in our moral choices and in our attitudes toward others, and hoping for his kingdom over anything this life can deliver.

When people say that God’s judgment will come to America, I wonder what they think that means. Do they think that we will be conquered by some foreign government? If the USA were the “new Israel” then maybe a passage like this one would lend itself to that. But God is not working with nations these days; he’s calling out of the nations a people for himself (Titus 2:14) whom he will bring into his kingdom at his appointed time.

What we should be telling people to fear is not a political or military conquest but the final judgment, where God will punish each person—individually—who did not know him. Our message, then, is geared to do what Jeremiah condemned the false prophets for not doing: “they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.” While preaching against sin is unwelcome and considered unloving in our world, it is what God uses to turn people in faith and repentance to himself.