Joshua 12-13, Jeremiah 38, Romans 3

Read Joshua 12-13, Jeremiah 38, and Romans 3 today. This devotional is about Romans 3.

Romans 2 told us that God is just as angry with self-righteous Jews as he is with the rest of the world (Rom 1). Here in chapter 3, Paul acknowledged that God used the Jewish race to deliver God’s word (vv. 1-2) and to illustrate God’s faithfulness despite the unfaithfulness of his people (vv. 3-8). The bottom line, however, is that Jewish people have no greater status before God than anyone else (v. 9). Both Jews and Gentiles are sinners deserving the wrath of God (vv. 10-19) and unable to earn God’s favor on their own (v. 20).

Having demonstrated the guilt of humanity and our inability to save ourselves, the passage turned to the good news that is at the core of our faith as Christians. Although (and because!) we could not earn righteousness with God on our own, God gives righteousness to those who believe him for it (v. 21). God does this for any sinner who believes (v. 22a), Jew or Gentile (v. 22b-23a). He is able to do this without compromising his justice because the penalty for every sin was paid for in Jesus Christ (vv. 24-26).

The reason why neither you nor I can take pride in our own morality or our own spirituality is that we have not earned and could not earn any righteous favor with God (v. 27). So Gentiles like us are on the same level with the Jewish people. God is our God just as he was the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, or whomever else you want to name.

Think about the implications of this. Do you think God was more willing to answer David’s prayers than yours because David was a man after God’s heart? Think again; David was guilty as a sinner and needed Christ to atone for his sins just like you and I do. Every advantage that God offers to his people is offered to you if you have faith in Jesus Christ.

The problems you and I have spiritually are not due to insufficient grace from God. They are not due to our lack of effort. Have you ever thought something like this, “If I only spent more time in prayer (or Bible memorization, or whatever), then God would love me more and work more powerfully in my life”? If so, please understand–there is nothing you can do to make God like you or love you more. You don’t get more grace from him by doing more good works. It isn’t like a vending machine where you put in more dollars and are able to buy more  bags of chips. Everything you could ever need as a Christian, all the spiritual life and spiritual power you desire is available to you right now in Jesus Christ.

Believe it and live like it is true; that’s what you and I need to change.

Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 66, 1 Corinthians 6

Read Deuteronomy 7, Isaiah 66, and 1 Corinthians 6 today. This devotional is about Isaiah 66:2-4.

The book of Isaiah ends with this chapter and it does so with some surprising words. God commanded his people, through Moses, to offer animal sacrifices as well as grain and incense offerings. So his words through Isaiah about these things are unexpected and harsh. Why, for instance, did God say that “…whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a person” (v. 3a-b)? Didn’t God want these burnt offerings?

Not really, no.

They were not given because God was or is bloodthirsty but to teach Israel that every sin deserves the punishment of death. To see his creation slaughtered in this way was not a delight to God; it should never have been a delight to man either. Instead, the cruelty and violence of it should have bothered his people deeply. They were supposed to learn, as they offered these sacrifices, how much God hates sin and how deeply offensive it really is. Observing these rituals–jumping through religious hoops–is not pleasing to God. Instead, as verse 2 said, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”

When we become desensitized to sin and its consequences, we have lost sight of the holiness of our God. When our sin and the cost of it bothers us in our hearts and shakes us to the core, then we have begun to understand who God is. It will show us the importance of what Christ did for us on the cross and how angry God really was about our sin. It will also teach us not to sin and, instead, to strive for holiness and obedience in our own lives. That’s what those “…who tremble at my word” means (v. 2f). When we are unconcerned about our sins or our half-hearted walk with God, any religious observance we do becomes offensive to him.

The condemnation in these verses, of course, applied to unbelievers. Verse 4 makes that clear. But because we are still fallen within, we sometimes lapse into the same habits as unbelievers, going through the motions of worship (v. 3) without really thinking about what it all means.

In other words, although we are forgiven in Christ, we can sometimes become complacent, doing what Christians do without really walking with God or thinking about him much at all.

How’s your walk with God today? Do you desire to be changed into Christ’s image or are you satisfied that, since you’re in Christ, you’re OK.

It is totally true and very important to understand that Jesus paid it all. By grace, God gives us perfect standing in Christ and full forgiveness. But remember that it is by GRACE–something God declared us to be that we did not deserve–not because we’ve been given a divine excuse. The grace that saves us also opens our eyes to the depth of our depravity and our absolute need for God’s power to work in us. That power enables us to live in obedience, which is what God ultimately wants. Are you real with yourself and God about your sin and crying out for his help to walk in obedience?

Numbers 9, Isaiah 34, Galatians 3

Today we’re reading Numbers 9, Isaiah 34, and Galatians 3. This devotional is about Galatians 3.

Paul had strong words for the Galatians in this chapter because so much was at stake. If the Christian faith became tied to obeying the law of Moses, then the gospel itself would be corrupted.

The main issue in this chapter is how can Gentiles be legitimate spiritual descendants of Abraham. Jewish people, of course, are physical descendants of Abraham. God’s promises to Abraham were about his human descendants. The Messiah–Jesus–descended from Abraham physically and the kingdom he promised was tied to the covenant God made to Abraham. So what about these people–“Gentiles”–who did not physically descend from Abraham? How can they be blessed without being physically descendants of Abraham?

There were people–they are called Judaizers–who wanted to connect following Christ with keeping the Old Testament law. They had come to the church in Galatia and were preaching the false gospel of faith + works. They saw obedience to the law as the way to connect Gentile believers to the covenant God made with Abraham.

Paul wanted to stop anyone from believing that false doctrine, so in this chapter he gives a better answer: Faith makes a person a spiritual relative of Abraham (v. 7, 29) not obedience to the law.

This is because:

  1. Abraham was a man of faith himself (vv. 6, 9) so faith matters in spiritual things, not physical descent.
  2. God prophesied the Gentile conversion when he told Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through him (v. 8).
  3. In Christ, who was Abraham’s “seed,” believers are connected to the promises given to Abraham (vv. 15-17). Since Christ kept the law and died as an atonement for the penalties of the law, the law has fulfilled its purpose and is no longer necessary as a covenant structure for God’s people (vv. 23-29).

These things may not seem directly relevant to us but they are. Throughout church history there have been teachers and groups who have tried to argue that faith alone is not enough. They say that faith + something else = salvation. That “something else” is sometimes a series of religious rituals. Sometimes it is a religious experience, such as speaking in tongues. Aspects of Judaism, too, are still insisted on by some who call themselves Christians.

While understanding the Jewish background of scripture and Christianity can be helpful in interpreting the Bible, the New Testament is clear that we are not under the law of Moses in any sense because Christ fulfilled it all. Don’t allow anyone to undermine your faith by offering you a deeper experience of Christianity by keeping the law or by “doing” anything else. Christ is all we need and in him is more than we can appreciate in this life.

Ephesians 2

Today you should read Ephesians 2.

But enough about you, let’s talk about ME! This is one of my favorite chapters in all of holy scripture. That’s because it lays out so clearly and logically what God has done for us in Christ.

First, Paul described our need: we were “dead in [y]our transgressions and sins.” We were under God’s wrath by nature (v. 3b) and because we deserved his wrath for our sinful actions and lives (vv. 2-3a).

Second, he pointed us to God’s amazing nature. Despite our sin god had “great love for us” and “is rich in mercy” (both in verse 4) despite the justice we deserve for our sin. So, since we were “dead” in sins (v. 1) God “made us alive with Christ” (v. 5a) and “raised us up with Christ” (v. 6a). This refers to the spiritual life God gave to us through the gospel message. More about all this in a second….

Third, God united us with his chosen people Israel (vv. 11-22). We used to be excluded from the spiritual status the Jews (v. 12) had but now, “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (v. 13). Christ accomplished this reconciliation for us, using one means of salvation–the cross–for both Jews and Gentiles (v. 16b) to make us into one body (v. 16a). As a result, we are God’s children just as much as any Jewish believer is (v. 19) and Christ is building us together into a holy temple (vv. 20-22).

Getting back to verses 4-9, we learn that God has done incredible things for us in Christ. First, all that he has done for us is by grace (vv. 5, 8a). God’s grace is his favor that we don’t deserve and could never earn. Sinners though we were (and are) and unable to make our own favor with God, God just gave it to us! He gifted us new life in Christ including the faith to trust him for it (v. 8a). He also will give us an eternity where he lavish us with more gifts of grace than we can possibly imagine (v. 7). But there is a purpose to all of this: Not only does God give us this redemption for his own glory; he does it to make something great out of us. Verse 10 calls us “God’s handiwork.” He wants to make works of holy art out of our sinful lives. How does he do this? By “good works” (v. 9). As we become more holy, we live more righteous lives and do unselfish things to serve the Lord, his gospel, and his people. All of this displays the greatness of God because, on our own, we are incapable of becoming masterworks of holiness. This is what Jesus was getting at when he said, “…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt 5:16).

Let’s shine God’s light through our good works today–by his grace, of course.

Numbers 8, Psalm 44, Song of Songs 6, Hebrews 6

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: Numbers 8, Psalm 44, Song of Songs 6, Hebrews 6. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read Hebrews 6.

As someone who believes the Bible clearly teaches that true salvation can never be lost (John 10:27-30), Hebrews 6 presents a significant challenge because it seems to describe a genuine Christian who somehow becomes unsaved. Verses 4-5 describe the person in question in not merely as one who “believes” in Christ. That would be easier to handle because we know that there are different kinds of “belief” (see James 2:19). But our passage, Hebrews 6:4-5 seems to go overboard to describe someone who has received the gift of new life from God. This person has “been enlightened” has “tasted the heavenly gift” has “shared in the Holy Spirit” has “tasted the goodness of the word of God” and even has tasted “the powers of the coming age” (vv. 4-5). The word “tasted,” commentators point out, doesn’t just mean “sampled” like a child might taste, then refuse his vegetables, because the author of Hebrews used the same word in Hebrews 2:9 to tell us that Christ would “taste death for everyone.” So the description here is not of someone who merely professes salvation; this person has deeply experienced Christ in multiple meaningful ways. Yet, the author of Hebrews said, “It is impossible if someone experiences all this and falls away to be brought back to repentance.” Falling away must mean a departure from the Christian faith in some way because the end of verse 6 says they “are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” In other words, they have joined the ranks of those who rejected and crucified Christ originally. So what do we make of this passage?

Clearly this person has been associated with the Christian community that we call the church for some time. He has seen God do things and heard God’s truth. But the passage does not say that he put his faith in Christ. It does imply that he expressed some form of repentance for verse 6 says that his repentance cannot be “brought back.”

There have been many attempts to explain this passage and this devotional is not the best place to weed through them all. What I would say about this passage is the following:

First, “falling away” does not seem to mean a cooling toward Christ or a period of wandering or questioning one’s faith. It seems to be more deliberate and intentional that that because verse 6 says a person like this is “crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” This is a public, explicit denial of Jesus, a Judas-like departure where the person in question joins the ranks of those who consciously chose to put Jesus to death. So someone who has moments of weak faith does not seem to be in the same category. Though Peter denied Christ three times, he did not join those who were crying “crucify him” so this seems to be a meaningful difference.

Second, what else does the passage say about this person? Verses 7-8 use the metaphor of farm land to describe why this person can’t be restored. The reason is that he or she received all of this goodness from God but never produced a crop; instead, all they produced was “thorns and thistles.” This indicates that, although they had all the blessings of the Christian faith showered on them (vv. 4-5), it landed on a hard heart that never produced the evidence of true faith that the Bible says always accompanies salvation. 

Third, speaking of what “accompanies salvation,” the author of Hebrews in verse 9 contrasts his readers with this person who falls away. And, what is the difference between them in verse 9? The readers show lives that evidence “the things that have to do with salvation.” They are productive for Christ; verse 10 specifies how: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

So this passage is a warning that tells us not to judge anyone’s Christianity based on their association with the church for a long time or even their profession of repentance. Those are necessary for salvation, but they are not proof of salvation because there can be false professions and self-deceived people. Instead, the Bible always commends a productive, enduring faith. Verse 11 demonstrates the importance of this when it says, “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized.” So, while we do believe in what is called “eternal security,” a better way to describe this aspect of our doctrine is the “perseverance of the saints.” Our eternal security, like every aspect of our salvation, is totally dependent on the grace of God. But the genuine gift of God in salvation is productive—it shows itself in a person’s life by how that person responds to the truth. When someone receives all of God’s gracious gifts and becomes more like Christ, showing their love for Christ by working for him and helping his people (again, verse 10), that person is demonstrating the things that accompany salvation. When someone receives the gracious gifts of God but continues to produce more “thorns and thistles” of sinful patterns (v. 8) and ultimately rejects Christ and campaigns for his disgrace (v. 6b), that person is hopelessly lost. So, cultivate your faith! Respond to God’s word and let it produce a holy life, one that is growing in the fruit of the Spirit and the love of God’s people. The one who believes in Jesus and grows in him to the end will be saved—not because you did something to earn salvation but because you have genuinely be born into new life that has changed your life more and more to the glory of God.

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.