1 Thessalonians 3

Read 1 Thessalonians 3.

When someone asks me to pray for someone I don’t know, I usually ask if the person I’m praying for is a Christian.

It is disturbing to me how often the answer I get back is, “I don’t know.” But I’ll leave that for another day.

Often, the answer I get back is something like this: “Oh, I’m not sure. I mean, he says he is, but… I’m not sure.” In that answer, the person asking me to pray is telling me that they don’t see much, if any, fruit of Christianity in the life of the person they’ve asked me to pray for.

A similar situation happens when someone dies and I don’t know the person but I’m asked to do the funeral–which I’m happy to do, by the way. I always ask if the person who died knew the Lord.

Sometimes the answer is, “Yes. He told me he got saved when he was little.” But when I talk with family and friends, there is often no more mention of faith in Christ. The people who knew that person best never remarked on his love for Christ, or his service in the church, or anything that comes naturally to a follower of Christ.

A person becomes a Christian by faith alone. But, that faith is the first evidence of a new birth and, like a newborn baby, new Christians show signs of life. New Christians grow. New Christians eventually show signs of Christian maturity. If there are no signs of spiritual life in a person, that person is unsaved.

If that person showed signs of life for a while, but then they went away never to return, that person is not a Christian.

That’s what Paul was worried about here in 1 Thessalonians 3. Earlier in the book, Paul wrote about how powerfully the gospel had saved and changed the Thessalonians (1:4-5, 8-10, 2:13-14). But, after the initial signs of spiritual life, Paul worried about how they were doing spiritually in his absence. So he sent Timothy (3:2) “to find out about your faith” (v. 5). And what was Paul’s concern? Verse 5 continues by saying, “I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain.” The word “vain” means empty. In other words, Paul was afraid that their faith might not have been genuine. He worried that the church might have fallen apart because everyone walked away from Christ.

With the arrival of Timothy came “…good news about your faith and love” (v. 6). So, Paul wrote, “…now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord” (v. 8).

We say, “Once saved, always saved” and that’s true. You can’t lose your salvation, praise God.

But the Bible says that there are many people who seem to receive Christ but they don’t continue to follow him. They lack “perseverance” which is the theological word we use to describe how every Christian continues in the faith. The Bible talks about this kind of “believer” and tells us that such a person is not a Christian.

You don’t follow Christ to get saved; you follow Christ because you’ve been saved. If you’re not following Christ, then either you were not saved or God’s discipline will come into your life.

We should look differently at and think differently about those people around us who say they are saved but live disobediently to Christ. We should warn them and urge them to consider whether they really know Christ or not. We should pray for them to genuinely come to Christ.

We should also not get complacent about our own faith in Christ. There should be evidence of your walk with Christ somewhere. How much is there? How good is the quality of that evidence?

James 1

Read James 1.

James says so much in such a few verses. He moves swiftly from one topic to another and it is sometimes difficult to see whether the topics are supposed to be related in some way or not.

His opening words in verse 1, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” are provocative. Most people do not get joy from different kinds of trials. We do not perceive it as a reason to rejoice nor do we rejoice instinctively when life gets hard.

That’s why James commands us to “consider it pure joy.” It is an act of deliberate mental choice; instead of instinctively getting sad or angry when we face trials, James tells us to consciously choose to consider our trials something to rejoice over.

Why?

Verse 2 says “because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” Since verse 1 called these “trials of many kinds,” we know that he is not only speaking of persecution but, in addition to persecution, he means any problem in life that offers a choice between faith and unbelief. It might be spiritual, physical, financial, relational, intellectual, or whatever; if it is something that would usually make someone question God and why they trust in him, it is a trial like the one James is discussing.

And why should we consider the trials of our faith to be “pure joy?” Because, verse 3b says that “the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” In other words, things that do not wreck our faith only make it stronger.

When we face trials, then, we should rejoice because God is growing us. He is strengthening our faith so that we learn to trust and love Christ more and become better equipped to serve him on the other side of the trial. The end of all this perseverance through trials is “that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (v. 4b). God places us through trials to compete us spiritually and morally.

In those moments where faith is called for, God is building us, refining us, making us more like Christ and more effective for him. Whatever trial you find yourself in today, learn to thank God for it. When it comes to mind, thank God for what he is teaching you. When you are looking for the easy way out, thank God for how he is completing you as a Christian. When your faith in God’s character is shaking, thank God for the trial and don’t give up your faith!

Hebrews 12

Read Hebrews 12.

The point of yesterday’s “Hall of Faith” chapter was not to exalt believers of the past. It was to encourage us to keep following God, just as they did, even when it is painful, difficult, and costly.

Verse 1 here in Hebrews 12 draws the experience of the believers in chapter 11 to our life when it says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,” But, just so we don’t get our attention diverted to one of these great believers or to anyone else, the author of Hebrews wrote, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith…. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (vv. 2-3).

When we focus on the cost of discipleship to us or to others, it is easy to get discouraged. When we focus on Jesus and all he endured and accomplished for us, it gives us strength to keep going.

No one else on earth will ever suffer as much for Christ as Christ himself suffered for us.

And, no matter how much you have suffered in this life, the author of Hebrews reminds us that, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (v. 4).

The rest of chapter 11 encourages us to remember that many of our trials in this life are God’s work of discipline (vv. 5-13), to fight sin in our lives so that we will become holy like God is (vv. 14-17), and to remember that our experience of God is not fearful like it was for the ancient Jews leaving Egypt (vv. 18-21) but joyful because of all that God has done for us in Christ (vv. 22-24).

Given all that God has done for us already and all that he promises for us in his future kingdom (vv. 28-29), we should listen to God’s word (vv. 25-27) and be thankful, worshipping God with awe (v. 28).

I don’t know what struggles you are facing in the circumstances of your life today, but don’t quit on God; turn to Jesus and “consider him” for the strength you need to keep trusting and obeying the Lord.

Hebrews 6

Read Hebrews 6.

The Bible clearly teaches that true salvation can never be lost (John 10:27-30). But Hebrews 6 presents a significant challenge because it seems to describe a genuine Christian who somehow became 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 the person described in this passage 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.

Deuteronomy 19, Jeremiah 11, 1 Corinthians 15

Read Deuteronomy 19, Jeremiah 11, and 1 Corinthians 15. This devotional is about 1 Corinthians 15.

As this letter to the Corinthians continued, Paul continued addressing issues he knew of in the church. Here in chapter 15, he addressed the resurrection of Jesus which was denied by some of the believers in Corinth (v. 12). Paul began by reminded the Corinthians that they were saved by the gospel he brought to them (vv. 1-2) and that gospel was the death (v. 3), burial (v. 4a), and resurrection of Christ (v. 4b) along with the eyewitness proof of Christ’s resurrection (vv. 5-7). After a brief digression about his apostleship (vv. 8-11), Paul began taking apart the false doctrine that there is no resurrection (vv. 12-49).

If there is no resurrection than Christ wasn’t raised from the dead and the entire gospel message is a fraud (vv. 12-19). But Christ did rise from the dead and his resurrection is a promissory note of a future hope for us (vv. 20-49). Finally, in verses 50-58, Paul spelled out the future hope we have in Christ because of his resurrection. Death is not a permanent state (v. 51); instead, everyone who died in Christ will be raised again with a glorified body (vv. 52-57). This is our hope. Death is a fearful thing for people but in Christ we are promised deliverance from death through the final resurrection. Christ’s resurrection foreshadows (“the firstfruits,” vv. 20-23) our resurrection.

What good is it to us today to believe in the resurrection? The answer is that it gives us motivation to stand firm in Christ and to invest in his work. Verse 58 says, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” The promise of the resurrection is both the promise of eternal life with God and the prospect of future rewards in his kingdom.

Do you ever wonder if it is worth it to follow Christ? Do you ever consider quitting your area of ministry because you feel the results are not there? Most of us have felt that from time to time but this passage urges us to hold fast and keep serving because eternity will be worth it. So don’t quit! Keep following Christ and living for him and you will be glad you did when you reach the final resurrection.

Exodus 5, Job 22, Psalm 53

Today’s readings are Exodus 5, Job 22, Psalm 53.

This devotional is about Exodus 5.

With God’s direct command, some impressive miracles at his disposal, and the promise of success, you would think that getting the Israelites out of Egypt would be snap-your-fingers simple for Moses, right? It should have been like riding a bicycle downhill with the wind at your back.

Not so much.

The first attempt Moses made to persuade Pharaoh was a spectacular failure. Not only did Pharaoh say no, he punished the Israelites for asking (vv. 6-18). This caused the Jewish men and women Moses was trying to lead to turn against him. In verse 21 they said, “May the Lord look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

Moses himself was less than thrilled with God. In verses 22-23 we read, “Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.’” Moses started out very reluctant to do what God commanded him to do and, then when he did it, God made things worse for His people, not better! You can almost hear the frustration in his voice when he said, “he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all” (v. 23).

Unfortunately for us, this is God’s typical way. God does not promise that a life of faith will be easy; he does not make all opposition fall like dominoes after our first act of obedience. Often, in fact, things get worse and harder before we see any fruit or success for our labor. But, when we persevere in faith and continue in good works, God is faithful. The trials we face for our obedience make us stronger; they also cause us to see God’s greatness and power in even more magnificent ways. So don’t quit believing in God or give up obeying him when things don’t immediately fall into place. Keep serving, keep trusting, be faithful. As Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

So don’t give up before “the proper time” of harvest arrives.

Revelation 13

Today’s reading is Revelation 13.

In this chapter, an enemy of God described as “the beast” emerged and began to blaspheme God (vv. 1b, 5-6) and receive the worship of unbelievers on earth (vv. 4, 8). This beast went to war successfully against believers in God (v. 7). God allowed this persecution of his children (vv. 9-10) and John commented, “This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people (v. 10c)”

Although we do not–thankfully–receive the kind of testing and persecution that is described in this chapter, the Bible promised us that we would be tested and even persecuted if we believe in Christ and live obediently to them in this life. The comment of John that this kind persecution “calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people” is true of any believer under trial and persecution. Persecution is an attempt by Satan to separate us and our faith. He wants us to turn our backs on following Jesus and follow him along with the rest of the world.

But the time of testing is limited. Here in Revelation 13, it was limited to forty-two months (v. 5). This is why “patient endurance” is part of our response. If we continue to follow Christ despite the opposition, the opposition eventually will end. And part of endurance is “faithfulness” (v. 10)–remaining committed to follow Christ regardless of the pain or personal cost that comes with it.

Do you feel like your Christian life is under attack? Do you face critics and scoffers who try to shame you for your faith and your desire to live a holy life? Do you struggle with internal questions and doubts that cause you to question whether our faith is true?

Endure and be faithful. God is with you and will empower you when you lean on him for help. He will also limit the test to what you can bear if you are patient and endure it.