1 Timothy 2

Read 1 Timothy 2.

One of the common objections heard against our faith is that it is exclusive. If Jesus is the only way to God, then what about people who worship God through other religions? Will they miss salvation even though they have a desire to know God?

The answer is yes, according to verse 5 of our passage today: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.”

It is common to hear that every religion is worshipping the same God, just by a different name. The Bible, however, calls worship of any other god than the true God idolatry. The reason is that “there is one God.” Verse 5 went on to say that there is “one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” The only way to know the one true God, to worship him, and receive his forgiveness is through Jesus.

Why?

Because he “gave himself as a ransom.”

Only the death of Christ on our behalf made reconciliation with God possible. Any other religion, in addition to saying things about God that contradict the Christian description of God, lacks a solution to the problem of sin.

But notice the next phrase in verse 6: “…for all people.” This truth goes against the idea that our faith is unjustly exclusive.

Our faith is exclusive in the sense that there is only one way–Jesus. He is the exclusive way to God.

But our faith is not exclusive in the sense that it is restricted to only one type of person. The salvation Jesus purchased, and the good news about knowing God he brought us, is for every kind of person on earth–Jew or Gentile, slave or free, wealthy or poor, male or female, Japanese or Lebanese, or any other way that people can be categorized.

This is why Paul began this chapter by urging us to pray “for all people” (v. 1). We should pray for the gospel to go everywhere there are people. In verse 2, Paul specified that we should pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives….” This is a request for the authorities of the world to leave us alone so that the gospel can advance to all the world without interference or persecution.

When you pray today, remember to pray for the world. Specifically, pray that people all over the world will learn about the one true God and the one mediator, the man–our Lord–Christ Jesus. Pray that those who are taking the gospel everywhere will do so without being persecuted or interfered with so that all kinds of people will be “saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (v. 4).

Pray also for our government here in the U.S.–not that Team A or Team B will will win the next election but that whoever wins will leave us alone to spread the gospel message. That is the message of 1 Timothy 2:1-8.

Mark 15

Read Mark 15.

Yesterday, when we read about Jesus’ arrest in Mark 14, we read these words in verses 48-49, ““Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” Christ was pointing out how absurd it was to be arrested by so many men who were so heavily armed. Jesus was a peaceful man and a public man who could have been arrested easily many times.

The reason for the precautions, of course, was the miraculous power he displayed. If you were Judas and had seen him casting out demons and walking on water, you’d bring an army to arrest him, too. Had he chosen to resist, of course, all the armies in the world could not have detained him. Although he had shown miraculous power, it was never violently directed. Though Christ arrived in Jerusalem like a king and exercised authority, he never attempted a military coup.

Barabbas did, though. As we read today in Mark 15:7, “A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.” Not only did Barabbas try to overthrow the government, his group killed a man while doing so. Yet, when given the choice to release either Jesus–the merciful healer or Barabbas, the violent revolutionary, the crowd wanted Barabbas, not Jesus, released.

Why?

Because of how dark the sinful heart of humanity is. Given a chance to kill God, the author of life, humanity jumped at the opportunity to rid the earth of him. Only the sinful heart of man would think it was better to have a killer like Barabbas on the loose than the merciful son of God.

This is why we needed Christ’s redemption. Humanity longs for God, but not not the true and living God. The true God is holy and we are accountable to him. In order for any one of us to be reconciled to God, God the Son allowed himself to be taken into the hands of sinful men so that he could die as our substitute. Due to his death, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” giving those who believe in him free and open access to God the father.

This is something to praise God for; it is also something that should draw us in to speak with God in prayer. The way is open, the channel is clear, and God is listening because of the atonement of Christ.

What will you asking him for today?

Mark 4

Read Mark 4.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not hard to understand.

  • God is holy and hates sin.
  • Humanity–as a group and individually–has rebelled against God and chosen to sin.
  • Christ died for our sins and rose again to give us spiritual life.

That is the Good News in a few basic bullet points. There is depth behind those bullet points to be learned and explored, but the message is not difficult.

So why don’t more people become Christians?

Mark 4:1-25 gives the answer. The answer, in a brief statement, is that most people aren’t prepared spiritually to receive the gospel. Either their hearts are hard and Satan can steal the message from them (v. 15) or their hearts are shallow so, even though they like the message, it never transforms them (vv. 16-17) or they are distracted by common human struggles (vv. 18-19).

More people don’t become Christians because their hearts need to be prepared by the Holy Spirit to receive the message of Christ.

This parable of Christ is emphatic that the problem of unbelief is not a problem with God’s word. God’s word is widely distributed (vv. 3-4, 21-23). It is powerfully productive as well (v. 20).

Yet, too often, Christians want to change the message instead of asking God to change the hearts of those who hear it.

Christians want to de-emphasize the doctrine of God’s eternal justice (aka hell) to make the message easier to hear. Or God’s love is given more emphasis than God’s holiness. Or God’s law–his righteous standards–are denied or re-defined.

Unbelief is not the result of a defective gospel; it is the natural product of sinful, unprepared hearts. The answer, then, is to ask God to prepare and open the hearts of people to receive the Word. That’s what makes some soil “good soil” (vv. 8, 20). It is also what Jesus is getting at when he said, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you” (v. 11). God opened the minds and hearts of the disciples to receive the gospel. That’s why they were saved.

As Christians, who are commanded by God to spread the gospel message, two points are crucial to take from this chapter:

  1. Don’t mess with the message! It produces great results on its own (v. 20) because it is God’s word (v. 14).
  2. Do pray for those you want to reach for Christ. Ask God to prepare their hearts to receive the good message of God’s word.

Mark 2

Read Mark 2.

Who is most deserving of the chance to hear the gospel?

You and I both know the right answer to the question, “Who deserves to be saved?” The right answer is “nobody” because we’re all sinful and guilty before a holy God.

But who among us guilty sinners most deserves to hear the gospel message? If not everyone on earth can receive the gospel witness in his or her lifetime, then who should we evangelize first?

Jesus answered that question here in Mark 2:17 when he said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” This statement of Jesus was in response to the Pharisees’ criticism that Jesus ate with “tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus explained that these sinners received his attention because they needed it the most.

At this point in his ministry, a disinterested observer might argue that Jesus should have spent his time with the Pharisees because they had already demonstrated a clear interest in spiritual things. The sinners he chose to be with, by contrast, had turned away from God’s word. They had heard it in their homes and synagogues growing up but had chosen to live a different kind of life. For these reasons, the Pharisees would appear to have been a more receptive audience to Jesus than the tax collectors and other sinners.

But the key word in that last sentence is “appear.”

The Pharisees were all about appearances and their spiritual interests were about appearing righteous before others, not really becoming righteous. Sinners, by contrast, had the appearance of righteousness ripped from them when they sold out to become tax collectors, or thieves, or prostitutes, or whatever. The benefits they had received at first from their sinful lifestyles were diminishing when Jesus came into their lives and they were now experiencing the heavy costs of a sinful lifestyle. In a society as judgmental and rigid as theirs, it would be impossible to reverse course, stop collecting taxes, and become a respectable man again. These companions of Jesus–these sinners–were ripe for the grace of repentance and faith. That’s why Jesus wanted to be with them.

Who then is most deserving of the chance to hear the gospel? Well…, all sinners need it, of course, so we shouldn’t be picky when opportunity comes along.

When it comes to who we intentionally try to reach, however, we should think like Jesus did. So many churches have started in our area recently. How many of them are seeking to reach the poorest areas of Ypsilanti. How many are attempting to reach the working class family that is out of work or the single mother on welfare? How many of them are reaching out to the many Muslims who have moved into our area? How many have created prison ministries or outreaches to addicts?

How about our church? Literally surrounded by corn, we are a church located where the suburbs and the farms meet. That’s where God put us so we should try to reach those around us.

We have poor people around us, too, that we serve through our food pantry. There are addicts and alcoholics in every place–urban, suburban, and rural–so we have those around, too. Have we done as Jesus did and looked for people who may be ready to hear about true hope in Christ?

Romans 5

Read Romans 5

Romans 4 told us that people are declared righteous by faith and that righteousness was secured by Jesus Christ. Today in chapter 5, verse 1 told us that the result of being declared righteous by faith is that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The next several verses went on to describe the future (v. 2b, 9-11) and present results of God’s grace to us in Christ (vv. 3-5).

Verses 12-21 describe the “one to many” aspects of sin and salvation.

It was by one man’s sin that many became sinners (vv. 12-14). Likewise, one man’s gift made many righteous (vv. 15-21). Since the gift (vv. 15–2x, 16–2x, 17), that is, the grace (vv. 2, 15–2x, 17, 20, 21), of Jesus has accomplished the salvation of many, grace now reigns in Jesus Christ (v. 21).

The “reign” of that grace specifically is to “to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (v. 21). This is one of the things we mean when we say that we live in the “age of grace.” It is true that there are still billions of sinners on the earth and that physical death still holds power over all sinners. But it is also true that God is saving millions of people around the world through the grace that came through Jesus Christ. The “age of grace” is here; God is saving people through Jesus Christ.

This is something to remind ourselves of as we talk with unbelievers. Instead of avoiding talk of eternity, we should believe the truth that God is saving people through Jesus Christ–and that his grace which saved us is available to save others.

Paul was “not ashamed of the gospel” because “it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” His confidence in the gospel is what made him an effective witness for Christ–not his experience or his rhetorical abilities. Let’s believe God’s word ourselves that in this age of grace he will use us for the salvation of many and look for ways to share that truth with others.

Romans 4

Read Romans chapter 4.

Romans 3, which we read yesterday, considered the central idea of Christianity–that reconciliation with God comes as a gift from God. It is not earned by those who work for it or deserved by living a righteous life. It is a gift received by faith when a person believes in the good news.

If you’ve received the gift of salvation in Christ, God is just as much your God as he was the God of Abraham, David and others.

Here in Romans 4, Paul goes into more detail about that truth.

Paul demonstrated from the Old Testament scriptures that Abraham was given righteousness by faith (vv. 1-3) and so was David (vv. 6-8). But–wait a minute–both David and Abraham were circumcised. That was a physical, permanent mark that they were under a special covenant with God. We Gentiles don’t have that mark–OK, some Gentile men are circumcised, but not as a religious act. So chapter 4 here anticipates the objection of Jewish people that they have a special relationship with God because they have a special covenant with God symbolized and applied to them by circumcision.

Paul points out in this chapter that Abraham was declared righteous by faith before he was circumcised (vv. 9-12; see Gen 15:6, 17:9-27). Our connection to Abraham spiritually, then, was by faith not by the covenant of circumcision (vv. 16-17). Just as Abraham believed God’s promises at multiple points in his life (vv. 18-22) we must believe God’s promises are applied to us through faith in Jesus (vv. 24-25).

When God declared that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness,” that was said for our benefit as well as his (vv. 22-23), to show us that it was not obedience to some religious or moral code but faith that gave Abraham a righteous standing before God.

What about you?

Are you reading these chapters in scripture and this devotional to try to get some greater recognition from God? If so, you’re missing the point. There is nothing you can do to earn any favor it all with God. That’s true before you become a Christian and after. The death and resurrection of Jesus did everything that was necessary to give you all of God’s favor that you could ever have (vv. 24-25).

Learning and obeying God’s word are how we grow in the grace God has given us, not how we get more grace or deserve his favor. Whatever you are doing as a Christian–learning God’s word, praying, serving God, giving–keep it up, but do it for the right reasons. Don’t do it to earn God’s favor; that’s actually displeasing to him. Do it because you love him and want to grow to be more like him.

Romans 3

Read Romans 3.

On Friday we read in Romans 2 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, he 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). This puts Gentiles like us 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.

2 Corinthians 13

Read 2 Corinthians 13.

Paul wrapped up this letter by warning the Corinthians again about his coming visit. He was hopeful, as we saw in earlier chapters, that his visit would be warm and affirming. Yet, he was concerned about how he would be received and whether or not he would have to deal with those who were in sin through church discipline (v. 2b).

Rather than waiting for Paul to arrive and sort the situation out, it would be better if the church examined and corrected itself. So, Paul urged them in verses 5-6 to examine themselves “to see whether you are in the faith.”

If someone is a genuine believer in Christ, certain things will be true. One of those things is dealing properly with sin in his or her life. Genuine Christians sin and may resist dealing with sin for a time, but no genuine Christian will be complacent when there is serious, ongoing sin in their lives over an extended period of time. Anyone who calls himself a Christian but lives in sin for an ongoing length of time is either headed toward God’s discipline in his or her life or not one of God’s children at all. Since the Corinthians were once again tolerating unrepentant sin in their church (v. 2), Paul called them to examine themselves.

There are some Christians who struggle with doubts about their salvation, some for many years. These believers live in a state of continual self-evaluation. Since none of us is perfect, there is always evidence of our sinfulness in our lives. Many Christians overlook all the positive growth and godly character qualities they have developed and focus only on their in struggles. This passage really isn’t for them.

Instead, this passage is for those who are highly confident of their salvation, but display little to know fruit in their lives–no souls saved, no growth in holiness, nothing really but an empty profession of faith. That person is in a dangerous place because their lives show more evidence of unbelief than of genuine faith.

Could that be you? Does your life give evidence that you are a Christian or do you comfort yourself that you are a Christian based only only your profession of faith?

2 Corinthians 6

Read 2 Corinthians 6.

This chapter continues the thread of the past several chapters. Paul commended the ministry of himself and his co-workers to the fickle, loveless (v. 12) Corinthians. Verses 1-2 here in 2 Corinthians 6 wrapped up the discussion from chapter 5 about the importance of the gospel message which Paul and his men preached. Verses 3-10 laid out the reasons why Paul and his associates should be loved and championed by the believers in Corinth. Then, in verses 11-13, Paul directly urged the church in Corinth to give that love and acceptance to him and his coworkers in the gospel.

In verses 14-18 Paul changed the subject to the relationship the church in Corinth should have with unbelievers. This seems like a sudden change in subject, like a driver who unexpectedly made a right hand turn from the left hand turn lane. This is not Paul’s usual style for moving from one topic to another, so it is possible–likely even–that this section is connected to the previous section. Verses 11-12 pleaded for the Corinthians to “open wide your hearts also” to Paul and his associates. Those verses, plus this section, may indicate that Paul feared the church was turning away from his leadership and toward some other kind of spiritual leadership, a leadership that came from “unbelievers.”

Note how verse 16 says, “What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.” Given the strong presence of idolatry in Corinth, it might be that the Corinthians had moved from merely eating food offered to idols (as we saw in 1 Corinthians) and had begun mixing Christ with some of the other religious practices in Corinth.

If that is true and the Corinthians were flirting with idolatry in some way, then how would this passage apply to us today?

First of all, the most common application of this passage–don’t marry an unbeliever–would still apply. Verse 14 laid down a command that would apply across many dimensions of a believer’s life.

But, secondly, consider the phrase, “we are the temple of the living God” (v. 16b). The wording of that verse seems to suggest the entire church as God’s temple, not our individual bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Maybe the church in Corinth had begun accepting unbelievers into membership, treating them as if they were Christians even though they were freely mixing Christianity with idolatry.

Maybe they had begun using the idol temples as places for Christian worship and the unsaved population around them was confused.

Maybe they even began consulting with false teachers from the idol temples, borrowing some of their ideas to mix with the scripture.

These days there are churches that perform secular songs in their worship services. There are churches that recommend books and authors who are “spiritual” but not Christians. These would, in my opinion, be violations of this passage. 1 Corinthians 6, then, teaches us to be careful about how we treat those who don’t explicitly claim to follow Jesus.

We may read books by secular authors but we should never treat any book but God’s word as the authority on any subject. To do that would be placing that book on a level similar to scripture.

We certainly should allow unbelievers to attend our church After all, this is a place where they can hear the gospel and see it lived in our lives. But we should not act as if everyone who attends weekly is automatically a believer.

What is your relationship to unbelievers? The Bible certainly calls us to be in contact with them so as to give the gospel message and live out our faith among them. But be careful about giving them acceptance or an audience that is equal to or greater than the acceptance and authority of Christ himself.

2 Corinthians 3

Read 2 Corinthians 3.

Why is it that when people hear the gospel or read the Bible, some believe but others are unmoved, unchanged? How can someone study the Bible for years without coming to believe that Jesus is the Christ and that he died on behalf of sinners? How can a devout Jewish person read Isaiah 53 without falling to his knees to confess Christ, calling on God to save him?

The answer to these questions is here in 2 Corinthians 3: 14-16: “But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”

Anyone who knows how to read can read and interpret the Bible properly, but not everyone can believe what the Bible says.

Here in 2 Corinthians 3, Paul tells us that this is because we are blind, by nature, to God’s truth in Christ. The reason why people don’t see him in the Bible and come to trust in him is that “a veil covers their hearts” (v. 15). Only the work of the Spirit of God (v. 17) can welcome Jesus and believe the Bible when they encounter his truth.

Then, once we’ve come to know Christ by faith, we can study the Bible’s depiction of Christ clearly without the veil of unbelief over our eyes (vv. 17-18).

This is how we should pray for unbelievers that we’re witnessing to–that God’s spirit would open their spiritual eyes to see the light of Christ in the gospel. It is also why salvation does not depend on how good your presentation skills are or how perfect your arguments for Christianity may be.

Salvation is a spiritual act; it requires the work of God’s Holy Spirit. So ask for the Spirit’s help when you witness, the Spirit’s illumination, conviction of sin, and regeneration in the hearts of those to whom you witness.