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.

Mark 9

Read Mark 9.

Because we are sinners, it is easy for us to tolerate the existence of sin. If someone sins against us, that can be tough to take, but if we see one person sin against another or we sin against someone else, it is easy to excuse it. We don’t condone sin directly, but we say to ourselves, “I’ve sinned too” or “I’m capable of doing that” or “I’ve been tempted to do that” or the ever-present, “Nobody’s perfect.”

Jesus coached us to be much harder on sin than we are. Not to be hard on the sin of others, but to be hard on ourselves. We read about that in verses 42-48. In verse 42, he warned us not to cause someone else to “stumble.” Stumbling means to fall into sin.

Ultimately, we cannot force someone into sin but we can tempt him or her to sin. We can also put someone else in a position where they will be tempted to sin. I can’t make an alcoholic take a drink of whiskey, but I could invite him to go bar-hopping with me. If he decides to come along with me but tells himself he will not drink, he will find himself in an environment where it is easy to compromise. “Just one drink one glass of beer” he may tell himself as he orders a drink from the bartender. But then one glass may lead to two and, pretty soon, he’s falling down drunk. It was his choice, but I laid down in front of him and said, “Don’t trip and stumble over me!”

Jesus said that someone who causes one of his children–a believer–to sin will receive harsh punishment from God. He said it would be “better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” That sounds like a terrifying way to die, drowning to death and unable to stop it. But Jesus said a person who drowns that way will be better off than the person who causes another believer to sin.

In verses 43-48, Jesus went on to warn us about causing ourselves to stumble. His advice was to deal radically with our sin. If it is your hand that causes you to sin, cut it off! Why? Because it is better to deal with the horrible wound of amputation and the disability of that amputation than to go to hell. Same with your eyes; if one of them causes you to sin, get rid of it so that you won’t go to hell.

What do we make of these warnings from Jesus? Is he suggesting that some sin could cause us to stumble so thoroughly that we lost our salvation?

No.

Salvation does not depend on our efforts but on the grace of God. The point of these verses is not to teach us how to deal with sin. Our hands and eyes don’t actually make us sin; it is our hearts that lead us to sin. A person with no hands or feet or eyes or hearing still has a heart that desires evil things.

And that’s the point of these words–to teach us that nothing we can do would be radical enough to rid us of the sin tendencies that will condemn us to hell. Only God’s righteousness, credited to us in Christ, can get us forgiveness for the sins we have committed and will commit.

But, once God’s grace has saved you, it will change you. God gives each believer the Holy Spirit and a new nature within. These acts of saving grace will change our evil hearts so that we actually learn to say no to sin and yes to righteousness.

So the person who believes they will be saved on the day of judgement but who is careless and callous about his or her sin should read this text and realize how much trouble they are in. They should feel the desperation of a certainty in hell and fall on the mercy of God, asking him to save them from the eternity they deserve.

And God will be there to hear that prayer. God will answer that prayer of faith with full forgiveness and give you the power to change without amputating your limbs.

God sees the true danger of sin and wants us to be much harder on it than we tend to be, calling out for his grace and help. If you’ve never trusted Christ, this is what you need to do because cutting off your limbs won’t stop you from sinning. If you have trusted Christ, you need to pursue holiness in your life, asking God to cleanse you when you sin but also to purge from you the desire to sin, replacing it with a passion to be holy like he is.

Romans 7

Read Romans 7.

Woven throughout this letter to the Romans have been some significant teaching passages about the law. In the past couple of days, we’ve read that the law increases sin (5:20) but that, in Christ, we’re no longer under the law (6:14, 15). Today’s reading in chapter 7 was written to clarify our new relationship to the Law in Christ.

The chapter opened by explaining why we are no longer under the law (vv. 1-6). A widow is no longer under her marriage covenant because her husband died. In a similar way, Christ’s death freed us from the covenant of the Old Testament law (vv. 4-6). Because of the things that were said about the law in previous chapters, someone might wonder whether the law was a bad thing–sinful, even (v. 7a). Verses 7b answers that with, “Certainly not!” Verses 7c-14 explain that the law teaches us what sin is (v. 7b) but that our sinful natures within are aroused by the law and use its commands to lead us into sin (vv. 8-11). The problem isn’t that the law is sin; the problem is that I am a sinner (vv. 12-14) so my sin nature reacts sinfully to the holy commands of the law.

In verses 14-25, we have a well-known passage where Paul described the struggle that he had with the law. Bible interpreters disagree about whether this section was describing Paul’s experience BEFORE he became a believer or AFTER his salvation. Although this devotional is not the place to explain why, I interpret this passage as describing Paul’s ongoing experience AFTER becoming a Christian. One reason is the phrase, “… in my inner being I delight in God’s law.” Unbelievers do not delight in God’s law; they hate his righteous standards. So it seems that Paul was describing what life as a believer was like, the tug-of-war between his new nature in Christ and his sinful nature which remained.

This section was autobiographical for Paul, but it wasn’t just about him. Every believer knows the struggle between desiring to live and please God in obedience to his word and the cravings of the sin nature within each of us.

As we saw yesterday, sin is destructive; its “wage” is death (6:23). In verse 24 here in chapter 7, Paul cried out, “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” Verse 25 has the answer, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” It is discouraging to fight sin because we feel the pull of temptation so deeply and too frequently give in to its destructive lies.

Our hope, however, is not in learning better self-discipline. It is in Jesus who will deliver us in eternity from those sin struggles. Be encouraged, then, even if you’ve sinned already today. Keep striving against sin–Romans 8 will help us with that when we read it on Monday–but look to Christ, not to yourself for deliverance from sin.

Romans 6

Read Romans 6.

In Romans 5, which we read yesterday, the Scriptures taught that the law produced sin and sin produced death (5:12-14). Sin was, in fact, multiplied by the law (v. 20) but the grace of Jesus also became more abundant where sin increased (vv. 20b-21).

Today in chapter 6, Paul raised the question, “Should we sin more so that there will be more grace?” (v. 1). Verse 2 quickly answered that question with a strong, NO!, then the rest of the chapter went on to explain why. Spiritually, we have been buried with Christ and raised to new life with him (vv. 2-4). Our new life in Christ has freed us from the power of sin (vv. 5-7). On that basis, we should consider ourselves dead to sin but alive to God (vv. 8-11) and, therefore, not allow sin to reign in our bodies (vv. 12-15).

Verse 15 asked a similar question to verse 1. Both the question in verse 1 and the question in verse 15 raised the possibility of us sinning. Verse 1 wondered if we should sin since sin makes grace more abundant. Verse 15 asks if we should sin because we’re not under the law but under grace. The implication of verse 15’s question seems to be, “If grace covers us, shouldn’t we just sin as freely as we want to?”

Paul’s answer again was, “No” because sin enslaves us while righteousness, which God saved us for, frees us (vv. 15-18). In verses 19-23, we were reminded that sin is deeply destructive. We quote Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death…” when we give the gospel but this verse comes in the context of teaching us Christians about sin and death, new life and freedom. There’s no problem with quoting Romans 6:23 in evangelism, but we should also quote it to ourselves when we are tempted. Though we still desire sin, the scripture reminds us that there is no “benefit” to us when we sin (v. 21). We are now ashamed of the sins we’ve committed in the past and the consequences of them brought death (vv. 21b, 23). On the other hand, when we choose to do what is righteous as slaves to God, then the “benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (v. 22b).

Sin appeals to us because it lies to us. If offers pleasure without showing us the price tag and the pain that follows it. It is true that Jesus’ grace is sufficient to cover any and all of our sins, but that salvation does not remove the consequences of those sins. The consequences of sin are death and pain and shame while the consequences of a righteous life are all positive–holiness and eternal life. When we understand the truth about sin and the power of Christ’s salvation, we see why making righteous choices in our lives is better in every way than trying to get the pleasures offered to us by sin.

Today you may face moments of temptation to sin. Keep this passage in mind. Christ liberated us from sin not to spoil our fun but to keep us from the death and pain and destruction that sin costs. So trust God’s word and choose to live righteously. You can do it because you have been raised with Christ.

Romans 2

Today let’s read Romans 2.

At the end of chapter 1 we read, “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (v. 32). That verse concluded a lengthy description in chapter 1 about why God’s wrath and judgment is being revealed against human wickedness. Humanity rejected God, therefore God has allowed wickedness to flourish within the human race. Rather than being fearful of God’s judgment, however, people keep on sinning and approve of others who sin.

Here in chapter 2, Paul turned from those who approve of sin and those who practice it to those who condemn and judge sinners (v. 1). Since those who approve of sin and sinners are condemned in chapter 1:32, we might expect that those who condemn sin and sinners would be approved by God.

No, said Paul, “because you who pass judgment do the same things.” There are no points for righteousness awarded to sinners who condemn other sinners. We may comparatively evaluate ourselves to be better than other sinners, but we still deserve God’s judgment because of our own sins (v. 3) and lack of repentance (v. 4). Instead of earning favor with God for judging other sinners, the self-righteous sinner is “storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath” (v. 5). All humanity–Jew or Gentile, self-righteous or self-declared sinner–are headed for judgment before Jesus Christ (v. 16). In verses 17-29, Paul narrowed his focus to his fellow Jewish people. He pointed out that even the most upstanding Jewish person has broken God’s laws (vv. 21-24) and that God wants people who inwardly, genuinely belong to God, not people who have the religious symbols of godliness (vv. 25-29).

As I discussed yesterday, Paul seemed to be laying out his doctrine of the gospel to these Roman believers so that they would receive him and support his ministry when he came to them. This chapter, then, was designed to show how Jewish people are under God’s judgment, too, just like their Gentile counterparts in chapter 1. This passage applies to Jews who reject Jesus in order to live self-righteous lives, but it also applies to anyone who thinks himself to be righteous by comparison to others yet who still sins.

Agreeing with God’s word about what is sinful is not impressive to God; what matters to God is obedience (v. 13) and we all fall short there. Tomorrow we will see the remedy to this in Christ. But even if we’ve received that remedy, we should take to heart the things said about the self-righteous in this passage. If you have any moral character at all, you will be able to find lots of examples of people who fall short of your moral virtue. But, if you have any honesty at all, you will have to admit that you fall short daily of your own standards, not to mention God’s moral standards. Instead of judging others in order to feel good about ourselves, God wants us to acknowledge our own failures to be perfect. Then, just as God showed compassion to us in Christ we should reach out to other fallen people around us with compassion and the hope that is found in the gospel.

Have you ever thought about the people around you not as your spiritual inferiors but as people who need God’s rescue to save them?

When we remember that we are all in the same moral boat as everyone else, speeding relentlessly toward God’s wrath, it gives us a greater humility about ourselves and a greater compassion for those who are bound in their sin and in need of salvation. So check yourself when you find yourself disgusted with others; they are not any different than you and I are, except that we have salvation in Jesus Christ.

Luke 5

Read Luke 5.

Anyone who watches us closely enough and critically enough will be able to detect at least some of our sins. We don’t spend all our time sinning but the desire to sin never goes away fully and, with the right circumstances and stimulus, our corrupted human nature is ready to pounce like a cat on the red dot of a laser pointer.

Yet, despite how thoroughly sin inhabits us, we live our lives mostly oblivious to our own sins, failures, and weaknesses. If you’ve ever had someone confront you for sinning against them and you didn’t realize or think about what you had done as sinful until they brought it up, you understand what I mean. We are well aware, usually, of the sins of others but often quite blind to our own.

It is interesting, isn’t it, the when Isaiah saw his vision of the Lord and his holiness in Isaiah 6, he became acutely aware of his own sinfulness. The same type of thing happened to Peter here in Luke 5:8. But neither Isaiah nor Peter was confronted directly by God about his sin. Isaiah saw the Lord on a throne highly exalted with angels calling “holy, holy, holy.” Peter saw Jesus miraculously fill his nets with fish. They did not hear a list of God’s moral attributes or a lecture about their own sins; they saw God’s power in action. That was enough to make them aware of their own sinfulness. Peter even begged Jesus to leave him alone (v. 8) because he recognized that the power of God was at work in Jesus (v. 9).

Fortunately for Peter, Jesus already knew how sinful Peter was and loved him anyway. Jesus even called Peter to follow him (v. 10b) and learn how to “fish for people.” Jesus did this not because Peter’s sins weren’t as bad as he said or that he was confident the Peter would grow out of them. Jesus did it because the same divine power that brought the fish to the net would redeem Peter from his sins and change him to become someone who could serve God well.

The same goes for you and me. Jesus came looking for sinners to redeem so that he could transform us into holy men and women of God. So, let’s follow him and let him transform our lives.

Luke 4

Read Luke 4.

Before Jesus began his public ministry in verse 14, it was appropriate for him to win a private victory. Specifically, in order to preach righteousness to others, Jesus, as a man, had to practice righteousness first himself. That is one reason for his temptation in the wilderness in verses 1-13.

Although Jesus was fully human, his virgin conception kept him from receiving a fallen nature like the rest of us humans have. He did not have any inward pull toward sin like you and I have.

Therefore, Satan had to get creative in tempting him. First, Satan tempted him with food when he had been fasting (vv. 2-3). There is nothing sinful about eating food, so the temptation focused on Jesus using his divine power to create food. Again, there is nothing wrong with that; he used his divine power to create food when he fed the 5000. So this first temptation is hard to figure out; what exactly was the sin that Satan was trying to get Jesus to commit?

The answer is revealed in Jesus’ response to Satan in verse 4, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 and the context for that passage was how God provided manna for his people in the desert. In Deuteronomy 8:1 Moses instructed the people to “Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors.” In other words, receiving God’s promises was tied to obeying his commands. In Deuteronomy 8:2-3 Moses said, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” This was all a reminder to Israel that the most important thing they needed to do was obey God. If people obey God’s word, they do so because they are trusting God–trusting him to keep his promises and to provide what they need. Moses was reminding the people in Deuteronomy 8:1-3 that God provided for them in the desert so they should obey his word and trust him to care for and provide for them in the future.

Back to Jesus, then, and Luke 4.

Luke 4:1 told us that Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” and that he “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.” It was God’s will, then, for him to be there. He was sent there by divine appointment without any preparation. The desert is not a place where food grows naturally so if Jesus were to survive his time out there, God would have to provide for him.

The devil’s temptation, then, subtly suggests that God the Father and the Holy Spirit had abandoned him. So, Satan suggested, Jesus should use his powers as the Son of God to provide for himself. Jesus’ reply was that obedience was more necessary for human flourishing than food and that if he obeyed and waited, God would provide for him.

The temptation to sin, then, was a temptation to operate outside of submission to God the father and act independently of his own will.

This is what we do, really, every time we sin. When we sin, we believe the lie spoken by our sin natures, the devil, and the world around us. That lie is that obedience to God’s way is stupid because we can’t trust God to keep his promises, so we need to seek our own gain, our own pleasure, our own solutions to the problems in our lives, or whatever else.

So, where are you facing this kind of temptation today? Has God left you waiting somewhere, longing for something that you think he should have provided by now?

Don’t turn away from obedience for the false promise of sin. Just as Jesus resisted abusing his divine power by exercising it out of God’s will, live within God’s moral will yourself through obedience and wait for him to deliver and provide for you.

2 Chronicles 33 and Proverbs 31

Read 2 Chronicles 33 and Proverbs 31 today. This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 33.

Some human governments move back and forth like a pendulum and that’s what Judah’s leadership was like at times during the divided kingdom. After all the good that Hezekiah did during his lifetime, his son Manasseh came in and reversed it all.

Verse 2 declared that, “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord” and verses 3-6 catalog his sins which included idolatry (of course), desecration of the temple, child sacrifice, divination, witchcraft, and spiritism. His actions were so evil that verse 9 said, “Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites.”

God graciously sent his word to Judah (v. 10), then imposed punishment on him personally (v. 11). At his lowest point, however, “he humbled himself greatly” (v. 12b), “sought the Lord’s favor” (v. 12a) and God heard and delivered him (v. 13). It was genuine repentance, too, because verse 13c said, “Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.” He also “restored the altar of the the Lord” and “told Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel.”

So, if he was truly repentant and showed genuine fruit of repentance, why did verse 2 include him among the evil kings of Judah?

The answer is that the phrases, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” or “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord” describes a king’s leadership more than it does his personal walk with God.

Of course, those two things are deeply linked and an ungodly leader is, of course, almost always an ungodly man. Manasseh is an unusual edge case. Although he repented, his repentance came after many years of ungodly living and ungodly leadership. His soul may have been saved after his repentance, but that did not erase the influence of his ungodly life and leadership. Despite his repentance, Manasseh was an unqualified evil influence as king of Judah, so that’s why he’ll always be considered an ungodly king, despite his repentance.

Here is a lesson for us about the foolishness of sin. I don’t know if anyone sins thinking, “I’ll just ask forgiveness for this later.” Our sinful choices usually involve more kind of self-deception and justification than that.

But if anyone does think that way, they are missing a very important truth: your sin and mine leaves its mark on others. It gives them a way to justify their own sinful actions, a sort of “moral permission” that really isn’t moral at all but quiets their conscience enough to let them choose evil.

If you have influence over many people, many more of those people will try out your sin for themselves. May God help us say no to sin not only for our own spiritual health but also to prevent sin from spreading to those who follow our lead.

2 Chronicles 7, Proverbs 28

Read 2 Chronicles 7 and Proverbs 28. This devotional is about Proverbs 28:1 & 13.

A number of years ago I read a newspaper story about a man who was arrested in Chicago for a crime he had committed in Boston. I don’t remember all the details—and I haven’t been able to find the article online again—but whatever crime he committed was serious and something like 10 or 20 years had passed between the crime and his arrest.

If my memory is correct, he said he was relieved when they finally arrested him. Though he had managed to build a new life for himself and live undetected for a long time, the witness of his conscience and his fear of being captured weighted on his heart during the entire time. This is what verse 1 of Proverbs 28 means when it says, “The wicked flee though no one pursues….” It is the fear of being caught and the witness of one’s conscience that makes us panic when we’ve done something wrong and “gotten away with it.”

The contrast in verse 1b is, “…but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” This boldness is boldness in daily living, it is the confidence that comes from a clean conscience.

As sinners, we all know how nerve-wracking it is to have sin that you’re trying to cover. So, while “the righteous are as bold as a lion,” we have many moments in our life when we lack that boldness.

What should we do to recover a clean conscience? Verse 13: “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” Only confession and true repentance can restore a clean conscience. It is incredibly hard to voluntarily confess your sins, especially if there are consequences—even criminal penalties—that may result from confessing. But, God is “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4) and offers us forgiveness in Christ. Often people will be merciful, too, especially when someone voluntarily confesses without getting caught and demonstrates true repentance.

These verses remind us not only to repent of our sins; they give us good reasons to avoid sinning in the first place. There is moral power in living a righteous life and, by the grace of God, we can choose to do what is right and enjoy the freedom of a clear conscience.

1 Chronicles 5-6, Zechariah 3, John 18

Read 1 Chronicles 5-6, Zechariah 3, and John 18 today. This devotional is about 1 Chronicles 5.

As you’ve already noticed, the book of 1 Chronicles begins with a massive genealogy that goes from Adam (1:1) through Saul, the first king of Israel (9:44). Here in chapter 5:1-2, the author of 1 Chronicles reminds us of Genesis 49 where we learned that Israel (Jacob)’s first born son, Reuben, lost his birthright because he had sex with Bilhah, one of his father’s wives (35:22). Israel used that incident to justify giving the right of firstborn to Joseph’s sons (v. 2b). 

Reuben’s sin was costly to himself but that cost was carried forward and passed on to the generations that followed him. Did Reuben think he would get away it? Did he think at all or just follow his impulses?

I don’t know the answer but I can’t help but wonder if he would have sinned with his stepmother if he knew what the price would be. 

That’s how sin works, isn’t it? It never tells us the price up front and, because we all find our fallen nature so persuasive, we seldom think about what the cost of sin might be for us. Sin deludes us into thinking that we’ll never be discovered. It is only after the pleasure is gone and the consequences are revealed that we see how foolish our sinful decisions were. 

I wonder how many other generations, besides Reuben’s, throughout human history have been altered by the sin of one man like Reuben. I wonder how many of us are leaving a legacy of damage to our children and their children for sins that we commit.

Thankfully, one of Judah’s descendants would come along and make peace with God for all our sins. That descendant, of course, is Jesus. Through his loving sacrifice we have forgiveness by faith which keeps us from the ultimate consequences of our sin–the wrath of God.

But even though God has removed the ultimate penalty for sin, sin damages us in this life and, at times, can have ripple effects throughout generations that follow us.

God has graciously given us in his word examples of how people sinned throughout history and how much that sin cost them. Do we believe God’s word and prepare ourselves to say no to sin when temptation comes? Are you moving toward a course of sinful actions in your life that could affect generations after you? Learn from Reuben’s folly and repent before the damage is done.