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.

2 Corinthians 11

Read 2 Corinthians 11.

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

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

This danger continues for us today.

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

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

2 Corinthians 7

Read 2 Corinthians 7.

At the end of chapter 6, which we read on Friday, God’s word told us not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (v. 14). One reason to obey this command is the promise of God in verse 16, “I will be their God, and they will be my people” and the promise in verse 18, “I will be a Father to you… says the Lord Almighty.” These are promises of a unique, personal, family relationship with God. What relationship with an unbeliever can replace that? There is no greater promise that could be made to a man or woman than this kind of love from God.

Today’s passage began with the word, “therefore.” What Paul says in verse 1, therefore, is a conclusion based on those last few verses of chapter 6 where Paul repeated these promises of God from the Old Testament. Given that God has promised us this, what is the best way we could respond? According to verse 1, “let us purify ourselves… perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” As believers, we learn to choose righteousness over sinfulness, holiness over unholiness, by believing that God’s promises of fellowship with him will be better–far better–than anything sin can offer us, including the companionship of being yoked with unbelievers.

In the moment of temptation, this is one truth we can remind ourselves of to help us choose what is right over what is sinful. This isn’t the only thing we have to help us be holy, but it is a powerful motivator when the lure of temptation draws us toward sin. Since we reverence God, let us choose what is holy over what is unholy. May God grace us to do that today.

1 Corinthians 10

Read 1 Corinthians 10.

This chapter concluded Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians on the matter of eating meat offered to idols.

The chapter began by pointing to Israel’s history (vv. 1-5). It reminded the Corinthians how much God did for the entire nation (vv. 1-4). But it also reminded them how many in that nation fell under the judgment of God due to their unbelief (v. 5).

That survey of Israel’s exodus was addressed to the Corinthian believers who believed they were strong in Christ and could exercise much Christian liberty. Yes, God had done much in their lives and in their church but he did much for Israel, too. God’s powerful acts for Israel did not prevent Israelites from worshipping idols (vv. 6-7), committing sexual sins (v. 8), testing Christ (v. 9), and being complainers (v. 10).

We too have received much from Christ but that should never lead us to believe that we are immune from sin (vv. 11-12).

Although idols aren’t real and there is no spiritual or moral damage done by eating meat offered to idols, there is temptation associated with idol meat. That temptation is idolatry (v. 14). The idols are not real gods or even representatives of real gods; nevertheless idolatry is demonic (v. 20).

If the Corinthian Christians participated in Christ through communion (vv. 16-17) then went to the idol’s temple and were involved there (vv. 18-22), they were participating in the demonic. Paul said they would face the Lord’s discipline (vv. 21-22) for those actions.

It is important, then, whenever a Christian exercises Christian liberty not to focus on themselves but on others around them (vv. 23-30). The guiding questions for a Christian’s life are:

  1. Am I playing with temptation to sin but calling it Christian liberty (vv. 12-13)? and
  2. Is God glorified by this (v. 31)–meaning does it help or create obstacles to the spread of the gospel in the lives of others (vv. 32-33)?

Christians may answer these questions differently on the same subject.

Here’s an example: One issue that Christians debate is whether it is acceptable to drink alcohol. The Bible condemns and warns against drunkenness but not against all consumption of alcohol.

Christ himself drank wine and most Christians have consumed wine throughout the century until very recently.

But alcoholism is a serious problem in our world and many Christians were saved from a sinful life where alcohol was part of their sinful lifestyle. Some of these Christians stopped drinking completely in order to live an orderly, obedient life to Christ.

Personally, I don’t drink at all for several reasons, but if I did, I would be exposing myself to temptation–the temptation to drink too much and the possible reckless things I might do while drunk. So, if I were to choose to exercise my Christian liberty by having a beer, my faith in Christ and desire to please him should lead me to be careful about having more than one or two, lest I give into temptation (vv. 12-13).

Also, it may not be wrong for me to drink a glass of wine, but if I knowingly drink when I’m with another believer who doesn’t drink because he has less self-control, then I am sinning by putting him into a position where he may be tempted.

So the limits of Christian liberty are about avoiding temptation myself and not leading another believer or unbeliever to sin (v. 32).

Is there an area of your life where you’re living in Christian liberty but you’re tempted to go further into something that is sinful? Are you considerate of the affect of your life on others–either leading them closer to Christ or misleading them from following Christ? Let these chapters from 1 Corinthians help you to guide your thinking as you make choices in everyday life.

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.

Hebrews 4

Read Hebrews 4.

Jesus had it easy, right? Sure, he had to contend with the limitations of human nature during his days on earth. But since he was God he did not have to worry about being “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (3:13). He knew what a liar Satan is and how sin offers us pleasure that it cannot ultimately deliver, at least not for long. So it was easy for him to live the faithful life that chapter 3 talked about, right?

At least, it was easier for him than it is for us, it seems. So the statement here in 4:15 that our high priest “has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” feels a bit hollow, yes?

Well…, think about it this way: imagine you are running a marathon-26.2 miles. Some people drop out after a mile, some after five miles, some quit 10 miles in, and so on. You’ve done some training and are in the best shape of your life, but from mile 10 onward your legs are just screaming to you, “Stop it!”

You have the ability to quit at any time.

You can drop out of the race anywhere.

So who feels punishment of running the most, the person who completes the entire race or the one who drops out after a mile? Who feels the discomfort of high winds the most, the runner who quits at mile 5 or the one who finishes the race? What about the hot sun? Who gets burned the worst, the runner who quits after the finish line or the one who quits at mile 15? Whose foot blisters hurt the most? Who suffers most from the internal arguments that your brain engages in to try to get you to quit?

All of these problems are felt most acutely by the runner who completes the race. Whether he or she is in better shape than you or not, the toll of the race is felt most fully by the one who completes it.

Similarly, when I was in seminary my systematic theology professor said that only the one who withstands temptation completely knows the full force of it. If you give into temptation before the temptation goes away, you haven’t experienced the full intensity of it.

So Jesus, the “one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (v. 15b) is able to “empathize with our weaknesses” (v. 15a) fully because he successfully endured every scheme the devil had to throw at him.

Sure Jesus had a perfect nature but so did Adam and he quit after the first half mile. Jesus, however, endured every temptation obediently. He finished the race so he felt the difficulty of it more than anyone else who has ever lived.

This is why the author of Hebrews urges us to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (v. 16).

You may be tempted to throw your faith away (v. 14c) at some point in your life; in fact, you probably will be tempted to do that somewhere along the way.

But the best thing you can do when you feel tempted to sin in any way is to go to Jesus in prayer. Many of our failures to live a holy life by resisting temptation are due to relying completely on ourselves and our willpower instead of coming to Christ for the mercy and grace he offers. So, go to him in prayer when your faith is weak and your desire to sin is strong.

He’s finished the marathon, he knows what it is like, and he will help you if you ask him for it.

2 Samuel 11, Daniel 1, Psalms 111-113

Read 2 Samuel 11, Daniel 1, Psalms 111-113 today. This devotional is about 2 Samuel 11.

The most famous passage in 2 Samuel stands before us today. There are several lessons to be learned from David’s sin but the one I want to focus on today is in verse 3: “The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” That verse was the answer David’s received when he asked for information about Bathsheba; verse 3 says, “David sent someone to find out about her.” That statement is vague; what exactly did David want to find out? 

  • He might have merely been seeking her name. If that’s the case, then all he needed to hear was “Bathsheba.” 
  • He might have been seeking her marital status. David already had several wives (2 Sam 5:13) so he might have been willing to add one more if she were single. Given that Bathsheba did not yet have any children, she was probably still very young. The fact that the man who was sent to find out about her mentioned her father first in his report might be a clue that this is what David was after.

The most important bit of information that David got in verse 3 was the news that she is “the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” That should have ended the conversation right there. She was another man’s wife. It was therefore inappropriate for David to have any further contact with her and he knew it.

He also knew that her husband wasn’t home. David was usually out with his army (v. 1) and doubtless knew who Uriah was. It was unusual for a Hittite to convert to Judaism and fight in Israel’s army. He also was, obviously, a very loyal and righteous man (vv. 6-13). It seems clear that David knew her husband was away fighting the Lord’s battle which was David’s battle as well.

The fact that David, having heard that she was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, immediately “sent messengers to get her” (v. 4) indicates that he saw the opportunity to sin and he took it. If her husband was at home with her or could be home soon from work or whatever, David may never have attempted to get with her.

Instead, his sin was made possible by (1) not being where he should have been (v. 1) (2) being bored (v. 2) and not finding a righteous way to occupy his mind (3) acting on his lust when he saw something he shouldn’t have seen (v. 2). (4) ignoring the obvious boundaries (her marriage and her husband’s diligence in his duty as a soldier) (5) deciding that her husband’s absence was an opportunity to sin.

It seems clear that David did not intend to sin when he stayed home from fighting. It wasn’t his fault that he had insomnia or boredom. It is unfortunate that he didn’t respond by his boredom by spending time with one of his wives or playing his harp or going to the tabernacle (it was open 24/7/365) or reading God’s word.

The fact that he didn’t do any of those things wasn’t a sin either. He probably didn’t intend to be a peeping Tom when he went out on his roof at night. People used their roofs in his time like we use a deck or patio today.

But, as innocent as all of David’s intentions or actions may have been through verses 1-3, they still put him in a vulnerable place. Temptation does this to us. It takes situations that we innocently wander into and presents us with opportunities we think we might be able to get away with. 

There are a few lessons, then, to learn from this situation:

  • Be careful when you’re not doing what you normally would be doing.
  • Be careful about how you handle your boredom.
  • Be aware that temptation sneaks up on you when you least expect it. 
  • Respect the boundaries God has put into place. They exist to warn you that danger lies beyond them.

Ultimately, though, none of us can avoid temptation. We carry around depravity in our hearts and it is easily aroused. Jesus saved us from the consequences we deserve for being sinners and for sinning but he also commands us and empowers us to live a holy life. We need to pray, “Lead us not into temptation” just as Christ taught us to pray because we are weak and temptation is so powerful. Let David’s compromises and sins cause you to turn to Christ for help each day.

1 Samuel 13, Ezekiel 24, Colossians 3

Read 1 Samuel 13, Ezekiel 24, and Colossians 3 today. This devotional is about 1 Samuel 13.

Although Samuel had retired as a judge, he continued his ministry as priest. In today’s passage Saul wanted Samuel to come to Gilgal and perform a priestly function, namely to offer sacrifices on behalf of Israel’s army as they went out to fight the Philistines (vv. 7b-8).

It is important, when reading this passage, to realize that Saul’s men—including his son Jonathan—were already engaged battle with the Philistines at Geba (v. 3). The battle was not going well (vv. 6-7b) and the Philistines had shown up in large numbers and with heavy equipment for the fight (v. 5). But instead of attacking and helping their Israelite brothers who were already battling, Saul was told by Samuel to wait for a full week (8a)! Yet even after the full week had passed, Samuel did not arrive.

Fearing an attack at any moment (v. 12a) and wanting the Lord’s favor on them (v. 12b), Saul decided to take matters into his own hands. He offered the sacrifices himself instead of waiting for Samuel any longer (v. 9).

Samuel arrived almost instantly after the offering was given (v. 10) and he confronted Saul about his disobedience (v. 11a). Saul explained his justification for acting as he did. The situation was dire, he had already waited a week, and the timeframe Samuel gave him had expired (vv. 11b-12).

But Samuel had no time for Saul’s explanation. Saul’s act was an act of disobedience. Twice Samuel told him, “You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you” (v. 9, 13b, 14c). Saul’s act was motivated by fear, not faith. Like all disobedience, it was the result of unbelief. Whenever we knowingly do what is wrong, we believe in that moment that we will be better off doing what seems right to us than what God said.

Also, like Saul, we usually have good reasons for what we did. At least, we have reasons that seem good to us in the moment. If Samuel had only shown up on time for the appointment, none of this ever would have happened. If Samuel had decreed a more reasonable timeframe, one that did not leave God’s people so exposed to attack, Saul would not have disobeyed.

If you recall a major sin in your life, I’ll bet you remember thinking that your sin was justified in this one instance.

Adam and Eve had their excuses, too, and so has every one of us who has ever sinned against God.

Saul may have had his reasons, but God had his own response. Samuel told Saul that, as a result of his choice to sin, his kingdom would not endure (vv. 13-14). He reigned in Israel for forty-two years (v. 1)—a nice long tenure, to be sure. But his son Jonathan would never be anointed king after him, nor would any of Jonathan’s children or any of their generations after.

Remember this:

Our justifications for disobedience may help us dampen our guilty conscience or defend ourselves against the questions and allegations of others, but we are only fooling ourselves, not God.

God is gracious to forgive our sins when we turn to him in repentance, but rarely does God choose to stop the chain-reaction of consequences that our disobedience triggers.

When we feel the pull of temptation in our lives, passages like this one encourage us to trust God and obey instead of following our fear, our desire, our rationalizations. God was more than able to deliver Israel if Saul looked to him in faith and obeyed his commands. He is more than able to take care of you and me if we trust and obey his word, too.

Deuteronomy 31, Jeremiah 23, 2 Corinthians 7

Read Deuteronomy 31, Jeremiah 23, and 2 Corinthians 7 today. This devotional is about 2 Corinthians 7.

At the end of chapter 6, God’s word told us not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (v. 14). One reason to obey this command is the promise of God in verse 16, “I will be their God, and they will be my people” and the promise in verse 18, “I will be a Father to you… says the Lord Almighty.” These are promises of a unique, personal, family relationship with God. What relationship with an unbeliever can replace that? There is no greater promise that could be made to a man or woman than this kind of love from God.

Today’s passage began with the word, “therefore.” What Paul says in verse 1, therefore, is a conclusion based on those last few verses of chapter 6 where Paul repeated these promises of God from the Old Testament. Given that God has promised us this, what is the best way we could respond? According to verse 1, “let us purify ourselves… perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” As believers, we learn to choose righteousness over sinfulness, holiness over unholiness by believing that God’s promises of fellowship with him will be better–far better–than anything sin can offer us, including the companionship of being yoked with unbelievers.

In the moment of temptation, this is one truth we can remind ourselves of to help us choose what is right over what is sinful. This isn’t the only thing we have to help us be holy, but it is a powerful motivator when the lure of temptation draws us toward sin. Since we reverence God, let us choose what is holy over what is unholy. May God grace us to do that today.