Romans 5:1Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Having taken us through the process of what Christ has done for us, Paul outlines the blessings we have when we trust in Him as Savior. We stand before God justified, declared righteous. We stand before Him in a peaceful place, a place of grace, a place of joy. And we can see the purpose - sufferings are no longer places of doubt as to whether God is punishing us - they are places for us to grow in our character. And we do not stand alone. God has given us His Holy Spirit, who helps us in so many ways - comforting us in our sorrows, giving us hope, helping us overcome those doubts that the enemy tries to use on us. We stand in a much better place, the only place we want to be.
Romans 4What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due.5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”
Paul is taking us through the mental/spiritual process of understanding salvation by Grace through faith in Jesus Christ. As He does so, he takes us back to the Old Testament greats - often Moses and Isaiah, but here the double-barrel witnesses of Abraham and David. Both believed in the promises of God. Abraham preceded Moses as the father of the faith, and in a sense, trumps Moses. The classic statement concerning him is not about what He did, but what He believed, and allowed God to do. David, the high point of Jewish history, was also the picture of hope. This psalm is the parallel to the well-known Psalm 51, written after the Bathsheba incident. It is his first-hand count of forgiveness. The "Man after God's Own Heart", found his acceptance by God not in his perfect lifestyle, but in his accepting the forgiveness God offered through repentance and faith. Both greats - David and Abraham - tell the same story: We cannot impress God enough to earn His favor; all we can do is humbly admit our failure, our need of Him, and the forgiveness and life He offers us. There you have it.
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3) Before we jump on the bandwagon bashing these believers, let's remember that Paul was not doubting their faith. He was questioning their actions, their lifestyle. It's a temptation we all have. On the one extreme is legalism, where we fall back into our dependence on the flesh - trying to please God by our "doing", even when we know He accepts us by our faith. The other is libertinism, whereby we fall back into the desires of the flesh, as if our faith really does not matter in everyday life. When we live by faith, and the power of the Spirit, the flesh "stays in line", instead of taking over again. Both are foolish, because true wisdom says "I need God, I trust Christ, and Greater is He that is in me!" Let us live by the Spirit, and not by and for the flesh.
II Corinthians 4:16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. Glory. What a glorious word! Something that has weight, impact, influence. In reference to God it means so many things: the power of His presence, His perfect plan, His passion for His people. Part of the wonder of Creation and Salvation is that He is willing to give us glory - not taking away from His own, but entrusting to us as mankind dominion over the earth, and giving to us, as His redeemed people, a plan, a purpose, and a hope. We often are oblivious to such Glory, just as we are to God Himself. We cannot see, therefore we do not believe. But what is seen passes away; the One Who is Unseen, the King of Glory, is Eternal. So is the important stuff of what He promises. Do not lose heart. Do not give up. Let Him renew you day by day.
50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
The people of God were being shaken. They were beginning to see their loved ones pass away. Where was God in all this? Sometimes life does that to us. We get hit with the effects of the curse of the fall, including death, and we want to let go, get blown away, and give up. Paul reminds us to step back and see the big picture, then to stand firm in our faith - as the NIV puts it in verse 58: "Let nothing move you..." So whatever hits you in the face today, stand strong, keep on keeping on, trust in the power of Christ to see you through.
I Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.
18 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,”20 and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”21 So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours,22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours,23 and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.
Division in the Body of Christ. Paul hated it with a passion. He especially disliked people using him to create disunity. It is like tearing a temple down bit by bit. The opening verses above are often used as a call for personal purity, but that does not come till chapter 6. The call here is for having a solid building, a unified body. The NIV captures the gist well when it translates verse 17: "for God's temple is sacred, and you together are that temple." Don;t tear that temple down. Do all in your power today to "preserve the unity of the bond of peace." It begins in our thoughts and attitudes: staying humble, seeking wisdom, thinking "us", not "me". Be a building block, not a stone thrown at the building.
6Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away.7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.9 But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—
10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.11 For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. (I Corinthians 2)
Yes, read your Bible. But what if I don't understand it? What if it is boring? What if I've already read it? Because the Holy Spirit draws us and calls us to the Word of God. Before one knows Christ and has received the Holy Spirit, the Bible can seem like nonsense, but God uses His word to convict, not confuse. When one is struggling with the choice of whether to accept Christ or not, the Bible is able to convince, and not cave in to the lies of the one who is trying to steal the seed. When we have known Christ as Savior for a year or fifty, each and every time we look, the Spirit shows us more, as He sanctifies us and draws us closer to Christ. Is it always easy? No. Do we always get instant gratification? Not. But it is the investment that pays big time in our eternal well-being, helping us through daily life and the trials of life as we walk into eternal life.
I Thessalonians 4: 3For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor,5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. God's Will. Sometimes we act as if it's such an elusive dream, a spiritual greased watermelon we try to grab onto, but it keeps getting away from us. We make it too hard. God's will is our sanctification, our "putting to death" the old sinful nature and becoming more like Christ. Paul then gives the ever-present, all-American illustration: sexual purity in thought, word and deed. Is it any surprise our culture still struggles with it? God's will is not a priority. Simply put, Paul says we say no to immorality of any sort, that we allow the Spirit to control our passions, not our passions control us. He then points out the human side of the issue: social responsibility. As followers of Christ, we should be all about not only pleasing God, but purifying society, beginning with us. God's will is that we live with others in heart and mind, and that we not take away from them any of the "Divine Image" which He has imparted to them as God's special creation. We are not to look upon, speak about, or act towards others in an invasive way, as if they exist to please us. Paul concludes with a piercing thought: If we live as if we don't care... we don't care. We don't care about God's Will. So do we really have His Holy Spirit after all? Sobering thoughts for a selfish society.
II Thessalonians 2:13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. Paul- believe it or not - was human. He had frustrations and emotional struggles like any man, and any other servant of the Lord. Early in both of his letters to the Thessalonians he says "we always give thanks for you...", and both letters have a fairly positive tone. He can see God at work. But he's a little frustrated. He wants to see more and more love and service and sanctification. So here he says "But we ought to always give thanks to God for you...", as if we really does not feel like it. But he does anyway. He prays for what is best for them, for what we all need as believers: assurance of our salvation, continuing sanctification, standing firm on God's Word and will for our lives. Sometimes we just don't "feel like it." Do it anyway. Pray. Care. Trust. Do the right thing. Wait and watch for God to do more and more, even when you feel like giving up.
14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this.15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?”16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled.18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices.19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver.20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. (Acts 19.) The church was growing like wildfire as Paul shared the Gospel on his journey. After awhile, imitators started turning up. (sort of like Elvis impersonators). But in spiritual warfare, fakes reveal themselves quickly in the face of the enemy. We live a world where we want to look good to everyone around us. Appearance is everything. But God wants to reveal the true "us". He wants us to confess Christ, if He is our Savior, and He wants us to confess our hidden sins, in order to find victory over them. There are so many parts of the real "me" each of us need to let go of, in order to experience His power working in and through us. Take time today to ask yourself: "Who am I? Am I being genuine? Am I being a witness for Christ? What does He want to clean out so I can be the real me in public?"
Acts 8:4Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.6 And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs that he did.7 For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.8 So there was much joy in that city. I spent most of last month on this blog dwelling on what is means when Christ comes - to our town and to our lives. So what does it mean when Christians, His followers, believers come to town? Here in Acts we find out. Sometimes there was a lot of commotion, because the Gospel is in many ways so radical. But often there was great joy, because life, deliverance, cleansing and forgiveness has come. Do we have that kind of influence when we "come to town?" I recently heard an old complaint about Christians resurface - that when churchgoers go out to eat after church on Sunday, they are the worst patrons at restaurants; when they "come to town" to eat, they act anything but like Christ. There is no way we are going to "turn the world upside down" in a good way when we act this way. May our town rejoice when they hear we are coming, much more than when kids hear the man in red and white is coming.
Acts 4:23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them.24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them,25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,
“‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—
27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness,30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
This passage gives us a glimpse of what happens when God's people are all on the same page. Together we sing the praises of God. Together we understand how His promises are being fulfilled in our presence. Together we see why God has us where we are and what He wants to do. Together we find courage to do the hard things. Together we stand back and let Jesus shine through and the Holy Spirit control our lives, our hearts, and our voices. What a picture - not of what WE need to make happen, but what we need to allow God to do in us.