Why does God Save?

The reason God saves has nothing to do with the worthiness or performance of those He saves. So why does He do it? He makes His purposes clear.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 20-21; James 1

Selected Verses

Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.  But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt. So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. Ezekiel 20:8-10

Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.  James 1:18

Reflections

Page after page, Ezekiel lays out the case against Israel and Judah. Their sin and unfaithfulness before a Holy God is an abomination. God would have been just and right to destroy them at the first failure, but He extended patience and relented again and again.  Why? Three times in chapter 20, He says “I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned” (vs. 9,14, 22). Another time He says “And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake, not according to your evil ways, nor according to your corrupt deeds, O house of Israel, declares the Lord God.” (v.44). The basis of God showing them mercy was the glory of His name–that His name not be profaned and that Israel should know that He is the Lord.

God showing mercy to His elect people benefits us in two ways.  One, the world can see (if we are willing to) that He is able to save His wayward sheep.  Two, His people come to know Him in truth. James sheds more light on the subject when he writes that “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” Why did God save His people? Because He wanted to. It was of His own will. God has no constraints. He has no obligations. He is completely free. He can do what He wants consistent with His holiness. What did He want to do? He wanted to save a people for Himself, the beginning of a new creation.

Think about it

God wanted to save His elect people and that is what He did. Are you one of His? If so, marvel at the greatness of His grace and mercy to you. Remember, you are secure in Him because the reason God saves has nothing to do with you.

God Never Lets Us Go

God never lets us go.  But what if we sin, grievously?  Does He still hold on to us? His Word gives us a clear and certain answer.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 16; Hebrews 12

Selected Verses

I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord,  that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord God.”

Ezekiel 16:62-63

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?  “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”  It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?   Hebrews 12:5-7

Reflections

Ezekiel delivers a brutal message to the exiles of Judah, a message filled with emotion and grief for the sins of God’s people in the face of His abundant mercy toward them. God poured out on them restoration and love when they were helpless and dying, but, as soon as they could, they responded with betrayal and spiritual adultery.

How did God respond to this? He cast them out of their land and sent them into captivity, but He did not forget His covenant with them. His punishment was discipline not rejection. There is a difference. God would restore them and keep His covenant with them. In fact, He would establish for them an everlasting covenant, a better covenant than the one they had broken.  What’s more He promised to atone for them for all that they had done (vs. 53-63).  That is precisely what He did through the death of His Son, Jesus, on the cross.

The Hebrew believers, too, were experiencing God’s discipline. The author of the epistle called them to count this discipline not as rejection but as evidence of God’s love toward His sons. Instead of doubting the salvation that is in Jesus Christ, they were to “strive for peace with everyone and for holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (v. 14). When this is not the case and one or more of God’s people fail to obtain the grace of God, a root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble. The whole church can be defiled as a consequence.

Think about it

Welcome discipline. Take difficulties from God’s hand and let Him show you His grace to endure, to grow in holiness, and to be trained by it. Remember He atones for our sin, and He never lets us go. Never, despite our grievous sin.  If we are His.

When God Makes a Vow

Biblical history shows that when God makes a vow, He swears by Himself for there is nothing and no one greater. It will be done. Always.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 51-52; Hebrews 6

Selected Verses

The Lord of hosts has sworn by himself: “Surely I will fill you with men, as many as locusts,
and they shall raise the shout of victory over you.” It is he who made the earth by his power,
who established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding stretched out the heavens. Jeremiah 51:14-15

 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.”  And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. Hebrews 6:13-15

Reflections

Just when all seemed lost forever, Jeremiah delivered a message from God to the exiles from Judah in Babylon. The Babylonians, by God’s command, had desecrated and destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. All that was precious to Judah was in ruins. The kingdom was humiliated.

But God called them to turn their thoughts back to Him and back to Jerusalem. Babylon would pay for her devastation. Babylon was about to go into ruins. God had sworn by Himself to bring about this prophecy. This God “made the earth by his power…and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.” Nothing can stop Him. He does all that He decrees. He swears by Himself for there is nothing and no one greater.

The recipients of the letter to the Hebrews also needed reminding of God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness. The writer exemplified this recalling to them how God kept His covenant promises to Abraham. God made His covenant with Abraham unilaterally as a smoking pot and flaming torch passed between the severed carcasses of a heifer, a female goat, and a ram while Abraham slept. [See Genesis 15.]   Like the displaced Jews of the Babylonian captivity and the aging childless Abraham, the readers of the epistle faced tremendous pressures to discouragement and even to renounce their faith. They needed to remember that God proved true then, and He would prove true again.

Think about it

If there is anything we can learn from the history of God’s dealings with His people, it is that He always fulfills His vows. He swears by Himself and He cannot fail. Do you wonder if God will complete His promises in your life? Do not doubt. You do not know how or when, but all that He vows to do, He will do. Trust Him.

Confidence in the Worst of Times

God’s people can have confidence in the midst of any kind of trial, because He keeps His hand upon them and uses the worst circumstances for good.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 46-48; Hebrews 4

Selected Verses

“But fear not, O Jacob my servant,
nor be dismayed, O Israel,
for behold, I will save you from far away,
and your offspring from the land of their captivity.
Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease,
and none shall make him afraid.
 Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
declares the Lord,
for I am with you.
I will make a full end of all the nations
to which I have driven you,
but of you I will not make a full end.
I will discipline you in just measure,
and I will by no means leave you unpunished.”   Jeremiah 46:27-28

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16

Reflections

Jeremiah delivered God’s messages of judgment on the nations. From chapters 46 to 51,  the prophet declares both God’s sovereignty over and His judgment upon the neighbors of Judah and Israel beginning with Egypt and ending with Babylon. But in the midst of these pronouncements, God reassures them of His salvation which He will accomplish. Jacob has nothing to fear. He “shall return and have quiet and ease.”   Jacob is still God’s servant and will be kept while the other nations are laid low. Israel will be disciplined but not destroyed.

The original recipients of the Epistle to the Hebrews seemed to be struggling with fear. The writer tells them not to be like those of another generation who doubted God and rebelled against Him in the wilderness. There are similarities with the New Testament believers who face giants in a Promised Land of rest. We, too, need to learn from those who fell in the wilderness, not to doubt God. Jesus is our High Priest. We can come to Him and find mercy and grace to help in the worst of times.

Think about it

The trials you face today are not beyond God’s knowledge and control. He will use them to discipline you for good. He will hear your pleas for mercy and grace and help you. Trust Him. Seek Him in prayer. He is able and willing to save you.

The Loving Kindness of God

Those who find God’s forgiveness and restoration always recognize two things: their own sinful unworthiness, and God’s loving kindness.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 33-35; Titus 3

Selected Verses

Give thanks to the Lord of hosts,
for the Lord is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever! Jeremiah 33:11b

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us. Titus 3:3-5

Reflections

Jeremiah’s prophecy is peppered with indictments for Judah’s persistent rebellion against God, His Law, and His prophets. But these lists of failures are also accompanied by reassurances that God will ultimately restore the people He has chosen for Himself. They will be blessed and they will be filled with praise and thanks to the Lord.

Paul wrote to Titus who had the unenviable task of organizing and teaching the congregation in Crete, a society known for being “liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons.” Indeed, Paul identifies himself with a list of vices and character flaws that rivals that of the infamous Cretans. He says he and others who have now been saved could be described as “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” It is not a flattering resume, to say the least.

Then God intervened. Everything changed. God the Savior came with His goodness and loving kindness and saved Paul and all upon whom He set His love.

Think about it

Many, like me, will agree that the more we know of God and of ourselves the more amazed we are of the goodness and loving kindness of the Lord. Words cannot describe the relief of sins forgiven, of salvation assured, of adoption as God’s son, and of purpose and calling to serve God. Days spent in malice and envy are now filled with gratefulness and service. No, none who know Him would claim to be sinless or perfect, far from it. But it is all of God’s grace and He will complete what He has begun.

Do you know the goodness and loving kindness of God who saves? If you do, lift up His praises today in all you do.

False Teachers: why they abound & what to do

False prophets and deceptive teachers are everywhere now and always. But do you know why so many follow them? Do you know how to protect yourself from them?

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 27-28; Second Timothy 4

Selected Verses

And Jeremiah the prophet said to the prophet Hananiah, “Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie. Therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will remove you from the face of the earth. This year you shall die, because you have uttered rebellion against the Lord.’”

 In that same year, in the seventh month, the prophet Hananiah died. Jeremiah 28:15-17

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. Second Timothy 4:3-5

Reflections

The answer is simple. People listen to false prophets and teachers because they prefer their message to the truth even when they suspect it is a lie.

In Jeremiah’s day, he was opposed by those who claimed to be speaking for God. One such person was Hananiah. He directly contradicted what Jeremiah was saying. The false prophet told the people that Nebuchadnezzar would not suppress them or anyone else. He assured them that the king would be returned from captivity and the stolen items from the temple would all be brought back and replaced. Jeremiah said not only would Judah be subjugated but all their neighboring kingdoms would as well. Someone was lying. Jeremiah was proven right when he prophesied of Hananiah’s death and it occurred on schedule. Would this convince everyone that Jeremiah was to be trusted? Read on and find out.

Paul was writing his final words to Timothy and to us. His warnings and charges are urgent. There would be difficult days ahead. People would not listen to sound teaching. Timothy would have to focus on fulfilling his ministry of preaching the word, including, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting. After all, that is what the Word of God does (Second Timothy 3:16).

Things have not improved in our time. Vast numbers of people still listen to those who tell them what they want to hear without checking to see what the Scriptures teach. “God is all love and everyone is going to heaven.” No! That is not what Jesus or the rest of the Bible says. “God just wants you to be happy and healthy.” No! God calls you and me to repentance and faith in Him. He looks for people with broken and contrite hearts, not presumptuous self-esteem. [See Psalm 51:17; Mark 1:15.]

Think about it

Study God’s Word. Watch out for the false teachers and phony prophets. They will end up like Hananiah.

Competition for Glory

When God is ignored or rejected, the vacuum left is filled with something else, something which usurps the glory due to Him.

Today’s Reading

 Jeremiah 14-16; First Timothy 5

Selected Verses

Can man make for himself gods?  Such are not gods! Therefore, behold, I will make them know, this once I will make them know my power and my might, and they shall know that my name is the Lord. Jeremiah 16:20-21

Command these things as well, so that they may be without reproach. First Timothy 5:7

Reflections

The messages in the prophecy of Jeremiah center around Judah’s failure to honor and worship God and the judgment that was about to come upon them. This judgment would spill over into the whole earth as God always has all the tribes, families, language groups, and nations in view, not only the Jews. Again and again the purpose of God to make Himself known to mankind comes piercing through.

In chapter 16, Jeremiah says, “to you shall the nations come” (vs. 19). The nations will come and confess that their fathers had believed lies and trusted in man-made gods. These were powerless and empty. God responds to this kind of confession and makes Himself known.

The Church of Jesus Christ has a special responsibility to be faithful to the Lord at every level, even in the matter of interpersonal relationships with older men and women, and younger men and women (First Timothy 5:1-2). Paul goes into detail about the care of widows, balancing corporate responsibility with familial obligations. There is a place for the church to assume a major role in the care of the true widow. Her character must be godly. She must have no other sources of support and be beyond the age of remarriage and childbearing. There were dangers of condoning laziness and sloth but also of selfishly neglecting widows (or others) who were truly in need. Paul’s thorough instructions aim to avoid excesses that would bring shame on the church.

Think about it

It’s all about knowing and glorifying God. That is why Judah existed and it is why the Church exists. Indeed, that is why mankind exists. Is that your purpose? Beware of other gods that creep into our hearts: self-glorification, power, prestige, pride. “Such are not gods!” Let nothing compete for God’s glory that you and–as far as it depends on you–His church be above reproach.

The Danger of Neglecting God’s Word

When we neglect the Word of God and the Scriptures are not taught or not heeded or both, evil feels normal and people stand under God’s judgment.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 11-13; First Timothy 4

Selected Verses

But if you will not listen, my soul will weep in secret for your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears, because the Lord’s flock has been taken captive. Jeremiah 13:17

Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. First Timothy 4:15-16

Reflections

Jeremiah describes Judah as those who have become “accustomed to do evil” (Jeremiah 13:24).  They have believed lies and lost the ability to do good. Doing evil feels normal.  They worship idols without hesitation.  The prophet says they have become useless like rotten underwear.  They live under the imminent threat of God’s judgment and their utter humiliation.

Is there any hope? They need a return to God’s covenant, His law.  They have neglected it both in the study of it and the doing of it.  Centuries later it was still a problem in New Testament times. Paul addresses that subject with Timothy.

Paul charges Timothy with teaching the church in Ephesus.  The goal is not merely that they get an education in the Bible but that they be trained in godliness.  Timothy is to model this for them, despite his relative youthfulness.  God calls pastors to grow and to make progress in the knowledge and practice of God’s Word.  Paul tells him to “immerse” himself in these things.

Think about it

If you are a pastor or church leader, do those you lead see your progress?  Do you challenge them by a life wholly given to growth in godliness based on the Scriptures?

While this is especially important for pastors, this same exhortation applies to all believers.  False teaching which is only slightly off-track from God’s Word can easily deceive us.  If we continue without course correction, over time we get farther and farther away from the truth.  Like Judah, we can become accustomed to do evil until it feels normal.  Beware of the life of your soul.  Immerse yourself in learning godliness through the careful study and application of God’s Word.

God Wins; Don’t Fight Him

At the end of this age, God wins. Each of us must decide today. Do we take Him as our God or substitute something else, something earthly?

Today’s Reading

 Isaiah 45-47; Colossians 3

Selected Verses

Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
“To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance.”   Isaiah 45:22-23

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. Colossians 3:5-6

Reflections

Isaiah predicts with detail the deliverance of Judah by Cyrus, king of Persia, an event that remained some 150 years in the future. God will do what He wills with mighty Babylonia. Judah will be conquered and taken into captivity by that empire, but then Babylonia would succumb to Persia and Cyrus would become the deliverer of Judah. God, through the prophet, keeps telling them “besides me there is no God” (45:5, 22; 46:9). When are they going to get this?

Paul calls the Colossians to holiness of life, beginning with their mindset. In order to focus on things above where Christ is, they are certainly going to have to turn away from the things below, earthly things like “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness.” Sexual sin–for most of us men–is easy to spot. Guilt can be quickly detected and hard to ignore or suppress.

Covetousness, however, is more subtle. It is idolatry! We want things that others have because we love stuff. We rely on things to make us happy. Stuff seems to fill the emptiness in our hearts left by an earthly mindset. In reality, when we covet we replace the worship of God with material things. God’s wrath is going to be unleashed on those who practice that sin. It is not a harmless, little snake, all cute and cuddly. It is a deadly python whose venom can kill multiple humans. Put it to death, Paul tells them.

Think about it

The final victory of God over all evil and rebellion against Him is indisputable. He wins! What is not clear is whether we will bow before Him now, calling for His mercy and salvation, or later when we come kicking and screaming before His judgment. Don’t fight God. Seek to set your mind on Him, now and always.

Why Nothing is Going Wrong

Ultimately, nothing is going wrong, because Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of all things, including us who believe in Him. His will is being done perfectly.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 41-42; Colossians 1

Selected Verses

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations. Isaiah 42:1

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,  and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.  Colossians 1:19-20

Reflections

Yesterday I asked, “Why is everything going wrong?” I tried to summarize the cause. But there is more to the story. In truth, nothing is going wrong, because all things are under God’s control and all things will culminate according to His plan and will.

Isaiah wrote to Judah and Israel, the divided kingdoms, where it seemed that their existence was hanging by a thread. He has called Israel “His servant” (41:9), but what a flaky servant she is! She cannot be trusted to be faithful to the Lord. Israel is quick to worship idols. She is blind to her own calling and history (42:18-25). What does God do? He chooses a new servant. Well, He is not really new because we learn He is the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.

This Chosen Servant has the Spirit of God upon Him. He will bring justice to the nations. He will not wear out or give up before accomplishing His work in the earth. How gracious of God to find Someone to do what Israel could not or would not do!

Paul writes much about Jesus, showing who He is and what He has done. [See also Ephesians 2-3].  Paul prays that the Colossians will grasp the truth about Jesus, because it is through His suffering on the cross that He has made peace and reconciled all things to Himself. Through Christ we “have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (vs. 14).

Think about it

We need to recognize the trends and problems of our society today and do what we can to forestall corruption. Yet more than that, we need to recognize that nothing intimidates or frustrates God. Jesus will not grow faint or discouraged before accomplishing His work of redemption in the earth. Should we? Take heart. From God’s viewpoint, nothing is going wrong.