Sin: the lethal weapon

Many learn the hard way that without God’s grace to repent, we will hold onto unbelief until it kills us. Sin is truly a lethal weapon.

Today’s Reading

Jonah 1-4; Revelation 9

Selected Verses

And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”   Jonah 4:8-9

The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshiping demons and idols of gold and silver and bronze and stone and wood, which cannot see or hear or walk, nor did they repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts. Revelation 9:20-21

Reflections

Jonah was sent to Nineveh, a city so evil that God decided to bring judgment on it. But first, He decreed that they should have one last chance to repent. So he chose Jonah to go. We all know the story. Jonah went in another direction, was intercepted by the big fish, and learned that God could stop him anywhere. Then Jonah, like Nineveh, got a second chance to obey God. This time he obeyed, sort of. Jonah proclaimed God’s message to the city. Lo and behold, they repented, God relented and spared them.

Jonah was so angry he wanted to die. He appreciated what God had done for him, sparing him from a watery grave inside a fish. But now, he hated God’s mercy toward Nineveh that wicked city. He wanted to die, but God mercifully discussed the matter with him. Jonah got yet a third chance to get it right. We are left to wonder if he did.

In Revelation 9, conditions following God’s judgment were such that people were seeking death but for a different reason than Jonah. They sought death because they could not see any escape from the wrath of God. They had no hope. But they could not die, at least, not all of them. Did the survivors repent and call out for mercy, like the Ninevites before them? No! They persisted in their unbelief, their idolatry and demon worship.

Think about it

Why do some, under severe judgment, repent while others grow more hardened in rebellion against God? The answer is that God grants repentance to some and not to others. It is not a function of the severity of the trial or the eloquence of the preacher (Jonah was a reluctant preacher, at best). The difference is the sovereign work of God in the hearts of the hearers or sufferers. Here the Ninevites were wiser and more receptive than the fifth trumpet generation. Observe and learn from these examples: negative and positive. Without grace to repent, sin is lethal.

From a Cloud to a Kingdom

No fallen human being is able to merit favor with God, but He, by the work of His Son, changed His elect people from a cloud to a kingdom.

Today’s Reading

Hosea 5-8; Revelation 1

Selected Verses

What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:4-6

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Revelation 1: 5-6

Reflections

Hosea expresses God’s view of His people. He laments their instability. Their unstable love is like a morning cloud or dew. It melts away rapidly. Their sacrifices and burnt offerings were unacceptable for they were not done out of steadfast love or from knowledge of God. They went through the motions. What? Did they think God could be fooled? So the Lord, through Hosea, says “What shall I do with you?”

God Himself answered the question. What He did was to send His Son to free us from our sins by His blood. Why? Because He loves us. His love is unchangeable and unstoppable. Not only that, He desired a kingdom for His glory. His purposes are wise and good. Although Israel failed to become what He called them to be, through Jesus Christ, all the nations have been called to be a kingdom and priests to Him. And He is glorified and has dominion forever and ever.

Think about it

Unregenerate man attempts to please God with fleeting love and phony sacrifices, but God graciously acts to redeem a people who know God, who are freed from their sins and made a kingdom. A cloud vs. a kingdom, what a contrast! Give praise to God for His love and wisdom

Handling the Spiritual Conflict

Beware! The conflict of lawless people versus God’s people began in the Garden and continues to this day. Here’s how to handle it.

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 45-46; Second Peter 3

Thus says the Lord God: “Enough, O princes of Israel! Put away violence and oppression, and execute justice and righteousness. Cease your evictions of my people, declares the Lord God.”  Ezekiel 45:9

You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.  Second Peter 3:17-18

Reflections

God had a special message for the princes of Israel through the prophet Ezekiel. They were not to abuse their power bringing violence and oppression on the common people. On the contrary, they were to execute justice and righteousness. They were to abide by the same laws as everyone else in such matters as worship and property rights. There was to be no privileged class in Israel, not even the royal family.

The political situation of God’s people changed between Ezekiel’s time and Peter’s day. The Church did not live in their own designated land but was dispersed among the Gentile nations of the world (First Peter 1:1).  Believers were subject to the ridicule of scoffers who openly doubted that the Lord would fulfill His promise to return. These unbelievers conveniently ignored the evidence of God’s power and presence in the Creation and the Flood. This made it easy for them to dismiss the promised “day of judgment and the destruction of the ungodly”.

Peter reassures his readers that the Lord is not time-bound as we are and that He will carry out all His judgment on His schedule. Meanwhile, he charges them not to be carried away with the error of the lawless who were given over to the lust of defiling passion and the despising of authority (Second Peter 2:10). Instead, they were to focus on growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Think about it

These two qualities, grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, are bound together. By His grace He has made Himself known to us. By the knowledge of Him we grow in grace, being ever more assured that our faith is not in vain. Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, and gain stability in the midst of our on-going spiritual conflict.

Seeing Yourself Correctly

Seeing yourself correctly is important but here we meet someone with an inflated view of himself. Is your view of yourself clear and accurate?

Today’s Reading

Ezekiel 32-33; 1 Peter 1

Selected Verses

“You consider yourself a lion of the nations,
but you are like a dragon in the seas;
you burst forth in your rivers,
trouble the waters with your feet,
and foul their rivers.
Thus says the Lord God:
I will throw my net over you
with a host of many peoples,
and they will haul you up in my dragnet.  Ezekiel 32:2-3

 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  1 Peter 1:3-5

Reflections

Pharaoh was one of those people who had a faulty and exalted opinion of himself. He saw himself as a “lion of the nations”, but God had another view of him. Through Ezekiel, the Lord told the king of Egypt that he was no lion but a dragon who was fouling the rivers and who was about to be caught and destroyed.

Peter wrote that Christians are heirs of God. It is not their own doing. They didn’t earn this status. God, by His mercy, has granted it to His people. There is a process.

First, He caused them to be born again. He did it. They did not will themselves to be reborn. Jesus told Nicodemus a new birth was an absolute prerequisite in order to see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). Rebirth is a gracious gift from God’s mercy. Second, because of that new birth, believers have a living hope through Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Whatever they hoped in before is perishable, defiled, and fading. This new living hope is in an inheritance totally unlike any material and earthly inheritance. Third, they cannot lose this hope because the inheritance is kept in heaven (not Wall Street!) for them and they are guarded by God’s power through faith for a salvation which they will see at the last time.

Think about it

Do you see yourself in the way Peter described, an heir of God with a living hope? You should, if you know the new birth has been granted to you and your faith is in Jesus Christ. Consider if your view of yourself is accurate and in accordance with the way God sees you. Remember seeing yourself correctly glorifies God.

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.

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.

Amazing grace, indeed!

God controls history including every large and small event, every good and bad situation. Those who trust Him can rest that His grace will get us home.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 7-9; Galatians 4

Selected Verses

 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.  Isaiah 9:6-7

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.  And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Galatians 4:4-6

Reflections

King Ahaz was in a tizzy.  He saw Israel joining with Syria against his kingdom, Judah.  God sent Isaiah to him to reassure him that all would be well, that, in fact, Israel and Syria were the ones who would go down.  Ahaz resisted the message and even turned down the offer of a God-sent sign.  Isaiah gave him a sign from God anyway, and what a sign!  The sign was “the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel”- God with us (7:14).

The sign had an immediate fulfillment, but it also pointed ultimately to the Incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, born of the virgin Mary.  He would be Immanuel in every sense of the word.  While the immediate fulfillment of the sign of the birth of a son to Ahaz would show assurance of deliverance of a short term military threat, the ultimate fulfillment would bring deliverance from the guilt and curse of all those under the law.  But not only that, this Son and Redeemer would bring adoption as sons of God, who would send His Spirit into the hearts of His people.  Spirit-possessing sons would cry out “Abba, Father” and not live in fear of any army or any future legal process resulting in their conviction and sentencing.

Think about it

Let this truth sink deep in your heart.  God sent His Son, a sign of His grace for guilty sinners.  Amazing grace, indeed!

Heart Check Time

We need to be watchful never to forget that the horror of our sin and the holiness of God put Christ on the cross for us who believe. It’s heart check time.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 4-6; Galatians 3

Selected Verses

Man is humbled, and each one is brought low,
and the eyes of the haughty are brought low.
 But the Lord of hosts is exalted in justice,
and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.  Isaiah 5:15-16

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—  so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.    Galatians 3:13-14

Reflections

Failure to see the holiness of God and the horror of sin is a problem which repeatedly crops up in human hearts.  It happened in ancient Judah in Isaiah’s day and it happened in Galatia in Paul’s day.  It continues to happen today.

Isaiah warned Judah of her sin and reminded them of the reality of death, the gaping mouth of Sheol consuming all humanity one by one.  The people were living in denial.  They presumed upon the grace and mercy of God as they relied on their own wisdom and ignored the perfect holiness of God.  It would take a reawakening to the imminence of death and their utter failure to attain to God’s purity to humble them.  They needed to see Him “high and lifted up” (6:1).  At the same time, they needed to see themselves as people of “unclean lips” (6:5).  They needed to see how darkened were their minds as they reversed the definitions of good and evil (5:20).  We do too.

The Galatians situation is even more perplexing.  Here were people who had heard and believed the gospel, repented of their sin, and had received the Holy Spirit by faith, but now through the influence of some false teachers were turning away from trusting Christ and returning to law keeping as the basis for their hope.  Paul is astonished.  Yet experience tells us that this is always a potential problem.  It appeals to our pride to achieve our own acceptance before God.  This attitude comes from either not seeing the holiness of God or not seeing the heinousness of our rebellion against Him. In our minds, we either dilute God’s holiness or our sin.  Usually both.

Think about it

God means for us to humble ourselves before Him, to see the awfulness of sin as reflected in the agony of Christ’s death.  He had to become a curse for us to free us from the curse upon us through the law.  Do a heart check today.  Beware of any creeping self-righteousness that diminishes your complete reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ for your standing before God.

Legalism Dies Hard

Eternal salvation is no do-it-yourself project. The gospel tells us that the law was given to point us to Christ, never to save. Why does legalism die hard?

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 1-3; Galatians 2

Selected Verses

 What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.  Isaiah 1:11

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.  Galatians 2:19-21

Reflections

Isaiah spoke powerfully against the hypocrisy of the people of Judah.  Their law-keeping was mere window-dressing.  God was not pleased with their offerings and sacrifices.  But wasn’t this what God had commanded in the law given to Moses?  Yes, but they were missing the essential part.  The offerings and sacrifices were not intended to provide a cover-up for their sin.  These should have been an outward expression of their repentance and contrition.  God could see their hearts, and He was not impressed.  He sent Isaiah to call them to act in ways that showed repentance and to seek His cleansing for even the most heinous sin (1:16-20).

In Galatia, a similar thing was occurring.  The believers were abandoning the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and reverting to law-keeping as the basis for their reconciliation with God.  Paul grieved deeply (Galatians 1:6-9).  His letter aims to correct this grave and dangerous error.  To make his point, Paul relates his own experience of receiving the gospel from Christ and, at one point, even having to confront Peter for wavering from that gospel.

Think about it

Why this tendency, of those who should know better, to revert to law-keeping for salvation?  Perhaps, as justified people (but still not fully sanctified), we are prone to a prideful desire to merit our salvation, if just a little. Perhaps this error grows from a desire to cover-up our sin by appearing holy, instead of confessing our sin and trusting God’s forgiveness.  Beware of straying from the basis of our justification, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and not our faulty lawkeeping.  Never rob God of His glory by reverting to trust in good works for your forgiveness.  Legalism dies hard in Judah, in Galatia, and, I’m afraid, in our hearts today.

Poverty, Joy, and Generosity: the Macedonians

Here we meet a group who did not let their desperate need stop their generosity. How God is glorified by such people who give despite their circumstances!

Today’s reading

Proverbs 30-31; Second Corinthians 8

Selected Verses

 She opens her hand to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.  Proverbs 31:20

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.

Second Corinthians 8:1-2

Reflections

Paul was concerned for the poor in Jerusalem. In an orderly way, he went about Macedonia and Achaia asking the churches to contribute to these needy brothers and sisters whom they had never met. [See The Importance of Giving to the Poor]. The Macedonian churches, those in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea, were themselves suffering from affliction and extreme poverty.

There were two surprises here. One, Paul told them about the collection even though they were in need themselves. He did not want to rob them of the joy of doing what they could. Second, they gave far more than Paul expected. How were they able to do this? It was a result of the grace of God in their lives. Surely, they grasped “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (vs. 9).

Proverbs concludes with a picture of the godly woman, wife, and mother. We have met Lady Wisdom and her counterpart Ms. Folly in chapter 9. Now only the wise woman appears. One of her qualities is concern for the poor and needy. She gives to them and reaches out to them. She gives them resources and assists them in practical ways. Diligence, as exemplified by this woman, generally results in abundance. Abundance should result in generosity. Sadly, this is often not the case (Luke 12:13-21). One might think that poverty would squelch joy and generosity. In the Macedonian churches, the opposite was true. God’s grace makes the difference.

Think about it

There is no greater evidence of the presence of God’s grace than to have joy and generosity whether in need or in abundance. What glory that manifestation of grace brings to God! Look at Jesus, today, and learn joy and generosity whether you have much or little.