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.

Faithfulness Pleases God

Beware of a common saying which we hear today that implies that God doesn’t care about our faithfulness but only our faith.

Today’s Reading

Ecclesiastes 4-6; Second Corinthians 10

Selected Verses

When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow.   Ecclesiastes 5:4

For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.   Second Corinthians 10:18

Reflections

There is a common fallacy being foisted upon the unsuspecting public in our society today. It goes, “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there is nothing you can do to make God love you less.” As with all fallacies, there is some truth, but along with it is a dangerous, unbiblical implication. It is true we cannot by our actions manipulate God or change Him in any way, but this mantra seems to say, “What you do doesn’t matter. God doesn’t care about your personal behavior. Sin all you want. God still loves you. Neglect the means of grace. God still loves you. If you make an effort to serve Him, He won’t even notice. He loves you just the same.”

Solomon warned his readers about being casual in their relationship to God. The Lord “has no pleasure in fools,” he told them. It does matter if you make a vow to God and then delay to keep it. God is not pleased with such foolishness. “God is the one you must fear,” he declared (5:7).

Paul also was concerned about pleasing God. The Apostle had been denigrated by others who took pride in themselves. That gave him the context to propound his view of whose opinion matters. Clearly, all that ultimately matters is how the Lord views you. All the accolades or criticisms of the world do not affect God’s evaluation. The commendation we should seek is God’s and He knows what is really going on in our outward behavior and in our hearts.

Think about it

Does God care whether we are faithful or not? Yes, absolutely. We do not earn our forgiveness, but we do show evidence of it by the level of seriousness we give to our vows and spiritual disciplines. God is not a cruel taskmaster. He is no demanding tyrant. Yes, His love is secure, but He calls us to grow in holiness and to be faithful to the means of grace which He has provided. Seek the faithfulness that pleases God.

Aiming to Please God

Life has meaning because we will all stand before an Omniscient Judge from whom we will receive our due. We must aim to please Him.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 23-24; Second Corinthians 5

Selected Verses

Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?  Proverbs 24:11-12

So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.  Second Corinthians 5:9-10

Reflections

Today’s reading in Proverbs points us to our responsibility for the lives of others who are dying, and we may assume, unjustly. Innocent people are killed by war, poverty, and abortion to name a few of the obvious causes. The media insures that we have a daily dose of the worst atrocities on the planet. We cannot say we know nothing about this. It is easy to be overwhelmed before breakfast seven days a week.

Paul reminded the Corinthians that this life is fleeting. Meanwhile, we should “make it our aim to please him.” To begin with, we please Him when we recognize our utter depravity. We are not able to be righteous before Him, not in ourselves. We please Him when we trust in the One who died for us, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (verse 21).

Think about it

Starting with Christ as our Redeemer, we may consider how we can further aim to please God. Clearly, no one of us can do everything to correct all the ills of our world and the culture of death. But we can do something.  Edward Everett Hale, though a Unitarian, made this wise observation and resolution, “I am only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do. And by the grace of God, I will.”

So what can we do in our aim to please God?  We can pray. We can proclaim the good news of life in Jesus Christ. We can give to ministries that serve hurting and dying people.

Life matters because there is judgment to come. Aim to please God. Begin by trusting in Christ alone for your righteousness.

The Best Is Yet to Be

All this world offers pales in comparison to the glory awaiting those who know God’s grace in Jesus Christ. The best is yet to be.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 21-22; Second Corinthians 4

Selected Verses

The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life. Proverbs 22:4

Knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.  For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

Second Corinthians 4:14-15

Reflections

In Old Testament times, much of the focus of God’s commands and promises was on the way of wisdom and blessing in this life.  Proverbs holds out much hope for reward for those who are humble and reverent before God.  He has made a covenant with Israel to be their God, to keep them as His special people, to forgive their sins as they repent before Him and keep His law.

But behind these great covenant promises was an even greater ultimate end.  God would send the Messiah.  He would be the King in the lineage of David.  He would also be the Suffering Servant, the Lamb of God, who would be pierced and crushed so that we might be healed and have peace (Isaiah 53).

All this was still in the future at the time of Proverbs.  Meanwhile, the faithful would heed the call to humility and the fear of the Lord.  Many would see a reward in this life, but not all.

Then, came the Lord Jesus Christ proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).   Alas, the old covenant kingdom of Israel was a mere shadow of the Kingdom of God.

Paul resisted it until he could resist no more, confronted as he was on the road to Damascus by Christ Himself (Acts 9:1-31).   Now Paul tells the good news of the resurrection.  God’s grace was going out to more and more people.  Thanksgiving shouts went up everywhere that grace went and God was being glorified in places like Corinth, where darkness had ruled with an iron hand.

Think about it

Down through the centuries the gospel that promises life through the resurrected Christ has been proclaimed to the ends of the earth.  Do not lose heart!  Jesus told us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come”  (Matthew 6:10).  He is answering that prayer as the gospel goes forth and grace is received by millions in the most unlikely places.  Most of all, God is glorified.  If you are blessed with riches and honor and life in this world, rejoice!  But remember, the best is yet to be when we enter into His kingdom and glory forever.

The Man of Dust; the Man of Heaven

Thoughts of life and death are never far from our mortal minds. We have death through the man of dust but life through the man of heaven.

Today’s reading

Proverbs 11-12; First Corinthians 15:33-58

Selected Verses

In the path of righteousness is life,
and in its pathway there is no death.  Proverbs 12:28

The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.  As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.  Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.  First Corinthians 15:47-49

Reflections

Proverbs talks about life–but life in this world, for the most part. There are numerous keys to a joyful, peaceful, prosperous life. All things being equal, these maxims hold true, but all things are not equal. So the Proverbs will not “work” 100% of the time. There are exceptions. Sometimes good, industrious people suffer setbacks despite their best efforts. Righteousness leads to life rather than death, yet the only perfectly righteous Man who ever lived died a horrible death.

So Proverbs tell us how we ought to seek to live, being diligent in our work, kind toward others, speaking well of our neighbor, etc. These are good and right ways to live whether we get all the benefits promised or not. But in the gospel we learn that our good deeds are not sufficient to save us from eternal death. Jesus taught that “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Jesus shed His blood for the forgiveness of the sins of many, because there was no other way (Matthew 26:26-28).

Paul emphasizes the role of Jesus Christ, the second man, the One who, unlike the first man, did not come from the dust, but came down from heaven. He died and rose again. Now we, by faith, are promised a future in which we will bear the image of the Man of heaven. His resurrection gives us assurance that we too will be raised to have new spiritual bodies.

Think about it

Christ’s disciples certainly seek to be righteous in this world, but they do so knowing they are not earning life but demonstrating that they already have it by the grace of the Lord and faith in Him. If you know this hope of life, live righteously, but trust in the only Righteous One, Jesus. He will see us home and give us new spiritual bodies that cannot sin nor die. We will lose the image of the man of dust and bear the image of the Man of heaven.

To My Dying Breath

Have you found a purpose for life big enough to captivate your soul to your dying breath? The Bible points the way for you!

Today’s reading

Psalms 145-147; First Corinthians 11:1-15

Selected Verses

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
 I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.  Psalm 146:1-2

All things are from God.  First Corinthians 11:12

Reflections

Those who know God well never lose their focus on Him whether in the pressures of life at its prime or the pain of life at its end. God is always foremost in the hearts and minds of His people.

The psalmist praises God for a host of reasons, but, besides that, he commits himself to keep praising God as long as he lives, as long as he has being. He could say, “to my dying breath.”   Even in a lifetime, one could never exhaust the things for which God deserves praise and adoration. There is no end to His works of creation and providence which reflect His glory. The psalms help us put words to our thoughts and thoughts to our observations. God in the psalms helps us see His hand in more things and proclaim His praise more clearly.

Paul deals with many difficult questions in his letter to the Corinthians. Now he turns to issues related to corporate worship in the church and the proper and distinct roles of men and women in the church. The passage raises as many questions as answers, but one thing is clear, “All things are from God.” Paul has already set this idea before his readers earlier in the letter (1 Corinthians 8:5-6). It is the principle around which he orients his thinking and instruction on the matters they are dealing with.

Think about it

The fact is that the purpose of our existence–as creatures made in God’s image whether male or female–is His glory. We fulfill that purpose in our actions, attitudes, thoughts, and speech.  I have been privileged to know a few fervent disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ who were using their final breath to give Him praise. That is my goal and desire, to praise Him while I have being, to my dying breath. How about you? This is our calling in Christ. Be sure you own it.

To Whom Do You Trust Your Life?

We live in a culture that shouts to us “trust yourself!” and “you can do it!”  But how is that working for us? The Bible has a different perspective.

Today’s reading

Psalms 139-141; First Corinthians 10:1-13

Selected Verses

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!  Psalm 139:23-24

Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. First Corinthians 10:12-13

Reflections

David in Psalm 139 writes some of the most eloquent statements ever penned about the glory and majesty of God: His omniscience, His omnipresence, and His goodness.  That goodness is not only seen at a cosmic level but also on a personal level.  God’s thoughts toward David are beyond counting.

Then the author calls for the judgment of God against the wicked.  Is that a result of all the reflection on God’s holiness?  It seems so.  David hates sin.  He doesn’t want any part of those who are God’s enemies.  But he is not so foolish as to think he is incapable of sin himself.  “Search me, O God, and know my heart! See if there be any grievous way in me,” he prays. “Lead me in the way everlasting!”

Paul tells the Corinthians that the history of Israel was given to provide examples to them of the dangers that come, even to those who know God best, from giving in to our sinful natures.   The Israelites knew more about the power and glory of God than anyone since Adam and Eve, yet they sinned grievously against God and were punished with death in the wilderness.  “Don’t think you could never do the same. Learn from their bad example,” Paul tells them.    Sin is not inevitable because God always provides a way of escape to the one who does not trust in himself.

Think about it

The slogans of western society “trust yourself” and “you can do it” are failing us.  God tells us that He knows us and that we must trust in Him if we are to walk in the way everlasting, the way that leads to heaven.  Face it.  You can’t do it.  Trust God.  He will open your spiritual eyes to the truth and lead you through temptations to victory, ultimately, in glory.

Being and Doing the Lord’s Work

The disciple of Jesus Christ is both a product of God’s workmanship and a workman in His service. Life is a path of growth in Him and service for Him.

Today’s reading

Psalms 136-138; First Corinthians 9

Selected Verses

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
    your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
    Do not forsake the work of your hands. Psalm 138:8

Are not you my workmanship in the Lord?  First Corinthians 9:1

Reflections

God’s people are both the object of His Providences and the means to accomplishing them. God’s people are used by Him in ministry and are changed by Him for His purposes.

David in Psalm 138 rejoices in God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. He praises God for answered prayer, for strength in time of need. Now he experiences trouble, but his confidence is unwavering. God is firmly in control and will complete what He has begun. David knows he is God’s workmanship. “Please,” he prays, “don’t stop working in and on me!”

Paul, too, understood how God works in and through people that He has saved by grace through faith. He wrote to the church in Ephesus, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul adds another layer to this concept. God uses people to work for Him in the lives of others. Paul saw himself as a workman and a gardener in the Lord’s work. The believers in Corinth were his workmanship. He had “sown spiritual things” among them (vs. 11).   He had proclaimed the gospel to them (vs. 14). Wherever he went he made himself a servant to all, adapting as much as possible to those he was seeking to win (vs. 19-23). He exercised self-control and disciplined his body in order to do what he was called to do, to complete the work assigned to him by the Lord.

Think about it

You are probably a product of someone else’s work or ministry in you. Maybe you are still being discipled,  mentored, and shepherded. Be sure you are an eager, appreciative learner. If you are serving others in the gospel, be careful to run so as to win the prize. After all, you are the work of the Lord’s hands, and He also uses your hands to do His work. We are the Lord’s work, and we do the Lord’s work. May God be glorified in us and through us.

More than Forgiven

The Psalmist prayed for mercy and forgiveness, but God in Christ has given all that and much more. We are more than forgiven.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 79-81; Romans 8:1-18

Selected Verses

 Do not remember against us our former iniquities;
let your compassion come speedily to meet us,
for we are brought very low.
Help us, O God of our salvation,
for the glory of your name;
deliver us, and atone for our sins,
for your name’s sake!  Psalm 79:8-9

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  Romans 8:3-4

Reflections

The Psalmist cries out for forgiveness for the sins of the nation that led to the fall of Jerusalem and the temple. He laments their suffering but, even more, the disgrace brought on the name of God. The writer does not look for excuses, nor does he make promises to do better. He pleads for God Himself to atone for their sins. Truly, he grasps the seriousness of sin. No one is able to justify himself by turning over a new leaf. No one is qualified to repay the debt of offending our holy Creator and Lord.

Paul explains to the Romans just how God has answered this prayer of the Psalmist from so many centuries earlier. The law could only show us our sin, never save us. The law was weakened by the flesh, because our flesh is inclined to use the law as a springboard to rebellion. We do what the law says not to do (Romans 7:13-25).  He has freed us from the law of sin and death, that is, the law that says “you sin, you die.”

Think about it

As usual, God’s answer goes far above what the Psalmist (or we) could ask or think (Ephesians 3:20-21). He has given His Spirit to those who are in Christ. Through Him we have life, peace, and guidance. Through Him we are adopted as God’s children and, so, we call Him, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:14-17). Sure, we suffer with Christ in this world, but we know that the glory to come far exceeds these present afflictions.

Does your sin and guilt weigh you down? Trust in Christ for the complete forgiveness of your sins. Rejoice that the law of sin and death is overcome, but more than that, in Him you have His Spirit and are adopted as His own child.