Galatians 6:9

Do you ever get discouraged? Are you ever tempted to just give up? I’m not talking about life in general, of course, but in regard to effecting a change, accomplishing a result, doing something good? You work and put in the effort and keep at it, but sometimes it just seems like nothing will ever change. Is this a correct assessment of the situation–or is it just our limited vision and lack of faith imposing itself on us?

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”‭‭(Galatians‬ ‭6:9‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Life has its challenges. Granted, there are things no amount of effort will make any difference about. We cannot change our heredity, for example, or go back in time–sci fi notwithstanding. But other things–even those we might be tempted to think are hopeless–are not necessarily so. A cancer patient could be healed, an ADHD child might learn how to better cope with environmental stimuli, an unbelieving spouse can come to faith. But how can we tell the difference between the possible and the impossible–and when do we actually give up?

The answer is that God teaches us to never give up doing good, and He teaches us to pray. So, even as Elijah prayed and it didn’t rain for three months and prayed again and it did, God can alter–as a result of our prayer and His grace and guidance–many of the factors we typically think are fixed. I may assume, for example, that certain medical diagnoses are death sentences, but with the right care and much prayer a person could get well. I might be tempted to think a loved one is beyond help–either because of a rebellious heart or the lifestyle that stems from it–but through perseverant petitioning prayer (and the resulting activity–of which I may or may not be a part) they might “…come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” (‭‭2 Timothy‬ ‭2:26‬ ‭NIV‬‬). It IS possible–remember, Jesus Himself affirmed, “…with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) So, what should we do? How are we to proceed? 

The answer is self-evident: we must keep praying–earnestly and all the more–for the situation, and keep doing good. But what about situations that seem hopeless? What about those “common sense” says will not change? And is the absence of the result we hoped for evidence of not enough prayer on our part, or worse–of a lack of faith? 

While it is true that what frequently limits us is our unbelief, there are situations God simply does say “no” to. Remember the Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” he asked God three times to take away? Do you recall the response? “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'” Paul’s response? “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”‭‭ (II Corinthians‬ ‭12:9‬) He submitted.

Sometimes God really does say no. Sometimes a situation is an example of what the infinitely powerful God can do in and through a frail human being. But many other times it is we who cease our obligation of ceaselessly petitioning Him, and continuing doing good. But how can we know the difference? 

I suspect that in most cases, rather than receiving a clear indication from God that this is for His purposes and glory, we simply give up. It takes too long, requires too much effort, doesn’t immediately generate the kind of response we hoped for, is hard, requires “too much” faithful perseverance on our part, or otherwise discourages us or truncates our peaceful existence or enjoyment of life. But we weren’t called to that–to an enjoyment of life–we were called to labor for God’s kingdom and for His purposes.  So, let’s keep laboring. Let’s keep praying. And “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

Dear Lord,

Help me never give up for Your kingdom and Your purposes. Amen.

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Genesis 6:5

What makes you different from a really bad person? Granted, the definition of who is a “really bad person” changes from generation to generation, but presently, most of us would still agree that a murderer or child molester would fall into that category, so for argument’s sake–what makes you different from a murderer or child molester? Or anyone else who indulges a sin that seems particularly odious to you? 

“Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis‬ ‭6:5‬ ‬‬)

When asked this question, most people would say, “What makes me different?!! The fact that I don’t do that–that I’m not like that!” And while it may be true that you may not do that particular vice, you possess the same sin nature he or she does. The difference is HOW and TO WHAT DEGREE your sin nature expresses itself, not whether you possess a sin nature or not.

This is not to say that we will all end up committing the same sins, because we are all different and are confronted by different temptations. Neither does it mean that we are all equally profligate. Some people–because of whatever reasons–allow themselves to be more selfish, do more evil, cause more harm; others fight their inclinations and try to be better people. Yet we are all infected. So, what then is the real difference between me and a “bad person?”

The difference is whether I have the Holy Spirit or not, because that is the only redeeming element present in any human being–it is “Christ in me, the hope of glory.” Without Him, as today’s verse indicates, “every intent of the thoughts of our heart are only evil continually.” Why is this?

The answer can be found at length in Romans chapters 5-6 and further, but it is because without the redeeming power of Christ, I am spiritually dead. My thoughts, hopes, ambitions and desires are sin-tainted and messed up, and I don’t even have a clue as to what is really right and good. I can sense it, somehow, perhaps; I can see kindness, love and goodness in others and even try to practice it myself; yet I don’t really get it, and even my good intentions frequently go wrong.

Only when I come to Jesus–when I recognize Him as the holy Son of God with the power to forgive me and give me a new birth and real life–that I can start doing things that will matter for eternity, that have real lasting value. 

When I trust in Jesus and receive His Holy Spirit, He leads me to work for the things that bring genuine good and real value. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.‭‭” (John‬ ‭15:4‬)

Just before that He said, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.”‭‭ (John‬ ‭15:3‬) The way we “abide in Jesus” is through His Word, the Bible–by reading it, thinking about it, memorizing it, discussing it, studying it. And, remaining in Jesus–through His Holy Spirit in us–is how we accomplish anything of any genuine and lasting value in this life!

So what is the difference between me and a “bad” person? The way God divides humankind into good and bad, into “sheep versus goats,” is by whether we have trusted in Jesus for forgiveness and salvation or not, whether we have been born again and are filled with His Spirit, or not.

Dear Lord,

Help me abide in You, because without You I can do nothing of any lasting value. Amen.


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John 8:24

Does Jesus want you? We typically think of this in the reverse, as in, “Do I want to accept Jesus,” but for many of us–because of who we are or what we’ve done or what we believe about ourselves and the world around us–the unspoken question in our hearts and minds is really “Could Jesus ever want me?”

“Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He [italicized word is not present in original text], you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24)

God is utterly and unapproachably holy; yet regardless of the degree of our own personal goodness (or lack of it), none of us is–NONE OF US. Yet the irony of our existences is that we seem preprogrammed to assess ourselves, typically in comparison to others (that’s why we hear people asking, “I’m not that bad, am I?”). And while God call us to obedience, that is not what saves us. But you know this; you’ve heard it a thousand times.

Yet because of this tendency to self-assess, those of us who are honest with ourselves consciously or subconsciously rightly arrive at the determination that I am unworthy of God, and that there is nothing I can ever do to change this. And this correct assessment can cause me to conclude that Jesus does not want me–which is dead wrong! The truth of the matter is that Jesus came to save sinners. 

Matthew records a dinner Jesus attended at his house shortly after his conversion:

“While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners (people who knew they weren’t right with God) came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners [their presumption was that Jesus would reject those who didn’t meet their standard of right living]?’ On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'” (Matthew 9:10-13)

The joke, here, is that none of us is healthy–we are all sick and need Jesus. The Pharisees (the “holy people,” the religious leaders of that time) didn’t recognize their need for Jesus and didn’t come to Him–hence, they remained sick. Those who did recognize their unworthiness–their sins and imperfections, the problems and circumstances that alienated them from God–and came to Jesus, He accepted!

Jesus accepts sinful, imperfect people. That is the great truth that we cannot underestimate or under-proclaim, because this is the message of salvation and forgiveness! If we waited to become perfect before we came to Jesus, we would never come because we will never be perfect (we could, for example, clean up some part of our life only to mess up another). Yet if we come as we are, He accepts and forgives us!

But, we must believe in Him. What does that mean? Jesus said, “If you do not believe that I AM [a declaration of divinity, the name God identified Himself with in the Old Testament] He, you will die in your sins.” The word “He” was added by the translators, but it is not there in the original text. Jesus is the One whose death pays for our sins, and the Bible tells us we are “accepted in the Beloved [Jesus]” (Ephesians 1:6), but it is more than even this. We must not only believe that Jesus paid for our sins; we must recognize why He could pay for our sins, that He was not merely a human being. John explains “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made…The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us…” (John 1:1-13)

Granted, Jesus is not the Father; during His time on earth, Jesus prayed to the Father. But Jesus also said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) and He admonished Philip when asked to show the Father, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…” (John 14:9) John the Baptist furthermore explained about Jesus:

“The one who comes from above is above all…He testifies to what He has seen and heard, but no one accepts His testimony Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the One whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in His hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” (John 3:31-36)

Want more? Here are some other verses that clarify who Jesus is:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity [of God] lives in bodily form.” (Colossians 2:9)

“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel (which means ‘God with us’).” (Matthew 1:23)

“The Son is the image of the invisible God…For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17)

“…Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that Your Son may glorify You. For You granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those You have given Him. Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent. I have brought You glory on earth by finishing the work You gave Me to do. And now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began.” (John 17:1-5)

“I and the Father are one. Again His Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone Him…’we are not stoning you…for blasphemy, because You, a mere man, claim to be God.” (John 10:30-33)

So, are you worthy of Jesus? Absolutely not, regardless of how good you think you are. But does He want you–will He accept you? Yes, if you recognize your need for Him and come to Him! None of us is good enough–we are all human beings with a sin nature incapable of holiness. But, if I believe who Jesus is and come to Him in faith, He will take who I am and make me into the person He wants me to be. And I will be saved. And forgiven. And holy by virtue of His holiness.

Dear Lord Jesus,

Help me believe that You are the great I AM, the holy Son of God, that I may not die in my sins. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Peter 3:9

Have you ever experienced an “ah-ha moment” about something which, although you kind-of sort-of thought you understood–you might never really have quite gotten the full meaning of?

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise [of final judgment], as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (‭‭2 Peter‬ ‭3:9‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

I’ve been recently impressed by how faithfully God has answered my prayers–to the point where I’m almost starting to feel like the fisherman and his wife in the folk tale about a couple who caught a magical fish–which, in exchange for its freedom, granted ever-increasing requests until they simply asked for too much and everything returned back to how it had originally been!

It really is amazing how much God loves us–and the lengths He goes to–in order to get our attention and bring us to repentance. Because THAT is the key word–repentance. THAT is what the Christian life is about. Not a daily sackcloth and ashes thing, but a daily turning away from comfortably living in our sins back to Jesus–to longing for Him, fellowshipping with Him, and obeying Him. And it’s unfortunate that this word is frequently relegated to the “before-Christ” period of our lives, because temptation comes daily, and I don’t know about you, but I sometimes give in to it–even to the point that it can threaten to become a stronghold in my life.

Of course, sin looks different in everyone’s life, but I’ve got stuff to repent of. I drive a lot and struggle with tardiness to such a degree that it really is an understatement to say that I frequently–granted with a high degree of discomfort, courtesy of the Holy Spirit convicting me–disregard the speed limits. I feel the need to continue the “business of life” during those extended periods of travel and disregard texting laws to the point that I’m almost a poster child for an accident waiting to happen. I’ve made it a habit to lie down from dinner onward on the loveseat, strategically arranged directly toward the large screen tv–excusing myself that it’s for relaxation, it’s deserved and needed, and it’s not really “tv” because it’s Netflix.

Seriously?! Will any excuse make sense when I’m judged by God?Alternately, you might say, “Wow. What a hypocritical confession–this is nothing!” But the point–that many still don’t get–is that sin is sin. Some hurt others more and we consider them worse than others, but it is all a falling short of God’s glory; regardless of whether society deems my sin big or little, I have sinned against a holy God and need to repent.

So, I admit it–I got it backward. I always thought the answered prayers God keeps giving me, the good things He provides multiple times over and over again, are evidences of His favor on me–not unlike the impression some have that if you’re healthy and rich, you must be special to God. Yet, I don’t think this is quite right. Rather than being a sign that I am somehow more special than the next person, I suspect the blessings God keeps giving are a mercy to me, because I’m not there yet–because He cares enough about me to not want me to perish and I’m excusing the sin in my life rather than repenting of it. He patiently withholds a deserved swift judgment because He does not want any (including me) to perish, but rather, for all to come to repentance.

Most of us know the second half of the first chapter of Romans, but how many of us know the verses at the beginning of the chapter–verse 5, specifically?

“Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.” (‭Romans‬ ‭1:5‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

Paul’s God-given commission was “to call all…to the obedience that comes from faith.” Saving faith repents; saving faith obeys.

Still not convinced this means you? Let’s finish up by going through most of the next chapter–and apply it to yourself. Don’t excuse yourself, or say it was meant for someone else, because we all do this stuff; really think about it:

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else [this was written specifically to those Israelites, but it is true for anyone, because we all look down on someone at some point in our life] for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things [maybe not literally always the same things, but we all sin in one way or another]. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth [that there is forgiveness through Christ when we repent] and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.” (Romans‬ ‭2:1-16‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

So how does this connect with salvation through faith in Christ? True faith leads us to repentance, to a turning away from any sin we are aware of. Our works do not save us–they cannot, because “all our works are as filthy rags” and acceptance and forgiveness is because of Christ alone–but repentance is evidence of our faith. Those who stubbornly continue doing wrong do not appear to have Biblical faith.

Dear Lord,

Help me not “show contempt for the riches of…[Your] kindness, forbearance and patience;” help me realize “that…[Your] kindness is intended to lead…[me] to repentance.” Amen.


 

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I Peter 1:24

How long will you live? This may be uncomfortable to consider, but seriously–how many more years do you think you have in this life before you, too, succumb to the decline and ultimate demise all human bodies eventually experience? When we are young and healthy or simply haven’t yet seen many friends and loved ones age and eventually die, we subconsciously feel that life–how it is today–will continue indefinitely. Of course we know people do die because there are hospitals, morgues, and cemeteries to remind us, but it somehow doesn’t hit home that I WILL TOO SOMEDAY.

“As the Scriptures say, ‘People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades.'” ( I Peter 1:24)

I will be fifty-five on my next birthday. Quite honestly, I did well until several years ago. I tried to eat wisely and not put on excessive weight, got sufficient sleep, and really didn’t drink or abuse drugs, so for the duration of almost thirty years of adult life my body held its own. Yet I realize that as with all–if it hasn’t yet and we live long enough–sooner or later some degree of decline will arrive to each and every one of us. As a woman ages, her body eventually says she can no longer conceive children and a physiological shift occurs. Wrinkles that were not there before appear, facial features become more pronounced, hair thins, skin tone changes. Men, too, are forced to tackle issues that were previously nonexistent, and their appearance likewise changes. Granted, we can fight the ravages of time through prudent living, or even medication or surgery, but God simply hasn’t ordained for the human body to exist eternally in its current condition. Even in cultures that tend to see longer lifespans, one hundred twenty or so seems to be the upper cap. 

Not only do our bodies decline, over time we also live through the illnesses and deaths of various acquaintances, friends, and family. At first, it is only a sprinkling of one or two individuals: an older great-aunt or grandparent, or a classmate involved in substance abuse who died out of sequence. Eventually, however, it becomes parents and peers, and when those you look up to as role models in life–those only slightly ahead of you in parenting or career–age and experience the demise of their bodies, you realize your turn may not be far away either. So what should our response be? How should we react?

People respond in various ways when it hits home that they are aging. Some experience an infamous “midlife crises” and start acting out in sinful and futile ways–infidelity, wasting time and money, grasping at a youth that is no longer there and which no amount of panic will bring back. Yet aging is as it should be. God has ordained the various stages of our lives–they are there for a reason, even as a mercy to foolish mankind. Imagine how terrible it would be if we all lived physically vigorous as a twenty-year-old until the moment of death: how many more would spend their eternity separated from God forever, simply because it never occurred to them there was anything more than this life and how much they need Him!

Please don’t misunderstand. I thoroughly believe life, at whatever age, can be beautiful if done right–if lived in faithful fellowship with our Creator/Redeemer/Sustainer God! And although the longer we survive the more likely it seems we will eventually succumb to one ailment or another, I do not believe later maturity is a time necessarily predestined to misery. Yet trials of any kind and at any age are what God uses to conform us to the image of Christ and turn our thoughts heaven-ward.

We learn in James 1:2-4 that we should, “…count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” 

I Peter 1:5-7 tells us that we, “…are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith…may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

And in II Corinthians 4:16-18 we are told, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporarily but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

A purpose of trials, of course, is to present us with something bigger than ourselves so we realize we need God and come closer to Him. Thus, misery of any kind achieves one of two ends–it either directs our thoughts God- and heaven-ward, or it provides an opportunity for us to metaphorically further shake our fists in rebellion at Him. 

I find great comfort in the fact that God has allowed me to live long enough to see some gray hair–I consider it a privilege. And while I don’t condemn those who choose to color, I suspect I might leave mine alone because it confers a certain honor. The New Living Translation says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a godly life.” (Proverbs 16:31) I have also already had both hips replaced, and although I am pain and medication free at the moment, I have no guarantee I will remain so. So how will I continue? By faith “…in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)–and I urge each and every one of you to do the same.

I urge each and every one of you to make the Bible your best friend. It is not an archaic relic from a previous age–it should be more familiar to you than breath itself. Its words are our life–they are what the only true God of heaven and earth has recorded for our well-being and so we can be reconciled to Him and share His presence and glory forever; they are what we survive on and how we make it to the ultimate end of our human life here on earth!

Dear Lord,

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Amen.

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Acts 17:27

As our world becomes increasingly smaller–through easier and more frequent travel, migration, and the influence of the Internet and foreign-made entertainment options–it is impossible to not notice that other people, too, have a worldview–which may or may not coincide with ours. But what are we to make of it? And, how should we respond?

“God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:27 NIV)

The truth is that God is generous, kind, and inclusive to any who genuinely look for Him, and His desire is that all be made right with Him. But while salvation from our sins and a right standing with Him come through Jesus alone (hence His command to those who follow Him to “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you…” Matthew 28:19-20 NIV) God, nonetheless, sees when individuals of other nations look for Him and act according to mandates of righteous behavior–and, He blesses their efforts. When, for example, those who have not yet come to saving faith through Jesus recognize the value of family and remain together, they receive the blessings that come from having strong families. When they recognize the value of self-sacrifice and diligence, they reap the accompanying blessings.

This is not to say that there are many roads to heaven–“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12 NIV)–yet in many worldviews we can find some element of truth, some common thread of good (albeit frequently mixed with very erroneous teachings). And while–without the full revelation of God through Jesus–it isn’t enough, it is still something, and we can recognize it as such and work from there to present the truth to those who do not yet know Christ, and are, thus, not yet right with God.

So how should we respond to those who are devout–who believe in something–but don’t know the true God yet? St. Paul, one of the most successful missionaries of all time, spoke to the people of Athens, Greece about Jesus–but with a different approach than when he addressed the Jews:

“Sha’ul stood up in the Council meeting and said, “Men of Athens: I see how very religious you are in every way! For as I was walking around, looking at your shrines, I even found an altar which had been inscribed, ‘To An Unknown God.’ So, the one whom you are already worshipping in ignorance — this is the one I proclaim to you. “The God who made the universe and everything in it, and who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in man-made temples; nor is he served by human hands, as if he lacked something; since it is he himself who gives life and breath and everything to everyone. “From one man he made every nation living on the entire surface of the earth, and he fixed the limits of their territories and the periods when they would flourish. God did this so that people would look for him and perhaps reach out and find him although in fact, he is not far from each one of us, ‘for in him we live and move and exist.’ Indeed, as some of the poets among you have said, ‘We are actually his children.’ So, since we are children of God, we shouldn’t suppose that God’s essence resembles gold, silver or stone shaped by human technique and imagination. “In the past, God overlooked such ignorance; but now he is commanding all people everywhere to turn to him from their sins. For he has set a Day when he will judge the inhabited world, and do it justly, by means of a man whom he has designated. And he has given public proof of it by resurrecting this man from the dead.” (Acts of Emissaries of Yeshua (Acts) 17:22-31 CJB)

Paul started from common ground–their statue to an unknown God (hence, their recognition that such a God exists)–and moved forward from there to explain the true, living God, and ultimately, Jesus, to them. We must do the same. We should identify common ground–acknowledge correct teaching–and move forward from there to humbly explain that while there is good in their faith, there is so much more: forgiveness, and restitution through Jesus Christ with the God who made, redeems and sustains us, and whom we will meet at our dying breath!

So, what are we to make of all the religious traditions of various cultures in our world? We must, first off, know well what God has revealed to us in His Word, the Holy Bible. When we know what He says we can recognize right teaching elsewhere, acknowledge it, and move forward from what God, in His mercy, has already allowed the devout of other religious traditions to understand, to the forgiveness He gives people of any culture freely when they acknowledge their sin, repent of it, and turn to Jesus in saving faith!

Dear Lord,

Use me to help others seek You and perhaps reach out for You and find You, though You are not far from any one of us. Amen.

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Matthew 25:46

Are you an enemy of God? Who, even, are these difficult-to-spot individuals, identified in God’s Holy Word as those upon whom He will heap rightly deserved punishment and banish from His presence eternally? If we were to take a survey, the answers would invariably be that it is the murderer, the rapist, the crime lord–someone whose sins seem simply too large to forgive. Yet strangely enough–regardless of how big or small my concept of who the enemies of God are–there is one more individual who might belong on that list: me.

“These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46)

As human beings, our concept of who is an enemy of God is tinged by our own condition. If I have stolen, I may not consider theft enough to make me God’s enemy; if I have been unfaithful to my spouse, I might feel adultery is insufficient to qualify me for that category.

Yet the truth is that apart from Jesus, each and every one of us is an enemy of God. In my natural-born human condition, I am born contrary to holiness–indeed, it is almost impossible for me to conceive rightly what the unapproachable holiness of God is, hence, my lax appraisal if my own condition. Comments such as, “I’m not so bad, am I?” are telling and indicative of the fact that my standard of judgment is typically those around me, rather the perfect holiness that is God Himself. We excuse ourselves, saying that none can be perfect, yet, the fact is that Someone has been. God’s Word tells us that, “He who knew no sin became sin for us, that we might become the holiness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) Jesus Christ was perfect.

Christ was, indeed (humanly speaking), an anomaly by the intent of the Father. He was fully human, yet fully God, temporarily laying aside His God-like qualities by which the world would have recognized Him as such. “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. By Him were all things made, and without Him was not anything made at was made. In Him was life, the light of man…And the Word became flesh, and lived among us…” (John 1:1-12) 

“[Jesus] who, although He existed in the form and unchanging essence of God [as One with Him, possessing the fullness of all the divine attributes–the entire nature of deity], did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped or asserted [as if He did not already possess it, or was afraid of losing it]; but emptied Himself [without renouncing or diminishing His deity, but only temporarily giving up the outward expression of divine equality and His rightful dignity] by assuming the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men [He became completely human but was without sin, being fully God and fully man].”‭‭ (Philippians 2:6-7, AMP)

Jesus Christ is a mystery–identified as the Word of God made flesh supernaturally through the power of the Holy Spirit, the brightness of God’s glory and express image of His person. He was the only One in all of history without sin “…tempted in every way that we are, but he did not sin.” (‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭4:15‬ ‭NCV‬‬)

And it is because of this that He could take on Himself the punishment for human sin–that “He who knew no sin” could become “sin for us” so “that we might become the holiness of God in Him.” Had He not been God incarnate without sin, in dying, His death would have atoned for no one’s sin.

But how am I God’s enemy? When I reject Jesus, when I do not accept what He has accomplished in faith, when I want nothing to do with the forgiveness the Father freely gives the repentant person through Jesus’ death and resurrection, I am still in my sins, unforgiven–I am the one who is an enemy of God.

This is why hell will be populated with “good” people. It is because we humans have no ability to discern who is good and who is wicked–it is because we fail to recognize that although we rate sin on a sliding scale, any absence of perfect holiness is sufficient to qualify me as an enemy of God.

So, how does this end? Is this it? How sad if it were! But no, we don’t have to push God’s love and offer of forgiveness away. Those of us who come to Jesus in repentance and faith are transferred in status from enemies to friends, from unforgiven to accepted in the Beloved.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”‭‭ (Romans‬ ‭5:8-10‬)

Dear Lord Jesus,

Thank You for forgiving me! Amen.

(See http://www.richmondhillbaptist.org/sinners.html for more detail.)

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