Hypocrisy is a charged often leveled against Christians. “How can you say you believe ‘x’ and still do ‘y’?”, the unbeliever asks. While the merits of this claim probably deserve an entire devotional on their own, the implication is that these hypocrites are unqualified - unqualified to be taken seriously, unqualified to speak the truth of the Bible, even unqualified to be a child of God. If someone hears this charge, particularly the latter one, with enough repetition, they may actually start to believe it. What exactly qualifies someone to become a Christian, or to at least claim that they are?
Believe it or not, the list of qualifications is quite short.
1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Throughout the Bible, there are many, many examples of those who would likely be called hypocrites today. Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife - twice! - (Genesis 12:11-20, Genesis 20:1-18) and is still the father of the nation of Israel. Jacob stole his brother’s blessing (Genesis 27:5-35), but was still the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. David committed adultery (2 Samuel 11:2-5) and murder (2 Samuel 11:14-24), yet God used Bathsheba to give him Solomon, his successor as king. Paul persecuted and killed Christ’s followers (Acts 8:1-9:2), yet he was used to write nearly half of the New Testament.
Were these people hypocrites? Some may say “yes.” The thing is, while salvation is an instant change in state, learning to live in a way that pleases Christ takes a lifetime. As we work to allow the Holy Spirit to control our lives, and deepen our relationship with Him, we can see significant growth. Habits can be changed, thought patterns can be transformed, and we can experience peace and joy that are not possible in our own strength. We will get better, but we will never be perfect.
This is also a great example of God’s redemption. The more cynical person would look at the people above and think “If these are the founders of this religion, I want nothing to do with it!” When you look at each life, though, you see God working to bring about a changed heart, which results in a transformed life. These people weren’t used by God to do those sinful things; those people were used by God to do amazing things for Him in spite of those sinful things!
(A note on leaders - Paul sets out qualifications for deacons and pastors in two different places (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-13). James echoes this along with a warning.
1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For we all stumble in many ways.
These guidelines are good for all, but the church should hold their leaders to these standards as a condition of continued leadership. The Bible contains several examples of God removing people from leadership when they turned from Him.)
How, then, do we get qualified? That’s just it - God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called. If you have accepted Christ, you are qualified! Don’t let your failures get you down; rather, use them as reminders of how much you (and we all) need Jesus. If you haven’t accepted Christ, the good news is that you’re only missing one qualification. There is no credit check, and no test for which you have to study. God is waiting with open arms to welcome you into His family! All you have to do is ask; God’s Simple Plan of Salvation can show you how.
Today, we are looking at an interesting passage; it reflects a cultural issue within the early church, but the principle is as relevant today as it was then.
17Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.
Circumcision was a big deal to the Jews, and much of the Old Testament law is built on circumcision. Jewish children were to be circumcised 8 days after birth, and converts to Judaism, mirroring Genesis 17:10, were circumcised as adults. With both Jews and gentiles being added to the church, circumcision had become quite the divisive issue. In the passage above, Paul writes that there is no need for the circumcised to try to alter that, nor is there a need for the uncircumcised to become circumcised. In Romans 2:29, he wrote that circumcision doesn’t even mean what either side thought that it did.
29But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Paul also dealt with the issue of slaves. Slavery was much more common in that day than it is today, and was not viewed as the moral abhorrence that we have come to realize that it is. In some cases, entering into slavery was a way to pay off a debt. In other cases, it was a way for someone to attempt to better their lives, by living as a slave for a period of time. However, there were some slaves who, upon their period of slavery being fulfilled, chose to stay and work in their master’s house. These were called bondservants, and that title represented a lifetime choice.
Just as with circumcision, Paul emphasizes that one’s status regarding slavery has no effect on one’s ability to serve, and that coming to Christ does not require a change in status. In verses 19, 22, and 24, Paul zeroes in on where the focus should be. Circumcision and slave status are side issues, distractions from the “main thing.” Keeping God’s commandments is the focus, and slave status can be flipped either way in Christ. The summary, in verse 24, tells them (and us) that in whatever condition we were when we were called, we should remain there – but in God.
The person who tries to clean themselves up before coming to Jesus is like the gunshot victim performing surgery on themselves before going to the hospital.
He’s right - there is no reason for anyone to try to clean themselves up before coming to Christ. This runs against the way we normally think. We clean our houses before we have company - there are even people who clean before the housekeeper comes - because we do not want to expose our literal “dirty laundry” to others. However, Jesus already knows what we are, how we think, and what we have done; He knows all that, and still offers us His payment for sin, free of charge. All we must do is answer His call.
The set of people who God calls is as diverse as the set of people He created. There are Christian businessmen, MMA fighters, actors, retail workers, athletes, motorcycle customizers, landscapers, and on and on. God’s desire is not for every person, once saved, to go into full-time Christian service. He cares about all people, and by having His representatives in all these various fields, these people can tell their peers how their relationship with Christ has changed their lives. God doesn’t want to change your job; He wants to transform your life.
If you have never answered His call, today is the day! Take a look at God’s Simple Plan of Salvation, and begin your relationship with Him. If you are a Christian, consider where you are. Barring sin issues, you are where God wants you to be. He has chosen you because of your abilities and place in this world; use that for Him!
This week, we come to the most popular 3:16 of them all. It’s a verse so popular, people can write just the reference on a piece of poster board, and those seeing it know exactly what they’re trying to say. Yes, today’s 3:16 comes from the book of John.
16For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.
This verse is part of the larger context of Nicodemus’s visit to Jesus at night, described in John 3:1-21. While we won’t recount that story in detail, it is interesting to note that John 3:3 is the source of the term “born again,” and it came from Jesus. Also, we won’t rehash what we looked at two weeks ago, regarding man’s need for God; if you missed it or would like to re-read it, feel free. Rather, I’d like to focus on what the Old Testament says about the coming of Jesus. Notice that “gave” is past tense; at this chronological point in the Bible, most references to God’s Son were in the future tense.
The coming of Jesus is a recurring theme throughout the Old Testament, and it starts early in Genesis.
15I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.
This was God speaking to the serpent, after it had been used to deceive Adam and Eve. The “He” in this verse is pointing to Jesus. As we continue from there, Moses wrote in Leviticus 4 about the sin offering; while this description doesn’t mention Jesus by name, the picture of how the sacrifice was slain is a foreshadowing of the way Jesus would die, His blood spilled out all over the ground. However, His blood didn’t just cover sin - it completely washed it away! Further on, the Israelites began complaining about God leading them out of Egypt, and God sent poisonous snakes into their camp. Through their deliverance from the snakes, we have another picture of salvation, and the way Jesus would die.
8Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake [image] and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.” 9So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.
As a child growing up, this was a passage that I had to memorize. As I worked to commit the words to memory, I either did not ever take the time to view them all together as a whole, or maybe I just didn’t know enough to really, really get it. Verses 2 and 3 describe an image to which I can relate, and I suspect you can too; have you ever seen what a root looks like? This person blended in, or maybe even stuck out in an undesirable way. People took one look and despised Him, turning away from Him. I’ve had people literally turn their backs to me and walk away, and it’s no fun. How much more did this hurt the One who had given up everything He had in heaven to come here with the power to save us? I can also tell you that it wasn’t love I felt in my heart towards the people who walked away from me. Not only did Jesus take this abuse, this hate borne of misunderstanding, He continued His mission - His mission of even more suffering, untold torture, and eventual death - all not for what He had done, but for the sins that these very
same people who rejected Him had done! What an amazing, unimaginable love He must have for us!
Verse 6 is one of the more well-known verses in this passage. We have all done wrong, every single one of us - if you’re like me, several times daily. We have all “turned to our own way.” No matter what we’ve seen, no matter what blessings God has given us, we all keep veering off the path, seeking our own way. (Yes, even saved people still sin; Jesus’s sacrifice paid for that sin too.) The King James Version translates the word “punished” in that verse as “laid on” - the picture I get from that is of our sin being piled and piled and piled upon Jesus, until He broke from the heavy load.
Verse 7 presents a concept that is completely foreign to many people today - Jesus did not defend Himself against the false accusations that were made against Him. The Sanhedrin council levied all sorts of charges against Him, and He presented no defense for them. The Roman authorities could find no fault with Him, even taking the step as to publicly wash their hands of any evil that the people wanted to do against Jesus. As a child, this was one verse I didn’t understand. I understood it as prophecy that was fulfilled as recorded in the Gospels, but I didn’t have my head completely around it. Why didn’t He defend Himself? I believe there are two main reasons. First, verse 7 - this was prophecy concerning the Messiah, and had He defended Himself, this prophecy would be unfulfilled; this would have given His detractors a reason to speak against Him. Second, it would have done no good whatsoever; the people who were coming against Him were not going to stop until they had Him.
Finally, verse 9 is just neat. “They made His grave… with a rich man.” Joseph, from whom Jesus’s tomb was borrowed, was a wealthy man who was also a follower of Jesus. (I wonder if Joseph gave Him a special 3-day rate…) The detail in these prophecies that are fulfilled really increases my faith, and I hope it does the same for you. Confidence in the Scripture is important, because without the solid foundation of Scripture as inerrant, our knowledge of God could not be certain.
So, how do you live forever? Jesus told us, right up there in the second paragraph of this devotional. Did you miss it? :) All kidding aside, it really is as simple as Jesus explained to Nicodemus - “so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” Paul put it this way to the church in Rome…
9if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
If you have never done this, I pray that today is the day that you trust your life to Jesus. Life is tough, and there’s no way I’d want to go through it without God on my side. If you’d like this broken down even further, check out God’s Simple Plan of Salvation. If you are a Christian, remember the sacrifice that Jesus had to make to be able to give you this free gift. Thank Him, and be sure to share His gift with others that you see.
We’ll definitely need some more context - let’s look beginning with verse 10, going through verse 20.
10as it is written:
There is no one righteous, not even one; 11there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God. 12All have turned away, together they have become useless; there is no one who does good, there is not even one. 13Their throat is an open grave; they deceive with their tongues. Vipers’ venom is under their lips. 14Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. 15Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16ruin and wretchedness are in their paths, 17and the path of peace they have not known. 18There is no fear of God before their eyes.
19Now we know that whatever the law says speaks to those who are subject to the law, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become subject to God’s judgment. 20For no flesh will be justified in His sight by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.
The block quote in the passage above is a compilation of verses from the Old Testament. I won’t paste all of them here, but these can be found in Psalm 5:9, Psalm 10:7, Psalm 14:1-3, Psalm 36:1, Psalm 53:1-3, Psalm 140:3, Ecclesiastes 7:20, and Isaiah 59:7-8. In each of these passages, what immediately follows these descriptions is a call is for God to judge the people who are displaying these tendencies, and deliver His people from them. The passage in Isaiah is no different; the prophet writes how the Lord is going to judge those who have wronged Him and His people. Here’s how he described the coming judgment…
15Truth is missing,
and whoever turns from evil is plundered.
The Lord saw that there was no justice,
and He was offended.
16He saw that there was no man -
He was amazed that there was no one interceding;
so His own arm brought salvation,
and His own righteousness supported Him.
17He put on righteousness like a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on His head;
He put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and He wrapped Himself in zeal as in a cloak.
18Thus He will repay according to their deeds:
fury to His enemies,
retribution to His foes,
and He will repay the coastlands.
19They will fear the name of the Lord in the west,
and His glory in the east;
for He will come like a rushing stream
driven by the wind of the Lord.
That’s quite a picture! The “rushing stream driven by the wind” is a powerful image. We’ve seen images of floods on TV - it’s amazing how just a little bit of water can completely overpower anything in its path. This is a strong force, but it is not indiscriminate, like a normal flood; the Lord is repaying people according to their deeds. At this point, we may be thinking “Boy, I’m glad I’m not one of those people who has wronged Him or His people!” But, are we really innocent? Let’s take a look further in Romans 3…
23For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
I once had a pastor who said that in this verse, “all” is from the Greek, meaning “all.” There is little ambiguity about whether you and I are part of the “all” that Paul is talking about - every one of us has sinned against God, and deserve any punishment we receive from Him.
So, we’ve wronged God, and God demands justice. How are we going to make this right? (Notice above in Isaiah 59:16, “His own arm brought salvation…”) Let’s see what Paul says.
21But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed - attested by the Law and the Prophets 22- that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. 23For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. 26He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus.
The word “propitiation” is an interesting word. When I started reading versions other than the King James Version, I thought for sure that “propitiation” was one of those words that wouldn’t make it. However, the more modern translation versions NASB, ESV, NKJV, and HCSB all have this word in this verse! The NIV translates it “sacrifice of atonement,” and that’s a good way to put it. The dictionary defines propitiation as making something favorably inclined or appeasing it. God presented Jesus as a way to appease His demand for justice! Since Jesus appeases this demand, all we have to do is believe in Him and accept Him (v. 26 “He would… declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus”). Not only does he declare us righteous, God will “pass over the sins previously committed.” (v. 25)
This is really good news. I imagine your experience on this earth is much like mine in this regard - I simply cannot always do what I know I’m supposed to do. I get angry. I say mean things. I let resentment build in my heart. If it were up to me to apologize for my sins and try to do better, I would be toast. But, look at what Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross can do for us! If we accept Him, God counts us righteous and doesn’t demand any further payment for our sin! (We may still have to deal with consequences here on earth - God forgives our sin; He never promised to save us from our bad decisions.)
Notice the end of verse 22 - “to all who believe, since there is no distinction.” There’s that “all” again, and yes, it’s still talking about you and me. This free gift, this payment for sin, is available to all people without distinction. Any race, any gender, any age, any marital status, any intelligence level, any financial status… well, you get the idea. Most importantly, it is available for you! If you are reading this, Jesus knew about you when He died on the cross; He paid for your sin with His life. All you have to do is accept that gift - as Paul and Silas told a jailer in Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” If you would like more information on how to accept this gift, you can look at God’s Simple Plan of Salvation, which details more about this; also, feel free to contact me using the “Contact” link found at the top of the page.
This is part of the passage that Paul wrote to encourage the believers not to worry about those who had died. Here is the entire context, verses 13 through 18.
13We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. 14Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep through Jesus. 15For we say this to you by a revelation from the Lord: We who are still alive at the Lord’s coming will certainly have no advantage over those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will always be with the Lord. 18Therefore encourage one another with these words.
I remember this being read at one of my grandmother’s funerals, and it was comforting, even though I was a young child at the time. However, in this passage, there are two ways out of this world before the apocalypse. (We’ll not debate eschatology here today; as my pastor said a few weeks ago, “I’m going on - if you’re staying, send me a postcard.”)
The first of these is through death. Death is not a happy topic for anyone - the end of life on this earth means that we will accomplish no more, and that those who remain alive will no longer have the companionship of the one who has died. However, for the believer, death is not “the end,” but a transition to a new phase of life. That doesn’t make those left behind any less lonely, but it does encourage them that they will see their loved ones again. Also, as we age, many of our bodies begin to wear out, often in painful, debilitating ways. While it’s not something commonly said at the time a loved one dies, sometimes death is a gift from God, His way of saying “you’ve endured enough - come on home!”
The second of these is through being caught up in the air while still alive. For those alive when Jesus returns, this will have to be the biggest rush imaginable - better than any thrill ride at any amusement park! There have been many who have written stories about what this may be like; the best-selling of those is the Left Behind series from Jerry Jenkins and Dr. Tim LaHaye. But, the truth is, we can read Revelation for ourselves, and try to guess at what certain things might be, but we won’t know until we’re observing it from a very, very safe distance.
There is a catch, though; these two ways to escape are only for believers. The Bible paints a much more grim picture for those who do not escape. From the seal judgments described in Revelation 6 and the first part of Revelation 8, to the trumpet judgments described in Revelation 8, Revelation 9, and the end of Revelation 11, to the bowl judgments in Revelation 16, the three-and-a-half years after the Rapture are not going to be pretty. For those who have not accepted Christ, this is the only choice they have.
So, then, we see that there are two paths, but only one Way. Accepting Christ as your Savior is the only way to avoid these things. As Jesus said,
6Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
I pray that each of you know Jesus, and have accepted Him as your Savior. He is the only way to heaven; His payment for your sins is free, but it is a gift that must be willingly accepted. If you want to learn more about this, check out God’s Simple Plan of Salvation.
Paul wrote this to Timothy after going over the qualifications for pastors and deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-13). The standards Paul laid out are not easily attained. Paul completes the discussion, though, by telling Timothy that he has written these things so that he will know how people in the family of God should behave, and then writes the verse above. This last verse gives us insight into Jesus’ life, which Paul believes will help us live up to the standards that God has set out.
First, Paul says that “He was manifested in the flesh.” Jesus came to earth as one of us - a human being Who encountered all the temptations we will ever encounter, yet He remained without sin. He eventually gave up His life on a cross, so that through His sacrifice, we can escape Hell and obtain Heaven. However, He did not stay dead - three days later, He resurrected! Just this part is a great “mystery,” but it should inspire us to do what we can to make sure that His sacrifice is as effectual as it can be. Whenever one person accepts His finished work as payment for their sins, it does not diminish the grace remaining for everyone else; just like the old hymn “There’s Room at the Cross” says, “Though millions have come, there’s still room for one.”
Second, Paul writes that He was “justified in the Spirit.” During the three days that Jesus’ body was in the tomb, He was in the Spirit, taking our punishment. He was separated from God (the only time that has ever happened or will ever happen), being tormented for our sin. Through this, He was justified, and we can be justified as well. This payment is complete.
Third, Paul writes that Jesus was “seen by angels.” Wouldn’t that have been great to see - how the angels must have welcomed Him! I’m not sure if this is talking about the angels that stayed behind in the now-empty tomb, or if this was the host of angels in Heaven who saw Him. But, either way, I’m sure they must have been excited to see Him alive again. He had done what had been promised more than 4,000 years prior, and through it defeated Satan for good.
Fourth, Paul says that He was “preached among the Gentiles.” This was important for Timothy, as it is for most of us reading this. As John wrote…
The Jews of that day, for the most part, rejected Him. But, He still came to earth to not only save the Jews, but to extend that salvation to the rest of us (Gentiles) as well. He Himself preached among Gentiles, and after He ascended back to Heaven, He continued to be preached to Gentiles.
Fifth, Paul says that He was “believed on in the world.” This shows that, even though Paul was writing to Timothy early in the life of the church, many had already believed on Jesus, and accepted His payment for their sins. It’s always encouraging to have an example, someone who has come before you and accomplished the same thing you want to accomplish. Paul is encouraging Timothy and the believers at his church, letting them know that others have believed on Him, and already obtained the forgiveness they desired.
Finally, Paul says that He was “taken up in glory.” Jesus did not stay on earth once He had resurrected - He returned to Heaven. This is important, and it ties in both with what Jesus said, and with what Paul had written to others. Jesus said…
2In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. 3If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.
16For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the archangel’s voice, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are still alive will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will always be with the Lord.
So, how do you understand mysteries? I don’t know. :) There are still things about what Paul has written that I don’t understand. But, what I do know is that we can understand the parts of this mystery that Paul wrote to Timothy. Each of these parts points back to a central theme - Jesus’ finished work of salvation. Because we have received this salvation, we should live as those who have been forgiven, and encourage others to accept this gift as well.
Daniel is a man who wants to be used of God however He sees fit.