Posts referencing the New Testament

Resist Temptation When You Find a Short Cut

October 31, 2017

Our last two devotionals looked at the first two temptations of Christ, and how He handled them. Through them, we learned how we can resist when we are weak and when we think we have everything under control. This brings us to the final temptation of the three He endured.

8Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9And he said to Him, “All these I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me.” 10Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

‘You shall worship the Lord your God
    and Him only shall you serve.’"

11Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.

Matthew 4:8-11 (ESV)

Remember that Jesus’ entire mission - His reason for being on earth at this point - is to redeem mankind, and restore them to Himself, so that He will one day rule over them in righteousness. The temptation here, then, is a huge short cut. Jesus knows what is to come; He knows how difficult it will be, and He knows the pain He will have to endure. Satan has been granted temporary power on the earth (called the “prince of the power of the air” by Paul in Ephesians 2:2), and is offering to transfer this control to Jesus.

Just reading this temptation, knowing what we know now, we might come away thinking “The temptation was to worship Satan? That one should be easy to resist!” As we think about it, though, this may be the most seductive of the three temptations. Turning stones into bread would have satisfied an acute physical need, and throwing Himself off the pinnacle of the temple would have been just another miracle story. But this - this is a way to take control of the world away from Satan without going through the pain and suffering. For Satan, there is the added benefit of distracting Jesus from His mission, which means an ultimate thwarting of God’s plan to redeem mankind. He’d gladly cede some earthly power now to win the long game in the future.

However, Satan miscalculated in this temptation; Jesus’ mission was not to come to earth to control it, but to redeem it. Power wasn’t the goal; salvation was. Once again, Jesus uses Scripture from Deuteronomy to rebuff this temptation:

13It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by His name you shall swear.

Deuteronomy 6:13 (ESV)

The translation here isn’t quite the same (Deuteronomy’s original language is Hebrew, Matthew’s original language is Greek), but the point is the same, particularly if you consider that this is the point immediately following the one in that famous speech from Moses that starts “Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Interestingly, the point after this one is the one about not testing the Lord, that Jesus used to refute Satan during the second temptation. Within this point, though, it is part of a charge from Moses to the Hebrew people that, when they arrive in the land that God has promised them, they are to serve Him alone, and not turn aside to other gods they will find there.

At this point, Satan is 0-3; three temptations have been refuted with three passages of Scripture. Jesus passed this temptation, and angels came and ministered to Him (v. 11). Showing that He still had power over Satan, even on earth and in His weakened state, when Jesus said “Be gone, Satan!”, Satan had to scram.

John, in 1 John 2:15-17, puts everything wrong in the world into three categories: the “lust of the flesh,” the “lust of the eyes,” and the “pride of life.” It is not difficult to see that each of Jesus’ temptations addressed primarily one of these categories. As the author of Hebrews said, “[He] was tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15b) He withstood these temptations through the power of God’s Word. As we’ve seen with the previous two temptations, we must know Scripture if we are going to able to recall it during times of temptation. We must follow Jesus’ example if we are to find success resisting temptation.

Resist Temptation When You Think You've Got It Under Control

October 24, 2017

This time, we’ll continue looking at how we can resist temptation, using Jesus as our example. (If you missed the last one, no worries - you can catch up here.) We’ll pick up where we left off, looking at Matthew 4:5-7.

5Then the devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple 6and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

‘He will command His angels concerning You,’

and

‘On their hands they will bear You up,
    lest You strike Your foot against a stone.’"

7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Matthew 4:5-7 (ESV)

For this temptation, Satan takes Jesus up to the top of the temple. At this point, it seems that he may have learned from the prior temptation, because he tries to use Scripture as part of this temptation. He uses two verses, Psalm 91:11-12, to support his claim that Jesus can do the spectacular trick he has just dared Him to do.

As with the first temptation, the request itself is not sinful, at least at first glance. At many points within Scripture, God asks people to do things that would normally lead to their deaths, yet He preserves them through the midst of that dangerous situation. This situation isn’t quite like those, though.

  • In each of those situations, the miraculous outcome brought glory to God among many people. Jesus performing this trick would bring glory to Him - not His Father - and likely would have only been visible to Satan.
  • God did not request this activity; Satan suggested it. This was not within the will of God; instead, it would have been a foolish misapplication of faith. God’s promises in one context cannot be presumed upon in completely different contexts.

Jesus is unimpressed with Satan’s knowledge of Scripture. Instead, He reaches back to Deuteronomy again to thwart this temptation.

16You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah.

Deuteronomy 6:16 (ESV)

Massah was the name given to the place described in Exodus 17:1-7, when the children of Israel were complaining that they had no water as they wandered. God miraculously provided water from a rock, but the place where this occurred was named to remind Israel of the sin that this represented. (“Massah” literally means “testing.”) Testing God indicates not only a lack of faith, but also a lack of belief in His goodness and sovereignty.

For the second time, we see Jesus using Scripture to withstand temptation. Here, the temptation was something He could easily handle; He literally could have thrown Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, and had a cadre of angels catch Him at the bottom. It would not have even been a challenge.

This is the exact scenario where we are likely to fail. We have just accomplished something great, and our confidence is high; or, we encounter a situation that we are sure we could handle without having to think about it. In these times, we must continue to rely on God. If we run into situations without thinking, we will not have time to pray, or apply our knowledge of Scripture to the situation. That is a recipe for a fall. We must know Scripture to be able to apply it, and we must be consistent in actually applying it, if we are to successfully resist temptation.

Resist Temptation When You Are Weak

October 17, 2017

Temptation can be difficult. Oscar Wilde wrote “I can resist anything except temptation.” Lane Olinghouse noted that “those who flee temptation usually leave a forwarding address.” Even when we do resist, we may not be pleased with the result; James Branch Cabell said “There is not any memory with less satisfaction than the memory of some temptation we resisted.”

Of course, these are all written from a human perspective; Christians are called to more than that, and to see how to do that, we can look back to one of the first events in Jesus’ earthly ministry. In this and the following two devotionals, we’ll look at three different times that Jesus resisted temptation, and see how we can follow His example.

1Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. 3And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But He answered, "It is written,

‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’"

Matthew 4:1-4 (ESV)

The first temptation shows us Jesus resisting when He was weak. He had been fasting in the wilderness for 40 days and nights, and was physically weak and drained from that experience. The timeframe of 40 days is significant; we see that in several other places in Scripture, and usually indicated something being done to completion:

Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread. There certainly isn’t anything wrong with eating, and Jesus was physically famished. However, the temptation here was for Him to use His divine power to satisfy a physical urge. His mission was to come to earth, live as we live (sinlessly - Hebrews 4:15), then give His life as a ransom to pay for our sin. Making bread materialize out of thin air, or starting with some rocky raw materials, would not have been consistent with that mission. If other humans can’t do it, He shouldn’t do it.

There is a taunt in there with the temptation. Notice Satan’s first words to Jesus: “If You are the Son of God…” Jesus was (and is) the Son of God, but He had no need to prove Himself, or respond to that taunt. He knew His identity, and He saw through Satan’s attempt to get Him to do something to prove it. As with the stone-to-bread temptation itself, though He was the Son of God, He was living as a human; this was the time for humility and humanity, not miracles and majesty.

Jesus resists Satan by using Scripture (Old Testament, no less!); specifically, what He quotes to Satan comes from Deuteronomy 8:3.

3And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 8:3 (ESV)

In this passage from Deuteronomy, Moses is encouraging Israel to remember what God has done for them, and how He has protected and provided for them as they have wandered in the wilderness for the past 40 years. It is part of the Torah, what we now call the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), which was the “Bible” for the Jews of that day. Jesus did not call upon His divine nature to resist this temptation, nor did He miraculously remove Himself from the situation; He used God’s revealed Word to defend Himself against Satan and resist this temptation.

Like Jesus, we should resist temptation when we are weak. That seems to be Satan’s favorite time to come to us, when he can tempt us with something that we think will improve our lives. To be able to resist, however, we must rely on God’s power and His Word; and, to be able to rely on His Word, we must know what it is. Pouring ourselves into God’s Word (and it into us) is the best way to prepare for whatever temptation may come our way. We must make it so familiar to us that, even when we are weak, we can bring His words to our mind, and use them to resist temptation.

Twisted Scripture: 1 Corinthians 10:13

March 4, 2017

Today’s focus verse is one that is an encouraging principle and promise from the Word about how we can live the Christian life. Let’s start with the verse itself, 1 Corinthians 10:13.

13No 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.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV)

The common twist on this is actually in the way it’s usually quoted; it becomes…

God won't give you more than you can handle. - Misquotations 7:15

There are at least two problems with this twist. First, it simply isn’t true. I’m in my 40th year of knowing Jesus as my Savior, and I can assure you that God gives me more than I can handle all the time; just my past 7 days have had way more than I alone could handle. If we tell struggling people “Well, you know, the Bible says that God won’t give you more than you can handle!”, we are seriously damaging our credibility, which will, in turn, hamper our further ability to share the things of God. If God never gave us more than we could handle, why would we need Him once we have obtained salvation? The Bible is replete with examples of people who were getting more than they could handle; let’s look at one such instance in Psalm 40.

11As for you, O Lord, You will not restrain
    Your mercy from me;
Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness will
    ever preserve me!
12For evils have encompassed me
    beyond number;
my iniquities have overtaken me,
    and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
    my heart fails me.

13Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
    O Lord, make haste to help me!
14Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
    who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
    who delight in my hurt!

Psalm 40:11-14 (ESV)

The Psalms, being poetry, often speak to feelings common to mankind, and this is one of those places. The theme of the psalm is God’s deliverance, something David cannot manage to do himself - it’s literally “more than he can handle.” Yet, this bigger-than-him situation causes David to cry out to God for help, and to depend on Him for his deliverance. God brings us through situations that are more than we could handle ourselves, to demonstrate His love that is not just a saving love for our souls, but a living and active love for our lives as well. How could He do that if He never allowed “more than we could handle”?

The second problem with this twist is that it completely misses the actual promise of the text. 1 Corinthians 10:13 is talking about temptation, and comes immediately after a verse that is usually quoted correctly, even when snatched from its context.

12Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

1 Corinthians 10:12 (ESV)

In the even larger context of this chapter, Paul has warned the Corinthian church about idolatry, sexual immorality, and testing God. He then writes vv. 12-13, telling them to be on guard, yet encouraging them that God will not allow a temptation so great that they, through Him, cannot resist. This is a very big deal! We all face temptation; if you have tried to resist it yourself, you’re likely thinking back to the time when you failed in those efforts, and gave in to the sin you had been resisting.

Why are we so bad at resisting temptation on our own? The main reason is that resisting temptation is spiritual warfare, but our fallen nature (what we use when we do it “on our own”) is ill equipped for that battle. Paul writes that we have a way of escape provided; let’s look at a few of different strategies given in the Bible. The first is from Jesus Himself, speaking to His disciples after He returned from praying in the garden of Gethsemane and found them asleep.

40And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And He said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with Me one hour? 41Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Matthew 26:40-41 (ESV)

The next is from Paul, instructing his protegé Timothy.

22So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace…

2 Timothy 2:22a (ESV)

The last is from James, Jesus’ brother.

7Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

James 4:7 (ESV)

Did you pick up on any common themes in those three passages? “Pray” (Matthew 26:41), “pursue righteousness” (2 Timothy 2:22), and “submit[ting]…to God” (James 4:7) are three different ways of saying the same thing - we must have God’s power if we are to be able to resist temptation. We must actively pray, pour His Word into our hearts, and be vigilant. This is the only way for us to be able to recognize the “way of escape” so we can take it.

There is one final caution, back in vv. 12-13, where Paul says that this temptation will not exceed our “ability.” Ability is developed through practice, and God, in the process of refining us to make us more like Him, will provide opportunities for us to increase our ability. Don’t lose heart if, after successfully resisting temptation, another stronger one appears. Conversely, you may reach a point where most temptation is pretty easy to resist; that’s where the warning in verse 12 becomes even more important. When we let our guard down, we become the most vulnerable to temptation.

As we have looked at what 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, and what it doesn’t say, I pray that you have been blessed. It truly is an encouraging promise for us who are trying to live our lives the way Christ would have us live them. I hope you also realize how much damage this common misquotation can do, both to the truth and to our witness. The Christian life is great, having Jesus to guide, warn, and protect us; I wouldn’t want to live any other way. That being said, though, we would be lying if we say that it is easy, and saying this to a hurting person will provide the opposite of comfort.

Twisted Scripture: Matthew 7:1

February 18, 2017

1Judge not, that you be not judged.

Matthew 7:1 (ESV)

This is the anti-Christian’s (ACs for the rest of this devotion) favorite verse. Any expression of Christian faith that interferes with what they want to do is met with this rejoinder, meant to accuse us of not being familiar with the Book we claim to follow. As fate would have it, though, it turns out that people who don’t believe the Bible is true are very poor theologians. To begin, let’s take a look at the next 4 verses.

2For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:2-5 (ESV)

In verse 2, Jesus basically says that we will be judged based on the standards by which we judge others. (Of course, this doesn’t mean that if we never hold others to a standard, we can just live however we want. See Romans 6:1-2 for Christians and Revelation 20:11-15 for the unsaved.) In verses 3-4, Jesus talks about how foolish it would be for a person to have a log (or “beam” or “plank” in other translations) in their eye, yet attempt to diagnose and remove a speck from another person’s eye. (“Ah ha - I see where He’s going!” think the ACs at this point…) He then continues “You hypocrite!” (“PREACH IT,” yell the ACs, “You tell 'em!”)

As an aside - doesn’t that sound just a bit judgmental? We’ll come back to that…

The following words of Christ are often split; people focus on one half or the other, just as they do with His words to the woman caught in adultery.

11…And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

John 8:11b (ESV)

In Matthew 7:5, the phrases are separated by a comma; in John 8:11, they’re separated by a semicolon. In both cases, the ACs like the first part, but folks we’ll call turbo-Christians (TCs hereafter) like to act like the second part is the important one. We’ll explore that a bit more in the final analysis as well. For now, though, what does Jesus say for the hypocrite to do? “Take the log out of your own eye.” In other words, “Get yourself right.” But then, what does He say next - why are we to take the log out of our eyes? “…then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Aren’t we going to have to identify a speck, and call a speck a speck, before we’re actually able to remove it from our brother’s eye?

Jesus then continues…

6Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

Matthew 7:6 (ESV)

Again, here, must we not determine dogs from other animals if we are to avoid giving them “what is holy”? Are we not to distinguish pigs from among all other animals (or plants) if we are to avoid throwing our pearls before them?

Now that we’ve evaluated the context, let’s make some application.

“Judge Not” has nothing to do with what people commonly call “judging”

Calling a sin a sin is not judging, according to this passage. To avoid sin, we must make determinations (AKA “judge”) regarding actions or behaviors as to whether they match up with the guidance contained in the Scriptures. We must be consistently vigilant. The world makes things seem fun, enjoyable, and pleasurable; while none of those attributes are necessarily against God, we must be discerning to make sure that we are not drawn into an alluring sin. The author of Hebrews, when describing Moses in Hebrews 11:24-25, calls it the “fleeting pleasures of sin” (or, as the King James Version translates it, the “pleasures of sin for a season”).

There are several definitions of the word “judge,” not just the one that means “determination.” The same Greek word (krino) translated here as “judge” is the same one translated “sue you” in Matthew 5:40. It is also translated “decided” in Titus 3:12 when Paul is telling Titus where he plans to spend the winter. So what exactly is Jesus trying to tell us to avoid? I believe Paul fleshes this out in the first part of Romans 14.

1As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

5One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

10Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

13Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.

Romans 14:1-13 (ESV)

The translation “pass judgment” carries what I believe Matthew 7:1 to be saying. If we pass judgment, we are handing out a sentence - guilty as charged, and condemned to die as an unbeliever. We see believers observing dietary restrictions, or failing to observe the ones we believe are right. Paul is quite clear that dietary restrictions are not a salvation issue, and really are not even a glorifying God issue; he makes allowances for people of different diets, different holiday calendars - but the key is verse 8. It must be done to the Lord. If we are failing to observe a dietary restriction because we like eating that food, that’s not covered here; if we decide to eat the restricted food because we believe that will help us better serve the Lord, that is honoring to God. If we don’t observe the world’s “holidays” because we want them to make sure they know we’re separate, that’s not the point; if we abstain from these days to help solidify our relationship with Christ, now we’re on the right track.

As this point, the astute AC is saying “Yeah, but this is talking about Christian interrelationship; that’s fine for you to believe, but don’t judge us!” This is still a misunderstanding of the Scripture. Encouraging people to repent, to turn from their sin and to Christ, is not the same as judgment; rather, it is an attempt from a fellow human to prevent them from encountering the ultimate judgment that is to come. We’re not judging you (see the third application below, though), we don’t want you to be judged! Calls for repentance are not what’s prohibited here; otherwise, Jesus started His ministry by violating His own rule (Mark 1:14-15).

Hypocrisy is real, and looks really foolish

Jesus’ picture of someone with a log sticking out of their eye trying to help someone get a speck out of their eye is so ridiculous, He thought it just might get His listeners’ attention. We are very quick to spot flaws in other people while conveniently ignoring our own. This is one reason we are encouraged to spend time in fellowship with other Christians. We all have blind spots; if we could see them, they wouldn’t be blind spots. Our friends, though, can usually see them with 20/20 clarity. By spending time a) in the Word, so we know what is right, and b) with fellow believers, who also know what is right, we can help one another as we endeavor to walk in a closer relationship with Christ.

The church is full of recovering hypocrites; it is important that we do our dead-level best to strive to live up to the beliefs we claim to have. We must do it; the world is watching, and they’re not impressed.

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

Attributed to Brennan Manning

Christians should not be judgmental people

I mentioned that we’d come back to the “judgmental” “You hypocrites!” proclamation. There are two aspects to this we’ll explore as we begin to wrap this up. The first is a non-spiritual observation. Saying something silly to loosen up the listeners, before you hit them with something difficult, did not originate with comedians of the past 40 years. Jesus knew His listeners would be chuckling as He described that silly scene, then He dropped the attention-getting line. He is a great example (the example) of how to be winsome while delievering words the hearer may not want to hear. The second is that Jesus nearly universally used this tone with people who should know better, but were using His name for their own personal gain. Whether it was the moneychangers He drove out of the temple (Matthew 21:14-15) increaing their wallets, or the Pharisees He termed a bunch of snakes (Matthew 12:33-34) who used the temple for their own popularity, He judged them, and did so pretty harshly.

At this point, the TCs are fired up. “Yeah - let’s go braid some whips!” Simmer down… Yes, Jesus said that we could get the speck out of our brother’s eye, and He told the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more.” But we have to take all of Scripture in context; a call to change does not exist without a call to repent, and without the power a relationship with Christ brings, behavioral change cannot happen. In our passage here, Jesus tells us to get the log out of our eye before going to work on the speck in the other guy’s eye. In John 8:11, He precedes the admonition with “Neither to I condemn you.” The Greek word translated “condemn” is katakrino, a stronger form of the one translated “judge” in Matthew 7:1.

Jesus did not come to condemn the world; He came to save it. When we go out and rail against the prevailing sin of the day, and do so in a manner that makes it sound like they are beyond saving and have condemned themselves already, we are not preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Calling people to repentance is fine; calling sin sin is fine; but we must be sure that we are leaving room for the Holy Spirit to convict them of that sin. If we shut people down, and tell them they’ve gone too far, they might just believe us; and that would be truly sad, because as Peter described the One we serve,

9The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (ESV)

We should not be silent, and we should not compromise the truth. However, we should also remember, as Paul wrote in Romans 14, that we are here for God’s glory. Let us be sure that He is glorified as we, in a winsome way, share His good news with the world in which we live.

You May Already Be Qualified

June 10, 2013

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.”

John 3:1-3 (ESV)

30Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Acts 16:30-31 (ESV)

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ - that’s it!

This is the culmination of a long process. God created man (Genesis 1:27) in a perfect state, but man chose to sin (Genesis 3:1-7). There were stiff consequences for that sin (Genesis 3:16-19), but in the serpent’s curse, God alluded to His plan (Genesis 3:15). Throughout the Old Testament, many prophecies were made concerning the Messiah, both literal (Isaiah 9:1-7, Isaiah 53) and figurative (Leviticus 4). Jesus came, born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18), and lived a sinless life (Hebrews 4:15) while ministering on earth. He was crucified (Matthew 27:22-26), but resurrected from the grave (Matthew 28:1-7) and ascended to heaven to be with His Father (Acts 1:6-11) until He returns to call His own home (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17).

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.

James 3:1-2a (ESV)

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.