Posts tagged “paul”

Plucking Eyes and Cutting Hands

March 28, 2021   9 minutes

Recently, a young man went on a killing spree around Atlanta, Georgia, taking eight lives before he was apprehended on his way to commit even more murder. While much initial (and continuing) attention was shown toward the ethnicity of his victims, the perpetrator claimed his actions were his way of removing temptation from his life. He had been a member of a Southern Baptist congregation, and a few recent sermons from that church spoke of the “battle” between the church and the world. In predictable fashion and timing, this was presented as “hateful rhetoric” that likely emboldened the perpretrator to take such drastic action. In reality, the militaristic parallels contained in Scripture (and sermons based on that Scripture) are just that – parallels to spiritual conflict, not incitement to worldly conflict. (The messages from this church presented this appropriately; this devotional is not an attempt to correct those sermons.)

Invariably, I saw references to Jesus’s words from Matthew 5, telling us we should take drastic action to prevent ourselves from sexual sin, being used as proof that there was a biblical basis for this man’s actions. This could not be further from the truth; let’s look at what Jesus actually said, and draw applications from it that demonstrate what He was telling His followers to do.

27“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

Matthew 5:27-30 (ESV)

This comes from the Sermon on the Mount, in the middle of the section where Jesus presented the list of things “you have heard / but I say.” He clarified that many of the laws that observant Jews had always applied to actions or behaviors were actually matters of the heart. In this case, adultery isn’t something you can avoid simply by avoiding the act (again, Jesus’s point here is that it never was); rather, the desire to commit adultery is where the sin begins.

This is important, but it’s also important to note what is not being said here; we want to be clear about what is actually sin, so we do not fall into either a permissive or legalistic trap. Jesus is not saying that suddenly noticing someone else’s attractiveness is a sin. Rather, the sin comes in when we ponder satisfying (or actively satisfy) our own lusts outside the bonds and bounds of holy matrimony – the union of one man and one woman in which these desires are to be fulfilled, through God’s design and according to His plan.

Continuing with the text (and the theme of “what was said vs. what was not said”), verses 29 and 30 have caused controversy ever since they were uttered. It is holy hyperbole? Was He serious? Pluck my eye out – really? Do those with the use of only one eye or hand not have to deal with lust as a sin? (Uh… no, that’s not it.) I believe, from its context in the other statements Jesus made, He is using these strong statements to indicate how important this is. We might express this today as “If you can’t get this under control, and it’s your left eye that is causing you the issue, get rid of it!” This is not the only place in Scripture where sexual sin is treated as a “greater” sin than many others; Paul describes why in his first letter to the Corinthian church:

15Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him. 18Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:15-20 (ESV)

Christians are not sex-obsessed, nor are we focused on sex because our “repressive” teaching wars against our nature; rather, we understand that sexual sin has the unique capacity to destroy our bodies, which are (and should be treated as) the temple of the Holy Spirit. The marital union was given to us not only for our flourishing, but to be a lived-out expression of the relationship between Christ and His church; and, while not exclusively limited to the sexual freedom and fidelity that is a part of a Christ-centered marriage, it is certainly not less than that. Even the world realizes the unique, personal nature of this type of sin; the intro to Law and Order: Special Victims Unit begins:

In the criminal justice system, sexually-based offenses are considered especially heinous.

In this case, the “criminal justice system” and Scripture line up perfectly.

There is a sub-culture that talks about this a lot; it’s known in Evangelical circles as “purity culture.” I think a better term would be “hyper-purity,” much as the “hyper-Calvinists” take principles expressed by John Calvin and crank them up to 11 (and beyond). Every Sunday, David French write his French Press newsletter on a topic where Christianity and our culture intersect, and he recently did a deep-dive on this hyper-purity culture. His conclusion, right up front, is that their beliefs are not true Christian beliefs. Paul’s words on the seriousness of sexual sin are true; but, even still, God’s grace is greater than our sin. While sexual sin will have negative effects in one’s marriage, God is still the God Who says “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…” (Isaiah 1:18)

This brings us to modesty, a valid biblical concept that is too preeminent within hyper-purity culture. Their teaching puts the responsibility on women to not cause men to sin; but this misses the point. Yes, generally-speaking, men are visually-oriented – but, let me state unequivocally that this is immaterial to the discussion. Jesus’s words have no such qualifiers, and Christians should strive to be faithful to His words. Immodest people do not create sin in others; Jesus’s brother James explained it this way:

14But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

James 1:14-15 (ESV)

The problem is our desire, not the luring and enticement. Of course, this does not mean we can place ourselves where we know we will be tempted, then pray “Sorry, God” as we drift off to sleep. Rather, we can practically apply Jesus’s words by removing ourselves from situations where our eyes or hands (and hearts) would be tempted to sin. Note that Jesus talks about removing our own eye and hand; He does not instruct us to physically “take out” others who may be tempting those eyes or hands. We are responsible for our thoughts and behavior, not those of others; our command to be holy is not contigent on those around us – including other believers – making it easy for us.

At this point, you may be sarcastically thinking “well, this is encouraging…” It isn’t – but, on the other hand, in the full context of Scripture, it is.

5:8…but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

8:1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 5:8, 8:1 (ESV)

These words from God through Paul, combined with those through Isaiah, should encourage us. While these sins are especially damaging, and may carry life-long consequences, none of them is beyond the grace of God. If we keep our eyes focused on Him, we may find that those eyes can be much less distractable; if we keep our hands busy about His work, they will not be as tempted to other pursuits. All the while, we trust His grace to transform our desires from our own to His.

Advent: Love

December 21, 2019   2 minutes

Love is one of the deepest desires of the human heart. It is a powerful force, an emotion that will inspire people to do things they would not otherwise do. Kingdoms and nations have been formed, joined, and dissolved in the name of love, and it appears in nearly every popular song.

Love is a gift from God, which we see when God brought Eve to Adam; he was so overcome with love that he broke out into song! (Genesis 2:23) Sadly, sin tainted the purity of that love among humans. Yet God continued lavishing love on His people, especially those who were feeling unloved – including Leah, the unloved wife of Jacob; and Hannah, the eventual mother of Samuel. God used human love to preserve His people as well; the love between Esther and the king of Persia kept Israel from mass slaughter, and the love between Ruth and Boaz continued the line of the Messiah. Even the prophets, who would often bring news of pending judgment, were motivated out of love for the people to whom they were sent.

When Jesus walked the earth, He continued to expand our understanding of what love is. He always took time to stop and care for people along the way, showing us that love is not just an emotion, but an action. He told His disciples that the greatest love was to lay down one’s life for one’s friends; then, He actually did it! Writing to the church in Rome, Paul described it this way: “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). James challenges us to be consistent, demonstrating our love both in word and in deed. And, in Revelation, we read about the time yet to come, when Christ returns and restores the pure, true, and holy love that sin lost.

Today, as we light the candle of love, we express our love for our Savior, eagerly anticipating the day when mankind’s love is once again true and pure.

(This reading was originally written for the December 23rd, 2018 worship service at Bay Vista Baptist Church.)

Give Thanks to God

November 28, 2019   4 minutes

If you’ve ever heard a message on Romans 1, it likely focused on one of three areas:

  • Paul’s declaration of the preeminence of the gospel in changing hearts (Romans 1:16-17)
  • That God has made His identity abundantly clear through creation (Romans 1:18-20)
  • A clear denunciation of many things our society tells us that we should accept (Romans 1:26-31) (if you think that’s just about sexual perversion, maybe focus on verses 28-31 a little harder…)

I want to focus on one portion of verse 21, though, as it provides a critical fulcrum in Paul’s explanation of how we get from the glory of God to the depravity of man (emphasis mine in the text below).

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Romans 1:21 (ESV)

Paul cites the Romans’ failure to honor and give thanks to God as leading to futile thinking and darkened hearts. Rather than focus on all the behaviors that come later in the chapter, let’s ruminate on this concept; after all, while “giving thanks” could be interpreted as a behavior, it arises from an attitude. We know how unsatisfying a coerced apology is, and God is not interested in that type of thanks. He wants us to be truly grateful to Him.

While conventional wisdom says that you cannot coerce feelings (as George Strait said, “You can’t make a heart love somebody”), Paul’s progression here shows us how we can. He highlights how the gospel is the power of God for salvation, and he follows that up with the abundant ways creation should point us to Him. Even if those are the only two things we can ponder, those should fill us with gratitude. Think about it - the God of the universe, the Creator of this world, not only made a wonderful world in which we can live, but also provided a way for us to live with Him forever! We may become so familiar with that concept that it loses its novelty. If you’re having trouble being grateful, enlarge your perspective; stepping back and remembering just what we do have for which to be grateful can change our thinking.

Our gratitude shouldn’t stop there. Every person reading this has access to power and a global information network; they are also very likely to be reading it in climate-controlled comfort, and on a device powerful beyond prior generations’ imagination. They are also very likely to be eating either turkey or ham at some point today. A large part of our culture likes to focus on inequity (perceived or actual), but focusing on what others have that you do not is simply a recipe for feeling either sad or mad. There’s a reason the list of sins has covetousness on it (v. 29).

The original Thanksgiving Day was a day set aside to thank God for His provision through the previous year; it was not some amorphus thankful feeling, it was heart-felt gratitude to God. While it is good to set aside time to reflect and give thanks, though, it should not be relegated to one day a year. Gratitude to God should be a daily occurrence in our lives. If you know me, you know that I usually roll my eyes at cheesy sayings; but, here’s one anyway…

Today is a gift; that’s why it’s called “the present”

Recognize each day as a gift from God. If it is refreshing, praise Him for that. If it brings struggle, praise Him in it and trust Him to keep you through it. If you are grateful for people in your life, thank God for them - and then tell them; don’t wait for the 4th Thursday in November. Gratitude can inspire encouragement, and that can inspire gratitude in others - a virtuous cycle that was God’s intent when He gave us these commands.

Twisted Scripture: 1 Corinthians 10:13

March 4, 2017   6 minutes

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 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   13 minutes

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   5 minutes

Hypocrisy is a charge 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.