Friday, March 24, 2017

A self-check

Two Bible passages speak about doing a self-check regarding faith, but they are not exactly the same. One calls readers to make certain they are saved in the first place. The other calls Christians to verify their faith by their actions.

“Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

This first test for salvation asks readers to be certain that Jesus Christ lives in them. Behind this test is this truth:

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:9–11)

This is a test for salvation: no one can be saved if Christ is not in them. His indwelling presence, regardless of whatever else is happening, makes salvation a certainty. “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:11-12)

The second test is about proving it. This proof comes from the effort taken to overcome sin and become more like the One who lives in me and gives me His nature:

“Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:1–11)

True faith is based on the Word of God: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Rom. 10:17). This is not so much about knowing what the Bible says (that comes by study) but hearing God speak. It is His Word that convicts of sin and our inability to save ourselves. It is His Word that then convinces human hearts that Jesus is the Savior.
True faith turns me from ‘going my own way’ to instead seek the will of God. While this process takes time to develop and is often fraught with stumbling and pitfalls, yet because Christ lives in me I will persevere. The goal is to trust Christ alone and true faith knows it.

True faith also fills believers with a love for Jesus Christ and His people. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7–8) This also is progressive in that when I was first saved, I noticed the difference in my attitude toward God and people, but it takes a while to learn how to express it.

Today’s devotional reading offers more ways to make certain that our faith is certain, yet points out that the Bible does not tell us to examine others, only ourselves! Good advice. At the same time, another Christian warned me that too much ‘navel-gazing’ is not helpful either, and to keep my eyes on Jesus. It is in openly “beholding the glory of the Lord” that we are “transformed into the same image” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

O Jesus, I’ve learned the hard way that looking at myself too much so easily turns into evaluating my salvation by my performance and not by Your marvelous saving work. The best of this is that You are so easy to look at, so wonderful to see. Thank You for revealing Yourself and for saving me.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

From everlasting . . .

Lately I’ve been looking at pictures taken by the Hubble telescope. Besides these being mind-boggling, they convince me that “everlasting” is a reality. If the universe has a perimeter, what lies outside of it? If time has an ending, what comes after it? If God is not eternal, try to fathom a beginning and ending for Him?

Today’s devotional verses and reading are about God’s eternal covenant. These also use the word forever and link them to the life of His servant. While the words say “David” both Jews and Christians know that the passage from the Psalms is dropping big hints about the Messiah, the eternal Savior . . .

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20–21)

You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.’” Selah (Psalm 89:3–4)

Of old you spoke in a vision to your godly one, and said: “I have granted help to one who is mighty; I have exalted one chosen from the people. I have found David, my servant; with my holy oil I have anointed him, so that my hand shall be established with him; my arm also shall strengthen him. The enemy shall not outwit him; the wicked shall not humble him. I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him. My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him, and in my name shall his horn be exalted. I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers. He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation.’ And I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him. I will establish his offspring forever and his throne as the days of the heavens. If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my rules, if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments, then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes, but I will not remove from him my steadfast love or be false to my faithfulness. I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His offspring shall endure forever, his throne as long as the sun before me. Like the moon it shall be established forever, a faithful witness in the skies.” Selah (Psalm 89:19–37)

All of this and more give assurance that God’s covenant and salvation are everlasting; they are based on the everlasting love of God. All this was planned before the world began as God said:

“They shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” (Jeremiah 32:38–40)

Lord Jesus, You did this. Your Spirit changed the course and destination of my life. Instead of spending eternity banished from Your presence, I will be with You forever. I cannot grasp the enormity of You or Your creation, but I can grasp the fact and importance of Your love for me. Such amazing grace. Deepen my understanding of who You are and the greatness of Your everlasting truth.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Mercy and grace: much needed

I’m a pessimist. I’ve tried to change, but still tend toward negativity before seeing the upside of situations. However, it is safe to conclude that God uses negativity; all the OT prophets were black and white pessimists. They saw the danger and evil in their world and preached against it. In the plan of God, this is far more important and truthful than telling sinners “don’t worry, be happy.”

When I read the news, being pessimistic is easy. My news app on Windows 10 allows feeds according to interests. I’ve put in “inspiring news” and even those clips are often bad news. My heart is heavy, yet bad news gives me fodder for prayer.

The state of the church does that too. While many congregations are vibrant and growing in faith, there are others who have tripped along the way, falling into various problems that have distracted them from their purpose. I’m quick to spot this in groups and individuals. My challenge is to pray rather than criticize.

Today’s Scripture describes how this was not unusual in the past. The psalmist saw a need in God’s people and like I’ve learned, he pleads to God for revival:

“Lord, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. Selah You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger. Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us! Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations? Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly. Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky. Yes, the Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase. Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way.” (Psalm 85:1–13)

They started out well. God had forgiven their sin and blessed their lives. However, something happened that angered God about their behavior. While the psalmist does not list their sins, their history includes going their own way without consulting Him and falling into idol worship. For this and all other sin, the psalmist asks for a return to their former relationship with God. It began with His love and mercy toward them, which enabled them to love Him and be merciful to one another. He spoke peace to them and in His love and righteousness, they responded with faithfulness. Unfortunately, they did not stay in this attitude.

The psalmist might have preached to the people, but he knew that “pulling up their socks” does not work. We cannot save ourselves, nor can we revive ourselves when we fall into sin. Salvation is of God. O Lord, show us Your love and grant us your salvation.

Jesus, I have been praying for revival and You have answered by working on my own heart. I’ve seen sin in me that I never realized was there. This reveals to me that the people I pray for are likely as blind to their own need as I have been. We need You to open our eyes and our hearts so that we see our sins and repent, no matter what they are. I know that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins, You are is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old and bring us back to our first love.