April 30, 2017

True Freedom

Christian freedom is an important yet confusing topic. Jesus said to those who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31–32)

Free from what? By context, He was talking about the bondage of trying to earn salvation by rule-keeping. Keeping God’s law is not wrong (otherwise we would be free to covet, hate, and murder), but He is referring to motive. I’m to do what I do because I love God, not because I’m trying to get in.

In the Galatian church, Christians had the notion that to stay saved, they had to keep certain rules. Paul told them: “Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” (Galatians 2:4–5)

Yet freedom in Christ does not mean freedom to do whatever I please. Think of it this way: a horse eats oats and hay. That is all he can do because he is a horse. Then a miracle worker changes that horse into a man. Now he is free to eat steak and chocolate bars, but he can also eat oats and hay. However, what he eats has become a choice, not a compulsion of his nature.

In the same way, as a sinner, my nature gave me no other option but sin. But Christ changed everything by making me a new creature who can now choose to serve Him. Before, I was free to do whatever I wanted, but those options were all sin. Now I am free to do what is pleasing to God because my nature is changed. Freedom is being released from the dictates of a sinful heart, not by being zapped but by being given the ability to choose.

The New Testament is full of direction on how to live now that I’m a free person. Instead of letting the old nature rule, I’m to live in that freedom —listening to Christ, learning how to discern His will for me. Of course, that will is obvious in most moral choices, but much of life is not about good and evil. There are whole areas of choice involving preferences like eating, vocations, what color to paint the house, and what car is the best.

The legalistic person (who thinks rule-keeping makes him more acceptable to God) will have a list of rules, of ‘best behaviors’ that not only rule his life, but he thinks should rule the lives of everyone else. To this, the Bible says:

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let 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. Who 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.

“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The 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. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For 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. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

“Why 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; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore 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)

These ‘rules’ often show up as religious traditions, customs or superstitions. Traditions tell us what to wear to church and forms used in worship services. Traditions are okay for making people feel comfortable knowing what to expect. The downside is forming a habit that prevents hearing the Lord who may tell us to do something different.

Not only that, these ‘rules’ can become an obsession, even what is called an obsessive compulsion. The person locked into them is totally uncomfortable about change. In their minds, the rule has become acceptable behavior and change is not tolerated. This is bondage.

God tells me not to submit to this legalism, but at the same time, I’m to be careful that I don’t pressure people to act contrary to their conscience. If they figure it is wrong to wear jeans to church, I’m to respect their decision. It is not up to me to change how they think or even decide that they should change. That is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus, freedom is wonderful yet can be complex. For that reason, I’m glad that You lead me in uncertain areas, and that I can serve You without concern that my choices will sever me from Your love. That love is the reason for obedience, and grace keeps me, not rule-keeping.

April 29, 2017

Rewards for . . . ?

The dictionary says that a reward is something given or received in return or recompense for service, merit, hardship, and so on.

The Bible says that eternal life is a reward, but it is not earned or deserved by anything anyone does:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9)

So how can a “reward” be given to someone who has not done anything to earn it? And why call the end result of putting our faith in Jesus Christ a reward when it is not a wage or a recompense? Is this about splitting hairs? Or is it about fine-tuning the concept of how those rewards are earned?

Some passages speak of rewards for being faithful with what the Master has given us.  Jesus indicates that these rewards could vary in degree. He uses a parable to describe a master who said, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ (Matthew 25:21) The servant didn’t earn his place just as no one earns salvation, yet this servant received a reward for his faithfulness.

Today’s devotional writer insists that there are no rewards because salvation is by grace only, and whatever we do cannot merit it. Of course, this is true. No one can earn this great gift, yet what we do with it after we receive it might be where rewards are considered. In fact, the Bible speaks of Christians being judged for their deeds, and of suffering loss by being foolish in that area.

Consider the two words for judgment in the Scriptures. One word speaks of the Great White Throne where those who reject God’s grace will go to eternal wrath. No genuine believer will be in that horrible and final judgment.

The other word is Bema and refers to a judgment where God will judge or evaluate the works done by God’s people. Some of what we have spent our lives doing will be like gold and pass muster. However, some of what we have done will be useless or worthless. (Note, the word is not evil.) For that, God says: “If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:15)

This means is that all Christians will be saved, but anything done with wrong motives, laziness, or misplaced priorities that resulted in works with no eternal worth will be lost.
The Bible is clear that the whole salvation process is a gift, it indicates rewards are given for faithfulness in follow Jesus, for living a Spirit-filled life doing His will. This passage about Bema judgment clearly says, “If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.” (1 Corinthians 3:14)

All believers will enter the kingdom of heaven, whether they come in early or late in life, whether they gave themselves to God’s work or wasted a lot of time and energy on matters that didn’t matter. Each get the same ‘reward’ of eternity with God. (See Matthew 20:1–16) But when it comes to how we lived our lives, there are other ‘rewards’ and they will vary — depending upon the faithful labor expended.

The 1 Corinthians 3 passages says when believer’s works are judged, each will receive a reward according to his or her labor. Matthew 5:12 speaks of great reward in heaven and 2 John 8 speaks of a full reward, both references indicating that the rewards will not all be the same.

The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 says the master expected more from his servant with five talents than he did from the two-talented or the one-talented individuals. Those talents were dispensed according to their ability to handle them (v. 15) so those with lesser amounts had lesser responsibility.

The view expressed in today’s devotional seems one-sided. When God saves a sinner, that person is a new creation. A sinner cannot merit salvation, but we can live for Christ after salvation. One major thing salvation does for us is give the ability to choose. Before Christ, I could not do anything other than sin. Now, as a new creation, I am able to live for Christ. This is grace, not earned — yet choice is involved. It seems to me that this is where rewards come in.

Jesus, I am fully aware of occasions when I rejected the best thing and settled for what appeared good. I’ve also turned from Your way to follow my own way. While You pick me up and get me back on track, I doubt you will pat me on the back and say “well done” for my lapses in faithfulness. Mercifully, that worthless stuff will be burned up at the Bema and there will be no reward for it. What will survive is up to You. You may see gold in words and actions that I don’t even recall. Two things I know: all of my life will be reviewed and evaluated fairly — and You will graciously wipe away my tears of regret for the stuff that didn’t make the cut.

April 28, 2017

He seeks the lost

I make quilts and use a ‘design wall’ to pin my work so I can stand back for an overall look. Sometimes the array is too large and I need to be farther away than the wall behind me. For that, I have one of those lenses for doors that you can peep through before opening it. It makes the quilt appear even farther back.

A few months ago, I showed the lens to a few friends who were quilting with me. The next day I could not find it, not in the drawer where it normally goes, nor sitting in any obvious place. I searched the room, even got down on the floor with a flashlight. No door lens. Since then, I’ve cleaned, sorted, etc. but the lens has not been found.

My husband told me to forget about it and bought me another lens. However, there is something in me that will not let go of that lost lens. I’ve had the same reaction to other lost items, like the dinner forks our granddaughter hid about 25 years ago, (we moved several times since, but never found them), or the pail of clothespins that went missing from our yard in California more than 35 years ago. Perhaps this odd response to losing things is a God-thing. It definitely reminds me with the way He feels about those lost in sin . . .

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:1–10)

Today’s devotional focuses on the fact that Jesus, holy and without sin, would stoop to receive sinners as a demonstration of His great love. The writer says we could easily eat with other sinners because it is a level playing field; we are sinners ourselves, but this is God Himself!

Upon reflection, this attitude of Christ seems more of a choice, one that Christians can make as well. Paul wrote about Jesus’ great love for us and how we are to have that same love, doing things without conceit and selfish ambition, counting others more significant than ourselves. He goes on to say:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5–8)

Jesus came to seek and save those who are lost. Of course, this goes beyond looking for a lost possession, but I understand that desire. For me, it isn’t about the possession either — I can easily replace those things that have been lost. For me, this is more about the desire to keep things in their right place. A lost lens is dislocated, not where it belongs, out of reach, no longer useful as it was intended. Is that part of why the Lord seeks the lost?

Oh, Lord Jesus, instead of being where You created us to be, we have been dislocated by sin, in darkness, out of fellowship with You, not available to be filled and used by the Holy Spirit for Your purposes. This is the reason You came, stooping to find the lost, searching in the darkness of this world to bring all things back to their right place. Thank You for not giving up, for not replacing me or forgetting me.