The Decisive Issue in Following Christ

Matthew 7

21“Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven. 22On judgment day many will tell me, ‘Lord, Lord, we prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Go away; the things you did were unauthorized.’ (Matthew 7:21-23, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Matthew 7 is part of a larger discourse known as the Sermon on the Mount, which begins in Matthew chapter 5.

In this section of scripture, Jesus gives many well-known teachings related to the theme of righteous living.

In this particular passage, Jesus highlights a key characteristic of those who claim to be His followers. “The decisive issue”, Jesus says, “is whether they obey my Father in heaven.”

Think about it. Many people today claim to be Christians and devout followers of Christ. Yet Jesus explicitly says that there will be many people who called Him ‘Lord’ who will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. How is this possible? Don’t people simply have to confess Jesus is Lord and then they’re saved from the punishment of hell?

Yes, and no.

Yes it’s true that we cannot be saved unless we put our trust in Jesus. But Jesus is saying that just because someone makes the claim that Jesus is Lord doesn’t mean that He really IS their Lord.

If Jesus is your Lord then that means He is your master. And if Jesus is your master then that means you are His slave, or as Paul puts it, His bondservant. If Jesus is the master and I am the slave, then that implies that what He says goes. Jesus makes the rules and He is the ruler. We are subservient to Him AND His rules.

Yet according to Jesus, many people who call Jesus Lord are not really obeying the Father. They have a duplicitous nature, claiming that Jesus is Lord, but not fully obeying Jesus and the Father.

The critical issue in following Jesus is obedience. Unfortunately, many people who go to church and act religious are not truly following. In today’s culture, it is quite common for people to claim to be Christians but not do what Jesus says. There may be no area more apparent with this issue than the sexual arena.

You might be thinking, “well nobody is perfect! How can we possibly be expected to live up to some idealistic standard?”

We’re not meant or expected to live up to some ideal. We will sin. That’s not really the issue. Jesus has paid for sin and we can experience ongoing forgiveness by bringing our sin to the cross and confessing it. See my blog post “Walking in the Light Simplified.”

The issue is when we deny that we’ve sinned. In 1 John 1:10 (from my post “Walking in the Light Simplified”), John says:

“if we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives.”

The problem is when we change the rules so that we don’t agree that what we’re doing is sinful. In this scenario, we don’t confess our sins to Jesus because we no longer believe these actions or attitudes are sinful.

This is what I refer to as “Salad Bar Religion”, which I wrote about here. Salad Bar religion occurs when we pick and choose the things we want to obey while discarding the things we don’t want to obey.

Jesus’ words may seem harsh to some but He’s crystal clear on this: we are not authorized to change His rules and guidelines for what constitutes righteous living. Those who do change His rules in order to suit their own personal preferences may find themselves in the unenviable position of being rejected by Jesus when the time comes to give an account of our life and our choices.

Reflection

In what areas of Scripture do you find it most difficult to obey? What are some of the “rules” that you are most tempted to neglect, ignore or change?

What is your response to the thought that Jesus may reject entrance to the Kingdom of heaven to some people who have claimed to be Christians in this life?

If obedience is the decisive issue, how do you account for the fact that all of us as Christians still disobey God at times? How would you explain to someone who argues that you are being legalistic by setting up an impossible standard that cannot be met?

What steps can you take to ensure that you are not a follower with a duplicitous nature, claiming to follow Jesus verbally but internally, following your own preferred rules of living?

 

Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

Why Some Christians Never Grow

2 Peter 1

3His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;  7and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.  8For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  9But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins. (2 Peter 1:3-9, NIV)


The Daily DAVEotional

Have you ever wondered why some people who have been Christians for a long time never seem to get past the initial stages of Christian development?  Perhaps you count yourself in this group. Maybe you’ve been a consistent church-goer for years and even attended the occasional small group, but you’ve never felt like you were really progressing as a Christian.

I think a lot of people get to this point and begin to wonder if there isn’t something more to the Christian life. Some who are discontented may half-heartedly trudge along in their Christian experience, while others choose to walk away, assuming that their spiritual “experiment” was just a phase.

In this passage of 2 Peter, the author (Peter) gives the reason why people are not growing and developing in their spiritual lives.

But first notice that in verses 3-4, Peter tells his audience that God has already given them everything they need to live the Christian life and experience godliness. There’s no special enlightenment or advanced teaching a person needs in order to experience the Christian life as it was meant. This means that no matter where you are at, whether you are brand new in the faith or if you’ve been a believer for many years, you already possess everything you need to experience all Christ wants for you.

What is it that Christ wants for you?

Starting in verse 5, Peter reels off a list of virtues that we’re to add to our character. It’s easy to look at this list and get overwhelmed, thinking there is a lot of pressure to manufacture these qualities in our lives. But don’t get overwhelmed. In fact, I want you to take a deep breath as we look at this list a bit differently than maybe you’ve looked at it before.

What is the starting point of the list?

Faith.

If you’re a Christian, you already have faith, so you’re good. All believers start with a basic faith in God and Jesus.

What is the ending point of the list?

Love.

The goal of all Christian growth is to learn to love God and others more deeply and effectively. Everything in between Faith and Love in this list is simply a process of growing character qualities that helps us to become more loving people.

In verse 8, Peter says that if you possess these qualities and they are increasing (i.e. you’re growing in them or developing them in your life), you’ll be productive and effective in your knowledge of the Lord.

In other words, if you’re growing in these character qualities, you’ll become a more loving person towards God and others and you’ll therefore have the kind of influence and impact God desires for you. You won’t be stagnant or ineffective and you won’t be wondering, as so many immature Christians do, why the Christian life is not as exciting and adventurous as you thought it would be when you first came to Christ.

So why is it that some people never grow?

Peter addresses this in verse 9. He says that the person who is lacking these qualities, the person who is not growing in these character qualities and not becoming a more loving person, is near-sighted and blind. Peter then explains that what makes them near-sighted and blind is that they have forgotten that they’ve been cleansed from their past sins.

The reason so many Christians aren’t experiencing growth is sin!

I’m sorry to disappoint you if you were hoping for or expecting something more profound. But it really is that simple.

Look, we all sin, even the most mature believers. Sin is simply a thought, a word or action that is in rebellion toward God and His values. When we sin, we are choosing to go our own way, and as a result, we are disconnecting ourselves from God, who is the source of spiritual life. The moment any living thing becomes disconnected from its life source, it begins to experience decay.

The person who is growing is the person who, when they do sin, always remembers that Jesus has died for that sin and has paid for that sin. The person who is consistently growing remembers what Jesus has done for them and whenever they sin, they take that sin to the cross, claiming the forgiveness that Jesus has already provided and repenting in their heart for their thoughts, words or actions.

The biblical term for this process is confession. By actively confessing sin whenever you are aware of it, you’re admitting that you need to experience Jesus’ forgiveness every day, not just the one time you decided to become His follower. The net result is that you stay connected to Jesus, the source of spiritual life.

By engaging with Jesus every day, you’ll become more aware of the areas of your life that don’t reflect Him so well and you’ll invite Him to change you in those areas. Before you know it, you’ll be developing those character qualities that Peter lists in verses 5-7 and the end result is you’ll be a more loving person who is thriving spiritually and experiencing genuine transformation.

Reflection

What has been your understanding and view of what it means to grow as a Christian? How have you generally viewed the goal of Christian growth? In other words, what has been your past standard for measuring and evaluating growth as a Christian?

What has been your experience as a Christian with growth? If you were talking to someone who asked you to chronicle your life as a Christian, highlighting the growth and development you’ve experienced since you became a Christian, what would you say? 

When you look at the list of qualities Peter mentions, what is your response or reaction? Does the list create excitement or anxiety? Explain.

What are practical steps you can take to become a more loving person? Who do you know who can be a resource or mentor as you seek to grow as a Christian?

 

Photo by Silvestri Matteo on Unsplash

 

The Importance of Conditioning

1 Corinthians 9

24Remember that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize. You also must run in such a way that you will win. 25All athletes practice strict self-control. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I am not like a boxer who misses his punches. 27I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.
(1 Corinthians 9:24-27, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post about spankings and discipline that included passages from Proverbs 23 and 1 Samuel 3. I also included a related story about a box of Lemonheads. If you’re wondering what that’s all about, you can read about it here.

The big idea was about discipline and how we tend to think of discipline as punishment, but the broader idea behind discipline is the idea of training.

In today’s reading, Paul provides the classic passage regarding discipline as training.

Paul compares the Christian life to a race that we run. But this race is not a sprint or a relay; it’s more like a marathon.

I have twin boys who were distance runners in high school. In the Fall, they competed in Cross Country and in the Spring, they ran track.

For distance runners, training is year-round. Even in the off-season, they are still running 5-6 days a week.

Some sports require a lot of what I call “skill acquisition.” Think about baseball and the hand and eye coordination needed to hit a 90 mile per hour fastball.

Or think about a golfer who has to learn the exact right mechanics of his or her body to be able to hit a golf ball off a tee in order to make it fly 250 yards down the green. These are not easy skills to acquire. It takes time and patience and repetition. But if you get injured and have to take several weeks or a month off, when you resume, you can often pick up right where you left off. You haven’t lost the skill.

But this isn’t the case with a distance runner because their success is not so dependent on acquiring certain skills as much as it’s dependent on developing their level of conditioning. To miss a week of training means your conditioning suffers and when you resume, you will not be able to pick up where you left off. There is often ground that needs to be made up to get back to where you were.

This is the idea Paul is presenting when he says we should train like an athlete. He’s talking about training like an endurance runner. This kind of training takes focus, intentionality and consistency. There are no short-cuts and it is hard work.

Can you imagine a distance runner who only trains one or two days a week? Or how about an Olympic marathon hopeful who rarely runs 26 miles in a week, let alone 26 miles in one race! What kind of results would you expect for the person who approaches running with this kind of mentality?

And yet, many Christians approach the Christian life by investing in their personal spiritual development only once or twice a week. This kind of haphazard approach will never yield the kind of conditioning necessary to compete in and finish the race.

For the distance runner who is not properly conditioned, one of two things will generally happen when they run in a race. He or she will fall so far behind the rest of the group that functionally, they are not even in the race. There  is ZERO measurable impact.

The other potential outcome is they may give up and drop out of the race altogether. Paul equates this with a person who ultimately abandons the faith, walking away from the Lord.

This was Paul’s biggest fear. You probably know people who once called themselves Christians but who have abandoned the faith, forsaking the person and the cause of Christ.

If we don’t want that fate to befall us, we have to discipline ourselves, training and conditioning ourselves spiritually to be able to handle whatever course we run with whatever obstacles we may encounter.

Reflection

What kinds of activities or hobbies have you engaged in that required discipline (sports, music, mental, etc.)?

When is a time you engaged in an activity where you didn’t have adequate conditioning? What were the circumstances? What were the results?

What has been your practice for training yourself spiritually? 

What are some steps you could take to develop a more focused, intentional and consistent approach to your spiritual development and training?

 

Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

Faulty Earbuds?

My typical running gear includes dri-fit shirt, sunglasses, running hat and earbuds to listen to audiobooks or music.
Photo by Dave Lowe

A few weeks ago, I left the house for my daily run. I had my phone to track my route and also provide the tunes to keep me moving during the 6 mile trek.

As I was nearing the end of my run, I noticed I was not getting any sound out of my left earbud.

I tried pushing the earpiece harder into my ear, but that didn’t work. I wondered if maybe the earphone jack was not in all the way. No, that wasn’t the problem.

I jiggled the wire, thinking maybe there was a short. That didn’t work either. I started thinking maybe these earbuds had reached the end of their lifespan and I was bummed at the thought of having to buy new ones. I’ve been told I’m cheap that way!

When I finally got home, I thought I’d try one more thing. Perhaps it was a software issue. I figured a reboot of my phone would solve it if that was the issue. But that didn’t work either.

I had one more idea to determine if it was a problem with my phone or the earbuds. I decided to plug the earbuds into my computer and listen to some music. If the earbuds still only gave sound out of only one ear, then I would know it’s the earbuds and not the phone.

However, as I was getting ready to plug the earbuds into my computer, I looked more closely at the earpiece that wasn’t producing sound and I quickly realized the issue. There, in the small opening where the sound was supposed to come out, was a small glob of ear wax that was fully covering the opening.

The opening on these earbuds is small. It doesn’t take much to clog the opening, making it harder for sound to come through.
Photo by Dave Lowe

Yes, I know it’s kind of gross, but we all produce the stuff, and to be honest, I really can’t tell you the purpose. I just know that when I removed the small piece plugging the hole, I was suddenly able to hear perfectly again out of both earbuds.

I had a problem hearing and all of my initial thoughts were that it was a problem with something else – my phone, the earbuds, the jack, the wire, etc. The reality is that I was having issues hearing clearly because of me – something I produced and wasn’t even aware of.

I think there’s a spiritual illustration here. Often I’m wanting to hear from the Lord and He’s not responding, at least not the way I want. I wonder why He’s not answering my prayers or responding clearly to my requests.

Sometimes, the reason I’m not hearing from God is because of me. Sometimes the Lord IS wanting to speak to me but my attitude, or my heart blocks my spirit from hearing the Lord.

I’ve found that there are often several reasons why I’m not hearing from the Lord.

A primary way the Lord speaks to us is through His Word. Yet, it’s easy to get distracted by other things.
Photo by Nick Bondarev from Pexels

One reason I sometimes don’t hear from God is because of unconfessed sin in my heart. Psalm 66:18 says “If I had not confessed the sin in my heart, my Lord would not have listened.”

Sometimes, I’m not even fully aware of my own sin, such as unresolved conflict or anger. This is why it’s so important to invite the Lord to examine our hearts and reveal to us any areas in our lives and hearts that may be keeping us from experiencing His presence (See Psalm 139:23, 24).

A second reason I may not be hearing from the Lord is distractions. Sometimes Jen will be telling me something important but my focus is on something else, like my computer screen or the TV. I find that when I’m not fully engaged in what she’s saying I often have to ask her to repeat what she’s just said.

I often do the same thing with the Lord. I read my Bible but my mind is thinking about something else. I’m spending time in prayer but distracted by notifications that are popping up on my phone.

I cannot always expect to hear directly from the Lord when I want. But as a follower of Christ, I can make sure that the airways are clear and that there are no impediments that would keep me from hearing His voice when He does speak to me.

What keeps you from hearing clearly from the Lord?

What have you found to be helpful in keeping you focused and tuned in to hearing the Lord’s voice?

We appreciate your continued prayers for us as we continue to wait on the Lord during this challenging season!

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