Have You Been Scammed?

Galatians 3

1Oh, foolish Galatians! What magician has cast an evil spell on you? For you used to see the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death as clearly as though I had shown you a signboard with a picture of Christ dying on the cross. 2Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law? Of course not, for the Holy Spirit came upon you only after you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3Have you lost your senses? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? 4You have suffered so much for the Good News. Surely it was not in vain, was it? Are you now going to just throw it all away?

5I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law of Moses? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ.

6In the same way, “Abraham believed God, so God declared him righteous because of his faith.”  7The real children of Abraham, then, are all those who put their faith in God.

8What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would accept the Gentiles, too, on the basis of their faith. God promised this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9And so it is: All who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.

10But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all these commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.” 11Consequently, it is clear that no one can ever be right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” 12How different from this way of faith is the way of law, which says, “If you wish to find life by obeying the law, you must obey all of its commands.”  13But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14Through the work of Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, and we Christians receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:1-14, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

The letter to the Galatians, like many New Testament letters, was written as a response to an issue that had cropped up within the early church. In this case, the church in Galatia had been infiltrated by false teachers who were teaching a “different” gospel. This “different” gospel is still being taught today and therefore, Paul’s words are particularly appropriate in our current culture.

The nature of the false teaching had to do with the law. The false teachers were labeled “Judaizers” because of their strict adherence to the Old Testament rules and rituals. These teachers were advocating that belief in the Jewish Messiah was just the first step in the process of salvation. It was necessary, according to these teachers, to continue to observe all of the Old Testament laws and rituals, including circumcision, after accepting Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

The issue of what is necessary to be saved was quite controversial in the early church, especially when Gentiles (non-Jews) began responding to the gospel. Some within the church, particularly those who had been Pharisees before conversion, continued to advocate for strict adherence to Old Testament laws and rituals, which meant that Gentiles would have to adopt all Jewish cultural rites, including circumcision. But Paul and Barnabas disagreed and did not require new Gentile converts to become “Jewish” culturally in order to gain admittance into the church.

This issue became so contentious that the church convened a special session to discuss the matter. The details of this Jerusalem Council are recorded in Acts 15 and I wrote about it previously here.

Paul’s words to the Galatians are strong. He calls them “foolish” and asks them “what magician has cast an evil spell on you?” Most translations use the word “bewitched” to describe the response to this false teaching. The idea Paul is communicating is that they’ve been duped or scammed. One version uses the word “hypnotized”.

Why would Paul say they were “bewitched”? Exactly what was so bad about this teaching and how were they being “tricked”?

To answer that question, let’s first explain what Paul had taught and compare it with the false teaching the Galatians had begun to follow.

Paul’s gospel says that EVERYONE is a sinner and NOBODY is righteous enough to earn their way into God’s presence. Trying to follow all of the Old Testament laws is futile. It cannot be done because we are sinners and we are going to fall short. Therefore, any system that requires adherence to a religious code in order to gain favor with God is doomed to failure.

Jesus offers a different way and this is what makes it good news. According to verse 13, Jesus died in our place, paying for our sin so that we could escape the penalty the law required. We are thus saved, not by our own good works, but by Jesus’ shed blood on the cross.

The false teachers said that once a person places their faith in Jesus, they must maintain their right standing before God by the things they do, namely by following all of the commands of the law. Paul argues that if one has to follow the law to maintain their right standing before God then they are no longer trusting in Jesus alone to provide the righteousness that is needed to enter God’s presence.

Hence, if you are going to follow the law as a means of maintaining your salvation, then you must follow the law completely in order to secure it in the first place.

The differences between Paul’s gospel and the false teaching can be clearly seen in how each system views a person gaining the righteousness required to enter into God’s presence. Paul’s gospel says that Jesus gives us His own righteousness (which is perfectly holy) when we place our faith in Him. This righteousness cannot be lost because it is based on Jesus’ complete work of atonement on the cross.

The Judaizers taught that righteousness is maintained by our adherence to Jewish laws and rituals. Hence, the source of righteousness is the individual’s own good works and personal efforts.

Though these teachers acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, their doctrine was really a back-door method for maintaining a works-based system of salvation.

We do the same thing today in our Christian circles. We invite people to accept Jesus by faith and then inevitably, we think, and even teach, that being a good Christian means following a set of rules. It’s not likely that circumcision is on our list of what makes a good Christian, but you probably can come up with your own list of “sins” to avoid and “activities” that are required, or “strongly encouraged” in order to maintain your Christian “witness.”

We teach people that salvation is a “free gift” but then subtly give the impression that staying saved is more like a privilege that can be forfeited if we don’t toe the line.

Paul calls this kind of gospel and this line of thinking foolish and those who fall into this trap as being bewitched.

It turns out that this theological trickery is the oldest scam in the book. And yet, people are still falling for it today.

Reflection

How do you think you can tell if someone has been bewitched? Or, to put it another way, how would you determine if a person was following a false, rules-based gospel instead of the true gospel that Paul preached?

What are some religious activities that you may be tempted to elevate to “required” status in order to evaluate a person’s eligibility for salvation?

What are some of the “sins” that Christians have used in the past as evidence of someone not being a “true” Christian?

Why do you think people of every generation and culture tend towards rules-based religious systems as a means of appeasing God and gaining His favor?

 

Photo by Tara Winstead from Pexels

Are You a Christian Who Smells?

2 Corinthians 2

12Well, when I came to the city of Troas to preach the Good News of Christ, the Lord gave me tremendous opportunities. 13But I couldn’t rest because my dear brother Titus hadn’t yet arrived with a report from you. So I said good-bye and went on to Macedonia to find him.

14But thanks be to God, who made us his captives and leads us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now wherever we go he uses us to tell others about the Lord and to spread the Good News like a sweet perfume. 15Our lives are a fragrance presented by Christ to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those being saved and by those perishing. 16To those who are perishing we are a fearful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this? 17You see, we are not like those hucksters—and there are many of them—who preach just to make money. We preach God’s message with sincerity and with Christ’s authority. And we know that the God who sent us is watching us. (2 Corinthian 2:12-17, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

There’s a commercial that has been running lately on a local hit radio station I listen to.

A woman is upset that she can’t get a plumber to tell her over the phone how much they charge to unclog a drain.

Queue the sound of a harp, signifying the entrance of another person.

The woman says, “Wow, you smell good. Who are you?”

“I’m Mike Diamond, the smell-good plumber.” Diamond goes on to tell the potential customer that they will gladly come and unclog almost any drain for $99.

I’m aware of a stereotype about plumbers but it doesn’t involve how they smell. Nevertheless, the plumber in this radio spot is trying to set himself and his company apart from others in the industry by marketing themselves as plumbers who show up on time, are clean and smell good.

Paul, in this chapter of 2 Corinthians says that Christians have a smell. To some, our smell is fragrant but to others, our smell is rotten. What’s he talking about? What is going on in this passage?

Paul begins this section by comparing Christ’s conquest over death to a Roman triumphal procession. A Roman triumphal procession was a great honor that was only bestowed on generals who had accomplished great victories over a foreign enemy, usually resulting in the end of a conflict that involved great military spoils.


NOTE: For more information on the Roman triumphal process, check out this article on britannica.com


The procession was essentially a parade that consisted of political leaders in the front, followed by musicians and then sacrificial animals. Then came the spoils of war (the prisoners), followed by the general, and lastly, the general’s soldiers.

Throughout the procession, the burning of incense to the gods created a ubiquitous aroma that filled the air with a fragrance that added to the aura of the occasion.

When the procession reached its conclusion at the Temple of Jupiter, the prisoners were usually slain while thank offerings were made to Jupiter and the political and military leaders feasted.

Thus, if you were a prisoner in that procession, the aroma, though pleasant to the nostrils, was literally the smell of death. For the rest of the procession, and those cheering in the crowds, the smell signified victory.

Paul says that we as his followers have been taken captive by Christ and we are now a part of his procession. We are commissioned by Jesus to share the gospel with others. Paul says that this act of service is like a sweet perfume, an offering of worship made to God himself.

This fragrance is perceived by our fellow humans in two different ways. For those who respond to the message, the smell is life-giving, but to those who reject the message, the smell is one of death and doom.

Notice that we don’t determine whether the smell is a life-giving fragrance or the smell of doom to others. That is determined solely by the response of the listener.

Though we can’t control how others perceived our smell, we can control whether we smell or not. We can choose to not smell at all by ignoring God’s command to share the message, or we can choose to smell by sharing the message with others without regard to how they will perceive it.

We have an awesome opportunity to invite others to be a part of Jesus’ triumphal procession. The reality is that everyone is already a part of the procession. For those who don’t know Jesus, they are the prisoners who are on their way to certain death. However, If they respond to the gospel message, they can be freed from impending doom and join us as captives in the back of the procession, becoming a part of God’s mighty, victorious army!

Reflection

Paul says that when we share the good news with others, people will perceive it (smell it) in two different ways. But that presupposes that we are involved in sharing with others. What motivates you to “smell” (share the gospel) with others? What keeps you from smelling?

In your own experience, what was it about the message of Christ that made it “life-giving”?

In your opinion, what are some things we can do as Christians to make our “smell” more attractive to those we are trying to reach?

 

Photo by Lenka Sluneckova 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

Why Was Jesus Baptized?

Acts 19

1While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

3So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”

“John’s baptism,” they replied.

4Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7There were about twelve men in all.

(Acts 19:1-7, NIV)

Matthew 3

11“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:11-17, NIV)


The Daily DAVEotional

Have you ever wondered about baptism? What exactly is the meaning of this ritual and why is it performed? Is there some sort of efficacious grace administered via baptism or is it merely a symbolic event?

This week, in my Grant Horner Bible reading, I encountered two different passages (Acts 19 and Matthew 3) on consecutive days, both dealing with the topic of baptism. As I’ve mentioned before here and here, one of the advantages of this system is you encounter these exact scenarios where you see scripture commenting on other parts of scripture, often allowing you to make theological connections that you hadn’t noticed before.

A few days ago, I came across the passage in Acts, where Paul encounters some disciples and asks them if they’ve received the Holy Spirit. They don’t know what Paul’s talking about because they’ve never heard of the Holy Spirit. Paul then asks them what baptism they received and they tell him that they received John’s baptism.

The very next day in my reading plan, I encountered Matthew 3 and Shazam…there’s John out in the desert baptizing people! And then something really interesting happens…Jesus comes along and asks John to baptize him.

What in the world is going on? What is baptism all about and why in the world would Jesus want or need to be baptized?

If you’re like me, you probably have been conditioned to think of baptism in a certain way based on the tradition in which you were raised.

If you were raised in the Catholic or Orthodox tradition, you likely view baptism as a sacrament that is given to infants that delivers grace to them and preserves them until they are old enough to be confirmed and partake regularly of the other sacraments such as confession and Holy communion.

If you were raised in a Protestant tradition, you probably view baptism as an event that occurs at some point after you’ve made a personal decision to follow Jesus – a sort of declaration of your intent to follow Jesus.

But what is the meaning of baptism and why are there different baptisms?

The confusion with baptism is likely because in our minds we can associate baptism with the salvation process. If this is true, it would seem unnecessary to have different baptisms.

The truth is that the main idea behind baptism is not cleansing or salvation but identification. In the New Testament, people were baptized as a way of identifying with a message or a person. A few days ago, I wrote a post entitled “Name Dropping in the Early Church” based on a passage in 1 Corinthians 1, in which Paul says that he is glad that he didn’t baptize anyone in that church.

Why would he say that? Because the people were all aligning themselves with different leaders and Paul did not want people identifying with him; he wanted them to identify with Jesus alone.

So if you look now at the passage in Acts 19, we can see that these “disciples” that Paul runs into were not disciples of Jesus, they were disciples of John. They had been baptized by John, meaning that they had identified themselves with John and his message of repentance. Paul uses this knowledge to explain that John’s message was for people to believe in the one who was coming after him, Jesus!

After hearing this message regarding Jesus, they were baptized into Jesus, which means they accepted the message Paul shared and they chose to identify now with this message of salvation regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection. Essentially, they became believers. It is at this point that they receive the Holy Spirit, which is an indication that they are now a part of the family of God.

So why was Jesus baptized? He didn’t need to repent, for he had never sinned. So then what is the purpose of him being baptized by John?

Jesus came to redeem mankind by bearing the sins of the world on the cross. When Jesus was baptized, he was publicly identifying with sinful mankind, whom he would ultimately die for. This act of identification administered by John the Baptist was the formal beginning of Jesus’ ministry and mission to seek and save the lost.

Since John’s message was for people to follow the one who would come after him, Jesus’ baptism by John served as the official transition, inviting people who had identified with John’s message to now identify with Jesus and his message. From that point forward, John would declare “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30, NASB)

Finally, Jesus’ baptism served as a means of receiving affirmation and authentication from the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Reflection

What has been  your understanding of the meaning and purpose of baptism?

In what ways has your views and understanding of baptism been affirmed or changed from this devotional?

How would you explain the concept of baptism to someone who has just come to faith in Jesus?

 

Photo by Transformation Films from Pexels

 

 

“Name Dropping” in the Early Church

1 Corinthians 1

10Now, dear brothers and sisters, I appeal to you by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ to stop arguing among yourselves. Let there be real harmony so there won’t be divisions in the church. I plead with you to be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. 11For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your arguments, dear brothers and sisters. 12Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter, ” or “I follow only Christ.” 13Can Christ be divided into pieces?

Was I, Paul, crucified for you? Were any of you baptized in the name of Paul? 14I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15for now no one can say they were baptized in my name. 16(Oh yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas. I don’t remember baptizing anyone else.) 17For Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News—and not with clever speeches and high-sounding ideas, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power. (1 Corinthians 1:10-17, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

We live in an age where social media, podcasts and the internet have made it easier than ever for pastors and ministry leaders to attain “celebrity” status. Write a book, start a podcast, gain a large online following, embark on the speaking circuit demanding ever larger fees, and pretty soon, you’ve become famous within the Evangelical church, with your status being measured by how many Twitter followers you have or how many subscribe to your podcast.

Not surprisingly, many Christians today choose to align themselves with various Christian leaders. They buy and read all their books, watch all their podcasts and quote/retweet everything they say.

This isn’t just a modern phenomenon apparently, as even in the early formation of the church we see people segregating into different camps. It turns out that this was a major issue in the Corinthian church and one of the primary reasons Paul writes this first letter to its members. People in the church were aligning themselves with various leaders, such as Peter, Apollos, Paul and others.

This leadership affiliation was causing disunity as people were jockeying for position and attempting to gain an edge in the power structure.

Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with learning from and being influenced by godly men and women leaders within the church. But what Paul is addressing is more than that. It’s an obsession to be aligned with and connected to someone whose name association might elevate my own stature in the eyes of others.

We have a name for this in our culture. We call it name dropping, which is a practice whereby a person mentions the name or names of famous or important people in a story or a conversation in order to impress others and make themselves look better.

Paul says this is wrong and the primary reason for it is because it elevates people over the person of Christ. Jesus is the only one who has died for us and he’s the only person with whom we should be identifying.

There’s a second reason this practice is unadvisable and it’s not one that Paul mentions in this passage. That is, what happens when we become so closely aligned and affiliated with a “celebrity” Christian and then they have a moral failure?

Unfortunately, over the years, I’ve seen too many Christian leaders who had large followings succumb to various worldly temptations and thus disqualify themselves from ministry leadership. When we attach our leash to a leader who ends up experiencing a moral failure, our own reputation can inadvertently suffer.

Paul’s appeal is for unity in the church. The only way to achieve that unity is for believers to stop identifying as a groupies of well-known Christian leaders and instead, identify with Jesus alone.

Reflection

Who are some well-known Christian leaders you yourself or others are prone to align with?

When have you experienced “name dropping”, either by yourself or someone else?

What do you think are some reasons why Christians are inclined to “name drop” other influential Christians?

How can you take advantage of the tremendous resources and teachings of Christian thought leaders while maintaining Jesus as the person with whom you primarily identify?

 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Does Paul Advocate Moral Relativism?

Romans 14

1Accept Christians who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. 2For instance, one person believes it is all right to eat anything. But another believer who has a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. 3Those who think it is all right to eat anything must not look down on those who won’t. And those who won’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. 4Who are you to condemn God’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him tell them whether they are right or wrong. The Lord’s power will help them do as they should.

5In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. Each person should have a personal conviction about this matter. 6Those who have a special day for worshiping the Lord are trying to honor him. Those who eat all kinds of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who won’t eat everything also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. 7For we are not our own masters when we live or when we die. 8While we live, we live to please the Lord. And when we die, we go to be with the Lord. So in life and in death, we belong to the Lord. 9Christ died and rose again for this very purpose, so that he might be Lord of those who are alive and of those who have died.

10So why do you condemn another Christian ? Why do you look down on another Christian? Remember, each of us will stand personally before the judgment seat of God. 11For the Scriptures say,

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,‘every knee will bow to me and every tongue will confess allegiance to God.’”

12Yes, each of us will have to give a personal account to God. 13So don’t condemn each other anymore. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not put an obstacle in another Christian’s path.

14I know and am perfectly sure on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. 15And if another Christian is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. 16Then you will not be condemned for doing something you know is all right.

17For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God. And other people will approve of you, too. 19So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

20Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, there is nothing wrong with these things in themselves. But it is wrong to eat anything if it makes another person stumble. 21Don’t eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another Christian to stumble. 22You may have the faith to believe that there is nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who do not condemn themselves by doing something they know is all right. 23But if people have doubts about whether they should eat something, they shouldn’t eat it. They would be condemned for not acting in faith before God. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning. (Romans 14:1-23, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Romans 14 is a critical chapter in which Paul dispenses guidelines that are invaluable for helping us to know how we are to interact with other believers who have different views and perspectives on common issues.

Paul makes two statements that almost sound as if he’s advocating moral relativism.

Specifically, in verse 14, Paul says that “I know and am perfectly sure on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong.”

Paul further says in verse 23 that “if you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.”

Both of these verses seem to communicate that right and wrong is determined by the individual and not God. This would mean Paul is advocating moral relativism.

The basic tenet of moral relativism is that there is no moral standard of truth that is the same for everyone. Instead, morality is determined by the individual, hence, it is relative to each individual person.

Is this what Paul is saying?

The short answer is no, Paul is not a moral relativist and he’s not communicating that truth is determined by the individual instead of an external standard, such as God.

What Paul is communicating in this passage is that some issues, such as the day of worship, may have a diversity of opinions and views. Sometimes, our personal preferences determine our different opinions. For example, I like McDonalds but you prefer Burger King. Neither is right or wrong, it’s just a difference of opinion based on our preferences, just as there is no right or wrong day to set aside for worshiping the Lord.

Still other times, our different positions are determined by our relative maturity and understanding of an issue.

In this chapter, Paul talks about the issue of eating meat or not eating meat. An issue that came up in the early church was whether or not it was acceptable to eat meat if you knew that it had been sacrificed to an idol.

Paul’s position is that all food has been made acceptable by God and therefore, it’s definitely ok to eat. However, some who were newer to the faith had not come to that understanding yet. Though they may have come to an accurate understanding of salvation and trusted Jesus as their savior, they may not have come to a completely biblical understanding regarding other issues. Therefore, their conscience and moral understanding was still linked to their old belief system and their old understanding of right and wrong.

Instead of correcting them and potentially embarrassing them, Paul’s advice is to refrain from practices that others might find offensive, even if you know that what you’re engaging in is not sinful.

So when Paul says that if a person believes something is wrong, then it is wrong for that person, he’s saying that if a person goes against their conscience, they are sinning, even if the actual act isn’t sinful. Paul is not saying that the individual can determine for themselves what is right and what is wrong; he’s saying that we should not purposefully go against what we think is wrong, because that would be willful rebellion, which is sin.

Over time, by reading the Scriptures and following the leading of the Holy Spirit, younger believers will come to a more complete understanding of right and wrong and thus their thinking on these matters will be adjusted. This is all part of the process of spiritual transformation.

In the mean-time, it is not the job of older believers to constantly correct younger believers regarding every false theological position or skewed moral belief.

Instead of pushing my moral views on them, even though I’m convinced my positions are biblically correct, the loving thing to do, according to Paul, is to give up my freedom for the sake of the “weaker brother.”

Reflection

What are some doctrinal positions or moral issues on which you’ve disagreed with other believers? How did you handle those disagreements?

What are some common issues today that you see as potential stumbling blocks to other believers?

Why do you think it is so difficult for Christians to give up their freedoms for the sake of others?

What guidelines or principles can you glean from this passage that will allow you to more effectively love and serve your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ?

 

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A Must-Read Passage Before Posting on Social Media

2 Timothy 2

23Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. 24The Lord’s servants must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone. They must be able to teach effectively and be patient with difficult people. 25They should gently teach those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will believe the truth. 26Then they will come to their senses and escape from the Devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants. (2 Timothy 2:23-26, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

If there was ever a passage that should be required for Christians to read before engaging with others on social media, this might be it.

Obviously, Paul did not have social media in mind when he wrote these verses, but there was definitely an issue that was creating some controversy and division among members of the church because Paul writes these same words (“avoid godless and foolish discussions”) four times in his two letters to Timothy (1 Timothy 4:7; 6:20 and 2 Timothy 2:16, 23).

The controversial issue that Paul was addressing was likely a heretical teaching circulating locally that was causing needless arguing and debate among believers.

The key verse, in my opinion, is verse 24, which states that, “The Lord’s servants must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone. They must be able to teach effectively and be patient with difficult people.”

If you’ve spent any amount of time on social media over this last year, you know that kindness, gentleness, civility and friendliness are not words often used to describe the typical interactions people are having. Indeed, quarreling seems to be the norm.

In short, people on social media are often not kind. In fact, many people, including Christians, are the exact opposite of kind. What I mean by this is that it seems that many people engage in social media in a way that appears to be purposefully confrontational.

We are living in extremely difficult and polarizing times. The events of the past year, including Covid lockdowns, mask mandates, economic uncertainty, racial division, protests and riots, as well as the build-up and aftermath of our national election, have all contributed to a growing sense of anger and unrest.

Nobody wants to be overlooked or feel marginalized. We want our voices to be heard and our opinions to matter.

Social media is the digital town square for the 21st century. Therefore, in order to use our voice, we can feel a strong urge to engage in discussions that are happening on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media forums.

But what happens when we engage in those forums and people disagree with us? Or worse yet, what happens when others call us names or marginalize us or even ridicule us because of our beliefs?

The natural reaction is to respond in kind. We want to be right and we want to “prove our point.” But Paul is urging us to be patient with others and kind in our interactions.

Admittedly, this is difficult to do in some cases. But we represent Christ to those around us. Therefore, we have a duty as believers to act in a way that Christ would react if he were posting for us.

Reflection

In what ways have you engaged in “foolish and ignorant arguments” in  your interactions with others?

What topics or hot buttons cause you the most difficulty in being patient with difficult people?

What steps can you take to be more kind and gentle towards others in your communication?

 

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The Importance of Spiritual Fitness

1 Timothy 4

7Do not waste time arguing over godless ideas and old wives’ tales. Spend your time and energy in training yourself for spiritual fitness. 8Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is much more important, for it promises a reward in both this life and the next. 9This is true, and everyone should accept it. 10We work hard and suffer much in order that people will believe the truth, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and particularly of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:7-10, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

The letter of 1 Timothy is chock full of godly advice from Paul to his protege, Timothy.

In this passage, Paul exhorts Timothy to avoid wasting time on meaningless debates and issues and instead, focus his energy on training himself for spiritual fitness.

What does it look like to train for spiritual fitness?

In America alone, fitness is a $50 billion a year industry. People spend a lot of time, effort and money in order to make themselves look as good as they possibly can. Certainly, there’s an element of fitness that’s good – we should strive to be healthy. But there’s no doubt that our culture places an unhealthy emphasis on our physical appearance.

Paul agrees that physical exercise has some value but argues that spiritual exercise is even more valuable.

So we’re back to the question of what does spiritual exercise look like?

Well, since we’re comparing spiritual exercise to physical exercise, think about what is involved in physical exercise. If you want to get in shape, there are certain exercises you’ll pursue. Building up your cardiovascular system and trimming down would likely involve eating healthy as well as physically demanding exercises like running, biking or cross-fit.

Spiritual exercise is no different. If you want to develop yourself spiritually, it will require some effort, wise choices and exercises that are designed to build you up spiritually.

This is exactly the purpose of spiritual disciplines.

In his book “The Life You’ve Always Wanted”, author John Ortberg describes spiritual disciplines as activities we engage in to train ourselves for spiritual transformation, which is simply a process whereby your internal life is becoming more aligned with the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23).

Spiritual exercise is not a barometer of our spirituality, but it is a means necessary to achieving an end – real, authentic spiritual transformation.

Ortberg remarks that many people in the church are surprised when they see people who experience real transformation because it often isn’t the norm. Instead, we see what Ortberg calls “boundary marker” spirituality. Ortberg says that boundary-marker spirituality causes Christians to distinguish themselves from others by the things they do. It may be by the way they dress, the way they talk, or the activities in which they engage.

According to Jesus, this was the problem with the Pharisees, who maintained an impeccable outward appearance, following every rule and regulation in the law to the nth degree, but who were rotten on the inside. 

We can settle for boundary-marker spirituality, which wouldn’t require much time or effort but might help us to “look the part” of a Christ-follower. Or, we can experience real change – authentic transformation from the inside. This is the option Jesus wants us to pursue because it’s the only one that will enable us to truly conform to His image. But it will require work and effort on our part, a commitment to pursuing Jesus and training ourselves to think rightly about God, ourselves, and the world around us.

This is the purpose of spiritual fitness, and Paul encourages Timothy and us to “Just do it!”

Reflection

How have you thought about spiritual disciplines in the past? What role have spiritual disciplines played in your own spiritual development?

What is your reaction to the statement that many Christians have developed what Ortberg calls “boundary-marker” spirituality? What examples can you think of that demonstrate our penchant for promoting a spirituality in the church that is outward focused instead of inwardly focused?

How much time, money and effort do you put into physical fitness compared to your spiritual fitness?

What steps can you take to begin exercising spiritually? What resources are available to help you get started? Who are some people you know who could help you and encourage you in your journey?

 

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How Good do you Have to Be to Be Saved?

Romans 4

1Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What were his experiences concerning this question of being saved by faith? 2Was it because of his good deeds that God accepted him? If so, he would have had something to boast about. But from God’s point of view Abraham had no basis at all for pride. 3For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, so God declared him to be righteous.”

4When people work, their wages are not a gift. Workers earn what they receive. 5But people are declared righteous because of their faith, not because of their work.

6King David spoke of this, describing the happiness of an undeserving sinner who is declared to be righteous:

7“Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight.

8Yes, what joy for those whose sin is no longer counted against them by the Lord.”

9Now then, is this blessing only for the Jews, or is it for Gentiles, too? Well, what about Abraham? We have been saying he was declared righteous by God because of his faith. 10But how did his faith help him? Was he declared righteous only after he had been circumcised, or was it before he was circumcised? The answer is that God accepted him first, and then he was circumcised later!

11The circumcision ceremony was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous—even before he was circumcised. So Abraham is the spiritual father of those who have faith but have not been circumcised. They are made right with God by faith. 12And Abraham is also the spiritual father of those who have been circumcised, but only if they have the same kind of faith Abraham had before he was circumcised.

13It is clear, then, that God’s promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was not based on obedience to God’s law, but on the new relationship with God that comes by faith. 14So if you claim that God’s promise is for those who obey God’s law and think they are “good enough” in God’s sight, then you are saying that faith is useless. And in that case, the promise is also meaningless. 15But the law brings punishment on those who try to obey it. (The only way to avoid breaking the law is to have no law to break!)

(Romans 4:1-15, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

What is required to be saved? How good do you have to be? If you fail to live up to the law, does that disqualify you from going to heaven?

These are the kinds of questions Paul is answering in Romans 4 and he uses Abraham as his prime example to explain that faith is the key to being saved, NOT obedience to the law.

You might remember that in Acts 15, there was a pivotal moment in the early church where this issue of circumcision was debated. I wrote about this critical issue in a previous blog post here, but the summary is that some Pharisees who had been converted argued that Gentiles had to become circumcised AND adhere to the law in order to be saved. Faith in Jesus was not enough.

Paul and Barnabas argued against this view and it was brought before all of the early church leaders at what has come to be known as “the Council of Jerusalem.” Long story short, all of the church leaders agreed with Paul and Barnabas and it was determined that circumcision was not a requirement for salvation.

In this chapter of Romans, Paul makes the argument for his position. Though the details of the debate that took place at the Jerusalem Council are not revealed, Paul’s outline in this chapter could very well have been the centerpiece of his defense against circumcision as a requirement for salvation.

Paul’s argument is as follows:

    1. Abraham was justified (declared righteous) by God BEFORE he was circumcised. Circumcision was a sign that Abraham had faith and that God had accepted him.
    2. If Abraham was accepted by God before being circumcised, then the acceptance (justification) is not dependent on being circumcised. It is based on the faith that came before the circumcision.
    3. Hence, Gentiles, who are not circumcised, can also be accepted (justified) by God  based on their faith.
    4. Therefore, circumcision is not required for Gentiles to be accepted.
    5. In the same way, Jews are also accepted by God based on their faith in Jesus, not on their circumcision, since Abraham was declared righteous as a result of his faith, NOT based on his circumcision.

What does this mean for us today?

It’s not likely that many of us think about circumcision as a requirement for salvation, so what are we to make of this passage?

Though we may not be advocating for circumcision as a requirement for salvation, we have a tendency, as humans do, of adding all kinds of work-related requirements to the salvation “formula”.

We have a tendency to think that salvation is secured by placing our faith in Jesus but then it is maintained by keeping a set of religious rules, which may vary depending on your denominational or family upbringing. In this scenario, if you break one of the rules, your spirituality or even your standing in the God’s family may be questioned.

If you think about it, adding any kind of religious requirement to faith is no different than adding circumcision to faith as a requirement for acceptance.

Paul’s argument stands for circumcision or any other work you might be tempted to add. Just replace the word “circumcision” with your religious rule in the outline above and Paul’s argument still holds.

The bottom line is that faith alone justifies a person in God’s eyes, not adherence to the Old Testament law or any other modern day religious code that we might be tempted to concoct. The truth is that Jesus came to die for us precisely because we are incapable of living up to any religious code, ancient or modern.

So let’s dispel the myth that Christians must practice a, b or c rituals to become saved, or that Christians cannot participate in x, y, or z activities or they will lose their salvation. Faith in Jesus is the key, just as it has always been.

Reflection

What religious rules are you tempted to want to add as a requirement for salvation? What is the basis for emphasizing those rules (church you grew up in, family environment, general culture, etc.)?

What activities are on your “prohibited” list of things Christians shouldn’t do. For example, I grew up in a church that generally frowned upon drinking, dancing, rock music, etc. 

Why do you think we have this tendency to add requirements to the process of becoming saved or for keeping our salvation?

 

Photo by Joshua Miranda from Pexels

You’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good, baby, you’re no good!

Romans 3

21But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight—not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago. 22We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.

23For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. 25For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us. God was being entirely fair and just when he did not punish those who sinned in former times. 26And he is entirely fair and just in this present time when he declares sinners to be right in his sight because they believe in Jesus.

27Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on our good deeds. It is based on our faith. 28So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law. (Romans 3:21-28, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Back in the day there was a popular song by Linda Ronstadt with a chorus that said, “you’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good, baby, you’re no good”! (see Ronstadt YouTube video here)

It’s doubtful that Ronstadt (or whoever actually wrote the song) had Romans 3 in mind when they penned the words, but this chorus is actually the sentiment of Paul’s message in Romans 3.

Paul has spent the first 2 chapters of Romans outlining how the pagan, the moral person and even the religious person are all sinful and therefore under God’s judgment.

In this chapter, Paul finalizes his argument that all people are no good. It’s doubtful that he could bust out the lyrics as soulfully as Ronstadt but Paul’s message is essentially, “you’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good….baby you’re no good.”

Perhaps you disagree with this assessment. After all, a lot of people think that people are basically good. And many would argue that at least SOME people are good. So how can Paul say ALL people are NO GOOD?

It all comes down to how you define good. We (people) tend to define good in relative standards that make us look good and feel good about ourselves.

For example, if Hitler is the standard of bad, then I feel good about myself because I’m reasonably confident that I’m a better person than Hitler.

And that’s the problem. Everybody is using a different standard of goodness and each person’s standard tends to be derived in such a way that they themselves end up on the good end of the spectrum.

Is this not blatantly obvious? How many people would actually say they are no good? Very few, in my experience. Even the most hardened criminal is likely to point to someone whom they believe to be a worse person than they are as their comparison for measuring and evaluating goodness.

But God’s standard of goodness is different than ours. God doesn’t use Hitler or Stalin or any other authoritarian tyrant as the standard for what is good. God uses HIMSELF as the standard of goodness.

With God as the standard of goodness, we can see that being good requires us to be as good as God is, which is impossible. This is why Paul says in verse 23 that “all fall short of God’s glorious standard” and it explains how Paul can say that ALL are NO GOOD!

That may seem like really bad news, and it is, but fortunately, that’s not the end of the story. There is good news, really good news actually.

Paul states that God has created a different way for us to be made right in his sight. Before Jesus, Jews tried to maintain a right standing before God by following the Law – the long list of legal requirements as outlined in the Torah – the first 5 books of the Old Testament. Adhering to all these religious requirements (over 600 of them) proved to be impossible for even the most devout God-follower. It simply highlighted the reality that we are sinful and incapable of fully following God’s rules consistently.

God ‘s better way involves us being made right with God when we trust in Jesus to take away our sins. When Jesus died on the cross, he actually was being punished for our sins and, according to verse 25, God’s righteous anger is satisfied as a result of Jesus’s death.

When it says that God’s anger is satisfied, it’s saying that God’s punishment has been poured out on Jesus instead of on us. So when we trust Jesus to pay for our sin, we receive a full pardon from God and there is no longer any punishment reserved for us.

However, we can still choose to reject Jesus and continue to follow the old pattern for achieving a right standard before God. We can choose to be evaluated by our works and our own ability to live up to God’s moral standards. In that scenario, we will be found guilty and we will experience punishment for our sins because we’ve rejected Jesus’s alternate method of paying for the penalty of our sins.

Or we can choose the better way…trust Jesus, receive a full pardon for all of our sin and experience a right standing with God that saves us from the punishment that we actually deserve!

Reflection

What is the standard you have been using for determining goodness? How close is your standard to the one Paul says that God is actually using?

What would you say to a person who claims to be a good person?

What would you say to someone who claims that it’s not fair that God would condemn anyone to an eternity in hell? What arguments would you make to demonstrate that it is fair and just?

 

Photo by Nick Gavrilov on Unsplash