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

Walking in the Light Simplified

1 John 1

5This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
(1 John 1:5-10, NIV)


The Daily DAVEotional

The letter of 1 John contains the familiar light/darkness motif that John is known for in his gospel, in which the word “light” shows up 24 times.

John uses the idea of light to depict moral purity and absolute righteousness, whereas darkness refers to sin or unrighteousness.

In this passage, John declares that “God is light and in Him there is no darkness at all”, signifying that God is completely righteous and without sin.

John then proceeds to give some qualifications for how we, as believers, can experience fellowship with God. Here are some of the highlights:

    • Verse 6 says that we cannot experience fellowship with God if we are walking in the darkness. But what does that mean? Well, if darkness refers to sin and unrighteousness, then walking in the darkness must mean that we are walking in unrighteousness.
    • Verse 7 says that if we walk in the light then we WILL experience fellowship with one another and our sin will be purified by the blood of Jesus.
    • In verse 8, John tells us that anyone who claims to be without sin is deceiving themselves.
    • In verse 9, John tells us that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all sin.
    • Finally, verse 10 tells us that anyone who claims that they haven’t sinned is making God out to be a liar!

So what do these verses really tell us? It seems that if we want to experience fellowship with God then we cannot walk in unrighteousness, which one might conclude means that we cannot sin.

Yet verses 8 and 10 tell us that anyone who claims to be without sin is deceiving themselves and calling God a liar.

So if fellowship with God requires sinlessness, we are in trouble, because sinlessness is an impossible standard and John himself has said that we can’t claim to be without sin without deceiving ourselves and making God out to be a liar.

So what is really going on here?

To answer this question, I want to appeal to a mathematical law known as syllogism.

The law of syllogism demonstrates the relationship between multiple statements.

For example, if “a” leads to “b” and “b” leads to “c”, then it logically follows that “a” leads to “c”.

Stay with me here because this isn’t as complicated as it may appear. Here is how this relates to this passage. Look particularly at verses 7 & 9.

In verse 7, John says that (A) “walking in the light” leads to “fellowship with God” and (C) “our sin being purified by the blood of Jesus.”

In verse 9, John says that (B) “confessing our sin” leads to “God forgiving our sins” and (C) “purifying us from all unrighteousness.”

Notice that in both verse 7 and verse 9 there are two different actions (A & B) that both lead to the same result: being purified of our sin/unrighteousness. Here it is in simplified form:

    • (A) “walking in the light” leads to (C) “our sin being purified by the blood of Jesus.”
    • (B) “confessing our sin” leads to (C) “being purified from all unrighteousness.”

What does this tell us? It tells us that there is a relationship between “walking in the light” and “confessing our sins” since both lead to “our sin/unrighteousness being purified.”

So, do you want to experience fellowship with God? John says you have to walk in the light. But what does that mean? Fortunately, the law of syllogism helps us by helping us see how John defined what it means to walk in the light. It means that we are in the habit of confessing our sins and experiencing God’s forgiveness.

Walking in the light does not require some kind of sinless perfection, as John has established that everyone sins and we can’t say that we haven’t sinned.

Walking in the darkness means that when I do sin, I fail to confess it. As a result, I begin to live in rebellion towards God and I cease to experience daily forgiveness for my sins and shortcomings. The result of this is a lack of growth, as I wrote in my recent blog post “Why Some Christians Never Grow“.

Walking in the light simply means that when I do sin, I submit myself to God’s authority and I confess my sin. Confession involves agreeing with God regarding His moral standards. It also involves repentance, which is a posture of humility and openness to God.

The benefits of this simple habit of confession are enormous. We experience daily cleansing from our sins and we continue to experience fellowship with God and with other believers!

Reflection

What has been your understanding of the concept of “walking in the light”? How would you have described it to another person?

How important has the habit of confession been in your own spiritual journey? What makes it hard for you to confess your sins regularly?

What do you think are the connections between lack of confession and walking in unrighteousness? What are some of the reasons or factors that make it tempting for you and other believers to walk in the darkness instead of walking in the light?

John says in verse 6 that some people claim to have fellowship with God but they’re actually walking in the darkness. What do you think characterizes the lifestyle of this person? What does it look like to walk in darkness but claim to be in fellowship with God?

 

Photo by Jackson David on Unsplash

 

 

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

 

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