Proofs of salvation: I John

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Today’s reading: I John 1-5.

“Is there such a thing as a test of my salvation?”

The tests of true faith are the meat of First John. John said, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” He didn’t write them to identify the faithless but to encourage the faithful. He prescribed a self-test that Christians can take to prove to themselves that they are one with God, or as the song says, so they can “know that they know that they know that they know.”

And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. I John 2:3

One test of salvation is the test of obedience. True believers keep the commandments of God. Perhaps you thought all the commandments went away with the Law of Moses. If so, you were mistaken. The New Testament is full of commands for Christians. “Be holy, as I am holy.” “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thank in all circumstances.” “Show no favoritism.” The list goes on. John said, “the man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar,” and “whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did,” and “you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.” He also states this test in the negative: “Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.

We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. I John 3:14

The next test is the test of brotherly love. According to John, anyone who hates his brother is stumbling around in darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light of God’s guidance and will not stumble. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, killing in thought if not in deed, and those who continue to murder will not inherit eternal life. The one who loves will express his love in actions as well as words. He will lay down his life for his brother. He will share his possessions with his brother who is in need.

And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. 3:24

We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 4:13

John also wrote about the test of the Holy Spirit. Those who are saved receive the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit within them testifies to the truth of their salvation. As Paul said, the Spirit, which is the down payment or earnest money of our heavenly inheritance, “testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). This is an assurance that comes directly from the Trinity.

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well…And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  5:1, 11-12

Some tests are tests of action, but the test of belief in Jesus Christ is a test of faith. The man who denies that Jesus is the Christ is opposed to Christ; he is an antichrist. “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.” “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,” and if we can make that profession then we know that we have God’s Spirit in us. If we believe in Jesus, we have accepted God’s testimony about him, that he is truly his own son.

There are a few other tests in John’s letter. There is the test of confession; the one who is saved does not deny his sin but admits it to God. There is the test of worldliness; the true believer hates the ways of the world and is devoted to Jesus. There is the test of habitual sin; no one who belongs to God continually repeats the same sins without remorse or repentance.

Do you see other tests of salvation in John’s letter? Remember, he gave us these tests to strengthen our assurance and to increase the knowledge of our salvation. For those who have doubts, it is an opportunity to examine whether you have repented from sin and put your faith in Jesus Christ as God’s son. John reminds us that we can confidently approach God with all our concerns, including concerns about our faith. He hears us, and having heard us, we will receive what we asked of him, even faith.

Image by ClemsonUnivLibrary on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

Faith that Works: James 2

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Today’s reading: James 1-5.

“Why do Paul and James differ in their beliefs?”

James and Paul may seem to face each other in an argument that can’t be resolved, but I prefer the conclusion that they are standing back-to-back fighting two different enemies. For Paul, the enemy was trusting in the works of the law. For James, it was trusting in a fruitless faith that was actually dead. Both men were interested in faith that works.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. James 2:14-17

More than good intentions. James condemns the person who wishes others well but does nothing concrete to help them. His conclusion? It’s no good. In the same way faith that produces no fruit is really no faith.

More than mental assent. Faith is more than acknowledging the existence of God. After all, even Satan does that. Faith is submitting to the rule and authority of God, believing that he holds your future in his hands. As Manley Beasley said in yesterday’s devotional, faith must have an emotional component (I want God to be Lord of my life) and a volitional component (I choose to be obedient to God’s will) as well as the intellectual component (I believe there is a God).

Faith and actions work together. James pointed out that works complement faith. Abraham was credited for his faith in God’s promise, but his faith resulted in obedience to God’s command to sacrifice Isaac. Paul used this same passage to show that God declared Abraham righteous because of his faith before it ever resulted in works, but it was the kind of faith that led to action.

Works reveal faith. Works complement faith, but they also validate faith by revealing its reality. James mentions the example of Rahab, a pagan prostitute who became part of God’s family because of a faith in Jehovah that led to direct action on behalf of God’s people.

What kind of works? This is the strength of James’ letter. He spells out in practical terms how Christians should demonstrate their faith.

  • by persevering under trials
  • by resisting the temptation to sin
  • by obeying God’s word
  • by helping the disadvantaged
  • by showing no favoritism
  • by controlling their tongue
  • by praying for each other

A tree has been planted out into the ground. Now the source of life to that tree is at the root, whether it hath apples on it or not; the apples would not give it life, but the whole of the life of the tree will come from its root. But if that tree stands in the orchard, and when the springtime comes there is no bud, and when the summer comes there is no leafing, and no fruit-bearing, but the next year, and the next, it stands there without bud or blossom, or leaf or fruit, you would say it is dead, and you are correct; it is dead. It is not that the leaves could have made it live, but that the absence of the leaves is a proof that it is dead. So, too, is it with the professor. If he hath life, that life must give fruits; if not fruits, works; if his faith has a root, but if there be no works, then depend upon it the inference that he is spiritually dead is certainly a correct one. When the telegraph cable flashed no message across to America, when they tried to telegraph again and again, but the only result following was dead earth, they felt persuaded that there was a fracture, and well they might; and when there is nothing produced in the life by the supposed grace which we have, and nothing is telegraphed to the world but “dead earth,” we may rest assured that the link of connection between the soul and Christ does not exist. – Charles Spurgeon

Discipleship – what believers must do: 2 Timothy 2

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Today’s reading: 2 Timothy 1-4.

“The one indispensable requirement for producing godly, mature Christians is godly, mature Christians.” ― Kevin DeYoung

There is a growing movement in churches today, an imperative which has been ignored too long. While focusing on numbers and decisions we neglected the thrust of Jesus’ ministry – discipleship. We have built churches which are often devoid of discipleship. If instead we had been disciplers, there would have been no lack of growing churches. Paul summed up the essence of discipleship when he described how it stretched across four generations of believers:

And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. 2 Timothy 2:2

You (generation two) heard me (generation one) and told reliable men (generation three) who will teach others (generation four). The process involved isn’t limited to witnessing or helping the lost make decisions. Discipling takes a believer, at any stage in his growth, and shepherds him or her through a continuing process of learning and doing until they are qualified to do the same for another believer. Jesus was the master discipler, and his success was shown by the rapid growth of the church. After Jesus’ death there were only 120 believers, but within weeks the number had grown to thousands and it has never looked back. Jesus spent a small amount of time teaching large crowds, but the vast majority of his time was engaged in discipling a small number of people, and three men received even greater attention. This is the pattern that God wants us to follow so that we can maximize our impact on the world.

My pastor, Brandon Ware of Green Street Baptist Church, recently shared Jim Putnam’s definition of a disciple.

  • A disciple is one who knows and follows Christ.
  • A disciple is one who is being changed by Christ.
  • A disciple is one who is on mission with Christ.

Jesus gave the command for discipling in his Great Commission.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

Teaching the doctrines of Christianity is a key part of discipleship, but it can’t stop there. That Greek model of teaching creates students full of head knowledge who won’t necessarily live out what they learn. Instead we need the Jewish model which Jesus used. Those who are truly discipled learn by living with their teacher, observing him in action, doing what he does with his assistance, then doing it independently. It is very much like the method we used in medical school to learn procedures. Each student would “see one, do one, then teach one.”

What would it look like in the local church if spiritually mature men and women began doing what Jesus did by finding two or three others and intentionally investing in their life by providing support and accountability?  Spiritually mature men ought to be investing into other men, and spiritually mature women ought to be investing in other women. Through such a relationship, disciples can be taught how to pray, how to study God’s Word, how to share the gospel, how to give, and what it means to follow Jesus.  This is a simple process of how we can make disciples who repeat the process in the lives of others. It was this process that turned the world upside down. – Brandon Ware

In order to fully carry out the command of the Great Commission, we must understand a crucial term in this verse. The King James Version of the Bible renders the Greek word for make disciples as teach. Matthew 28:19 in the King James Version reads, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…” Many diligent believers simply read this word and merely teach people about salvation—share the gospel and lead them to a decision for Christ.  This is good and admirable, but it is not enough: more is required to make a disciple of Jesus Christ. It is only one aspect of Jesus’ command. Making disciples requires equipping, training, and investing in believers. So what is discipleship? We could say that it is “intentionally equipping believers with the Word of God through accountable relationships empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to replicate faithful followers of Christ.” In other words, a disciple learns what Jesus said and lives out what Jesus did (Matthew 28:19). – Robby Gallaty

Image, “Christ with two disciples,” by Rembrandt

Sins in the church: 2 Corinthians 12

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Today’s reading: 2 Corinthians 10-13.

Men are willing to admit that they are sinners, but not that they are sinning. – Ivan Panin, Thoughts

One of the most damaging charges brought against the church is the bad behavior of its members. A minority may put the whole body in a bad light, but the problem is real and it hurts the growth of the kingdom. It was a problem in the early church as well.

For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder. I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged. 2 Corinthians 12:20-21

Quarreling: Strong disagreement leading to strife and wrangling. “They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions.” “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.”

Jealousy: Zeal brought about by envy or rivalry. “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?” “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”

Anger: Fury, wrath, indignation. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.”

Factions: Selfish ambition, or promoting your own party by any possible means. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.”

Slander: Backbiting or speaking evil of another person. “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.”

Gossip: Malicious whispering. This is the only time the word is used in the New Testament. The word was also used to describe the sounds of a snake charmer.

Arrogance: Swollen with pride, a puffing up of the spirit.

Disorder: Disturbances, dissensions, warring. “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.”

Impurity: Uncleanness, lustful living. “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.”

Sexual sin: Sexual intercourse outside the bounds of marriage. “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.” “You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”

Debauchery: Unbridled lust, lewdness, filthiness, shamelessness. “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” “Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.”

Having identified these common sins, we should remain vigilant to purge them from our own lives and to confront them when they appear in the church. Our goal isn’t condemnation but redemption and restoration. To remain pure ourselves, we need to avoid places of temptation, read and meditate on the Bible daily, and participate in small accountability groups. When we confront others, it should be with our arms around them in love, first individually or with one or two others, and then with the church as a whole if they do not repent.

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Running for the prize: I Corinthians 9

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Today’s reading: I Corinthians 9-11.

“How can I be a successful servant of Christ?”

“The five S’s of sports training are: stamina, speed, strength, skill, and spirit; but the greatest of these is spirit.”– Ken Doherty

When Paul wrote I Corinthians he had been a Christian for twenty years. He was deep into his second missionary journey. He knew what it took to be a witness for Christ, but more than that he knew what fruitful ministry required.

I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. I C0rinthians 9: 22-27

Paul had the spirit of ministry. Maybe not the greatest skill in speech-making, maybe not the smoothest personality, but he knew the spirit that was required, and the stamina. His spirit was one of selflessness. Paul wasn’t important. Christ was important. Winning the lost people of the world to Christ was important. Therefore he could make himself like the people he was serving in order to open the doors to greater ministry. He wasn’t being meek but skillful. He wasn’t doing anything immoral. His Christian liberty allowed him to follow the law if that was needed, or to live without the law among those who didn’t recognize it.

His spirit was also one of sacrifice. He did without in order to go about. He went without pay or earned his way through his trade of tent-making. He went without a home and often without any comfort or safety. He suffered every kind of danger and abuse. He did it for the Corinthians so that his ministry to them would not be hindered. He became a slave for the sake of the Gospel.

Paul could do all this because he had his eye on the prize, and the prize waited in eternity with Christ. He had the spirit of faith which saw through all the present difficulties to the heavenly success. He saw the kingdom in its glory even though many counted him as the scum of the earth. His faith wasn’t in himself but in Christ who made him able to do all things. Because he looked in faith to the future reward, he was also able to live with a spirit of discipline. He trained himself like an Olympic athlete, running for the prize, fighting against his own weaknesses, and always keeping his eye on the finish line. He also kept a keen eye on any wrong step that would take him out of the race. He did nothing that might disqualify himself.

Paul could have made a list of the things he didn’t do. That would also be instructive.

  • He didn’t insist on his own needs.
  • He didn’t quit when things were difficult.
  • He didn’t take it personally when others attacked him; he knew it was because of Christ.
  • He didn’t avoid taking a stand.
  • He didn’t work for financial security.
  • He didn’t stay away from risky or dangerous areas of ministry.

One final point about Paul. He didn’t just study or prepare (running aimlessly, beating the air); he did the hard work of ministry. He had the spirit to fight the good fight.

“Strive to enter by the narrow gate” (Luke 13:24). “Labor for the food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the word of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). “Let us not be weary in well-doing, for we shall reap if we do not faint” (Galatians 6:9). “Redeem the time, for the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15). “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 3:12). “Christ gave himself to purify for himself a people zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14). “Show earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope to the end” (Hebrews 6:11). “Love one another earnestly from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). Strive, labor, abound, be zealous, be earnest. Run like the winner runs. Be done with half-heartedness and laziness and lukewarmness. Christ has laid hold on you for this very thing. You do not do it in your own strength. You strive and labor and abound and love in the strength that he supplies so that in everything he gets the glory (1 Peter 4:11). – John Piper

image by Nguyen Vu Hung on Flickr, CC by 2.0

A tale of two Christians: Romans 14

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Today’s reading: Romans 14-16.

“How can Christians deal with their differences?”

The grace of God through Jesus Christ imparts a tremendous freedom to believers: freedom from slavery to sin, freedom to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, and freedom from the laws of the old covenant. There are also dangers in this freedom, including the dangers that believers will abuse their freedom by indulging in sin, and that conflict will arise between those who grasp the extent of their freedom by greater and lesser degrees.

Imagine two believers – Broad Bill and Narrow Nell. Bill and Nell agree on all the fundamentals of the faith including the infallibility of the Bible, the doctrine of the trinity, and salvation by faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection. But Bill takes a broader, more liberal view of the freedoms available to Christians while Nell accepts a narrower, more restrictive view of what believers can do. Bill does not require tithing while Nell insists on it. He sees no problem in sprinkling for baptism but she believes in dunking. He says there is no sin in drinking alcohol; she requires total abstinence. The list goes on, and varies from one generation to another. Thankfully, Romans lays down two principles that can help limit these conflicts in every generation.

The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Romans 14: 3-4

Don’t condemn your brother over differing beliefs. There are areas where believers disagree and both are within God’s will. These disputable areas in Paul’s day included eating certain foods (such as those sacrificed to idols), drinking alcohol, and observing holy days. One believer may observe more of these prohibitions or practices; another may observe fewer or none. Neither should look down on or condemn the other.

  • Whatever you do, be convinced in your own faith that it is the correct thing to do.
  • Whatever you do, do it unto the Lord.
  • Don’t condemn your brother in the faith for these disputable matters. Instead, let each one give an account to God

As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Romans 14: 14-15

Don’t make your brother stumble over differing beliefs. In this situation one believer has more restrictions on what he or she considers permissible. The believer who has fewer restrictions should not do anything to weaken the faith of the one with more restrictions. The freer Christian should not use his freedom to weaken the faith of the less free believer.

  • No food is unclean of itself, but some believers may consider it unclean.
  • Act from love; don’t do anything to distress your brother who believes differently than you.
  • Restrain your freedom if necessary to keep your brother from stumbling.
  • Let each person act from faith.

In both these situations Paul urges us to act from faith. Whether you act from a more liberal or a more restrictive view, it should be based on faith. Each one should respect the other’s faith and leave it to God to approve or censure his servant.

If we must judge, certainly it should not be those who are linked to us by the ties of spiritual relationship. Are not all Believers one family in Christ? Wherever the root of the matter is to be found, there exists an overwhelming argument for undying unity. Why, then, will you take your Brother by the throat and drag him before your judgment seat and make him answer to you, Brother to Brother, and then condemn him? Shall a Brother in Christ condemn a Brother in Christ? When the outside world censures Christians, we understand it, for they hated our Master and they will hate us. But inside the charmed circle of Christian communion there should be esteem for one another, a defending of each other—we should be anxious to apologize for infirmity than to discover imperfection! Far be it from us to find flaws where they do not exist! – Charles Spurgeon

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In the fight, but already victorious: Romans 8

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Today’s reading: Romans 8-10.

“If God is for me, why is life still such a struggle?”

For I reckon that the sufferings of the present time [are] not worthy [to be compared] with the glory about to be revealed in us. Romans 8:18

Our Position in Christ is that of the highest standing. We are children of God and joint-heirs with Christ. Our father is the king, with infinite resources at his command. Grace has removed all condemnation against us so that we stand in perfect harmony with our heavenly father.

Yet suffering still marks our Present in Christ. We suffer in Christ because of the fallen nature of the world which is “in bondage to decay.” We suffer because our bodies are still mortal even though are souls are bound for heaven. We suffer with Christ so that we may share in his glory. We suffer for Christ in order to carry the message of saving grace to those who are lost.

These sufferings are only temporary, even brief in comparison to eternity. Our Future in Christ is full of glory. We are God’s heirs, but we have not fully received our inheritance. Jesus has been preparing a place for us for 2,000 years, but we are not home yet. All creation groans as if in childbirth, laboring to bring forth “glorious freedom” for us. Jesus has freed us from the power and practice of sin, but one day soon we will be freed from the very presence of sin.

We can claim our Victory in Christ even though the battle still rages. It’s true that we have spiritual enemies in high places. We live in a world that follows the ways of darkness. But neither Satan nor the world will be able to separate us from the success that God has promised.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 37-39

In Romans 8:19 (Paul) uses a wonderful word for eager expectation. It is apokaradokia and it describes the attitude of a man who scans the horizon with head thrust forward, eagerly searching the distance for the first signs of the dawn break of glory. To Paul life was not a weary, defeated waiting; it was a throbbing, vivid expectation. The Christian is involved in the human situation. Within he must battle with his own evil human nature; without he must live in a world of death and decay. Nonetheless, the Christian does not live only in the world; he also lives in Christ. He does not see only the world; he looks beyond it to God. He does not see only the consequences of man’s sin; he sees the power of God’s mercy and love. Therefore, the keynote of the Christian life is always hope and never despair. The Christian waits, not for death, but for life. – Barclay, Daily Study Bible

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