Why do you do what you do? There is a motive, a driving force, behind everything you do. Motives have compelled mankind to do the greatest of things in this world…and the worst of things. (And the worst began with the motive to "be like God" when Adam and Eve ate of the tree that God commanded them not to eat from.) It is a good thing to examine why you do what you do. So let me ask this: What is your motive to love your fellow man? God tells us, "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ." (Philippians 1:27) Can we admit that we need to hear that? Our lives often reflect love of self more than love of others; selfishness is mankind’s default motive. Now some think that 'the church' preaches this to guilt, shape, and control people. And wherever that’s been the case, that’s a shame. But God comes to us with "the Gospel of Christ." The Gospel preaches, "I have loved you with an everlasting love." The Gospel preaches, "I have forgiven all of your sins through the life, death, and resurrection of my Son."
So the Gospel of Christ establishes a completely different motive. The life of love that God calls us to is not rooted in the guilt of trying to measure up and gain something with God, but in the grace of what Christ has done for us in atoning for our guilt and the privilege of reflecting that in the world. The life of love that God calls us to is not effected by a threat, 'do this or else,' but by a promise, "that whoever believes in the Son will not perish but have everlasting life." The Gospel preaches, "I am your God, you are my people, and heaven is your home." So let us believe the Gospel and live as citizens of heaven who reflect the good news about Christ our Savior. THE GOSPEL GIVES US THE GREATEST MOTIVE TO LIVE IN LOVE.
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What is the meaning of life? Your answer defines the way you view everything. Success and prosperity, failure and poverty, the good, the bad, the ugly, the tragic, the evil, the end – the way you act and react to it all is defined by your answer to that question. The Apostle Paul, imprisoned for preaching about Jesus and awaiting the life-or-death outcome of his trial, wrote: "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now, as always, Christ will be exalted in my body whether by life, or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:20,21) Did prison define Paul’s life? Was it even the hope of getting out that defined his life? No, it was the life of Another that defined his life. Christ defined the way Paul viewed everything. His imprisonment and his trial were a means to the end for him. And that end, that purpose, was to exalt and glorify Christ, come what may.
How could Paul say "to die is gain"? Death should not mean gain for me! I am sinful; my life sometimes looks like 'To live is to complain,' or 'To live is my needs, my wants, my way.' Death should mean eternal separation from a holy God! Do you see this for yourself as well? But take heart. What Paul proclaimed is what we cling to, as he did: the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the dead in the name of Jesus Christ! To say "to live is Christ" is to look to Christ and to rest assured in all He’s done for us as our God and Savior: He has given us life, He has redeemed us from our sinful hell-bound state, He has given us a whole new life to live in the freedom of forgiveness, and He has guaranteed us a glorious eternal life in Heaven. "To live is Christ!" My life is defined by Him and what He’s done for me, for us, for all. So Christ is my confidence to say "to die is gain!" Yes, THE MEANING OF LIFE IS FOUND IN CHRIST. And now in Christ, all of life is laid before you as a constant flow of opportunities to exalt and glorify Him.
Have you ever been captivated by a great speaker? What was it that wrapped your head and heart around their words? At one point in Jesus' ministry, the religious leaders sent temple guards to arrest Him. The guards came back empty-handed, saying, "No one ever spoke the way this man does." (John 7:46) Jesus spoke with the authority and grace of God Himself. When doubters tried to undercut His authority, He responded: "My teaching is not my own; it comes from Him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God, or whether I speak on my own." (John 7:16,17) Jesus didn't come with a teaching of human origin or of His own whims, but He spoke according to God's will. And He invited His critics and all His listeners to test out His words with God's will. We can do the same today. Take any of Jesus' teachings from the Gospels and measure them with the whole of God's Word. What Jesus spoke in His 33 years on earth is echoed throughout the 1,500 years of the Bible's writings, from what Moses wrote in Genesis to what John wrote in Revelation.
The testimony of the temple guards is my testimony to you today. Look, you may have your doubts about Jesus, but "NO ONE EVER SPOKE THE WAY THIS MAN DOES." Let me tell you what He said about how "God so loved the world." About His invitation to believe in Him as the "Bread of Life." About His precious promise that I love: "whoever comes to me I will never drive away." Let me tell you what He said and, oh!, what He did!, when He called Himself "the Resurrection and the Life." Let me tell you what He said about His death and resurrection and how He fulfilled it. Let me tell you about what He said when He was dying on the cross. Let me tell you how He greeted His disciples with peace when He rose from the grave even though they had deserted Him when He died. I’m telling you, "NO ONE EVER SPOKE THE WAY THIS MAN DOES."
Why do people write books? History is recorded to inform. A biography may inspire. Fiction is written to entertain. Poetry can sing to the senses. How-to books of all sorts teach and equip. The apostle John was very clear about his purpose in writing about Jesus. "These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God." (John 20:31) The Gospel of John (as well as the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke) testifies about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In the words and works of Jesus we see that He is indeed God’s Son, "the Savior of the world." (John 4:42)
Why do people read books? All the types of books listed above serve their purpose. Why read the Bible? For all the books and all their benefits, NO OTHER BOOK CAN DO WHAT GOD’S WORD DOES. John was also very clear in what the testimony about Jesus means for you. "By believing, you may have life in His name." (John 20:31) This wasn’t John’s conclusion; this wasn’t just wishful thinking of some guy who lived long ago. This was God’s message and promise through many people through the ages. "All the prophets testify about Him that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name." (Acts 10:43) Do you see what it means to "have LIFE in His name"? It means the forgiveness of your sins. It means peace with God. It means the promise of eternal life in heaven. This is what it means to know Jesus. So read the Bible. Get to know Jesus. Believe. Live. Now and forever.
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Do you have doubts about God, about the reality and reliability of His promises, about His plans and purposes for you, doubts about His love for you? Though some may have the idea that Christians never doubt, the truth is that no one is exempt from doubt. All of us are vulnerable to doubt and have faced some degree of doubt. Even those in the Bible we call 'heroes of faith' doubted. But let’s be clear: Doubt is sin. When we doubt God we are exalting our opinions and feelings over the truth of God’s Word. Doubt, left to run its course, will destroy faith. So doubt must be addressed. And there needs to be an environment where none of us has to be afraid to talk about our doubts and seek help. God calls us to help others in this matter: "Be merciful to those who doubt" (Jude 22), listening and guiding with humility and patience.
Perhaps you are the one who needs that mercy right now; perhaps you are struggling in a season of doubt. I want you to know that doubt doesn’t instantly make you an unbeliever. Doubt is the struggle with faith; unbelief is the rejection of faith. Oppose that doubt. Leaning on your own understanding cannot help you. When we cannot trace the hand of God, we can and must trust the heart of God. He has revealed His heart to us, to you, in Christ, who came for us. He died, He rose, and He will come again for us. To do what? "To present you before God’s glorious presence, without fault and with great joy." (Jude 24) ...Don’t miss what that says. Though sin (including our doubts) makes us full of blame, yet Christ presents us without fault before the Father. This is the great joy of being forgiven fully in Christ! He Himself is our sure defense against doubt. It is "Him who is able to keep you from falling." (Jude 24) So then, let us SHOW MERCY TO THOSE WHO DOUBT and SHARE CHRIST WITH THOSE WHO DOUBT. At Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, we stand ready to listen to you and eager to guide you in God’s Word through your doubts.
There are consequences when you don’t focus on the right spot. Each year over 400,000 people in the U.S. are injured in crashes that involve a distracted driver; over 3,000 people are killed. A lapse in focus can lead to distress and tragedy. This also applies to our spiritual life. God knows how prone we are to make idols of the desires of our heart and to lose sight of His love. So He commands us: "Keep yourselves in God’s love." (Jude 21) What love, besides God’s love, loves sinners like you and me? What love, besides God’s love, loves sinners so much as to pay the debt of sinners by dying on a cross in the place of sinners? What love, besides God’s love, promises eternal life to everyone who believes in Jesus, who sacrificed Himself for sinners? What love, besides God’s love, continues to grant forgiveness every time a sinner repents, even if it is 43,123rd time?
How do we keep ourselves in God’s love? He tells us: "Build yourselves up in your most holy faith." (Jude 20) The devil’s lies, the world’s temptations, and the pull of our sinful nature can distract our focus from God’s great love and lead us down a path of distress and tragedy. We need to continually return to the good news of God’s love for us, shown in the One who died for us and was raised again. FOCUS ON GOD’S LOVE FOR YOU IN CHRIST.
…We need each other’s help to keep this focus. There’s a reason why God had Jude use the word "YOURSELVES" instead of "yourself." We do this with one another; we do this together. At Christ Our Redeemer, we come together to sing hymns together, to confess our sins together, to receive God’s proclamation of forgiveness together, to listen to His Word together, to pray together, to receive the Lord’s Supper together, to strengthen our focus on God’s love together. And we leave together in the mission of sharing and showing the love of God to others. Come, join us; let us help you FOCUS ON GOD’S LOVE FOR YOU IN CHRIST!
What is your most treasured possession? Our independence is a treasured possession, perhaps the most treasured possession, because our freedom allows us to have and enjoy so many things in life. Did you know that God speaks of His most treasured possession? After He rescued the nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt, He said to them, "If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession…and a holy nation." (Exodus 19:5)(His covenant also allowed anyone who turned from false gods and acknowledged Him as God and Savior to come under this covenant.) The all-important word is IF – IF they would obey, fully. They readily said they would. But only 40 days later, they made an idol, a golden calf, and worshiped it instead of God. This type of rebellion was all too typical for Israel. And are we any better? Day after day, I promise and intend to obey the Lord, fully. Day after day, I sin against God – an impure thought here, an unkind word there, a selfish act again. Our history, like Israel’s, is full of disobedience and failure.
But there was one Israelite who did keep this covenant, fully. His name is Jesus of Nazareth. And because Jesus of Nazareth is also God in the flesh, the Son of the Most High, what He did counted not just for Himself but also for you and me, for all people. This was God’s plan all along in singling out Israel, that from those people would come the Christ, the one Person to be the Savior of ALL. Do you see what this means? God wants to claim *you* as His treasured possession! Put your trust in Jesus, who lived the IF that you and I cannot, and know that you are loved by God. And now, IN CHRIST, YOU ARE FREE TO LIVE AS GOD’S HOLY PEOPLE! "As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." (Colossians 3:12,13) ...What would our country look like if we lived this way? I say again: IN CHRIST, YOU ARE FREE TO LIVE AS GOD’S HOLY PEOPLE, radically impacting the world around you, for His glory, that more and more would know Him as Savior.
There’s a tendency to avoid eye contact with judgment. Growing up, when I’d get into trouble and get scolded, I’d always look down rather than up into the eyes of the one rebuking me. How much more so is this true of divine judgment! Just as Adam and Eve tried to hide in the Garden of Eden, we’d rather not face God when He addresses sin. But remember that GOD WARNS YOU TO SAVE YOU. Check out Jude’s letter, verses 5-16. Those are some of the harshest words you’ll read in the Bible. God gives examples of those who led others astray and were condemned and those who abandoned the faith and were condemned. In general God is warning of those who use God’s love to justify living life in ways that God says are wrong. This distortion of God’s love defies God’s sovereignty and it denies Jesus as Lord.
God’s strong words against false teachers also convict us. Have you at times been indifferent to the Word of Christ, treating it as a nice message, but not something of great importance in the moment? Have you at times used God’s grace as a pass for your sinful pleasures, denying Jesus as the Lord of your life because you prefer being the lord of your life? When you abuse God’s grace and deny Jesus as your only Sovereign and Lord, you reject the only One who can save you from sin. So GOD WARNS YOU TO SAVE YOU. His warning is meant to protect you from the deceitfulness of sin and the deception and influence of false teachers. Behind God’s warning is His love to call you to and preserve you in His grace. May His warning increase our desire to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior.
Nothing compares with God’s Word and the Gospel it proclaims. Martin Luther summed it up well: 'To you who believe and hold to the Word of Christ – heaven is open, hell is shut, the devil is imprisoned, sins are forgiven, and you are a child of God. That is what this book teaches you – the Holy Scripture – and no other book on earth.' These blessings, yours through faith in Jesus, meet man’s greatest and deepest need. Do you see why God calls us to "contend for the faith"? (Jude 3) We do so by proclaiming God’s Word (so that as many as possible may believe and be saved) and by standing firm on what He says (so that we don’t lose what He has freely given us in Jesus). This calls for vigilance and discernment, carefully listening and watching for any addition to or subtraction from God’s Word, guarding against error. If we fail to do so, we run the risk of losing the Gospel, which means losing everything.
So God prompted Jude to warn us about those "who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ, our only Sovereign and Lord." (Jude 4) To minimize the seriousness of sin and the necessity of the cross is an assault on the primary message of God’s Word and the primary need of our soul. To deny that Jesus is true God and true man is an assault on God’s revelation of Himself and an assault on His plan to save us from our sins. And to deny that the Bible is the true and trustworthy Word of God from cover to cover is an assault on Jesus’ lordship, because it is through His Word that He rules our hearts and lives. So rise up and CONTEND FOR THE FAITH, holding firmly to the message of salvation in Jesus.
Why were those whom we remember this Memorial Day willing to sacrifice their lives in battle? Because they knew what they were fighting for. If you are going to stand firm for a cause, it makes all the difference in the world to know WHY you are taking a stand, to know WHAT is at stake. A man named Jude penned a book of the Bible, a short letter that urges Christians to "contend for the faith." (v3) Why? What is "the faith"? To sum it up, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him. (John 14:6) Salvation is found in no one else, for Jesus died for sins, once for all, the Righteous One for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (Acts 4:12, I Peter 3:18) This is the Gospel, the good news that God wants all to be saved and has provided a Savior for us all. In an age where 'faith' is whatever you want it to be, "the faith" that is centered on Christ alone is worth contending for, standing firm against every distortion.
So Jude writes "to those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father, and kept by Jesus Christ." (v1) "Called" reminds us that God comes to us who are by nature enemies toward Him and dead in sin. None of us 'found God,' but He sought us out through the Gospel. This is the grace of God! "Loved" tells us why God would do such a thing; behind the call of God is the love of God. It is sinful pride and a fruitless search to look within us for a reason that God would love us. Look only to the cross. Nowhere else will you find a love more personal and passionate, the love of God to forgive your sins through the punishment of His Son. This is the grace of God! "Kept" reminds us that we remain in the faith not by our own strength but by His grace; it is He who keeps us in the faith through the Gospel. This is the grace of God! Contend for the faith which proclaims that YOU ARE CALLED, LOVED, AND KEPT BY GOD’S GRACE.
Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
Daniel is the Staff Minister at Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, El Paso TX.