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.
Just as parents feed and nurture their children so that they will grow, GOD WANTS YOU TO GROW. He wants you to have a healthy appetite for His Word with which He feeds and nurtures you. And just as parents warn their children about dangers to their health and life, God warns you. "Rid yourselves of all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind." Sin is deadly and must be dealt with as the poison that it is. So He says bluntly, "Get rid of it." Address it. Confess it. Repent of it. Turn away from it. God tells you this because you matter to Him. Your spiritual health matters to Him.
So He continues: "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good." (I Peter 2:1-3) The more you feed on God’s Word, the more you see, know, and understand the goodness of God. Taste His goodness in the life Jesus lived for you, the death He died for you, and the victory over death He gives you. That is the taste of salvation, the forgiveness of your sins! Does it seem simplistic to stress these facts of salvation again and again? Your physical nourishment is built on the same basic elements day by day; you cannot live without them. But as you feed on them, you live, you grow…you flourish! Feed on God’s Word and taste and see for yourself how He equips, guides, and guards you through whatever you face in life. And most importantly, He will keep you focused on what matters most, your salvation in Christ. For this very reason, GOD WANTS YOU TO GROW.
God wants you to see what a miracle faith is. Peter describes it this way: "You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God." (I Peter 1:23) Faith in Jesus is not the work of any man. No pastor causes this rebirth, nor do you make it happen. Like dirt in the field, you need to have life planted in you. In the preaching of His Word, God comes to you who are as dead and lifeless as dirt, and He plants His Word in your heart. God’s Spirit graciously and powerfully works through His Word to create life in you – faith that sees, knows, and believes that Jesus is your Savior from sin and death. Look at the qualities of this Word He plants in you: It is imperishable. It is living. It is enduring. Do you see what this means for you? As God’s Word is living and enduring, so is your faith as it grows from His Word. What a miracle and gift faith is!
But perhaps you are reading this and wondering, 'What if I don’t have faith?,' or 'I’m not sure I have faith,' or 'My faith is weak.' After Peter assures you that "the Word of the Lord stands forever," He then adds, "And this is the Word that was preached to you." (I Peter 1:25) Those words "to you" emphasize that this message of repentance and forgiveness in Jesus is meant FOR YOU, and that God wants to plant and nourish this message of new life IN YOU. So look to God’s Word, where He begins this enduring life in you, and come with those who gather around God’s Word, where He continues His miraculous work in you, all the way to life everlasting. God’s Word is preached to you for this very reason – that you may know that YOU HAVE LIFE THROUGH THE LIVING AND ENDURING WORD OF GOD.
"Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?" (Acts 26:8) The Apostle Paul asked this rhetorical question when he was on trial for sharing his confidence in Christ’s resurrection and the resurrection of the dead. His point was that the One who gives life can just as easily raise the dead. Paul’s question wasn’t just for skeptics of yesterday and today; it’s also for modern believers who have let worldly philosophy influence their faith. Recent surveys reveal that many who call themselves Christians do not believe in a bodily resurrection or in the resurrection of Jesus. Paul is blunt: "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins…
…But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead." (I Corinthians 15:12-20) His resurrection guarantees that His promises are alive and true, and so is your faith in Him. For all the times you struggle with doubts and your faith feels faint, look to the fact of Christ’s resurrection. His resurrection guarantees that your sins are truly forgiven, and sin no longer rules you and damns you. For all the times you feel sin and guilt hanging over your head, look to the fact of Christ’s resurrection. His resurrection guarantees your resurrection, that you will rise from the dead and live forever, body and soul, with the Lord in heaven. For all the times that life feels like nothing more than standing in line to die, look to the fact of Christ’s resurrection. Only the risen Savior can give these guarantees; any other faith is futile. Come and see that CHRIST’S RESURRECTION GUARANTEES HIS PROMISES of forgiveness and a resurrection for you.
Nowhere, anywhere, at any time in human history will you find more powerful, meaningful words than these: "He has risen, just as He said." (Matthew 28:6) With these words, angels greet the women who had come to anoint Jesus’ corpse on the third day after His crucifixion. "Just as He said" is a reminder that they should have known the tomb would be empty. Why did they forget? Why do we so easily forget what Jesus has told us – His commands and His comforts, His precepts and His promises? Worry, fear, confusion, and grief played a part in the women’s forgetfulness, and we sometimes focus on those and lose sight of Jesus as well. We’re just as likely to forget because we are self-absorbed and simply don’t listen or take seriously what Jesus has said. But there is victory in these words to pardon our poor listening and to forgive our forgetfulness: "He has risen, just as he said."
And because Jesus lives, the power of sin, death, and the devil is destroyed! What is sin when God has shown that He accepted His Son’s sacrifice for you by raising Him from the dead? What is death when the Lord's tomb is empty? What is the devil when he can no longer hold sin and death over you? Jesus’ resurrection transforms and shapes everything – because Jesus lives, in Him you live. No matter what you face, in Him you live. No matter what you endure, in Him you live. No matter when you die, in Him you live. Name the disease, the ailment, the hardship, the sin, the guilt, the loss, the disappointment – no matter what you may suffer, in Him you live! Does that sound defiant? It is! Such is our confidence because "HE HAS RISEN, JUST AS HE SAID."
I don’t usually write these ForgivenFully posts as a personal testimony, but maybe it’s the best way to share with you why this matter of Jesus dying and rising from the dead is so important. Whether you are a believer or a skeptic or you’ve made up your mind against Jesus, I relate with you and you with me more than you may realize. I try live a good life, and I bet you do too. But I know that I fall short in many ways. People say 'no one’s perfect,' but that doesn’t comfort me in the least bit. Deep down I know that life isn’t graded on a curve. There’s a sense of failure and inadequacy and guilt and fear of accountability that I can’t dull and I can’t outrun. And there’s a cry for 'more' in my life and 'more' out of life that I can’t in any way satisfy by what I do or what I pursue. Can you relate? Honestly, can you relate?
This is why, like a man in a desert who’s found an oasis of life, I point you to Jesus telling you that HIS LIFE MEANS NEW LIFE FOR YOU.
I am inviting you to that refreshing oasis of life. Come learn of Jesus. Come to my church this weekend. Or go to your church if you'll learn of life in Jesus there. Just don’t pretend that life is OK as it is or that you can ever get enough of the refreshing that Jesus extends to us through His life lived for us, given for us, and risen for us. Come and experience the truth that HIS LIFE MEANS NEW LIFE FOR YOU.
Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
Daniel is the Staff Minister at Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, El Paso TX.