"Grace" is a word Christians use a lot that is not always well explained or understood. I would suggest that if you want to understand "grace," you need to understand the word "but." "But" means 'instead of,' 'rather than,' 'contrary to what you would expect.' How does it help us understand "grace"? Consider God’s Word from Ephesians chapter 2. "As for you, you were dead in your disobedience and sins…gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts." (v1-3) This is the ugly truth of who we are apart from God. We know how prone we are to sin and how often we repeat the same sins. Behind it all is a sinful heart that is profoundly self-centered and self-justifying. Martin Luther observed, 'Our sinful human heart is so deeply curved in on itself that it wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks to use all things, even God, for its own sake.' We must admit that God is right in saying that we are by nature "objects of wrath" (v3), deserving of His anger and punishment.
Then comes that little word "but" – little, yet pivotal and powerful. "BUT because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in sins – it is by grace you have been saved." (Ephesians 2:4,5) So INSTEAD OF receiving God’s wrath for our sins, RATHER THAN being punished, CONTRARY TO our expectation of going to hell, God showed us a saving love that only God could show. This is GRACE, that God loved us, not because of something good in us, but because of something good in Him. Note the contrast between sin and grace: The essence of sin is the self-centeredness of us substituting ourselves for God, but the essence of grace is God substituting Himself for us EVEN WHEN we were dead in sin. Do you see why the Bible speaks of grace as "indescribable," "immeasurable," and "unsearchable"? I pray you have a better understanding of and joy in what it means to say that WE ARE SAVED BY GRACE.
What are your present realities? Single parent? Broken family? Loneliness? Overworked? Looking for employment? Struggling to pay bills? Overcome by current events? Deployed? Chronic pain? Debilitating disease? Aging? Imminent death? Regardless of your present realities, God wants you to LIVE IN THE LIGHT OF YOUR HEAVENLY REALITY. Faith in Jesus Christ lights our life with this reality: "Our citizenship is in heaven." (Philippians 3:20)
If you are like me, this heavenly reality is hard to imagine when you struggle with your present realities, and even worse, when you struggle with your sinfulness as you try to deal with those present realities. We worry and doubt. We might even question why doesn’t God do something more to change our present realities. When that happens, you need to ask yourself: What more could God do than He has already done for me? What more could He do for me than sacrificing His Son for my sin in my place? What more could He do for me than raising His Son from the dead to assure me that my sin has been paid in full and that I am forgiven fully? What more could He do for me than securing eternal life and a heavenly home for me? Look again to this great reality we have in Jesus: "Our citizenship is in heaven." Now look at the eager expectation this heavenly reality gives us as we endure all things in life: "And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body." (Philippians 3:20,21) May this heavenly reality sustain you with real hope as you cling to Jesus through the present realities of life.
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.
Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
Daniel is the Staff Minister at Christ Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, El Paso TX.