Day 273: Humble faith

Psalm 132; Psalm 147; Psalm 149; Galatians 2

yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified (Galatians 2:16).

This is the crux of the gospel…and one of the hardest principles to live by – both for the first-century and modern-day Christian.

When Paul uses the word, “justified” he is referring to the legal term, “justification” which means “declared righteous.” Justification is binary… you’re either justified or you’re not, you’re either innocent or guilty. There are no “in-betweens” – no gray areas.

In order to be justified by the law, one would have to keep the whole law perfectly. And the only person to ever do this was Jesus.

When we inevitably fail to keep the law, we can choose one of two responses: Self-justification or humble repentance.

Knowledge of God’s loving-kindness can help us choose the humble path…

The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. The Lord lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground (Psalm 147:1-2;6).

The Psalmist doesn’t say, “The Lord lifts up the righteous,” he says, “The Lord lifts up the humble.” It’s interesting that the psalmist chooses the word “humble” as the antithesis to “wicked” in verse 6.

But if you think about it, humility is closely tied with righteousness – the kind of righteousness that comes through faith!

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:20-21, NIV)

We don’t want to make Christ’s death meaningless by trusting in ourselves to obey the Law, do we? No! That’s preposterous! Our only hope is to turn to the Lord in humble faith – trusting that Christ’s perfect life and sacrifice are all we need for the salvation for our souls.

Day 272: Unmerited peace

Psalm 125; Psalm 126; Psalm 128; Psalm 129; Galatians 1

We are continuing our reading through the Psalms that would have been relevant to and/or sung by the restored people of Jerusalem.

These Psalms depict a Jerusalem at peace, secure in the protection of God. The restored community experienced the fulfillment of God’s peace in part. We look to the final and “full” fulfillment of His peace in the new Jerusalem!

This peace is made possible by Jesus, the Son of God, who put on flesh so that he might die in our place and take the penalty for our sin. And because of his resurrection, we too can share in his life. Jesus offers this new life to all who believe, both Jew and Gentile – and because he perfectly obeyed the law on our behalf, we are no longer under the law, but under grace.

It is this concept of grace, or unmerited favor, that has become a stumbling block for the Christians in Galatia. For false teachers were infiltrating the churches in Galatia trying to convince the newly converted Gentile Christians to be circumcised.

This is the context in which Paul is writing to the churches throughout Galatia. He begins by asserting that the gospel he preached is the only gospel and he defends his authority to preach this gospel. This authority was given to him by God, alone – in Christ, alone – by grace, alone!

Just like Paul, we have nothing to boast in apart from our life in Christ. The peace we have in our relationship with God and the peace that we will experience in the new Jerusalem is accomplished by God, alone – in Christ, alone – by grace, alone!!

Day 271: Strength in weakness

Psalm 107; Psalm 116; Psalm 118; 2 Corinthians 13

As we come to the end of 2 Corinthians, let’s consider a theme that has been prominent throughout both of Paul’s letters to Corinthian church.

The Corinthians were lured away from the gospel by their worldly culture. Whether it be by the world’s lax moral standards or by “impressive” false teachers, the Corinthians failed to grasp the paradox of God’s kingdom… True strength can only be found in weakness!

Consider this chart*: (I love charts!) *adapted from ESV Study Bible, Crossway

Verse Weakness Power (or strength)
1 Cor. 1:25 The weakness of God is stronger than man
1 Cor. 1:27 God chose what is weak to shame the strong
1 Cor. 2:3,5 in weakness and in fear but in the power of God
1 Cor. 15:43 sown in weakness raised in power
2 Cor. 12:9 I will boast…of my weakness so that the power of Christ may rest upon me
2 Cor. 13:3 not weak in dealing with you but … powerful among you
2 Cor. 13:4 he was crucified in weakness but lives by the power of God
2 Cor. 13:4 we also are weak in him but … live with him in the power of God
2 Cor. 13:9 we are glad when we are weak and you are strong

This chart illustrates the importance of the paradoxical relationship between strength and weakness. If you think back to the restored-exiles in Jerusalem, they surely grasped this concept of strength and weakness – considering that they had lost their nation and were subject to the whims of a foreign king … yet through God’s strength they persevered to re-build Jerusalem!

All three of today’s Psalms would have been meaningful to the restored exiles of Jerusalem as they speak of God “helping” or “rescuing” those in distress.

Psalm 118 is especially poignant because it describes a joyful celebration after God saved the people from “the nations” (Psalm 118:10). Many believe this Psalm could have been sung at the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem recorded in Nehemiah 12 (Psalm 118:19-20).

The people definitely sung parts of this Psalm as Jesus entered Jerusalem hundreds of years later (Psalm 118:26; Luke 19:38). The people were celebrating what they thought was their future king entering Jerusalem to take his throne and overthrow the Roman government in order to return Israel to its former glory.

But Jesus was not coming in strength. He was coming in weakness. He was coming to die – not to conquer. He was coming to make the final sacrifice.

This is the way of God’s kingdom. Strength is found in humility, service, sacrifice and love. Strength is manifested through weakness.

The Lord is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation (Psalm 118:14).

Day 270: Forget not His benefits

Psalm 78; 2 Corinthians 12

Before we continue on to the book of Esther, let’s pause for a few days and consider the Psalms that relate to the restored people of Ezra and Nehemiah’s day…

Psalm 78 is a historical Psalm – written to preserve God’s work in Israel from generation to generation. No doubt, this Psalm was a useful teacher to the restored exiles in Jerusalem – working to reestablish their Jewish community and heritage!

Fast-forwarding in history to Paul’s day, he is still defending his authority as an apostle of Jesus in 2 Corinthians 12. Remember, he is writing in response to false allegations made against him by false teachers. Paul is reluctant to list his qualifications, and responds to his offenders by focusing on his weaknesses, rather than his strengths!

In today’s reading, we find Paul’s famous assertion that he was given a “thorn in the flesh” to keep him from being conceited after receiving glorious visions of paradise, the place where God dwells.

This passage has always been comforting to me…for two reasons!

  • First, it reinforces my hope of heaven…that there really is a spiritual realm where God dwells – and that place is like paradise (2 Cor. 12:3)!
  • And secondly, it gives a good purpose for pain. In this case, so Paul would not become conceited. God gave him a constant trial to keep and grow Paul’s godly character. God gave Paul the “thorn” because He loved him.

If you are going through a trial, are you convinced that God still loves you? If we struggle to persevere in our faith during life’s trials, we must take a lesson from the Israelites. We must look backward in our history and remember his faithfulness to us in the past. 

The act of “remembering” is sprinkled throughout Psalm 78…

…so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God (78:7);

They did not keep God’s covenant,
but refused to walk according to his law.
They forgot his works
and the wonders that he had shown them (78:10-11);

They remembered that God was their rock,
the Most High God their redeemer (78:36);

They tested God again and again
and provoked the Holy One of Israel.
They did not remember his power
or the day when he redeemed them from the foe (78:35-36).

When the Israelites failed to remember God’s faithfulness, they fell away. But when they remembered, they were encouraged to draw near to God! We must not forget His goodness to us!!

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (Psalm 103:2-5).

Day 269: A gospel plan!

Nehemiah 11-13; 2 Corinthians 11

Today we come to the end of Nehemiah and to the end of the historical narratives. We have watched God’s covenant promises unfold to His people from the parting of the Red Sea, to the fall of Jericho, to the rise of David and the fall of the nation… We have seen God preserve a remnant out of the exiles in Babylon and read as they returned to first rebuild the temple and then repair the wall around Jerusalem.

In Nehemiah 12 we read of the people celebrating the completion of the wall. There was much joy in Jerusalem (Neh. 12:43)!

But as soon as Nehemiah left (to attend to the Persian king), everything fell apart. Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to find that the people did not provide for the Levites, so the Levites had left the temple to work their land. One of the priests had let Nehemiah’s enemy, Tobiah, stay in one of the temple’s chambers. The people were buying and selling in Jerusalem each Sabbath, and worst of all, they were intermarrying with foreign women.

Nehemiah did his best to make things right. But you have to believe that even Nehemiah’s best wasn’t good enough to overcome the people’s sin nature. They needed a Savior – not a political savior – but a savior to change their hearts – to give them a heart of flesh – so as to change them from the inside out!

This is the gospel – that God sent his Son to satisfy the law on our behalf. As we trust in him for our salvation, His Spirit enters and regenerates our hearts. This is the beautiful mystery. This is the gospel!

And it is this gospel that Paul is so fiercely defending in 2 Corinthians 11. For false teachers had infiltrated the church and were turning his flock away from the true gospel. Paul was forced to boast in his qualifications to persuade the Corinthians to not be deceived by the false teachers in their midst.

Ironically, Paul boasts in his weakness as proof of his apostleship! This is the beauty of the gospel!!! We come to God as weak sinners in desperate need to be saved. We come to him as law-breakers and he receives us, and forgives us and breathes His life into our dry bones. We can boast in our weakness, for when we are weak, He can be strong through us.

Poor Nehemiah was fighting an impossible battle. The people would spiral away from the law eventually. It was inevitable…but God had a plan! And it was a gospel plan!!

Day 268: The joy of the Lord

Nehemiah 8-10

These chapters in Nehemiah are a foretaste of the final restoration we will experience in the new heaven and new earth! They depict the beautiful renewed relationship between God and His people. It begins with the people assembling together to hear the reading of the Law.

This was an important occasion. They had even built a platform on which Ezra would stand as he read. And as he read, the Levites were stationed throughout the crowd to ensure the people understood!

They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading (Nehemiah 8:8).

After hearing and understanding the Law, the people wept over their sin (Neh. 8:9). This response from the people proves that they really understood what was read. Because then they could see how great their sin and the sins of their forefathers really were.

But Ezra and Nehemiah told the people not to weep – it was to be a day of celebration! The people were to rejoice over their renewed relationship with their God. It is in this context that Nehemiah says the well-known verse… “Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Neh. 8:10).

What was the source of God’s joy? The humble repentance of His people!!

After the priests recounted Israel’s long and troublesome history (Neh. 9), they renewed their covenant relationship with God by committing to uphold the Mosaic Law (Neh. 10).

The gospel is found in the vivid details of this passage. God’s word should cause us to grieve over our sin. But we have a God who really loves us. We can approach His throne to find grace and forgiveness because of the value He places on His relationship with us! He rejoices over our repentance. He is happy to renew and restore us… And from God’s joy, we are given the strength to stand – forgiven – in His presence! 

May our penitent hearts be his joy, and may His grace be our strength!

Day 267: Fighting the opposition

Nehemiah 6-7; 2 Corinthians 10

Today, both Nehemiah and Paul address their opposition…directly.

Remember, Paul is writing to the Corinthian church because opponents to his ministry had infiltrated the church and caused a large rebellion against Paul. Paul spent the first seven chapters of 2 Corinthians refuting his opponents indirectly, but now he shifts his focus to address them directly.

Paul’s opponents judged him by the world’s standards. Because Paul was meek in appearance and manner, his opponents discounted his apostolic authority – while boasting in their own worldly attributes. But Paul refutes their criticisms by pointing to his spiritual abilities and the fact that he was appointed by God himself.

Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends (2 Corinthians 10:17).

Meanwhile, Nehemiah is dealing with his own opposition. Sanballat and Tobiah just won’t go away! They continue to try to trap Nehemiah both physically and morally to bring about his downfall. But Nehemiah rebukes their efforts and much to their displeasure, finishes the wall in spite of the opposition!

So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of the month Elul, in fifty-two days. And when all our enemies heard of it, all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem, for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God (Nehemiah 6:15-16).

Did you catch that last phrase? With the help of our God”!!

This is the key to both Paul’s and Nehemiah’s ability to overcome their fierce opposition. They were called, equipped and undergirded by their God. They trusted in God despite their grave circumstances. In other words, they fixed their eyes on what was unseen. “For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

Lord, when I am faced with opposition, help me to not be discouraged! But rather, help me to look to the unseen realm…help me to fix my eyes on Jesus and persevere in faith as I wait for Your sure help!

Day 266: Greed

Nehemiah 4-5; 2 Corinthians 9

Nehemiah faced opposition from both outside Jerusalem (Neh. 4) and inside Jerusalem (Neh. 5).

The foreign oppressors, Sanballat and Tobiah, hurled insults and threats toward Jerusalem… Why? They hungered for power and lusted for control. Whereas the people within the walls were opposing each other as the Jewish nobles were oppressing their own poor. The rich were taking advantage of the fact that everyone was working on the walls and not cultivating their land. Without a crop, there was no money – so the rich nobles were lending money to the farmers and charging interest.

Greed. Nehemiah was fighting the effects of greed – both from the foreigners and within the Jewish community. As we read in today’s passages, Nehemiah fought it effectively. Through his fine leadership, he refused to give power to the oppressor’s taunts and persuaded the nobles to return the interest charged and land to the Jewish peasants. He motivated them by exhorting them to fear the God that brought them out of slavery!

Greed is a powerful sin. It builds deep roots in our hearts and works together with fear to seduce and deceive.

Consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 9. Paul is continuing his request from Chapter 8…that the church give generously to their needy brothers in Jerusalem. But there is great potential to twist these verses to satisfy the greed in our hearts. Consider verses 6 & 10…

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully (2 Cor. 9:6).

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness (2 Cor. 9:10).

Many have used these verses to teach, “If you give abundantly, then God will ‘multiply’ and give to you abundantly.” But that is using greed as a motivator for giving. NO! These verses only promise to multiply our righteousness, not our wallets! 

It is true that “God loves a cheerful giver.” But the cheer that pleases God is from your willingness to give sacrificially – not from your expectation to receive in return!

For our God owns a cattle on a thousand hills. He has no need for our money! But he does want our hearts. And so many times, our hearts are entangled with the sin of love of money.

If God has generously provided for you abundantly – it is not for your security’s sake – but that you might emulate Him in providing for others. For God “has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever” (2 Cor. 9:9).

He is our loving Father. We can trust Him – even with our money!

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work (2 Cor. 9:8).

Day 265: Leadership (Biblical-style), pt. 2

Nehemiah 1-2; 2 Corinthians 8

Today we move on to Nehemiah, the sequel to Ezra. If Ezra was Israel’s spiritual leader, then Nehemiah was very much their political leader. In fact, Nehemiah’s godly example of leadership is one of the primary themes that runs throughout his book.

Nehemiah was cupbearer to the king of Persia and learned about Jerusalem’s great trouble and the ruined state of her walls. Nehemiah’s first course of action was to pray (Neh. 1:4) and then he waited for months (Neh. 1:1, 2:1) for an opportunity to ask the king for help.

This is the first of many instances where Nehemiah shows wisdom and patience in dealing with his fellow-man. Nehemiah is not impulsive – but uses careful observation and humble persuasion to lead effectively. After he wisely gains the kings help and favor, he arrives in Jerusalem. Again he exercises patience and wisdom as he waits for the appropriate time to inspect the walls alone. He does this to be better prepared to lead and organize the people (Neh. 2:11-16).

We see the positive results of his preparations in Chapter 3 as the author systematically lists each section of the wall and what group of people were responsible for rebuilding. Nehemiah not only persuaded the people to commit to a great work but organized and equipped them to complete the task.

Meanwhile. Paul exercises his own leadership skills in today’s reading from 2 Corinthians 8. He is working to persuade the church to give generously to the needy in Jerusalem. Again, Paul uses patience and wisdom in how he asks.. He doesn’t ask at the beginning of the letter, but rather waits until after he lays a foundation of truth for the Corinthians church. He first defends his apostolic ministry. then teaches the truths of eternal perspective and finally, commends the church for their repentance. Only after he has created a clear context does he ask the church to complete their work of giving to the needy in Jerusalem.

Neither Paul nor Nehemiah was manipulative – but used patience, insight and wisdom to influence people to do what was right and glorifying to God. They were effective leaders – bringing much glory to God!

Day 264: A godly sorrow

Ezra 9-10; 2 Corinthians 6:14 – 7:16

In today’s reading, Ezra learned that the Israelites had already succumbed to the temptation to intermarry with the local foreigners. Even though less than one hundred years had passed since the people first returned to Judah, they were already diluting the Jewish faith with foreign gods.

Some might judge Ezra’s response as extreme. He tore his clothes and wept and mourned. But he knew what this meant for the future of his people. He knew that compromising in this one area would open the floodgates and lead to apostasy and judgment. He did not want Israel to repeat her history!

Fast forward to today’s reading in 2 Corinthians and we find Paul addressing the exact same issue. Paul uses Old Testament imagery to drive home the point that the church is God’s covenant family, and because of His grace and mercy, we should strive to “cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).

Our sin should bring us much grief and sorrow. But, it should not lead to despair and hopelessness! Listen to the Israelite’s response to their sin (from Ezra)…

…the people wept bitterly. And Shecaniah […] addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this (Ezra 10:1-2)!

Why was there hope? Because of God’s Great Grace and Mercy!

But God’s grace and mercy can only be experienced through humility and repentance. Both Paul and Ezra describe repentance in today’s passages. Ezra describes how the people not only “wept bitterly” over their sin, but made drastic decisions to make things right. And Paul describes how the Corinthians’ repentance brought him much joy.

In both cases, repentance restored the relationship with God and brought about God’s comfort and grace. This is the beauty of repentance!

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret… (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).

We must never believe that our sin is out of the reach of Forgiveness. The shadow of the cross covers our greatest sins!