Day 325: Faith and Works

Psalms 98-101; James 2

Some believe that James’ emphasis on works contradicts Paul’s teaching of justification by faith, alone (James 2:24). But when James speaks that faith without works is dead, he is speaking of a flimsy belief that even the demons share (James 2:19). Both Paul and James teach that works are an outward evidence of an inward saving faith.

If someone claims to believe in Christ, but their life shows no evidence of this belief, then there is no evidence of a saving faith. In this sense, James’ claim that “faith without works is dead” makes sense. James uses the example of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac. This act revealed or “justified” the existence of Abraham’s faith as described in Hebrews 11:17-19. Without the outward act to prove his faith, Abraham’s faith was as good as dead (James 2:17).

Bottomline, our actions reveal our beliefs. To use James’ example in the beginning of Chapter 2, if we treat rich people with more kindness than the poor, we believe we have the power to judge others. If we judge others instead of showing mercy, we believe we are not in need of mercy ourselves. For better or worse, our outward actions reveal the inward state of our hearts.

What works do others see in your life? Do others see acts of mercy & compassion? I shudder to think of what others might see in me! I pray for God’s strength to not just be a hearer of his word but a “doer” as well!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture (Psalm 100:2).

Day 304: The gift of God’s presence

Psalms 23-242 Timothy 2

The Presence of God…think about what a profound gift this is. Both of today’s Psalms celebrate his Presence… Psalm 23 is the familiar Psalm of comfort – promising God’s presence to the individual. While Psalm 24 celebrates God’s presence among the people. It was probably sung as David led the people in worship when he brought the ark (the symbol of God’s presence) back to Jerusalem.

Experiencing God’s presence both individually and corporately is one of the greatest gifts given to the Christian on this earth. Paul must have rested in the sure presence of his God as he waited to be executed…chained as a prisoner in Rome.

Paul’s circumstances elevate the urgency of his words to his beloved Timothy. We are given the privilege of listening to this intimate exchange, and Paul’s final instructions to TImothy are powerful.

Paul gives Timothy the strategy for world evangelization:

what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).

This was Jesus’ strategy…focused discipleship resulting in spiritual multiplication. This is how Christianity spread over the whole earth – by entrusting the truth to faithful men (and women :)!

Paul had more to say to Timothy… He called Timothy to “share in the suffering of Christ” (2:3), to “Remember Jesus Christ” (2:8), and finally to handle the word of truth cautiously, increasing in kindness and not inciting quarrels (2:14-26).

These are profound instructions! …but impossible to accomplish without the constant presence of God in our lives.

It is the experience of His presence that affirms our salvation – that we are His. And encouraged by His preserving presence, we are given the strength to persevere… as good soldiers of Christ Jesus” (2 TImothy 2:3).

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).

Day 303: The final chapters

Psalms 20-222 Timothy 1

All of today’s passages are so full and rich with God’s truths. Today is a day that I wish I had more time to explore these beautiful texts – but our goal is to read through the bible in a year – so we must soar through them. But as we soar, we can gain a bird’s-eye view – and amazingly, the entire scope of God’s redemptive history is revealed…

Psalms 20-21 are a pair of Psalms that celebrate the kingdom of Israel. The people offer prayers and praise in Psalm 20 for their king. And in Psalm 21, king David responds with thanksgiving to God for answering the prayers of the people.

Israel…she was the initial fulfillment of God’s Covenant promises to Abraham – that he would establish a nation through which all the nations of the earth would be blessed. David was God’s chosen king, a man after His own heart – that pointed forward to the Forever King, the promised descendent of David – who would usher in God’s eternal Kingdom on earth.

The lives of David and Jesus overlap in a most poignant way in Psalm 22. David’s Psalm describes an “innocent sufferer” and somehow, Jesus fulfills every detail of this Psalm in His crucifixion. Matthew’s crucifixion account, especially, makes special reference to this Psalm…

For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots (Psalm 22:16-18).

Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, our salvation has been secured. Jesus is the promised seed of Abraham through which all the nations will be blessed. And Jesus is the prophesied “Branch of Jesse” that will restore God’s Kingdom on the earth.

Which leads us to 2 Timothy. The setting for 2 Timothy is a prison where Paul is awaiting execution. Commentators believe that Paul was imprisoned in Rome after a 4th missionary journey not recorded in Acts. 2 Timothy is Paul’s last known letter before he was martyred.

The tone of 2 Timothy is warm and fatherly as he gives Timothy final instructions and encouragement before he dies. What a treasure! Paul writes…

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace (2 Timothy 1:8-9).

This is our calling as well. As we wait for the return of our Lord to usher in the final fulfillment of all God’s Covenant promises, we are to share in the suffering of Christ for the gospel! Our lives are part of God’s redemptive history. We are living in the final chapters before the return of Christ!

Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God (Psalm 20:6-7).

Day 284: The power of Purpose

Job 20-21; Philippians 1

I love Philippians. From our reading in Acts, I feel like I know the church well, and the book is especially meaningful knowing that Paul wrote it during his house-arrest in Rome…described in the closing chapter of Acts.

Philippians is hopeful and full of joy. Paul sees a greater purpose for his imprisonment and suffering; consequently, he can rejoice. The contrast to Job is stark. Job doesn’t have the written word of God to give him hope in the midst of immense suffering.

In today’s reading, Job asks some tough questions…Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer (Job 21:7-15)? Why do the wicked seem to go unpunished (Job 21:17-21)? What is the purpose of following God if both the righteous and the wicked die in the end (Job 21:22-26)?

Job doesn’t have God’s written word for encouragement. Job is left in despair because he sees no purpose for his pain.

Paul, on the other hand, knows the ways of the Kingdom…that this life is not the end, that at the end of the age, ALL will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and the wicked will be punished and the righteous will have their reward. Paul knows that suffering in this life will not compare to the glory of our eternal home (2 Corinthians 4:17)!

Like Job, Paul also wants to escape his suffering through death…but for a far different reason!! Paul knows that he will see Christ!

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account (Philippians 1:21-24).

Paul has a purpose that helps him endure the suffering. His purpose is to further the gospel, equip the churches and bring glory to God. Job is crushed under the weight of his suffering because he sees no purpose. And his friends’ false ideas about God and judgment in this life only serve to increase the weight of his burden (Job 20).

If you are suffering, do you suffer in hope or despair? Seek God’s comfort in the truths of His word. There is a good and loving purpose for your pain! Look to Christ and find hope!

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 221: The power of Grace

2 Chronicles 23-25; Romans 5

Grace. Romans 5 outlines two men and two systems. As children of Adam, we have inherited a sin nature and just condemnation. However, through Jesus Christ, we have the free gift of life.

Paul makes the point that Christ died for us “while we were still sinners.” It is Christ’s death that opens the door to life for “the ungodly.” And then he goes on to reason that Christ’s gift of life is far more powerful than Adam’s sin. Condemnation for all came through the one sin of Adam. Whereas life through Christ’s sacrifice is able to overcome the millions of sins that have been committed since Adam!

Sometimes it’s hard to spot God’s grace at work in the Old Testament – but only because it’s wrapped in the package of the Old Covenant. Consider how God’s grace presents itself in today’s passage from 2 Chronicles…

We read about two kings, Joash and Amaziah… both described as doing what was “right in the eyes of the Lord,” but each with qualifiers… Joash only did was right during “all the days of Jehoiada the priest” (24:2). And Amaziah is described as doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord, “but not with a whole heart” (25:2).

The life of Joash
After all of the good Joash did to repair the temple, when Jehoiada the priest died, Joash, together with his unworthy comrades, “abandoned the house of the Lord, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols” (24:18). As you can imagine, this infuriated God – but a closer look reveals God’s grace. Don’t miss it…

Yet he sent prophets among them to bring them back to the Lord. These testified against them, but they would not pay attention (2 Chronicles 24:19).

Joash had sinned, and he deserved God’s just punishment. But before the punishment came, Joash was given the opportunity to repent. If Joash would have repented and turned back to the Lord, there would have been forgiveness. Why?? “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6).

Joash did not repent. Instead he turned further away from God and killed the son of Jehoiada. He rejected the grace of God, and suffered under God’s judgment as he was defeated by a small army and murdered by his “comrades.” If only he had heeded the word of the prophet…

The life of Amaziah
Joash’s son, Amaziah, didn’t fare much better. He also began his reign well, initially obeying the word of the Lord and enjoying victory in battle. But then he turned away from God to worship idols. See if you can find God’s grace in the text…

Therefore the Lord was angry with Amaziah and sent to him a prophet, who said to him, “Why have you sought the gods of a people who did not deliver their own people from your hand?” But as he was speaking, the king said to him, “Have we made you a royal counselor? Stop! Why should you be struck down?” So the prophet stopped, but said, “I know that God has determined to destroy you, because you have done this and have not listened to my counsel” (2 Chronicles 25:15-16).

God sent a prophet to warn Amaziah – so that hopefully he would repent. But Amaziah refused to listen to the word of the Lord, and in-so-doing, rejected the grace of God.

The Grace
God’s grace can always overpower sin… “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). But. We have to receive it through repentance and faith for it to defeat the sin in our lives…

If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides? (Romans 5:17, The Message)

Day 220: A strange exchange

2 Chronicles 21-22; Romans 4

And [Jehoram] did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. Yet the Lord was not willing to destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David, and since he had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever (2 Chronicles 6-7).

After faithful Jehoshaphat died, his first-born son, Jehoram, became king of Judah who then killed all of his brothers so that no one would challenge his throne. The royal line of David was dangerously thin – and lay in the hands of a murdering madman who rebuilt the high places and led the people into idol worship. Great.

But it gets worse.

All of Jehoram’s sons were killed in battle except for Ahaziah – who took the throne upon Jehoram’s death. Ahaziah made an alliance with the evil son of Ahab and was killed by the same man who was ordained to destroy all of Ahab’s family. Ahaziah and all of his brothers were killed and there was no one to rule Judah!! So Ahaziah’s evil mother, the daughter of Ahab, took control of Judah and killed everyone in the royal family.

What??!!... The entire royal line of David was destroyed because of their alliance with Ahab’s evil family??  What about the promise that a Royal Branch of David would rule in peace forever??

Ah! We have to keep reading… The narrative continues like a Shakespearean play as we discover that Ahaziah’s sister (who was married to the faithful priest, Jehoiada) hid Ahaziah’s infant son from the royal mother’s massacre. There is one from the line of David who lives! And in tomorrow’s reading, he will take the throne in dramatic fashion!

Goodness gracious!! This is the tragic history of Israel. Paul argues in Romans 4:15 that “the Jews, who had the written law, had even greater responsibility for their sin and as great a need to be saved from God’s wrath and justified by faith*.” The tragic events detailed in today’s reading definitely make it clear that all of Israel had a great need to be saved!

Paul teaches in Romans 4 that all people need to be saved by faith – that the Jews couldn’t trust in their possession of the law – or in their sign of circumcision – to save them. But that Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised and before the giving of the Mosaic law (Romans 4:11).

Paul’s argument is clear. Heritage and Circumcision do not make you righteous. That is evident from the horror of today’s Old Testament passage! Rather, it was Abraham’s faith that was credited to him as righteousness.

Paul says that we, also, can be counted as righteous when we “believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord” (Romans 4:24).

We are given credit for being righteous – only because of our faith – not because of our actions. It is a strange exchange. It’s an exchange based on grace!

*quoted from note on Romans 4:15 from the ESV Study Bible, Crossway

Day 219: Jehoshaphat’s prayer

2 Chronicles 20; Romans 2-3

The Jews had become accustomed to God’s favor. After thousands of years of being God’s chosen race, they wrongly assumed that possession of the Mosaic law gave them favor before God – which was true – but only as a means to reveal their sin and need for repentance – the law was NOT to be used as a means to judge other nations.

The Jews erred by placing emphasis on the external signs of the covenant – like possession of the law and circumcision. But Paul forces their eyes inward to reveal that true Judaism has always been about the internal state of the heart…

…no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter (Romans 2:28).

In essence, Paul had to reframe all of Jewish history in the context of grace. The Jewish nation did not earn God’s favor by observing the law…No! They only brought the wrath of God on themselves because they could not observe the law perfectly (Romans 3:10-18). When did the people receive God’s favor and blessing? When they repented and turned to God in humble reliance!!!!

Consider today’s story from 2 Chronicles 20. What was Jehoshaphat’s response when confronted with a great enemy? He gathered the people (with their wives and children) to the house of God and prayed. He humbled himself and called out to God for help! And what was God’s response?? Grace. God showed up in a mighty way and delivered His people from the hand of the enemy. But. God did have one requirement… faith. He told the people to “go down against them” but “you will not have to fight this battle.” In other words, the people had to confront their enemy with faith that God would keep His word. God’s deliverance came through repentance and faith!

This is the gospel at work. This is grace at work.

Paul goes on to teach at the end of Chapter 3 that the Jews were never justified by works – only by faith (3:21-24). He even argues that God endured the sin of the Jewish nation only by looking forward to Christ’s death on the cross which satisfied the wrath of God on their behalf (3:25).

We must not fall into the old sins of the Jewish nation. We must never think that our good words earn us favor before God! Rather, we must cling to the truth that God’s kindness toward us is undeserved – and has one purpose – one extremely important purpose…

…God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance (Romans 2:4)

Let Jehoshaphat’s prayer be our example… Let us humble ourselves in absolute reliance on our God. And may His kindness produce in us… repentance and faith!

Day 218: Saved by faith…alone!

2 Chronicles 17-19; Romans 1

We begin Romans today… which is Paul’s longest and most detailed theological dissection of the gospel. The church in Rome was a mix of both Jewish and Gentile Christians – but the majority were Gentiles. This letter probably arose out of tensions between the Jewish and Gentile Christians to define the precise gospel – applicable to both salvation and daily living.

I think I could write a 2,000 page essay on Paul’s salutation alone. He packs so much theology into those few verses!! What stands out to me, however, is how Paul manages to validate both the Jew and the Gentile. Paul mentions that Jesus is the “Son of David” (vs.2) which satisfies the Jewish believer. And then Paul goes on to proclaim that the grace of God is for “all the nations” (vs. 5).

Paul gets right to the point and gives a clear definition of the gospel in vs. 16-17. These verses act as the foundation for the rest of Romans…

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17).

This gospel is simply this: Righteousness before God is not earned. It is granted to both the Jew and the Gentile by the same means: through faith.

This is how Old Testament believers attained salvation. They trusted in God. (Period). Observance of the law was the way in which they demonstrated their faith – it was not a means to earn their salvation.

We read of two kings in 2 Chronicles 17-19… Jehoshaphat was described as “seeking God” and not in idols. He had faith in God. Jehoshaphat wasn’t perfect, but his upright actions were evidence of his internal faith. Ahab, on the other hand, was one of the most evil kings in all of Israelite’s history. According to Romans 1:18-20, Ahab was without excuse. Even if he had no knowledge of God (which he did) he would still be held accountable for his disbelief because God had revealed his “eternal power and divine nature” through His creation.

Both kings were blood descendants of Abraham – but only one was accepted into God’s Kingdom. There is no distinction between salvation in the Old and New Testaments. Salvation is by grace, through faith, alone. Our outward actions only act as evidence of the internal state of our hearts… Do we have hearts that trust in God alone for our salvation and satisfaction?  Jehoshaphat vs. Ahab = Faith vs. Unbelief. Where do you stand? There is no excuse for unbelief!

Day 217: A mix of evil and good

2 Chronicles 13-16; Acts 28:16-31

I love the historical books because they are stories about people. Inevitably, these people are flawed – some more than others, but God’s grace and faithfulness are always center-stage!

In today’s reading, there are four main characters: Three ancient kings and Paul.

Paul’s story in Acts comes to an end in today’s reading. We find Paul imprisoned in high standing in Rome – receiving guests in self-provided housing. I’ve always thought this was a strange way for Acts to end…seemingly in the middle of the story without any conclusion. But I think this is a fitting end to Acts – for we leave him in the middle of ministry – preaching the gospel to anyone who would hear! He also wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon during this Roman imprisonment, and there is extra-biblical evidence that Paul was released and continued his ministry to the far-reaches of Spain before he was imprisoned for a 2nd time in Rome and martyred.

Paul. He embodied the grace of Jesus Christ as God changed him from a persecutor of Christians to the faith’s boldest ambassador! How could you not be inspired by Paul’s story??!!

The other characters from today’s reading include three ancient kings. Two “evil” kings, Jeroboam and Abijah, and one “not so evil king,” King Asa…

The Chronicler makes a great effort to contrast Jeroboam, evil king of Israel with the kings of Judah. Even though Abijah, king of Judah, was described as doing “what was evil in the sight of the Lord,” the priests and people of Judah had remained faithful to God. Jeroboam, on the other hand, had created his own cult religion to separate himself from his Judahite brothers. In 2 Chronicles 13, we read of these two kings going to war, and even though Israel’s army was double in size, God gave Judah the victory to show his favor toward Judah’s faithfulness.

And then we read of Asa, son of Abijah and king of Judah. He wasn’t as amazing as Paul. But he wasn’t as evil as the other two kings. He was a mix of both.

Asa began his reign in exemplary fashion, destroying the high places and other modes of idol worship that had sprung up during his father’s reign. He also gathered all of Judah together to renew their covenant commitment. Asa enjoyed military favor as God gave him great victory over the huge Ethiopian army. But, as Asa aged, he began to take God’s grace for granted and instead of relying on the Lord, he turned to self-reliance.

Asa was a good man, and that was his problem. He became overconfident in his old age and neglected his need for God.

Out of all the characters in today’s reading, I relate to Asa the most.

How easy it is to slip into self-reliance when we are enjoying the blessings of God’s favor!! 

I know I will never be as amazing as Paul. And God-willing, I will never be as evil as Jeroboam and Abijah. But Asa… well, I can easily slip into Asa’s sin of self-reliance. I pray for God to keep my brokenness ever before me so that I might never take God’s grace for granted!!!