Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. This is not from yourselves - it is the gift of God - not as a result of works, so that no one can boast.”
There is a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s grace that exists amongst people today, especially as it relates to salvation. In Australia we are very good at owning the idea that doing more gets you more. Or that doing good will give you more “good” and that doing bad will bring more “bad” into your life. This attitude is what some people call karma or “what goes around comes around”. Many people believe that if they have “good things” in life it is because they’ve somehow earned it.
These thoughts carry over into our thinking of how God deals with us and where we stand with Him. If I have done enough “good” things then surely I will be OK, but if I have slipped up a few times too many, then watch out! This way of thinking is so contrary to what the Bible tells us about how God looks at us and accepts us. It’s important for us to understand the grace that God lavishes on us and to always keep this in focus. We need to be reminded of this so we can continue to trust Jesus with everything, and then be able to share Jesus with others. The two key issues that help us understand God’s grace are: 1) You can never be good enough to earn salvation since it is of God’s grace and 2) You can never be bad enough to be ineligible for salvation since it is of God’s grace.
What does “never good enough” mean?
However good we think we are, we can never be good enough in God’s sight. James 2:10-11 tells us that if we break any one of God’s laws then we are guilty of breaking all of them, and therefore of sinning against God. God’s righteousness demands perfection. This is why we must rely on Jesus to save us. Only in Him do we find perfection. We, therefore, need His grace. As the Bible tells us, we are saved by grace through faith not because of anything we do or offer up to God.
But the amazing thing is that not only do all the good things we do not save us, but our bad works can’t exclude us. We bring nothing to salvation except the sin that makes it necessary.
What does “never bad enough” mean?
Some people carry around with them the perceived shame that they have done such bad things that they are beyond God being able to saving them. Some get so hard on themselves that they give up and believe that God would not save anyone like them. Remember, except for Jesus, we are all 100% guilty before God. No one is ineligible for salvation because it is by God’s grace and not because of things we do regardless of whether those things are good or bad.
God’s grace in salvation is the amazing promise that all who believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross taking the punishment for their sins, and that He then rose from the dead, those people will be saved and have eternal life with God.
Read Romans 10:9-13 and put it alongside Ephesians 2:8-9… Meditate on the implications of God’s grace and give thanks to Him that you are neither good enough on your own, nor bad enough to be ineligible for His saving love. All of this is because of grace!
There is always a challenge for the Believer in Jesus Christ as to how much they seek the applause of others versus the acknowledgement of God. There is certainly no hindrance for any person to pursue excellence. In fact, this is something for which we all should strive. However, the prayerful consideration that must be made is at what expense do we pursue one at the expense of the other?
The Sunday School images we have of Daniel must be wrong! These are the ones that show a virile young man resting easy in the lion’s den. Either these images are misleading or, there is something wrong with my calculations or, the dates are not meant to come together.
Let’s assume that Daniel was, at the age of 17, part of the initial captives that left Judah in 605 BC. Then let’s assume that the lion’s den episode (Daniel 6) occurred at the beginning of the rule of King Darius in 538 BC. That would make Daniel 84 years old when he got dropped into the den! At an age when many of us face a real challenge just get around at all, Daniel is still taking on significant trials for the sake of his faith!
Everything we read indicates that Daniel had delivered exceptional service in Babylon. Right from what is recorded in Daniel 1, the promise he showed resulted in promotions, responsibility and authority. More importantly, Daniel combined his astute public service with continuing loyal service to God. In fact, for 70 years Daniel had been true to his real King – the Lord of Heaven. His faithfulness was part of a godly lifestyle. His graciousness, his commitment to his friendships, his trustworthiness, and his disciplined prayer life all resulted in a wonderful reputation right through his life.
But above all else there was Daniel’s unswerving loyalty to God that was even prepared to see his own life put on the line. What an inspiration this must have been amongst his own people, and what an example this is still to us today for each one of us.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “When we are called to follow Christ, we are summoned to an exclusive attachment to His person. The grace of His call bursts all the bonds of legalism. It is a gracious call, a gracious commandment. It transcends the difference between the law and the gospel. Christ calls, the disciple follows; that is grace and commandment in one” (The Cost of Discipleship).
Psalm 119:45 says, “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out Your precepts.“
Let us be those who understand – and give ourselves to – the wonder of our called and directed relationship of faith in Jesus Christ. He will enable us in all things. And, apart from any wealth we may acquire in this life, this is a richness and a standing beyond any other.
Our interest in living life in the fast lane does not lend itself to the characteristics we have traditionally attached to godliness. There is an old hymn that I remember being sung when I first started going to church: “Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord; abide in Him always and feed on His Word... Take time to be holy, the world rushes on.”
We read those words, believe them, and would even defend them…but, we draw a deep breath as we confess that they are more likely to be strange words to us. The idea of taking the kind of time “to be holy” seems a little out of date! Plus it doesn’t always make sense!
Does this mean, then, that it’s not possible to be holy? Does a fast-paced lifestyle force us to forfeit godliness? Do we need to intentionally slow-down and retreat from our busyness in order to be godly? Obviously, the answer to all these questions is “no!” If godliness were linked to a certain culture or era, then most of us would be out of luck! As much as we might enjoy a slower and less pressured lifestyle, God has not called everyone to a place like that.
So that brings us to a bottom-line question I rarely hear asked these days: What exactly does it mean to be holy...to be godly?
Godliness cannot be confused with how a person looks – even though that can be hard for some of us to get beyond! Nor is it to be confused with what a person drives or owns. So, as tough as it is for us to be free of envy and critical thoughts, it is essential that we remind ourselves that “God looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). And so, whatever we may say about godliness, it is not skin deep.
Godliness is something below the surface of a life, deep down in the realm of attitude. It’s an attitude towards God Himself. The longer I think about this, the more I believe that a person who is godly is one whose heart is sensitive toward God...one who takes God seriously. This shows itself up in a very obvious mannerism: The godly person hungers and thirsts after God. In the words of the psalmist, the godly person has a soul that “pants” for the living God (Psalm 42:1-2). What matters is the individual’s inner desire to know God...to listen to Him...and to walk humbly with Him.
Godly people possess an attitude of willing submission to God’s will and ways. Whatever He says, goes. And whatever it takes to carry it out is the very thing the godly person desires to do. The godly soul “pants” and “thirsts” for God. Remember, the godly take God seriously.
"Why is My language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say” (John 8:43)
Good communication is always important. When things don’t happen as planned…when the leader's wishes are not carried out precisely...when the father's instructions are not obeyed implicitly...when the pupil does not benefit from the teaching - we often put it down to bad communication. And, more often than not, the blame is laid squarely on the communicator. Let’s think about that.
Someone once wrote, "I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant".
Good communication is a two-way affair; it is more than good speaking; it also involves good listening. If you want to benefit from God's teaching and instruction, then you need to be a good listener. Just wanting to do things for God, will not of themselves bring about the desired change in your life. You must learn to listen!
Jesus was the master communicator. And yet He was often misunderstood. Even though He spoke the truth clearly, His hearers jumbled up His message. They interpreted what He said according to their own desires, or their own experiences, and that gave them reasons for rejecting what He said. Jesus said they were not able to understand because they were not able to listen to His word (John 8:43). The real reason actually was that they didn’t want to listen to the truth. You see, God’s truth made them face up to the need for change. Do you see the progression in this? Because they didn't listen they couldn’t understand. And because they couldn’t understand they rejected what was spoken. And because they rejected what was spoken, change became impossible. It's not that they hadn't heard; they had simply refused to listen.
You can’t be a good follower if you are not a good 'listener'. Here's a simple formula that will perhaps help you to remember: LISTENING = HEARING + OBEYING.
When you come to that place of feeling that God is finally getting through to you, it's not because He has developed better communication skills; it’s because you are now HEARING what He has to say.
Remember, though, that the opposite is also true. If you find yourself distanced from God, it's probably because you have stopped listening. Be careful! If you want to tune in to a clear message on God's radio, you have got to eliminate all the other static in your life - especially rebelliousness to His desire to direct you. It’s time to start LISTENING!
I still remember my mum’s words to me as a young boy whenever I would dawdle over the meal she had so lovingly prepared and placed in front of me. “Eat your food! You’re not leaving the table until you do!” she would say as I fussed over my food. She knew it was for my good and that I needed it. On the other hand, I was in a battle because I obviously thought otherwise.
"I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my daily bread" (Job 23:12)
What we fail to appreciate so often is that the extent to which you trust God's Word is the extent to which you will reap His blessings. God's Word is the very expression of who He is! It’s the hope of all that He has prepared for us! And it’s the way in which He communicates both Himself and His will is for our lives.
It’s amazing how many people would hesitate at the suggestion that they go without any natural food for an extended period of time. Similarly, they would consider it absolute nonsense if I were to suggest that a meal eaten at the start of a week should be sufficient to last them for the whole week. And yet many people live their spiritual lives on "morsels" that are picked up once a week! Some have not had any spiritual food for years and are spiritually dead because of it!
Spiritual food, like natural food, is meant to be consumed every day! When we begin the day with the Bible open before us, and with a prayer on our lips, then we enter that day with a far better perspective. So let me give you some suggestions as to how we should approach God’s sustenance each and every day:
Are you looking to hear from God? Then you need to let David's thoughts be yours too: "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path" (Psalm 119:105).
Please remember that you can’t love God more than you love and follow His Word! So stop fooling yourself and have your spiritual food today!
Pray with me: “Teach me, O Lord, through Your Word. May it be food for my soul and energy for my journey. Amen.”
Jesus answered, “but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:14-15).
The story, that is found in John 4, of Jesus’ meeting with the woman at the well is only found in john’s gospel and not in the other gospels. It gives us an insight into Jesus’ commission ‘to preach the gospel to the poor; to heal the broken-hearted; to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind; to set at liberty those that are bruised; to preach the acceptable year of the Lord’ – words that are referenced in Isaiah 61:1-2. You see, in the life of this one woman, there is a poor, broken-hearted, blind and bruised person whose eyes were opened by the truth that Jesus spoke to her.
Jesus spoke to her of spiritual things. As usual, He used the natural to explain the spiritual. Water is essential to physical life, and without it we just descend into thirst. And so, there is a vital connection in this story with a source of water – it’s the well. The woman freely admitted her need to keep coming back time and time again to get water, and Jesus built on this. He connected this natural need to her spiritual need, because this also required life-sustaining water. However, the water of which Jesus spoke could not be drawn from any natural well. Instead, it was to be drawn from a spiritual well that would come from within her. Could Jesus REALLY make that happen? Yes! As He started telling her “all she had ever done” and it was this that caused her to think deeply about her circumstances and to realise how out-of-step she actually was.
The reality was that in her desire to meet her deep spiritual need, this woman kept returning to the very same well from which she had drunk previously - with no relief! She was, in fact, being tantalized by so many things that could not ultimately satisfy her!
In Greek mythology, King Tantalus offended the gods and was punished for it. He was put into a lake with water up to his chin, but whenever he tried to satisfy his thirst, the water would recede. Above his head hung some branches of delicious fruit, but whenever he reached out for the fruit, the branches would draw away from him. And so, Tantalus became the symbol of frustration, and is remembered today in our English word tantalize.
Jesus showed this woman in John 4 that outside of a personal relationship with God, the pleasures that are wrapped up in this world and, indeed, are part of the offering of this natural life, are tantalizing, unrewarding, and certainly not everlasting!
I wonder, are you being tantalized? Jesus is the only One who can refresh and satisfy you. What He asks – no, invites – is that you surrender your purpose to Him. A surrendered heart is the place where true satisfaction is found, because it’s satisfaction in Christ!
Pray with me: “Lord, may I draw water from the well of Your supply and have my eternal thirst truly quenched. May I never resort to having to come back again and again to an unsatisfying source. Amen.”
Did you know that people who laugh live longer? It’s true. Proverbs 14:30 says, “A heart at peace gives life to the bones.” Humour is an amazing thing. It’s a tension dissolver. It’s an antidote to anxiety. It’s just like a tranquilizer, but without any of the troublesome side effects. What’s more, it’s free! You don’t even need a prescription. Laughter is life’s shock absorber. If you want to have less stress in your life, learn to laugh at your circumstances and at the things going on around you.
Someone once asked U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln how it was that managed to he handle all the stresses of the Civil War. His reply was quoted as, “If it hadn’t been for laughter, I could not have made it.” So learn to laugh. If you can laugh at it, it’s more likely that you will be able to live with it. And besides, if you learn to laugh at your troubles, you’ll never run out of anything to laugh at! Peter Harvey, a well-known Australian political analyst and commentator, once said, “I don’t know any good jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.” Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” We all need to develop a sense of humour.
One of my favourite verses in Scripture is Psalm 2:4, “The One enthroned in heaven laughs.” Isn’t that a great verse? God has a sense of humour. God laughs! Have you ever seen the face of an orang-utan? God thought that one up! That proves He has a sense of humour. Do you want to be more like God? Then learn to laugh because a sense of humour has a way of preserving your sanity.
I know what it is like at times for you…because it is the same at times for me. One irritation can sometimes follow another, and before you know it, your day is ruined. I read the following account from 1982 under the heading “Strange and Unusual Events.” It tells about a man named Brian Heise who had what you might call a “very irritating day”:
“Brian Heise had more than his share of luck in July of 1982, and most of it was bad. When his apartment became flooded from a broken pipe in the upstairs apartment, the manager told him to go out and rent a water vacuum. That’s when he discovered his car had a flat tyre. He changed it, then went inside again to phone a friend for help. The electric shock he got from the phone so startled him that he inadvertently ripped the phone and its connection right off the wall. Before he could leave the apartment a second time, a neighbour had to kick down the apartment door because water damage had jammed it tight. While all of this was going on, someone stole Heise’s car, but it was almost out of petrol. He found it a few blocks away but had to push it to the petrol station, where he filled up the tank. That evening Heise attended a military ceremony at Brigham Young University. He injured himself severely when he somehow sat on his bayonet, which had been tossed onto the front seat of his car. Doctors were able to stitch up the wound, but no one was able to resuscitate four of Heise’s canaries that were crushed to death by falling plaster in his apartment. After Heise had slipped on the wet carpet and badly injured his tailbone, he said he began to wonder if “God wanted me dead, but just kept missing.”
And you think you’ve had some bad or difficult days! Sometimes, all you can do is laugh! Take my advice: acquire a sense of humour. Learn to laugh – especially at yourself. It’s relaxing and healing and a buffer to all the stress the world throws your way.
Pray with me: “Lord, I thank You for the ability to laugh – in all its flavours, colours and shades. Help me to see the better and more pleasing things in the midst of the dark patches. Amen.”
After His resurrection, three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. And each time Peter answered ‘Yes!’ Then Jesus told Peter how he would die - apparently it was going to be by crucifixion. Peter wasn’t sure about this. He looked around him, perhaps not wanting to believe that this was how it was going to go. His eyes settled on John and he wondered how things would work out for John. So Peter asked Jesus, “What about this man?” Jesus brushed off the question and said, “What is that to you? You follow me!” You can read the full exchange between Jesus and Peter in John 21:18-22.
The interesting thing is that these words of Jesus to Peter - “What is that to you? You follow me” – are words that I actually find quite sweet. They are liberating from the discouragement of fatal comparisons. I get quite a few articles and emails that come from different Christian sources. And as I read them I am susceptible to a being discouraged. You see, book after book...conference after conference...blog after blog...all tell me how I can succeed in ministry. Without intending to, all of them are quietly delivering the message that I am just not making it. Worship could be better. Preaching could be better. Evangelism could be better. Pastoral care could be better. Missions could be better. Here is what actually works. Buy this…Go to this conference…Attend this seminar…Do it this way.
So, I do find myself refreshed by Jesus’ blunt words to all of us: “What is that to you? You follow me!” Peter had just heard a difficult word about the painful way in which he was going to die. His first thought was comparison. What about John? If I have to suffer, will he have to suffer? If my ministry ends like that, will his end like that? If I don’t get to live a long life of fruitful ministry, will he get to?
That’s the way we are wired. It’s all about Compare…Compare…Compare. We crave to know how we measure up in comparison to others. Somehow we think are doing OK if we can just find someone less effective than we are. Ouch. What we actually need to hear is, “What is that to you? Follow me.”
The beautiful thing in all of this is that Jesus will not judge you according to your superiority or inferiority over anyone. No preacher. No church. No ministry. No husband. No wife. No fellow worker. No one. Others are not the standard. Jesus has a work for you to do, and a different one for the person next to you. What’s more, there is grace and strength to do it. So, what it comes down to is will I trust God for that grace and do what He has given me to do? That’s the question. There is great liberty that comes when Jesus gets tough and says it like it is! There is even greater liberty in knowing that He has called you and graced you for the task He has for you and not for someone else.
I hope you find encouragement and freedom today when you hear Jesus say to all your comparisons: “What is that to you? You follow me!”
Have a read of Psalm 121. It’s only a short Psalm...just 8 verses long. Particularly note Psalm 121:2-3 which say: “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip - He who watches over you will not slumber.” Wow! The One who helps you never sleeps! He stays up all night!
Do you need help? I know I do. Where do you look for help? When the Psalmist lifted up his eyes and asked, “Where does my help come from?” he was also able to answer - “My help comes from the Lord” - not from anywhere else, but from the God who created everything. So, the psalmist takes a moment to remind himself of two great truths: one is that God is a mighty Creator over all the problems of life; and two, God never sleeps.
God is a tireless Worker, particularly in your life. But, if we are not careful we fall into the trap of thinking that we are the workers in God’s kingdom. No! The Bible wants us first to be amazed that God is a Worker in our lives: “Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides You, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him” (Isaiah 64:4).
God is working for us around the clock. He does not take days off and He does not sleep. In fact, He is so eager to work for us that He goes around looking for more work to do for those who would trust Him: “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth, to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
God loves to show His tireless power and wisdom and goodness. And when we look at Jesus, we find the main One through whom the Father showed this: “The Son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus works for His followers. He serves them, and He keeps on doing this even now that He is risen and reigning in heaven. Paul speaks of this: “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has worked through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done...” (Romans 15:18). Christ worked for Paul all his life, and at the very end of his life, in his last letter, he said, “The Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed...” (2 Timothy 4:17).
The eagerness of God to work for us is amazing. Not only is He “pursuing us with goodness and mercy all our days” (Psalm 23:6), but He is not just waiting for us to get His help. He is actively seeking ways to give us that help … and He is doing this with overflowing eagerness: “I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear Me, so that they will never turn away from Me. I will rejoice in doing them good... with all my heart and soul” (Jeremiah 32:40-41).
No wonder God stays up all night! With all His heart and all His soul He is working for those who wait for Him and trust Him. This is what we must believe - really believe - in order to “rejoice always” (Philippians 4:4) and “give thanks in everything” (Ephesians 5:20) and have the “peace that passes understanding” (Philippians 4:7) and “be anxious for nothing” (Philippians 4:6) and “hate our lives in this world” (John 12:25) and “love our neighbor as we love ourselves” (Matthew 22:39).
What a wonderful truth this is! What a reality! God is active all night and all day to work for those who wait for Him.
Pray with me: “Lord, I thank You that You are ever with me: that Your strength, Your love, Your compassion, and Your grace are ever guiding me and drawing me to be the better person You would draw out of me. I sing Your praises. Amen."
“And this is what He promised us - even eternal life” (1 John 2:25).
Most of us would read the words “eternal life” as though they only apply to heaven in the future. Yes, everlasting life is the life to come that never ends. But the thought that it is only ‘to come’ isn’t entirely inaccurate! While it is true to acknowledge that eternal life is life that never ends, the essential factor about eternal life is not quantity, but quality. What John is speaking about in 1 John 2 is not just something we are going to get in heaven someday, but it is actually something we can experience and enjoy right now! It is fullness of life - the full quality of divine life lived out in your situation, right now…and it increases in fullness of enjoyment forever. In other words, eternal life is the daily adventure of experiencing God's solution to every problem instead of seeking your own solution. It is the blessing of discovering God's desire for every opportunity.
Every time we are confronted with a problem, there are two things we can do:
I remember as a young Christian reading a great promise that is found in Ephesians – “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us...” (Ephesians 3:20). I remember looking at that verse and thinking, Is that really true? Does God really offer to do for me beyond anything I can ever ask or think at this moment? That's amazing because I know can ask a lot of life. I can dream and imagine a huge number of wonderful experiences that I would love to have and that, I am sure, would bring satisfaction to me. I even had, at one time, the program outlined in my mind as to how it was that God could do it. But as I look back across the years since I first read those words in Ephesians 3, I can see that even though God did not take my program and do it the way I thought it should be, yet He has abundantly fulfilled the promise. My life is far richer and more complete than I ever dreamed it would be when I was a young Christian.
If we are ready to give ourselves to the Word of God and to let truth possess us - to understand it, and to obey it - if that which you have heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. The experience of that here and now is eternal life!
Pray with me: “Father, grant to me, through all the feeble searchings of my heart, the discovery of eternal life in my everyday experience. Amen.”