Are we “saved” because of our faith, or are we “saved” by doing good works? While some churches give you the impression that God has some sort of “brownie point” system that gets you to heaven, the truth is that Paul wrote, For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8–9). Our salvation is not based on what we’ve done but on what Jesus did for us when He died. We receive salvation by faith, by trusting what God did.
The problem comes with knowing what to do with the person who claims to believe in Jesus but who clearly doesn’t live like a Christian. Paul himself said that a person who continually lives a life characterized by doing bad things isn’t going to go to heaven (Gal. 5:19-21). I’d suggest that if a person has no evidence of God being at work in their life, then perhaps their “faith” wasn’t genuine in the first place. James wrote, Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:17). Good works don’t save us, but they do prove a point. They prove that our faith is alive. They proved our faith is genuine. We don’t do “works” in order to be saved, we do good works because we are saved. Abraham’s faith was proven by his actions. You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; (James 2:22 ESV)
Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him, Nor speak anymore in His name.” But His word was in my heart like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, And I could not. (Jeremiah 20:9)
In certain church circles there are folks who like to claim the title of “prophet”. For some of them, Jeremiah is their “uber-prophet” because he said some pretty harsh things, and these self-proclaimed prophets tend to like to speak nothing but “doom and gloom” as well. I sometimes wonder if some of these people weren’t hugged enough as a child. I also wonder if their message isn’t more a reflection of their personality rather than a true message from God. Here’s the rub: Though Jeremiah’s message was mostly “negative”, it wasn’t that way because Jeremiah was an angry man, it was negative because the truth was that the people were rebellious against God and they were facing judgment … judgment that did indeed come.
Not all messages from God are going to be daisies and cream puffs. When God speaks, He speaks truth. Sometimes, the truth we need is the comfort that God wants to give a broken, humble heart. Sometimes, the truth we need is a stern warning for a stubborn, wicked heart. Are you willing to hear the truth?
As I was growing up, I was taught that newer always meant better. Why would you want to listen to an old transistor radio when you can have a Walkman? Why drive an old Ford Falcon when a brand new Mustang was in your reach?
Old ways were the things that my parents or grandparents did. While they would enjoy their Perry Como records, we were the “in” generation with our Beatles albums. Though I have to admit that often the “new” things are indeed better than the “old” things, there are times when our lust for the new takes us down paths that cause us much grief and heartache.
Jeremiah lived in a time when the nation of Judah continued to look for “new and improved” ways to live life, including ditching God and looking to the latest idols to hit the store. Their pursuits weren’t innocent pleasures, but they were seriously destructive addictions. Jeremiah had the unpleasant task of warning the people that their “new” ways were leading them toward the end of their nation. Thus says the Lord: “Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ (Jeremiah 6:16)
God’s ideas of right and wrong don’t change.
For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones. (Isaiah 57:15 ESV)
Some say the secret to getting ahead in life is all about who you know. And some of those same people will tell you that you can get much farther in life as long as you have “friends in high places”.
Let me tell you about a friend who happens to live in the “highest” place. There is no one who is greater. If you want things “done”, there is no one who can “do” more. He also lives in the “holy” place. It’s a place of purity, good, and true beauty. His is not a place of bribes or people with evil motives twisting arms. Would you like to have a friend who lives in a place like this?
The secret to having friendship with God starts in your heart. If you are a person filled with pride and think that God is lucky to have you, you will find one day that you’re not the “friend” He is looking for. If you are a person learning to cultivate humility, you’re in a good place. If you are a person who is “contrite” and who grieves over your own sin and your own lack of holiness, you’re in a good place. If you are among the broken-hearted, as painful as it might be, you have a Friend in the highest of places. Jesus is His name.
I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. Which do you want first? How about the bad news?
Here’s the bad news – you will have rough days ahead. I don’t know if I’ve ever read that in a fortune cookie. Fortune cookies tend to tell people what they want to hear. God would prefer that you hear what is real and true. Now how do I know there will be rough days ahead? Because everyone goes through difficult times. Everyone goes through times of “floods” and times of “fire”.
Now here’s the good news. It’s for those of you who are children of God: When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, Nor shall the flame scorch you. (Isaiah 43:2)
Child of God, He is with you. He doesn’t promise to keep you from going through deep waters. He doesn’t promise to keep you from going through fiery trials. God promises to be with you.
Israel didn’t die in the Red Sea. God took the people through the sea. Israel didn’t perish crossing the Jordan, the river stopped and the people walked on dry land. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were thrown into a fiery furnace, but they were not alone. Neither are you alone. He promises to get you through this. How fortunate!
For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling, (Isaiah 30:15)
The nation of Israel had been going through a time of rebellion against God. In a way, they were like a prodigal son. God even called them “rebellious people” and “lying children” (Is. 30:9). They didn’t want to listen to the truth about their rebellion and wanted nothing more than to get as far away from God and His ways as possible. The problem with running from God is that it only leads to destruction. Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not talking about God destroying them; I’m talking about how our own rebellious ways lead us into a life that is “self-destructive”. We may want to pretend it isn’t so, but just like the prodigal son, if we run away from God, we end up longing for pig food in a distant land (Lk.15:16).
God longs to be gracious (Is. 30:18). He can hardly wait to be merciful. Here’s the truth: When you are running away from God, you are running from His mercy.
Turning back toward God is the path that leads back to the peace you are really looking for. You can stop the turmoil in your heart if you just turn around. He’s waiting for you. In fact, you’ll find that God will be running to greet you (Lk.15:20).
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 3:13–14)
Are we there yet? Remember that cry from the backseat on those long family trips? Some of us still ask that question and are wondering, “How do I know if I’ve “arrived”?
Even toward the end of his productive life, Paul didn’t consider himself as one who had “arrived”. Sure, he could point to all the things that he had done in his life, whether it was the pseudo-religious things he did before trusting in Jesus, or the things he had accomplished as an apostle. But to Paul, none of those things merited the title of having “arrived”. There was only one goal in Paul’s life that mattered and that was seeing Jesus face to face.
Sometimes I start thinking that I should just take it easy and coast through the rest of life. I’m not saying that it isn’t good to take a vacation. Rest and recharging is important but only so we can get back in the race. If you’re tempted to look back at your life and feel like you’ve arrived, you’re making a critical mistake. You’re looking in the wrong direction. Get your eyes out of the rear view mirror and look forward. No, we’re not there yet.
THIS WEEK’S PASTOR TO PERSON WAS WRITTEN BY DAN LOONEY:
When I consider that day, it is both frightening and comforting. Face to face with God the Father, power and majesty, creator of everything. That’s the frightening part—the comforting part is, it’s Jesus.
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
It makes me very happy to know that someday I will know what it was all about, and I will be standing face to face with Jesus when that happens.
No one needs me to talk about the woes of this world, the suffering and pain we go through. I’m sure everyone of us has covered our face in our hands and cried: Why? How could this happen? God where are you?
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly…” It is not time for us to know God’s plan fully. In some ways, that helps me accept the difficulties of this life; it’s not time for me to know. “Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” He knows what we go through, He cares and has a plan for good. Endure, for you are His treasure.
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:9 ESV)
Now don’t get angry with me, but some of us seem to be upset all the time. Others get angry at the drop of a hat. Would you take a minute and examine your heart with me?
Sometimes we get angry as a result of misunderstanding. What I thought you said made me angry. What you really meant to say might not. Understanding each other doesn’t happen “quickly”, but sometimes takes time and patience.
Sometimes we get angry as a response to fear. Deep down inside we’re afraid of something. We’re afraid that someone is going to hurt us. We’re afraid that something isn’t going to turn out the way we want. Ultimately, we are probably afraid that we’ve made a mistake putting our trust in God. We’re not really sure He’s helping anything.
Some of us hide our anger instead of expressing it. Experts tell me that when I do that, I become depressed. Or sick.
As followers of Jesus, we need to remember that God isn’t quick to become angry. He is “slow to anger” (Ex. 34:6).
Beloved, if anger has “lodged” in your heart, Solomon identifies you as a “fool”. Wise up. Learn to let go of the anger and trust God with your fears. He is for you, not against you.
Some folks think that all they need to do is to say “I’m sorry”. Perhaps it was something they said that offended you. Maybe they took something from you. There may have been some level of betrayal involved. Is it enough to just say, “I’m sorry”? Granted, some have trouble even saying those two words, but for others, they don’t blink an eye before those words come spilling out and they expect you to instantly forgive, forget, kiss, and hug.
When Paul was dealing with the problems in the Corinthian church, he knew that he caused them a measure of grief with his stern rebukes concerning their tolerance of immorality. Yet in his second letter to them, Paul could tell that the grief they experienced wasn’t a shallow sorrow consisting of crocodile tears and “I’m sorry”. Paul could tell that their sorrow was a deep godly sorrow, one that resulted in an actual change of behavior. He wrote, “For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.” (2 Corinthians 7:11 ESV)
Saying that you’re “sorry” with words is certainly a start, but it’s not the measure of true repentance, the kind that God is looking for. Real repentance is measured in actions, not tears.