When are you good enough?

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Ephesians Chapters 1 through 3

This week’s reading is found in Ephesians chapter 2:8-9. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” There are many people today who call themselves Christians who think that if they are good enough they will go to heaven after they die. I believe this is the true dividing line between those who have had a spiritual awakening and those who have not. Many people are what I would call ‘cultural’ Christians. They grew up in America, went to church for a period of time and feel that makes them a Christian. When asked about going to heaven their standard answer is, “I am a good person. I believe God will let me into heaven when I die.” The problem with this kind of thinking is that the Bible makes it perfectly clear that no one is good enough to earn their way to heaven. “It is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Salvation is a gift from God. No one will ever be able to do enough good works to earn their way to heaven. Each one of us has committed sins and we cannot do enough good works to offset the bad things we have done. Even though we may think we are not as bad as some people, the fact is we have all sinned! This is why God sent His Son Jesus to earth, that He might pay the penalty for each one of us. What a relief to know that I can be assured of my salvation because of what Jesus did, rather than thinking I have to keep doing good works in hopes that they will erase all my bad works. Now I can live my life doing those good works not because I hope they earn me a place in heaven, but out of thanksgiving to God for what He has done for me. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, that God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

Never give up!

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Galatians Chapters 4 through 6

This week’s reading is found in Galatians 6:9, “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” Another way of saying this is “Never give up!” Many of us quit, half way through with what we have started and we have plenty of reasons why we should. Yet Paul is saying, “Hang in there, in due season we shall reap if we do not faint.” When things don’t happen as fast as we would like them to happen we can get weary and be tempted to give up. Yet many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. You are never a failure until you quit!

Quitting can become a dangerous habit. When I was younger I remember quitting the football team. Things were not working out the way I thought they should, so I quit. The next year I went out again and faced the same problems, things were not working out the way I thought they should. I was thinking of quitting and even though I was not saved, I am sure I heard the voice of God speak to me, “Dave, if you quit now it is going to become a habit that will destroy your life!” I heard that voice and decided to stay on the team. I decided that day, that quitting would not be a part of my life, no matter what challenges I faced.

Doing good can sometimes be difficult. People may not appreciate what we are doing. There may actually be times of opposition when we are trying to help people. We may find ourselves being criticized or ostracized for doing good. We may lack support from others while we are doing good. But we must never give up. Doing good will bear fruit. Doing good will always win out. Doing good is the right way to live. Remember this, “Being defeated is temporary, but giving up is permanent!”

Bewitched!

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Galatians Chapters 1 through 3

This week’s reading is found in Galatians chapter 3:1 “Oh foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?” Paul was writing to these churches because he was concerned that they had left the simplicity of the gospel. They had been brought into salvation by his preaching of the work of grace. They believed in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of all of their sins. But somehow they had lost their way and were beginning to think that they had to do certain things to really be saved. They had been “bewitched!”

This is not an uncommon thing, many Christians fall into this trap. The gospel of grace, being saved not by our own works, is sometimes hard to hold onto. It is so easy to start thinking we must do something to earn God’s favor. Many Christians fall into living a life that is driven by keeping rules, “Do this, don’t do that!” Almost the entire letter that Paul wrote to this church was about the impossibility of doing enough good things to earn salvation. It is important to understand the place that good works have in our lives. We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ. This is a gift of God. There is nothing else that we can do that will make this more secure. It is complete and final. The good works that we do as Christians are the result of this great gift! They are the evidence that we have been saved and have received God’s Holy Spirit in our lives. They are the result of a life that is so grateful for what God has done for them that spreading this good news is merely our way of expressing our gratitude. Good works and faith go together like peanut butter and jelly but don’t get “bewitched” and start thinking you can ever earn your salvation.

Troubleshooting Instructions

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2 Corinthians Chapters 11 through 13

Paul at the end of 2 Corinthians gave us some final instructions that are really the summary of the entire letter that he wrote. “The grace of our the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” This is like the troubleshooting instructions that are the end of the instruction manuals that you get when you buy something new. If it is not working, the first thing to check is the power source. Plug it in. This is the trouble-shooting section for our Christian faith. If it is not working the first thing to check is the power source. Is it plugged in? What Paul was saying is that grace, love, and communion with the Holy Spirit are the key ingredients that make our faith really work.

Grace is the perfect balance between mercy and truth. Mercy or truth by itself can be dangerous. Too much mercy can cause someone to be tempted to mock God. Too much truth can be hurtful. But, grace is the perfect blend between the two. It means to speak the truth but to do it in love. Grace is the summary of the entire New Testament. The last verse of the entire bible is, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, Amen.” Grace is getting what I don’t deserve. Mercy is not getting what I do deserve. God is a God of grace and mercy. I need them both every day.

Then there is God’s love, which is referred to as agape love. Agape love means to love someone in spite of what they do. All other loves are based on loving someone “because of what they do.” Agape love is based on God’s eternal reservoir of love, which can never run dry. Experiencing this kind of love causes great pleasure or delight. It is actually emotionally healing. It is possible for us to say we love everyone but not necessarily like everyone.  We experience personality clashes with people. Not so with God. The love of God means that He actually likes being around you, ALL the time! The closest thing that relates to this kind of love is parental love. It wasn’t until I started having children that I really began to understand agape love. Your love for your child is so deep it can even overcome their bad behavior! This is the way it is with God. His love for you is all encompassing. When you know the love of God it will lead you to repentance. In Romans 2:3 we read, “It is the love of God, which leads men to repentance.” Rules without relationship bring rebellion. God has rules for us to live by but He wants to have a relationship with us. Relationship brings obedience from the heart.  As I get to know God, and how much He loves me, I am motivated to serve Him more.

Then there is “communion with the Holy Spirit. A person does not know God until he begins to have communion with His Holy Spirit. At best, a person will know ABOUT God, but that is not the same as knowing Him on a personal basis. The Holy Spirit is God. He is not God the Father or God the Son, but God the Holy Spirit. Just because He is named third does not make Him any less than the Father or the Son. The Holy Spirit is a person just like you and me. Contrary to popular opinion, the Holy Spirit is not an “IT.” Without communion with the Holy Spirit, there is no life but rather a religion with a set of rules. Without communion, it is impossible to understand the intent and heart of the Bible. Communion means to become one with. It means fellowship which is a two-way sharing whereas, for many, prayer is just one-way. In Acts 15:28 we read, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us.” They were sharing their ideas with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit was sharing His ideas with them.

Grace, love, and communion, are you experiencing them?