Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: grace

Meeting God in prayer

Luke 10:41-42
The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has made the right choice [to spend time with Jesus], and it will not be taken away from her.”

The right choice.  The better meal.  We’ve been looking at how Jesus’ response to Martha gives us direction on how we are encouraged and fueled to live out the life Jesus has given us.  Last time, we saw how God wants to meet us through our time in the Scriptures.  This time, we’re looking at the other way that God meets us – through prayer.

To pray for things we want – material items or particular circumstances – that comes rather easy.  We know all the things we want or wish for because we spend a lot of time thinking about them.

When James was writing to believers, he warns them about their “wants” and the motives behind them:

James 4:1-5
What is the source of wars and fights among you?  Don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you?  You desire and do not have.  You murder and covet and cannot obtain.  You fight and wage war.  You do not have because you do not ask.  You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

You adulterous people!  Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?  So whoever wants to be the friend of the world becomes the enemy of God.  Or do you think it’s without reason that the Scripture says: The spirit He made to dwell in us envies intensely?

God is jealous for our attention.  Think about it: He has saved us from being eternally separated from Him and He gives us never-ending, eternal life…so of course He is offended when our main interaction with Him is treating Him like a cosmic vending machine so we can get stuff to impress others with how great we are.

Fortunately for his readers (and us), immediately after James gives that harsh, well-deserved rebuke, he then gives hope and a proverb to remedy their mindset:

James 4:6-7, 10
But He gives greater grace.  Therefore He says:

God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Therefore, submit to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.

Not only does God have grace for us to receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life, but there is also grace for when we selfishly return to a sinful mindset!  We have access to this grace when we humble ourselves before the Lord.  And how do we do that?  Through prayer that is God-focused, not us-focused!

I’m sure your next question will be “How do I pray to God, about God?  Isn’t that a little weird?

What I can tell you is that God-focused prayers is exactly how Jesus spent His time with God the Father.  If we don’t feel like we know “how to” pray well enough, then I refer you to the blog series I wrote on learning how to pray as Jesus prayed.  Those posts started on November 5th, 2014 and ended on April 8th, 2015. 

But there is a simpler, more direct way to learn to pray like Jesus did.  All we need to do is ask, like one of the disciples did:

Luke 11:1
He was praying in a certain place, and when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray”

In the verses that follow, Jesus gave His disciples a pattern, an example of how He prayed to God the Father.  It’s worth our time to check it out and practice using that format in our prayers – all with aim of making the right choice and building our relationship with God.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Is Jesus boring?

One of the keys to good parenting that I’ve discovered over the years is to be so predictable that I’m boring…at least when it comes to discipline and behavioral expectations – first for myself, and then for my children.  While it may have looked ‘boring’ at a surface level or even felt ‘boring’ to me, the consistency of my character provided the foundation for relationship with my children.

Especially through their younger years, our relationship always seemed to go smoother when I was most consistent.  It’s as if they took a measure of comfort in knowing not just the boundaries, but who their dad is as a person.  When I was out of sorts, they could sense it, and they became unsteady.  Looking back, the season when I was traveling extensively for work certainly took a toll on our family dynamic.  Dad wasn’t consistently there, and it showed.

However, the flip side also rang true.  The times when I was consistently tuned in to both who I am with God and what my purpose is for my children – those seasons have resulted in some of our best family memories.  (Notice I didn’t say easiest, I said best…and there is often a difference)

My consistency came directly from my connection to God.  He is our ultimate example for the parent-child relationship, such that His consistency of character (from the surface level) may even appear ‘boring’.  But when we lean into His consistency of character, we find the things we cannot achieve anywhere else in life – identity, perspective, foundation, and purpose.

But it’s hard to rely on God for those things.  We struggle with the idea that we must earn everything, including relationships.  We don’t want to admit dependency or, quite frankly, our inner-most need for it.  And this is where the recipients of the letter we call Hebrews were in danger of slipping.  The author had already shown them Jesus’ fulfillment of Mosaic law and superiority over its decrees, but there would be the temptation for them to go back to trying to build a relationship with God based upon what actions they choose.

The author addressed this concern both as a warning and an encouragement:

Hebrews 13:8-9
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Don’t be led astray by various kinds of strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be established by grace and not by foods, since those involved in them have not benefited.

The author says his readers cannot establish their relationship with God due to the ceremonial foods they would eat, or rituals they follow.  The people’s activities were shadows that pointed to Jesus and the relationship with God only He could provide. 

Jesus hasn’t changed.  Jesus doesn’t change.  Who He was in the Old Testament, who He is in the New Testament, and who He will be in eternity future is the same Great God who loves us unconditionally, entirely based upon grace.

If you come across any teaching that even suggests otherwise, don’t be led astray.  Reject such foolishness.  We cannot earn God’s love, by cash now or on credit later.  We cannot do enough good things today to earn the start of a relationship with Jesus.  We cannot do enough good deeds later to justify His investment of eternal life in us.  No matter what we’ve done, are doing, or will do – our standing with God is entirely established by grace.

We will not find His consistency boring; rather His consistent character will show us our true identity, proper perspective, a solid foundation, a life’s purpose, and a heart established by grace.  Most of all, His consistent character shows us…Him.

Don’t be led astray.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

The biggest threat to your eternal rewards

Nothing wrecks a believer’s life faster than sexual immorality.  The author of Hebrews knew that, and he gave this warning to his readers:

Hebrews 12:16-17
And make sure that there isn’t any sexually immoral or irreverent person like Esau, who sold his birthright in exchange for a single meal.  For you know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, even though he sought it with tears, because he didn’t find any opportunity for repentance.


There are portions of our lives where there are no take-backs.  We can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.  Sexual purity is one of them.  The author equates sexual immorality with godlessness (i.e. – acting like there is no God).  Both of these behaviors are selfish; they can completely wreck a believer’s life and witness.  By using Esau as an example, the original recipients of this letter would have recognized the seriousness of our choices in these areas.

As a first-born, Esau was automatically entitled to a double portion of his parents’ estate and guaranteed that he would inherit the role of patriarch in the family’s lineage and decision making.  However, Esau thought so little of this inheritance that he was willing to trade all the future rights and privileges of a firstborn son…to fill his immediate, temporal appetite.  Sexual temptation is also like that.  The immediate appetite is satisfied…but the actions cannot be undone, our life’s course is altered, and the inheritance is lost…no matter how many tears we shed.

Does that mean if a Christian indulges in an affair that he or she are out of the family? 
Will God stop blessing them? 
Will they lose all inheritance?

No, they are not cast out of the family, but there will be permanent consequences – in this life, and in eternity future.  Esau is still our example for how we resolve our questions:

After trading away his future inheritance to fulfill his right-now appetite, Esau eventually returned to his father and repented of his actions, saying he would be content with any remaining blessing his father was able to grant him. 

From there, we find that Esau went on in life and was blessed by God – he even has his own chapter of family lineage and prosperity in Genesis 36.  However…Esau never regained his rights of firstborn inheritance.  Throughout the entire Bible and for all of eternity, the nation of Israel does not list Esau as one of their patriarchs.  Additionally, we consistently find God identifying Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…but we never find God describing Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau.

Because of his choices, Esau missed out on blessings and opportunities – both in this life and in eternity.  And the author of Hebrews is telling us that OUR sexual purity has that level of importance in God’s eyes.  However, if we blow it…all is not lost…some inheritance will be, but not all opportunity to earn more in the future.

Remember what the author taught us earlier:

Hebrews 4:15-16
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.


There is grace to help us when we are being sexually tempted and we can receive mercy when we fail.  Our relationship with God will remain intact; however, the consequences of our sexual sin will echo throughout eternity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Making the effort, but struggling in weakness

Christ, the Greater Messenger, has invited us to partner with Him now.  The reward for doing so is entering God’s rest, which is the administration of His future kingdom.  The author of Hebrews is using the example of the Israelites leaving Egypt and their opportunity to participate in the administration of the future county of Israel as a parallel to our own lives:

Hebrews 4:9-11
A Sabbath rest remains, therefore, for God’s people.  For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His.  Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience.

Notice that the author is stressing our need to make every effort to enter that rest; as such, he is clearly not taking about Jesus’ offer of eternal salvation from the penalty of our sins.  If the rest discussed here were simply heaven, we wouldn’t have to work for it, because eternal life is an unearned gift (John 3:16; John 10:25; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 22:17).  Effort, however, is needed if we are going to be partners with Jesus and His administration of the universe.  Our efforts now do not affect “where” we will spend eternity, but our efforts now will effect “what” we will be doing in eternity future.

Since the Israelites’ example and Jesus’ superior message are available in Scripture, this is the place we should be looking to see what we must do NOW in order to enter into the future kingdom participation LATER.  However, when we look through Scripture, we discover:

Hebrews 4:12-13
For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart.  No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.

Since an account for my life will be given, all my times of having a sinful, unbelieving heart will be known…and I remember how God dealt with the Israelites for the unbelief (they missed out on participating in the establishment of the kingdom of Israel!)  What am I going to do, then?  Given my mistakes, sins, and all the times I act selfishly…How can I ever be considered qualified to partner with God in the future?

Hebrews 4:14-15
Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens – Jesus the Son of God – let us hold fast to the confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.

This tells me that Christ is on my side, as my brother in the family and the bridge for my relationship between me and God the Father.  I am not alone in my struggles!  Even greater still, we are told:

Hebrews 4:16
Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.

In all honesty, my human mind would not expect this.  We are so weak…so very, very weak.  We do not deserve the first, second, or any chance to partner with God.  And once again, our God blows away our expectations with His mercy and grace.

Jesus is here to sympathize with our weaknesses and to help us in our time of need, so that we can make every effort to enter that rest.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Our identity in the gospel

The Bible wasn’t dropped out of the sky as a complete revelation of God to mankind.  Instead, the Scriptures were assembled from the writings of God-inspired authors over hundreds of years.  Through these authors, God revealed more and more of His plan for the world and the salvation of those who trust Jesus for eternal life.  This process is referred to progressive revelation.

Therefore, we must consider each section of Scripture in light of the larger context of the God’s story throughout the Bible.  Most of the letters in the New Testament are addressed to a particular group of believers or an individual believer to discuss specific topics.  Since the letters’ recipients have already placed their faith in Jesus, getting an “in a nutshell” explanation of the gospel doesn’t appear very often, as the author typically spends his time instructing his readers about the effects of the gospel in their lives or encouraging them to live their lives with eternity in mind.

Paul certainly wrote to the Colossians to give them instruction and encouragement.  However, after he reminds them of where their identity comes from, in verses that follow, he gives them a wonderful “in a nutshell” statement of the gospel message:

Colossians 2:9-10
For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

Paul then uses two illustrations that his readers would have been very familiar with.  These physical examples had been previously used to confirm a person’s identification with a group of people.  Both illustrations contain the imagery of a permanent change that takes place in a person’s life. 

Colossians 2:11
In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah.

Circumcision was the physical removal of flesh that the Israelites performed as a symbolic indication of their identification with God and a separation from the surrounding nations and their gods.  However, a physical circumcision was no longer necessary after Christ’s death and resurrection – our identity with Him is a spiritual circumcision.  In Jesus, we have rejected, or put off, the selfish desires of our flesh.

Continuing with his next example, Paul says

Colossians 2:12
Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

The Greek word for baptism means “to be placed into”.  When we are physically immersed in a water baptism, we are symbolically demonstrating what has already happened to us spiritually.  We were set apart and placed into Christ the moment we put our faith in the working of God, who raised [Jesus] from the dead

The beauty of our salvation is that we don’t have to try and earn it.  The truth is – we can’t earn it.  God knew that, but still desired relationship with us.  As Paul reminds the Colossians, Christ took care of our sin debt while we were still rebels. 

Colossians 2:13-15
And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses.  He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him.

While we were still sinners, Christ paid humanity’s sins.  Because of their faith in the working of God, who raised [Jesus] from the dead, God forgave all their sin.  Christ’s standing with the Father is credited to each person who places their faith in Jesus. 

We’ve all had times in our lives where we messed up and afterward we had the offense forgiven, but we still had to live with the consequences of our actions.  However, that’s not the case when it comes to our salvation from sin.  Not only has Jesus erased the certificate of debt but He has also erased…its obligations.  In Christ, we are free from sin – and its penalty.

Our salvation wasn’t secured by some back-door, secret deal, either.  Christ was publicly humiliated and crucified – the kind of death and separation from God that we deserved.  Jesus’ sacrifice was on display for entire world to see.  By His loving actions, He disarmed the rulers and authorities set against us, and, as Paul stated in verse 9, Jesus became the head over every ruler and authority

In these verses, we find that we have been set apart (11-12), our sins forgiven (13-14), and we have victory over forces of evil (15) – all because of Jesus.  That’s the gospel “in a nutshell”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Great grace, great love

Titus 3:5-6 ...He [God the Father] saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior

All three members of the Trinity – God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit – participated in securing our salvation from sin’s ultimate penalty.  Without God acting on our behalf, we would have been eternally separated from God and unable to become whom God created us to be. 

While our rescue from eternal death was God’s primary motivation, it wasn’t the only outcome from what God did for us.  Paul continues and explains God’s motivation in providing such a great salvation:

Titus 3:7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

To be justified means to be declared legally righteous.  Not guilty of the sin I’ve committed.  Since Jesus paid the penalty for all of humanity’s sin, and I have accepted that he took the punishment I deserved, I cannot be condemned to eternal separation from God.  As Paul said in his letter to the believers in Rome:

Romans 8:1-2 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

But did you catch what Paul was saying to Titus?  There is more to a believer’s life, something that goes beyond the initial salvation moment and experience.

Titus 3:7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

I have often heard justification explained as God treating the believer “just-as-if-I-had-never-sinned”, however Paul is saying that there is more to it than that.  We become heirs, we now have hope in an eternal future of life with God.  Perhaps a better statement for justification would be that God now treats the believer “just-as-if-I-were-Jesus-himself”.

While I am now treated as if I were sinless, I am also received as a member of the family and brought into the relationship found within the Trinity.  That does not mean that I become God, but I am loved as much as God the Father loves God the Son…which is an eternal, unbreakable love.  We are given privileges unknown to any other created being…and it’s all because we are associated with Jesus.

Also notice how we are justified…it is by his grace.  Not by anything we did or will do.  We saw earlier that our rescue was not because of righteous things we had done, it’s all a gift. 

How great is God’s love toward us?!

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Encouragement to do good

We have been walking through one the most clear and concise explanations in the entire Bible of what the Christian life is all about.  With that said, it is beneficial for us to step back and read Paul’s statement in its entirety.  Read slowly, and let these words resonate:

Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Statements like these are worth committing to memory.  I highly encourage you to do so.  In times of trouble, or even in those moments waiting for the stoplight to turn green, being able to remind ourselves of God’s plan can breathe life back into us.

Paul also wanted Titus to remind the Cretan believers of these things:

Titus 2:15 These, then, are the things you should teach.  Encourage and rebuke with all authority.  Do not let anyone despise you.

The root word for encourage means to call, invite, or summon…but the strength of the call depends on the one who is making the call.  Friends invite, Kings summon.  As a representative for the Apostle Paul, Titus would be in a position to greatly encourage and exhort the Cretan believers to live in a way that reflects their faith in Christ.  They would need encouragement and correction to live differently from their past, a life that would be different from the cultural around them.  Paul instructs Titus to use the authority he has to spur the people on to do what is good.

Paul ends this section of the letter detailing some practical ways that the Cretans could live the lives God has called them to:

Titus 3:1-2 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

Once again, we see Paul’s emphasis to Titus – to have the Cretan believers focus on doing good.  That is where they will be challenged by the surrounding culture, but that is exactly the area where are going to grow. 

God has done good towards us, even when we did not deserve it.  Now it is up to the Cretan believers to mimic God to their countrymen.  It will be challenging to do so…but it is the hard things that make us grow up and mature.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The gift that keeps on giving

After spending the previous 10 verses explaining to specific groups within the Cretan church “What’s next” for them after becoming believers, Paul goes on to give the over-arching and insightful reason as to why those teachings were selected for them:

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 

Notice that it is by God’s grace that salvation is available to everyone.  No one deserves it, no one can contribute toward it.  God’s favor was given to us by his own choice, without influence by us.  Like a light piercing the darkness, he has chosen to offer this gift of salvation to all mankind. 

But the workings of God’s grace doesn’t stop there.  After stating the general mission of the grace of God, Paul then gets specific as to how it still works within a believer’s life, even after accepting Jesus as Savior:

Titus 2:12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age

God’s grace continues on by teaching and training us.  We didn’t merit salvation from sin’s eternal penalty of separation from God…and we don’t merit the training God gives us after we are saved, either.  Thankfully, God shows us love as adoptive sons and daughters – which means he cares for our development and growth.

We have to be taught how to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, because on our own we give in to them every time.  Turning away from sin isn’t easy, and our old nature battles against this kind of change.  By God’s grace, we were transferred from the kingdom of darkness and into God’s kingdom of light; and also by God’s grace, we are taught to turn away from ungodliness and worldly passions in order that we can say “Yes” to the kind of life we were created to live in this present age.

However, looking at this leaves me wondering:

If I was willing to accept his gracious gift of salvation, why do I fight his gracious gift of training for my life in this present age?

Keep Pressing,
Ken