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Compassion for the Lost

Matthew 9:36-38

Throughout the Gospels, a phrase commonly used of the Lord is “He felt compassion” (Matt. 9:36). These words describe what Jesus often experienced when He encountered people in a helpless condition: He was moved to alleviate their suffering. 

Man’s greatest suffering is due to alienation from the Lord because of sin. Even though many people don’t realize it, they are enemies of God and can do nothing to make themselves right with Him. Thankfully, Jesus felt compassion for us and reached down to save us; otherwise, we would all be doomed to the everlasting punishment of separation from God’s presence. Yet often we fail to show that same compassion for the lost all around us. Like the Pharisees, we may avoid people because their behavior is sinful, but God desires that we show them kindheartedness rather than withdraw into religious isolation.

Jesus pictured the multitude of lost people as sheep without a shepherd and a field ripe for harvest. All that’s needed is for the Lord to send workers into His harvest, and that’s exactly what Jesus did when He said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (John 20:21).

There are multiple ways to show Christ’s compassion to those who are suffering physically, financially, or emotionally, and we should do what we can to help. However, temporal suffering is minuscule compared to what awaits the unbeliever eternally. That’s why the most compassionate thing we can do is to make people aware of their helpless condition before God and share the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ.

As Independence Day approaches this year, we have many reasons to be thankful, but there’s also cause for concern as we observe the tragedies that have happened in our country in the last few years. When we hear about school shootings, terror attacks, and bombings that take innocent lives, we may wonder where God is in all this. Why does He allow these tragedies? Couldn’t He do something to prevent them?

The most basic answer to these questions is that we live in a fallen world. Disasters, crime, evil, violence, hatred, and death are the result of sin, which entered the world when Adam and Eve disobeyed God. Everything and everyone has been affected by it, and none of us are exempt.

Yet knowing this, we may still question why God allows these tragedies to occur. If He’s good and loving, wouldn’t He protect His creation from harm? The truth is there are some things in life we will simply not be able to understand. In Isaiah 55:8-9 God says, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways’ ... ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”

So how are we to respond to tragedies when we don’t understand what God is doing? For believers, our first response should be to trust God (Prov. 3:5). It’s easy to trust Him when we can feel His loving hand reaching out to strengthen and guide us. But when God’s wisdom and purposes transcend our limited minds, and we aren’t capable of comprehending His ways, we must rely on what He has told us about Himself in His Word and trust Him like small children trusting their parents.

We need to get into God’s Word to see what He says about Himself. And the best time to do this is before tragedy strikes so we’ll have a firm foundation to support us in times of need. Once we have a scripturally accurate view of God, we will understand how to respond and go through calamity because we’ll know the God who loves us and holds us in His sovereign hand.

Second, we should respond with courage. Terrorist attacks and mass shootings naturally cause fear. For those who don’t know Christ, this can be overwhelming, but Christians have a confidence that transcends circumstances. Psalm 56:3-4 says, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?”

Third, we should respond with compassion. When we hear about the atrocities done to people, our hearts should go out to them in sympathy. This is an essential character trait of anyone who is a follower of Jesus. Look at His response in Matthew 9:36: “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.”

Sometimes our reaction to a national tragedy is to shrug our shoulders and say, “I’m glad I wasn’t there.” But Christians are told to put on a heart of compassion and kindness (Col. 3:12). This applies to both those whom we know and those we’ve never met. Although we may not be able to put a comforting arm around strangers on the other side of the country, we can express empathy for them by bringing them before the throne of God in prayer, not only for physical and emotional healing but for salvation as well.

Fourth, we need an eternal perspective. The unexpected loss of life has a way of opening our eyes to the fact that life is transitory. James reminds us not to presumptuously expect our lives to turn out as we’ve planned, saying, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). If there’s one thing we can learn from calamities, it’s that we will die, and we don’t know when. That’s why we must always be ready to meet the Lord and to share the gospel with the lost so they will have the opportunity to be saved.

It may be tempting to withdraw in fear as we see the world becoming a more dangerous place, but this is the time when Christians need to be salt and light to a dark world. Although we don’t have all the answers to why tragedies happen, we are the only ones who have the message that can change someone’s eternal destiny. And offering them the good news of the gospel is the most compassionate and loving thing we can do in times of calamity.

As we walk in these uncertain times, let’s make it our ambition to live godly lives that are honoring and pleasing to God. Although we have no assurance that tragedy will not one day come our way, we can have confidence in the goodness of God. He has promised to work all things for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).

Prayerfully yours,

Charles F. Stanley

P.S. Even though our nation has experienced increasing evil and the resulting calamities, we can still rejoice in the freedoms we currently have to worship God and share the gospel. Let’s thank the Lord for these blessings as we celebrate the Fourth of July this year.

A Lasting Impact

Matthew 5:14-16

Have you ever stopped to consider this question: How do you use the gift of freedom? God gives all believers true liberty through His Son Jesus Christ. Do you squander that blessing or share it with others? The problem is, some people are so focused on their own needs and desires that they fail to impact even their closest neighbor.

Think about the people you see every week. Do you know how many of your neighbors are sick? Are there people in your church who struggle to make it from day to day? Do you know if any of your coworkers are going through hardships? Most likely, there are individuals all around you who could use assistance. But being self-focused limits our ability to notice those people, let alone reach out to them.

Jesus taught His disciples, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men” (Matt. 5:13). In order for salt to remain useful, it must maintain its purity and potency. Likewise, we must endeavor to lead holy, humble, and loving lives, focusing on the Savior’s will rather than our own. God has prepared the good works that we are to walk in (Eph. 2:10). Our job is to carry them out.

Whether or not we affect our world positively depends on the focus of our heart. Do you look inward to consider how you can do more to get ahead and add to your lot in life? Or do you look outward and think about ways that you can do more to serve others?

The Danger of Drifting

Proverbs 14:15-16

One fine afternoon, my best friend and I came upon an abandoned boat floating in the river. The paddles were broken, but that wasn’t a deterrent for a pair of teenage boys. We shoved off and drifted downstream talking, joking, and carrying on. I’m not sure how much time passed as we floated aimlessly along, but we knew we were in trouble when a loud roar reached our ears. Up ahead, water was rushing over the dam. Panicked, we grabbed the broken paddles and pulled hard against the current. We managed to get close enough to the shore to safely jump out into shallow water, but the boat went over the edge. What started out as pure fun nearly ended in disaster.

That’s happens to many people today. What begins as fun and pleasure ends in shipwreck because people drift along, neglecting to think ahead or notice how fast they’re moving away from the safety of the Lord’s plan. According to the prevailing attitude of modern society, God isn’t needed as long as the stream runs smoothly. In other words, when income is good, the family is safe, and health is stable, going with the flow seems fine. But in reality, a drifting man is being swept along by the world’s currents, which are dangerous without Christ.

Today’s passage reveals that the wise look to the future to avoid ruin. Let me put it another way: Drifting is foolish. In countless arenas of life—including marriage, family, vocation, and finances—we need to have a goal and navigation plan if we expect to be successful. Thankfully, God provides both in His Word. (See Prov. 3:6.)

Listening to God

Proverbs 2:1-7

Psychologists refer to a phenomenon known as dissociation to describe a mental state in which someone inhabits two worlds simultaneously. Many of us might have experienced this in its mildest form while driving. Our thoughts drift, and we fly right by our exit, traveling many miles before we recognize our mistake.

As Christians, we sometimes suffer from spiritual dissociation. With good intentions, we open our Bibles and begin reading only to realize several verses later that we have no idea what we just read. Although God was speaking, we failed to hear His voice. Usually, this situation can be easily remedied by rereading with focused concentration, but there are other times when we fail to hear God for more serious reasons.

Sometimes an inability to hear the Lord is simply the result of spiritual immaturity, but it could also indicate a perilous state of spiritual indifference or, worse still, rebellion. In that state, we run the risk of becoming like the man who hardens his neck after much reproof and is suddenly broken beyond remedy (Prov. 29:1).

Let’s not make it difficult for God to get through to us. He’s a loving Father who keeps speaking in order to turn us away from evil and direct us back to Himself. His goal is to transform us from stubborn children needing firm control to mature followers who can be counseled merely by a word or a nudge from Him. The more receptive we become to His instructions, the more we’ll experience His lovingkindness and the joy of obedience and righteousness.

The Coming Judgment

Acts 10:42-43

Have you ever been required to appear in court before a judge? Even if your only offense was a parking or speeding ticket, the courtroom experience can be very intimidating. Your wrong cannot be undone, and you must give an account for your actions and accept whatever consequences the judge decrees.

There will come a day when every human being will be required to stand before the Judge of the universe. At that point, there’s no turning back, no chance to start over. We will each be held accountable by almighty God for our choices and actions in this life.

If you’ve trusted in Jesus, you will appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). This isn’t a judgment of your sins, because they were judged when God’s wrath was poured out on His Son at Calvary. Since the Savior has already secured your eternal destiny, you will stand before God, clothed in Christ’s righteousness. The purpose of this judgment is evaluation of your works to determine if they are worthless or deserving of a reward. 

The Great White Throne Judgment is reserved for people who have rejected Jesus as Savior (Revelation 20:11-15). The works they have done will be evaluated according to God’s record books. Since their names are not written in the book of life, their eternal destination will be the lake of fire.

Although no one can avoid being judged, the good news is that you have a choice regarding which judgment seat you will appear before. But the only time you can make that choice is in this lifetime. Once your earthly life ends, your destiny is set.

When God Doesn’t Seem Just

Deuteronomy 32:1-4

Can you think of a situation in your life that felt like an exception to the promises of Scripture? In today’s passage, Moses declares that the Lord is faithful and all His ways are just, but we have all been in circumstances that seemed wrong and unfair. And because God did not intervene, we’ve struggled to reconcile our experience with Moses’ statement about Him.

The Scriptures are filled with examples of godly people who faced hardships that seemed totally unfair. For example, Joseph was sold as a slave, David was hunted by King Saul, and Paul suffered with a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

Situations like these can cause us to question whether God is good and just. If left to fester in our minds, these doubts may give way to discouragement. We can easily start thinking, What’s the use of serving the Lord? Look at what it’s gotten me—suffering!

It’s important to remember that what we know about God from His Word is more accurate than what we feel. Scripture tells us that God is good and just, so we can know with certainty that He has a fantastic purpose for us in whatever we experience.

The Lord allows each of us to face some trials that we won’t understand to our satisfaction this side of heaven. Our job is not to comprehend everything He does and permits in our lives, but to know how to respond. He’ll make all things right in eternity. In the meantime, trust the solid Rock when all else is shaky.

The Shed Blood of Jesus

John 1:29-34

When John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching, he declared Christ to be the Lamb of God.

This concept was familiar to the Israelites, since their law required blood offerings as atonement for sin (Lev. 17:11). Jesus became our sacrificial Lamb, paying once for all the sin debt owed by mankind (1 Peter 3:18). His death secured forgiveness and eternal life for everyone who trusts Him as Savior. With regard to salvation, nothing else is required or acceptable to God.

Jesus was the one who set things right between the Father and man. He died to bring us ...

Redemption. This was a word that was used to describe a marketplace transaction—one that buys back something of value. All humanity was in bondage to sin and unable to pay the penalty (Rom. 6:23). As our sacrificial lamb, Jesus willingly died in our place and with His blood, redeemed us for His Father (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Forgiveness. As God’s adopted children, we have been saved by the blood of Christ and pardoned for our transgressions. The penalty for our actions has been fully paid. So at the moment of salvation, guilt for all of our sins—past, present, and future—is wiped away.

Meditate on what the Savior did at Calvary. As the sacrificial Lamb, Jesus exchanged His life for ours and gave it up to pay what we owed. His death redeemed us, secured our forgiveness, and gave us a permanent place in God’s family. Thank You, Jesus, for bringing redemption!

What Christ’s Blood Does for Believers

Romans 3:21-26

Knowing what we believe is key to a life-sustaining faith. Yesterday we saw two of the blessings that are ours through the blood of the Savior. Today we will look at two more.

By trusting in Christ as Savior, we are ...

Justified. Justification is the process by which God sees us as not guilty— just as if we had not committed any wrong. Romans 3:23 condemns all mankind as sinners who are under a sentence of death and facing a dreadful eternity apart from God and His blessings. But everything changes for the person who accepts Christ’s shed blood as payment for his or her sins—through Jesus, that sinner is declared “not guilty” and is provided with Christ’s righteousness. And the new believer is adopted into God’s own family (Gal. 3:26). Jesus’ sacrifice has satisfied our sin debt, and His death is counted by God as our own (Rom. 5:9).

Reconciled. Before salvation, we were separated from the Lord and spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1). We had no way to span the gap between Him and us. Christ sent His Holy Spirit to convict us of our guilt (John 16:8), make us aware that we need a Savior, and bring us to saving faith. Jesus, the Lamb of God, removed the barrier of sin that separated us from God. Christ died to reconcile us to God, “having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Col. 1:20).

As believers, we should understand what occurred when we received Jesus as Savior. Through His sacrifice, we are redeemed, forgiven, justified, and reconciled to God. That is, Christ’s blood has brought us from death to life—and has let us enter into an eternal relationship with the Father.

Let Christ Bear Your Burdens

Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus’ compassion is displayed repeatedly throughout the Gospel accounts, and in today’s passage, He shows loving concern by inviting us to come to Him for relief. Is there anything more needed in this world than the feeling of being set free from whatever is weighing us down?

Jesus invites us to come, take His yoke upon us, and learn from Him. At first glance, a yoke may sound like an additional burden, but to understand what Jesus means, we must look at these verses from their historical context. A yoke was a bar that fit over the neck and shoulders of two animals. When a heavy load had to be transported, two oxen were yoked together, thereby distributing the weight evenly between them.

What our Lord is describing is a lifelong process that encompasses coming to Him for salvation and learning to know Him—His perfect character, His priorities for life, and His plans for us and the world. Jesus is asking us to place ourselves under the yoke of His lordship. He promises that a life of submission will fit us well and provide relief.

Our Savior offers to be with us in every trial we face. Sometimes He removes the difficulties that weigh us down, while at other times, He lifts the burdensome feelings that accompany our trials. But there will be occasions when He walks with us through the hardships and suffering, giving us the grace and strength to endure. Even then we will discover that His yoke is easy and His burden is light because His compassion and mighty power carry us through.

Choosing to Forgive

Ephesians 4:31-32

Isn’t it interesting that young children generally don’t hold grudges? They may cry and throw tantrums, but once their anger has been vented, they let it go. Adults, however, have a tendency to hang on to offenses. When people wrong us or our loved ones, we want them to pay for what they’ve done, to suffer as we have. It only seems fair to expect restitution of some kind, and unless that occurs, we withhold forgiveness.

As Christians, however, we are called to a different standard and way of thinking—one that’s consistent with God’s character. He is a merciful Father who wants His children to show mercy to others (Luke 6:36). His Son’s life on earth demonstrated this. As Jesus hung on the cross, He prayed for those who crucified Him, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). God expects us to forgive as Jesus did, regardless of circumstances.

This command seems impossible to carry out until we start to grasp the enormity of what took place on the cross. Christ’s death made us recipients of a mercy so great it defies comprehension. The Savior took all our sin upon Himself and died in our place. He experienced the outpouring of God’s wrath so we might be forgiven and reconciled to the Father. Although we deserve condemnation, through Jesus Christ we have instead received God’s mercy.

Now as new creations in Christ who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we have His power to truly let go of the wrongs done to us and extend mercy to others, just as God has given mercy to us.

An Unforgiving Spirit

Matthew 18:21-35

Because of man’s propensity to sin, we’re surrounded by opportunities to forgive others. Perhaps we’ve been unfairly criticized, disappointed by a broken promise, or harmed financially or physically. In this broken world, the list of wrongdoings is endless. The question is: How are we to deal with the offenses of others?

Peter was wondering the same thing, so He asked Jesus how often he should forgive a brother who sins against him. He probably thought he was being very generous by suggesting, “Up to seven times?” But Jesus replied, “Up to seventy times seven” (Matt. 18:21-22). In other words, forgive every single time you’re wronged. Forgiveness doesn’t mean finding reasons to justify or excuse someone’s behavior, nor is it about forgetting what happened or pretending it never occurred.

Genuine forgiveness requires deliberate action on our part. While acknowledging that a wrong has been committed, we choose to release the offender from any obligation toward us and surrender our perceived right to hurt him or her back. In essence, we’re no longer holding the unfair, hurtful behavior against the person but are extending mercy, just as God has done toward us.

The only alternative is to hold onto anger and bitterness. Though we may think we are punishing the wrongdoer, we’re actually hurting ourselves. Resentment is like sludge that contaminates the mind, clogs the heart, and poisons the soul. Untreated anger turns into bitterness, which hinders our relationship with God and others and leaves us vulnerable to Satan’s attacks (Eph. 4:26-27). The only remedy is forgiveness.

Jesus: A Servant

Matthew 20:20-28

Believers like to talk about Jesus as Lord, Master, and especially Savior, but rarely is He mentioned as Servant. Yet describing His own mission, Christ said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). He entered the world to offer Himself for the Father’s purpose and mankind’s need.

Because every human being is born enslaved to sin, Jesus came to set us free. He voluntarily exchanged His glory for flesh because only as a human could He die in our place to pay the penalty for our sin. The greatest service He offered was His sacrifice on the cross. He allowed His purity to be violated by our transgressions. In fact, God made Jesus “who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf” so that we could gain His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Our sinless Savior suddenly and painfully felt the burden of guilt, the vileness of sin, the weight of a tarnished soul, and a wretched separation from His Father. He suffered the injustice of dying for our sins in order that God’s holiness and our imperfection could be reconciled, and we could be shown mercy.

Jesus was the Father’s servant, agreeing to an atonement plan that made Him a sacrifice. And He is your servant as well—He humbly endured the punishment you deserved. To receive the benefit of His sacrifice, you need only believe and call on Him for the forgiveness of your sins. When you receive Him into your life, then you too will know the Servant, Jesus Christ, as Savior and Lord.

Wisdom for Life

Proverbs 4:10-27

Sometimes life seems like a confusing maze of options, and we don’t know which path to choose. What we need is God’s wisdom to guide us. Our first source for insight is His Word, but that is not the end. With scriptural principles as our foundation, God provides other opportunities that can help us grow in wisdom.

Discernment. Instead of blindly accepting cultural ideas, we should compare what we hear and see around us with what God has said in His Word. Then we’ll recognize evil and deception and have the wisdom to avoid that path.

Observation. By noticing actions of godly and ungodly people, we gain wisdom. As we observe their mistakes and successes, as well as our own past, we learn the blessings of obedience and the consequences of wrongdoing.

Godly counsel. The Lord will sometimes use other people to give direction for our life (Prov. 12:15). Whether they speak encouragement or correction, we can trust their advice when it lines up with Scripture and is confirmed by the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Wise Associates. There’s great benefit in spending time with those who know the Lord and routinely respond in a godly manner (Prov. 13:20). Before developing close relationships, we should learn what people value. As we recognize which individuals reflect wisdom in thought and deed, we can cultivate a relationship with them and emulate their discerning ways.

God wants us to pay attention to what we see and hear—and to be deliberate in our choice of companions. Wisdom isn’t just having the right information; it’s an ability to perceive between right and wrong, good and best.

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

Daniel 2:20-22

How many of us have listened to the global or national news and wondered, What in the world is going on? Without a firm foundation of biblical truth, we can easily be overcome with fear and despair. Despite the upheaval in political and financial realms, Christians can find peace in the knowledge that our God is sovereign over every nation and ruler on earth.

Though the future of a nation appears to be in the hands of its rulers and lawmakers, an omnipotent hand is orchestrating a good and glorious plan: The Lord is the one who “removes kings and establishes kings” (Dan. 2:21). Ultimately, every governmental leader is put into office, not by voters, political campaigns, or personal abilities, but by the hand of God.

Nothing that the Lord does is carried out in isolation. He’s working all things according to His divine plan. We tend to think that a ruler has to be righteous for God to use Him, but Proverbs 21:1 tells us the Lord can direct the heart of any national leader wherever He wishes. In fact, He describes two pagan kings—Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus—as “My servant” (Jer. 25:9) and “My shepherd” (Isa. 44:28). Unbeknownst to them, God guided their paths to fulfill His purposes for Israel.

When the news threatens to dislodge your peace or cause despair, remember who holds the nations and rulers in His hand. The Lord’s plans for this world are moving along according to His divine purposes, and no unrighteous ruler can thwart Him. Just keep singing, “He’s got the whole world in His hands.”

Our Anchor in Stormy Times

Hebrews 6:17-20

One thing common to everyone is the experience of going through storms. Whether these are literal weather events, personal trauma, or the turmoil caused by war and social unrest, we all face circumstances over which we have little control. Some storms are over quickly, whereas others seem unending. Some tempests cause little damage, but others leave great devastation in their wake.

• Where do these storms come from? At times we bring them into our own life through choices we make, but other times they’re caused by someone else’s actions. It may even be that the devil has stirred up some adversity to distract or hinder us. And there are occasions when God’s work in our life requires a storm to fulfill a special purpose.

• Why does the Lord allow storms in our life? Difficulties tend to turn our focus toward God. We either start questioning Him or go to Him for help and strength. He may want our attention because there’s a sin we need to deal with. Or perhaps He wants us to let go of something we need to surrender to Him. It could be that He wants to conform us to His image (Rom. 8:29) or equip us to serve Him.

• How do we respond to storms? When we struggle against God because we don’t like the hardship we’re going through, that’s an indication we don’t trust Him. Instead of trusting that He is working good in our life, we may wrongly believe He’s trying to hurt us. At such times knowing Scripture is crucial for the believer. His Word is the immovable anchor in our storm. We can trust the Bible because, like God, it never changes!

The Christian’s Walk

Ephesians 4:1-2

After placing trust in Jesus, a person should begin to walk in a new direction. Believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and therefore have real purpose; it isn’t fitting for Christians to live aimlessly. The apostle Paul presents a dramatic contrast between who we once were and who we’re to be after coming to faith. (See Eph. 4:15-24.) Formerly, we might not have felt too bad about sin, but now that we are one with Jesus Christ, our mind is being renewed and our behavior should become increasingly God-pleasing.

As God’s children, we’re also to walk weighty—that is, leaving an imprint and an influence wherever we go. When we understand who we are in Christ and commit to walking in holiness, we begin to reflect the Lord Jesus to others. The joy we have in Him becomes an expression of His presence in our life and evidence of our relationship with Him.

So think of all the people you cross paths with each day. You might be reflecting Jesus to some who have been blind to the truth of God. In addition, your oneness with the Lord and your unity with other believers make you an asset and an encouragement to the body of Christ, too. You have no idea how many lives might be touched by yours. 

I’m certainly one who believes in the value of sermons, but God’s people must do more than simply sit and listen. Our life must change so that everybody who meets us will meet Christ in us. Our old life—how we lived before meeting the Lord—was self-centered; our new life is Christ-centered. Is that becoming more evident in you?

Walk in the Light

Ephesians 5:6-16

Yesterday we saw that when we walk in holiness, we change direction from our old life and leave an imprint wherever we go. Now let’s consider one more aspect of this new journey: walking in the light. (See 1 John 1:5-7.)

In 2 Corinthians 6:14, Paul challenges us to consider this question: “What partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” He’s saying that just as Christ and Satan can’t have fellowship with each other, neither can good and evil. In other words, sin should become a foreign thing to everyone who knows Christ as Savior. His Holy Spirit helps us become sensitive to the presence of sin.

The Bible says that before we come to Christ, we are not only in darkness, but we are darkness. The ungodly are darkened in their understanding, ignorant of the truth, callused in their heart, and hardened in their spirit; they have turned themselves over to sin. All of this changes when a person places faith in the Lord. The believer experiences forgiveness and redemption, and what’s more, something else wonderful happens: Darkness is replaced with God’s light and righteousness.

Everyone who chooses to follow God is given a new nature (2 Corinthians 5:17), but patterns of the old self linger. You may think that because you sometimes struggle with sins, godliness is an unattainable goal. However, it is not your own strength that makes you holy, but the Holy One in your heart. When you make Christ the center of your life and daily make the decision to walk in His light, He enables you to live holy in this dark and unholy world.

Blessing Our Enemies

Luke 6:27-28

As stories of the persecuted church reach us, we learn about Christians who respond to imprisonment, beatings, and harassment with unimaginable grace and dignity. These saints have learned to obey Christ’s command to “love your enemies” (Luke 6:27), even in the harshest of circumstances.

We may never face physical persecution for our faith, but we will run across people who hate and mistreat us. The most natural response is to dislike them in return, but harboring ill will and bitterness chokes our witness and poisons our souls. Instead, Jesus instructs us to love our adversaries and treat them well.

The Greek word for this kind of love is agape—this is not a feeling based on the other person’s likability or favor toward us but, rather, an action of the will that does what is best for the other person. It’s the type of love God has and, therefore, is not something we can muster within ourselves. But as the Holy Spirit produces His fruit in us, agape love will flow through us, even to our enemies.

When someone wrongs or hurts us, it’s an opportunity to be a witness for Christ. Rather than harboring animosity or seeking revenge, we are told to pray for our adversary. Instead of begging the Father to defeat our enemy, we can ask Him for the strength to express genuine Christlike love in the face of opposition. That’s the kind of prayer God is delighted to answer. And when we are privileged to meet the need of one who despises us, we might just see an amazing change in his life.

Hope Amidst Suffering

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

We all go through distressing times in life. These seasons of suffering may be brought about by relational difficulties, financial hardships, or other trials. But as God’s children, we can take heart in knowing that our pain is not wasted.

Sometimes our pain is for the eternal benefit of others—God uses it to reveal the genuineness of our faith so that others might see it and be drawn to His Son (1 Peter 1:7). By the way we respond to adversity, our belief in Jesus becomes visible to those around us. Believers will be encouraged, and seekers will ask us questions about our faith.

At other times, God uses trials to teach us to obey—Hebrews 5:8 tells us that even our Savior learned obedience from the things He suffered. Another purpose of hardship is to broaden our ministry. The apostle Paul’s imprisonment let him minister among the guards, resulting in the salvation of many.

Difficulties can also be the Lord’s tool in preventing a problem from happening—such as the unidentified ailment that kept Paul from becoming prideful. When disobedience threatens our walk with God, He will take whatever steps are needed to draw us back to Him. He may allow a need to remain unmet or something cherished to be removed. His purpose is that we confess our sin and return to Him.

We may not know the reasons for our heartaches, but the wisest choice we can make is to trust the heavenly Father. After all, He who saved us through the sacrifice of His Son has promised to use our suffering to bring about good (Rom. 8:28).

What Disciples Need

Colossians 1:25-29

We’re all familiar with Jesus’ last instructions to His followers: Matthew 28:19 says to make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But the next verse contains a second aspect of the directive: “Teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” The Great Commission is usually associated with world evangelism, but baptism and obedience to Christ are also important because they are outward signs of a disciple’s inward faith.

In today’s passage, Paul explains the reason for proclaiming Christ and admonishing and teaching believers: “That we may present every man complete in Christ” (Col. 1:28). To simply lead someone to salvation without teaching him God’s Word is equivalent to leaving a newborn baby to fend for himself. Salvation begins the lifelong process of learning obedience and growing into spiritual maturity.

Furthermore, we can’t limit the task of teaching to pastors and missionaries any more than we can say that they alone are called to evangelize the lost. The entire church is given the assignment of making disciples and teaching them to obey the Lord. Instead of simply sitting in church services, Sunday schools, and Bible studies to soak up more truth for our own benefit, let’s pass on to others what we have learned.

Teaching isn’t the exclusive role of those who stand at podiums in front of large groups. It’s something that can be done one-on-one over coffee. Think about all that you have learned since you were saved. What can you share with someone else that will help him or her grow in Christ?

God’s View of Mankind

Hebrews 2:16-18

To understand the ways of the Lord, we need to comprehend His perspective of mankind. Oftentimes, we rely on our human viewpoint instead of trying to see ourselves through His eyes. All that He does on earth is guided by His care and love for the human race. Consider three elements of God’s perspective of humanity:

Created in God’s image. Of all the creatures that the Lord fashioned, only the man and woman were made in His image (Gen. 1:26-27). They had a mind, will, and emotions as well as a spirit, which enabled them to worship and relate to God. Being sinless and perfect, they were designed to live forever in intimate relationship with their Creator.

Corrupted by sin. However, an act of disobedience broke their relationship with the Lord (Isa. 59:2). The divine image was marred by sin, which infiltrated human nature and corrupted every person born thereafter. Mankind stood spiritually dead, without hope, and condemned before a holy God.

Worthy of redemption. Yet the Lord considered them worthy of restoration. Through the redemptive work of His Son, all who believe in Jesus are made spiritually alive again, and the broken relationship between God and man is repaired (Col. 1:13-14). One day—in heaven—sin will be no more, and a perfect environment will be reinstated.

Between life’s pace and trials, losing sight of divine viewpoint is all too easy. When we’re overwhelmed by criticism, trouble, or suffering, it’s vital to recognize our worth in the Lord’s eyes. That realization can energize our service and renew our love for the One who gave Himself to bring us back to God.

Our Father’s Unconditional Love

Romans 5:8

Many of us have heard since childhood that the Lord loves us. Yet it isn’t until we begin to understand the true nature of His never-ending love that our lives start to change dramatically—anxiety is exchanged for peace, depression for joy, and fear for confidence.

Today’s Bible verse tells us that while we were still living in rebellion against God, His love sent Jesus to the cross to pay the ultimate price for our redemption. In other words, He didn’t wait for our apologies or even our recognition of Him. No, the Almighty loved us so completely that He sent His Son to die for us while we were steeped in sin.

This doesn’t mesh with our human understanding of love. Much of our concern for others is conditional, hopefully with the exception of care for our children and families. We oftentimes project this imperfect image onto the Lord. It is hard for us to imagine that there actually exists a greater love than what we ourselves can give.

Thankfully, God is not restricted by our view of Him. So great is His care, in fact, that when we trust in Him, He calls us His children and adopts us! And our Father promises that nothing can separate us from Him (Rom. 8:38-39).

As you read Scripture, focus on verses about the heavenly Father’s love. Ask Him to help you start to grasp how great His love is. Document what you learn so that it is available to review when guilt or doubt creeps into your mind. What peace there is for Christians in the Almighty’s unfailing, unconditional care!

Wisdom for Good Health

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Early in my college days, I studied and worked excessively, as I wanted to offer the Lord my all. Eventually, I realized that neglecting my health could hinder my serving Him, so I therefore had a responsibility to take care of my physical body. Since then, I have tried to use wisdom with regard to health. I believe that includes having the proper motivation and a commitment to practice discipline.

When we understand our worth in the Father’s sight, we will be motivated to pursue good health. Our bodies are the temple of the living God (1 Corinthians 6:19). The Holy Spirit lives in us and carries out the Lord’s work through us. When we are taking care of our health, we position ourselves to be able to serve when God calls. Our heavenly Father knows many of us have infirmities, but He wants us to take care of ourselves so we do not make our condition worse.

Discipline is the other component of a health-conscious attitude. Many of us approach exercise and weight loss in a “fits and starts” manner. While that may offer some value at the time, a more lasting method is of greater benefit. We need to develop new routines, within the structure of our family and work, for our bodies to thrive. Consistency over the long term is necessary if we are to stay in good condition.

A desire to eat right and exercise regularly does not guarantee we’ll avoid disease or live a long life. But it does mean we will have done our part to keep God’s temple in good shape for Him. Our calling as God’s children is best fulfilled when we seek physical as well as spiritual vitality.

A Barometer for Spiritual Growth

1 Corinthians 13:11-13

Since our Father wants us to mature in the faith, we should stop periodically and examine our life to see if we’re making progress in this area. Physical growth is fairly easy to evaluate—all you need is a tape measure. But how can you tell if you’re growing spiritually? Let’s begin by considering how children develop.

Desires. Have you noticed that your childhood toys no longer interest you? The maturing process changes our desires in the spiritual realm, too. When we’re growing, the world’s pleasures lose their appeal, while our hunger for God and His Word increases. We are eager to be with Him and share with others how He’s working in our life.

Understanding. When you were young, your perception of the world was very limited. In the same way, we lack spiritual understanding when we’re new believers. But in time, we begin to see life from God’s perspective. Trials and temptations become opportunities for growth, and service for the Lord becomes an honor instead of a burden.

Selflessness. The most obvious sign of a toddler’s immaturity is his selfishness. He wants his way, and he wants it now! Hopefully that is no longer characteristic of you. A mature believer is submissive to the Lord, willing to wait, and more concerned about others than himself.

How are you doing in these three areas of growth? Maybe it’s time to let go of a few childish ways in order to grow into a mature believer. The greatest evidence of maturity is love. When the Lord and other people have first place in our heart, it’s then that we’re most like Jesus.

The Practices of Maturity

Hebrews 5:12-14

Believers are on a continual growth track that ascends higher and higher. This side of heaven, none of us ever “arrive,” but we each have a responsibility to press on to maturity. Though many people think those who know a lot about the Bible are the spiritually mature ones, Hebrews 5:14 adds the element of practice to the growth equation. This word means a custom or habit. Christian growth requires the discipline of godly habits carried out daily.

The most important practice to cultivate is a personal devotional time. Since God is the source of all spiritual development, you can’t neglect Him and expect to become mature. Transformation begins with time in His Word and prayer.

Obedience is another essential element for advancement. When our desire to obey the Lord is stronger than our attraction to sin, we’ll know we are making progress in our spiritual life.

In terms of physical development, the goal is to become more independent and self-sufficient as we age. But in the spiritual realm, the opposite is true. Those who are mature in Christ recognize their own inadequacy and rely on the Holy Spirit within them. It’s His job to transform our character and empower us to accomplish everything the Lord calls us to do.

In God’s eyes, maturity isn’t the same as getting older. By digging into Scripture and developing God-pleasing habits, we can use our years to grow stronger in the Lord instead of wasting time with passivity. No one becomes mature accidentally. Spiritual growth requires a diligent pursuit of God.

Our Incomparable Companion

John 14:15-17

Having a faithful friend is one of God’s greatest blessings. No matter what’s going on in your life, you can count on that person to stick with you. However, there is no guarantee that you won’t lose that friend. Unavoidable circumstances like relocation, illness, or death may take your companion away, but if you are a Christian, you have a friend who will never leave you.

He’s the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus called the Helper. He’s no fair-weather friend, slipping in and out of our lives when it’s to His advantage. When He takes up residence within us, He comes to stay forever (John 14:16).

In most human relationships, we try to avoid the use of sweeping negative or positive statements such as, “You are always late,” or “You are always there for me.” However, such superlative declarations are completely fitting when applied to the Holy Spirit. Listen to how the Lord Jesus described Him:

• “He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).
• “He will testify about Me” (John 15:26).
• “He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).
• “All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you” (John 16:15).

Throughout the New Testament epistles, we find even more descriptions of this marvelous companion. His ministry in our lives is varied, and His accomplishments in and through us are many. How wealthy we are to have the Holy Spirit. He is a friend who truly sticks closer than a brother!