Shortcutting the Will of God

We live in a fast-paced culture and are accustomed to quick results. Waiting appears to be an activity of past generations.

It’s no surprise, then, that we have a hard time if God doesn’t answer a prayer right away. But when we refuse to be patient, our only option is to step out of His plan. Today’s passage tells how Abram and Sarai (later Abraham and Sarah) took matters into their own hands because they did not like the Lord’s timetable.

Ten years had passed since God promised them a son, and Sarai was aging. So she and Abram decided to let her servant Hagar bear a child for them. Sarah eventually did give birth in her old age, but that lack of patience led to great strife—for their family and for us today. Much of the tension in the Middle East can be traced to two people groups: the descendants of Hagar and of Sarah.

Why would a godly couple choose a path of self-sufficiency? First, their intense desire for a child clouded their thinking. Sarah desperately wanted a son—which was a basis of women’s worth in that culture. Next, they succumbed to wrong thinking. After years of childlessness and longing, they began to think that perhaps the Lord needed human help. Finally, they believed this faulty reasoning, and both gave in to impatience.

These traps still pose a danger today. We’re not immune to strong desire, human reasoning, or the influence of others. Impatient by nature, we could easily justify taking action in our own strength. The best advice is to listen, obey, and wait. God’s timing is perfect, and we don’t want to miss His best.

Spiritual Shortsightedness

What are you pursuing in life? The answer is not found in what you think your goal is but in what you are actually doing. For instance, you may claim that the Lord Jesus has first place in your life, but are you actually pursuing Him above all else, or have you gotten sidetracked with your own desires?

This was the case with the Jews who returned to the land of Israel after being in Babylonian captivity. They had the goal of rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple, but they became distracted with construction of their own homes and kept postponing work on the Lord’s house. As a result, God was challenging their efforts.

The Lord described it this way: “’You look for much, but behold, it comes to little; when you bring it home, I blow it away” (Hag. 1:9). The people mistakenly thought that they could put their own financial interests ahead of God’s and still prosper. Today they would probably say, “The faster I go, the behinder I get.”

The same thing was happening in Malachi’s day. When the people failed to bring their tithes and offerings, God called it robbery. He admonished them to “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse” so he could open the windows of heaven and pour forth abundant blessing (Mal. 3:10).

This principle reaches down to us today, and it encompasses more than financial matters. Peter has given us a list of qualities God wants us to diligently seek (2 Peter 1:5-11). Neglecting them for other pursuits is shortsighted, but those who practice them will avoid stumbling.

The Power of God’s Armor

Did you know that when you trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, you became not only a believer but also a warrior? That’s why, at the end of his life, Paul said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

The apostle knew that there are enemies opposing us all throughout our time on earth—and these include not just Satan, his emissaries, and the world system but even our own sinful flesh. However, Jesus has not left us defenseless. He has provided the armor of God for our protection.

The Word of God promises that we who believe in Jesus Christ will overcome the world (1 John 5:4-5). Yet most of us would have to admit we sometimes feel more defeated than victorious in certain areas of our life. However, the tools God has provided for us make it possible to withstand Satan’s temptations and break down any strongholds he has established in our minds.

When we are dressed in the Lord’s armor, we’re wrapped in truth, righteousness, peace, and salvation and are protected by the shield of faith. And Paul says that with this shield, we “will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph. 6:16). Those arrows are the devil’s lies, and they can be snuffed out with truth from God’s Word.

Our weapons are “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” and prayer (Eph. 6:17-18). Although our enemy knows our weaknesses and is always ready to attack, we have the power of God on our side.

How can you know God?

It all starts with accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ provides a relationship with the Father and eternal life through His death on the cross and resurrection, see Romans. 5:10.

Romans. 10:9 promises, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." If you have not yet begun your personal relationship with God, understand that the One who created you loves you no matter who you are or what you’ve done. He wants you to experience the profound depth of His care.

Therefore, tell God that you are willing to trust Him for salvation. You can tell Him in your own words or use this simple prayer:

Lord Jesus, I ask You to forgive my sins and save me from eternal separation from God. By faith, I accept Your work and death on the cross as sufficient payment for my sins. Thank You for providing the way for me to know You and to have a relationship with my heavenly Father. Through faith in You, I have eternal life. Thank You also for hearing my prayers and loving me unconditionally. Please give me the strength, wisdom, and determination to walk in the center of Your will. In Jesus’ name, amen.

If you have just prayed this prayer, congratulations!

You have received Christ as your Savior and have made the best decision you will ever make—one that will change your life forever!

The Battle of the Mind

Do you understand how Satan works to bring down believers? Although we may think of his attacks as external, the real battleground is in the realm of ideas. If he can get a church to believe erroneous doctrines, unbiblical philosophies, and false assumptions about God, he can lead it away from the truth and into error.

And the Enemy uses this same tactic on individual Christians as well. The battlefield is our mind, not our circumstances. As the Father of Lies, he knows that deception is an effective tactic. His goal is to influence our thoughts because how we think determines our attitudes, emotions, desires, and actions. Therefore, he seeks to twist our thoughts in order to gain a foothold and wreak havoc in all areas.

Any thought that is contrary to God’s Word needs to be taken “captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). And Jesus showed us how: Every time Satan threw a temptation at Him, He answered it with an appropriate Scripture (Matt. 4:1-11). However, we can’t simply wave our Bible in the air, hoping to scare the devil away. To effectively defeat his lies, we need a good working knowledge of God’s Word so that we can fight deception with truth, whatever the situation might be.

For instance, if you struggle with fear and anxiety, cling to verses that affirm God’s trustworthiness and care. If envy is the problem, the answer is Christ’s sufficiency for your life. As you fill your mind with God’s Word, Satan’s lies will become easier to identify, and your attitudes, emotions, desires, and behaviors will align with truth.

Comprehending God’s Truth

The Lord speaks to us in such a way that we may fully grasp His truth. He doesn’t speak in riddles but instead communicates so that we can comprehend.

Now, we may not always understand everything He says to us. All of us struggle to interpret His message at times. However, we must realize that this difficulty is not because the message is foggy. Rather, it is because something in our own life is getting in the way of His truth.

Unforgiveness may prevent us from hearing the Lord correctly. Fear, anxiety, doubt, and prayerlessness can also create spiritual “static” that clogs our ears. At times, though, the biggest distraction is our own minds—that is, our human tendency to figure things out for ourselves. That attitude can create a wall between our ears and the Father’s voice, and it is a wall we must tear down.

Remember, the reason we can hear the Lord is because He put His own Holy Spirit in the heart of every person who trusts in Christ. You see, nonbelievers aren’t able to understand the things of God because they have only their human mind to use when interpreting. As Christians, however, we have the Spirit of God, who works to make the Lord’s communication clear to us.

Do you struggle to comprehend God’s message? If you approach every challenge with determination to understand and master all aspects of the situation, the answer may be yes. Slow down. Surrender your anxious thoughts to Him, letting His wisdom fill your spirit—and your mind.

Communicating God’s Truth

You’ve probably heard people say, “That may be true for you but not for me.” Genuine truth is not relative. Nor is it a part-time phenomenon. So, when Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), He meant it for everyone. The rock-solid principles that God has communicated should be shared with others.

We see this admonition repeatedly in Scripture. In Matthew 28:18-20, the Lord gives us what is known as the Great Commission. This is a charge for all of us who believe: We’re to go out and spread the truth about Jesus Christ, teaching others what we have learned.

Likewise, in 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul instructs Timothy not only to tell others what he has learned, but also to encourage those men to tell even more people. And Paul elsewhere states that we, as believers, are “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20). In other words, we are His emissaries to the world. We are to take what we know and make it known to those we encounter. For what purpose? The passage makes it clear that our mission is to help others be reconciled to God.

How can we ever doubt the urgency of this message? We have a truth to tell, and we must share it!

This week, take the time to write out your faith story, and review it so you’ll feel comfortable and confident sharing that testimony with others. Pray for opportunities to share how God’s love has changed your life. Then trust the results to the Lord.

Salvation and Sin

One of the main reasons Christians doubt their salvation is the presence of sin in their life. According to 1 John 1:6, people who profess faith while continuing in a sinful lifestyle are deceiving themselves and walking in darkness. Verse 7, however, offers reassurance to those who are truly saved: Though they’ll still sin at times, this doesn’t mean they’ve lost their salvation. Today’s passage explains how believers are to deal with sin when it occurs in their life:

Confess your sins (1 John 1:9). Confession should be our first response when we stumble and fall. It means acknowledging to God that we’ve acted in a manner inconsistent with His character and standards and are in need of His promised forgiveness and cleansing.

Know that Christ is your Advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1-2). It’s never God’s will that we sin, but when we do, Jesus is our Defender in God’s courtroom. His sacrifice fully atoned for our sin and satisfied divine justice. When we repented and believed that Christ died for our sins, we were justified and declared righteous before God.

Know that sin is not a continuing practice in the life of a true believer (1 John 3:9). Since we’re born of God and the Holy Spirit abides in us, we cannot continue in sin. Although there may be brief periods of transgression, God’s Spirit works in us to change our desires and practices.

A believer’s disobedience brings the Lord’s discipline, not loss of salvation. However, as God’s children, we should never excuse our disobedience or abuse God’s grace by living in sin. Instead, we’re to pursue obedience and holiness.

God, Our Friend

The word of God is filled with many amazing promises, and today’s passage is no exception. It’s difficult for us to grasp the magnitude of Jesus’ commitment to those who love and obey Him. But look at what He promises about whoever is His committed follower: “My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him” (John 14:23). 

This is the most precious, intimate relationship we could ever have. And it is stunning to realize this personal connection is with the all-powerful, sovereign Creator of all things! Here are some ways to nurture this remarkable treasure:

Pursue intimacy with God. Although God’s love is poured into our heart at salvation through the Holy Spirit, our awareness of that love increases the more we get to know Him through His Word (Eph. 3:17-19).

Protect intimacy with God. To do this, we must be obedient to His Word. When we disobey or pursue something other than the Lord, our fellowship with Him can be broken (Psalm 66:18).

Pass on the good news about intimacy with God. The greatest gift we can give to other people is a view of our friendship with God. When family, friends, and coworkers hear us talk about our relationship with Christ, the Spirit can use our words and example to awaken them to their own need for such a connection with God.

What are you doing to grow closer to the Lord? And how are you helping others to recognize their own desire to know Him personally?

The Work of the Holy Spirit

If someone asked what the Holy Spirit does, how would you answer? Some Christians may not be aware of what He is accomplishing in their life, but the Spirit’s work isn’t a total mystery—Scripture tells us what the role of our divine Helper is.

He convicts us of sin (John 16:8). This is the first step in awakening us to our need for salvation. But even afterwards, the Spirit continues revealing sin in our life so we can immediately confess and receive forgiveness (1 John 1:9).

He guides us into all truth (John 16:13-14). The Holy Spirit teaches about Jesus Christ and God’s Word, and He helps us discern the difference between truth and error.

He fills us (Eph. 5:18). To be filled with the Spirit means that He is directing our path, much like a ship that is driven along by the wind filling its sails. This requires that we surrender our life to Him, acknowledging that He owns us and has the right to lead.

He bears fruit through us (Gal. 5:22-23). The Spirit produces qualities we could never consistently display on our own: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Although the Holy Spirit indwells and seals us immediately upon salvation, His work within each believer takes a lifetime. He is our constant Helper, who transforms us into Christ’s image and equips us for our daily challenges so we don’t have to struggle through life in our own strength. In all of our difficulties, conflicts, and heartaches, He guides our way, guards our hearts, and gives us His wisdom.

The Power of the Holy Spirit

Have you ever felt inadequate to live the Christian life? If so, then you are exactly where God wants you to be, because you have discovered a vital truth: No one has the power in him- or herself to live a holy life. We are all in the same boat, but there is someone else with us who has the power we need—the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus gave His disciples the task of preaching the gospel to the entire world, they had absolutely no ability to carry it out. That’s why He told them to wait until the Holy Spirit came. In the same way, if we hope to accomplish what God desires in our life, we need to live with full dependence on the third Person of the Godhead.

The power of the Spirit is God’s divine energy and authority released in believers’ lives for the purpose of righteous living and fruitful service. When we walk in the Spirit, we’re relying on His strength to accomplish God’s will. As a result, we experience the following benefits:

We may get tired, but we won’t burn out.
We’ll trust God instead of trying to manipulate our circumstances.
We may experience distress, but we won’t become desperate.
We won’t become overwhelmed with discouragement or obstacles, knowing the Spirit within us will enable us to do what He’s called us to accomplish.

When we do God’s work by His strength, in His way, and with His wisdom, we’ll be blessed no matter what goes on around us. Walking in the Spirit doesn’t mean life will be easy—but we never have to walk through it alone, because our Helper is always with us.

The Purpose of Our Trials

We shouldn’t expect the Christian life to be easy and comfortable, because believers aren’t exempt from trials. In fact, becoming a Christian may result in increased trouble and suffering. Peter refers to such hardship as a “fiery ordeal,” and tells us not to be surprised by it (1 Peter 4:12). God uses our suffering for His good purposes, and He walks through it with us. Hope in the midst of affliction is possible when we understand what God is achieving in the situation.

First, the heavenly Father sometimes uses painful experiences to purify us. Trials drive us to the Lord and open our eyes to sins that we have tolerated. His discipline is not designed to crush us but to produce “the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Heb. 12:11).

Second, the Lord at times allows difficulty as a way of testing us. His goal is to produce increased faith, endurance, and devotion to Him. Rather than complaining, we should exult in our tribulations, knowing that they are producing proven character within us (Rom. 5:3-4).

Third, God uses suffering to display his power. Trials humble us by revealing our weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). They teach us to depend on the Lord for the power to persevere and mature.

Fourth, our suffering has eternal benefits. Earthly affliction “is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Let these truths encourage you to view your next trial from God’s perspective. Though you may not feel it at the time, the Lord is with you. He is your hope and sufficiency.

The Message Parents Send

When someone asks, “What do you do?” the reply usually includes a job title. But anyone who is raising or interacting with children has a role far more important than career duties.

Parents are communicators. Yet unlike conference speakers, moms and dads don’t get to pre-plan their entire message. Everything we do and say—especially that which happens “off the cuff”—molds our kids. Think about your childhood days. What did your parents do that illustrated their priorities, beliefs, and passions?

Even without speaking, we send messages by our body language, interests, kindnesses, absence or presence, and silence. Add words to the mix, and we have a recipe for remarkable impact, either positive or negative.

Inevitably, our children will be greatly affected by what we communicate and how they interpret it. Be conscious of the way each young one processes information—sometimes our intended message becomes skewed by their limited understanding. What an incredible responsibility we’ve been given. No wonder parents depend on God’s help.

Only troubled parents—like the angry, jealous King Saul in today’s passage—would ever set out to hurt their children. But in our busyness, or because of past wounds, the messages we send might inadvertently be damaging.

What are you communicating to your kids? Ask yourself: What do my actions point to as priorities in my life? Do my children sense a hunger in my heart for God’s direction, counsel, and sustenance? Above all, would they know how to have a thriving relationship with Jesus Christ by watching my life?

The Rule of Christ’s Peace

There is one thing everyone wants, and that is a sense of inner peace. Many people think it comes only when all the circumstances of life are pleasant, but for Christians, God’s peace is available even when nothing around us is calm and ordered.

Our verse today reveals a number of important truths regarding the peace of Christ:

First of all, we are given a command: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” The implication is that we play a role in whether or not we experience His peace. And anytime we are given a command in Scripture, we can count on God to enable us to obey it.

Second, Christ’s peace is capable of ruling in our heart. The word rule means “to act as arbiter.” An arbiter is a person who has the power or authority to decide a dispute. When doubts or worries arise, Christ’s peace reminds us of God’s truths, which have the power to quiet our heart and renew our trust in Him. This amazing peace also overflows into our relationships in the body of Christ so that we can live in harmony with one another.

Third, gratitude is an important aspect of peace. Thankfulness is the result of remembering all God’s benefits instead of dwelling on the circumstances that tend to rob us of peace. Counting our blessings in this way insures the rule of Christ’s peace in our life.

We don’t have to let our concerns and worries bury us in a sea of unrest. Christ’s peace, which is available no matter what we are facing, can strengthen our confidence and trust in Him.

God’s Plan for Giving

All of God’s commands have good purpose, and that is certainly true when He tells us to give. It is one way He teaches His children to live as Christ did. Jesus was a giver. In addition to generously feeding the multitudes, healing the sick, and offering truth to everyone who would listen, He ultimately gave up His life on the cross to save all who would believe in Him.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul wrote, “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come” (1 Corinthians 16:2). This scripture contains two guidelines that can help us become the generous people God wants us to be.

1. Giving is a component of worship. When we gather together each Sunday, we have the privilege of giving back to the Lord part of what He has provided. In doing so, we are reminded of our dependence upon Him and His faithfulness to us. This practice is a way of recognizing God’s kindness, expressing our gratitude, and showing Him honor.

2. Giving is best done systematically. If we don’t purposefully plan to reserve a portion for the Lord, it will probably be spent on other things. Immediately setting a portion aside is a better way to honor our heavenly Father than waiting and giving Him leftovers.

Considering the greatness of our salvation and the continual blessings God showers on us each day, we should delight in being openhanded givers. Generosity shows we’re following in Christ’s footsteps and demonstrating trust for Him in a very practical way. 

The Privilege of Giving

When the offering plate is passed, do you enthusiastically support God’s work, or are you a reluctant giver? Just as our heavenly Father wants us to be full of faith, wisdom, and love, He also desires that we abound in gracious, cheerful generosity (2 Corinthians 8:7; 2 Corinthians 9:7).

We could all learn from the Macedonian Christians of Paul’s day. Despite their own poverty, these believers begged for the privilege of giving to the needs of the Jerusalem church (2 Corinthians 8:4). They apparently saw the weekly offering the way God does—not as a separate event from the worship service but as an essential part of following Jesus.

For many believers, the tithe has been seen as the standard for giving. This concept originated in the Old Testament when Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils from battle (Gen. 14:18-20). Tithing, which was God’s requirement for the Israelites, was like a national tax. In fact, the nation had three tithes—one for support of the priests and Levites (Num. 18:24), one for the temple and feasts (Deut. 14:22-27), and one given every three years to benefit the poor (Deut. 14:28-29). Today this would be equivalent to our offerings that pay the pastors and staff, provide for the ministry and maintenance of the church, and help those in financial need.

Abounding in generosity looks different for each person. What’s important is that giving is voluntary (2 Corinthians 8:8), modeled after Christ’s example (2 Corinthians 8:9), motivated by a desire to give (2 Corinthians 8:10), and based on what one has (2 Corinthians 8:12). As you give yourself fully to the Lord, generosity will overflow.

God’s Response to Bountiful Giving

Have you ever tried to count your blessings? No matter how long a list you could compile, it would barely scratch the surface. Only the Lord can reveal to us all the ways He has provided, guided, and blessed us. But Scripture helps us recognize amazing blessings that are ours in Christ.

For example, today’s passage teaches that we don’t lose anything by being generous. God calls us to give cheerfully, not grudgingly; bountifully, not sparingly; and voluntarily, not under compulsion. When we do, He responds with abounding grace that overflows in our life (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).

God’s grace …

Flows to us. Our Father promises us sufficiency in everything as He supplies our needs, provides more for us to give, and increases our righteousness. In fact, He says we will be enriched in everything for our generosity (2 Corinthians 9:11).

Reaches out to others. When needs around us are met through our generosity, some people will begin to correlate our giving with obedience to God. As a bond of fellowship is formed, they may respond by praying for us (2 Corinthians 9:13-14).

Brings glory to Him. We are not the heroes in the story; the Lord is. Our obedience and dependence on Him demonstrate that He alone is the one who provides us with the means to give. And those who receive our gift will glorify God, who is the ultimate source of their provision (2 Corinthians 9:13). 

Don’t allow human reasoning or the fear of not having enough prevent you from experiencing God’s abounding grace, which He showers on those who obey Him.

Standing Tall Through Prayer

Nehemiah spent time praying on his knees. When he needed guidance, strength, provision, or protection, he responded with prayer. Because of this attitude of dependence, God was able to use Nehemiah to achieve His divine purposes.

This is also true for believers today. God will use us if we seek Him and make ourselves available. He wants His children to be a part of His work and has a purpose for each of us.

If you want to follow Nehemiah’s example of dependent prayer, first recognize God as the sovereign Ruler of the universe (Neh. 1:5). Although He’s our loving Father and loyal Friend, we must never forget that He is also our high and exalted Creator, whose holiness is beyond our comprehension. We don’t want to casually think of Him as “the man upstairs” or come into His presence in a frivolous manner.

As one who respected God’s holiness, Nehemiah approached Him with confession, admitting not only his own sin, but his father’s and Israel’s as well (Neh. 1:6-7). We cannot hide, deny, or cherish sin and expect the Lord to hear and answer our prayers. Purity of heart and the power of God are linked. We need the Holy Spirit to help us remain sensitive to sin and be willing to deal with it immediately.

The reason Nehemiah stood so tall had nothing to do with his natural abilities; rather, it was because he had developed a relationship of dependency on the Lord through prayer. The same can be true for you. Rely on the Lord, and let Him be your strength.

Dealing With Anger

Christians are called to put aside “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech” (Col. 3:8). The command is clear, but the process of achieving and maintaining this goal may seem confusing and overwhelming.

The first step is to recognize anger in our heart. This may seem unnecessary to those who are naturally expressive, but people who bury their anger deep within will need to spend time with the Lord in reflection and soul-searching. Resentment that’s been growing and infecting the heart can do great damage; the sharp sword of God’s Word is needed to reveal anger that has been simmering under the surface (Heb. 4:12).

The next step is to confess unrighteous anger as sin and then begin to deal with it immediately. Because anger is often a response to hurt, care must be taken not to excuse or defend it in the name of justice. So even when someone has sinned against you, it’s important to realize that holding onto anger in response is also a sin. Scripture tells us to overcome evil with good, not to repay it (Rom. 12:17; Rom. 12:21).

Some people want to hang on to ill feelings, but nursing a resentful attitude isn’t sustainable; anger must be put aside. If we retain our “right” to hold grudges, we can’t expect to live in the new nature Christ has created for us.

The place where we will find strength is in that new Christlike personality. Our responsibility is to put it on. He invites us to cooperate with Him in the process of transformation. With each step of obedience, the peace of Christ will increase and anger will diminish.

Godly Responses to Anger

We live in a fallen world where sin is rampant, injustice is common, and conflicts abound. So there are plentiful opportunities to sin in anger. Although we cannot change many of these situations, altering our responses to them is possible.

Situations like struggling economies and natural disasters cause widespread frustration, but difficulties with people can present challenges on a more personal level. When hurt by someone’s words or actions, we may be tempted to hurl a caustic reply or simmer with resentment. Yet as believers, we’re to follow Jesus’ example: “While being reviled, He did not revile in return ... but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).

Today’s verses from the book of Proverbs emphasize the value of being slow to anger. This is especially important when facing a verbal attack. Quiet listening protects us from speaking rashly and offers the opportunity to ask God for help in responding as Christ would.

A calm, gentle reply can defuse a tense situation, but without taking time to process what was said, few of us will be able to answer wisely. When we are slow to anger, we can gain understanding of the situation and the hidden motives that a hot-tempered person can’t objectively comprehend.

Such a response is unnatural, but that shouldn’t surprise us since the One who modeled it is supernatural. Our priorities need to change if we’re to emulate Jesus. Love and understanding must supersede the need to defend ourselves, and preserving the relationship must replace safeguarding our rights. So be calm in all situations, and let Christ be your defender and protector.

The Greatness of Our Salvation

Salvation is simple enough for a child to understand, but it’s also so profound that we can’t plumb its depths. One thing we can know for certain is that it’s a work of God, whereby He regenerates a spiritually dead sinner into a new creation filled with the life of Christ.

Peter wrote his first letter to believers who needed encouragement because they were suffering persecution for their faith. He assured them, and us, with the following truths:

God has caused us to be born again to a living hope through Christ’s resurrection (1 Peter 1:3). If we set our hope on the things in this life, we will be disappointed because this is a fallen world, which groans with the effects of sin. As believers, however, we have new life and a living hope that transcends this world.

We have an imperishable inheritance reserved in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:4). Worldly investments and retirement plans can be decimated in a moment. But as heirs with Christ, we have a heavenly inheritance that’s being kept safe by God Himself.

We are protected by the power of God through faith for a future salvation (1 Peter 1:5). As God’s own children, we never have to fear the loss of our salvation, because our almighty Father keeps us in Christ. And we also have the guarantee of a future bodily resurrection when Jesus returns.

In trying or painful times, we need a hope that reaches beyond our circumstances—which is exactly what we have in Jesus Christ. From beginning to end, in life and death, we are held safely by God.

The Proof of Our Salvation

Nobody likes adversity. But if you’re a believer, difficulties and suffering are valuable because they can strengthen your faith and prove it is genuine. Unfortunately, many churchgoers today continually wonder whether they ever actually received salvation. Even scriptural assurances of eternal security may bring no comfort to people who aren’t sure they are saved.

Using an illustration of seed sown on different kinds of soil (Matt. 13:18-23), Jesus told a parable about various responses to the gospel. He described one of the soils as rocky, likening it to someone who initially receives the good news with joy. But on encountering trials, the person falls away because superficial trust in Christ often fades when tested by hardship.

In contrast, Peter says that when professing believers are beset by trials yet remain steadfast in the Lord Jesus, their faith is proved genuine. The result is confidence in their salvation, and with each new trial, assurance and trust in Christ grows. Their continued perseverance is the fruit of salvation that demonstrates they are abiding in Him (John 15:5). 

That’s why we can rejoice even in our sufferings—because through them, God is assuring us of our salvation and conforming us to His image. Knowing this should give us hope and encouragement to continue the process of sanctification, because we have confidence that our salvation will be completed with the resurrection of our bodies.

The next time you face trouble, remember God wants you to know that your salvation is genuine. So hold tightly to Christ and keep trusting Him.

Good Decisions

The familiar expression “You reap what you sow” is reinforced throughout Scripture (Job 4:8; Prov. 11:18). In today’s passage, Esau learned this truth the hard way. Famished, he returned from hunting and requested a bowl of the stew his brother was cooking. Jacob seized upon the opportunity and agreed to share the food in exchange for his older twin’s birthright.

In Old Testament times, the firstborn son enjoyed special privileges, which included authority over younger siblings, a double share of the inheritance, and the honored position as spiritual leader over the family. Yet Esau, deciding that food was more of a necessity right then, traded his birthright for dinner. He later grieved when he realized what was lost, but at that point, it was too late. Like Esau, we at times all face critical choices. While God offers forgiveness for wrong decisions, the consequences remain. So we must learn to choose wisely.

We should take to heart two warnings from this story. First, to distinguish our best options, we need to assess whether we are physically, emotionally, and spiritually stable; if not, we should wait. Otherwise, we might end up like Esau, who allowed hunger to cloud his thinking. Second, delaying gratification is usually a safe choice. For example, though a person may be eager to buy a car, it’s wise to shop around for the best deal. Our human desires can feel overwhelming at times, but we should prayerfully wait for God’s timing.

Think about the longings you have, consider the consequences, and take your time. God wants to steer you away from unnecessary trouble.

Godly Decisions

Any ungodly act—whether it involves lying to a friend, manipulating coworkers to get ahead, or stealing from another person—places emphasis on gratification at any cost. The seemingly ordinary choices involved in such an act can affect the rest of our life. To avoid sacrificing something worthwhile for something with no lasting value, we should guard against these attitudes and actions:

Allowing appetites to rule us—Everyone has inborn needs, such as the desire for food and sleep. While these are natural and God-given, they can become the driving force in our life if we aren’t careful. Believers should have the spiritual fruit of self-control, which governs our yearnings (Gal. 5:22-23).

Being blind to what’s truly valuable—God’s priorities are totally different from what the world considers important. Unless we guard our heart (Prov. 4:23), we can easily be distracted by pursuits with no lasting worth.

Failing to consider consequences—Adam and Eve didn’t contemplate what might ultimately happen if they ate the forbidden fruit; they focused solely on the immediate benefit (Gen. 3:1-19). Nor did Samson think about the repercussions of his interactions with Delilah, and he paid dearly (Judg. 16:16-23). How easy it is to make a rash decision because the immediate benefits seem attractive! The Lord wants us to instead pause, pray, and seek His wisdom before we act.

What decisions are you currently facing? Prayerfully consider what is driving you, and before making choices, think about the potential effects of your actions.

Walking by Faith

Christians generally associate faith with their salvation experience, and rightly so. By believing in Christ, we enter into a relationship with Him. But that’s not the end—after that initial decision comes a lifetime of walking with Him.

Since the word walk is used to describe behavior and conduct, we may mistakenly conclude that after salvation, the Christian life is all about performance. But today’s verses clearly state that we walk with Christ in the same way we received Him—by faith. This means we place our trust in Him for every circumstance of life. To help us understand this, Paul uses some phrases in verse 7 that describe how confidence in God grows:

“Having been firmly rooted”—At the moment of salvation, believers are planted in Christ. As we anchor ourselves in the Lord, our roots grow deep, drawing spiritual nourishment from Him.

“Being built up in Him”—Through obedience, the believer’s life is built on the foundation of the Savior. God wants us to choose precious and valuable building materials that will last into eternity (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

“Established in your faith”—As we begin to understand more about the Lord and how He operates, our trust in Him increases. Then we experience stability, even in the winds of adversity.

In our goal-oriented society, it’s easy to forget that walking in Christ is a process. While on earth, we never “arrive” but are slowly transformed along the way. As we trust the Lord, our hearts will overflow with gratitude for all His blessings and the stability He offers in every circumstance.

Dealing Wisely With Temptation

Temptation will be with us as long as we live. Although the areas of enticement and their power over us will change with time, we will never be so mature or spiritually minded that we can totally relax our vigilance against them. Satan is always ready to capitalize on our weaknesses and selfish desires to draw us away from the heavenly Father. 

James says we are tempted when we are carried away by our own lusts. Therefore, the problem begins within us when we feel the pull of our flesh to think, speak, or do what is contrary to God’s standard of holiness. Although being tempted is not a sin in itself, yielding to it is. When we dwell on a tempting thought, the idea gains a foothold in our mind and desires. With more attention, the desire will grow until a choice must be made about whether or not to act.

At the same time, we shouldn’t think that holding onto sinful desires is fine as long as we don’t actually do anything. Jesus debunked this idea in the Sermon on the Mount when He enlarged the Law’s commandments to include not just actions but also attitudes of the heart (Matt. 5:21-48). Anything less than God’s standard of holiness is not His will for us (Matt. 5:48).

Temptations start small. Yielding to them may seem inconsequential, but once we give in, that sin gains strength in our life and our ability to resist grows weaker. It may seem as if there’s no way out of this downward spiral, but God has given us a way of escape if we choose to seek out His help (1 Corinthians 10:13).

The Courage to Obey

Daniel is a great example of living with scriptural convictions even when doing so could put one’s life at risk. His experience in the lions’ den took place when he was old, but it wasn’t the first time he’d chosen to obey God rather than man. In fact, standing for his convictions had become the pattern rather than the exception of his life.

A look at Daniel’s life reveals the fruit of living in faithful obedience to God.

He had wisdom beyond his years. After Daniel stood up for his convictions regarding food, the Lord gave him greater knowledge, wisdom, and understanding than all the king’s other advisors (Dan. 1:17-21).

God granted him favor with the kings. Instead of persecuting him for speaking truth, kings promoted Daniel to the highest place of authority, even though he was a Jewish foreigner (Dan. 2:46-48).

His obedience presented opportunities to speak about God. If Daniel had chosen to blend into the culture, the Babylonian and Persian kings probably wouldn’t have noticed him. But since he didn’t back down from his convictions, the phrase “the God of Daniel” echoed in the chambers of those kingdoms, and God was glorified (Dan. 6:26).  

God used him to write Scripture. Daniel was a trustworthy and obedient servant in the midst of a pagan culture, and God revealed amazing future prophesies in the book he penned. (See chapters 7-12.)

Although we may not stand before kings in palaces or lions in a den, we too can be used by God when we practice uncompromising obedience to Him.

Spiritually Shortsighted

An old gospel song says, “This world is not my home / I’m just a-passing through. / My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” It’s a good reminder for all of us that this life is not the end goal. As Christians, we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom and are not to love this world or what it offers (1 John 2:15). In fact, to do so makes us enemies of God (James 4:4).

In today’s passage Jesus tells a story about a rich man who lived for himself and ignored the Lord. He was a success by earthly standards but discovered too late that his riches and comfort were only temporary. After death, he experienced the consequences of his choices—eternal separation from the Lord.

It’s important to realize that this man wasn’t judged harshly by God because of his wealth. The rich man’s mistake was that he prepared everything for the body but nothing for the soul. Our culture practices a similar style of living. Acquiring material riches and satisfying oneself is the primary pursuit of many in our world. In fact, fulfilling personal desires seems to be the goal whether one’s bank account is overflowing or nearly empty. 

Despite what our culture thinks, this life is not about us. It’s about being reconciled to God. Whoever repents of sin and turns to Christ for salvation will live eternally with Him in heaven. But those who reject or simply ignore the Lord will suffer eternally. Death comes to all of us, and we never know when. Therefore, if you haven’t trusted Christ as Savior, do so today. Your eternal destiny is at stake. 

The Heart of Spiritual Maturity

People will ask, “What can I do to really grow as a Christian?” Often they are looking for a secret path to maturity—some action they can perform. But the true key to growing in your relationship with Christ isn’t based on service or knowledge or any other outward accomplishment the world tends to admire.

Genuine maturity and effectiveness hinge upon your heart relationship with the Lord, rather than something you can do for Him. When you understand this truth, your whole paradigm shifts. It puts all Christians on the same level, from the high-profile preacher to the quietest member of the church. The believer’s talents, accomplishments, and personality are far less important than the commitment to simply know God.

The Lord called David “a man after My own heart” (Acts 13:22 NIV). What was it about him that God valued so highly? He certainly had his share of mistakes, sins, and character flaws. Yet more than anything else, what characterized his life was that he sought to know the Lord. Whether he was a shepherd, fugitive, warrior, or powerful king, the time he spent with his heavenly Father was his lifeline. In psalm after psalm, David laid everything before the Lord—and wholeheartedly longed to do His will. This was his greatest strength.

Do you want to grow spiritually and be transformed in your everyday faith walk? Take a step beyond asking, “What can I do for God so that I can be a better Christian?” Instead, come before the Lord and say, “Here I am. You have full access to my heart.”

The Believer’s Struggle

Sometimes people think that life will be smooth sailing after salvation, only to discover they have even more struggles than before. However, this is normal for a Christian. Before meeting the Savior, we were drifting aimlessly with the culture, and there was no inner conflict between God’s desires and ours. But after salvation, we began an upstream journey called sanctification.

Some people thought they were signing up for a Savior who’d give them what they want, but since it’s tough to be in perpetual conflict, they quickly give up and drift back to the world. Those who’ve counted the cost and surrendered to Christ as Lord, however, aren’t left on their own to do the best they can—that would never work, because human efforts cannot overcome sin. What’s needed is divine empowerment, which is exactly what we have in the person of the Holy Spirit, who came to live within us at the moment of salvation.

In the epistle to the Galatians, Paul warns us not to use our freedom in Christ as an excuse to drift back into sin and worldliness. Instead, we are to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16). Though we’ll struggle, believers should seek to move toward holiness and Christlikeness through the power of the Holy Spirit. This means we are continually living in conflict with the tendencies of our flesh.

Every day we grapple with sins like jealousy, strife, lust, selfishness, and pride. Yet at the same time, we can learn to walk by the Spirit, who empowers us to set aside these fleshly desires. By fully submitting to Him, we can walk in victory over sin and self.

Contending With the Flesh

As you read today’s passage, did you see the conflict presented in it? The apostle Paul is explaining that even though believers struggle with sin, we are no longer “in the flesh,” because God’s Spirit dwells in us (Rom. 8:9). The word flesh signifies the natural part of each person that desires to operate in opposition to God. That’s why Paul says, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8).

Even though Christians have been freed from the domination of the flesh and now have the Holy Spirit, the conflict is not over—that’s because our old fleshly patterns have not been eradicated. However, we don’t have to succumb to living by them. In fact, we are “under obligation” to put the deeds of the flesh to death by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:12-13).

To fight this battle, we need powerful spiritual weapons, and that’s exactly what the Lord has given us. In Ephesians 6:10-17, we find the full armor of God, which helps us stand firm and guards our mind and heart with truth. We have the shield of faith to extinguish Satan’s lies and the Word of God as our weapon against temptation.

Romans 13:14 tells us, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lust.” Are you using the resources that the Lord has provided to help you put to death those sinful desires and deeds of the flesh? Since the battle begins in the mind, that’s the place to start. As you reprogram your thoughts with God’s Word, your desires and deeds will follow suit.

New Creatures in Christ

At the moment of salvation, a person becomes a new creature in Christ. Some of us may have felt the change as the burden of sin was lifted and replaced with forgiveness and hope. But what if we didn’t feel anything? Are we still saved?

Salvation is a result of hearing the gospel and responding in repentance and faith. Emotion may accompany the transformation but doesn’t determine its validity. Becoming a new creation involves much more than our emotions:

A New Position. Before salvation, we were enemies of God, but through Christ’s death on our behalf, we have been reconciled to Him and have become His beloved children. With His death on the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for all our sins. And what’s more, His righteousness was then credited to us in a legal transaction the Bible calls justification.

A New Presence. At the moment of salvation, the Holy Spirit took up residence within us. He works to transform us in a process called sanctification, whereby we become increasingly righteous in practice.

A New Power. Because we still struggle with sin and selfishness, living up to God’s standard is beyond our own abilities. But when the Holy Spirit came into our life, He brought with Him the power of almighty God, which enables us to become and do whatever He desires.

What we have now is the seed of what we will eventually become. Although at present it’s difficult to discern the changed life of a Christian, it will be evident when Jesus returns and brings our bodies into conformity with His glorious body (Phil. 3:21).

True Worship

Most of us go to church on Sundays to worship God, but is worship truly what we are doing? Often we associate the word with music in a service, but its meaning involves much more than that. An adequate definition may be difficult to express concisely, but think of worship this way: When one’s mind is occupied with thoughts of God, the heart overflows in an outpouring of awe, adoration, and praise to Him.

It’s helpful to notice the order so that our expressions of worship may be most pleasing to God—starting in the mind, moving to the heart, and working itself out in words and action. Therefore, the accuracy of our perception of God determines the validity of our response.

In other words, it’s essential to pay attention to what God has revealed about Himself. And that’s why the Lord spoke to the Israelites shortly after delivering them from Egyptian bondage—they needed to understand who He was so they could worship Him appropriately.

Today we have more revelation about God than they did, because He’s given us His inspired Word and His Son Jesus. Yet even an entire lifetime spent studying the Scriptures would give us only a glimpse of our infinite, transcendent, eternal, all-powerful Father. However, the more we seek to understand and know Him, the deeper and more meaningful our worship will be.

We all need to grow in this area, and the best way to begin is in our private time with the Lord. Each time you read a Bible passage about Him, let it take root in your mind, overflow to your heart, and pour out in worship.

Guided by Conscience

Human beings are born with a marvelous gift from God—a conscience. Since its warnings can cause discomfort, you perhaps have never thought of it as a blessing. But the Lord had our benefit and protection in mind when He created this internal witness to our moral conduct. By listening to its promptings, we are guarded from making choices that could hurt us or others.

But can you rely on your conscience to offer guidance about all decisions?  God made the conscience to act as an alarm system to warn and protect us from sin. However, many of our choices are not moral issues, so we need an even more reliable source for direction.

That’s why the Lord has provided believers with the Holy Spirit, who accurately leads us in any kind of decision we must make. He not only works through the conscience to make us aware of sin, but He also helps us choose between good and best. As we listen to His voice and heed His warnings, He purifies and sharpens our conscience so that it aligns more precisely with the Word and will of God.

One problem is that the conscience has the capacity to be shaped by our responses. When we repeatedly reject or ignore its promptings, we can damage its dependability, and then sins that should bother us might not even register. But heeding its warnings make it sharper and more sensitive, protecting us even more effectively. Knowing this, let’s ask for the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom and discernment so we will heed the promptings of our conscience.

Differing Convictions

Although eating meat offered to idols is not a controversial subject today, 1 Corinthians 8 could cause us to wonder if God has double standards for Christian behavior. How can we reconcile differing convictions among believers?

First, we must acknowledge that some moral truths are evident to everyone. These are fixed and will not change, regardless of the situation. But other convictions are based on knowledge or beliefs. These will vary from person to person.

The conscience isn’t static. Rather, it grows according to the truth one hears and receives. When you first became a Christian, you probably had no hesitation about activities, thoughts, or attitudes that you now consider unacceptable. As your knowledge of God and His Word has grown, so has your conscience. Since we all mature at different rates, each person’s conscience is based upon his or her own understanding and personal weaknesses. In these variable areas, what is wrong for one believer may be acceptable for another.

So how are we to live with those whose convictions may not match ours? We must first realize that it is not our job to convict or judge them. The Holy Spirit guides each believer in the way he or she should go.

What a marvelous display of God’s love for us. He designs a path for each life and gives a conscience with sensitivity based upon His intimate knowledge of that individual. Our job is to grow in truth, listen for His personalized direction, and support fellow believers in their walk.

Failing to Listen to God

Today’s passage offers a picture of what can happen when believers don’t listen to God. Eve knew the Lord’s instructions so well that she repeated them almost verbatim to the serpent. However, pride and desire got the better of her, and she was deceived. Eve stopped listening to God and opened her ears to the wrong voice.

Think about how many voices we hear in a given day. Articles, podcasts, and even friends and family bombard our minds with ideas and philosophies. We hear superficial messages wrapped up in pretty language. It’s easy to fall prey to deception unless we renew our mind with God’s Word.

Eve got into trouble simply by pausing long enough to take in the serpent’s words. Satan twisted God’s meaning sufficiently to tempt her away from truth and into error. He assured Eve that instead of falling over dead, she would become like God: Her eyes would open, and she would know truth!

In one way, Satan’s words were accurate, but they weren’t true. Eve’s eyes were opened; however, the knowledge wasn’t as wonderful as the serpent implied. She was awakened to her own sinful nature and the chasm that had developed between her and God. Moreover, Eve’s physical body would undergo death as a result of her sin.

Exercise caution when messages vie for your attention. Satan, who is as crafty today as he was in Eden, dresses up deception so that it sounds like truth. But the Evil One lies when he speaks (John 8:44). Tune into God and the principles of His Word instead. He speaks only what is right.

A Glimpse of Heavenly Praise

When you sing praises to God, do you consider what you are saying? So often words like majestic, holy, glorious, and righteous roll off the tongue with barely a thought, yet these are terms that describe the very God we worship.

That’s why it is helpful for us to enter with the apostle John into the heavenly throne room to see the majesty of the Lord whom we are exalting—the God worthy to receive all praise, glory, and honor. Within the limits of finite human language and understanding, John did his best to describe what he saw: a throne and the stunning radiance of the One sitting upon it.

Other participants in this scene are 24 elders representing redeemed humanity, and four living creatures who continually give glory, honor, and thanks to God, saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty” (Rev. 4:8). In response, the elders fall down and worship, casting their crowns before God’s throne. The entire realm of heaven is enthralled with this One who is worthy of all worship.

Although we cannot actually see this scene like John, our worship should share its sentiment. This means our praise must be focused on the heavenly Father, who is infinitely greater than all His creatures and transcendent over time and creation. We can draw close to such magnificent worship when, after spending time studying and meditating on the Scriptures, our perceptions of the Lord are accurate. Sound theology results in worship that exalts and honors God for who He truly is.

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