Don’t be a Stumbling Block

Yesterday we saw that God desires our love for Him and for others above knowledge.  Today we will look deeper into what Paul was teaching.  It is true that God desires for us to love Him and to love others, but that does not mean that He doesn’t desire for us to gain knowledge and understanding.  He absolutely desires for us to know all there is about Him and His decrees, but above that He desires for us to not become a stumbling block for others because of our “superior knowledge” (1 Cor. 8:10).  Paul said,

1 Corinthians 9:19-27

Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ.  When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ.  When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law.  Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law.  When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from the law so I can bring them to Christ.  But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ.

When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ.  Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.  I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training.  They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.  So I run with purpose in every step.  I am not just shadowboxing.  I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should.  Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.

Paul, who had experienced Jesus like no other had and who had great training in the Word submitted himself to others in love so that he could lead them to the truth that can only be found in Christ.  He put himself in the shoes of others so that he could speak to them and interact with them in ways that they would understand.  He did not let his knowledge get in the way of others knowing who Christ was, instead he humbled himself and spoke in love and humility.

Often times we think that we can win others to Christ by knowing enough about the Bible or about God, but that is rarely the case.  Paul could have argued anyone to Christ through his knowledge if anyone could have, yet he chose to love them and to speak to them in ways that would speak to them the best.  We have the opportunity to do the same when we are talking with others.  We can have all the knowledge there is in the world, but if we do not love others our message will fall on deaf ears.

So seek to learn all that you can about God, but do not let your knowledge overshadow the love that you have for others.  We have each been given a unique set of stories through which we can share the love of Christ with others.  We have been given living proof that God loves us and that He changes lives.  Share your story, love others, but above all love the Lord your God who loved you while you were still a sinner by sending Christ to die for you (Romans 5:8)

May you be filled with overflowing joy as you encounter the Lord today and share life with others around you.

Numbers 6:24-26
24 ‘May the Lord bless you
and protect you.
25 May the Lord smile on you
and be gracious to you.
26 May the Lord show you his favor
and give you his peace.’

Knowing God through the Word

Is it possible to truly know God? Can we see Him in nature? Can we see Him working in our lives in good times and in times of trouble? When we look back upon our lives do we see how God has orchestrated events in our lives that have led up to the point in which we find ourselves now? There are so many questions about knowing God and whether someone can truly know who God is, but are there real answers as to who He really is? Over the last couple of weeks we have been exploring what it looks like to draw closer to God and to know Him. Last week we specifically talked about knowing God through prayer and discussed how prayer is a conversation with God, not just a one way conversation in which we ask for what we want.

In John 5:19 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” Jesus had the kind of intimate relationship with God that He saw what the Father was doing and joined in with what He was doing. He knew because He spent time in conversation with the Father and was able to listen to what the Father was telling Him and was able to see the Father working before Him.

Jesus in His prayer to the Father immediately before being betrayed by Judas said, “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one-as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me” (John 17:20-21). Jesus’ prayer for us was that we would be so perfectly united with one another in Him that the world would believe that He was sent from the Father. Jesus was familiar with all that the Father was doing because He was with Him from the very beginning.

John 1:1-18
1 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He existed in the beginning with God. 3 God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. 4 The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

6 God sent a man, John the Baptist, 7 to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony. 8 John himself was not the light; he was simply a witness to tell about the light. 9 The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

14 So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.

15 John testified about him when he shouted to the crowds, “This is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘Someone is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’”

16 From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.

Jesus Christ is the Word that was with God and the Word was God. Jesus Christ is our physical representation of God and His character. We can know who God is by studying what Jesus did. We can know who God is by studying His mighty works and acts of grace and redemption that He bestowed upon the Israelites over and over again in the Old Testament. We can know God by accepting Jesus Christ who is the true light (v.7, 9) who John the Baptist testified about. And just as John the Baptist testified about Christ we too can testify about what Christ has done within us if we have accepted Him as our Lord and Savior. And if we have accepted Him as our Lord and Savior then His Word says that we have been given “the right to become children of God. They are reborn-not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God” (v. 12-13).

Since we know Jesus we know God also because He is one with the Father and if we accept Jesus we can be one with Him and know God because Jesus who is God “has revealed God to us” (v. 18). But not all who saw believed and not all who heard the message of God believed. They could not conceive that the Promised One would come in the likes of a man like Jesus, but it was through Jesus that all of God’s promises have been fulfilled.

2 Corinthians 1:20-22
20 For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory. 21 It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, 22 and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us.

Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promises and prophecies and through Him we are able to see who God is and what He desires for us. The interesting part is that according to Hebrews 4:12-13, “The Word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable.”

God knows what we are going through and is able to teach us and guide us through reading His Word. The Word will penetrate our hearts and reveal our sins to us so that we may be convicted of them, turn from them, and be forgiven in Christ. There is nothing that we can hide from God, just as Adam and Eve were unable to hide from God when they sinned, realized that they were naked and covered themselves to cover up their shamefulness, neither can we escape the power of His Word.

How many times have you read the Bible and seen something that you never realized was there, or maybe you have read a familiar passage that all of a sudden has a deeper meaning in your heart? God’s Word is alive and the Holy Spirit living within us is drawing us closer to Him through His Word if we place ourselves in a place where we are receptive to hearing His Word and even when we’re not. Just because we fail to act on what we hear or what is revealed to us does not mean that the Holy Spirit is not trying to act within us. We have been given free will and can disobey God’s Word, just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden and we can try to hide from God, we can try to cover up our sin from God, but ultimately we will answer to God for our sins and our disobedience.

Our only hope lies within the Word of God through which He has revealed himself to us and through which all who will call upon will be saved for Jesus Christ is the Word. We have the opportunity to know God through Jesus Christ who is the Word as well as through the written Word and the Holy Spirit living within us will show us the truth of who God is and what He desires from us. All who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior have eternal life, but they also have the opportunity to follow Jesus as He guides all who are willing to become holy, just as the Father is Holy.

Through the Word we are able to see that there is a plan for our lives. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope’” (Jeremiah 29:11). God’s plans for us are good, but they require us to follow Him. They require us to submit to His will for our lives and not to follow the ways of the world because His will is good and pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:2).

God is revealing Himself to us all around us, we just need to open our eyes and look. He reveals Himself to us in prayer if we will only stop to listen, He reveals Himself to us through the marvels of nature, He reveals Himself through Jesus, and He reveals Himself to us through His written Word. We have the Holy Spirit living within us if we have accepted Jesus Christ and are following Him. With all the ways that God is revealing Himself to us we can truly know who God is and we can truly know what He desires from us and for us. The question is, will we listen, will we seek Him out, and will we trust Him?

If the answer is yes then we have a responsibility to put off the ways of the World and to follow Him. We have a responsibility to share our story with others around us, to believers and unbelievers alike. We have been given life and we can share that life with others so that they too can have eternal life, but it takes action on the part of each and every single one of us. It is not only up to certain people to share God’s truth, it is all of ours. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).

If you have not yet received Jesus Christ into your heart you have the opportunity to do that right now. You have the opportunity to listen to the Holy Spirit who is testifying to you right now about the truth of who Jesus Christ is. You have the opportunity to say yes to the Author of Life and to turn away from the ways of the world. If you are ready to do that then you can do it by simply praying to Jesus right now. It can be as easy as saying,

Father forgive me, for I am a sinner. I know that you are who you say you are and I am ready to follow you. I do not know exactly what that is going to look like, but I trust that you will show me. Please come into my heart and fill me with your Holy Spirit, In Jesus’ name. Amen.

If you just prayed that simple prayer you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and you will be saved. The Word of God says that “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved” (Romans 10:9-10). Your next step is to find a Bible believing and following church if you are not already a part of one and get baptized.

Romans 6:1-11
6 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? 2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? 3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death?4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

5 Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. 6 We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. 7 For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. 8 And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. 9 We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him.10 When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. 11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.

Numbers 6:24-26
24 ‘May the Lord bless you
and protect you.
25 May the Lord smile on you
and be gracious to you.
26 May the Lord show you his favor
and give you his peace.’

Drawing Nearer to God

I remember growing up in church and even enjoying church. I got to be with friends, and as I got older I got involved in the choir and bell choir. Church was a part of my life, but in all of my looking back I do not ever recall understanding that Jesus was a part of my life. Sermons were stories that certainly had moral content, but I do not recall much about the truth of the Word. The need for Jesus was not necessarily something I felt I needed. I had learned about God throughout Sunday school classes, but I do not recall ever being pressed on my beliefs and my faith and I went through confirmation classes. The focus was on the process and not on the person. Today this experience in church is something that guides my thinking when it comes to church and expectations of church.

Like it or not we all come to church and to the foot of the cross with biases and expectations based upon what we were told and how we were raised. Unfortunately often times those biases cause us to put up walls around ourselves that keep ourselves in the realm of being saved while excluding many others, but this is not what God intended for us or for those around us. Try to think back, if you can, to when you first decided to try out church. Why did you go? Were you looking for something?

The reality is that when people make an active decision, in other words when their parents do not make them go to church, they are often times looking for something. They are likely looking for hope, guidance, encouragement, maybe they are just looking for something real that is greater than themselves, but they are looking for something none-the-less and God is working through their searching to draw them in to Him. But, if we are not careful, those who are already within the church can sometimes create barriers to people meeting with God by placing restrictions or rules in the way. This those is contrary to what we, the church, are supposed to do and it is exactly what the Jewish leaders did back in Jesus’ day.

Romans 10:1-4

Dear brothers and sisters, the longing of my heart and my prayer to God is for the people of Israel to be saved. I know what enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal. For they don’t understand God’s way of making people right with himself. Refusing to accept God’s way, they cling to their own way of getting right with God by trying to keep the law. For Christ has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in him are made right with God.

Paul said that Christ already accomplished the purpose of the law and that all who believe in Jesus are made right with God. So what people need to know is what Jesus did for them and why they need to accept Him as their Lord and Savior, they do not need to be restricted by rules and laws that keep them from knowing God. Now of course that does not mean that once saved they can keep on doing whatever it is that they please, but the Holy Spirit living within them will begin to guide them toward holiness, just as He is doing with you. The process of change is not immediate nor is it ever ending while we are here on earth. We each carry so much unholiness within us that we will never reach the level of holiness that we need in order to make it to heaven which is why we need Jesus. His blood has covered our sins and when we chose to follow He we are guaranteed a place in heaven.

The Israelites knew all about God and about following His commands but they failed to understand who God really was and what He desired of them. His primary desire was for a relationship with them. He desired their faith in Him and their love for Him. All other things were to flow from this place of understanding God and His desires.

Romans 1:16-17

16 For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. 17 This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.”

Without faith there is no hope and there is no purpose. When we truly understand what it is that we believe we realize that our actions do have meaning. Without Christ what hope of a future do we have? If there is not both heaven and hell than no one is responsible for their actions because their actions mean nothing. And without Christ a person can do whatever they please, but try as they might they will never find true happiness.

2 Corinthians 5:19-20

16 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! 17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”

People come to church to find out about God and how to get to heaven, but what if these people discovered that God wants to fulfill them while on earth as well, not just save them for heaven? Coming to church and to Christ under the sole premise of being saved from impending death and judgement falls short of God’s desire for us.

Romans 10:5-13

5 For Moses writes that the law’s way of making a person right with God requires obedience to all of its commands. 6 But faith’s way of getting right with God says, “Don’t say in your heart, ‘Who will go up to heaven?’ (to bring Christ down to earth). 7 And don’t say, ‘Who will go down to the place of the dead?’ (to bring Christ back to life again).” 8 In fact, it says,

“The message is very close at hand;
it is on your lips and in your heart.”

And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: 9 If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” 12 Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ is a gift given by the grace of God. Not all who hear the call respond, not all who hear the message will understand, but by God’s grace His love enters into our hearts and our minds, not by our own power, but by His tenderness. It is because of this tender grace that we MUST learn to know Him more. Think back if you will to the time when you met the love of your life, assuming that you have, or look back to when your child was born. During these moments our love is so great and our actions reflect that love, but when we start to take that relationship for granted we start to put less effort into the relationship. We even start to talk less about the relationship. Eventually if we let this go far enough our relationship will begin to suffer and maybe even break. Does this mean that the relationship was not real? NO! But relationships take constant nurturing and effort. Love is not a feeling, but a choice. When we choose to love God we do so even if we do not feel the love like we used to. We must continue to show our love by our actions and by the way we treat Him.

How have you been treating your relationship with God? Do you meet with Him regularly in prayer and in His Word? Do you sing out to Him from the depths of your being or do you simply recite the words of the songs without any intention? Do you talk about God in public? One of the greatest indicators of our love for something or someone is if we talk about them. When we are no longer talking about God then something has gone awry in our relationship and we MUST fix it or we will never be effective in sharing the Gospel and people will miss out on the opportunity to know God and to have life.

The Christian life is not about going to church or acting in a certain way, it is about following Christ out of love. When we come to the point where we are able to do these things we become who God intended for us to be and we become a light to the dark world around us. We need Christ to shine in us and through us so that not only can we be saved, but we can help bring others to Christ as well.
My prayer is that you will reflect upon who God has created you to be and to seek Him out in prayer and if necessary in fasting. God has a plan and a purpose for your life and He desires your love and your praise. When we begin to understand how much God loves and cares for us we begin to take on His heart and to see others in the same way.

“May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

Matthew 1:18-25

Relationships have changed so much over time that today we have such things as “trial marriages” in which people will move in with one another prior to marriage or even talk of marriage. According to an article written in 2012 in Berkeley Science Review almost half of all marriages end in divorce. It goes on to say that roughly two thirds of Americans will cohabitate before marriage and that roughly half of those “trial marriages” result in actual marriages and of those who got married there was a greater percentage of marriages that ended in divorce than that of a more tradition view of marriage.

Things used to be different though. During the time that Mary became pregnant she was betrothed to Joseph, which in the most basic of terms meant that they were married. There would have been a form of contractual agreement between Joseph and Mary’s family in which an agreed upon “bride-price” was set and Joseph would have had to pay that to Mary’s family. During this time of betrothal they would have been considered bound together, much as a married couple would have been, but they did not live with one another, nor would they have been allowed to have sexual relations with one another. Any infidelity would have been treated as adultery as is seen in Deuteronomy 22:23-24, “If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death.”

The consequences for premarital relations was death, so when read in Matthew that Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph but was now pregnant through the Holy Spirit this would have been a big deal. How could she deny that she had not been with a man if she was carrying a child? The marriage would have been over. Her family would have been humiliated and she would have likely been stoned to death. Certainly God would not allow this to happen. Let’s read about how God orchestrated the whole thing and see what happens.

Matthew 1:18-25, ESV

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Joseph had every right to publicly shame her, but he had mercy on her. He could have taken her before the magistrate and had her stoned to death, but instead he had planned to call off the union, as was his right, but he planned to do so quietly or in other words without stating an offense or reason. His love for her was so great that not only did he not want to see he stoned, but he also did not want to see her harmed in any fashion. As he was contemplating these things though an angel of the Lord came upon him and explained to him what had occurred.

Consider for a moment the enormity of the situation that Mary and Joseph had found themselves in. First Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel who tells her that she will become pregnant even though she had never been with a man. Then Joseph finds out and as he’s contemplating what to do he too is visited by the angel of the Lord who told Him what was to happen and that Joseph was to take Mary as his wife. Imagine trying to explain this to the family. The contract would have been broken and the couple would have been shamed. But we don’t ever read about that happening.

In the world we live in today of premarital everything and baby daddies hardly and eye would have been blinked at this situation. We have become numb to this and it has become acceptable by so much of the world today. This was not the case for Mary and Joseph though and yet they followed the Lord’s instructions and would eventually conceive Jesus while Mary was still a virgin which fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

Matthew 1:24 says that as soon as Joseph woke up he took Mary as his wife, probably immediately. In other words he completely believed the angel that had appeared to him and took it to be a word from God and he did exactly as the angel had told him and he took Mary as his wife, but had no relations with her until after she gave birth to Jesus.

The first chapter of Matthew started with tracing the genealogy back to Abraham showing that Jesus was a descendant of Abraham and thus fulfilling the Abrahamic covenant which stated, “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (Gen. 22:17-18). Jesus being the fulfillment of this prophecy and covenant shows that Jesus possesses the gate of his enemies and all of the nations of the earth will be blessed by Him.

Likewise, we see Jesus’ genealogy traced back to David in order to show the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant which stated, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16). Jesus is the rightful heir to the throne of God. It is through Him that we receive life everlasting.

Finally we see the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 when Jesus is conceived by a virgin. All three of these are extremely important because they show that Jesus is the Messiah and that prophecy has been fulfilled through Him. This is the very fulfillment of prophecy that so many have rejected and the reason for the separation of the Jewish people and Christians. The Jewish people do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah and are still awaiting His arrival while Christians know that Jesus is the Messiah and as we continue to venture through the book of Matthew we will see even more prophecies fulfilled through Jesus who is Christ.

It is so extremely important for us to understand how much Jesus did and fulfilled when He came to earth. It is important for us to be able to know that the evidence of His authority as God was foretold thousands of years before He was born of the virgin and that through Him we can have the confidence that He is the Savior of the world and not just a prophet. It is through Him that we receive life and that we have been given the Holy Spirit it guide us in our daily walk and to lead to a right relationship with God if we will only follow His leading.

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). Because of this we need to be confident in who Jesus is and why He came to do what He did. It is because of this that we must seek Him daily and know in our hearts that Jesus is who He said He is and that He saves. It is because of this that we must boldly stand on the Word of God and share it with our friends, family, and our neighbors. “The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Mt. 7:14). When we believe in the Word and follow we are given life through Jesus and a heart that longs to see people brought to the path that leads to life rather than seeing them face death.

Following Jesus needs to bring about change in our lives, otherwise we need to seriously question whether or not we are saved because the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life. Jesus himself told us that those who find the gate are few. Are you one of the few? Will you help others to find the way or do you hate your neighbors so bad that you would rather see them die? This is the reality of what happens to those who do not have someone who is willing to show grace and love and mercy to them, just as Jesus has done for us. This is what happens when we let fear conquer us and we are more concerned about self-preservation than saving other people. We have the power to save through Jesus Christ. I’m not pointing fingers in saying this because I struggle with this too, but we have a responsibility to let our light shine in the dark world around us and when more of us begin to do that the world will become a brighter place and it can start with your neighborhood or your family or your place of work.

Joseph and Mary boldly accepted the word that they were given from God and though they faced trials of many kinds they remained faithful. They lovingly obeyed God and they were blessed because of it. They were blessed even in the midst of facing the humility of becoming pregnant before being married. They were blessed even though they had to travel a great distance be counted in the census where they would come to give birth to Jesus in some sort of barn, likely in a cave. Joseph and Mary were blessed, but they faced their fair share of struggles, yet they remained faithful. Jesus said that “in the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). Following Jesus is messy, but our days on earth are limited and few and our life in heaven is eternal when we trust and obey.

To be Saved or NOT to be Saved

What does it take to be a “good Christian”? Romans 3:10-12 says “none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” So if no one is righteous, no one understands, no one seeks God, and if all have become worthless then what does it take to become a “good Christian”?

The word “good” here really has no bearing since being a Christian is really what it is about, because in order to be a Christian one must follow Jesus, after all that is what a Christian is, a follower of Christ. So the real question then becomes what does it take to be a Christian? The answer is simple and complex at the same time because becoming a Christian is somewhat simple while being challenging as well. To become a Christian you must “declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead” and then you will be saved “for it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” (Romans 10:9,10). Likewise, Matthew 10:32 states that “whoever acknowledges me [Jesus] before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father [God] in heaven.”

Becoming a Christian is a relatively simple process on the outside but complex on the inside because Satan wants us for himself and will do anything within his power to keep us from accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior. He comes only to “steal and kill and destroy,” but Jesus has come to give us life in the fullest (John 10:10). There is a spiritual battle that is taking place when someone comes to a place of decision or is being led to a place of decision of whether or not to accept Jesus. This is a battle that can often times be seen, but is more often likely to be felt by the pre-Christian. It is a battle of the heart of whether to acknowledge sin and confess it before the Lord and to hand over one’s life to Him or to continue living for self by following the ways of Satan.

Romans 3:23 states the “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” There is no exception here. We are all sinners and do not have the ability to be righteous in the eyes of God on our own accord. “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23) and “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). So how does one become born again? “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Which brings us back to confessing with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in our heart that God has raised Him from the dead that allows us to be saved (Romans 10:9-11).

Becoming a Christian is a battle, but outside of the battle it is a relatively easy process; we must accept that Jesus is Lord and profess it. Once we become a Christian though the battle continues. Just because a person is a Christian does not mean that Satan has given up on us. For me this is a sign that once saved always saved may not apply. I do not know if once saved always saved is true or not. I would rather be certain that I am saved and thus I will do what I can to live a life that glorifies God, though I will fail, I will continue to try.

Jesus came to give us life, but we still have to accept it and to live that life and this is where it becomes tricky because to whom much has been given much will be expected (Luke 12:48). The greatest thing that we can be given is life through Jesus Christ. In Him we are promised a place in His Father’s house; we are promised life eternal. So if we have been given the greatest thing of all then how much more is expected of us than the person who has not been given life?

This is where things become really tricky, because the world has been conditioned to believe that there is no absolute truth or that God would not send people to hell when the reality is that we live in a world of absolute truths, which is why we have laws. I do not believe there is a single person who does not know that it is wrong to kill someone, this does not stop people from doing so, but it is an absolute truth. We know that it is wrong to take something from someone else that does not belong to us, this is an absolute truth. We live in a world of laws created on what people believe to be absolute truths so to say that there cannot be only one way, one truth, or one way to receive life eternal does not hold water. Absolute truth is all around us and is evident in life and for those of us who have truly given our lives to Jesus we know that this is true regardless of what the world may think.

Being a Christian requires that we live life differently. Having the Holy Spirit living within us leads us to live a life that is different from that in which we used to live, but it is just a leading, we still have a choice to make which is where we so often go wrong. I cannot tell you how many times I have ignored the guiding of the Holy Spirit, the voice inside of me showing me truth, and done my own thing only to have it blow up in my face. And let me tell you that these things may not always blow up in our faces right away; we may go a long time before we see the results of our turning from God, but our choices always come with consequences. Refusing to follow God comes with consequences such as financial difficulties, struggles in marriage, struggles in parenting, addictions, instability in life, and death. But following God begets life and it fills our life with the Fruit of the Spirit, “Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control” (Galatians 5:22).

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19). Belief in God is not enough. Our belief, our faith, our acceptance of Jesus as our Lord and Savior needs to be expressed. When we accept Jesus as our Lord we receive the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and leads us in truth.

John 14:15-21

“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Since I live, you also will live. When I am raised to life again, you will know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them.”

Being a Christian is about obedience, but it is about love first. Notice that Jesus did not say obey my commandments and then you will love me. Jesus said, “if you love me, obey my commandments.” The only way to be a “good Christian” is the only way to be a Christian; we must love Jesus and obey His commandments. But how is it that we come to love Him?

How is it that we can come to obey Him by our love for Him? This is truly the question and this is what keeps so many of us wandering and not truly living the life that we are to be living. Matthew 6:33 says to “seek first the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” The way to learn to love Him is to seek first the Kingdom of God. We must be diligent in our study of His Word, we must be diligent in seeking to honor Him in all that we do, we must trust the voice of the Holy Spirit living inside of us and when we do He will provide us with everything that we need. We must show Him our love by seeking to honor Him in all that we do and He will provide. His provision may start as peace or joy, it may be something monetary, He may begin to restore your relationships, but your life will begin to take noticeable change and you will learn that He is faithful in all things. And as we begin to learn how much love God has for us we will learn to love Him more. 1 John 4:19 says that “we love because he first loved us.”

Being a Christian starts with understanding that God loved us so much that “He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). There is nothing that we can do to earn life; all we can do is lay it down for the one who laid it down for us. When we realize how much God did for us we begin to understand His love and in turn our love should represent the love that He has for us, because it is through Him that we have life and will receive His blessing.

Deuteronomy 15:4-6 states that “There should be no poor among you, for the Lord your God will greatly bless you in the land he is giving you as a special possession. You will receive this blessing if you are careful to obey all the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today. The Lord your God will bless you as he has promised. You will lend money to many nations but will never need to borrow. You will rule many nations, but they will not rule over you.”

God has provided us with life eternal, but often times we are quick to forget what He did for us and we do not have the resolve to live a life that honors God and the gift that we have been given through His Son, Jesus Christ, who laid down His life for us.

James 4:1-10

What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: if you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him. And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, ‘God opposes the proud but give grace to the humble.’

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.

How close are you to God today? Have you wandered away? Does your life represent what you have been given?

God’s Word is clear! We must love Him and obey His commandments. If we do not do both we are only fooling ourselves into believing that we are honoring God. The gift of life through Jesus Christ is the greatest gift that we could ever receive. When we truly follow God we will be blessed in our life. We will certainly still have trials, but we must remember to always seek first the Kingdom of God and where we have been proud of our sin we must turn from it with sorrow and humility and draw close to God once more through repentance and by living a life that honors Him. There is only one way, one truth, and one life and that is through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). All others lead to death and destruction. Which way will you choose today? God is waiting to bring His love and power through you and me, all we have to do is to love Him and to follow Him and He will do the rest.