Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Deserving of Reward?

“So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'"

(Luke 17:10 ESV)

            It’s nice to be acknowledged for the things that we do.  It makes us feel good when people honor us for our achievements.  However, in our society today, this is taken to an extreme.  We seem to feel that we deserve acknowledgement and honor for everything that we do.

            Children feel that they should be rewarded for getting good grades in school.  They feel that they should be honored for good attendance.  They fail to understand that the opportunity to receive a good education is a blessing.  And, in response to this blessing, good attendance and good grades are a duty.

In the same way, they feel that they should receive a trophy for participating in sports.   They fail to understand that it’s a blessing to be on the team.  And, in response to this blessing, a determined effort to help the team succeed is an obligation.

            The same mindset follows us into adulthood.  If we do well in college, we feel that we’re deserving of a good job.  If we perform well on the job, we feel that we deserve a grand title, a pay raise, or a promotion.  We fail to understand that having a good job is a blessing.  And it’s our duty to give our greatest effort in response to this blessing.

            We also tend to think this way in our life of faith.  We think that we should be commended by God for every act of service we perform.  Because of our service, we feel entitled to his blessing.  And we think that we should be honored by those we serve.

            Our feelings about this are so strong that, if acknowledgement isn’t given, we feel slighted.  We feel that our efforts have been in vain.  We feel devalued and disregarded.  And we tend to give up and cease in our efforts.

            Jesus addresses this mindset in Luke 17.  He uses the picture of a man and his servant to make his point.  He points out that, when the servant comes in after a hard day’s work, he isn’t invited to sit down to enjoy a meal.  It’s expected that he will prepare supper, dress properly, and serve his master.  And only after his duties are completed is he able to eat and drink.

            Jesus also points out that the servant is not thanked for what he has done.  He is not thanked because he’s merely done his job.  He’s done nothing more than his duty.

            In the same way, he tells us, we shouldn’t expect commendation for the things we’ve done.  Instead, we’re to acknowledge that we’re unworthy servants.  We’re to acknowledge that we’ve done only our duty.

            This is very true.  We must always bear in mind that the only thing we deserve is death and hell.  We must bear in mind that, because of what he’s done for us, the Lord is deserving of our faithfulness.

            This can be a tough pill to swallow.  God does not owe us anything because of our service.  The simple fact of the matter is that, because of what he has done for us, God is deserving of our service.  We have been saved by his grace and mercy, and for this reason he is deserving of our honor. 

If God then honors us, it’s only because of his grace.  If he blesses us, it’s only because of his mercy.  We are nothing more than undeserving servants who’ve done nothing more than fulfill our obligations.    

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Life of No Value

“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

(Acts 20:24 ESV)

            Paul was on his way to Jerusalem.  And it had been made clear to him, by the Spirit of God, what was to happen to him there.  He knew that afflictions and imprisonment awaited him.

            However, in spite of this, Paul made the statement we see above.  He says that he does not account his life of any value.  He doesn’t count it as precious to himself.  His only desire is that he might finish his course and the ministry entrusted to him by the Lord.

            Paul, you remember, had been called by Jesus to take the gospel primarily to the Gentiles.  And it’s clear that he was determined to carry out his call no matter what it meant for him personally.  He was willing to endure all things if only he might faithfully share Christ with the lost.

            He had already done so on several occasions.  He’d endured beatings.  He’d been jailed.  Yet, no matter what he faced, he pressed on.

            When I look at Paul’s words, it forces me to look at my own heart.  It causes me to ask if the same is true of me.  Am I willing to endure suffering and imprisonment if only I may finish the course, if only I may fulfill the calling, God has given me?

            No matter how faithful we are in our ministry, the fact remains that we have a natural tendency to look out for our well-being.  We have an ingrained desire to preserve our life in this world.  And, more often than not, we will do anything we can to do just that.

            If preserving our life means compromising our values, we do it.  If preserving our life means putting on a fa├žade, we do it.  Even if we’re uncomfortable making these choices, we count our life too valuable to discard.

            This is true when it comes to our faith and our ministry as well.  We know what Christ has done for us.  And we know that we’ve been called to share this truth with all mankind.  Yet, if this means putting ourselves at risk, we’re often unwilling to take that step.

            We’re often unwilling to take that step even if our life isn’t physically threatened in any way.  We’re often unwilling to fulfill our calling if it means our reputation among men might be tarnished.  We’re unwilling to fulfill our calling if it means that others might think us foolish.

            This is an area where I’ve struggled as long as I can remember.  Growth has come, but it has come slowly.  Even though I preach and teach the Word of God regularly in the church, I’m not as quick to do so on the outside. 

            I pray that the Lord will give me the Spirit of Paul.  I pray that he will enable me to fulfill my calling no matter what it might mean for myself personally.  I pray that I might be able to say, along with Paul, that I do not count my life of any value or as precious in itself.  I pray that my only concern will be carrying out the mission to which I’ve been called.

            This is my prayer also for the people of the church.  I pray that the Lord will give to each of us this mindset.  And, as he does so, I pray that more and more people will hear the good news and receive the salvation that is given through faith in Jesus.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Measure of Maturity

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”
(1Timothy 1:15 ESV)

            What does it mean to be a “good Christian?” What does it mean to be a “mature Christian?” We tend to think that such a person has it all together.  We tend to think that he’s overcome his struggle with temptation and sin.
For this reason, when you ask this question, the response tends to focus around our actions. People might answer that a good Christian reads his Bible every day.  A good Christian prays before he eats. A good Christian is at church every week.   A good Christian serves as much as he’s able.  A good Christian lives according to the Ten Commandments.  A good Christian doesn’t cuss or drink.  A good Christian is always happy, and is always friendly and hospitable.  A good Christian shares his faith on a regular basis.
            We also tend to judge ourselves by these standards.  We judge how “good” of a Christian we are based on our success at measurements such as these.  And we judge our maturity in the faith by this basis as well.  So, when we fail, it seems clear that we haven’t yet attained that status.
            Let’s be honest with ourselves: Judging ourselves by these standards, we all fail miserably.  Judging ourselves by these standards, none of us will ever be “good” or “mature” believers.  And the reason for this is that we’re sinners.  We face an ongoing struggle with the world, the devil, and our own flesh.
            When we look to Scripture, we find that this type of thinking is contrary to the very gospel we confess.   We aren’t saved by what we do.  We’re saved by trusting in Jesus, and in the sacrifice that he made on our behalf.
            A mature Christian, then, is one who sees his sin.  He’s one who acknowledges that he deserves nothing other than judgment.  However, he trusts in the promise of God.  He sincerely believes that, in Jesus, we find grace.  And he does so in spite of his ongoing struggle with the sinful nature.
            Paul is an excellent example of this.  We tend to think of Paul as one of the greatest Christians of all time.  And we think of him in this way because of what he did.  However, when we look at his words, we find that this is not how he thought of himself.
            In the above verse, he refers to himself as the foremost of sinners.  He thought of himself in this way because, previously, he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent opponent.  However, he thought of himself in this way not only because of his earlier life.
            Paul doesn’t say that he was the foremost of sinners.  He doesn’t give any indication that this status had changed in any way.  He says that he is the foremost of sinners.  In other words, even as an apostle, and even as one who was accomplishing great things for the Lord, he continued to view himself in this way.
            His struggle with sin was not a thing of the past.  We see this as we look at his description of himself in Romans 7.  This was an ongoing battle.
            Paul was a “good” Christian, he was a “mature” Christian, because of his faith.  He understood that he was saved not by what he’d done.  He was saved by Jesus.  He was saved through faith. 
            Certainly, good works are the result of our faith.  They reflect the faith that we have within.  But they are not what make us Christian, and they do not make us mature.
            So how do we know if we’re a mature Christian?  Do we know our sin?  Do we know the penalty that we deserve?  Do we believe that, by his sacrifice, Jesus paid the penalty of our sin?  Do we believe that he’s faithful to give us all that he’s promised? And do we believe this even as we continue to fail and to struggle with temptation and sin?

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Who Is Jesus?

“Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, "Who do the crowds say that I am?"”

(Luke 9:18 ESV)

            Jesus posed the above question to his disciples.  And, in response, they told him that some believed him to be John the Baptist, who had been put to death by King Herod.  Some believed him to be Elijah, who was expected to precede the Messiah.  And others believed him to be a prophet of old, who had risen.

            Each of these responses reveals that the people generally held Jesus in high honor.  After all, they believed John the Baptist to be a great prophet.  And Jesus himself had said that John was the greatest of the prophets.

            Elijah was one of the greatest prophets from Old Testament times.  And, again, with the expectation that he would come at the dawn of the messianic age, it reveals that Jesus was esteemed.  The people clearly believed that he was sent by God and that he was something special.

            The Old Testament prophets were also revered.  Even though, when they lived and served among the people, they faced persecution, the people of Jesus’ day thought highly of them and their message.  So, believing Jesus to be one of the prophets who had returned to life, they believed him to have an honored position.

            However, each of these beliefs fell short of Jesus’ true identity.  When Jesus addressed the disciples, asking them who they believed him to be, Peter answered rightly.  He said that Jesus is the Christ of God.  In other words, he believed Jesus to be the fulfillment of God’s promises.  He believed Jesus to be the Savior, sent by God into the world.

            Many of us make the same mistake when it comes to Jesus’ identity.  Although our opinion of him is great, and although we hold him in high esteem, it falls short of his true identity.  It reveals that we fail to believe in him as he’s revealed to us in Scripture.

            Many of us believe that Jesus was a good teacher.  In fact, we esteem him as one of the greatest teachers, if not the greatest, to ever walk the earth.  We believe that his teachings are true and that they deserve to be taken to heart.  

            Many of us believe Jesus to be a great example.  We think that he perfectly modeled what it means to love others.  We think that he modeled what it means to follow God.  And, for this reason, we seek to pattern our life after his own.

            Others among us believe that Jesus was a prophet.  We believe that he was more than a teacher. We believe him to be a man who spoke the very Word of God.  We believe that he revealed God’s will to mankind.

            I’m sure there are many other views to which people hold when it comes to the person of Jesus.  But, like the Jews, they fall short of his true identity.  Although we respect him, we don’t view him as the person Scripture proclaims him to be.

            Why does this matter?  It matters because we aren’t saved by our efforts to live according to his teachings. We aren’t saved by our efforts to follow his example.  We aren’t saved by believing that his words are the Word of God. 

We’re saved through faith that Jesus is the very Son of God who was born into this world that he might save us from our sin.  We’re saved through faith that Jesus, by his death on the cross, has paid the penalty of our sin.  We’re saved through faith that Jesus, by his resurrection from the grave, has defeated the power of death. 

So what do you believe about Jesus?  Who do you believe him to be?  The answer matters more than you know.