Monday, July 29, 2019

Christ Alone

“Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.”

(Galatians 5:2 ESV)

In the modern evangelical church, we are quick to confess that we are saved by the grace of God alone through faith in Christ alone. And this has also been the position of the historic Lutheran Church. We believe, teach, and confess that we play no role in our salvation. It’s the work of God from first to last.

That being said, although most of us do trust in Christ, we don’t stop there. We continue to believe that something, along with Jesus, works to accomplish our salvation. We don’t truly believe that Jesus is sufficient.

This is also what was going on among the Galatians. False teachers had come into the church claiming that, in addition to Jesus, the people had to be circumcised if they were to be saved. They taught that the people had to follow the Law of Moses if they were to be saved.

Paul stood firmly against this teaching. He told them that, if they accepted circumcision, Christ would be of no advantage to them. He went on to say, in verse 4, that those who sought to be justified by the law are severed from Christ.

Christ alone saves. And we cannot add anything to it. Once we begin thinking that it’s Jesus plus this or Jesus plus that, we are lost.

Circumcision isn’t an issue in our day, at least not in a spiritual sense. However, many other things are. Many of us believe, for example, that Jesus plus abstaining from alcohol saves. Many of us believe that Jesus plus speaking in tongues saves. Many of us believe that Jesus plus a strict ten percent tithe saves. And many of us believe that Jesus plus an hour-long daily devotional time saves.

There are countless examples we could cite, but you get the point. Each of us has to search our own heart to see what we’re depending on in addition to Jesus. However, the point Paul is making remains the same.

If we trust in anything in addition to Christ, we are believing a corrupted version of the gospel. If we trust in anything in addition to Christ, he will be of no advantage to us. If we trust in anything in addition to Jesus, we are severed from Christ.

Yes, many activities flow from our faith in Christ. Many changes in our life result from our faith in Christ. But they are just that…results of our faith. They are the byproduct of our faith. These are not the things that save us. And they are not where justification is found.

May we, then, trust in Christ alone for our salvation. May we look to him, and to nothing else, for the forgiveness we so desperately need. May we truly believe that his sacrifice is sufficient.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Pointing the Finger

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.”

James 4:1-2 ESV

As we experience conflict with others, whether it’s someone close to us or someone of whom our knowledge is more limited, we tend to focus our attention on their behavior. We focus on their tone. We focus on the specific words they choose to use. And we focus on the content of their message.

What I’m saying is that, as we enter into conflict, we pinpoint them as the cause of our argument. Perhaps they were rude when they spoke to us. Perhaps we take issue with their intent. Perhaps we see a weakness in them that seems intolerable to us. Or perhaps we simply cannot agree with their logic.

As we, then, fight and quarrel with them, we place the blame at their feet. After all, if they’d approached things differently, we wouldn’t be arguing in the first place. If they did things the way we believe they should be done, things would be better by far. And if they only understood our way of thinking, or if they weren’t so stubborn, conflict could have been avoided.

What we fail to do, as we engage in conflict, is to look within. We fail to consider that, perhaps, we are the source of the conflict. We fail to consider that we are the one who is at fault.

This is what James is calling us to recognize in the above passage. He tells us that the quarrels in which we take part are caused by the passions within us. And, when he speaks of these passions, he’s referring not to those desires which are godly. He’s referring to our selfish and sinful desires.

We enter into conflict because we don’t have the things we desire. In fact, this longing causes us to seek the harm of others. We cannot obtain the things we desire, so we fight and quarrel.

It’s needless to say that this isn’t true of us alone. It’s typically the case with all parties involved in the conflict. However, we cannot simply point the finger at others. We need to, first and foremost, look at our role. We need to uncover our sinful desires that led us to take up arms against our brother.

May we, then, approach conflict with a spirit of humility. And, more than this, may we approach it with a spirit of repentance. May we seek the forgiveness of God and that of our brother for the sinful desires which led us into sin.

Monday, July 15, 2019

A Wise Guy?

“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.”

(James 3:13-17 ESV)

Many of us, in our society today, consider ourselves to be wise. And if we don’t yet consider ourselves to be wise, we’d like to one day. Wisdom is considered by most to be a positive, attractive quality.

Wisdom indicates someone who’s experienced. It indicates someone who is knowledgeable and who possesses good judgment. It indicates someone who’s intelligent and discerning.

However, as we look at the words of James above, we find something rather surprising. Wisdom, according to James, is characterized primarily by meekness. The good conduct of the wise, he says, is demonstrated by meekness.

I say this is surprising because meekness is not perceived as a positive quality in our day and age. In fact, meekness is viewed as a sign of weakness. We understand the meek person to be spineless. We understand him to be nothing more than a doormat before others.

However, we find in Scripture that meekness is, in fact, a positive quality. Jesus tells us, in Matthew 5, that the meek will inherit the earth. This echoes the words of Psalm 37:11, which say: “But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.”

Those who are meek are humble. They are long-suffering. They are teachable. They are submissive.  This is in accord with the words of Jesus, in Matthew 20, who tells us that the one who would be great must be a servant, and that the one who would be first must be a slave of all.

James goes on to say that the wisdom that is from above is peaceable and gentle. It’s open to reason and full of mercy. It’s impartial and sincere.

The quality of meekness is seen most clearly in Jesus, who describes himself to us in Matthew 11:19, as gentle and lowly. This phrase is translated in the KJV as “meek and lowly in heart.” Although he is God, he humbled himself in order to serve us.

It’s in meekness that true wisdom is seen. Good conduct flows from the meekness of wisdom. Let us, then, seek to learn from those who display this quality. And let us ask God to instill within us a wisdom, characterized by meekness, that we might be a blessing to others.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Inconsistent Speech

“With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.”

(James 3:9-12 ESV)

As a pastor, one of my greatest pet-peeves is when people alter their behavior once they discover my position. I’ve been around those who consistently curse and engage in course joking. Then, they ask me what I do for a living. And, upon learning that I’m a pastor, they apologize and try to talk in a clean manner.

I appreciate the gesture. I appreciate that they’re doing their best to keep from offending me. However, I am uncomfortable with the fake personality they then adopt. Even if I don’t like their way of speaking, I would almost prefer them to be real.

That being said, as Christians, we tend to behave in a similar manner. When we’re at church, we talk in a dignified manner. But, away from the church, our speech is full of cursing and lewd dialogue.

In one sense, because we are sinners, we will always have slips of the tongue. As James pointed out in verse 8, no human being can tame the tongue. However, we also can’t use this as an excuse for our ongoing, willful behavior. We cannot use it as an excuse for our habitual behavior. With the empowering of the Holy Spirit, there is a control that can be exercised.

James makes it clear that, just as spring cannot produce both salt and fresh water, and just as a fig tree cannot produce both figs and olives, our mouths should not produce both blessing and cursing. We should recognize it as a problem when we praise God one moment, and curse someone the next. As he tells us, these things ought not to be so.

Let us, then, confess our sin to the Lord. Let us repent of the inappropriate words that we use. And let us seek, by the power of the Spirit, to speak in a consistent manner. Let us seek to praise God and to speak to others in a dignified manner.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

A Very Big Deal

“And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”
James 3:5-8 ESV

In the church, we often speak up concerning numerous sins. We address the common sins of the day. We address those that are contentious and divisive.

We address homosexuality, abortion, and injustice, all of which are abhorrent in the eyes of God. And we are right as we proclaim to the church and the world what Scripture teaches about these subjects. However, our tendency is to avoid some of the most common and destructive sins of the day.

We rarely, if ever, discuss the sins of the tongue, which are numerous. And we find ourselves participating in them on a regular basis. In fact, we find ourselves doing so while lacking an attitude of repentance.

We gossip. We slander. We lie. We bear false witness against our neighbor. And although we may, at times, experience a sense of guilt as we do so, it doesn’t bring an end to our behavior. We dismiss these sins, considering them minor.

Even if we understand that these things are wrong, we don’t consider them to be a big deal. We count them as insignificant. In fact, we almost consider them to be irrelevant.

But as we look at the words of James, above, we find that they’re a very big deal. He says that the tongue is a fire. He says that it’s a world of unrighteousness. He says that it stains the whole body. He says that it sets on fire the entire course of our life.

It’s a constant problem. It’s a restless evil, James says. And it does great damage. As we read, it’s full of deadly poison.

And this isn’t a problem had only by a few. Although man has tamed almost every creature on earth, no one has tamed the tongue. In other words, in something with which we all struggle.

We, then, must take the sins of the tongue very seriously. We must recognize how great our sin truly is when it comes to these various forms of wrongdoing. We must confess our sin, we must repent, and look to Jesus in faith for the forgiveness he offers. And we must ask God to work in our heart and to take control of our tongue that it might be used for his glory.