Work Hard for God

The relationship between faith and works is an important Biblical concept that may require diligent study to understand. Paul states clearly that we are saved “not as the result of works,” whereas James insists that “faith without works is dead.” I have thought and written plenty on that subject before, and there are many resources available for those who want to understand what scripture has to say about faith and works.

But there is another, closely related subject that we may not think much about. We might call this subject “our efforts” versus “the grace of God.” This is an important subject because for many of us, once we understand that we are saved by God’s grace rather than earning our salvation through our own efforts, we start to feel that it is somehow wrong or disrespectful to God for us to put forth personal effort. After all, if God is to get all of the glory, then we should not be putting any emphasis on our own efforts, right?

In reality, when we try our hardest and do our best to serve him with diligence and effort, it is often in that very moment that God’s grace is truly working in us. Paul said “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”

Peter tells us twice in the first chapter of his second epistle to “apply all diligence” in the specific growth we seek in our Christian walk. Those words convey the idea of “making haste,” or as we might say, “showing some hustle.” In other words, do not just sit around waiting for lighting to strike. Get started. Show some effort. God will work through you.

The English Standard Translation of Peter’s words literally says “make every effort.”

In the first chapter of his letter to Timothy, Paul gives this instruction: “I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.”

Timothy had a gift, just as every last one of us has a gift from God. It is time for us to kindle that gift afresh. And we need not be timid about it. God’s children can work each day with power, love, and discipline. If you need an engraved invitation, it is already there in the words of scripture.

Maybe we feel like if the effort comes from us, then it takes the credit away from God. But just as Paul’s exceptionally hard work was rightly seen as a manifestation of God’s grace, so every good thing we could ever do, think, or say, is credited directly to the God in whom we live and move and have our being.

So work hard for God. Rely on Him for strength, look to Him for guidance, and give Him all of the glory. But work hard while doing it.

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Scriptures and Thoughts on Justification

What does “justification” mean?

 To say a word in your own defense.
(Job 32:2) But the anger of Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram burned; against Job his anger burned because he justified himself before God.

To show yourself as innocent.
(Genesis 44:16) So Judah said, “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? And how can we justify ourselves? God has found out the iniquity of your servants; behold, we are my lord’s slaves, both we and the one in whose possession the cup has been found.”

Do deliver a verdict of innocence.
(1 Kings 8:31-32) 31 “If a man sins against his neighbor and is made to take an oath, and he comes and takes an oath before Your altar in this house, 32 then hear in heaven and act and judge Your servants, condemning the wicked by bringing his way on his own head and justifying the righteous by giving him according to his righteousness.

To pronounce innocent, to reconcile.
(Isaiah 53:11) As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.

To have the charges brought against you silenced.
(Romans 8:31-34) 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.

Results in reconciliation with God.
(Romans 5:1) Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

To be given the identity of an innocent person, rather than a criminal, and to grow into this new identity.
(1 Corinthians 6:11) Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

How is it related to righteousness?

Same Greek word. Appears throughout Romans 3.

(Romans 3:19-26) 19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God;20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

(Romans 3:27-30) 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.

If I am justified, is it “just as if I’d never sinned?”

(Galatians 3:27) For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

(Galatians 6:7) Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.

(Romans 7:15-20) For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

How does someone become justified?

(Romans 2:12-13) 12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; 13 for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.

(It would seem that someone could become justified by keeping the Law, but as Paul goes on to demonstrate in Romans 3, none of us can actually be justified this way because none of us has kept it perfectly!)

Thus clearly, not by perfect law keeping:

(Galatians 2:15-17) 15 “We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; 16 nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.

(Luke 18:11-14) The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

(Romans 4:2-8) For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven,
And whose sins have been covered.
“Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”

(Titus 3:4-8) But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy statement; and concerning these things I want you to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds. These things are good and profitable for men.

(Luke 16:14-14) 14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him.15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.

Can someone lose their justified status?

(1 Peter 3:7) You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

(Hebrews 6:4-6) For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,6and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.

What does it mean that justification is a gift?

(Romans 3:24) “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;”

(Romans 5:15-17) 15But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

How does justification relate to sanctification?

(Matthew 12:37) For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

 (James 2:20-26) But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected;23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

Can Shame be a Good Thing?

Ephesians 4:32 says “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

I have always liked this verse. It reminds us that no one will be saved except by the grace of God, and that if God is willing to forgive those who repent, surely we also should be willing to forgive each other. Grace is a wonderful topic, and one that I enjoy talking about.

Shame on the other hand… not so much. Is shame even something that we need to talk about? Did Jesus not do away with the concept of shame once and for all when He died on the cross for us?

Apparently not, because twice in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul rebuked those who would hear his letter and followed his rebuke with the words: “I say this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 6:5, 15:34). The “God’s Word” translation says, “You should be ashamed of yourselves!” The NIV says “I say this to shame you.”

This week while I listened to a well-known and loved gospel preacher, he used a similar phrase: “Shame, shame, shame, God knows your name,” in order to shame those who were guilty of a certain sin that he was speaking about.

It is important to notice that Paul, and luckily the preacher that I was hearing as well, were not shaming people about things that they had done in the distant past and had already repented of. Instead, we see this concept of “shame on you” appearing in scripture when people need to come to their senses about a sin that they are currently engaged in. It is as if Paul is saying “You are better than this! You should be ashamed of this behavior, and because of this I am trying to wake you up to the shamefulness of what you are doing, so that you will repent.”

Yes, God’s grace covers our sins. Yes, he paid it all on Calvary. But that does not give us permission to become like the sinners in Jeremiah 6:15, “Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all; They did not even know how to blush.” We must not make peace with our sin, or cease to realize how shameful it is to be called a child of God and yet to live in sin.

If you are not living the way you should, shame on you. Not the kind of shame that is meant to make you feel terrible about yourself, but the kind of shame that calls you to live in the holy way that God will help you to live if you will only follow. Not the kind of shame that leads to despair or self-loathing, but the kind of shame that reminds us to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.”
(Ephesians 4:1)

Not the kind of shame that strangers or even loved ones might continue to heap on us for our mistakes long after we have repented and moved on.

Rather, the kind of shame that can cause you to wake up to the reality of your current situation and motivate you to make it right.

Justification and Sanctification

Two fancy sounding words that get thrown around a lot in theological discussions are “justification” and “sanctification.” Both of these words appear in scripture and they work together to paint a beautiful picture of the Christian life.

“Justification” is a legal term that conveys the idea of being judged to be righteous. To be justified before God means that we are acquitted of the crimes of which we are accused. Our relationship with Him is restored and we do not have to bear the punishment that fits our crime. In fact, as far as the imputing of guilt is concerned, it is like we never committed the crime at all! A good part of the Bible to read in order to learn more about justification would be Romans, chapters 3 through 5.

“Sanctification” means being made holy. While justification takes full effect the moment we put on Christ in baptism, sanctification is a process that we grow in day by day. It is the process of being conformed to the image of God’s Son, and this process is taking place in us as long as we live on this earth. Our sanctification’s completion will only become evident when Jesus returns at the last day. A good place to read about sanctification would be Romans, chapters 6 through 8.

Both of these elements are present in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Notice that when we walk in the light, God does two things for us: He forgives our sings (justification) and He cleanses us from all unrighteousness (sanctification).   The word here translated as “cleanse” is where we get the English word “catharsis,” and it indicates a purging or removal of that which does not belong.

John makes sanctification sound pretty easy. All we have to do is walk in the light and God will sanctify us completely! But John does acknowledge that we will not always be perfect as we go through this process. In the following verses he states: “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

John talks about justification, then sanctification, and then he goes right back to justification again, reminding us that while our path in life is one of pursuing purity, it is only because of the forgiveness that we have received – and that we continue to receive with each passing day – that this process is even possible.

Understanding these two concepts and how they relate to each other allows us to see the gospel for the simple and beautiful truth that it is.

Many in our world are so eager to emphasize the free gift of justification that they are uncomfortable with emphasizing the truth that God’s children cannot live in sin. They miss out on the fact that salvation does not just mean forgiveness, it also means transformation.

Others fail to grasp the fact that our justification truly is a free gift that covers our sins, and as a result they try to earn their own salvation apart from God’s grace through a system of guilt- and shame-based sanctification projects.

What do you think about these two concepts? Do you see how they both fit together into one cohesive and fantastic gospel? If you want to see these concepts play out in scripture or learn more about what they truly mean, then be like the Bereans who were “examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”

Things God has Done for Us

Given us life: “For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’” (Acts 17:28)

Formed us in the womb: “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.” (Proverbs 19:13)

Allowed us to live until this day: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15)

Provided us with food and goods: “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11) “For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Mathew 6:32-33) “And yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14:17)

Sent His Son to Suffer as our Savior: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Sent out His word so that we can hear it: “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

Allotted to us faith: “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” (Romans 12:3)

Granted us repentance: “God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:18)

Shown us grace and mercy: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Given us spiritual gifts: “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” (Romans 12:6)

Granted us what wisdom we have: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)

Given us the Holy Spirit: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”(Luke 11:13)

Given us absolutely everything: “For who makes you so superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)

Make Your Calling and Election Sure

Consider this beautiful passage from the opening chapter of First Peter:

“Applying all diligence,
in your faith supply moral excellence,
and in your moral excellence, knowledge,
and in your knowledge, self-control,
and in your self-control, perseverance,
and in your perseverance, godliness,
and in your godliness, brotherly kindness,
and in your brotherly kindness, love.

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you.”

Wouldn’t it be great to have all of these qualities? Who couldn’t use a little more moral self-control from time to time, or some additional brotherly kindness every once in a while? Who wouldn’t want to be full of godliness and love?

Notice, then, what Peter says can rob us of these qualities. He tells us that a person who lacks these qualities has “forgotten his purification from his former sins.”

It sounds like this individual does not understand or else does not appreciate the fact that Jesus Christ died on the cross in order to pay the price for our rebellion against God.

As if to make this teaching even more clear, Peter continues, “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you,” or as the King James translation says, “give diligence to make your calling and election sure.”

Peter is telling them that if they do not understand, cherish, and rest in what God has done for them, they will not be able to grow as God calls them to. The way to avoid the “uselessness,” “unfruitfulness,” and “blindness” of one who lacks these qualities is to truly know, and appreciate, and be certain of, our salvation, and the love of God that purchased it.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 says something similar: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God.”

Just as in Peter, Paul tells us something that we must do: we must possess out bodies in sanctification and honor. And just like Peter, Paul goes on to tell us what can cause us to fail in this endeavor: not knowing God.

Do you really know God? Sure, you know Biblical facts about Him. You can make statements such as “God is love,” or “Jesus Christ is the propitiation for my sins.” But do you know Him, personally? Are your calling and election sure? Do you know that He loves you, has paid the price for you, and welcomes you into His arms?

We must strive to be filled up with the virtues spoken of by Peter, and the purity spoken of by Paul. But we will not succeed unless our motivation, our inspiration, and our encouragement are in knowing God, and the love with which He first loved us, and with which He calls us, has mercy on us, and pours His grace out on us.

Scriptures and Thoughts on “Grace”

What is grace? What is so amazing about it?
11 – Hebrew
hên – favor shown by one person to another
Greek
charis – a favor or a gift of benevolent goodwill.

 12 – “The wide span of meaning that this word has then makes it imperative that one give special attention to any particular passage that he is dealing with that makes use of that word. Otherwise, he may be attributing to the writer and idea that the writer did not have in making use of that word.” – Jack Lewis

 Romans 6:23 – 13 – Grace is amazing because of its scandalous generosity, going beyond what we deserve to give us what we most need.

 What does it mean to be saved by grace?
Ephesians 2:8-9 – 14 – a gift, not a result of works, no reason to boast
Romans 11:6 – 15 – not on the basis of works
Romans 3:23-25 – 16 – Jesus paid the price on our behalf so that we could receive a gift that we could not afford

 If we are saved by grace, is right living technically necessary?
Romans 6:1-4 – 17 – A theology of grace that diminishes the seriousness of sin is flawed
Romans 6:16-18 – 18 – an understanding of grace that does not include freedom from sin is inaccurate
Romans 6:20-23 – 19 – we are saved by grace precisely because we are freed by grace from slavery to sin and its outcome, death.
Romans 8:12-13 – 20 – if you living according to the flesh you must die (spoken to saved persons)
Hebrews 10:26-27 – 21 – if we go on sinning, there no longer remains a sacrifice – yes, God’s grace is contingent upon our future actions!

 If we are saved by grace, is baptism really necessary? How would that not be “works based” salvation?
Epehsians 2:8-9 – 14 – not a result of works
Romans 11:6 – 15 – not on the basis of works
1 Peter 3:21 – 22 – baptism now saves you
Acts 2:38 – 23 – baptism is for the forgiveness of sins
How do we reconcile these passages?

John 3:5-8 – 24 – you must be born again by the spirit
Romans 6:1-4 – 17 baptism is a new birth
Titus 3:5-7 – 25 – the washing of regeneration and renewing of the holy spirit – baptism is associate with a new birth and with receiving the holy spirit

Could it be that baptism is the means by which we enter into the condition that we could not possibly earn, merit, or deserve?

Galatians 5:2-6 – 26 – Is there a difference between seeking justification through circumcision and seeking it through baptism?

Revelation 1:5 – 27 – Jesus blood takes away our sins
Revelation 7:14 – 28 – saints wash their robes in the blood of the lamb
Hebrews 9:13-14 – 29 – we are washed by Christ’s blood
Acts 22:16 – 30 – baptism is a washing away of sins

Could it be that baptism is coming into contact with Christ’s saving blood, which cleanses us in a way in which we could never cleanse ourselves, while circumcision is a denial of Christ’s blood in favor of another method of atonement altogether?

Think of the illustration of a new car that your parents buy for you, all you have to do is get a ride to the dealership and pick it up. Does this requirement of your physical action to receive the car nullify their sacrifice? Does getting a ride to the dealership, getting the keys, putting them in the ignition, etc. mean that you are trying to earn/deserve/merit the car and nullify your parents’ gift?

Christians who believe that Baptism is necessary for salvation are not trying to “save up enough good deeds” to cash them in for a ticket to heaven. After being baptized they do not feel they have earned the right to brag about some great feet they have done. They simply understand the Bible to teach that the water of baptism is the place where we receive the gift that we could never have purchased.

There is a real distinction between deserving, earning, meriting, boasting, etc. and simply accepting what has been given to you through some necessary physical act.

 When and how can I receive God’s grace?
The word grace simply means a gift or an unmerited favor.
1 Peter 3:7 – 31 – simply by being alive you are receiving grace!
Ephesians 2:8-9 – 14 – when you have faith, you receive God’s grace
Acts 4:32-33 – 32 – living as a Christian is a life full of grace
Acts 22:16 – 30 – in baptism our sins are washed away, this is by God’s grace!

 What is the concept of “irresistible grace” and is it taught by scripture?
John 6:37-40 – 33 – Jesus will keep all who the Father will give Him
Titus 3:5 – 25 – He saved us according to His mercy
Do either of these indicate that man has no say in his destiny?

Ephesians 2:1, 4-5 – 34 – we were dead, and He made us alive together with Christ
John 1:12-13 – 35 – born of the will of God, not the will of man
God’s will is certainly the deciding factor in our salvation, without His will being to save us, we would have no hope. But does that mean we are incapable of resisting Him?

Hebrews 3:14-15 – 36 – do not harden your hearts
John 3:20-21 – 37 – everyone who is evil does not come to the light, he walks in truth comes to the light
These passages seem to indicate that it is possible to resist the good news, that we have a say in the matter of whether we respond favorably.

2 Peter 3:9 – 38 – If God is not willing that any should perish, then why is the way narrow that leads to eternal life? If God’s grace is irresistible and He wants all to be saved, why will all not be saved?

 Is it possible to fall from grace? If so, how?
Galatians 5:2-6 – 26 – we fall from grace when reject it in favor of earning or meriting that which in reality we must accept humbly as God’s free gift.
Hebrews 10:26-27 – 21 – if we go on sinning, there no longer remains a sacrifice – yes, God’s grace is contingent upon our future actions!

 If grace is something that no one deserves, how is it fair that some people will benefit from it and other people will not?
Romans 6:23 – 16 – the wages (what we earn) of sin is death. It is fair any time we sin and receive death.
Matthew 20:8-16 – 40 – it is right for God to give our just wages to us, and it is His to do what He wants with the salvation that is His alone to give, and which none of us has earned. The fact that anyone will be saved at all is the part where God goes BEYOND what is fair to what is generous.

Are Christians Better than Other People?

One common complaint raised against Christians is that “you think you are better than everyone else.” The typical response, often offered preemptively before this objection is even raised, is that “I do not think I am better than anyone else just because I am a Christian. I am just as bad as you are. The only difference is that God looks on Christ’s righteousness instead of my sins.”

So is it true? Do Christians really think they are better than other people? And should they? Are they actually better than other people?

That depends on what you mean by “better.”

Does a Christian have more intrinsic worth in God’s eyes than a non-Christian does? The Biblical answer is “no.” We derive an objective value from being a soul created in God’s image, whether Christian or not (Genesis 1:26, Genesis 9:6, Acts 17:28).

Does God love a Christian more than a non-Christian? If love means wanting what is best for a person, and acting in their best interest, then once again, the Biblical answer is a resounding “no.” Contrary to the conclusions of some Calvinist theologians, God is “patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).”  He illustrates this love by the story of a father who runs out to welcome home his rebellious son (Luke 15:11-31). After all, Jesus died for sinners (Romans 5:8), not people who were already holier-than-thou. (Mark 2:17)

Does a Christian deserve God’s grace more than a non-Christian does? If the key word is deserve, then the answer is “no,” yet again. A Christian is not someone who has earned their salvation. It is a free gift (Ephesians 2:8, Romans 6:23). This fact led Paul to conclude, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all” (Romans 3:9). When it comes to deserving our salvation, we are not better than anyone else.

But there is a real sense in which Christians are better than other people. Or at least, we sure ought to be.

A chief aspect of God’s work in the life of a Christian is to conform him to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). There is no reasonable way to understand the concept of “being conformed to the image of Christ,” through a process of “transformation by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:1) that does not include becoming a better person.

Ephesians 4:22-24 states it plainly: “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

If you have not become a better person since becoming a Christian, something is seriously wrong.

In conclusion: Do Christians have more intrinsic worth than others? No. Does God love Christians more than others? When love is understood as an unconditional, active desire for the wellbeing of another, clearly not.   Do Christian’s deserve to be saved more than others? No.

But do Christians behave better than others? The answer had better be “yes.” We ought to be a people unusually full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. We ought to be a people unusually forgiving, unusually meek, unusually pure and upright and gracious and harmonious. Shame on us when we are not.

May we be growing in holiness in a way unlike anything that we experienced before our conversion. May we look more like our God every day. In that sense, may we be better than we were prior to our conversion.

“It Isn’t Fair.”

The English term “scapegoat” comes from the principle of “Azazel” which originates from the Bible in Leviticus chapter 16.

Azazel literally means “complete removal” in Hebrew, and the unlucky goat that was selected by “the lot for Azazel” had all of the iniquities and transgressions of the people of Israel placed on its head, that it might completely remove them from their midst. It appears that in this way the righteous indignation of God that would have fallen on the Israelites fell on the scapegoat instead. By means of the scapegoat Israel received pardon.

Of course, in contemporary times, the idea of making a scapegoat out of someone is frowned upon. Quite frankly, it is just not fair for one individual to pay the price for that for which an entire group is actually to blame.

We may not know whether God struck down the scapegoat, or simply allowed it to wander around in the wilderness to die on its own, but one thing is certain: that poor goat got the bad end of the deal, and the people of Israel got off easy.

The incredible truth of the gospel is that rather than an unlucky goat, Jesus Christ is now the propitiation for God’s people once for all.

2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The only sinless man to walk the face of the earth was made to be sin so that we could go free? It sounds like a good deal for us, but it certainly does not sound “fair.”

Realizing this has the power to transform the way we look at the world. Now, instead of demanding that everyone who sins receive the punishment that they deserve so that life can be fair, we can extend to others the undeserved grace that God has extended to us.

It may also be a comfort to us in times of injustice to look at the example Jesus set. Jesus Himself knows how it feels to suffer unjustly what is rightfully deserved by others. In fact, as 1 Peter 2:19 says, “this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.”

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An Outline of the Letter to the Ephesians

Ephesians is written primarily to Gentiles.

This becomes apparent gradually through the use of the pronouns “you” and “we” to refer to Gentiles and Jews respectively:

  • “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance… to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance.” (1:11-14)
  • Consider similar instances in 2:11-12 and 3:17-19

The central message of Ephesians is the mystery of Gentile inclusion.

The word “mystery” occurs 6 times, more than any other New Testament book.

  • “He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him.” (1:9)
  • “By revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ… to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (3:3-4,6)
  • Consider also 3:8-9 

The goal of Paul’s writing is to help the Gentiles grasp the magnificence of God’s gift to them.

  • This is achieved through illustrations:
    • You were dead; God made you alive. (2:1-10)
    • You were strangers; God made you fellow citizens. (2:11-22)

The goal of Paul’s prayers is likewise to help the Gentiles grasp the magnificence of God’s gift to them.

  • “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” (1:18-19)
  • Consider also his prayer in 3:14-21

All glory and thanks be to God for His salvation.

  • It was according to His will.
    • He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” (1:4)
    • He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” (1:5)
    • “According to His kind intention.” (1:9)
    • “Having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” (1:11)
  • He acted for His glory.
    • “To the praise of the glory of His grace.” (1:6)
    • “To the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.” (1:12)
    • “To the praise of His glory.” (1:14)
  • It was His grace, not our goodness.
    “Grace” occurs 12 times, more than any book except Romans.

    • “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” (1:7)
    • “But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” (2:4-5)
    • “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (2:8-9)

There is a major shift that pivots on “Therefore” in 4:1.

This is a shift from the theological to the practical, and is emphasized by the word “walk,” which occurs 7 times, more than any other epistle.

  • “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” (4:1)
  • “So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind.” (4:17)
  • “For you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light” (5:8)
  • “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise.” (5:15)

Walk in unity

  • Attitudes to preserve it. (4:1-3)
  • Truths that establish it. (4:4-6)
  • Leaders who seek to preserve it. (4:7-13)
  • Forces that threaten it. (4:14)
  • An illustration of it. (4:15-16)

Walk in purity (5:1-21)

  • Imitate God.
  • Not in darkness, but in light.
  • Not in: immorality, impurity, greed, filthiness, silly talk, coarse jesting, covetousness, drunkenness.
  • Rather: giving thanks, goodness, righteousness, truth, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

Walk uprightly in relationships

  • Wives (5:22)
  • Husbands (5:25)
  • Children (6:1)
  • Fathers (6:4)
  • Slaves (6:5)
  • Masters (6:9)

Having given these moral prescriptions, the letter to the Ephesians now gives encouragement and proper tools for the spiritual battle.

  • Armor of God (6:14-17):
    • “Having girded your loins with truth,”
    • “Having put on the breastplate of righteousness,”
    • “Having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace,”
    • “In addition to all, taking up the shield of faith,”
    • “And take the helmet of salvation,”
    • “And the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
  • Prayer: “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” (6:18)

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