I’ll bet none of us would just come out and say, “I know better than God” or “God’s wrong and I’m right.” We recognize that as arrogant, inaccurate, and fool-hardy. But far too often, we act like that’s what we think even if we’re not saying or even consciously thinking those words. We come up with reasons why we don’t have to keep His commands, or decide we have a better idea for how to obey than what’s instructed in scripture. We try to come figure out what being Christian means to us rather than seeking what it means to God.
The stories of Israel’s first two kings perfectly illustrate the different ways we humans can approach following God. Saul did what was right in his own eyes while pretending to follow God, and God wasn’t impressed. He took the kingdom away from Saul and his family to set up David, someone who would truly follow after God’s heart and listen to His commands.
Saul’s Prideful Disobedience
God chose Saul out of all the people, just as He later would David. It wasn’t His intention that Saul fail. But just two years into his reign, Saul found himself facing an army so terrifying his own troops ran and hid in caves. He waited seven days for Samuel the priest to come and offer sacrifice to God, but Samuel didn’t show.
That’s when Saul committed a sin that cost him the kingdom (1 Sam. 13). He made the decision to offer the sacrifice himself, showing a presumptuous disregard for God’s instructions. When Samuel showed up, Saul had all sorts of arguments to justify his actions but they didn’t change the fact that he’d ignored God’s will. Continue reading
There’s a statement in James that we’re all familiar with: “faith without works is dead.” While we can all agree James makes this statement, we don’t always agree on what it means. Citing other scriptures that say we’re justified by faith without works, some argue that a faithful Christian isn’t obligated to do things like obey God’s law or perform good deeds.
But “faith without works is dead” isn’t a statement James makes casually. It’s part of a larger teaching he’s sharing and it’s also part of an analogy that goes like this: “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead“ (James 2:26, LEB).
In this analogy, faith is like our bodies and works are like our spirits. James is telling us that works give life to our faith in the same way the spirit in man gives life to our bodies. This is in response to a rhetorical question he asked earlier in the epistle: “Can we be saved by faith without works?” The answer he gives is “no.”
Believing Isn’t Enough
Faith is essential. It’s impossible to please God without faith, “for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6, KJV). But it’s not the only thing God is looking for in His people. Continue reading
Jesus told us “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment” (Mark. 12:29-30).
Even though this commandment forms the basis of all other commands and is most important for us to remember and obey, it can also be easy to overlook. It sounds so simple: “Love God, check. Yup. I’m good.” But Jesus went into more detail than just “love God.” He started out by reminding us Yahweh is echad. He is united, preeminent, and the only one worthy of the title Lord.
With that reminder in place, Jesus goes on to quote an Old Testament passage telling us how to love God. The way we should love our Lord isn’t left up to our imagination or emotions. We’re told what we’re supposed to do.
With All Your Heart
As today, most people in Jesus’s day didn’t just think of the heart as a muscle pumping blood. It was seen as the “seat of emotions” and the core of your “inner man” (labab, H3824). In Greek, kardia metaphorically referred to the “center of all physical and spiritual life” and the “fountain and seat of thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavors (G2588, Thayer). That’s the first way we’re supposed to love God — with all our emotions, thoughts, and yearnings that come from the very core parts of who you are inside. Continue reading
Have you ever felt like your relationship with God wasn’t what it should be? I think if we’re honest, we’ve all had seasons in our lives where we knew we weren’t quite right with God. Some of us are going through that right now. Sometimes we know what put that distance in our relationship with Him, sometimes we’re not quite sure how we drifted away. We just know we need to get back.
The Jews and Messianic believers say the month leading up to Yom Teruah (Feast of Trumpets) and the 10 Days of Awe between Trumpets and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) are a season of teshuva. This word literally means “return.” It is derived from the word shub (H7725), which is the form used in scripture. When the Old Testament talks about people turning away from their sins, this is the word typically used (examples: 1 Kings 8:47; Eze. 14:6; 18:30). We also translate shub and teshuva as repentance.
- (Side Note: the English word “repent” in the KJV Old Testament is usually translated from nacham (H5162), to be sorry, and is most often used of God. However, our modern understanding of repentance is better expressed by shub or teshuva.)
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says that all the “idioms describing man’s responsibility in the process of repentance … are subsumed and summarized by this verb shub. For better than any other verb it combines in itself the two requisites of repentance: to turn from evil and to turn to the good” (entry 2340).
Today is the Sabbath between Trumpets and Atonement. It’s traditionally known as Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath of Return. While repentance is something we do year round, this is a fitting season to think more deeply about where we stand with God and in what ways we need to turn back to Him. Continue reading
We’re going to talk about all of Romans in one blog post. That looks like a crazy idea as I type it, but I think sometimes when we zero-in on just one section of Paul’s letters we miss the bigger picture of what he’s trying to say. Perhaps there’s merit in studying overall messages as well as minute details.
Romans is a confusing letter, especially when you read pieces out of context. To really get a sense of what Paul is trying to say in any given chapter or verse, we have to read the entire letter. That’s true of any book in the Bible, but I think it’s more true for Romans since Paul connects his arguments so closely. Especially in the first half of the letter, he frequently makes a statement that could lead readers to make an incorrect assumption, then he asks that assumption as a rhetorical question and refutes it.
Also, even though we’ll stay mostly in Romans, it’s important to remember Paul wasn’t writing in a void. Reading Romans (or any other book of the Bible) by itself can lead to misinterpretation. We must frame our understanding of this letter in light of the Old Testament (the only scriptures around for Paul to reference) and the teachings of Jesus (for Paul would never contradict our Lord’s words). Doing that well would take a book instead of a blog post, but last week’s post serves as an good introduction to this one.
Doing The Law
Romans opens with a discussion of “ungodliness and unrighteousness” which brings people under the judgment of God (Rom. 1:16-32). Paul then takes his readers to task not, as some assume, for keeping the Law but rather for teaching it and then acting in a way that dishonors God (Rom. 2:1-29).
After saying, “not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified,” Paul shifts to explaining that even if you do keep the Law you’re still “under sin” because we’re not perfect. He also says it is righteous with God to judge the world, which is guilty before Him because the Law gives knowledge of sin and cannot justify us in God’s sight (Rom. 3:1-20).
One of the biggest problems in modern Christianity is an extreme either-or mentality. We lack balance, straying from one ditch to the other. Consider the Christian’s relationship with the Law. Some will say we must keep the whole law slavishly and seek part of our salvation in it (legalism), while others reject it entirely and say God doesn’t care if we keep His commands as long as we have Jesus (license). Both views miss the point.
Most arguments that the Law isn’t relevant today start with Paul. But Paul’s letters contain things “hard to understand” which people who aren’t well-grounded in the entirety of scripture can “twist to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:15-16). When we’re going to study a complex subject like this, we have to start somewhere more straight-forward. I can think of nowhere better than words directly from Jesus’ own lips.
Using The Law Rightly
When Jesus came to this earth, He didn’t tell people He was done with the Law. Instead, He said, “I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matt. 5:17). This word, pleroo (G4137), means to fill to the fullest extent. Or, as Thayer’s says, “to cause God’s will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be, and God’s promises (given through the prophets) to receive fulfillment.” Continue reading