February 2024

Gospel Grace

There exists within the human heart the desire to earn approval from others. It makes little  difference whether it’s approval from crowds or from a few, the heart does not like to think of receiving approval by unearned grace. This is the natural and sinful foundation that resists the gospel of Jesus Christ, as no part of the gospel can be earned.

The apostle Paul addresses this issue when writing to the Galatians. He speaks of the way in which deceivers had entered their lives and were trying to lure them into earning God’s favour by works of the law. To a Jew, this was an enticing argument, as it pulled on their national and religious heart strings, which had historic connection to the Old Testament law. Typical to Paul’s style of writing, he confronts this error head on. We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified (Galatians 2:16).

Here, Paul explains that justification before God, that is, to be approved by God with His declaration of innocence, cannot be earned by obeying the rules of the law. Yet, our arch enemy continues to employ this rule keeping strategy for diverting people away from grace through faith in Jesus. This is true for both the unsaved and believers alike. It’s ironic how often we Christians are enticed onto the treadmill of rule keeping, in the hope of maintaining God’s approval of us.

Obedience of Jesus is our worship of Him, not our means of earning approval or security. Paul speaks to a sensitive area of our heart’s affections, which creates a returning tension in our lives. There can exist a fine line within our motives for obedience, which distinguishes between obedience resulting from faith, and obedience to earn acceptance for a sense of security.

You see, grace produces freedom to obey out of love and praise for Jesus Christ. Whereas law keeping, produces continual dependency on feeding guilt which compels us to more and more rule keeping in the hope of being accepted by God.

Before salvation, Paul was advancing in Judaism… so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers (Galatians 1:14). Yet, his passion for keeping traditions could not save him. Endlessly trying to obey over 900 laws which the pharisees demanded, was impossible. Paul knew the painful reality of being a person who keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it (James 2:10). So, he declares that it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith” (Galatians 3:11). Paul’s faith was in the fact that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us (Galatians 3:13). Faith in Jesus’ substitutional death on the cross removes the curse created by the law.

For the Christian, obedience and good works are the result of faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection (James 2:17-18). The evidence of genuine faith is a life committed to obedience out of gratitude, and a desire to be like Christ. Dependence upon rule keeping for God’s approval and acceptance is replaced with the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe (Romans 3:22). May we rest today, in the certainty of acceptance by God, due to faith in Jesus Christ.

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Hothead Nabal, impulsive David, and appeasing Abigail

1 Samuel 25:2-38 tells a short, volatile story involving David, and Nabal with his wife Abigail, who were opposites in every way that mattered.

At this time, David and his men were running from King Saul’s army and moved into the wilderness  of Paran. Nearby lived Nabal, a wealthy businessman who owned three thousand sheep and a thousand goats (1Sa 25:2). Sadly, Nabal was harsh and badly behaved (1Sa 25:3) as He valued money more than people.

As the story goes, David’s men were happy for Nabal’s employees to graze their sheep in the same pastures as theirs. They got on well together with David’s men watching over the shepherds to ensure nothing bad happened to them and no sheep were stolen.

One day when Nabal was shearing his sheep, David sent ten men to greet Nabal on his behalf and request some food due to their supplies getting low. After all, thought David, my men and Nabal’s shepherds have lived and worked together happily, surely Nabal will help us out just this once.

Unfortunately, grumpy Nabal didn’t respond well. Who is David…?  Shall I take my bread, my water, and my meat that I have killed for my shearers and give it to men who come from I do not know where? (1Sa 25:10-11). David’s response was equally wrong, telling his men to strap on their swords, and about four hundred men went up after David (1Sa 25:13) to seek revenge on Nabal.

Meantime, Nabal’s servants told Abigail of everything that was unfolding. Abigail made haste and took two hundred loaves and two skins of wine and five sheep already prepared and five seahs of parched grain and a hundred clusters of raisins and two hundred cakes of figs (1Sa 25:18). Abigail was on a private peace mission without Nabal’s knowledge.

Meeting David and his troops, Abigail fell before David… and said, on me alone, my lord, be the guilt (1Sa 25:23-24). Humble Abigail was willing for David to place the blame for her husband’s insulting behaviour on her. Please forgive the trespass of your servant (1Sa 25:28). Abigail was seeking forgiveness for sins she had not committed.

She presented David with the gifts of food and acknowledged her understanding of the Lord’s blessing and sovereign protection over his life. She even understood that the Lord would one day appoint David as king.1 Samuel 25:32-34 tells us that David responded well to

Abigail’s gifts and words of appeasement, returning home without revenge upon Nabal. In complete ignorance of  Abigail’s peace mission, that evening Nabal held a feast… Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk. The next morning Abigail explained everything to Nabal; and his heart died within him, and he became as a stone. About ten days later the Lord struck Nabal, and he died (1Sa 25:36-38).

Nabal could have treated David kindly, which would have prevented this whole incident, but he didn’t. David could had responded to Nabal’s insults with grace, but he didn’t. It was Abigail’s extraordinary faith and courage that saved many lives and prevented David from the guilt of killing innocent men.

Left to hothead Nabel and impulsive David, this story would have ended in a mass killing. But Abigail’s peaceful integrity left room for God to work out His justice in His way. Her responsive faith in action provided a way forward for David without further guilt and bloodshed. Romans 12:18 instructs us; If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

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Behold God’s Beauty

Psalm 27:4 is a short prayer by David. It’s a response to his acknowledgement that “The LORD is my light and my salvation… The LORD is the stronghold of my life…” (Psalm 27:1). So he prays; One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. While this one sentence prayer is rich in meaning, David’s desire has caught my attention. Of all that David could have prayed, he reaches out to God, requesting that which is of greatest importance to him, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord.

David was no stranger to earthly wealth and power. Being a successful King, he was accustomed to the nicer things in life, even though he did endure some extremely painful times. However, he could have asked God for all kinds of things which would have increased his comfort and the human pleasures of life. But he didn’t. This single verse prayer shows us what had captivated the deepest recesses of David’s affections, it was the beauty of the Lord.

Living in an age and culture that is obsessed with pleasures without restraint or responsibility, our heart’s truest desires are easy to see. Now-a-days, the world applauds those who parade their passions, regardless of whether they are admirable or debased. Equally, it should be known of God’s children, like David, who unashamedly display their affection for the God who they recognise as beautiful.

But simply recognising God’s beauty falls short of what the Lord is worthy of. Again, David leads us in our understanding of that which is best. Rising above all else in his royal life, David makes this single overarching request for that which consumed his desires in life. And he wasn’t satisfied with asking then walking away and forgetting. No, David openly declared, “that will I seek after.” The value of lingering in his observations of the Lord’s beauty had transferred to his active pursuits in life. David prioritised the time and energies needed to seek after the beauty of the Lord all of the days of his life.

This pursuit of the Lord’s beauty brought David satisfaction. This place of worship was David’s place of contentment. In the flurry of the everchanging events of his royal life, worship was David’s inner sanctuary. Why, not for the sake of worship in and of itself. But in worship he witnessed the very best of Yahweh, and that was the place David desperately wanted to stay in. To always have his heart captured by and pursuing those qualities of the Lord which drown out the distracting noises of the world and life’s busyness.

This is the essence of Jesus’ bold declaration to Satan during His 40 days of temptation. And Jesus answered him (Satan), “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve’” (Luke 4:8). Priority number ONE, for all of God’s created beings, human and angelic alike, is to be locked in worship of God to the degree that our strongest affections demand we serve the Lord our God.

I pray that today, as we navigate life, the Holy Spirit will accomplish this same awakening in all our hearts as in David’s. That I (we) may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my (our) life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. Amen.

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Remember from where you came

I’ve been reminded from Matthew 13, with the parable of the Weeds and Wheat, that the weeds (Darnel/Tares) are able to be born again spiritually into Wheat. It’s a whole-person transformation which makes us a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Yet sometimes we forget what we have been saved from, what we were like without Jesus Christ. And in forgetting, we diminish our appreciation for the enormity of salvation.

Moses records the Lord’s instruction immediately before being given the ten commandments. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm… (Deuteronomy 5:15). Israel’s 400 years of slavery under Egypt was a vivid reminder of the enormous transformation God performed for them by delivering them from Egyptian slavery. So it is for the Christian. Through faith in Jesus Christ we have been transferred from sin’s slavery to slavery in obedience and righteousness (Romans 6:16-18). The two patterns of life are completely different because the heart’s affections have changed radically. Love for sin has been exchanged for love for Christ.

Obviously, we are not to wallow in a morbid state of remembering our past lives, but to rejoice in the work of God. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation (Colossians 1:21-22). This new standing before God in Jesus Christ has liberated us from being alienated enemies to being clean from any accusations before Holy God. We are now accepted, loved, and precious to God. The contrast is monumental and should always be appreciated as the greatest works of God’s grace.

Therefore, the Lord wants to use you and I to reach the darnel of this world who are like what we once were. This is because we remember what we were saved from and are better equipped to relate to them and communicate with understanding. We are better equipped to explain the realities of spiritual life with terminology and Scripture that highlight their need of a Saviour. This is an integral part of making disciples who will follow Christ faithfully.

It is this concept that Paul had in mind when he instructed the Corinthian church to be imitators of me, as I am of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Paul only wanted the Corinthian’s to imitate the Jesus they saw through Paul. Similarly, Paul tells of the way the believers of Galatia responded to both Paul and the gospel. The Galatians heard that “He (Paul) who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me (Galatians 1:23-24). The transformation in Paul’s life was unmistakable, people noticed it, and Paul capitalised on it for spreading the good news of Jesus.

Paul never hid what His pre-Christian life was like, although He didn’t skite about it either. But he used his past to praise God, boasting in Jesus’ gospel accomplishments (1Co 1:31), and to open a door into people’s hearts for the truth of Jesus. As Paul confessed to Timothy, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy… (1 Timothy 1:13). So, in remembering our old lives, the compassionate mercy of God is highlighted, and we are motivated to share Jesus Christ with others, some of whom are just like we used to be.

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