What Do You Have to Do to Be Saved?

shutterstock_531279361.jpgGalatians 1:6-9

6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.


Paul was blown away to learn that the church in Galatia was starting to teach a modified version of the gospel message he had preached. Many of the Christians in Galatia were raised Jewish and there was probably significant pressure to sprinkle back in some of the traditions and requirements of the Jewish faith, like circumcision.

The people responsible for said pressure were called the “Judaizers,” because they wanted to merge requirements of the Jewish faith back into Christianity. They believed that salvation was based on a combination of God’s grace and our own personal effort.

The Gospel, or good news, which Paul and the other Apostles were preaching, was simply this: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved” (Romans 10:9-10, NIV).

It’s as simple as trusting Jesus as our Lord and Savior. The Judaizers said, “Wait, we’re going to make sure every man is circumcised as well, right?” The problem with that extra stipulation is that Jesus never taught that. They wanted to add that back in to avoid the pressure they felt from the Jewish community. They wanted to follow Jesus but also kind of still fit in with their friends and family who were Jewish.

Does that sound familiar? It should; it’s an age old problem for the church.

Thought for Today: Is there anything you believe people must do to be right with God other than openly submitting to Jesus? Maybe you doubt that someone who struggles with _______ sin can be saved. Or maybe you believe that we have to keep a strict moral code before we can be saved. Can you hear the echo from the Judaizers: “Wait, don’t they have to _______ as well?” The good news is we don’t have to have it all figured out to come to Jesus. When it comes to salvation, Jesus’ work on the cross is sufficient. It’s Jesus + nothing and anything added to that equation is just legalism.

Today’s Prayer: Father, give us eyes to see things the way you do. Break us free from the trap of legalism. Thank you for the love and mercy that you offered us at the cross—grace that we did not deserve. May we live lives that glorify you.

We Don’t Have to Work Our Way to God

shutterstock_554613196.jpgGalatians 1:3-5

3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.


 

The difference between Biblical Christianity and religion is summed up in this simple statement: We can’t work our way to God, so God, in grace and truth, worked His way to us, in and through the person of Jesus.
Paul is writing this letter to the churches in Galatia, and before he offers the challenges and encouragements in the rest of his writing, he starts with a reminder: Our salvation is because of the grace Jesus showed us on the Cross. Saying “yes” to Jesus is the only way for us to have a relationship with God and gain forgiveness from our sins (v. 4).
However, Jesus didn’t die only to give us freedom from our past. He died to give us freedom today and in the future.
The churches in Galatia had fallen back to the natural desire to gain their worth and value through what they achieve. Though they had received the love and grace of Jesus, they chose to fall back to the idea that the law, a list of do’s and don’ts, was the basis of their salvation. In doing so, Paul will later explain that they were choosing to stay stuck in the “present evil age” (v. 5).
We can have that same tendency, even after saying “yes” to Jesus, to believe that our value, hope, identity, and peace can be found in our achievements. This applies to how we carry ourselves professionally, personally, and even spiritually.
Think about it: If we were to rate ourselves as Christians, on a scale from 1 to 10, the primary factor in our grading would be our performance. In reality, our standing in Christ is determined by Him. Our lives after saying “yes” to Jesus are lived in response to what He has already done, not in hopes to earn His love.
The reality of being saved from “this present evil age” isn’t that we won’t experience pain, or that the all of the news will instantly become good. The freedom we can experience today means that even in the midst of the pain and darkness, we have reason for hope. Just as Jesus can give us freedom from our past, he wants us to walk freely in the love and identity that He has offered us today.
When we choose to make our faith about our achievements, we fall into the trap of forgetting that Jesus has already worked His way to us. By making it about our own efforts, insecurities creep in as we realize we can’t work our way to Him. Insecurity brings hopelessness, fear, and self-medication… none of which are synonymous with freedom.
Even though Paul offers challenges, corrections, and strong truth in the rest of this letter to the Galatians, he precedes all of it with reminding the churches that Jesus had already worked His way to them. In the moments we find ourselves making our faith about our achievements, it’s vital that we remind ourselves that Jesus did what we couldn’t do. Likewise, when fear and insecurity set in, we must remember that we are loved by a God who didn’t just free us from our past, but also wants us to walk in freedom today.
Today’s Prayer: Jesus, thank you for doing what I couldn’t do. Thank you for working your way to me to give me forgiveness, freedom, and hope. In the times that I’m exhausting myself trying to work my way to you, remind me that you’ve already made a way. Help me walk in the freedom that you’ve offered me, so that I can be a light to the hurting and dark world around me.

Love God by Loving Others

shutterstock_221010295.jpgJohn 21:15-19

15When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”


If there is still breath in your lungs, God is not done with you.

Peter was certain his utter betrayal of Jesus by denying he even knew him would have disqualified him from being used by God. But here is the crazy part: Jesus always knew that Peter would deny him, but Jesus chose him anyway.

Rather than rubbing Peter’s nose in his mistakes, Jesus becomes a broken record on how to move forward. Do you love me? Then care for people. You cannot love Jesus while hating your neighbor. Jesus forever connected these two commandments to love God AND to love people. In fact, the way we love God is by loving people.

And here Jesus reminds Peter that there is still work to be done. Get up and love me by caring for others.

Peter had put a period at the end of his story. But where Peter saw a period, Jesus saw a comma. Don’t put a period where God puts a comma. If there is still breath in your lungs, God is not done with you.

Today’s Prayer: Jesus, help me to move beyond my past, to receive your grace, and to freely serve you by serving others. Reveal to me if there is any area I have placed a “period” where you see a “comma.”  Thank you for being the God of second, and third, and fourth, and fifth, and beyond chances. I love you. Amen.

Does Jesus Live Up to Your Expectations?

shutterstock_566877226.jpgJohn 18:33-38

33So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.”


Imagine Jesus standing face-to-face with Pilate. The Jewish leaders were trying to convince the Romans that Jesus planned to oppose them. Pilate questioned Jesus to discover if there was any validity to those claims. He looked Jesus square in the eye and said, “Do you have plans to stand against Rome?”

Putting Pilate’s suspicions at ease, Jesus responded by saying that his “Kingdom is not of this world” and that his purpose was tobear witness to the truth.” At the end of the conversation, Pilate could not find justification to condemn Jesus.

The irony of this whole episode can be found in the accusation itself. The Jewish leaders wanted Jesus dead because he was not what they expected. They believed the prophesied Messiah would reunite the kingdom of Israel and drive out their occupiers. When Jesus did not live up to that expectation, they accused him of the very thing he wasn’t there to do.

Thought for Today: If we’re honest, we too want Jesus to live up to our expectations. We pray and we request, and then we get offended when he doesn’t do what we want, but doing what we want is not the point. Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, ESV). He came to bear witness to this truth: In the Kingdom of God, our relationship with Jesus is all that matters. “…and the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17, ESV). Everything else is just a mirage. What have you accused Jesus of?

Today’s Prayer: Jesus, please help me to follow you no matter what comes. Help me to do your will; help me to see things the way you do. May my life glorify you.

Can You Commit to Christ?

shutterstock_391930699.jpgJohn 17:20-26

20“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”


I just need you to re-read the passage above. Don’t gloss over it. Don’t just read it to check the box that you read a Bible passage today. Stop, pray, then meditate over these beautiful words that Jesus prayed to God, His Father.

Jesus is praying for oneness. Something we all desperately need.

Do you like watching sports? The best teams operate like one, fine-tuned machine. Everyone knows their role, and they execute perfectly. Some defend, others pass, one person scores. Everyone celebrates.

This is how we are to act as Christians—as players on the same team! By doing our part, and serving each other and showing the world how Christ loved us: through unconditional love and incredible (as well as seemingly mundane) acts of service.

Jesus prays “for those who will believe in me through their message” (v. 20).

What message are you putting out into the world? What do your social media platforms say about you? What does the way you interact with your spouse or children say about the love that Christ has for you, and for the world? Are you living in community the way Christ calls you to?

If we all committed to being more like Jesus, we would all be the same, while living different lives, in different homes, with different people, but with the same outcome: people getting to meet, know, and follow Jesus, because of the example we have set.

Thought for Today: Can you commit to this mission? To be one with Christ, and in turn one with your Christian brothers and sisters?

Today’s Prayer: Jesus prays that He would be in us, as God is in Him—so that we may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that God sent Jesus, and has loved all of us, even as He loves His one and only Son (v. 23). Let it be so. Amen.

How to Get Heaven on Earth

shutterstock_519161152.jpgJohn 17:1-5

1After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. 5And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”


When you think of heaven, what images come to mind?

It’s difficult to avoid being influenced by movies, artist renderings, books, music, and cartoons of harps being played on fluffy clouds with diapered flying baby angels (seriously, whose idea was that?). Many authors have attempted to describe in detail what they think heaven is like, but we almost always focus on the “stuff” in heaven: streets of gold, pearly gates, a big big table with lots and lots of food, etc.

Let’s be clear on something: Jesus is the authority on heaven. We can try to piece together visions that are shared in the Bible to maybe glimpse a tiny shadow of what heaven is like, we can read books of vague and varying experiences from those who claim to have seen part of heaven through a near death experience, OR we can learn from the one who actually created it.

Here is what eternal life, and therefore heaven, is all about: Knowing God.

This is the very definition Jesus gives to eternal life. It’s about knowing Him. Which means, heaven doesn’t have to wait until after death. Each moment we have with God, each lesson we learn, each experience of our growing relationship with our Creator is a little bit of heaven on earth.

Today’s Prayer: Father, as we await the day that we fully experience Your glory, give us glimpses of eternity today. Help us to know you more today than we did yesterday and in doing so experience a little heaven on earth. Amen.

Jesus Has Overcome, For You

shutterstock_344859035.jpgJohn 16:33 

33“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”


Take a moment and reread that verse. Wouldn’t it be great if Jesus said, “In this world you may have trouble…” or, “In this world there is a slight chance of trouble.” However, that’s not what Jesus said. With absolute certainty Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” [emphasis added].

On face value, this may be a discouraging verse. Many of us long for a life where trouble and pain do not exist, where every day is the equivalent of a highlight reel of the best of social media. But what does make this verse so extraordinary is that Jesus says He is stronger, and that He has already overcome the world!

Think about this for a moment: Jesus has overcome the world. I look at my world and I begin to wonder what He means when He says that He has overcome the world, because I still see that the world is a mess. All is not as it should be in the world.

When Jesus says He has overcome the world, He is speaking about more than just life in the here and now. He is speaking about life in the hereafter. Everything we see in our broken world keeps moving close to the world as it should be. A world where there will be no more pain, sorrow or death. Each breath we take as followers of Jesus is one breath closer to a world that is completely different.

Thought for Today: No matter what you are facing in your world today, take comfort in this verse. Jesus is able to do more than just help us face the struggle of this life. He has already overcome this broken world. Our future home in heaven will be more than just an upgrade on this life; it will be as if we are truly living for the first time!