The two best things to ever happen to me happened when I was a student at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville – I came to know and love Jesus, and I came to know and love my wife. Needless to say, I have great memories from my time at Northwest, and I praise God for those memories!
The first of those things happened 24 years ago today, and I can still vividly remember that great day. As someone who grew up “in church,” though, why was I a 20-year-old college sophomore before sincerely repenting of my sins and placing my saving faith in Jesus Christ? The simple answer – that is when God chose to open my eyes and my heart to the truth of the gospel.
As Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44). While I will not pretend to understand God’s sovereign timing, I have come to trust God’s sovereign timing. He is perfect and makes no mistakes. And, in His perfect plan and timing, He chose to send His Holy Spirit to “convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment” (check out Jesus’ words in John 16:5-15).
That conviction of the Holy Spirit, coupled with the preaching of God’s Word by my then-pastor and some other faithful Christian friends, was used of God to stir in me an overwhelming desire to surrender my life to Jesus Christ. Praise be to God!
While I had so much to learn on November 4, 1998 (and still have so much to learn), I realize now something that I did not understand very well then – I desperately needed (and still need) the Spirit of grace. How utterly incapable I was (and am) of understanding the gospel, let alone truly trusting the gospel on my own. Praise God for the work of His Holy Spirit!
On Sunday morning, I hope to challenge those in attendance to not only understand the Holy Spirit but also to continually trust the Holy Spirit to do the work of God in your life. You and I are not able to be who God called us to be and do what God called us to do without His Spirit’s help.
The fruit of the Spirit is the evidence that you are walking with Him. Is such evidence clear in your life? How can you trust Him more, grow closer to Him, and better help others to grow closer to Him?
When I was on our high school track and field team, I had a teammate who decided he wanted to run the mile in a track meet. Unfortunately for him, he was not prepared and did not know how the race should be run or what his body could handle. At the sound of the gun, he basically sprinted out to an early lead, but he did not have nearly enough stamina to keep such a pace. Instead, he was exhausted by the end of the first lap, began to get passed by several runners and then eventually all the runners, before he finally collapsed and failed to finish the race.
A lack of preparation and understanding was this boy’s undoing, and he failed as a result. I do not believe he ever attempted the mile run again.
Life is often compared to a race – and for good reason. Races, especially longer races, are hard work, and to do well, they require preparation, determination, perseverance, and effort. Unfortunately, too many people often do not finish well.
The race eventually ends for everyone, but will youfinish the race. Will you cross the finish line by living the life God has called you to live and having a right relationship with Him? That finish line is the only one that truly matters, and His Word is the only book of instruction that can tell us how to get there.
May we never be like so many of the illegitimate believers who were the first readers of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. “You were running well. Who prevented you from obeying the truth?” (Galatians 5:7).
While many of the Galatians had professed to believe in Jesus Christ, they had strayed off the path and were in danger of failing to finish the race. Sin and a false gospel had caused them to look to themselves and a false religious system for a right relationship with God. Only Jesus can give us a right relationship with God, though, and trusting in anyone or anything else will only lead to enslavement to sin and the resulting eternal death.
The good news for followers of Jesus, though, is that “Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Trusting any message and religious system other thanthe gospel of Jesus Christ is submitting to a yoke of slavery leading to eternal damnation.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching on “The Response to Grace” (Galatians 5:1-15). Our response to the gospel of grace must be biblically faithful (true to the Word of God). Otherwise, we will not finish the race God has created us to run. We will consider Sunday morning how to run that race – how to respond to God’s amazing grace.
Will you finish the race? Only by the grace of God and your ongoing faith in and dependence on Christ. Every other way and attempt will lead to your collapse and destruction. Let us look to the Lord and His Word for everything we need to finish the race.
If you, like me, are blessed and thankful to be married, why do you do the things you do for your spouse? I happen to be married to the woman of my dreams, and while I am far from adequate in showing her how grateful I am for her, the reason I do the things I do for my wife is because I love her. Also, I am confident in and grateful for the love she has for me.
Thus, when I give my wife a gift, perform an act of service for her, tell her how much I love her, or give her a kiss goodbye, I never do those things to earn her love. I do those things because I have her love and because I love her. There is no checklist I must complete in order to become my wife’s husband. I already am her husband, and so the things that I might put on such a checklist are things I desire to do. Unfortunately, I wish I did a better job, but the truth and reality remain the same, regardless of my failures.
Did you know there is no checklist with God, either? Well, at least not one we are able to complete. Before I truly understood the gospel and placed my faith in Jesus Christ, I thought such a checklist was exactly what I did have to complete in order to earn God’s favor and have eternal life. I was wrong. The Law of God recorded in the Word of God is such a checklist, but none of us is able to complete it. None of us is good enough to obey it. None of us is sufficient to fulfill it. Otherwise, there would have been no reason for Jesus to come, die on the cross in our place for our sins, and rise again to win the victory over sin and death for all who call upon His name.
Because God is perfect and holy, we are required to be perfect and holy to enter His presence and have a relationship with Him. None of us is perfect and holy, though. Yet, He loves us so much that He sent His perfect and holy Son to “complete the checklist” for us. Jesus alone obeyed the Law of God perfectly before becoming the sacrifice (in our place) that God’s perfect justice demanded. Now, if we simply place our faith and trust in Jesus to forgive us of our sins and take over our lives, it is as if we “completed that checklist.”
Praise God that there is no checklist we must fulfill to know and follow Him! His Son did that for us.
Now, His followers do not seek to serve and honor Him to earn His favor and become His children. Rather, we seek to serve and honor Him because we have received His favor and been declared His children through Jesus Christ our Lord.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I am going to preach through Galatians 4:8-31 on “The Identity of Grace.” When we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, He gives us a new identity. This identity of grace declares us to be children of God, as if we fulfilled His perfect checklist. Why? Because in and through Christ, we “know God, or rather have become known by God” (Galatians 4:9).
Just as Paul pleaded with the Galatians, I plead with you – do not try to fulfill some sort of religious checklist to make yourself right with God. Put your faith in the only One who can make you right, and trust in and follow Him every single day. To God be the glory!
I have long-made the argument that if our most important relationships are healthy, we can endure just about anything. On the flip side, even if we are successful in our careers, healthy, wealthy, and wise, we will be miserable without healthy relationships. Relationships matter.
Perhaps the greatest curse of sin that we all deal with in this life is broken relationships. Certainly, the greatest curse of sin eternally is broken relationships – most importantly, with God, but secondarily, with everyone else. Eternal death includes the death of all good relationships, namely any chance at a right relationship with God.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Galatians 3:26– 4:7 on “The Promise of Grace.” Without giving too much away before Sunday, I will be discussing the greatest blessings of the gospel of grace. God’s grace is promised and fulfilled in Christ. How? That is what we will consider from this amazing passage of Scripture.
How are your relationships? How is your most important relationship – your relationship with God? While our sin prevents us from perfect relationships (for now), we should certainly pursue and can experience healthy, growing relationships. That is God’s desire for us, but such relationships are only possible (in any lasting way) if and when you turn to the Lord Jesus for help. Jesus alone brings about reconciliation in our most important relationship and establishes for us the second best relationships.
For those who are part of our church family (or who live near us and do not yet have a church family), I pray you will join us Sunday to learn more about the greatest blessings of the Christian life. If not, the message should be available online Sunday evening.
“When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
I have always been a self-confident person, not because I am worthy of such confidence but rather because of my personality, my upbringing, and having two self-confident parents. From the time I can remember, I only recall learning that self-confidence was a good thing. Of course, to some degree it is a good thing. We should want to pursue our goals with confidence and assurance.
When it breeds pride and self-righteousness, though, self-confidence is foolish and evil. And, more often than not in my life, that was (and has been) the reality. You see, we can do nothing apart from God’s grace and kindness in our lives, so when we think we are something on our own, believing in ourselves above all else, we are foolishly and sinfully deceiving ourselves.
That was, to a large degree, the story of my life until the Lord saved me from my prideful sin nearly 24 years ago. More than just self-confidence in sports, school, and conversations, I was confident in my morality.
If you would have asked me when I was a teenager if I was a Christian, I would have confidently answered yes. Then, if you would have pressed a little further and asked how I knew I was going to have eternal life, I would have said – like a lot of people – “Because I’m a good person.” While I may have believed the right things about Jesus, I really believed in myself.
Do not believe in yourself. Do not try to have more faith in yourself. You, like me, are a failure. You, like me, are nothing without the grace and mercy of God.
Do not believe in yourself. Trust in the Lord! Put your faith in Him.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Galatians 3 and challenging my hearers to stop putting their faith in themselves and sincerely put their faith in Jesus. In “Grace with Faith,” I hope to share three characteristics of sincere Christian faith.
Are you trusting in your abilities, your accomplishments, and your goodness to get to heaven? Beware that “all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written: Everyone who does not continue doing everything written in the book of the law is cursed” (Galatians 3:10). None of us is able to keep the Law perfectly, which means if we trust in ourselves, we are doomed for eternity.
Praise God, though, that “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). That is the amazing grace of the gospel! Jesus took the punishment we all deserved when He died on the cross for our sins. He became the curse for us! Then, when He rose from the dead, He won the victory over sin and death forever. Everyone who turns to Him in faith is counted as righteous.
Until I was a sophomore in college, I always believed that I was “going to heaven someday” because I was a “good person.” Yes, I believed that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, but deep down, it was as if I believed in myself more. While I believed the right things about Jesus, my sincere faith and trust were more in myself. What was I doing? What did I accomplish? What did I earn from God?
Basically, I was living like a modern-day pharisee, legalistically trying to check the boxes and earn my favor with God. Now, please realize, I was far from truly being a “good person.” I was not even close to living according to the Law of God, but I tried my best to “put on a good show” and “look the part.” Because I was, what I considered, “better than most” when it came to obeying God’s Word (even though I failed constantly), I was convinced that my goodness made me right with God.
Oh, how wrong I was!
Legalism is wicked and sinful because it distorts the truth of the gospel and is a mockery of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for our sins on the cross. Essentially, legalism – adding to the Word of God a works-based burden that none of us can bear – declares that Christ’s substitutionary atonement was unnecessary. When you try to live a moral life for the wrong reasons – to earn God’s favor, rather than serving Him because of the gift of His favor through faith in Jesus, you have no way to actually earn God’s favor and instead will earn His eternal wrath in hell. Harsh as that sounds, it is the truth of the gospel. We need Jesus. He alone can save us from our sins, and He alone can enable us to grow in obedience to God’s Word.
Praise God for His grace! Until I was 20 years old, despite growing up in church and being “confirmed” in a Lutheran church when I was in eighth grade, I wrongfully believed that my standing with God was based on what I could do, rather than on what Christ had already done for me.
Thankfully, He opened my eyes in the fall of 1998 to see the truth. Then, I went from legalism to liberty, meaning I was released from the overwhelming and unachievable burden of trying to be good enough to earn God’s favor. Instead, I experienced the work of God’s grace in my life, realizing and embracing the freedom to trust in Christ’s perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection for my salvation. Praise be to God!
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Galatians 2 on “The Work of Grace.” What a great chapter explaining the difference between legalism and liberty! Have you experienced the work of grace in your life?
“No one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. And we have believed in Christ Jesus so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified” (Galatians 2:16-17).
For so many years, I was trying to be justified (made right with God) by being good enough – by trying to obey the law, but I just kept failing and failing.
Well, I still fail, but now my sincere faith is in Jesus and what He did. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:19b-20).
Not ironically, I am actually more obedient to God’s Word now than I was when I thought I had to earn His favor. That is not because I have somehow figured things out and am a better person. Rather, it is because of the work of grace in my life. The same grace of God in Christ Jesus that saves me is the grace that changes me every day. Thank you, Jesus!
When I was a kid, one of my favorite songs was “I Just Called to Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder. I am unsure if that is something about which to be embarrassed or proud. Depends on your taste in music, I suppose. I had that song memorized, though, and I loved listening to Stevie Wonder sing.
In life, we get a lot of calls, especially now, right? We carry our phones in our pockets and set them on our desks while we work. There are days when it seems like I spend more time responding to text messages and phone calls than anything else. Now, I am a pastor, so to some degree, that comes with the territory, and I am grateful for technology that allows me to respond so quickly to prayer concerns and ministry needs. No one has ever “just called to say, ‘I love you,'” though. But, I think I am okay with that. 😉
When it comes to the most important calls, however, we want to make sure we are available, do we not? If we know something really important is likely to come, like the birth of a child, important medical news, the result of a spouse’s job interview, etc., we want to be ready for those calls.
How much more so should that be the case for God’s call on our lives? While He does not, as far as I am aware or have heard, use cell phones for such communication, He does indeed call us. The only way we can be certain of His calling, though, is by seeking Him through His Word. Knowing His Word is the only way to know His calling on our lives.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Galatians 1:11-24 on “The Calling of Grace.” I believe we can learn some lessons from Paul’s apostleship that apply to all who are called to follow Jesus. Have you heard and responded to that call? Are you fulfilling your calling as a follower of Jesus?
God does love you and proved that love by sending His Son to die on the cross for our sins. God did not “just call to say, ‘I love you,'” though. He called to say much more.
By the grace of God according to the Word of God, we can understand and follow His gracious calling on our lives. To do so, however, we must be in His Word, serving in His church, and living according to His mission (being a Christ-follower who is helping others to be Christ-followers). How are you doing? How are you helping others? Let us hear and respond to the most important of calls!
When we lived in Turkey, I learned to look both ways when turning the correct way onto a one-way street. The reason? It was not safe to assume others were all going the correct way. In fact, I have even continued that habit here in America because, while people do tend to be more aware and more obedient to traffic laws in this country, failures and rebellions still occur.
Last month, I was one of those failures. Somehow, I missed a one-way sign when turning onto a road in a town in which I am not familiar driving, and my family noticed a lady standing in front of a business glaring at me and shaking her head in disappointment. Oops! Thankfully, I did not meet any other vehicles before I was able to turn off that street. What I did, though, did not change the law or the reality that I was going the wrong way.
Unfortunately, the same problem that has existed throughout human history still exists today – the lie of “my truth.” Yes, it seems to be much worse now, but I think that might only be because of social media, our country’s growing liberal agenda, and the ease of disseminating information. People have always been tempted, however, to replace the truth with their own personal truth.
Regardless, one way is one way. The truth is the truth, no matter how you and I feel about it. Sure, I can go the wrong way down a one-way street and claim the street does not need to be one-way. “Cars can fit in both directions, and I’m only going a block,” I might declare. The law is still the law, though, and I have broken the law. My feelings and/or logic cannot change that truth.
So it is with God’s Truth according to His Word. There is one way to have eternal life, and every other way leads to eternal death. There is One God who rules over all, and every other supposed god is false and unworthy of our devotion. There is One Savior of the world, and every supposed prophet or messiah who contradicts Him is a liar.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Galatians 1:6-10 on “The Way of Grace.” The way of grace is the singular gospel of Jesus Christ – His life, death, and resurrection for our salvation. No other way will do.
For that reason, “If anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him!” (Galatians 1:9). That is strong, harsh language for anyone who tries to promote another way besides Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Are you tempted to trust another way? Eternal damnation will be the result. Are you tempted to proclaim another way? Eternal damnation will be the result. One way = ONE way. No other way will satisfy beyond the fleeting pleasures of this short life.
Trust, live, and proclaim the way of grace alone. You will not regret it. To God be the glory!
Have you ever thought to yourself, “God sure is lucky to have me on His team. He’s done so much for me, but now He needs me to _______ for Him.”? Maybe you have said and/or thought less-pompous things than that but still consider yourself to be needed by God to complete “your end of the deal.”
For years, this is how I viewed things. Sure, I believed everything the Bible says about God’s love, the basics of the gospel, and my sin. Yet, I thought my eternal life depended on a combination of God’s work and my work… God’s grace and my good deeds.
No, I do not ever recall thinking that God had let me down or that He was insufficient, but my sincere theology said otherwise. After all, if God depends on me (or you) to complete the work of salvation, then His Son’s death on the cross for our sins was insufficient. And, His Son’s resurrection from the dead did not accomplish victory.
The gospel is enough, though. Thankfully, my mind and heart have changed since I was a young man, and I want to challenge you to consider what you believe. Here are the two options and how I went from death to life.
MY WORK + GOD’S WORK = DEATH
Again, while I believed the right things about Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection for as long as I can remember, my hope for life was just as much in my efforts and accomplishments. Practically and theologically, I was living as if, “Jesus did His work. Now, He needs me to do my work – to hold up my end of the deal.”
No matter how hard I tried, though, I could never find peace. My legalism (good works to try to earn God’s favor) grew and grew, but inner peace did not reciprocate. So, I just tried to do more and more, getting even more legalistic. For example, instead of just reading my Bible, I started highlighting chapter numbers as I read them, just to “check them off the list.” Instead of just attending church services, I volunteered for different ministry opportunities and even some volunteer leadership roles. Talking the talk, I appeared to those around me like I was also walking the walk. Deep down, though, I knew something was missing. Was I not working hard enough? Are peace with God and assurance of salvation just not things that are possible? My good works surely outweigh my sins, though, right? So, is that not enough?
Really, that is what it came down to for any sense of assurance I (along with Satan, I believe) tricked myself into finding – my good outweighs my bad, so I am fine. Still, there was no lasting peace. I may have become more and more religious and more and more “proper” when people were watching, but I could sense something was missing.
That, of course, was the work of God in my heart and mind. He was convicting me of sin, despite my efforts to push Him aside and do things in my own power and self-righteousness. I was headed for eternal death in hell because I had not truly trusted and surrendered my life to the Lord.
GOD’S WORK + 0 = LIFE
God is perfectly holy, and so one sin is enough to condemn me (and you) for all of eternity. One sin makes us guilty before a God who is without sin. Even human law, which is not perfect, does not allow good deeds to cancel out broken laws. How much more, though, does our perfect God require perfection in His presence? Thus, only our perfection and complete obedience to God’s Word would warrant our works playing a role in our salvation.
Yet, none of us is perfect. Not even close. One sin would be great – one sin per day – but we have all sinned more times than we can count, and that is probably just today. There is no amount of work we can do to take away our sins. Even our best efforts are insufficient.
“All of us have become like something unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a polluted garment; all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities carry us away like the wind” (Isaiah 64:6).
Thankfully, “God demonstrates His own love for us in this – that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). What Jesus did on the cross and accomplished in the resurrection have no need for our help. The victory is already won. We simply have to trust in Him. We simply have to receive the gift. We simply have to turn to Him. No work but rather faith.
Now, the Bible is abundantly clear that faith without works is dead (illegitimate). See James 2 for more on that. The good works are what prove sincere faith to be real, though. Those who have experienced the grace of God in Christ do not do good works to earn God’s favor but rather because we have already received God’s favor.
Not ironically, I do a lot more “good works” now than I ever could when I thought they were necessary for my salvation. That is not because I am somehow better now and have “figured things out.” Rather, it is because I have received the Holy Spirit, who enables me to grow in obedience to God’s Word. What a blessing for all who know and follow Jesus!
“For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10). Yes, we are created for those “good works,” but salvation is 100% God’s gift. The works, when they continue and endure to the end, prove the salvation is real.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be starting a new sermon series through Galatians on A Gospel of Grace. Preaching my first message from Galatians 1:1-5 on “The Grace of God,” I hope to communicate that God does not need us for our salvation to be realized. His grace is free, or it would not be grace.
God does not need me. He does not need you, either. Yes, we are responsible to rightly respond to Him in faith and repentance. Then, works will follow. May we never fail to realize, though, that the gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of grace.
When was the last time you held back saying something to someone, though you knew you should have, because what needed to be said would have been hard to hear? We have all been there, right? Perhaps we even hold back sharing truth under the supposed act of “love” for that person. We might say or think something like, “Well, I love them and don’t want to hurt them, so I’ll just look the other way [(or accept them as they are) or (let them live their lives)].”
To be clear, though, that is not love. Love demands truth.
You cannot claim to love someone, for example, while at the same time being okay with them playing Russian Roulette. If you know what Russian Roulette is, you know that “dangerous game” is an understated description. Furthermore, if someone continues to play Russian Roulette, they will eventually “lose” (and die). Love, then, demands we share the truth with them.
To say something foolish like, “I know playing Russian Roulette makes you happy, and I want you to be happy. If that makes you happy, play on,” is not a loving thing to do. No, the loving thing to do is to beg and plead with them to put the revolver down and live. Do not take such chances with your life. Please!
As dangerous and devastating as Russian Roulette can be, how much more dangerous and devastating is the eternal death that comes as a result of sin. It is the death we all deserve because of our sin, but God loved us so much that He sent Jesus to “take that bullet” for us. Now, everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.
Refusing to turn from sin and surrender your life to Jesus, though, is like playing the ultimate horrifying game of Russian Roulette. The consequences are so much worse than a bullet to the brain and the end of physical life. The consequences are eternal death.
We cannot be sure when this life will end for any of us. We cannot be sure when Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. And, once this life is over, the chance for repentance and faith will be too late. That is why God’s Word appeals to all, “‘Don’t receive God’s grace in vain.’ For God says: ‘I heard you in an acceptable time, and I helped you in the day of salvation. Look, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation‘” (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).
Do not play Russian Roulette with your spiritual life. Do not be content with any plan other than God’s plan for you (according to His Word). And, do not think that the loving thing to do is to sit by while others play Russian Roulette with their spiritual lives. We cannot take the gun out of their hands, but we can love them enough to tell them of the consequences and plead with them to surrender their all to Jesus and let God “take the gun.”
We discussed in our adult Bible study with our church family last night the calling of Jesus on our lives – “Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them — this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
If you were so blinded from the truth that you thought Russian Roulette was the right thing to do, would you not want someone to tell you? Would you not want someone to do whatever they could to get that gun out of your hand and help you experience hope and healing? Of course you would! To love someone is to act on that love. To love someone is to speak the truth into their lives.
God alone saves. He alone has the solution to our eternal problem. Have you surrendered your all to Him and begun to experience that solution? Do you love others enough to tell them?