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 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!
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.
I am not exactly sure what was happening in the above picture, but I love the example of sacrificial service on display by my mom as she was leading a game with the 4-to-6-year-old children Wednesday evening. Marsha and her (and several other amazing volunteers) serve our church family by ministering to dozens of children on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. They do so with very little fanfare and certainly little (if any) appreciation from the children, who do not yet know how to express much appreciation.
Effective children’s ministry, much like most Christian ministry, requires a lot of mercy and grace. Those children (just like the rest of us, by the way) do not deserve the time and effort volunteers put forth week after week. Ministry, especially children’s ministry, is utterly exhausting, very demanding, and extremely underappreciated. When I see some of the things our church volunteers endure (the spitting, kicking, screaming, pouting, scowling, yanking, pulling, tackling, throwing, etc. – plus all the things children do ;-)), I am amazed more volunteers do not burnout and run away.
Here they are, though, faithfully serving the Lord and His church week after week, year after year. Praise God for their Christlike examples!
Why do these faithful volunteers (and so many others) endure the difficulties of ministry? Why do they have and extend the mercy and grace that ministry requires? The simple answer to that question is because they have received and experienced that mercy and grace from the Lord. Once you experience such amazing mercy, you cannot help but have mercy.
A changed life leads to a desire to see the lives of others changed. Thus, disciples of Jesus want to help others know and follow Jesus. Disciples make disciples who make disciples who make disciples…
Those who have experienced much will give much.
How, though, can people serve so faithfully when there is so little gratitude and appreciation and reward? The simple answer is that they are able to do these things by the same grace and mercy of God that saved them from their sins. These incredible volunteers are not super-humans (although they look like it sometimes), and they are not super-Christians with some extra measure of faith that others cannot experience. Rather, they trust and depend on the grace of God that is necessary for anyone to do anything good.
They have experienced the mercy of God, and as they continue to trust His mercy and grace, they have mercy and compassion for others. The same God who opened their hearts to turn to Him is the same God who enables them to serve Him and His church so faithfully?
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Have you experienced God’s mercy through Christ? Are you extending that mercy to others? In what ways can you better demonstrate God’s mercy in and through your everyday life?
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching from Luke 10:25-37 on “Giving Mercy.” If you have received mercy from the Lord, then you will have and give mercy to others. How we treat others is the evidence of our relationship with God (see HERE and HERE, for example). Even when others are not kind and gracious to you (just like preschoolers who have kicked and hit volunteers), embracing God’s mercy and grace leads to the extension of that mercy and grace to others. See Luke 6:32-36 for a great example of this.
Let us know Jesus (in receiving mercy), and let us make Him known (in giving mercy). Have mercy to the glory of God!
There are countless occasions in life that require endurance or else that result in failure and/or destruction. We learn about the importance of pushing forward and not giving up early in life, as even children are scolded (often rightly-so) when they do give up and quit.
To finish a race, you have to endure. To win a game, you have to endure. To get your degree, you have to endure. To be successful, you have to endure. To maintain a healthy relationship, you have to endure. To raise children, you have to endure. The list goes on and on, does it not?
What is so often explained as the necessity to having such endurance? Hard work, discipline, commitment, patience, etc. could all be traits that help answer that question. While all of those characteristics (and many others) are good and should be pursued, they do not produce endurance that endures. In other words, the best character and greatest behavior will go a long way, but we all eventually fail.
An even greater necessity is required – grace (the gift of God that none of us deserves).
To do so many things, requires endurance. Most importantly, to follow Jesus until the end of this life, requires endurance. If you are not careful, though, you might fall into the trap of thinking that your hard work and discipline will be enough to ensure such endurance. None of us is good enough, hard-working enough, disciplined enough, or committed enough to endure until the end, though.
We need grace. All of us need grace – the grace of God – in order to endure. And, only those who endure until Jesus returns will be saved for eternity (Matthew 24:13).
If we rely on our own goodness and commitment to press on, we might last for a while, but failure (and resulting destruction) will come. If we trust the Lord, though, for the goodness and commitment we need, endurance will be the result.
Grace is the necessity, and the character traits that are associated with endurance will not only be found with those who seek and receive God’s grace; those traits will last. Endurance will result.
To receive such grace that results in faithful endurance, we need only humble ourselves and turn to the Lord. The Bible calls this repentance and faith – turning away from our sin and trusting in the Only One who can make us right with God. The gospel is the Good News that saves us from our sin and changes our lives now. Endurance results.
Have you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ? Are you experiencing the fruit of endurance? Are you trusting in His grace to push through the difficulties of this life?
The path to endurance is not found by trying harder but by surrendering all. Then, you will desire to try harder, and even your effort will endure.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching on the “Grace to Endure” (2 Peter 3) with patience and hope until Jesus comes again. Apart from God’s grace, none of us endures. Let us trust Him not only to save us from our sins but also to enable us to press on until He returns!
On our way to our vacation destination last August, I was driving through a construction zone with very little traffic and no construction workers on site. The interstate on which I was driving was down to two lanes (one in each direction) with no ability to pass. Unfortunately, I was behind a semi, and I am not nearly as patient as I should be, driving or otherwise.
Of course, when you are going through a construction zone and trailing a semi, cruise control really is not an option, as speeds can fluctuate so much. Thus, I found myself creeping up on the semi, slowing down, creeping up, slowing down, etc. Meanwhile, an Illinois State Police officer pulled out of his observation spot and was following me. I knew he was behind me but did not think much about him, as I could hardly speed or do much, and there was nearly no one else on the road.
Well, as soon as the construction zone ended, the trooper put his lights on and pulled me over. Great! What did I do wrong? Apparently, I did two things wrong. Multiple times, my speed got up to 65 miles per hour in the 55-mph construction zone, and I was following the semi too closely. Looking back, I can recognize the officer was right, and I was guilty of both offenses. Still, I was frustrated.
I cannot really remember what I said to the officer, but what I do remember is that he let me off with a warning. Phew! Perhaps my sweet wife and five scared children sitting with me in the van helped. They certainly helped more than my driving did! One thing I am certain I did not say in response is, “Oh, no thank you, officer. Please give me the full force of justice and the maximum penalty for my offenses.” Instead, I was obviously grateful for the warning and thanked the officer. I am not sure how much he could have penalized me, but I imagine that, especially because I was driving through a construction zone, the fines could have been steep. Praise the Lord for warnings!
Of course, there are no more important warnings than those found in the Word of God. Over and over, the Bible warns us of our need to turn away from sin and trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and salvation. Sin has consequences, and so we are warned of our need for atonement, which only comes in and through a relationship with Jesus.
On Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be preaching through Titus 2:11-14 on the “Second Chances” that only come by the grace of God. The greatest of all warnings points us to the greatest of all graces.
For the grace of God has appeared with salvation for all people, instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for Himself a people for His own possession, eager to do good works.
STANDARD OF TRUTH
If I told that state trooper, “But, I didn’t KNOW I could only go 55 miles per hour here,” would that make me innocent? Of course not. As a driver I am responsible for knowing and obeying the law. Likewise yet more importantly, as God’s creation, we are responsible for knowing and obeying His Law – the Bible. Are you seeking to know His Word and heed His warnings?
If I told that state trooper, “Well, maybe it’s your opinion that I was following that semi too closely, but in my opinion, I was just fine. I was comfortable with what I was doing. That’s my truth,” how would that have gone? Not well. The law is not based on my opinions or feelings and abilities. The law is based on standards, regardless of how I feel. I have no right and no ability to change the law, at least not in that moment. Even more so, we can never change God’s Law. His law is perfect and enduring. His standard of truth never changes because He never changes. Thus, we have no right and no ability to pick and choose which parts of His Word we obey. Are you asking for God’s help to walk in humility and obey His Word? Do you have relationships of intentional accountability to help you grow in your relationship with Him?
By God’s grace, He has given us warnings throughout His Word, and He has given us chance after chance to repent and believe. Let us not fail to know and embrace the most important of warnings! Let us trust His grace for salvation and trust His grace for sanctification. To God be the glory!