Tag Archive | Salvation by grace through faith

Never Alone: God’s Presence Within

I used to wish I had lived during the time when Jesus walked in Jerusalem and the surrounding area and could have actually heard Him teaching. Can you imagine what it would have been like to have been among the crowd as Jesus stood on the Galilean hillside now known as the Mount of Beatitudes, and began speaking these words most of us have read many times?

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:5-12)

But more recently, as I’ve begun an in-depth study on the Holy Spirit as a beginning step in writing a Bible study on the names and functions of the Holy Spirit for the small group I work with at our church, I’ve seen this a little differently. No, we can’t be a part of the large crowds that gathered to hear Jesus’ teaching. But because of the promise in today’s “I Am Not Alone” verses, we experience something even more amazing. If we have surrendered our lives to Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we have the Holy Spirit, also known as the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Jesus, living within us as our ever-present teacher.

The setting of today’s verses was Jesus’ last supper with His disciples, during which He warned that one of these gathered around Him as a trusted friend, Judas Iscariot, would betray Him and He also foretold of Peter’s coming denial. Jesus had just told His disciples He was leaving them, and their hearts were troubled.

Jesus was trying to reassure these who had walked so close to Him that He was leaving but He wasn’t leaving them alone.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)

These verses told the original disciples that the Father would give them another Helper, another Counselor, Comforter, Teacher and Friend to be with them. A Helper of the same kind, The Spirit of truth who would teach them and guide them into all truth. And a couple chapters later in the Gospel of John, He explains it is to their advantage He is returning to the Father, because this Helper would not just walk beside them. He would live within them, to be their Teacher, and close Friend. And this indwelling Holy Spirit would empower them as they completed the work Jesus had appointed them to do.

The good news for us today is that these promises were not limited to these original disciples. If you have accepted Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the Cross as payment in full for your sins and received Jesus as your Savior and Lord, these verses equally apply to you. You are Never Alone because God lives within you in the form of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth.

Today’s message in song:

The Grace of God

One of the devotions I use regularly during my personal quiet time chose 1 Corinthians 15:10 as the key verse for Monday’s devotional. (All verses in ESV unless otherwise noted.)

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

I always look up the verse in my Bible to see the context in which it was used, and with this verse I sensed it was time for some more in-depth study. This passage begins with a reminder of the gospel message in a nutshell. Written by the apostle Paul, in verses 3 – 5 he says:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

‭‭Then next four verses tell of the appearances of the resurrected Christ to His apostles, ending with Paul’s own visitation on the road to Damascus. In verse 9, he identifies himself as “the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle“, because of being a persecutor of the church prior to his conversion. And then Paul speaks of the grace of God in verse 10.

After studying a verse in context, one of my favorite online resources for gaining a clearer understanding of a verse or passage of Scripture is the website preceptaustin.org, which often has a detailed commentary and other resources to help me see the verse in light of the whole of Scripture. I decided to check that out today, and found some help getting a clearer understanding of what Paul was trying to communicate in this verse.

First, this resource gives the verse being studied in a variety of translations. As I read through the list, one version stood out to me for it’s clarity, one I seldom use in my personal study. In the Barclay translation, this verse reads:

“It is by the grace of God that I am what I am, and his grace to me has not proved ineffective, but I have toiled more exceedingly than all of them, but it was not I who achieved anything but God’s grace working with me.”

The commentator on this passage, who is a retired physician, points out that grace is used “in triplicate” in this verse. He compares 1 Corinthians 15:10 to a prescription from God, written in triplicate, for “spiritual health” in both our personal lives and in our ministry to others.

By the grace of God that I am what I am

Most of us have a basic understanding of the meaning of grace. The Greek word for grace, “charis,” means undeserved favor given to us. There are two main kinds of grace taught in the New Testament, saving grace. This is the kind of grace spoken of in Ephesians 2:8-9.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

‭‭Paul definitely acknowledged this kind of grace in his life, but this isn’t the kind of grace he is focusing on in this verse. The second type of grace has been called sanctifying grace. This is the daily grace God extends to us as Christians that empowers us to be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Sanctifying grace is the ongoing work of the indwelling Holy Spirit that enables us to grow spiritually, so that we become better representatives of the Lord to those around us. It is the process described in Romans 8:29, and it will continue until the day we see Jesus face to face.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

His grace toward me was not in vain

The proud Saul of Acts 7 who was rejoicing over Stephen’s stoning and who “was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” in Acts 8:3 is gone. And more than his name was changed. He had been changed on the inside. And God’s grace was responsible for the change, first in bringing Saul to saving grace and then in changing him into Paul through His sanctifying grace, a key instrument of God in spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth and author of much of the New Testament. The message for us here: The grace of God in our lives is effective in accomplishing His purposes in and through us.

His grace in our work and ministry.

The third mention of grace in this verse is the one that caught my attention. Paul worked diligently at the tasks God had called him to do. But the changed Paul took no credit for what he had accomplished. Instead, he acknowledged anything achieved in and through his life was the result of God’s grace. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8,

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

‭‭‭Paul further explains this in Philippians 2:12-13,

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

‭‭Yes, we have a part in living the successful Christian life. Our part is choosing to walk in obedience. But total obedience isn’t something we can accomplish in our own strength. If so, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to send the Holy Spirit to empower us to live the life He calls us to live.

  • Grace is what brings us to Christ.
  • Grace is what helps us grow more like Jesus.
  • Grace is what empowers us to do the work of the Kingdom that God has prepared beforehand for us to do.

The Holy Spirit is the member of the Godhead who offers us saving grace and sanctifying grace, and He is also our source of empowering grace for the work God has called us to do.

Are you in need of God’s grace today? I sure am. If you don’t already know Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, if you haven’t put your faith in Him for forgiveness of sin, don’t put this life-changing decision off another day. You need God’s saving grace and the Holy Spirit you will receive the moment you surrender your life to Jesus.

If you already have become a Christian, did you know that sanctification is a work of grace, accomplished as we cooperate with the indwelling Holy Spirit? Or are you trying to change your “problem areas” in your own strength? Paul described the results of doing this is Romans 7:14-15, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” We have a part in the process – renewing our minds in God’s Word, choosing to lay down our will and walk in obedience – but the needed power to walk out His will comes from the Holy Spirit within all believers. The Holy Spirit will bring both conviction concerning areas that need to change and the power to make those changes.

Are you struggling with seeing what purpose God has for this season of your life? Is there something you believe God is calling you to do but don’t have any idea how to get started? In this area too, God’s grace is the answer. The indwelling power of the Holy Spirit is given to make us God’s witnesses in the neighborhood and city where we live, the surrounding area, and even to the ends of the earth if that’s a part of God’s calling on your life.

No Longer Ashamed: The Righteousness of Christ is Ours!

Is there some event in your past that causes you shame whenever it comes to mind? Do you battle condemnation every time you fall into that “sin that so easily entangles you” (Hebrews 12:1)? If so, today I have some good news for you.

For the last two weeks, we have looked at some of the less emphasized benefits of the fact that Jesus died for our sins, rose from the grave, and ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven. Because He kept His promise to not leave us alone and sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all who place their faith in Him, we are filled with and empowered by God to live the life He has planned for us. And because the veil separating us from God’s presence was torn in two by the hands of Almighty God, we have been given open access to His presence and the privilege of coming to His throne of grace in our time of need.

Today we’ll be looking at another sometimes overlooked benefit of the finished work of Jesus Christ: Being declared righteous because of Christ’s righteousness.

What Is Righteousness?

If you look up the word righteousness in a modern English dictionary, you find definitions such as “morally right” and “free from guilt or sin.” The Greek word includes this but goes beyond this. “Dikaiosune” speaks of whatever is right or just in itself. It includes always conforming to the revealed will of God. In essence, it means meeting the sum total of all the requirements of God 100% of the time.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said these words:

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew‬ ‭5:48‬ ‭ESV‬‬

If you’re saying “that’s impossible,” you’re right. Because of our sin nature, none of us are able to meet this standard. The only human who every met all the qualifications of perfect righteousness was Jesus Christ. Because Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit (therefore man’s sin nature was not in Him) but born of a woman, He was fully God and fully man. He and He alone was able to meet God’s standard of perfect righteousness.

So how does God expect us to walk in perfect righteousness? He doesn’t. And now we come to the often overlooked benefit of the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross and His resurrection from the dead.

Understanding Imputed Righteousness and Imparted Righteousness.

In simple terms, imputed righteousness is the righteousness of Christ given to us as a gift when we place our faith in Jesus Christ and make Him our Lord and Savior. It is Jesus transferring His righteousness to us. It is the fulfillment of the promise of 2 Corinthians 5:21, which says; “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Because of imputed righteousness we have been declared righteous in God’s eyes.

But God’s full work of righteousness in our lives also involves an ongoing process. We are righteous, but we also are becoming righteous. The second type of righteousness is often called imparted righteousness. It is the practical, day to day process by which we begin to look more like Jesus. It’s an ongoing process that begins the day we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ and won’t be completed until the day we see Him face to face. This is the kind of righteousness described in Romans 8:29, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

‭‭Imputed righteousness is ours in it’s fullness on our first day as a born-again follower of Christ. Imparted righteousness comes through the process of sanctification, as the Holy Spirit works in our lives to build practical righteousness. Neither type of righteousness is within our ability. We are now righteous by the gift of Christ’s righteousness, and we are growing in righteousness by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” 1 John 3:2-3

‭‭Do you sometimes struggle with condemnation for something you did many years ago? Do you feel ashamed for some recurring sin that you think you’ll never gain the victory over? If so, there’s an essential question you need to settle in your heart: Have you surrendered your life to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and accepted His gift of forgiveness and new life? If your answer to that question is “no”, feel free to contact one of the ladies on the God-Living Girls leadership team. We’d love to help you in this area. But if your answer to this question is “yes,” then the condemnation you are battling is coming from the father of lies, the devil.

If you are in Christ, Romans 8:1 says God is not the one condemning you. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Most of us know the truth of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” But don’t forget the truth of John 3:17 and the first part of verse 18, which is equally important. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned…” Yes, God convicts of sin. Conviction is meant to lean to repentance, condemnation results in hopelessness. But He never condemns His blood-bought children.

On this Thankful Thursday, I’m grateful that I have been declared righteous in God’s eyes. The perfect righteousness of His Son has been imparted to me. And I’m also grateful that the Holy Spirit is at work in my life making me a little more like Jesus every day. How about you, do you think these truths from God’s Word deserve a prayer of gratitude to God? If so, I encourage you to share your personal prayer in the comments section below this post.

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Overcoming Prejudice: A Lesson from Acts 10

I feel very blessed to have a primary doctor who is a woman who really cares about her patients. But earlier in the history of our nation, this was not an option.

Elizabeth Blackwell, M.D. (1821-1910), was the first woman to graduate from medical school in the United States and America’s first woman doctor. She began her practice in 1851 in New York, but not without having to overcome some big obstacles. Her first hindrance was finding a place to rent for her practice – no one would even rent her a room once she mentioned that she was a doctor. Finally, after weeks of trudging the streets, she was able to rent rooms from a landlady who asked no questions about what Elizabeth planned to do with them.

But when the office was set up, for some time she had no patients. Some Quaker women finally became her first patients, but then she faced another barrier – no hospital would allow her on it’s staff. In 1853, Dr. Blackwell was finally able to open her own clinic in one of New York’s worse slums, announcing that all patients would be treated for free. Again, for several weeks no one showed up.

Then one day a woman in such agony that she didn’t care who treated her, staggered up the steps and collapsed in Elizabeth’s arms. This woman was treated and recovered, and she told all her friends about the wonderful woman doctor. After that, her practice gradually expanded, later moved, and became a branch of the New York Infirmary on East Fifteenth Street, which is still there today. And women doctors are now an accepted part of American medicine.

In my personal Bible study time this week, I’ve been reading about another pioneer, not in the medical field but in the work of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those in the Gentile world. Jesus Himself had made it clear that the truth of who He was and what He came to do was not only for the Jewish people. In Mark 16:15, Jesus said the Gospel was to be preached to “all the world,” not just to the Jews. He said to His disciples, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”

Now was the time for this to begin, and yet for that to happen God had to do a major work in the apostle Peter’s life. As a Jewish man, he had accepted the prevailing understanding of the Jewish nation that they were called by God to remain completely separate from Gentiles. While the Old Testament did teach that the Jewish people were to be a separate people, the early Jewish leaders took this command well beyond what God had intended. In an attempt to build a fence around the Old Testament Law so people wouldn’t even come close to breaking God’s commandment, they had come up with an almost unending list of oral traditions the Jewish people were to live by. These extra-biblical rules were taught by repetition to the young Jewish men, then later (around A.D. 200) written down in the first major work of Rabbinic literature called the Mishnah. This “oral Torah” included laws related to every aspect of the Jewish life: agriculture, relationships, ritual purity, the Temple, the Sabbath, Jewish festivals, fast days, and other holidays.

Because of the “oral Torah” that he had been exposed to since his youth, Peter would have nothing to do with Gentiles, whom he considered unclean. The oral traditions he had grown with prohibited him from being a guest in the home of a Gentile, inviting a Gentile into his home, eating food prepared by a Gentile, and even required purifying any cooking utensils purchased from a Gentile before using them. So God had some essential lessons to teach Peter in Acts 10.

The chapter opens with a vision given to a man named Cornelius. Scripture tells us he was a Roman centurion, not a Jew but a devout man who feared God with all his household, prayed continually, and showed generosity in giving alms to the needy. But since Cornelius was a Gentile God-fearer and not a circumcised Jew, all of his good works were not enough to make him acceptable to the Jews – or to earn salvation – so Cornelius needed to hear the Gospel. And God chose Peter to be His spokesman.

As Cornelius was praying around 3pm, the Lord sent a vision of an angel with a message. His prayers had been heard, his alms had ascended as a memorial before God. He was instructed to send some men to Joppa to bring Peter to his house. This seeker did exactly as he was instructed by the angel, called two of his servants and a devout soldier who attended to his needs, and sent these three men to Joppa to complete their mission.

While Cornelius’ servants were in route to Peter’s house, the day after this vision, Peter too was having a time of prayer. And as with Cornelius, God sent a vision to Peter. In it he saw what looked like a sheet with all kinds of animals, reptiles and birds in it. He also heard a voice, saying, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” But unlike Cornelius, Peter resisted the message. Instead of saying, “Yes, Lord,” he responded, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean. The voice spoke again, saying, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” Apparently Peter was still not convinced, because verse 16 says, “This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.”

‭‭Even after seeing this vision three times, the Scripture says Peter was “inwardly perplexed.” But the Spirit spoke some clear instructions. “And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.’”(Acts‬ ‭10:19-20‬ ‭ESV). The three men from Cornelius arrived, and this time Peter obeys.‬‬ He got some of the brethren to accompany him and then left with the entourage for Caesarea and Cornelius’ house.

In the meantime, Cornelius had called together some of his relatives and close friends. At the sight of Peter, the first thing Cornelius did was to bow down at his feet in worship. Verse 26 says Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.”

‭‭After sharing with those gathered what God had shown him, the next words out of Peter’s mouth reflect a changed heart. He says, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts‬ ‭10:34-35‬‬‬)

And for the first time, a group of Gentiles hear the good news of forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ, believe in Him and receive that forgiveness. The men who had accompanied Peter were amazed, as they observed God confirming pouring out the Holy Spirit on these new Gentile believers, in the same way as He had been poured out on the Day of Pentecost. This chapter ends with Peter asking those who accompanied him, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”(Acts‬ ‭10:47‬) There was apparently no objection, because Peter then commands these new Gentile believers to be baptized in water in the name of Jesus Christ.

So why is this chapter of Acts so important? It teaches us two major truths concerning salvation:

  1. No man or woman is saved by their good works. If that weren’t true, this whole chapter could have been left out of the book of Acts. Being a God-fearing man wasn’t enough to secure a relationship with God in Cornelius’ life, and it isn’t enough in our lives. (For more on this, check out my article on Cornelius at the following link, https://hopeandlight.blog/2019/05/29/are-you-a-god-fearer-or-a-born-again-christian/lives)
  2. Salvation is available to anyone who believes, Jew or Gentile (non-Jew). God does not favor any one group. His Word makes it clear that He desires all men and women to come to a knowledge of the truth and be born again. In 1 Timothy 2, we are urged to pray for the lost, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy‬ ‭2:3-4‬)

I am grateful that God was able to open the apostle Peter’s eyes to the truth that the good news of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection was for all people. This was the turning point in the early church, as it moved out to continue fulfilling the commission Jesus had given the apostles. This commission to be God’s witnesses to the ends of the earth wasn’t just for these leaders of the early church. It’s also our calling, that all who are willing may be saved.

Because God enabled Peter to overcome his prejudice against Gentiles, the Gospel was available for me when my heart was ready to move past a works-based faith in Jesus to believe in salvation by grace through faith. For this, I am eternally grateful.

Yes, I’m grateful to have a doctor who is a woman (and also a Christian), who understands the emotions I face in dealing with a long list of chronic illnesses. She has been a God-given blessing in my life. But I’m even more grateful that Peter overcame his prejudices against Gentiles and partiality toward Jews and was a pioneer in spreading the Gospel to the Gentile world. If you are a Christian who is not from a Jewish background, you too should be grateful that the Lord was able to overcome Peter’s limited understanding and swing open the door of the Church to Gentile believers. Grateful enough to allow God to reveal any prejudices in your heart that are hindering you from being the witness He is calling you to be.

Are You a “God-fearer” or a Born Again Christian?

I’ve been doing an in-depth study of the book of Acts, and today’s lesson was on the beginning verses of Acts 10, which focus on Cornelius. Luke, the author of Acts, describes Cornelius as “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” (Acts 10:2), yet as the chapter continues we learn he was still a man who needed to hear and receive the good news of salvation by grace.

My Christian life began in a series of Methodist churches, so when I read the following quote by Warren Wiersbe comparing Cornelius to John Wesley it stood out to me.

“In many respects, John Wesley was like Cornelius. He was a religious man, a church member, a minister, and the son of a minister. He belonged to a ‘religious club’ at Oxford, the purpose of which was the perfecting of the Christian life. Wesley served as a foreign missionary, but even as he preached to others, he had no assurance of his own personal salvation.

“On May 24, 1738, Wesley reluctantly attended a small meeting in London where someone was reading aloud from Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans. ‘About a quarter before nine,’ Wesley wrote in his journal, ‘while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed, I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’ The result was the great Wesleyan revival that not only swept many into the kingdom, but also helped transform British society through Christian social action.”

This is also a good description of my life. From the time I was a small child, I was in church most Sundays. But like John Wesley and Cornelius, while I believed in Jesus Christ, I did not trust in Him alone for salvation. My trust was in my good works. That changed when I was in my first year of teaching kindergarten, when my eyes were opened to the need to trust in the finished work of Jesus on the Cross alone for salvation.

What about you? Are you like Cornelius at the beginning of this chapter, “a devout man (or woman) who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.” (Acts‬ ‭10:2‬ ‭ESV‬‬) Are you a seeker or a true believer in Christ?

Salvation is by placing our faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. There is nothing we can do to earn salvation. It is a gift of grace, based on what Jesus has already done.

“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