Why We Shouldn’t Take God’s Grace for Granted

We dishonor God by persisting in sin because we assume his grace will cover it

The deeper the sin, the greater God's graceA highschool friend heard about the doctrine of eternal security—which some people shorten to the more accessible mantra of “once saved, always saved”—and latched onto it. She reasoned this creed allowed her to act any way she wanted, that she and God were in a good place in their relationship, and her behavior didn’t matter anymore.

In short she took this as a license to sin.

She thought she had her get-into-heaven card, and that was all she cared about. She disconnected her reality on earth from her future in eternity.

Though she rightly embraced God’s grace, she incorrectly assumed it came with endless abundance. This didn’t feel right to me. Surely she overreached and grabbed onto an unwise conclusion. I tried to talk her down from her extreme position, but she wouldn’t listen.

Instead she clung to her steadfast belief that nothing she did from that point forward would have any bearing on her spiritual future. After all, she had said the prayer, so she was in. I wish I had read Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians. I wish I had known about the sixth chapter.

In it Paul addresses this topic of sin and grace. The deeper the sin, the greater God’s grace. This is true. Yet some go too far and claim our ongoing sin serves to elevate God’s grace.

Paul says, “No way!”

When we follow Jesus we turn our back on our wrong behaviors (Romans 6:1-2).

I wish I had known that to tell my friend.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Romans 6, and today’s post is on Romans 6:1-2.]

The Thirty-Seven Parables of Jesus

Jesus uses narrative to inform us about his father’s kingdom

The 37 Parables of JesusJesus uses parables—“an earthly story with a heavenly meaning,” as I learned in Sunday school—to teach us about the kingdom of God. We are part of the kingdom of God, and we need to do a better job of acting like it. Since Jesus talks much about the kingdom of God and next to nothing about church, perhaps we need to more seriously consider the kingdom of God as the basis for our behaviors, attitudes, and priorities.

Some of Jesus’s parables appear in two or three of the biographies of Jesus, and others, in just one. Interestingly, John does not include any parables in his biography of Jesus. Here are the parables the Bible records for us, along with a brief summary for each one:

The Sower: The farmer plants seeds. Some grow and produce a yield, but some don’t (Luke 8:5–8, Matthew 13:3–9, Mark 4:3–9).

The Lamp under a Bushel: People don’t turn on a light only to cover it (Luke 8:16–18, Matthew 5:14–15, Mark 4:21–25).

New Wine and Old Wineskins: Putting fresh wine in old wineskins will break the skins and spill the wine (Luke 5:37–39, Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:21–22).

The Fig Tree: A budding fig tree signals the approach of spring (Luke 21:29–33, Matthew 24:32–35, Mark 13:28–31).

The Wicked Tenants: Farmers rent a vineyard but refuse to pay their landlord and are punished in the end (Luke 20:9–16, Matthew 21:33–41, Mark 12:1–9).

The Mustard Seed: A mustard seed is small but produces a large tree (Luke 13:18–19, Matthew 13:31–32, Mark 4:30–32).

The Faithful Servant: A good servant is always ready and will be rewarded (Luke 12:35–48, Matthew 24:42–51, Mark 13:34–37).

The Strong Man: A strong man can protect his house, but a stronger man can overpower him (Matthew 12:29-32, Mark 3:27-29, Luke 11:21–23).

The Wise and Foolish Builders: Wise people build their house on a stable foundation (Luke 6:46–49, Matthew 7:24–27).

The Minas: Some servants invest their master’s money and earn a profit for him, but not all of them do (Luke 19:12–27, Matthew 25:14–30).

The Lost Sheep / the Good Shepherd: A shepherd leaves his flock to search for one sheep that wanders off (Luke 15:4–6, Matthew 18:10–14).

The Great Banquet: Some people miss a great feast because they’re too busy, and others take their place (Luke 14:15–24, Matthew 22:1–14).

The Leaven: A little bit of yeast makes dough rise (Luke 13:20–21, Matthew 13:33).

The Two Debtors: The person forgiven of the greater debt is more appreciative (Luke 7:41–43).

The Pharisee and the Publican: One man exalts himself before others, while another humbles himself before God (Luke 18:9–14).

The Evil Judge: A judge eventually gives a poor woman justice to stop her from bugging him (Luke 18:1–8).

The Master and Servant: Servants work and do their jobs without receiving thanks or honor (Luke 17:7–10).

The Unjust Steward: A man about to lose his job abuses his authority to gain favor from others (Luke 16:1–13).

The Rich Man and Lazarus: The poor Lazarus dies and goes to heaven; a rich man dies and goes to hell (Luke 16:19–31).

The Lost Coin: A woman loses one coin and diligently searches until she finds it (Luke 15:8–9).

The Prodigal Son / the Lost Son: One son is dutiful; the other son leaves home, wastes his money, and returns home in defeat, but receives a party from his dad (Luke 15:11–32).

The Wedding Feast: People assume a place of honor at a party and are embarrassed; others don’t and are elevated (Luke 14:7–14).

Counting the Cost: Don’t build a building if you’re not sure you can pay for it; don’t go to war unless you think you can win (Luke 14:28–33).

The Barren Fig Tree: A fig tree that produces no fruit receives a second chance, but not endless chances (Luke 13:6–9).

The Rich Fool: A rich man built bigger barns to store his wealth so he could take it easy, but he died the next day (Luke 12:16–21).

The Friend at Night: A man pounds on his neighbor’s door for help in the middle of the night (Luke 11:5–8).

The Good Samaritan: A man goes to great risk to help another in need (Luke 10:25–37).

The Tares: Weeds grow in the field and will be separated from the grain and then burned after the harvest (Matthew 13:24–30).

The Pearl: A man sells everything to buy a pearl of great value (Matthew 13:45–46).

Drawing in the Net: All fish are caught in a fishnet. The good ones are kept and the bad ones discarded (Matthew 13:47–50).

The Hidden Treasure: A man discovers buried treasure and then buys the property so he can have it (Matthew 13:44).

The Unforgiving Servant: A man is punished after he is forgiven of a large debt but then refuses to forgive a small debt owed to him (Matthew 18:23–35).

The Workers in the Vineyard: All men receive a full day’s wage regardless of how many hours they work (Matthew 20:1–16).

The Two Sons: One son tells his father he won’t work and then does; the other son promises to work and then doesn’t (Matthew 21:28–32).

The Ten Virgins: Ten girls anticipate a party. Some are prepared to wait and they get in; the ones who aren’t prepared miss out. (Matthew 25:1–13).

The Sheep and the Goats: A shepherd separates his sheep from his goats (Matthew 25:31–46).

The Growing Seed: A man plants seeds, but he can’t control what happens to them (Mark 4:26–29).

A synopsis of each parable is given, but their meanings are for you to consider. May each one guide us into living the life Jesus wishes us to live.

Should Paul’s Self-Description Inspire Our Faith Perspective?

Paul’s letter to the Romans opens with three traits for us to ponder

Through Jeses we are, His servant, called, set apartPaul begins his letter to the church in Rome by giving them an overview of his situation. He shares three characteristics about himself, his mission, and his calling. Though he does this to establish credibility for his message, and thereby encourage the recipients to take his words seriously, the attributes seem like a mini-biography, one with spiritual importance.

In Paul’s self-assessment, he says he is:

A Servant of Jesus: I like to call myself a follower of Jesus—as opposed to the more general description of Christian, which means different things to different people. Being a follower of Jesus shows commitment, yet it still implies I have some say in the matter, that I made a choice.

Being a servant, however, carries with it a deeper commitment. I need to move my mindset from being a follower to becoming a servant. Maybe you do, too.

Called to be an Apostle: Instead of focusing on the meaning of the word apostle, which could suggest a missionary, a church leader, or a passionate adherent (all of which describe Paul), let’s instead focus on the word called. What does it mean to be called by God?

While we may not have a calling at the same high level as Paul, all Christians are called, first to follow Jesus (as in “Come and follow me,” Matthew 4:19) and then to obey him (John 8:51). As we serve him he will tell us to do other things, too. These are our callings, even if we’re not traveling around the world as his missionary.

Set Apart for the Gospel: While being set apart could be a Spirit-led summoning of the highest order (Acts 13:2), it could also be a simple command to set ourselves apart from the world, to not be conformed to it (Romans 12:2). Everyone who follows Jesus should be set apart in this way, while being open for him to also set us apart for something greater.

If we are a true Christian (as opposed to being one in name only), we will do well to adopt the attitude of Paul: that through Jesus we are his servant, called, and set apart.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Romans 1, and today’s post is on Romans 1:1.]

There Are Two Sides to Every Story: Which Side Are You On?

Gamaliel offers wise advice for whenever religious factions stand in opposition

Christians Fear What They DontUnderstandPaul’s in jail, imprisoned for doing what God told him to do. This isn’t Paul’s first incarceration for his faith in Jesus, and it won’t be his last. When his trial finally begins, his detractors levy four charges against him, which they use to justify their actions.

They say, “We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him, (Acts 24:5-7).

Let’s break this down:

  • A Troublemaker: This depends on perspective. To Paul, he’s simply involved in a new movement of God and is excited to share the news with his people. To his accusers, Paul’s messing with their traditions and upsetting the status quo. To them, he spells trouble.
  • Stirs Up Riots: Though riots do seem to occur where Paul goes, he doesn’t incite them. The people who take offense at what Paul says stir themselves up. The riots are their fault, not Paul’s.
  • A Ringleader of the Nazarene Sect: They accuse Paul of heading up a subset of Judaism (a sect), which could simply imply that Paul is a leader among those who follow Jesus, the Nazarene. If so, Paul would likely say “guilty as charged,” but the reality is that Paul’s detractors actually oppose Jesus. It’s just that Paul’s a present target. Jesus isn’t.
  • Tried to Desecrate the Temple: Regarding the event in question, Paul was doing everything by the book, literally. But people jumped to a wrong conclusion and made false accusations.

Paul’s detractors accuse him using twisted facts, half-truths, and lies. People fear what they don’t understand, often going to extreme means to oppose it. So it is when God does a new thing inside his church.

God’s followers too often find themselves in opposition to each other. Instead of fighting one another, they should heed the advice of Gamaliel: “If it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:39). And no one who loves God wants to end up fighting against him.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Acts 24, and today’s post is on Acts 24:5-7.]

Do You Know What Your Mission Is?

How closely do you do the things God tells you to do?

Is Paul disobedient by  telling Jews about Jesus,   when his assignment is GentilesPaul travels to Ephesus to tell people about Jesus. As a Jew it seems logical that he would go to his own people first to share this good news. He does. He goes to the local synagogue, where he spends three months boldly telling them about Jesus.

However, some of the Jews don’t like what they hear, so Paul leaves the synagogue, but he doesn’t leave Ephesus. Instead he goes to the local lecture hall, presumably a Greek hangout. There he speaks daily about Jesus. It apparently goes well, because he sticks around for two years. In the end, everyone in the area—both Jews and Greeks—hear about Jesus (Acts 19:8-10).

I’m glad Paul goes to his own people first. And I’m glad he has a backup plan when his first one doesn’t work out. He seems to do this often when he enters a new city. He starts in the Synagogue, with his own people, and then expands his target audience when some of them oppose him.

Yet, why does he do this?

Paul’s assignment is the Gentiles, not the Jews. Ananias knows this at Paul’s (Saul’s) conversion (Acts 9:15), and Paul confirms this when he shares his conversion experience while on trial (Acts 22:21).

Yet to the Romans, Paul shares his deep love for his people. He writes that he is willing to be damned forever if his people could be saved (Romans 9:3-4).

Does this mean that Paul puts his own personal agenda before God’s command? While it might seem so, consider Peter when he quotes Psalm 118:22 to say that (most of) the Jews reject Jesus and then he becomes the cornerstone, presumably for everyone (Acts 4:11).

Perhaps Paul goes to the Jews first in each city to give them a chance. And when they reject his teaching about Jesus, he can freely go to the Gentiles, with scripture to back him up.

What may at first seem like disobedience may actually be a sound strategy.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Acts 19, and today’s post is on Acts 19:8-10.]

How to Deal with Religious Opposition

Paul and Barnabas respond to hostile nonbelievers with boldness and perseverance

How to Deal with Religious OppositionIn the Old Testament, the Israelites, God’s chosen people, are a set apart nation. They are to keep separate from the other nations around them and if they will, God promises to bless them. They also look forward to a promised king who will change everything.

Jesus—a Jew, by the way—comes as foretold. Most of those who accept him, assume he is there only for the Jewish people, that he is their savior and only theirs, that they must continue to keep the Gentiles at a safe distance and isolate themselves from unholy contamination.

A careful reading of the Old Testament, as well as Jesus’s words, however, gives us an expanded view: that Jesus comes for everyone, both Jew and Gentile.

With this in mind, let’s look at Paul and Barnabas when they arrive at Iconium. As is their practice, they head to the synagogue, the place where Jews hang out. Clearly their initial focus is the Jewish people. Their message connects with many of the Jews, as well as many Greeks (Gentiles). The Bible says, “that a great number believe.” So far, so good.

But some Jews don’t believe. Perhaps they don’t like change. (Sound familiar?) Maybe they see Paul and Barnabas (who are also Jews) as a challenge to their longstanding traditions. Or it could be they don’t appreciate that Paul and Barnabas are letting the Greeks in on the good news of Jesus.

Whatever the reason, they don’t disagree quietly. They stir up trouble. How this must vex Paul and Barnabas. They come there to tell their fellow Jews some good news, but some of them object and respond by forming an opposition movement.

How do Paul and Barnabas react? They get out of town as soon as possible, right? No! In the face of opposition, perhaps because of opposition, they stick around, for a good long while, speaking boldly the whole time.

As we follow Jesus, we should expect conflict and not be surprised if it comes from within our own tribe instead of from the outside. And when that resistance shows up we can opt to follow Paul and Barnabas’s example by doubling down and increasing our boldness.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Acts 14, and today’s post is on Acts 14:1-3.]

Will We Act Boldly For God in the Face of Fear?

Ananias obeys God to heal Saul who wants to arrest him

I like the story of Saul’s conversion in the book of Acts, turning him from a murderous bigot into a passionate follower of Jesus. A flash of light, a voice from heaven. It has all the makings of a great story. In this account, God is the hero, and Saul is the focus, but an essential, though minor, character is Ananias. Without Ananias, Paul’s transformation would have been incomplete. Without Ananias, Saul would have floundered.

You see, after the flash of light and the booming voice of God, Saul is left sightless and befuddled. God then appears to Ananias in a dream. He says, “Go find Saul—the man who is here to arrest you and your friends for your faith—and heal him.”

It sounds like a trap to me, a ruse of Saul’s making. Though Ananias does object, God shows him the big picture, and then he obeys. From a human standpoint, Ananias takes a huge personal risk. All evidence suggests he will be the next follower of Jesus thrown into the pokey. From a human perspective the safe thing, the wise course of action, would be to ignore God, forget about Saul, and leave town.

To be completely honest, I fear I would have done just that. But Ananias doesn’t. He boldly does what God tells him to do and heals Saul. As a result of Ananias’s obedience, Saul, later known as Paul, becomes the most traveled missionary in the early church and its most prolific writer.

Thank you Jesus, thank you Paul, and thank you Ananias.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Acts 9, and today’s post is on Acts 9:10-17.]

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3 Lessons from the Early Church

Dr. Luke describes 3 characteristics of the Acts 4 church

3 Lessons from the Early ChurchThe book of Acts unfolds as an historical narrative of the early church, the activities of the first followers of Jesus and those who join them. For the most part, Acts simply describes what happens, with little commentary and few instructions for proper conduct.

While we can look to Acts as a possible model for church life, we would be in error to treat it as a requirement for right behavior. In this way Acts can inform us today, but it doesn’t command us. For example, if I wrote, “My church went to a baseball game after the service,” no one (I hope) would think I was saying that attending baseball games is prescriptive of church life. No. It was merely descriptive of what one church did one time. We would never build our theology on a statement like that.

So it is with the book of Acts. Yet we can learn from it. Luke writes three things about that church:

Unity: The Acts 4 church is of one heart and mind, just as Jesus prayed that we would be one (John 17:21). Their actions are consistent with Jesus’s prayer. Jesus prayed it, and the early church does it; I hope unity describes every one and every church.

Community Minded: In the Acts 4 church, no one claims their possessions as their own. It isn’t my things and your things; it is our things. They have a group mentality and act in the community’s best interest. While we might do well to hold our possessions loosely, notice that this isn’t a command; they just do it out of love.

Willing to Share: Last, the Acts 4 church shares everything they have. Not some things, not half, but all. This would be a hard thing for many in our first-world churches to do today but not so much in third-world congregations. Again, this isn’t a command (and later on Peter confirms that sharing resources is optional, Acts 5:4); it is just a practice that happens at this moment of time in the early church.

While these three characteristics should inspire us to think and behave differently, and can provide a model for church life, we need to remember that the Bible gives us no commands to pursue a communal-type church. We can, but it’s one option. Of the three only unity rises as an expectation because Jesus yearns for it to be so. That should give us plenty to do.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Acts 4, and today’s post is on Acts 4:32.]

A Criminal Makes a Deathbed Confession

While we shouldn’t wait to follow Jesus, it’s nice to know that he’ll give us up to the last minute to make a decision

A Criminal Makes a Deathbed ConfessionIn Luke’s biography of Jesus, the author sometimes shares details not found in the Bible’s other three accounts of Jesus’s life. One such example is about the two criminals who are executed with Jesus. One of them mocks Jesus, but the other one doesn’t. Instead this second criminal rebukes the first. He says knock it off. We’re guilty and getting what we deserve, but Jesus is innocent.

Then the man makes a simple request of Jesus: remember me in your kingdom. What a simple statement, one filled with faith. This man, whose life is about to end because of a serious wrong he has committed, knows there is something more awaiting him after death. Yet through no merit of his own and with nothing he can do to earn it, he asks Jesus to be part of Jesus’s future kingdom. It’s bold, and it’s sincere.

Jesus could have said, “Sorry man, but you messed up.” But no. Instead Jesus lovingly says “Yes!” And not only is the answer affirmative, but it is also timely. Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

How cool is that?

While we can wait until the last minute and make a deathbed conversion with full confidence that Jesus will say yes, the risk is too great. We don’t know when our last breath will come and if we’ll have time to ask Jesus to remember us.

So don’t put it off. Follow Jesus today so you can live for him in this life and live with him in paradise in the next.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Luke 23, and today’s post is on Luke 23:39-43.]

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Pray and Do Not Give Up

Jesus teaches us to keep praying and to not stop until we get an answer

Pray and Do Not Give UpJesus gives us an object lesson (a parable) of a widow who keeps appearing before a judge to seek justice. A bad adjudicator, he cares nothing of her, of public opinion, or of God, but she wears him down with her continual plea. He eventually grants her request, not because she’s in the right or because he desires to do what is just, but because he wants her to stop bugging him. He gives her what she wants to keep her quiet.

Then Jesus compares this to prayer and seeking justice from God. If a corrupt judge will ultimately give in, how much more does a just God desire to give us what we want? The key is to not give up and to keep praying.

Of course we can ask a lot of questions about this simple teaching, and theologians have offered an array of explanations. But lest we become bogged down in the minutia of questions and explanations, let’s not forget the basic principle to keep asking God to provide the things we need.

If it’s important to us, we need to keep praying and not give up until we receive our answer. Does this sound a bit like pestering God? I’m not sure, but Jesus taught us to do it, so it’s surely acceptable.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Luke 18, and today’s post is on Luke 18:1-7.]