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Bible Insights

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

A 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 took God’s grace for granted.

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.

The deeper the sin, the greater God’s grace. Click To Tweet

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 Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Romans 5-7 and today’s post is on Romans 6:1-2.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Freedom through Jesus

Stop Asking If You Can Do Something and Start Asking If You Should

We have freedom through Jesus. Do we believe this is true? How does this idea inform our day-to-day actions? We’ll do well to consider this thought to determine the best way to apply it to our lives.

As children, our parents taught us what was right and what was wrong. Our churches built upon this. The result is that we’ve formed a list of what we can do and another list of what we can’t. These lists become rules that guide our behavior and inform our life.

Freedom through Jesus

Rules can be good, and rules can be bad. It all depends on how we apply them. When rules become law—spiritual laws—those who follow the law become legalistic. This is not good. How do we balance the rules we’re supposed to follow with our freedom through Jesus?

It’s our nature to try to push against rules, against the law. We want the liberty to do as much as we can, making our list of what’s permissible as long as possible and the list of what’s prohibited as short as we can. We want freedom.

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes to them that everything is lawful for him to do, but not everything is profitable; not everything builds up (1 Corinthians 10:23). Stated another way, just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

Based on this verse, I’m working to reorient my thinking from “Is this something I can do” to “Is this something I should do?”

Let’s consider what Scripture has to say about this topic.

The Old Testament Law

Once we read past Genesis in the Old Testament of the Bible, we move into the law of Moses. It’s an exhausting, mind-numbing list of what to do and not do. Bible scholars have catalogued 613 rules from the law of Moses that prescribe right behavior and wrong behavior. To be right with God, people needed to follow every one of these rules.

And for situations not covered by these 613 items, religious leaders began to interpret Moses’s original instructions to apply them to every area of life. Over time this resulted in more than 20,000 additional rules to guide the most diligent in proper living.

The Pharisees pursued all these rules with great diligence. Though we criticize them for their hypocrisy, we often miss their righteousness. They were more righteous—more God honoring through their right living—then perhaps any other.

Modern-Day Pharisees

Pharisees still exist in our world today. These modern-day Pharisees, however, don’t follow the Old Testament law. Instead, they’ve made their own list of things that they can’t do. Yes, their focus is on what they can’t do. It’s legalistic, and it’s bad. They forget that they have freedom through Jesus.

Instead, they become slaves to a list of man-made laws that they feel-duty bound to follow if they are to be a true disciple of Jesus. This is restrictive, and it’s wrong. They’re following the philosophy of the Old Testament law and the example of the New Testament Pharisees. They forget they’re saved by grace through faith—not actions (Acts 15:11 and Ephesians 2:8-9).

Freedom in Christ

In another of his letters, Paul writes to the Galatians that we have liberty because Jesus set us free. Paul contrasts this freedom through Jesus to being entangled by a yoke of bondage, that is, slaves—not slaves to sin—but slaves to the law (Galatians 5:1).

Jesus’s Expectations

Jesus, on the other hand, teaches that his yoke is easy—that is, his expectations for us when we follow him is minimal. This results in a light burden for us to bear (Matthew 11:30). We have the freedom through Jesus to push the law aside and not struggle under the burden of a heavy yoke.

Does that mean we can do anything, especially since our salvation comes through God’s grace? Paul writes about this in his letter to the church in Rome. He asks the rhetorical question, “Shall we continue in our sin so that we may showcase God’s grace?” Of course not. Paul makes it perfectly clear. “No way,” he says (Romans 6:1-2).

Responding to Our Freedom through Jesus

We need to keep this in balance.

We must avoid the two extremes—absolute law and complete grace. Neither are what Jesus has in mind. We need to land somewhere in the middle. Only following rules leads to failure and results in guilt. And only relying on God’s grace means that we fall short of who we can be through Jesus and diminishes the witness of our actions to a world who needs him.

In still another letter, this one to the church in Philippi, Paul encourages them to pursue what is noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. We should think of these things. And let these thoughts turn into actions (Philippians 4:8).

Jesus set us free, not to satisfy our own desires, but to do that which is spiritually profitable and builds up others. Click To Tweet

We have the freedom through Jesus, but not the obligation, to do these things. Jesus set us free, not to satisfy our own desires, but to do that which is spiritually profitable and builds up others.

May we use this principle to guide our daily living. This is what it means to have freedom through Jesus.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

The Concerns of Martin Luther

Martin Luther studied the Bible to see if it supported Church practices

As Martin studied the Latin translation of the Bible, he grew worried about the lack of biblical support for the Church’s misuse of indulgences, of essentially allowing people to buy their salvation. Instead, he found the Bible overflowing with grace. This disconnect alarmed him.

The practice of indulgences confuses many outside the Catholic Church. A simple explanation is that an indulgence offers a way to reduce the amount of punishment for sins by taking a specified action.

These acts might include repeating a prayer a certain number of times, traveling to a specific place on a pilgrimage, or performing an assigned task, such as doing a good deed.

Indulgences can tie in with the sacrament of penance, which involves remorse, confession to a priest, acceptance of punishment, and absolution. Among other things, penance is a partial indulgence that can reduce the time spent in purgatory for a sacramentally absolved sin.

Though his view seems to have changed later, Martin viewed the practice of indulgences as acceptable. His alarm centered on their abuse.

Here’s What Happened

Some overeager church leaders had turned the concept of indulgences into something more. Taking indulgences to an unhealthy extreme, they offered them in exchange for money to raise funds for a church building project—rebuilding Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Martin Luther objected to the idea that people could buy their way into heaven, without repenting. Click To Tweet

This overzealous application changed indulgences from taking a conciliatory action to making a monetary payment.

This fundraising scheme escalated out of control and further impoverished already poor people, as they spent what little money they had trying to make themselves right with God.

Also, these misguided church leaders sold a full indulgence, which guaranteed a quick release from purgatory upon death—a complete pardon, if you will. In effect, they sold the promise of eternal salvation.

Martin objected to the idea that people could essentially buy their way into heaven, with no need to repent. This led the concerns of Martin Luther

This, and the heretical teaching that accompanied this abuse of indulgences, prompted him to act.

Read more about Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation in Peter DeHaan’s book Martin Luther’s 95 Theses: Celebrating the Protestant Reformation in the 21st Century. Buy it today to discover more about Martin Luther and his history-changing 95 theses.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

God’s Book of Life

Is Your Name on the List?

Chapter 2 in the book of Ezra overflows with names. We often skim it or may face the temptation to skip it altogether. Buried among this dizzying array of names is a sidenote that’s easy to miss, but it carries an important lesson.

Many of the Israelite exiles prepare to return to God’s promised land. Among them is a group of people, but they can’t prove their heritage. They search for their family records but do not find them. As a result, they can’t serve as priests because their inability to prove their lineage to Aaron makes them unclean for service.

Someone did not keep good records, and the price for their sloppiness is exclusion from the priesthood. They didn’t value their heritage and that makes them ineligible to serve.

The Good List

Although Santa Claus has a good list and a naughty list based on behavior, God does not—even though some people believe differently. True, the Old Testament values genealogies and lineages to determine who is in and who was out, but Jesus did away with that.

Instead, he saves us by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). It’s open to everyone. God’s grace and our faith puts us on God’s list. Our family tree doesn’t matter to God.

The Lamb’s Book of Life

The only list God has is the book of life. David talks about it (Psalm 69:28), and so does Paul (Philippians 4:3). But most of the references to the book of life occur in Revelation, which is fitting because Revelation concludes with us going to meet Jesus in a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1).

Usually, John calls this the book of life, but twice he refers to it as the Lamb’s book of life. That is, Jesus’s book of life.

Jesus’s book of life is the only book we need to be in. It’s the only list that matters. Click To Tweet

It’s the only book we need to be in, the only list that matters. We don’t need to keep our own records to prove we’re on this list because God maintains it. He enters our names when we follow Jesus, and never crosses them off.

Thank you, Jesus for saving us and entering our names in the Lamb’s book of life.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Ezra 1-3 and today’s post is on Ezra 2:59-62.]

Check out the parallel passage is in Nehemiah 7:61-65.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Lessons from the Life of John Mark

Learn More about John Mark

There is an interesting story that begins in Acts 13. From it we can learn about the life of John Mark.

God tells the church to commission and send out Barnabas and Paul to other cities, telling the people they meet about Jesus. They do this, taking with them John (also called, John Mark or just Mark).

A Rough Start

The thing is, God didn’t tell them to take John Mark. He apparently doesn’t belong there. This is borne out later, when John Mark deserts Barnabas and Paul to return home.

Later, Barnabas wants to give John Mark a second chance (an example of mercy), but Paul says “no” (an example of justice). They part company over this disagreement, each going their separate ways.

This might seem like a bad development, but it turns out to be good, as they are then able to cover twice the ground, doubling their effectiveness and outreach.

A Strong Finish

For John Mark, his story ends on a positive note, too, with him and Paul later being reconciled (an example of grace) and Paul esteeming John Mark as his fellow worker and as being useful to him.

This is a great lesson in life. Despite making mistakes along the way, we can still finish well. John Mark did and so can we.

[Acts 13:2-3, 5, 13; Acts 15:36-41; Colossians 4:10, Philemon 1:24, and 2 Timothy 4:11]

Read more about other people in the New Testament in The Friends and Foes of Jesus, now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

How Do You Handle Disappointment?

When God Wants to Give You a Second Chance Make Sure You’re Ready to Receive It

You’re probably not familiar with Ahithophel in the Bible. His life serves as a lesson in how not to respond to disappointment.

Though his name does show up a few times during the reign of King David, Ahithophel is a largely forgettable character. He is an advisor to the king. And when David’s son Absalom orchestrates a coup and tries to steal his father’s throne, Ahithophel switches his alliance from father to son, conspiring against David, the rightful ruler.

The Bible notes that Ahithophel gives advice to Absalom, which he follows. The second time Absalom seeks the counsel of his advisor, Ahithophel gives wise advice, but another counselor under the guise of helping—he’s there to help David, not David’s son—gives a counter recommendation.

This time Absalom decides not to follow Ahithophel’s advice.

How Ahithophel Responds to Disappointment

What does Ahithophel do?

He goes off in the sulk, puts his affairs in order, and hangs himself. End of story.

Yes, it would be embarrassing to be advisor to the king and have him reject your recommendation. But it’s not worth killing yourself over. And if his suicide is some misplaced honorable action, just remember that it is, indeed, misplaced.

What if Ahithophel hadn’t killed himself? Surely he would have another chance to advise Absalom. Maybe his counsel would’ve helped Absalom avoid being killed. Perhaps Ahithophel could have groveled before King David and sought his old job back. Then he could have continued advising the king.

But we’ll never know any of these, because Ahithophel chose to end his life. In one fatal decision, he removes the possibilities of what his future could be.

Can you think of another person in the Bible who hung himself? How about Judas?

How Judas Deals with Disappointment

Distraught over his role in bringing about Jesus’s death, Judas goes out and kills himself too. Yes, his remorse is much deeper than Ahithophel’s. Judas arguably committed the biggest mistake in human history.

Yet I wonder what might have happened had he not chosen to prematurely end his life. When Peter three times denied that he followed or even knew Jesus, he stuck around—although guiltily. And Jesus restored him into right relationship. Jesus forgave him and elevated him back into leadership.

Jesus is all about grace and mercy. Click To Tweet

If Judas hadn’t killed himself and stuck around, too, would Jesus have offered him mercy as well? I think so. Jesus is all about grace and mercy. But we’ll never know. Judas chose to end his life, so we’ll never know what it could have become.

When people end their life prematurely, they remove their future potential and take away the opportunity for restoration, to both other people and to God. The risk is simply too great to take.

[Read through the Bible this year. Today’s reading is 2 Samuel 16-18, and today’s post is on 2 Samuel 17:23.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Isaiah Reveals Three Things About God: He Is Gracious, Compassionate, and Just

We Should Wait for God Because He Longs for Us

After Isaiah records the stinging words of God against his people, Isaiah adds a passage of comfort and reassurance. It starts with the word yet. He writes, “Yet the Lord longs . . .

Here are the three things that result from God’s longing for us, to offer us grace, compassion, and justice.

God is Gracious

God longs to be gracious to his people, to us.

On a general level, gracious means to offer kindness and courtesy. On a spiritual level being gracious is to offer mercy. Our gracious God is merciful. When God offers us mercy, it means we don’t get the punishment we deserve for the bad things we have done. We get a reprieve.

God is Compassionate

Coupled with mercy is compassion. Compassion is to offer sympathy to those who struggle, be aware of their suffering, and take steps to alleviate it. Our compassionate God is sympathetic to our situation. He’s aware of it, and desires to free us.

God is Just

As a just God, he is fair and righteous (does the right thing). When others treat us badly or unfairly, we want to receive justice. We want God to do the right thing, rescuing us and punishing our enemies. As a just God, he will do this for us.

God Balances Justice with His Gracious Mercy

However, this is where it gets a bit tricky, because we don’t want God to exact justice on us. We don’t want to receive the just punishment we deserve. Fortunately, this is where his mercy comes in. Mercy means not receiving the sentence we have justly earned because of our wrong actions. We want mercy, not judgement.

God longs to offer us grace, compassion, and justice. All we need to do to receive these blessings is to wait for him. Click To Tweet

God longs to offer us grace, compassion, and justice. All we need to do to receive these blessings is to wait for him.

If we’re patient, he’ll deliver.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Isaiah 28-31, and today’s post is on Isaiah 30:18.]

Read more about the book of Isaiah in Dear Theophilus, Isaiah: 40 Prophetic Insights about Jesus, Justice, and Gentiles now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

What Will We Promise God When We’re in a Crisis?

Will We Follow Through When the Pressure’s Off?

God’s chosen people toil as slaves in Egypt. He tasks Moses with getting them out. So far things aren’t going so well. God has sent seven plagues to get the Pharaoh’s attention, without achieving the people’s release. Plague number eight is on its way. Locusts.

An army of locusts. They strip the foliage and fruit off everything in sight.

Panicked, Pharaoh summons Moses. He confesses his sin for having reneged on his last promise to let the people go. He begs for forgiveness and asks Moses to pray that God will take away the plague of locusts.

Moses prays. God answers. He whips up a wind that carries the locusts out to sea. Not one remains in Egypt. Problem solved for Pharaoh, at least for now.

Guess what happens next? With the threat of locusts over, and the pressure for relief gone, Pharaoh changes his mind—again. He refuses to let the Israelites leave.

It will take two more plagues, with the tenth being the deadliest of them all, before Pharaoh lets the people go. If only he had followed through on his promise to let them leave sooner, he would have avoided countless needless deaths—including that of his firstborn son.

What Promises Do We Make to God When We’re in a Jam?

It’s easy to criticize Pharaoh for making a promise during a crisis and going back on his word when life returns to normal. But we do the same thing. It’s human nature.

How many times, when in a moment of crisis, have we made a rash promise to God? It goes something like this, “Get me out of this mess, and I’ll never do it again.”

Or we pledge to do something that we should have been doing all along. Or we vow to stop doing something that we shouldn’t be doing anyway.

Then God hears our plea and often rescues us. But do we follow through on what we promised to God? Not likely. Or if we do follow through, our pledge lasts only a short time, and we soon return to living life as we’ve always lived.

Making a bargain with God is never a good idea, because if we don’t follow through, we may find ourselves in an even worse situation. Click To Tweet

Making a bargain with God is never a good idea, because if we don’t follow through, we may find ourselves in an even worse situation. We may be better off to confess our shortcomings and ask for his grace and mercy.

Else we could end up like Pharaoh who paid a huge price for his broken promises.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Exodus 8-10, and today’s post is on Exodus 10:12-20.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Can We Cause God To Change His Mind?

Hezekiah and Moses Plead with God for a Different Outcome

In Isaiah we read about King Hezekiah. The king is sick, and Isaiah comes to him with a dire message from God. Through Isaiah, God tells Hezekiah to put his affairs in order because his illness is fatal. Death looms.

Though few of us would welcome death, knowing when our end would occur might bring about a certain appreciation. This would give us an opportunity to say our goodbyes and get our estate organized for our heirs.

Hezekiah Prays and Cries to God

But Hezekiah doesn’t give God a heartfelt, or even a respectful, “Thanks for the heads up.” Instead the king cries bitter tears and reminds God—as if God needed reminding—of his lifetime of faithfulness, devotion, and good living.

Guess what happens next?

God hears Hezekiah’s prayers and sees his tears. God changes his mind. Instead of sticking to the plan that the king’s end is near, God pledges to give him another fifteen years of life (Isaiah 38:1-5).

God wants to do good things for us, and sometimes all we need to do is ask. Click To Tweet

Moses Also Seeks God’s Favor

However, long before the reign of King Hezekiah, Moses and God have another interesting exchange. When God’s chosen people decide to worship a golden calf instead of him, God has enough. He says he’ll destroy his people and start over with Moses to make a new nation.

If this happened to me, I’d bow my head in false humility and say something like, “As you wish.” But not Moses. Instead he tries to talk God out of it. Moses fights for the nation of Israel even though they don’t deserve it.

God listens to Moses’s reasoning and he relents from destroying his people as he had planned (Exodus 32:9-14).

God wants to do good things for us, and sometimes all we need to do is ask.

[Read through the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Isaiah 35-38, and today’s post is on Isaiah 38:1-5.]

Read more about the book of Isaiah in Dear Theophilus, Isaiah: 40 Prophetic Insights about Jesus, Justice, and Gentiles now available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Our Relationship with God is Not Transactional

Regardless of our behavior, God’s love for us is unconditional

When we do something nice for someone, we often expect something nice in return. And when they do something kind for us, we desire to reciprocate. It’s human nature. And if someone is mean to us, our first impulse is to respond to them likewise.

We can think of this as “equivalent retaliation,” more commonly known as tit-for-tat. In legal terms this concept of reciprocity goes by quid pro quo or “a favor for a favor.”

We apply this notion to our interactions with others and to our interactions with God. When we do good, we expect him to return the favor and do good things for us. We may even think he owes us for the way we worship him, study his word, or help others.

Surely our acts of righteousness will garner his attention and produce a positive response from him.

However, when we mess up—which I too often do—our expectations of God go away. We don’t think he owes us anything. In fact, we know we deserve punishment.

Yet both these perspectives reveal that we think our relationship with God is transactional. That when we do good for him, we deserve good from him. And when we do bad things, he will ignore us or punish us. This, however, is a human mindset, not God’s character.

Our relationship with God is not transactional; his love is unconditional. Click To Tweet

The truth is that there’s nothing we can do to cause him to love us any more. And there’s nothing we can do to cause him to love us any less. God’s deep love for us is unshakable. He loves us regardless of what we do, be it good or bad.

We call this undeserved love from God grace (getting good things we don’t deserve) and mercy (not getting the bad things we do deserve). God is not a tit-for-tat supernatural being. He’s not a quid pro quo type of god.

The God of the Bible is perfect, and he loves us perfectly. Our relationship with him is not transactional; his love is unconditional. Praise God.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.