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Bible Insights

Do You Excel at the Grace of Giving?

Discover What Paul Might Mean by This Curious Phrase

There is a curious phrase in the Bible: “grace of giving.” It occurs only in Paul’s second letter to his friends at the church in Corinth. Without it appearing elsewhere in the Bible, there are no other verses we can use to grasp a better understanding of this curious phrase.

Not Begrudgingly

In considering it, the grace of giving could imply we are to give graciously. The opposite is to give begrudgingly, and that’s not good. A gift given resentfully is hardly a gift at all. Gracious giving is the goal.

Generosity

Alternately, grace of giving could suggest generosity. We give what others need and then give more. Or we give what we can and then make sacrifices to give more. We give “above and beyond” expectations. This, too, may be the grace of giving.

We are to give to others. Click To Tweet

Offer Grace

While there is value in both these considerations, I think there is an even better one. God gives his grace to us; we should give a bit of that grace to others.

This could be money. Or it could be kindness, tolerance, acceptance, or any number of the amazing gifts God has given us, his undeserving followers.

The Grace of Giving

Regardless of how we understand the phrase grace of giving and what it precisely means, the key is to give.

We are to give to others.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is 2 Corinthians 7-9 and today’s post is on 2 Corinthians 8:7.]

Read more in Peter’s book, Love is Patient (book 7 in the Dear Theophilus series).

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 many 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.

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

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.

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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Christian Living

Do We Need to Obey God?

Doing What the Bible Says Isn’t a Requirement but a Response

In the post about how to be saved we realized there’s nothing we need to do (or can do) to earn our salvation; it’s a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). This means we don’t need to first obey God before he accepts us. He accepts us through no merit of our own. We just need to receive his goodness—his grace—through faith. It’s that simple.

But Don’t Abuse God’s Grace

In a spiritual sense, grace means receiving something from God that we don’t deserve. Just as we don’t deserve salvation, we don’t deserve his love either. We don’t need to obey God for him to love us. He loves us—despite ourselves and our actions—and he always has and always will. He loved us when we were still disobedient, still sinners.

He loved us so much that Jesus died in our place (Romans 5:8). And nothing can cause him to withdraw his love from us (Romans 8:38-39). It’s another example of God’s endless grace.

If we don’t need to obey God for him to love us or to save us, does that mean we can continue to live in disobedience to him? To continue to sin? Of course not.

 Paul writes, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2, NIV).

Work Out Our Salvation

In another place Paul writes that we are to continue to work out our salvation  (Philippians 2:12-13). He doesn’t say we need to work for our salvation, but to work it out. It’s something we do after he saves us, not before, as in a prerequisite.

This means that we choose to obey God as a response to him loving us and saving us. The Bible calls this sanctification. And we’ll spend our whole life doing it, moving ourselves closer to God as we obey him.

We don’t have to do this, to work out our salvation by obeying him. But we should want to. He has, after all, given us the greatest present of all, the gift of eternal life with him.

We choose to live a life of obedience to God, not because we have to but because we want to. Click To Tweet

Obey God

We don’t need to obey God as a requirement to be saved. Instead, once we follow him and receive eternal life our response of gratitude is to obey God. It’s how we say thank you to him for the gift of salvation he gave us.

We choose to live a life of obedience to God, not because we have to but because we want to.

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 to be Saved

Discover What the Bible Says about Salvation

Paul, in writing to the church in Ephesus, shares a succinct and essential truth about salvation. He tells them how to be saved, which reminds them how they were saved.

He writes “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV).

By Grace

Our salvation starts with God’s grace. Grace gives to us what we don’t deserve. We don’t deserve our right standing with Father God that came to us through Jesus when he died in our place for the wrong things we have done

As we explore how to be saved, it doesn’t start with us but with God and his grace.

Through Faith

The second related item is faith. This is our part. We must receive the grace that God offers to us through faith. We must believe.

It doesn’t make sense to most people. It seems too easy. So they pile more requirements upon it, as if making it hard will make it mean more.

Yet through faith we can receive God’s grace. This is how to be saved.

A Gift

Lest there be any doubt, salvation is a gift that God freely gives to us. It’s a no-strings-attached present from the Almighty. That’s what God’s grace does.

Not Works

We can’t earn our salvation anymore than we can earn a gift that’s already been freely offered to us. Yet when many people consider how to be saved, they think there’s a list of requirements they must meet, that is, there are a set of prescribed steps they must go through to earn their salvation.

But we can’t work to become eligible to receive a present from God that he’s already given to us. All we need to do is open that gift.

To be saved, we make a U-turn with our lives and follow Jesus. Click To Tweet

How to be Saved: Follow Jesus

When we consider how to be saved, we must acknowledge that God’s gift of grace is something that we receive through faith. But how do we do that?

It’s simple. We make a U-turn with our lives and follow Jesus. That’s the essential message that Jesus tells people when they ask him how to be saved, how to have eternal life. He simply says follow me (Matthew 9:9, John 1:43, John 8:12, John 10:27, and many more.

I follow Jesus. Do you?

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

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

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 about more biblical characters 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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Bible Insights

Isaiah Reveals 3 Things About God

The Lord Is Gracious, Compassionate, and Just

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 For Unto Us: 40 Prophetic Insights About Jesus, Justice, and Gentiles from the Prophet Isaiah 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.