Daily Commitment is Important

dusty_bibleIt’s November! For most people it means getting out the Christmas decorations, planning road trips, and stuffing turkeys. For me it means I have to write. A LOT!

November is the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. It’s a crazy challenge to write a 50,000 word (or longer) novel in 30 days. Crazy, I know.

Last year when I reflected back on the challenge and how I beat it I realized that one of the most important things was to just commit to write daily. Each and every day I did something to work on my novel. Some days I only wrote 100 words, some days I wrote 10,000 words. Most days were in between.

Focusing on the project daily is extremely important to completing this challenge because taking a break, even for a single day, makes it really easy to turn that into a two day break. Then three days.

And before you know it months have gone by without writing. Getting into this daily habit also made the writing itself easier.

This year is no different than last. It’s the daily commitment that gets me through the challenge. Writer’s block, being tired, all of those excuses get put aside because I have to get my word count in! I don’t have time for excuses.

In the past couple of weeks since I started preparing for this crazy writing challenge I started to let things slip. I haven’t had time to get any articles out on ETM, for one. But also, I quit reading my Bible consistently.

When taking on a huge challenge, whether it’s writing a novel, organizing an event, practicing for an upcoming competition, or just daily life with a full schedule, setting aside the Bible gets way too easy. We fall into the trap of thinking the Bible is just another motivational book, so it seems easy to let it fade into the background of life.

But reading the Bible is a big deal. It’s the weapon we use in this battle taking place between our spirit and our flesh.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. – Psalm 119:105 ESV

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. – Romans 15:4 ESV

One of my favorite quotes is from Ravi Zacharias says:

The biggest battle you will face in life is your daily appointment with God. Keep it or every other battle will get bigger.

Keeping ourselves focused on God and drawing close to him is a daily battle against our sinful nature. The more we read the Bible the closer we draw to God and the easier it is to walk by the spirit and not the flesh.

I once read a book on fasting suggesting that weekly, or at least regular, fasting was important because it helped prepare the heart to hear from God. It wasn’t the act itself, because it isn’t the food we eat that gets in the way of listening to God. But the sacrifice of giving up food, something your body craves, to make God a priority, to focus that time on Him; that is what makes the difference.

In the same way, sacrificing some time out of your busy day to focus on God does something to us. It isn’t simply the act of reading something, but it’s making a concerted effort to make God an important part of our day, and it helps prepare our heart to follow the Spirit instead of the flesh.

Thankfully I have a godly wife that was there to help remind me of the importance of not sacrificing that time I should be spending with God. Walking in the flesh because we haven’t fed ourselves spiritually opens us up to a lot of temptation, hurt, and sin. It isn’t worth it. Especially for a husband who is trying to lead a house spiritually. It doesn’t take long for the enemy to come in and strike when we set down our weapon. A single decision made when we are following the flesh can have devastating consequences for a family.

We are in a spiritual battle, and a single day of not being prepared can be lethal.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.  – Galatians 5:16-17 ESV

I urge you, take a few minutes each day to read the Bible. It’s important. Very important. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Just reading one chapter, or even finding a single verse to meditate on throughout the day. Anything to feed your spirit and help you to win those battles against the flesh.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. – Hebrews 4:12 ESV

Is Christianity a blind faith?

Many non-Christians love to point out how Christianity is nothing but a “blind faith”. They say that because God cannot be seen, heard, or touched, we cannot ever know for sure that He exists. Since there is a lack of physical evidence of God, then any rational minded person would never believe in God and, therefore, we just blindly believe what we were told.

Websters defines blind faith as:

belief without true understanding, perception, or discrimination

A common way that it is defined is to say that someone believes in something without any evidence. You believe because you are told, and that’s it.

So I have given this subject a lot of thought because it’s important. If God is real, and He interacts with us like the Bible says (i.e. Jesus, the cross), then there should be evidence somewhere that He exists. Or do I believe everything that I believe simply out of blind faith?

After thinking about it for a while, I realized that there are a few things I believe in blindly.

Heaven, for one, is something I have a blind faith in. I have absolutely no proof that heaven exists. It doesn’t affect my life, I can’t reach down and touch the streets of gold and I don’t know anybody who has been there and come back to tell me about it. But I believe in heaven because the Bible says it is true. I do realize the weakness of that argument, so I must continue my search. Is everything I believe about Christianity just blind faith?

Then I thought about angels. There are stories all throughout the Bible about angels. Angels that fight behind the scenes, and even ones that appear to man. But I have never seen an angel, nor have I ever interacted with one. And as they are not part of the natural world you really can’t test for them. So I realized I also blindly believe that angels exist.

But the single most important factor of Christianity to consider is God. Everything hinges around Him. If He doesn’t exist, then my faith is completely worthless and I’m wasting my life on this Earth.

So the question: Do I blindly believe in God?

I have never seen him, never felt Him physically. I have never heard his voice or seen His hand write on my wall. So at first I would say that I do believe in him blindly.

But then I thought about my wife. Do I only believe my wife exists because I see and hear her? Or is there something deeper?

I can’t see God like I can see my wife, but even if I were blind and could never see her I would know she is there. It’s the same with any of the physical senses. I don’t need to hear or feel her to know that she is in my life. I can see the impact that her presence has on me, both in how it changes me and how it changes my environment.

And it’s the same with God.

How, exactly, has God affected my life in such a way that I know He exists? The biggest reason is how God has changed me to be more like Him, which is completely contradictory to my own nature.

There have been times in my life where I have been hurt and betrayed in terrible ways. I was hurt so badly that I swore I would never forgive them. I would even get pleasure from thinking of harm being done to them. This, is me. This is my heart. You hurt me and I couldn’t care less what happens to you.

But that isn’t the heart of God. And as I follow God, He changes me.

If you are not a Christian it is almost impossible for you to understand or believe the change that I’m talking about. I’m not talking about religious change that comes from me trying to follow a book. I didn’t read in the Bible that we need to completely and utterly forgive people and then try my best to forgive these people that harmed me. I wasn’t trying to be a “good” Christian because I read some laws and did my best to follow them.

No, as I seek God and draw closer to Him, He changes me. A change that is very real, and can be explained by nothing other than supernatural power. A change so complete that I’m brought to my knees instantly knowing that I did wrong, and not just knowing what I had to try to do to forgive these people, but instantly I had the ability to forgive them. My heart was changed and it could only happen because of God.

But it goes beyond just a changed heart. I managed to get through high school without falling into any major temptation that is common among teenagers. Not just that, I managed to get through high school without falling into any temptation that I wanted to fall into.

I can promise that I didn’t avoid drinking, drugs, and being intimate with a girl because I had a wanted to be a good little kid. Don’t get me wrong, I did want to be a good kid, but those desires quickly get overruled when you face peer pressure or when a cute girl starts making obvious passes at you.

As I have grown older I have seen how much pain is caused by giving in to such temptations, and I’m so thankful that God gave me the strength to withstand those temptations. Because I know my heart and I know that in my own power, I’m not strong enough to resist temptation.

Pornography is such a problem in our culture today that over 70% of men and 30% of women confess to viewing pornography. Over 43% of all Internet use is for pornography, with related subjects being the most searched for terms on Google and other browsers. [1] [2]

These issues plague not only our culture but our core humanity, and we give in. Because it’s so easy, it’s pleasurable, and because we are increasingly being told that there is nothing wrong with it. In some places that I have worked pornography is talked about openly and it is fully accepted that “everyone does it”. To not partake makes you the weird one.

Yet, by God’s power alone, I have been able to escape these traps or avoid them altogether. Not by human power because someone gave me a list of rules to follow.

I have prayed to God for guidance and seen Him answer prayers. I have seen how God had healed my sister, who had burns all over her body to the point where the doctor cancelled the skin graft operation, after our pastor prayed over her. I have seen friends obsessed with sex in high school turn their lives over to God and their heart became completely transformed. I have seen 2 Corinthians 5:17 in action.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭5‬:‭17‬ NKJV)

And there is even more real evidence of God in my life. I have felt God’s love. I have had my heart broken for things that God’s heart breaks over. I have felt the presence of God when going through tough times. Feelings that are not of me, that don’t exist in my own heart apart from God.

These things are real, not just the attempts of a mere man trying to follow religion and do all of the right things. I know my heart, I know what I’m capable of. And I praise God that He doesn’t just write me off as a lost cause but that He, the maker of the universe, cares about me and helps me. He changes me.

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (‭Ephesians‬ ‭2‬:‭10‬ NLT)

So no, there is no way you could ever convince me that God is not real. My faith in Him is not blind.  Because God changes lives.

But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you… (‭1 John‬ ‭2‬:‭27‬ NLT)

Do you have a story to share about how you KNOW that God is real? I want to hear about it.

The Distraction of Entertainment

SAN FRANCISCO - NOVEMBER 18:  A Costco custome...

In the previous articles in this series we discussed how we have neglected our mission field because we have gotten too comfortable in our life here, in the culture.  We think nothing of this problem but when we look at Scripture and it says that to be partakers of the things of this world makes us enemies with God, then we have to ask ourselves if it is time to give up the things of this earth to pursue God.

I know what many of you are thinking. At the suggestion of having to do away with some of your toys, your fun stuff, you will get all defensive. “But God wants us to enjoy our life” or “Don’t be so legalistic, we have freedom in Christ!”

I know you are thinking this because it is what I am thinking. My flesh wants to fight this thought. I see others enjoying their life here and I want to enjoy it too.

I am not saying that we are supposed to live in total depravity of everything fun. But would that really be a bad thing?

The closer I draw to Jesus the less I care about entertainment and the more I want to just serve Him. It doesn’t become a slave relationship where I can’t have any fun for fear of being struck by lightning; it becomes something where I love serving God so much that to think of spending my time playing games or watching tv just feels like such a waste in comparison!

You may think this is crazy talk, that I am still just denying myself the entertainment that our culture feels it is so entitled to, but when we get to heaven and stand before God, are we really going to be proud of all that time we spent in entertainment? Will we be proud that we spent 7,000 hours of our life watching television and movies, or another 20,000 hours playing video games?

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. – Colossians 3:1-3

The only time we find entertainment important in our lives is when we are not close with God. The more we focus on the things of God, the less time we want to spend on entertainment.

Think about when you were dating. When you start out getting to know each other and falling in love with each other.  Did you just spend all of your time staring at the tv? Is that how your relationship developed?  Sure you go to the movies and sometimes watch shows together but a majority of your time is spent talking, and interacting together.  This is how you got to know each other.

You fall in love with that person and want to spend all of your time with them. Just because you would rather spend time with your boyfriend or girlfriend instead of watch tv does not mean that you are depraving yourself of entertainment, does it? The entertainment truly doesn’t matter to you in comparison.

It is this way with God. The more we fall in love with God the less we care about the things of this world, the less we care about what the culture cares about.

So focus on heaven, focus on Christ, and focus on our mission here on Earth!

But beware, this world, satan, your flesh, will fight against you and distract you and make you lose that focus.

let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. – Hebrews 12:1, 3

A mission field forgotten

Francis Chan
Francis Chan (Photo credit: williamhartz)

While listening to Francis Chan the other day something he said really struck out at me.  He said that if you went on a missions trip to Africa, every single day you were there you would have the mission in mind.  It is what you are there for, your primary focus.  You would wake up in the morning and the first thing you would think about would be the mission.  Your life there would be consumed by it.

Then when we get back to the U.S. we relax and get back into the mentality of this being our home.  We let down our focus and the mission to us becomes nothing more than what we did that one week in Africa.

But the reality is that we have just as much of a mission here at home as we do when we go on missions trips to other cities and countries.  Perhaps even more so in some cases.

We have a culture that has been raised thinking it is a God fearing, Christ loving, Christian culture while they go about living their lives for themselves, enjoying their sin and not giving any thought to Jesus or to the gospel message. We have thousands of people filling churches in our neighborhood believing they are saved but in reality they are just in denial.

Then we have thousands more that do not know the gospel at all, or only know of some perversion of it.  They do not give any time to think that they might be a sinner, or that they are living their life in rejection of God.  These people all around us that we are in contact with every day are going to hell and they laugh at the thought without understanding how serious that truly is.

This is our mission field, masked by the fog of normal day-to-day life. It is time to see through that fog so we can work the field that surrounds us.

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few – Matthew 9:37

In the next article we will start to see what is creating this fog over our mission field.

This is the first part of a series titled: Neglecting our Mission Field

Picking A Translation

Book Reviewed:  How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth

By: Gordon D. Lee; Mark L. Strauss

Purchase Links: Westminster  Or  Amazon

There are tons of bible translations on the market today.

Why?

Does commercialism drive the choice to produce a number of translations?

Is it personal preference? Is there a “Best” translation?

Which one do you need or want?

The options can be mystifying. If you have felt that way, or are feeling that way now, then today’s book review is highlighting a selection worth your time.

Cover of "How to Choose a Translation for...
Cover via Amazon

The Book, “How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth” addresses these questions and more. This book introduces the reader to the necessary terms for the subject of bible translation, explains why we have the various translations, the differences in the types and their purposes and best applications.

If you are new to the topic of Biblical interpretation or feel lost in a sea of options when picking a new Bible, this book is for you.

If you want to understand the difference between the various categories (“literal” and “meaning-based,” “dynamic equivalent” and “paraphrase”) and their uses, this book is for you.

The authors address the technicalities of translation from Hebrew and Greek, yet the book is easy to understand. Readers will learn the history of translation in English, what category their favorite translation falls into and what makes a translation both accurate and reliable.

The authors cover the four areas of relationship in translating any text: accounting for cultural contexts, differences between languages, presentation (style and format) and dealing with ambiguity.

The ease of approach and helpful glossary in the back make this a useful guide for the pew-sitter and the person involved in vocational ministry.

Pro’s: Terms are well explained and the book is easy to read. Discussion is clear. Topics include process of bible translation, various difficulties, and the history involved. Read this book and you won’t be confused about which Bible to use for which purpose from devotional reading to research.

Cons: Authors seem slightly biased toward the methodology they used and the translation they helped put together. The book is not compromised by this, simply be aware they have an opinion and it shows up from time to time.

Jesus Freed You From Sin!

Written by Guest Writer Matthew Guillot

So today I realized what an integral part fear plays in temptation. The enemy will tempt you but couple that temptation with the fear of falling into the temptation, and the fear of losing control. The enemy will do whatever he can to convince you that you are incapable of controlling yourself, and once you believe that lie, he has got you right where he wants you. The enemy can continue to bombard you with tempting thoughts and emotions, and because you are convinced you don’t have control over yourself, you are much more pliable to these temptations and to give up because you have lost hope of resisting the devil (fear of the devil, or his ability). Additional thoughts of how “powerful” the enemy is (sometimes intimidation) may also be the focus of his bombardment. This is to prop himself up in your mind to also lead to fear of the enemy, and hopelessness to resist. So ultimately the goal of the enemy is to get you to forget who you are and how much self-control you truly have, and to get you to a place of hopelessness and fear.

If you give into the temptation and sin, then the enemy can accuse you of the sin, making you feel guilty and ashamed. The enemy then starts working on convincing you that you need to keep your distance from God, because God is either upset with you or you haven’t repented enough and need to jump through hoops before God accepts your repentance. The enemy will suggest by thought, hoops from the bible that Jesus said is impossible to do without Him. And because you have convinced yourself to distance yourself from God, you are hopelessly left to your own ability to try to jump through these hoops. The enemy knows this will ultimately lead to you being discouraged more. Another tactic the enemy uses if he can’t get you to try to distance yourself from God, is getting you to focus on yourself. The enemy often uses the tactic of convincing you, that you need to always be introspective and on your guard all the time. If the enemy can get you to try to defend yourself by your own effort, then he knows that eventually (most of the time very soon), he will be able to tempt you again and take you down the all too familiar path to sin. Only Christians who are afraid of the enemy’s temptation or the enemy, find it necessary to always be on their guard. Our protection is our faith in God, not our own ability to guard ourself. (Ephesians 6:16)

If the enemy is able to convince us that we have no ability to control ourselves or resist temptation, or resist him, we fall into guilt, shame, hopelessness and fear; and go down the repetitive cycle of being tempted into sin. And because our own ability to resist doesn’t cut it, the enemy is able to eventually get many people into depression, and even feelings of rejection, loneliness, or neglect from God. The enemy’s goal is either to get us into deeper and deeper depression to commit suicide, or, if he can’t get us to kill ourselves, keep us in a place where we unwittingly choose to keep parts of our hearts from God because of our perceived uncleanliness from our sin (shame) and/or the fear of coming before God.

Romans 6:17-23(NASB)

“17 But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.

20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. 22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Notice the contrast Paul uses and the past tense verbs used to describe our past condition in sin and present tense verbs for our current freedom from sin (exception “became” describing something Jesus already did to free us).

What we need to realize is that Jesus’ death on the cross paid for all of our sin once for all. He died on the cross with all of our sin in mind, and nailed all of it to the cross. The Bible says in 1 John 1:9 “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Notice that Jesus does the cleansing, not us. It also says Jesus is completely faithful and righteous to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness, not just some of it and and leave us to deal with the rest; ALL! The Bible also states in past tense that Jesus’ death on the cross freed us from slavery to sin.  However, God will not violate your free-will if you choose to put up a wall to keep yourself from God (even just parts of your heart from God), because of your perceived “unrighteousness”. The enemy knows this, and this is why he works hard at this strategy to convince you that you can’t approach God and that you shouldn’t, that you are now unrighteous before God. The enemy’s goal is always to get us to forget the cross, and to not focus on Jesus. The enemy knows that as soon as you let God into the picture, he is toast. This is why the Bible says to first “submit to God” then if you “resist the devil…He will flee.” (James 4:7) Not the other way around.

We are no longer slaves to sin. But Jesus never intended for us to live out this reality by our own ability. Jesus went to the Father to send us a Helper, the Holy Spirit!!! (John 14:26) The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit is the one who leads us into ALL truth (John 16:13), brings into remembrance everything that God has said and is saying (John 14:26), instruct us in the way we should go (John 16:13, Acts 16:6-10), and give us His (God’s) character and attributes (fruits of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22-24). In other words He (God/Holy Spirit) empowers us to live a righteous lifestyle. Jesus said “I am the vine, you are the branches…apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:3-5) You have the ability inside of you to resist the devil every single time successfully and confidently. But it is not your own ability but the Holy Spirit inside you. What is happening when you are operating under the Holy Spirit’s ability (His fruit)? God is letting you operate in character and traits that are not your own, and with the outpouring of His Spirit inside of you they manifest as if they were your own attributes.

It is extremely beneficial over the long-term if we can learn how to operate with His fruit regularly, allowing Him to completely empower us. As we do this our thought patterns completely change because we come to the realization after multiple times that we actually can be free from sin. Once we are convinced of this, our true nature, free from sin can finally come out, without our minds being in conflict with the reality and truth of our freedom. The Bible tells us that Jesus already freed us, but this freedom won’t manifest in our lives until we truly are able to believe it. Unfortunately our carefully enemy-orchestrated experiences tend to tell us otherwise, and it is easy to be convinced that we aren’t really free. The enemy keeps us in his cycle of thought patterns, fear, hopelessness, guilt, and shame to try to ensure that we will never have the perception of ourselves that God has (the righteousness of Christ, perfect, spotless, and without blemish), so that we will never realize the freedom Jesus paid such a heavy price for. This is not to say that we will never sin, but that sin is no longer our compulsion and is supposed to be rare, abnormal, and awkward for us.

If you are saved and still feel like you have the compulsion to sin (sin nature), it is most likely because you are believing a lie about yourself, about your relation to God, or other people. Sin can seem like a viable coping mechanism to those with wounds and pain from past or present offenses. Believed lies from the enemy are always the root of what perpetuates wounds and pain, which is the cause of any Christian’s current desire to sin. Ask the Holy Spirit if you are believing a lie, and ask Him to replace this with the truth, depositing His truth deep in your heart.

Don’t let the enemy keep you in bondage and slavery to sin anymore. Jesus already paid for you to be free!

Much Love,

Machew

Faith, Works, and Salvation

Have you ever been so scared by a passage in the Bible that you could not sleep at night?  This has happened to me more than once, most recently by this passage in Matthew.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ – Matthew 7:21-23

Sometimes reading that passage makes me stop and think “Is that talking about me?”  When I die, will Jesus say to me ‘Well done good and faithful servant,’ or will He say ‘Depart from me, I never knew you?'”  This question can be scary, very scary.

For one, you do not want to be doing everything you can to serve God, only to find out you missed out on the most important thing, the treasure that God actually wanted from you.  But also you do not want to go through life thinking that everything is fine, only to reach the final moments and find out your one way ticket to heaven was nothing more than a sham, sold to you by Satan and your betraying flesh.

What it means to be “Saved”

When a Christian says he or she is “saved”, what does that mean?  What is it exactly that we are saved from?

The most obvious answer that comes to mind is that we are saved from hell, to heaven (John 3:16).  But more than that, we are saved from sin, to righteousness – to good and righteous works God has called us to do (Romans 6:18, 22, 2 Timothy 1:9, Ephesians 2:10).  But one of the most important things we are saved for, is for the glory of God. That’s right, we are saved so that God can get glory (Romans 15:7, 1 Corinthians 10:31, Philippians 2:9-11).

How many people will be saved?  Not many.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. – Matthew 7:13-14

Examine Your faith

Salvation is important. It brings God glory, empowers us to do the good work God has for us, and it saves us from the damnation we deserve.  But it is clear that only a few will find it, and many will think they have found it but will be deceived (Matthew 7:21-23).

For this reason Paul tells us to examine ourselves to make sure that we are saved.

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified. – 2 Corinthians 13:5-6

What Faith is Not

This brings us to a crucial point. The few passages we have looked at so far makes it seem like faith and works are the same thing.  But they are not.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should  boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

This passage shows us there is a difference between faith and works. Faith saves us, not works.  Remember the first passage we looked at, Jesus rebuked people who were doing good works, but lacked faith, lacked a relationship with Jesus.  Jesus said “I never knew you” which shows us that it is the relationship God wants from us, not our works of healing, casting out demons, building churches, or giving to the poor.

Works themselves mean nothing.  Isaiah 64:6 says that our good works are worthless, that “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.”

Are Works Meaningless?

Those passages make it clear that it is only by faith that we are saved, our works mean nothing.  So are works not important?

Actually, works are crucial to a Christian’s faith.  “Wait a second” you are thinking, “You just said works mean nothing, we are not saved by works and all our good works of righteousness are as filthy rags, how can they, at the same time, be crucial to a Christian?”  It does seem a bit contradictory at first, but dig deeper in to scriptures.

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? – James 2:14-20

So we are saved by faith, not by works, yet faith without works is dead and such a faith does not save you… confused yet? Just hang on a little bit longer.

Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.  He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. – 1 John 2:3-6

This is a cause and effect situation here. What came first, the chicken or the egg?  Which comes first, the faith or the works?

You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. – Matthew 7:16-18

And there Matthew sums this all up so nicely for us.  When we accept Christ, when we put faith in Him, something real happens, we are literally changed, transformed, the old person has passed away and a new being is created (2 Corinthians 5:17).  This does not mean that we never sin (that topic will be covered in another article).  The only way we can be sin free is to be in a new body, as long as we are trapped in these earthly bodies we will sin (Romans 7).

But our spirit is made new and the Holy Spirit indwells within us.  It is this which gives us the desires to do good works and gives us the ability to do good works.  Good works do not save us but they are the evidence that we are saved.

Just as a good tree only produces good fruit, a Christian, someone who is saved by faith, produces good works. Not because the works are required for salvation or give us merit at all, but because our nature changes completely.  It is something we can not help.

When I was in college – several years ago – I was a math major. In High school I could do math without a calculator.  I could solve the most complex calculations in my math class with nothing more than an occasional scratch piece of paper, but I could not write to save my life.

Just recently I took an algebra class and struggled through it.  I could not comprehend the math. I barely got a B in Algebra and Trig, and ended up getting a C in my pre-calculus class.  But I aced every one of my English and writing  classes and (so I am told) I write fairly well.

This is an example of my nature changing.  I went from being a math wiz to being a writer.  No amount of work on my part can change what I am.  I can practice and get by at math, but it will not come as naturally as writing does to me now.

In the same way a Christian cannot defy his or her nature.  When we are still stuck in sin we cannot do good works except by our effort, it was a struggle, but now, after salvation, the good works are a natural response, just like breathing.

This shows how it is possible that works are important to our faith and salvation but do not save us, because they have nothing to do with the salvation part, they are just an example of that salvation.

How do I examine myself?

So how then, do we go about examining ourselves?  The only thing I can say is to pray and read the Bible.  Examine your life, your actions, your check book (where you spend your money), your thoughts, everything, against scripture.  Are you living in sin that needs to be repented of?  Are you doing works in the church on a daily basis but missing that relationship with God?  Are you doing good works but feel that it is a burden to you?

Examine yourself, see what is keeping you from having a relationship with God, what is keeping you from the Bible.  Use natural works, the ones you enjoy and are not a pain to perform to see if it is a natural response or something you are (subconsciously) trying to fake.

Romans 10:17 says that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” I cannot stress enough how important the word of God is in our seeking God.  Read it every day, even more often in times of examining yourself spiritually.

*Photo by Jon Zenor, Copyright 2010 Jon Zenor Photography.*

Are you living in sin without realizing it?

As a Christian it goes without saying that I try to avoid sin in my life. I do not get drunk, do drugs, hate other people, steal, kill, or cheat through life. We do such a good job, in fact, of avoiding sin that we get prideful and arrogant. We think we are doing good enough and are better than others that we do not really analyze our life to see if we are living a life for Christ or are living in sin.

To make matters worse, everything around us, including society, is trying to camouflage sin, making it seem less wrong or even making it okay to do. It is not until we see someone actually living a righteous life that the camouflage gets removed and the sin is exposed as what it is.

Removing the camouflage on my sin

I love to drive. I do not know what it is about driving, but I just love to get out on the road and drive. And I am a person that does not speed. Well, you know, nothing *that* fast. I usually stick to about 5 miles per hour over the speed limit and on the highways I go with the flow of traffic. It is not really “speeding” because everybody else on the road does it.

And by saying “everyone does it” I am not trying to be cliche or anything like that. Literally, every person I know thinks that five miles over is the norm, and rarely do you find cops that will pull you over for this making it seem okay in the eyes of the law.

Then I went on a trip to South Carolina to visit my friend, Sean. Sean is not like everybody else… Sean has this crazy notion that the speed limit, is actually the speed limit. He takes the law seriously, even when it is inconvienant or slower.

It is a refreshing sight to see someone who takes something seriously. Sean took the speed limit seriously, and did not speed if he could help it. And this convicted me. Seeing someone else living the way we know we should live removes any excuse that we could use to avoid living like we know we should.

No more excuses

Now I have no more excuses to continue living the way I was. I know that not only do I know I should live righteously, but it is also very possible to live righteously. So I no longer speed; but for real this time.

This makes me wonder, what else is in our life that we think is normal and acceptable behavior but the Bible tells us is sin? Anything breaking the law is wrong, including speeding, pirating software, music, and movies, not paying taxes or any number of other things.

Be Holy

God tells us to “Be Holy for I am Holy” (1 Peter 1:16) which makes it clear that we are to be holy, set apart, not living like the rest of the world. Why must we be holy even though everybody else is having fun in sin? Because God is holy, and we are taking on His name and representing Him.

When you sin, you are not giving yourself a bad name, or the church you go to. You are really giving God a bad name and image. How can we dare take on that responsibility and then continue living in sin using the excuse that “everybody is doing it?”

When Christians let the norms of society define what is right or wrong, we are really in trouble.

Living for God, not for yourself

Not only do we regularly sin by doing actions we shouldn’t, like speeding, the church is also involved in sins of omission, or the sin of being disobedient. Most of the church is lazy, not living for God at all and just doing what they want to do. Rarely do people prayer read their Bibles, let alone actually witness to people.

We are not to live this way!

Christians have a calling, and we cannot ignore that calling just because everybody else does. Sometimes this is hard to see, which is why we must look to those who live their faith like they believe it. People such as Francis Chan, for example. When we see these people living their faith it should convict us to live for God with all of our life instead of the 2% we give Him now.

So take some time and listen to sermons from Francis Chan or other pastors, and spend even more time praying and reading God’s word. This will help you to identify what sin is in your life that you may not even realize.

We are not peddlers of the Word!

One thing I see often is Christians trying to persuade people to be Christians anyway they can.  Whether it would be to tell them they could continue in their sin, or that they could continue to believe in un-biblical things, etc.  While this is a bit of the extreme form, we could be doing it in our own ways and not realizing it.  Filled church pews and another tally mark means nothing to God if they aren’t true.  Lets look at the Word.

2 Corinthians 2:17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. -ESV

We see here that we are specifically not suppose to try to “sell” people the Bible or our beliefs, but that we are to speak to truth, and “if they have ears, they will hear”.

So the next time you sharing your faith, don’t be thinking about what crafty way you can pull people in.  You do not need fireworks or bright colors.  You don’t need an ice cream social, a live band, or a popular event.  Just speak the truth, and the Lord will open the hearts of those who he calls.

I saw a Facebook status…

The other day I saw a Facebook status…

When you carry the Bible, Satan gets a headache. When you open it, he collapses. When he sees you reading it, he faints. When he sees you living it, he flees. And just when you’re about to re-post this, he’ll try to discourage you. I JUST DEFEATED HIM! Copy and re-post if you can. Any takers?

While it seems cute, and all good, it caught my attention.  This, to me, is a prime example of American Christianity.  While it is cutesy, it is NOT Biblical.  One thing American Christianity embraces is cuteness, while it ignores the Word.  We are in a war, and we need to know the truth.  The truth is, Satan uses the Bible against us, he even used it against Jesus:

Matthew 4 “5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, He will command his angels concerning you, and On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” -ESV

This verse shows us not only can Satan use the Bible against us, but that he knows it.  When you sit there, with your Bible open and reading, most likely he is trying everything he can to ever so slighty twist the scripture into something that will benefit him.  Be AWARE! Satan is not just trying to get you to sin, or get people to do bad things, he is trying to destroy the church, without even knowing he is.

Some lines from a song that are interesting (Destroy the Runner – I, Lucifer):

…I’ll preach what I practice,
and I will practice on you…

…I speak of angels,
but host demons instead…

…I will sell them the scriptures,
and I will pocket your fame…

…I am feasting on bread and your wine.

We need to be in the Spirit always to know when something is from God or from Satan.

I encourage you not to just take the word of others on spiritual matters, but to back EVERYTHING up with scripture.  Do not be like so many who are complacent in their lives, who prefer to enjoy the “cuteness” and ignorance American Christianity.  The Word gives us the truth, and everything we post about our beliefs from Facebook statuses to blogs, should be fully founded in the Word.  The Word is not a joke, and needs to be taken very seriously!  THIS IS A WAR!