Justification: A One-time Act…and a Lifetime of Action

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The just shall live by faith.  (Romans 1:17 NKJV)

Justification is a one-time act of God’s amazing grace pronounced on the life of the believer. Sadly, many suppose that is the end of the importance of our justification. Not true! Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that justification is indeed a one-time act of God’s grace, but it is to be followed by a lifetime of action.

Here is the simplest way to look at it: Having been declared righteous in the high court of heaven—not on the basis of any work we have done, but solely on the basis of the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ—we have been reconciled with God and enjoy a new position in life. That new position comes under many headings. Here are just a few:

  • Blessed
  • Adopted
  • Accepted
  • Forgiven
  • Redeemed
  • Loved

We have received this new position by grace through faith; new practices must follow. We are to live out practically what we are positionally. Our belief is to be worked out through our behaviors. A lifetime of action must flow from the fact of our justification, because the grace that saved us is the same grace that is sanctifying us all the way into glory.

The key that unlocks the door leading to a lifetime of action that glorifies God and blesses others is the belief that we are who God says we are. When we believe deep down in our hearts that we are adopted, accepted, blessed, forgiven, loved, and redeemed in the one-time act of our Lord Jesus Christ, our lives will begin to reflect that belief in new behaviors.

So let me ask you: How are you doing at living out practically what God says you are positionally? If the answer is something less than you would like it to be, that is simply because you have not yet fully embraced the fact that you have been . . .

Blessed with every spiritual blessing

Adopted into God’s family of faith

Accepted in the Beloved

Forgiven by His grace

Redeemed by His blood

and

Loved with His everlasting love!

Let me encourage you to marinate in this truth today and see if it does not begin to set you free to live out practically (even though it will be imperfectly) what you are positionally.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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When Past Blessings Sedate Rather Than Stimulate

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When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you — a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant — then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Deuteronomy 6:10-12)

Do you know the difference between sedatives and stimulants? A sedative is designed to “take the edge off” and help you fall asleep. A stimulant is designed to “sharpen the edge” and keep you going and going and going. I want to share a story with you about a time when God’s people allowed past blessings to act like a sedative rather than a stimulant. God’s people allowed themselves to be sedated into a sense of sinful, self-centered security, rather than stimulated into a season of sold-out, Savior-centered service.

After Israel spent more than 400 years in bondage in Egypt, God sent His servant Moses to deliver His people from slavery. God used a series of miracles to deliver Israel—the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, manna from heaven, water from a rock, and guidance by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night—but these many blessings acted like sedatives on God’s people.

Paul described the tragic outcome of their sinful thinking in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. Israel’s past blessings sedated them into a season of self-absorption, because they focused on the blessings rather than the One who had graciously given them. And here is Paul’s warning to you and me: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us” (1 Corinthians 10:11). When we shift our focus from the Giver of our blessings to the blessings themselves, they act like sedatives; we slumber and sin begins to overtake us.

When past blessings sedate us, we are lulled into a false sense of security. We begin to see past blessings as a present promise. We begin to expect only good from the hand of our good God, as if we are somehow deserving of it. We lose our sense of appreciation for the many good gifts we have received from the hand of Almighty God. But when past blessings serve as stimulants, we shift our focus from the gift to the Giver of the gift; when we do, we never lose our dependence upon Him. We understand that past blessings can be exchanged for present burdens in an instant. So we keep our spiritual eyes on our Savior, which keeps our hands and feet from slackening into sinful self-reliance.

Let me ask you this: Have past blessings sedated or stimulated you in your walk with Jesus? Is your focus on what you have been given? Or on the One who has given it to you? Remember, our greatest gift is God, not what He so graciously gives us. Keep looking up, and let your past blessings stimulate you to a life of sold-out service to your Savior.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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No Spoiled Saints

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My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son. (Hebrews 12:5-6)

I once heard someone say, “I am a spoiled saint of the Most High God!” Now, depending on your definition of the word “spoiled,” I submit to you today that there is no such thing in God’s family of faith.

The best definition of the term “spoiled child” that I can come up with describes children who consistently exhibit behavioral problems caused by being overindulged and under-disciplined by their doting parents. In a word, these parents have raised a “brat.” Are there any kids you know who come to mind when reading this definition?

Here again, how we understand this term as it relates to the child of God is rooted in our definition of “overindulged.” To be sure, we are overindulged with . . .

  • Love
  • Mercy
  • Grace
  • Goodness
  • Forgiveness
  • Kindness

I could fill this page with a list of the amazing gifts of grace that Christians have received from our heavenly Father . . . and then keep going. Can any of us fully describe the “overindulgence” we receive from our omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God? But when we review this list, we are never to think it should include words such as pampered, babied, coddled, or spoiled. Loved by God? Most definitely. Spoiled by God? Not a chance! Make no mistake about this truth: God would have none of us as His children rather than coddle a bunch of self-centered, self-absorbed, self-seeking, and self-interested brats!

We must keep in view the fact that the grace that saves us is the same grace that sanctifies us, and the business of sanctification is often a painful process. God’s greatest goal for every one of His children is to conform us into the likeness of His beloved and precious Son, and that takes discipline—a discipline that is designed to deflate our ego, which continually seeks to edge God out. The self does not die in a day, but daily, and God will not stop short of conforming us perfectly into the image of His Son.

It will never be said about our Father in heaven what was said about King David’s parenting of Adonijah: “His father [David] had not rebuked [Adonijah] at any time by asking, ‘Why have you done so?’” (1 Kings 1:6 NKJV).

Nobody wants a spoiled child. Good parents discipline their children in love, with the goal being correction and heart transformation. God is the perfect parent; He will not settle for a spoiled saint, so He disciplines us by every means necessary. And that is a kind of love that will never spoil!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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God’s Burden

 

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Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. (Isaiah 1:14)

When was the last time you thought of God as carrying around some sort of burden? If you are like most believers, the answer probably is “Never!” Yet the prophet Isaiah tells us that the all-powerful God of the universe does indeed become burdened, and the reason can be found in a single word: HYPOCRISY.

Omnipotence wearies when we worship Him with our lips while our hearts are wandering away from Him. To weary God—to burden our Beloved—is a serious matter that must be dealt with. Like any enemy that comes between us and God, we must take sword to it and cut it out at its root. None of us wants to be called “hypocrite,” but we are all affected by the sin of hypocrisy.

If we are honest, we must admit that there are times when our practice does not match our profession. We say one thing and do another. But those failures are not the “burden” I believe that God is carrying. Our Father knows that we are still sinners in need of a Savior even after we have been saved, and we need our Savior moment by moment. God knows the old sin nature is in a constant struggle with the new saved nature, as Romans 7 clearly reveals. This is the Christian life, and we must fight this battle all the way into glory. We will enjoy victories and defeats along the way.

God is burdened by a believer whose heart has grown cold—treating God almost as if He is as an unnecessary appendage, to be cut off by a cool and casual commitment. I cannot find a greater statement of the evil of a divided heart than to read that Omnipotence grew weary and was burdened by it. This alone should cause you and me to examine our hearts to see what they are actually beating for. Many have hearts that beat for the good gifts God has given, but not for God Himself. Sadly, their relationship with Jesus has been reduced to a religion marked by empty ritual: “New Moon feasts and appointed festivals.”

So how do we ease God’s burden? We journey back to the day of our salvation, the day when our hearts burned deep within us for Jesus Christ—not the things He could give us. We remember that God will tolerate no rival, and we return to our First Love . . . on our knees. David’s prayer provides a wonderful model for you and me:

Create in me a pure heart, O God,

and renew a steadfast spirit within me. . . .

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Psalm 51:10, 12)

We cry out to Jesus, knowing that He is faithful to forgive and to heal. And we keep in view all the great saints of Scripture, who also found their hearts beating for something smaller than God at times.

Abraham refused to believe in the promise of God and tried to pass off his wife as his sister to save his own skin. Instead of going off to war, as was the duty of the king, David took another man’s wife and then had the man killed in battle. Peter’s divided heart reared its ugly head when he denied Jesus three times on the night He was betrayed. All these heroes of the Bible wearied God and became a burden to Him. Yet God restored them to fellowship, renewed their commitment, and brought them through with a deeper love for Him than they had before. God transformed His burden into His blessing!

God never changes; what He did for the saints of old, He will do for you today.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Palace or Pigsty?

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No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame.  (Psalm 25:3)

The prodigal son lived in a palace—a place where he received the unconditional love and forgiveness of his father—not only daily, but moment by moment. But when this younger son asked for his inheritance, he essentially exchanged his palace for a pigsty.

There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating. (Luke 15:11-16)

Do you look on this young man with pity . . . or perhaps even scorn? Take a look in the mirror; you and I do the very same thing every time we exchange our will for God’s will in our lives. In demanding his inheritance now, the prodigal son was refusing to be patient and follow the father’s timing. Oh, he had a time of carefree celebration, but that untroubled state did not last. It never does! He squandered all that he had been given and found himself eating the husks with the swine, longing to be back in his father’s presence.

Does that resonate with you as much as it does with me?

Look at it this way: The prodigal son already had his inheritance. It was his by birth, but it was not yet the right time for him to receive it. God not only knows exactly what we need, but exactly the right time to give it to us. But the sin of impatience got the best of the young son. Impatience starts as an infection and winds up a disease—an insidious disease—which will eventually leads us away from the palace and toward the pigsty.

It is not enough to want what God wants for our lives. We must wait to receive it in His timing. Often “right now” is not God’s perfect timing for our imperfect lives. The shepherd boy David waited seven years to receive what God wanted for his life—the king’s throne in Israel—and that was after he had been anointed three times to become king.

So let me ask you this question:

Where in your life right now are you giving in to impatience?

If this finds you on the other side of impatience that has put you into a pigsty, fear not. Cheer up! The younger son eventually made his way back from the pigsty to the palace, where he was met with the unchanging love and forgiveness of his father. Amazing grace, wouldn’t you agree? Even when we mess things up, God turns our mess into His masterpiece. As the psalmist said, “Those whose hope is in the Lord will never be put to shame.”

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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The Witness of His Wounds

nail scarred hands

“I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.”  (Revelation 5:6)

I first preached on this text many years ago, and a number of people were surprised and even shocked by its exalted truth: our Lord Jesus Christ bears the marks of His wounds and will forevermore. Have you ever wondered why? Let’s take a look . . . and may you be encouraged by the witness of His wounds!

By His Wounds You Are Healed

When the apostle Peter said, “By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24), quoting the prophet Isaiah, he was telling us that our salvation was won through the suffering of our Lord Jesus on Calvary’s hill. The beatings and scourging of our Lord, culminating in His agonizing death on a rough wooden cross, was the crushing blow to the evil one. Jesus took our punishment, our beatings, our scourging, our crown of thorns, our nine-inch nails, our cross, and ultimately our death. And when the grave could no longer hold Him three days later, we were given access to a relationship with God, by grace through faith. By His wounds we have been healed. But that’s not all!

By His Wounds He Is Revealed

His wounds not only healed us, but they revealed Him. Here is the way the prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon, put it in one of his lovely devotionals:

The wounds of Jesus are His glories, His jewels, His sacred ornaments. To the eye of the believer, Jesus is passing fair because Hs is white and ruddy – white with innocence, and ruddy with His own blood. We see Him as the lily of matchless purity, and as the rose crimsoned with His own gore. Christ is lovely upon Olivet and Tabor, and by the sea, but oh! There never was such a matchless Christ as He that did hang upon the cross.

God in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, revealed His eternal love for us in the deepest and most profound way through the witness of Christ’s wounds. Jesus loved us enough to endure the most unimaginable torture willingly! Every blow Jesus endured was because He allowed it. And when the full price for our sin had been paid—that is, when He had made full atonement for us—Jesus gave up His Spirit. No one took our Lord’s life; He willingly laid it down so that He might lift us up into heavenly glory.

As you go about your day and even throughout this week, let me encourage you to pause and reflect upon the witness of His wounds. You have not only been healed, but Jesus has been revealed as the lover of your soul who refused to let you go.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Giving God Glory

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I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. (John 17:4)

Because we were created by God for God, we exist that God might be glorified in us. And because everything we do is to be an act of worship, we can be sure that there are countless ways of giving God glory. We find one of those ways rooted in today’s passage, which is part of our Lord Jesus Christ’s High Priestly Prayer. Let’s take a look at how this is so.

Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. Every moment of every day, Jesus was focused on His mission of being the Savior of the world. And He knew that by fulfilling His mission and finishing the work His Father in heaven had given Him, Jesus was bringing glory to God.

Here is a phrase from the business world that will help crystallize the truth of this passage: Begin with the end in mind. Jesus knew exactly what He was here to do, and He would let nothing keep Him from accomplishing it.

What is true for Jesus is true for His disciples. We bring glory to God when we are busily engaged in finishing the work God has given us to do. As I often tell the members of our congregation, I don’t know if God has called you to be a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker, but I do know this: every disciple has been called to advance the cause of the Kingdom of Christ, and we are to do that right where God has planted us. From the boardroom to the family room, we are called by God to demonstrate the truths of the Gospel to a watching world.

Now, let me caution you with this truth: none of us will do this as Jesus did. Jesus brought glory to God by finishing His work perfectly. You and I do it all imperfectly. Yet, God takes our imperfect work and sanctifies it and ultimately perfects it. Knowing this truth frees us to finish the work, knowing that our work will be marked by flaws and failure along the way. Many Christians are paralyzed by fear of imperfection or failure, which keeps them from doing much for God. But the true disciple of Christ knows perfection will only come on the other side of the grave. In this life, the goal is simply progress.

So . . . how are you progressing in giving God glory by finishing the work He has given you to do? Let me encourage you with one final point from today’s passage. When Jesus uttered the words in our verse today, we anticipate the cry of victory from the cross: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). Knowing that Jesus finished His work for you should be all the motivation and inspiration you need to finish your work for Him.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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