A Salvation Story

Let me tell you a story. It’s a good story, a true story.

In the beginning, God created all things—the heavens and earth, the far-flung galaxies, the deepest oceans, the highest mountains, the farthest lands, the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky and the animals of the land—and he did so with precision and order. And then this wholly other, indescribable and perfect God also created you and me. So vast and big; so personal and near. This Creator God cared about relationship with us.  Read more

Verses for the Day – Galatians 4:8-11

Note: To find out about the verses for the day, click here. And to read the other posts in the Galatians series, click here. (They appear in reverse order.)

In this letter to the Galatians, it seems like Paul is going back and forth, back and forth between identifying the way these young Galatian believers are turning away from the true gospel to declaring this true gospel again. Like a seesaw, up and down, exposing one way of erroneous thinking or living and revealing again the great truth of the gospel of grace.

You might remember he started this letter not with words of praise and affirmation as he does in others of his letters, but straightaway he began to deal with these issues at hand.

Galatians 1:6 “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel,”

Galatians 1:7 “… there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.”

Paul goes on and in 3:1 asks, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth…?”

As we’ve seen, Paul discusses false teachers, circumcision and law, and contrasts them with justification by faith. We are saved not by works, but by grace, a gift of God.

Each time Paul gives one of the issues at hand, he brings it back to the gospel of truth, this simple message, and Jesus who frees us from all of these many kinds of bondage.

Today in Chapter 4, verses 8-11, Paul tells the Galatians that when they did not know God, they served those who by nature were not gods (verse 8). It seems to indicate that we are worshipers. We will always worship and serve something, either the true God, or things that are not gods. We’ve seen that from the Old Testament idol worship up to today where many are worshipers of things like self and materialism. Who are we serving and worshiping?

Paul goes on in today’s passage to ask them, now that they have known God – or rather were known by God (indicating it is God who first knows us, before we can even know Him!) – how is it that they turn again to the weak and beggarly elements to which they desire again to be in bondage (verse 9-10). He tells them they observe days and months and seasons and years, and Paul is afraid for them, that he has labored in vain (verse 11). It’s possible to observe religious holidays, Sabbaths, special feasts, and totally miss true worship of the risen Christ. These observances can have the appearance of worship, but lack the heart of true worship.

If they truly knew God, how can they return to lesser things, the things that bring them into bondage? And what about us? How do we do that as well? Do we observe days and seasons but miss meeting our almighty God and having true worship of Him?

And what is our remedy for this? A turning back again and again to the gospel of Christ, the true gospel that tells us who we are and who He is. We receive forgiveness at the cross of Jesus Christ, a cleansing from our sins and unrighteousness, if we confess those sins (1 John 1:9). Just like Paul bringing these believers again and again back to truth, we need this as well. We need to know and obey God’s Word and be led by His Spirit into truth.

PRAYER: Thank you, Lord, that you are worthy of worship. Thank you that in you, we find full satisfaction. Forgive us for turning aside to other things, lesser things, for returning again to bondage when you have set us free. May we know you in such a way that these other things no longer are desirable, but you are our heart’s longing and affection. May we worship you and walk in your ways now and always. Bring us back again to your amazing gospel of grace that frees of from sin and law/works to know and love you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Verses for the Day: Galatians 4:1-7

Note: To find out about the verses for the day, click here. And to read the other posts in the Galatians series, click here. (They appear in reverse order.)

We’re halfway through Galatians!There are three crucial things in life that are all described in this passage today.

The first is the gospel by which we are saved.

We’ve seen in Galatians that there is one true gospel, the gospel of grace. It is not by the law. It is not of works. It is not according to man. Nothing should be added to it or removed from it. The simple gospel message is what Paul wrote in Galatians 1:4, “who [the Lord Jesus Christ] gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” The gospel is freedom from our sins through faith in Jesus Christ who gave His life for us. It brings deliverance and new life in Him.

A second key thing to understand in life is our identity.

We’ve also looked at this in Galatians already in our last passage. Galatians 3:26: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” When we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus, then we are adopted as His child. This is our identity. We are made in His image and now children of God. Knowing our identity will shape what we believe about ourselves and who we let define us (God, not others) and how we live our lives. When we truly understand our identity as a child of God, as an heir, as adopted as His, it changes how we view everything.

A third key thing is knowing that our lives in Christ are lived by the power of the Holy Spirit given to us.

God doesn’t save us by grace and then leave us to just work hard and do our best, returning to law. We don’t have to live this life by our own strength, but in His. We don’t have to strive in our own power; He enables and helps us by His Spirit, given to us. It changes everything. Even if our actions look the same sometimes, the motivations and source of strength are altogether different and frees us to depend on Him and live a Spirit-filled life.

Much more could be said about each of these three things, but I point them out because today’s verses in Galatians 4:1-7 talk about all of these important truths of gospel, identity, and the gift of the Holy Spirit:

Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, 2 but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father. 3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.
6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

We were in bondage, but verses 4-5: “When the fulness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” This is gospel truth — God sending forth His Son to redeem us — and our identity – being adopted as sons.

And as His sons, God has sent forth His Spirit into our hearts crying “Abba, Father!” God’s Spirit in our hearts as His child – what an incredible thought!

We are no longer a slave but a son, and as a son, an heir of God through Christ (verse 7).

Prayer: Praise you Lord Jesus for our redemption, our deliverance, our salvation, our adoption, and the gift of your Spirit in us when we are saved. By your sacrifice and love for us, through your death on the cross and resurrection, we become dead to our sins and alive to Christ, filled with your Spirit, able to live life in your strength, identified as heir and child of God. What wondrous things! Praise you and thank you! Let us remember that we are yours and let these truths seep into the deepest parts of our hearts so that we understand them and grasp more and more the massive truth of how much we are loved by you, how you have created us, saved us, and have plans for our lives. Let these words of truth become living realities in us all so that we grasp the wonder of what you have done for us and how you have made the way for us to be free and know you. In fact, you haven’t just made the way; you are the Way! We give you praise. We love you so. Thank you, Jesus. In your name, Amen.

Heaven is for Real

Over the last week or two, I’ve read several online articles from pastors that I esteem about the new movie Heaven is for Real. Each one seemed to be a warning of some sort about the movie and advising against seeing it.

I had read the book after its release a few years ago because a number of my daughter’s friends were reading it and she wanted to read it. I figured it was probably fairly benign — if it wasn’t accurate, it probably wasn’t harmful — but I did want to read it myself. It happened to be around the time of the death of a close friend of ours when I was also reading Heaven by Randy Alcorn and thinking about heaven more. 

While I realized the book was written quite simply and might not be true (though I found myself wanting to believe that a “pastor” is telling the truth, but also realizing that a not-quite 4 year old can be into make believe and perhaps there could be many other explanations), the book, combined with Randy Alcorn’s book which is far more biblical, did make me think bigger thoughts of heaven and wonder more about heaven in a way I had not before.

However, I will tell you this. Before I ever read it, I knew heaven is for real because I have God’s Word, the Bible. I knew without a doubt where my friend Jeff was because he had trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation from his sins, had accepted God’s free gift of grace, and had followed Jesus. I also knew how we have access to heaven – through faith in Jesus Christ, His death on the cross and resurrection, not because of any works that we can do.

If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know I’ve been studying Galatians which gives us the true gospel of God, the gospel of grace. There is no ambivalence about its truth. We see the apostle Paul writing to the Galatians because they are turning away from the gospel as others are trying to pervert it. Paul is bold to speak the truth because he recognizes his own salvation and apostleship and this gospel are all from God, not man, and Paul is therefore God’s “bondservant,” living to please God, not man.

In Galatians, we see Paul (formerly “Saul”) recount the story of his life and dramatic conversion. The one who had persecuted the Christians would become the one persecuted. This gospel truth was worth living and dying for, worth being bold to speak about and to warn against false gospels, gospels that add or take away from the one true gospel of Jesus Christ.

It was with all of these things in my mind as I considered seeing the movie Heaven is for Real. Because my daughter had the day off school yesterday, she wanted to do something fun together and suggested the movie. As before with the book, I didn’t expect it would be harmful — if this child’s account was not true, it might be encouraging in some way.

However, whatever truth the book may have held, it all seemed lost in this movie. I realize we can’t expect a movie to necessarily give a clear gospel presentation, but if you are going to tell about heaven, shouldn’t you tell the true way to get there? The fact that the movie gave another gospel is what was so distressing to me.

Church was about hearing a homily or some good thoughts from the pastor whose faith was unsure and uncertain. The pastor was shaken by the thought that his son might have gone to heaven as though the thought of heaven prior to that wasn’t even real to him! We see him reassuring a woman that her older son who had died would be in heaven because of love. Really? Was Jesus’ death on the cross unnecessary? Are we left wondering how we can get to heaven with no assurance more than love?

Toward the end of the movie, the church service becomes all about the story of the boy going to heaven. What is church? What is true worship of Jesus Christ? This movie did not give you glimpses of that. A holy God, a sinful people, a Savior – Jesus, Son of God, fully God, fully man – coming to die for our sins, His death and resurrection that we just celebrated this weekend. Salvation through faith in Jesus, and true worship of Him! All of it missing from this!

Suddenly, this all seemed completely unbelievable. I wanted to stand to my feet at the end of the movie and tell everyone not to believe it! There is a way to heaven, and it is through Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

We have the living Word of God to show us the way. We don’t need a young boy’s unreliable word from a near death (not even death) experience. It could nonetheless be encouraging perhaps if it could be confirmed as truth, but this movie does not match God’s Word, which is reliable and true.

Before seeing the movie, I wanted to think it would at least be an encouraging, uplifting kind of thing, if nothing else. But it wasn’t. Jesus was not exalted in this movie. As our pastor says in his book No Other Gospel, “God has designed things to exalt his Son at the cross. Any gospel that doesn’t center on the cross of Jesus Christ is not truly God-centered.” We didn’t see Christ exalted. How can heaven be considered without Christ?

Praise God this morning for pastors who preach the Bible and the true gospel of God, for churches that are gospel-centered and Christ-centered, for pastors willing to warn us and direct us by the Word of God! I left the movie realizing with sadness how many churches are lacking in this, giving warm thoughts, feel good thoughts, things humans might want to hear, but not teaching the Word. I was also sad thinking how easily people are led astray and turn aside to other things that sound good or to things that “tickle the ears.”

Millions of copies of this book sold. People eating it up. But what of the Word of God? Let that inform us, teach us, be the thing we measure other things against. Study it, know it, believe it. It is reliable and true. By faith in Jesus, through His finished work on the cross, His death and resurrection, we have life, both now and eternally. That’s a message that should excite us, bring us to our knees in worship, and one we want to share with others.

Verses for the Day – Galatians 2:1-5

I am being stretched! For those who don’t know, this “verse for the day” project started out as a way to send an email each day to my children to encourage them in their faith. At first, I did random verses, but was convicted to do more of a study to keep the verses in context.

This has required much more from me. I find myself having to work harder and study more to put together a post. I’m trusting that my theologian husband will correct me if I am misunderstanding something! Truly, I am fascinated by God’s Word and what I am reading and pondering.

Today we move into Galatians 2 with the first five verses:

“Then after fourteen years I [Paul] went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and also took Titus with me. 2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain. 3 Yet not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. 4 And this occurred because of false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), 5 to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.” (NKJV)

Most of the notes I read seem to think that Paul is talking about 14 years after his conversion. He has gone up to Jerusalem by revelation, something that the Lord revealed to him to do, to communicate to them the gospel he has preached among the Gentiles.

In Genesis 17, God established his covenant with Abram. God would multiply Abram exceedingly and make Abram the father of many nations. God made an everlasting covenant with Abram and his descendants. The sign of the covenant was that every male child would be circumcised. This sign of circumcision would continue generation to generation.

At one point, I studied the word “covenant” in the Old Testament. It was an interesting study, and I Iooked back at some of my notes today. The first mention I found of the word “covenant” in the Bible was in Genesis 6:18, followed by Genesis 9:9-17, which describe the Noahic covenant. It was between Noah and his descendants after him. Never again would God flood the earth or cut off all flesh with a flood. The sign of this covenant was a rainbow. God would look on it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh on the earth. Even today, when I see a rainbow, I remember that covenant.

In Genesis 15:18, God made a covenant with Abram to give him and his descendants the land.

You could continue to trace the thread of covenant throughout the Bible. An everlasting covenant sounds like a pretty big deal, doesn’t it?

Now in the New Testament after Jesus’ resurrection with the apostles having been sent out to make disciples of all peoples and nations, there was conflict over this sign of circumcision.

As we’ll see, Peter had been sent to the Jewish people, while Paul was sent to the Gentiles. In Romans 1:16-17, Paul tells us that the gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. So though the Gentiles/Greeks had not been part of this initial covenant with Abram, they were offered salvation through Christ, and Paul is making the point that they do not need to be circumcised to be saved. For salvation comes by grace through faith in Jesus, not by any works we can do.

Paul points out that Titus had not been circumcised, indicating that the Gentiles did not have to follow Jewish law to become a Christian. Salvation is God’s gift to those who believe in Jesus. False brethren were around, though, who tried to tell them otherwise, who tried to add circumcision as a requirement to the gospel.

In Galatians, Paul is defending the true gospel of God against these false brethren who want to bind the new converts with legalism instead of giving them the freedom and liberty found in Christ.

This issue is mentioned several times in Paul’s letters, and he is very passionate about clarifying the pure and true gospel of Christ – that it comes not as a result of works or of the law, but through Christ, by grace, through faith, as a gift, given by God. Paul is laboring for this gospel, and doesn’t want those labors to be in vain, to be set aside by thinking something else must be done to be saved.

These verses tell us Paul does not submit for a moment to those who would steal their liberty in Christ, so that the truth of the gospel may continue with them.

PRAYER: Lord, these are heavy verses. I don’t know if I’ve understood them all completely correctly, but I do pray that we would know and love and cherish your gospel – the truth that we are sinners, but through Jesus, through your gracious gift, we can be saved. Jesus came to earth as a man, fully God and fully man, lived a perfect life, died on the cross, taking our sin and shame and the punishment we deserved, and rose from the dead validating all that He said and did. We will celebrate Sunday this resurrection after we remember on Good Friday the sacrifice Jesus made and the cost he paid so willingly for us, so that by faith in Jesus, we can be forgiven and walk in new life, in fellowship with God. We rejoice in this gospel, that it comes to us so freely, that we don’t have to earn it, that we don’t have to do something to attain it, we just believe. Thank you, Jesus. May we also defend your gospel, as Paul did, and be willing to share it with others who need to know this truth. Awaken their hearts by the power of your Holy Spirit to know you, too. In Jesus’ name, Amen.