Tag Archives: Works righteousness

What Does It Mean To Be “God’s Chosen People”?

For 8 years I led a Bible study for inmates at “the Walls”, the castle-like maximum security prison in the middle of Waupun. During this time, one of the most interesting characters I met was neither a guard nor an inmate but another prison “minister” like me, an orthodox Rabbi not surprisingly named Moshe (Moses). Moshe was a delightful and somewhat quirky (who knows what he would say about me?) man, and the two of us developed a blessed, if not friendship, then “acquaintance-ship”. Through the years when we passed through the metal detector and were given a “ride” (the Walls’ term for being escorted in or out of the facility), I would occasionally pump him for information about his faith, and he was a fascinating tutor.

Now, along the way in life I have known or heard of people who once considered themselves Christians but who followed Moshe and many others in converting to Judaism. When I hear of such a conversion, I often want to ask the person kindly, “Have you thoughtfully considered what you’re doing?” I don’t know if they have, but it seems to me that these folks imagine that everything must be honky-dory, even with Jesus Himself; because, after all, the Jews are “God’s chosen people” and to follow Judaism is simply to get back to the foundations of the “Christian” faith, right?

Sorry…I don’t think so, at least not according to the teaching of the New Testament.

Here’s the problem: to adhere to the tenets of Judaism, you must deny that Jesus is the Messiah. Jewish people, after all, are still looking for the One who is to come. However you shake it, in their eyes, Jesus wasn’t “it”. So, unless you are a “Messianic Jew” (code for Christians with Jewish ancestry who often observe Jewish festivals and such), you reject Jesus. John makes it clear why this is a problem…

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 1 John 2:22-23 (ESV)

Do you see the problem? Deny that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah) and you show that you do not know the Father. Deny that Jesus is the Christ and you lose any hope of God’s provision for propitiation (1 John 2:2). The Jews are “God’s chosen people,” but Paul makes it clear that being a real Jew is a matter of sharing the faith of Abraham, who “believed God, and it was counted to Him as righteousness” (Romans 4:22; Genesis 15:6).

All this is why Paul was so heartbroken over the state of his ancestral people. Speaking of his Jewish brothers, he said…

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Romans 10:1-3 (ESV)

Moshe was a great guy, and definitely sincere, but notice that it’s not about that – some people raise sincerity to an all-important level, and in fact, Paul says that many Jews have a sincere “zeal for God.” But take note…you can be sincerely wrong.

Paul describes the heart of the Jewish problem in Romans 10:3 (above), and in so doing he describes not only Jews but also followers of all other religions, and even many who today would consider themselves Christians – Paul says they are “trying to establish their own righteousness”. But the Old Testament prophet Isaiah made it clear that any righteousness we can offer is only “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Jesus Himself says that not all who call themselves His followers will be with Him in eternity; for on Judgment Day, He warns that He will reject the many who come pleading their case with what they have “done” in His name (Matthew 7:22, 23).

So, if your current plan as you approach That Day is to point to what you’ve accomplished for God, hurry and throw the plan out the window. For the teaching of the Scriptures (Old and New Testaments) is clear: the only hope of the Jews and everyone else for salvation is…the atoning sacrifice of the Messiah who has already come…2,000 years ago.

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12 (ESV)


For Tuesday, November 24th: 1 John 3

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Posted by on November 23, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Does That Person’s Pain Come From Sin?

When you see trouble and pain in someone else’s life, do you ever wonder what they did wrong? If so, you’re not alone. It’s a knee jerk reaction for many people, as it was for the disciples…

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” John 9:1-2 (ESV)

Well, it was one or the other, wasn’t it? Ahem, apparently not…

Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:3 (ESV)

The lesson here is clear: God’s ways are not our ways. We think we have Him all figured out, and we are usually wrong. Surely, in the world, some pain comes from sin (adultery with another man’s wife would tend to lead to getting chased by the angry husband with a baseball bat). However, the disciples’ question reveals two oft-repeated faults in our thinking:

1. Our natural tendency is to assume God operates by works-righteousness. If you do badly, you will get punished; if you do well, you will get rewarded. And though we (supposedly) know that salvation is by grace, we instinctively think everything else is by works – physical ailments, prayer, financial blessings, etc. When we see trouble, we naturally think that somebody sinned. When we see financial blessing, we naturally think there is holiness behind it. But Jesus made it clear, “It’s not necessarily so.”

2. Moreover, the disciples were thinking in a man-centered way. Whatever is going on in our lives or in the world, we assume a man-centered view. However, in this case, apparently the blindness had absolutely nothing to do with the man or his family; instead, God simply wanted to display His glory. We are rarely thinking along these lines.

In short, we must be careful not make hasty conclusions. Often, we have no idea why a person is in trouble or pain. And either way, they don’t need our judgmental whispers; they need our love and support.

For Friday, October 16th: John 10

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Posted by on October 15, 2015 in Uncategorized


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A Trade You Must Make To Get Into Heaven

Priest is a blessing to the faithful

(A loose and modern-day paraphrase of Philippians 3:4 – 9)

“Years ago, I had my confidence in all the wrong places. I assumed that I could know God and go to heaven on the basis of what I had done. For instance, I was extremely religious. It came naturally. My grandfather was a deacon and my father was too. My parents baptized me right after I was born and took me to church every Sunday. In fact, we never ever missed. Ever.

“Yes, even as a young person, I was very ‘into’ God. I prayed every day…I read the Bible…I almost never sinned.  Almost.

“But then I came to understand the impossibly high standard to get into heaven: PERFECTION – God required that there be no sin whatsoever in His presence. And I knew I had a momentous choice to make. I could make plans to present my personal record of ‘righteousness’ to God on Judgment Day, which, though it was pretty good, still had a few holes.

“Or I could make a trade. I could give up all my own so called ‘holiness’, my prayers and church attendance and all around nice-guy behavior, counting it all worthless so that I could grasp the righteousness of Another.

“So…I did it! I gave it all up. Every last good deed. I began to consider all my so-called goodness as totally useless, so that by faith I might count Christ’s perfect record as my own. And glory to God, He was as good as His word…and made me fit for heaven. Hallelujah!”

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. Philippians 3:8-9 (ESV)

For tomorrow: Friday, August 7th: Philippians 4

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Posted by on August 6, 2015 in Uncategorized


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The Part I Played in My Salvation

I have this high school memory: it was likely junior year, maybe a late morning in the fall – band class, and I was walking outside to the football field with some other marching band members. I was pontificating about Jesus – foolishness about how maybe he did exist and maybe he didn’t. Like I knew what I was talking about. I don’t remember the reaction of my small audience. I hope they thought I was an idiot.

It’s this scene that comes to mind when I sing the song, All I have is Christ…

I once was lost in darkest night
Yet thought I knew the way.
The sin that promised joy and life
Had led me to the grave.
I had no hope that You would own
A rebel to Your will.
And if You had not loved me first
I would refuse You still.

But as I ran my hell-bound race
Indifferent to the cost

You looked upon my helpless state
And led me to the cross.
And I beheld God’s love displayed
You suffered in my place
You bore the wrath reserved for me
Now all I know is grace.

There I was a rebel…helpless…hell-bound…mouthing blasphemies about the Savior…from the grave.

But God.

In his book, The Elements of Eloquence, author Mark Forsyth – though as far as I know not a believer – speaks glowingly of the beauty of Bible words. And Ephesians 2 is prime example – an arresting yet piteous look at our lot before Christ raised us up…

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:1-5 (ESV)

He did it. I played no part. That’s the message of the passage. My salvation was not a revival but a resurrection. I didn’t one day realize that I was in the grave and start digging my way out. I was not Peter’s mother-in-law; I was Lazarus. And so were you.

But God made us alive.

And that’s why they call it grace.


For tomorrow, Thursday, June 25th: Ephesians 3

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Posted by on June 24, 2015 in Uncategorized


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How to be Known by God

Many ask the question, “Do you know God?” It’s a good question, and a biblical one, but there is another way to consider our relationship with the Lord.  It is to ask the question, “Does God know you?” This question is just as important as the first.

Paul put it this way…

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God…  Galatians 4:9 (ESV)

To know God puts the initiative in me. To be known by God, well, that puts the initiative with Him. And that’s really where the initiative should be.

More than that, we are in for danger if God does not know us. Famously, Jesus will say on judgment day, “Away from me, I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:23).

And so you ask, how can I be certain that God knows me?

Well, consider this: Suppose you told me, “President Obama knows me,” and I said, “Sure he does.”  And you said, “Well, I sent him a letter.”  And I would reply, “He gets letters all the time. What does that prove?” But suppose you answered, “Yes…but I have a letter back from Him.” Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.  Now I have at least an indication that Mr. Obama really knows you.

What does this mean for being known by God?  Well, if God knows you, He will speak to you in His word. There will be some times in your life when you open your Bible to read and there will be fire in the pages. It will suddenly be a living book to you with a speaking God who knows you. Now, let me be quick to say that every word in the Bible is God’s word, and this cannot be overemphasized. Every word is His word and can therefore speak to you. But if you really know God, you will have moments, likely not every day, but occasionally, when you are spending time in the Word and the Holy Spirit will seemingly put a highlight pen through a verse or a phrase. And in that moment, you will know that God is actually speaking to you. Or it may happen that you are walking along and praying about something, and suddenly, a verse will come to your mind and it will be God dealing with you personally. Or it may be that you are listening to a sermon and suddenly, you will have a sense that the word coming from the pulpit is alive and is transforming you. This is knowing God.

In Genesis 16:13, Hagar prays to the Lord, “You are the God who sees me.”  And why does she put it that way?  Because, God told her he was going to take care of her. He told her He had His eye on her son and his eye on her. And she knew that she was known. And there is nothing better in the world than to be known by God.

How can you know God and be known by Him? We get a clue in the passage I referenced from Matthew 7, where Jesus says,

“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:22-23 (ESV)

The reason this passage is scary is that these are clearly church people. Some have done more for the Lord than I have. Yet, take note – see what the multitudes are hoping in on the Day of Judgment – They are basing their eternal hopes on the idea that they DID THINGS for Him. So many will come before God with this in mind on the final day.

The way to be known by God, though, is not to do things for Him. It is, rather, to place your faith in Him. As Paul wrote the church at Ephesus: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

When He, from His lofty throne,
Stooped to do and die,
Ev’rything was fully done;
Hearken to His cry!

Weary, working, burdened one,
Wherefore toil you so?
Cease your doing; all was done
Long, long ago.

Till to Jesus’ work you cling
By a simple faith,
“Doing” is a deadly thing—
“Doing” ends in death.

Cast your deadly “doing” down—
Down at Jesus’ feet;
Stand in Him, in Him alone,
Gloriously complete.

– James Proctor


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Posted by on June 18, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Is Baptism Necessary For Salvation?

It was probably 10 years ago that I got a call from another pastor in town (since moved away) inviting me to lunch.  He and I had never really connected, so I gladly accepted.  As we sat down at Culvers one early afternoon, he didn’t take too long to get to his point.  He had come to visit Edgewood recently and had liked what I had to say…mostly.

“I appreciate how you tell people how to go to heaven,” he began.  “But…I think you’re a wolf in sheep’s clothing (Yeah, that’s what he said). You’re not telling them the full truth.”

Fascinating. What did he mean? Well, I soon found out. He was upset that I wasn’t telling people that they needed to be baptized in order to be saved. In his tradition, he had come to appreciate grace (Amen!), hence he was glad I was explaining the gospel, but he had also come to believe in the necessity of baptism for salvation. Since I didn’t share his conviction, I guess you can call me wolf pastor.

This particular aspect of theology, called baptismal regeneration, is only held by some who name the name of Christ, but it has always struck me as downright weird. (How’s that for a theological argument?) Later this pastor’s church would take out an ad in a local newspaper for a “community baptism”. How strange. In fairness, they promised instruction in advance, but it was almost as if they felt they could get people dunked and ensure their place in heaven. And how misleading…I wonder how many lost people in the community saw that ad, realized what the church was trying to do, and thought, “I guess I’m good…I’ve been baptized.” Yikes…extremely confusing.

The Apostle Paul, however, was not confused about the subject. His seemingly offhand thoughts on baptism in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 are almost comical…

…were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 (ESV)

It’s not a full orbed theological argument on the subject of baptism, but it’s darn close. First, Paul can’t remember whether he baptized anyone, so it’s clearly not an issue that is in the forefront of his mind. But more than that, he says quite succinctly that he was not sent to baptize.  And finally, as if all that weren’t enough, if baptism were required for salvation, Paul would never have said “I thank God that I baptized none of you except…”

That said, baptism is important.  It is a command of the Lord (Matthew 28:19, 20), and it gloriously envisions the gospel, not only in picturing the washing away of sins, but also in immersion, as the believer is buried with Him in baptism, and raised with Him in newness of life (Romans 6:4). So if you haven’t been baptized since believing in Jesus, you should be. It’s an obedience issue…but it is not a matter of salvation, and those who say it is are confusing the gospel of grace. And that’s a really, really bad thing to do.

Makes you wonder who the real wolf is…

For Wednesday, May 5th: 1 Corinthians 2


Posted by on May 5, 2015 in Uncategorized


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God Looks at the Heart

It’s easy to think that outward appearance is what matters in life, but the Bible tells a different story. Take for instance, the time when the Prophet Samuel was sent to Jesse’s house to pick out a King of Israel to replace Saul. He made a snap judgment when he began looking over Jesse’s sons…

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him.” 1 Samuel 16:6 (ESV)

Eliab was surely a good-looking, movie star type, and Samuel reasoned the way we all would reason: “This is the guy.” But…

…the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 (ESV)

God looks at the heart, but we look on the outward appearance. Now, this happens in different ways, from picking out a king, to judging whether or not a man is fit for heaven – either way, we naturally look at externals. The Pharisees certainly did…

And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;’” Mark 7:5-6 (ESV)

The Pharisees became consumed with certain external standards, many of which they made up for themselves. And in doing so, they left behind the commandments that God had actually given them. For instance, they set up standards for giving that actually kept people from helping poverty-stricken parents. Thus, they made a false command…which nullified the real command…and it was all about appearances.

But Jesus pointed to a better way, to the way of Yahweh, the way which Samuel learned that day when he was in Jesse’s home: a focus on the heart…

“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:21-23 (ESV)

Today, the great error that we make is to think that God will one day accept us based on our outward “appearance”, the works of righteousness that we have done in order to be acceptable to Him.  And believing this falsehood, on judgment day, many will plead before Jesus the supposed “beauty” of their works:

On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’

But on that day, as all others, the Lord will look…at the heart:

And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:22-23 (ESV)

Therefore we have but one hope.  We must ask the Lord to make, not our hands, but our hearts…clean:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (ESV)

And on that day when He gives us a new and clean heart, glory to God, we will desire to walk, not in the false ways of legalism, but in the true ways of the Spirit and the Word…

And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 (ESV)

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Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Did Jesus Preach the Gospel?

Sheep with hornsThere are three parables/stories in Matthew 25 that on the surface, challenge a traditional evangelical understanding of how we are saved, the most powerful one coming at the end, where, in the story of the sheep and goats, Jesus says,

Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:44-46 (ESV)

These sorts of stories pop up now and again in the gospels, as in Jesus’ closing words to the man in Luke chapter 10: “Do this, and you will live.”  “Wait a second,” we are tempted to interrupt the Lord, “isn’t it, ‘Believe, and you will live’?  Why is He telling the man to do something in order to have eternal life?”

And therefore, sometimes people are confused by what appears to be a discrepancy between what Jesus seemed to be telling people in order to have eternal life, and what Paul/Peter/John told people.

I have included a 12 minute video below that help you make sense of these questions. But consider this very important point:

Whatever we read in the gospels must always be filtered through the cross of Calvary.  So John Piper says he “reads the gospels backwards.”  This is most helpful because it is clear that each of the four accounts of Jesus’ life are not only accounts of his life…but also of His death. For this reason, each of the four gospel writers spends one third to one half of his time writing about the death of Jesus, and there is a cross-shaped shadow cast across all four gospels that forces us to consider everything in light of Calvary.

In contrast, I listened to a long audio book (45 hours’ worth, or so) on George Washington a few years back, and the author spent a relatively brief time (15 minutes?) describing how he died (he caught a cold and his doctor kept taking out his blood until he killed the founder of our country. Be thankful for modern medicine.) But my point is that the gospel writers focused on Jesus’ death and resurrection…because Jesus himself had such a focus.

So, Matthew 25 must be filtered through Jesus’ earlier proclamation in Matthew 20:

“Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mat 20:28 ESV)

Jesus came to give his life…as a ransom, so that we might live.

In the meantime, what is happening in this parable of the sheep and the goats?  Well, surely, it’s not that we have to make sure we visit people in prison and feed the hungry in order to get to heaven.  If it were, how many would I need to visit?  Would one visit get me in?  10?  20? Regarding feeding the hungry, could I just visit a soup kitchen every Thanksgiving and make it in?  No, no, no!  Rather, when someone is truly saved, the desire to live in such a way, (especially toward one’s brothers and sisters – vs. 40) is placed in our hearts. Such desires inevitably lead to some sort of action.  Repentance always accompanies saving faith. So Paul wrote to the Romans about the “obedience that comes from faith.” Romans 1:5 (NIV)

And John could say:

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 1 John 3:17 (ESV)

But in the same letter, he would write:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:11-13 (ESV)

For more help, watch this…



For Thursday, February 5th: Matthew 26

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Posted by on February 4, 2015 in Uncategorized


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