Why Do Christians Continue to Sin? (Pt 7)

Daily Devotion | Day 357

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood . . .” (Romans 3:23-25, NKJV).

What Paul wrote in Romans 3:23 has gained popularity in many Christian circles. In fact, many Christians know that passage by heart. Even those who have not memorized it are familiar with its words. Different people quote the Bible for different reasons and for different purposes. Romans 3:23 is one of the most misused passages of the New Testament. It is misused because it is often taken out of context. Paul said a lot of things in his Letter to the Romans, often explaining a point over several lines. Therefore, it is irresponsible, and even dangerous, to pull a line from Romans and try to make a case out of that line alone.

Some quote Romans 3:23 as a justification for the recurrence of sin in the believer’s life and for his inability to cease from all sin. For them, what Paul said in that passage amounts to something like this: “Christians still remain sinful people. Consequently, though we should not sin, all Christians will sin from time to time. Everyone falls short of the glory of God. No one is or can be perfect. No one can overcome sin completely; it is just by grace that we all can approach God through the blood of Jesus.” Because of this thinking, many Christians live far below their calling (and ability) to live holy and righteous. Furthermore, this way of reading Paul’s words is unfortunate, for it creates a conducive environment for sin to continue among believers. To successfully respond to our calling to be holy, it is important that we read Romans 3:23 in context.

First of all, when Paul said, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” he was stating the past sinful condition of Jews and Gentiles. He was in no way suggesting that this would be the condition of those who believed in Christ. Paul said, “all have sinned;” he did not say, “all will continue to sin or remain sinners.” There is a big difference between the two. In Romans 3:23, Paul was not describing the born again life. In the born again life, Christians do not fall short of the glory of God. On the contrary, as Paul himself admits, “we all [Christians], with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory . . .” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Therefore, to use Romans 3:23 to explain (or justify) the recurrence of sin among Christians misses Paul’s point. It further demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of what it means to be born again.

Another reason we cannot apply Romans 3:23 to Christians is because of what Paul says next in Romans 3:24. Paul writes that we are “justified freely by His [God’s] grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” This means believers have been washed from their sins and brought into a righteous condition before God. In addition, they have been redeemed from the bondage of sin. The problem of sin identified in v. 23 is countered by the solution of justification and redemption offered in v. 24. Therefore, Christians do not have an excuse to continue to sin. In fact, they have no business quoting v. 23 to justify why they remain sinful. Christians were sinners; but they no longer are sinners. They now are redeemed. An unredeemed person might have an excuse, but a Christian has no excuse; none. The problem in v. 23 is over. We now live in the reality of v. 24.

Unfortunately, many Christians fail to distinguish between the reality described in v. 23 and the one described in v. 24. As a result, they suffer from a crisis of identity. This crisis is largely responsible for the failure of many Christians to live without sin. To change this situation, we need to re-examine what the Scriptures teach about redemption and how redemption impacts our victory over sin.

To be continued tomorrow, God willing. Until then, know that you are redeemed. The power of sin is broken. Stand your ground and enjoy the redeemed life. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

For further studyRomans 5:1-21

Why Do Christians Continue to Sin? (Pt 6)

Daily Devotion | Day 356

“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16, NKJV).

Today’s opening Scripture is a crucial passage in the current discussion. It tells us that we have a High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses. The “weaknesses” in this passage is not referring to sins. Rather, it refers to the limitations of the human flesh by which we all are subject to temptations and trials. The Bible is saying that Jesus can sympathize with these limitations (weaknesses). He knows how it feels to live in this world and deal with all manner of temptations: temptations at home, at the work place, at school, in your own mind, and so forth. That is why the Bible says Jesus “was in all points tempted as we are.” He can sympathize with us because He lived like us and faced the same struggles we face.

Next, the Bible adds an important phrase. It says, Jesus was tempted like us, yet without sin. Jesus faced the same struggles and lived within the same limitations of our earthly life, but He did not succumb to temptation; He overcame every temptation and did not sin. At this juncture, we must ask: Did Jesus do what He did just prove that He alone can overcome all temptation and be without sin? Or, Jesus did what He did to show us that following His footsteps, we too can overcome all temptation and be without sin just as He was? Which of these two lessons is the Letter to the Hebrews trying to convey to us? Most Christians were brought up to believe the lesson in the passage is that Jesus alone did (and can) overcome all temptation and be without sin, but not us. For Roman Catholics, the only exception is Mary; no one else can live without sin.

But as will soon become clear, the reason the Letter to the Hebrews brought up Jesus’ victory over temptation was to inspire us that we too can be tempted and yet not give in to sin. We can be as victorious over temptation as Jesus was. That this victory is possible is supported by the following statement by Paul, “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). The way of escape exists for every temptation. This means victory over every temptation is possible, which further shows that it is possible to live without sin.

This grace (the grace to prevail over every temptation and be without sin) is available to all of us, not just Jesus or Mary. Jesus showed us how it is done. It is up to us to follow His footsteps through obedience, taking advantage of the spiritual weapons of grace at our disposal. This is what the Bible means when it says, “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Many interpret this as follows: “Jesus knows we will fall into sin from time to time. Therefore, if you sin, just go to Him boldly to find mercy and grace.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

The passage is stating the opposite, which is: Jesus was like us; He faced every possible temptation, yet did not sin. We can, and must, be like Him. Therefore, in a time of need (when we are tempted), we must not succumb. Instead, we must come boldly to the throne of grace. There we will find grace and mercy to prevail over the temptation, just as Jesus prevailed.

The author of Hebrews is telling us what we need to do to stand firm and not fall into sin. He is not talking about what we need to do after we have sinned. He has but a single goal: to teach Christians how to persevere in righteousness without giving in to temptation. His goal is not to teach us how to recover each time we fall into sin. He wants Christians to learn how to be like their sinless Lord. This would show to the world that in the Cross of Jesus there is victory over every temptation and over every sin. If Christians continue to sin, the world will find Christianity unattractive and unconvincing. 

To be continued tomorrow, God willing. Until then, know that the grace for decisive victory over all sin is available to you. Let no one tell you otherwise. Amen.

For further studyHebrews 10:1-39

Eat Jesus’ Flesh and Drink His Blood? (Pt 9)

Daily Devotional | Day 343

“For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17).

 We will conclude the current series by looking at two things Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10 because of their relevance to what we have so far discussed.

The first point is from our opening Scripture in which Paul writes, “we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.” Paul is talking about believers, specifically those gathered for the Lord’s Supper. And the bread he is talking about is the loaf of bread used for the Lord’s Supper. This is the same bread of which Paul said, “The bread which we break, is it not the communion [fellowship] of the body of Christ?” (10:16). But now he says the Lord’s Supper participants are one bread, referring to the Lord’s Supper bread.

Next, Paul tells us the reason why we are one bread: “for we all partake of that one bread.” Because believers eat from the one bread, they are one bread (and therefore one body). Paul’s point is, the bread we break represents us. We are that bread. As the bread is one, so are we. Anyone at the Lord’s Supper who eats a piece of that one bread is acknowledging and celebrating the fact that he or she is part of the one bread.

Paul chose his words carefully. Notice he did not say Jesus is that one bread. Rather, he said we are that one bread. The obvious question is: If we are indeed one bread, does this mean that when we eat the bread, we are chewing on each other? The answer, of course, is no. The Lord’s Supper, as we have emphasized throughout this series, carries a more profound truth which has nothing to do with chewing Jesus’ flesh or our own. What we do at the Lord’s Supper is celebrate fellowship with Jesus’ body and blood, as well as fellowship with one another.

Let us now look at Paul’s second point. He drew an example from Israel’s temple sacrifices to illustrate how fellowship works: “Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?” (v. 18). In the Old Testament those who served at the altar, Aaron and his sons, ate the sacrifices brought to the altar (Deuteronomy 18:1-5). Paul says, because they ate the food sacrifices (meat, grain, etc.), they became partakers of the altar. Did they have to chew or swallow the altar to become partakers of the altar? No. All they had to do was eat food sacrificed at the altar, and this resulted in them having fellowship with the altar.

Using the same (spiritual) logic, Paul explained that those who ate food sacrificed to idols were in effect having communion (fellowship) with the demons to whom the food had been dedicated (v. 19-20). To have fellowship with demons, one does not have to swallow demons. All one has to do is eat what is dedicated to demons. This is the same principle by which Paul explains that the bread we break at the Lord’s Supper is fellowship with the body of Christ, and the cup we bless is fellowship with His blood (v. 16). And it is on this basis that he warned the Corinthians, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons” (v. 21).

By the very fact that the Lord’s Supper is in remembrance of Jesus’ body and His blood, that makes the celebration sacred – dedicated unto Jesus’ death. As a result, everyone who eats the bread and drinks the cup is in effect having fellowship with the body and blood of Jesus. Likewise, whoever behaves in a manner that tampers with the sacredness of the celebration is guilty of the body and blood of Christ. Such a person eats and drinks judgment (11:27, 29).

In sum, at no point did Jesus indicate – even remotely – that He would give us power to convert bread into His body or convert drink into His blood. No one can create Jesus from bread. Jesus dwells in us, not in bread. To suggest that the Lord’s Supper bread in our mouth is Jesus’ flesh is the result of misreading the Scriptures. Such a misreading inevitably leads to serious temptations, including the temptation to worship the bread and the drink. It is our hope that this series has shed some light on this all important topic. We further hope that the insights we have shared will help us draw closer to Jesus and better understand what He did (and did not do) for our salvation. Amen.

For further study1 Corinthians 10:1-33; 12:12-27

Eat Jesus’ Flesh and Drink His Blood? (Pt 8)

Daily Devotion | Day 342

“As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me” (John 6:57, NKJV).

Yesterday we learned that the people were shocked when Jesus told them He was (is) the bread of life. As the people struggled to make sense of this, Jesus added, “and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (v. 51). This is the first time Jesus revealed that the bread He would give was His flesh. He further explained that He would give this flesh for the life of the world. Jesus was speaking to them about His death on the Cross by which He would save the world. But again, they missed His point. Throughout this conversation, they were stuck with the image of food in their mouth. They could not get past it.

They had associated bread with what goes in the mouth, so when Jesus spoke about giving His flesh, they were extremely offended. This resulted in their second major objection, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” (v. 52). Jesus did not slow down. He ‘complicated’ things when He insisted, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (v. 53). He also stated that His flesh is real food and His blood is real drink (v. 55). This was the last straw which broke the camel’s back. The people were done listening to Jesus: “This is a hard saying,” they said, “who can understand it?” (v. 60). Subsequently, many of His disciples left Him (v. 66).

To understand what happened, we must point out two obstacles which prevented the people from following what Jesus was saying. First, notice that from the time Jesus started speaking about being the bread of life, the people did not ask Him a single question. They had difficulty grasping what He said. But instead of addressing their questions to Him (for clarification), all they did was quarrel and murmur among themselves (v. 42, 52, 60). By acting like this, they had no one to blame but themselves, for their inability to understand. If they had sought clarification, Jesus would have given it.

Second, they were right to understand that Jesus meant to feed them with His flesh and blood. Their mistake, however, was in assuming that Jesus would cut pieces of His flesh and ask them to eat it, the same way they ate the loaves. In this, they were wrong – very wrong. They were right about the what, but they were wrong about the how. They instinctively associated food with the mouth, just like Nicodemus instinctively associated birth with the womb.

Now let us turn to our opening Scripture. As He concluded His discourse, Jesus shed light on how we will feed on Him: “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Fatherso he who feeds on Me will live because of Me” (v. 57). Here, Jesus is showing us a link between three persons: the Father, Jesus and believers. Jesus is connected to the Father as His source of life (and nourishment), and we in turn are connected to Jesus as our source of life and nourishment. Jesus is telling us that He feeds on the Father. That is how He stays alive. If He were disconnected from the Father, He would have no life. Just as Jesus feeds on the Father to stay alive, we too must feed on Him (Jesus) to stay alive. This means divine nourishment flows from the Father through Jesus to us. This is a crucial point.

How does Jesus feed on the Father? Certainly, not by swallowing the Father. Jesus gave us a hint as to how He feeds on the Father. One day when His disciples brought Him food, His response was, “I have food to eat of which you do not know . . . My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:32, 34). Jesus does not swallow the Father for nourishment. His nourishment consists in obeying the Father. Similarly, we do not swallow Jesus for nourishment. We are nourished if we maintain fellowship with Him through obedience. This is how Jesus put it, “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My lovejust as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10). Observe how similar this is to what He said in John 6:57.

We will conclude this series tomorrow, if the Lord wills. Until then, obey Jesus and stay nourished. Amen.

For further studyHebrews 10:1-25

Eat Jesus’ Flesh and Drink His Blood? (Pt 7)

Daily Devotion | Day 341

‘“For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ Then they said to Him, ‘Lord, give us this bread always.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst”’ (John 6:33-35, NKJV).

As the conversation went on, Jesus explained that the people needed to believe in Him (John 6:28-29). At this, they asked Jesus for a sign. They reminded Him that God fed their fathers with manna from heaven. If Jesus wanted them to believe in Him, He needed to do more than talk (v. 30). But Jesus had just fed them by multiplying bread before their very eyes. It is therefore strange that they would demand another sign.

This is the danger of leaning on signs and wonders to build one’s faith. When people’s hearts are hardened, they crave more and more signs, yet remain where they are. This is the problem Jesus faced.  Signs and wonders may help faith, but they are not the antidote to unbelief. The cure for unbelief in repentance. When you have genuine faith in the Lord, you do not need Him to prove Himself to you every time.

The people were still thinking of bread (what goes in their belly). This is why they spoke to Jesus about the manna, not because they cared about the Scriptures. Obviously, they did not pay attention to Jesus’ earlier admonition that they stop laboring for food which perishes. Jesus responded by saying that the Father would give them “the true bread from heaven” (v. 32). This means the manna God supplied in the wilderness was not the true bread. It was but a shadow of the real bread from heaven.

Up to this point, the people did not know what (or who) the true bread was. But Jesus disclosed the true bread when He stated, “For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (v. 33). Notice Jesus describes the bread of God as “a He,” not “a what.” In other words, the true bread (the bread of God) is not an object. It is not made with human hands. It is not bread from the oven. The bread of God is a person. That person is Jesus Christ, Son of the living God. Because He is a person, Jesus can be believed in and loved, but not swallowed. No one swallows Jesus for eternal life. 

Notice that Jesus spoke in the third person (“the bread of God is He”). When the people heard this, they said, “Lord, give us this bread always” (v. 34). They wanted this bread. However, did they know what they were asking? Because Jesus used the third person, they missed His point. Their mind was still fixed on bread, except this time they thought Jesus was referring some supernatural (magical) bread which they would swallow for their nourishment.

Their response is similar to that of the Samaritan woman. When Jesus promised to give living water, she thought He was referring to water for the mouth, so she said, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst . . .” (John 4:13-15). She did not realize that believers would drink living water alright, but it would not pass through their mouth like ordinary water. Another somewhat related incident is when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about being born again. Nicodemus misunderstood Jesus and assumed that being born again requires people to re-enter their mother’s womb. But Jesus was referring to a birth which does not involve the womb (John 3:3-4), just like He is speaking to these people today about bread which does not involve the mouth.

Returning to the bread of life conversation: Jesus was aware that the people had missed His point, so He made Himself clear by speaking in the first person: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (v. 35). The bread of life is the Person standing right there in their midst. Naturally, the people were shocked.

With this last statement, Jesus shifted the conversation. He took their minds off food in the mouth, and suddenly He had their attention. When the people finally realized where Jesus was taking the conversation, they delivered their first major objection: “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’”? (v. 42).

We will pause here and continue next time, if the Lord wills. Until then, may the Lord keep you safe, sound and healthy. Have a blessed weekend. Amen.

For further studyJohn 3:1-18; 4:1-26