Why Do Christians Continue to Sin? (Pt 4)

Daily Devotion | Day 354

“For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth’” (1 Peter 2:21-22, NKJV).

Today’s presentation will pick up the point we were making yesterday, that two things happen at the Cross: the reception of forgiveness and the cessation of sin. We noted that when Christians speak of grace or the Cross, they tend to focus almost exclusively on the forgiveness of sins and neglect the part about cessation of sin in the believer’s conduct. We had much to say but we did not talk about the opening Bible passage. Thankfully, another day is here, so let us go into the text and find out what the Lord is saying to us.

Peter was addressing the conduct of slaves with respect to their masters. He encouraged them to persevere in doing good even when they suffer, looking to Christ as their example. We know that Jesus is an example for all Christians, so what Peter said to slaves applies to all believers. This is part of what Peter said, “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Peter is talking about the Christ who suffered and died for us. Christ endured all manner of suffering and temptation even till His last breath on the Cross. According to Peter, Jesus did this to leave us an example, that we should follow His steps. Which steps?

In the next two verses (22-23), Peter names the specific steps Jesus left for us to follow. The first step Peter talks about is this: “Who [Jesus] committed no sin” (v. 22). Note carefully what Peter is saying. Jesus took the steps of not committing sin. And He wants believers to do likewise. Jesus, therefore, expects Christians to follow His steps and no other steps. The steps He wants us to follow are the steps of not committing sin. It means enduring temptation and suffering to the very end (without sinning) just like Jesus did. Jesus came in the flesh, among other things, to show us that it is possible to live in this world as a normal human being, face diverse trials and still not commit sin. If we could dramatize this, Jesus’ conversation with a believer might sound like this:

 “Dear [NAME]. The devil is a liar. He wants you to believe you can’t live sin free. I know what it means to be tempted. From My infancy I faced every possible trial, but I didn’t sin. I wanted to show you that you can do what I did. Don’t listen to those who say you can’t. Just listen to Me and you’ll be fine. Do you see My footprints? Good. From this point on you’re not going to sin again. Do you believe Me? Good. Here’s what I want you to do. Put your foot wherever you see My footprint. Nice. You’re doing well.”

“Keep going. I’m with you all the way, so even when you don’t see Me, don’t think I’ve left you. No, not here; there. There you go. Do you see the trail that is coming up? Good. I want you to follow that path; it is the path of righteousness. You’ll hear voices telling you to turn left. Don’t listen. Just step where you see My footprint. Now this part is going to hurt, but don’t worry; My grace is sufficient for you. You’re doing great so far. We’re close to the finish line. Keep your eyes on Me. Everyone in heaven is cheering for you. A few more steps to go. One step . . . and the last step. Awesome! See, I told you, you could do it. Welcome home, faithful servant. The Father can’t wait to greet you.”

To be continued tomorrow, God willing. Until then, keep running the race of faith. Don’t quit. Amen.

For further studyHebrews 4:1-16; 12:1-13

Freedom in the Father’s House

Daily Devotion | Day 320

“Jesus answered them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed’” (John 8:34-36, NKJV).

In John 8:31-59, Jesus had a tense exchange with certain Jews who believed in Him. The debate centered mainly around freedom, slavery and sonship. Jesus opened the conversation by stating that if they wanted to be His disciples, they had to abide in His word (v. 31). At this point everything was fine. Then Jesus dropped a bombshell when He said: “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (v. 32). The Jews were startled and took exception to Jesus’ statement (v. 33).

On the surface, there seems to be nothing offensive about what Jesus said. But the Jews did not see it that way. Jesus’ words implied that they were in bondage. In other words, He meant that they were not royals, but slaves. The Jews understood the implication of what the Lord said. This explains their reply in v. 33: “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never being in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” The Jews were right. Technically, they were ‘free’ people, because they were the ethnic descendants of Abraham. This could not be debated.

However, they missed Jesus’ point. He was describing their spiritual condition. And as the conversation progressed, He shed more light on the issue. The first clarification of His statement is found in today’s opening passage (John 8:34-36). In the passage, Jesus explains what He means by “slavery” as well as the difference between a son and a slave. Let us examine the passage.

Jesus said, “whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (v. 34). In making this statement, He defined the meaning of spiritual bondage. Earlier, the Jews challenged Jesus when He suggested that they were slaves. But now He clarifies Himself by stating that in His eyes a slave is anyone who commits sin. Jesus implied that the Jews He spoke to were in sin, and therefore they were in bondage.

Contrary to what they thought, they were not royals. Therefore, when Jesus said, “the truth shall make you free,” He meant, “the truth shall make you free from committing sin. And when you are free from committing sin, then you are no longer a slave but a royal indeed.”  It is the same thing He meant when He said, “if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (v. 36). The Son is the truth which makes us free, because He is truth personified (John 14:6).

Next, Jesus explains that he who is made free from sin is a son (a royal) as opposed to the one who is not free from sin (a slave). Then He tells us the ‘residential status’ of the son and the slave with respect to the Father’s house: “A slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever.” This means the one who is made free from sin (the royal) has a permanent place in the Father’s house. But a slave’s status is temporary, at best. Sooner or later, he would be asked to leave.

We will conclude today’s message by applying it to The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).

The prodigal son relinquished his position as a son when he left the house for a life of sin (the life of a slave). When he came to his senses, he knew (rightly so) that he had lost his place as a son (15:18-19). But when he returned, the father had compassion on him and reinstated him to the position of a son. The change in status is evident from the father’s own words: “this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (15:24).

Notice that the younger son used to be alive (while still in his father’s house). But when he left the father’s house, he died (spiritual death). When he returned, he found life again. In contrast, listen to what the father told the older son who did not leave the house, “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours” (15:31). 

Jesus came to redeem us from sin that we might live as royal priests. The Father wants us to be always with him. Let us therefore remain in His house, for in His presence is fullness of joy and liberty. Amen.

For further studyRomans 6:8-23; 8:1-11

Prayer Barriers: Unforgiveness

Daily Devotion | Day 294

“And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:25-26, NKJV).

Yesterday, we dealt with Mark 11:24. Today, we’ll look at the next two verses because what Jesus said in verses 25-26 is related to His preceding teaching on prayer (verses 20-24). God willing, in the next few days (starting today), we will identify what can be called “prayer barriers.” The Bible talks about things that can block our prayer from being answered. Our purpose is to identify these things and learn how to overcome them. Many Christians get frustrated or even give up because they never seem to make a headway when they pray for something. 

 Before we continue, let’s make one thing clear: When our prayer is not answered, it does not always mean that we did something wrong. At times, God will choose not to do what we’re asking for different reasons, for example, to protect us from (greater) danger. A case in point is found in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. This is an exception, but it’s important to keep it in mind. That said, before you assume that your situation is similar to Paul’s situation, first make sure you’ve rule out all other possibilities. What we’re going to study in the next few days is intended to help us do just that. The first prayer barrier on our list is unforgiveness. Take another look at today’s passage.

Jesus says, “whenever you stand prayingif you have anything against anyone, forgive him.” If you forgive, the Father also will forgive you. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive you. This is Jesus’ teaching, not mine. You will come across Christians (including pastors, evangelists and theologians) who will try to spin what Jesus said to make it mean something other than what He said. Please be careful. Anyone who tries to diminish (or trivialize) the force of what Jesus said is not helping you. If there’s one person whose words you must take seriously, it is Jesus.

Forgiveness is dear to the heart of Jesus and the Father. If you remain in a state of unforgiveness, you’re not in fellowship with Jesus or the Father or the Holy Spirit. Some mistakenly assume that because they’re born again (justified, forgiven and sanctified), God’s forgiveness will remain regardless of how they treat others. Nothing could be further from the truth (Please read “For further study” at the end of today’s message). Jesus was not joking or lying when He spoke those words about unforgiveness.

If the Father refuses to forgive those who will not forgive, it means He does not answer their prayer. In other words, unforgiveness blocks prayer from being answered. Fortunately, Jesus has revealed to us what we need to do. He says, when we stand in prayer, if we have anything against anyone, we should forgive the person. This means when you begin to pray, take a moment to examine yourself.

If you know in your heart that you have something against this person or that person, pray for them. Open your heart to God about it. Don’t suppress your feelings about it. God knows about it, so there’s no point pretending you don’t feel anything. If you feel pain or grief, don’t block the feeling. Let it surface while you’re still in God’s presence. If it makes you cry, so be it. God loves it when you’re transparent with Him. While in His presence, tell Him you forgive those who have offended you (I recommend you mention their names, so it feels personal and real). Then, ask the Father to forgive them and bless them.

When you’re done, continue with whatever you want to say in prayer. Satan will give you all the reasons why you shouldn’t (or can’t) forgive. Don’t listen to him. Just do what you know pleases your Father, even if your emotions are pulling you in the opposite direction. If you’re tempted a hundred times to hold something against those you’ve already forgiven, reiterate your forgiveness a hundred times. Love will prevail.

Now that you have identified unforgiveness as a prayer-barrier, eliminate it with the power of love. You can do all things through the Father who strengthens you. Amen.

For further studyMatthew 18:21-35

Zacchaeus: An Example of Repentance Unto Salvation

Daily Devotion | Day 253

“Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold” (NKJV).

The story of Zacchaeus is a good example of how Jesus saves people. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus badly. Fortunately for him, Jesus called him and told him His intention to stay in Zacchaeus’ house. Naturally, given that Zacchaeus was a tax collector (and a sinner), people were disappointed that Jesus would be his guest. As usual, those who complained didn’t see far. All they saw was Zacchaeus the sinner. They didn’t see Zacchaeus the changed man. But Jesus saw a man who was about to be saved through repentance.

Note carefully the sequence of events. Shortly after people protested Jesus’ behavior (in entering a sinner’s house), Zacchaeus spoke the words which you see in today’s Bible passage. Let’s go over it again. He said to Jesus, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore it fourfold.” Let’s break down what Zacchaeus said. His statement contains two important things: first, (free will) offering/giving to the poor; and, second, restoration of justice. The two things are related, but they are not the same. 

Notice the generosity (size) of Zacchaeus’ giving. We’re talking about half of all he owned. In addition, acknowledging his wrongdoing, he also declared his readiness to restore fourfold to whomever he had cheated. Observe that Jesus did not ask him to do those things. What then is the significance of Zacchaeus’ actions?

It is an excellent example of authentic repentance. Given Jesus’ response to Zacchaeus’ actions, we know that He approved of the latter’s repentant confession. He said to Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house, for he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” The implication is, as far Jesus was concerned, from this point on, Zacchaeus was no longer lost (a sinner). He had been found and saved (see Luke 15:32). 

Lessons for us: Eternal salvation is free, but it has conditions. One such (indispensable) condition is repentance from sin. Salvation is available to all (by grace), but it is repentance (through faith) which gives us access to the gift of salvation. Jesus gives salvation to those who come to Him in repentance. Repentance is more than saying ‘sorry,’ and it is more than a change of mind. In other words, we must not reduce repentance to an abstract mental exercise. Authentic repentance is backed up by observable change in behavior and outlook. Obviously, it is God who supplies us the grace to repent (see Acts 11:18). But at the end of the day, the decision to repent is ours.

Repentance is beautiful and liberating. It releases the soul from the fetters of pride and opens it up to receive the blessings of salvation. Any ‘Gospel’ message which ignores or belittles the need for repentance is deficient. Of course, a person’s mind must first change. Few will disagree that repentance begins on the inside. But repentance does not remain hidden in the mind. When repentance has truly occurred in the mind/heart, it will inevitably show in our outward behavior. This is what the Holy Spirit means when He says, “do works befitting repentance” (Acts 26:20). Of this, Zacchaeus is an excellent example.

If you have truly repented of something, let your deeds show it.

BlessingMay the Lord keep you from all evil and let His face shine on you today. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

For further study:  Luke 3:7-14 and Acts 26:17-23

Why It Is Important to Overcome Resentment

Daily Devotional: Day 229

“For John [the Baptist] had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not . . . But an opportunity came . . .” (Mark 6:18-19, 21, ESV).

Today’s message is related to yesterday’s, which was about praying for those who don’t deserve it. We briefly touched on hate and grudge. But today, we want to give a little more attention to why it is important to entertain good thoughts and overcome resentment. The story in today’s passage about John the Baptist and Herodias will teach us valuable lessons about this subject.

John the Baptist was known for his fiery preaching. He confronted Herod Antipas over his illicit affair with Herodias, who was the wife of Herod’s half-brother. John most likely based his rebuke on Leviticus 18:16 which prohibited a person from marrying his brother’s wife – whether the brother was alive or not. The only exception was if the brother had died without leaving any children. In that case, the Law required that the brother of the deceased should marry the widow for purposes of providing progeny for the deceased (cf. Deuteronomy 25:5-10; see also Luke 20:27-40). John had just stirred up a hornet’s nest.

Herodias did not take John’s rebuke kindly. According to the Bible, “Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death.” Now Herod had already put John in prison for the latter’s condemnation of Herod’s behavior. John, therefore, posed no further threat to the unholy affair between Herod and his paramour. One would think that at this point Herodias would let it go. Her enemy, after all, was locked up in prison, possibly for life. But she held so much grudge in her heart that she desired to kill John.

She couldn’t, the Bible says. But one day, the opportunity came, and she swiftly unleashed her wrath on John by suggesting to her daughter that she ask for John’s head (cf. Mark 6:21-29). Several lessons can be drawn from this story, but let’s focus on just one: the importance of entertaining good thoughts and avoiding grudge.

Herodias’ problem involved three stages: first, she held a grudge; then she desired to kill; and finally, she killed. We can see this pattern in the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion by his enemies. A further example is what happened between Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-11), as well as what ensued between Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37:1-36). 

Your thoughts are like the steering wheel of a vehicle. Where you turn the steering, that is the direction you go. Likewise, your thoughts give direction to your life. Where you turn your thoughts, there your life will go. Bad thoughts will lead you in the wrong direction, but good thoughts will take you in the right direction. This is why it is important to entertain only good and positive thoughts, especially regarding yourself and other people.

No matter what people have done to you – whether they are wrong or right – it is important that you don’t entertain grudge or resentment against them. The reason is, when grudge persists, someone always gets hurt. Resentment is just the first step in the process. Over time, resentment breeds hate. Then, when hate matures, it begins to wish serious harm (even death) on the person (or people) resented. 

There is enough evil in the world. When you get an opportunity, do something to make this world a little more brighter. In Romans 6:12-19, God tells us to yield the members of our body, not as instruments of unrighteousness, but as instruments of righteousness. Satan needs an instrument to propagate evil. Don’t let that instrument be you.

Be an instrument in the hands of JesusLet Him use you to bring peace where there is no peace; to bring purity where there is impurity; to bring healing where there is hurt; to bring salvation where people are lost; to bring truth where people are deceived; and to bring freedom where people are bound.                

May the God of peace let His face shine upon you today, in the Name of Jesus. Amen.

For further study: Genesis 37:1-36