Paul: The Chief of Sinners? (Pt 1)

Daily Devotion | Day 345

“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15, NKJV).

The writings of Paul have been a stumbling block to many since the early years of Christianity. Different churches have created different doctrines based on what Paul supposedly said (or did not say). In the name of Paul a lot of good has been done in the Church; but a lot of harm has been done as well. Some of the hotly contested issues which bear Paul’s name include (but are not limited to) original sin, grace and the law, the role of faith and works in salvation, justification, speaking in tongues, slavery, predestination and free will, once-saved-always-saved, celibacy and the role of women in the Church.

Even Peter acknowledged controversies surrounding Paul’s writings. The problem was not with Paul or what he wrote. The problem was with those who read and interpreted his writings. Let’s listen to what Peter said: “and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation – as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understandwhich untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16). Peter was familiar with Paul’s writings. He knew they were inspired by the Holy Spirit. That is why he had no problem comparing those writings with “the rest of the Scriptures.” Peter knew also that there were things in Paul’s writings that were hard to understand.

Peter didn’t say those things in Paul’s writings were impossible to understand, were not true or that they did not come from God. Paul is not the only one in the Bible (or for that matter the only writer in human civilization) whose writings contain things that are hard to understand. For example, there are people who find certain scientific concepts hard to understand, but this does not make those concepts insignificant or untrue. It does mean, however, that such things require extra diligence, patience, careful study and prayer to ascertain what is being communicated. Peter tells us that even in his time there were people who twisted Paul’s words to their own destruction. Not only that, they twisted the other Scriptures too. He describes these people as “untaught” and “unstable.” This reminds us that the phenomenon of twisting Scriptures is as old as the Scriptures themselves.

What we’re dealing with today is not new. As the Bible acknowledges, “That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Through Scripture twisting people have found a justification for all manner of dangerous doctrines and evil practices within and outside our churches. Scripture twisting has ruined individuals, families, churches and societies.

In our current series, our goal is not to tackle every word of Paul that has generated misunderstanding. We will focus on only one example: Some believe that even after you become a Christian, you still are a sinner. Your ‘sin nature’ stays with you. People would quote Paul to justify this understanding. They use this to further explain why Christians continue to sin. One of the common passages cited in support of this view is where Paul stated, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15). But did Paul say that at the time he was writing this, he was still a sinner, and the chief of sinners at that? We will address this and other related questions in the coming days, God willing.

Until then, renew yourself studying the Scriptures. Amen.

For further studyMark 12:18-27 and 2 Peter 3:1-18

Mary, the Servant of God

DAILY DEVOTION: DAY 215

“And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:46-48, ESV).

Prior to the coming of Christ, all Israelites had one thing in common: expectation of the Messiah. By prophecy, the Lord had given several clues about the Messiah. Well documented, among other things, was the fact that He was going to be born of a woman (cf. Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:2-3) from Israel. Prophecy also indicated that the Messiah would be from the tribe of Judah (cf. Genesis 49:10). The earthly father of the Messiah had to be from Judah. This is very important because the Messiah’s lineage would be traced through the male line. This means that if you were a man from any other tribe apart from Judah, you were disqualified.

 Additionally, if you were a woman married to a man who wasn’t from the tribe of Judah, you too, were disqualified. It was, therefore, necessary for Mary to have married a man from Judah. This explains why in Matthew’s account of the genealogy of Jesus, the Bible is careful to show Mary’s marriage connection to Joseph (cf. Matthew 1:16). Mary herself was, most likely, from the tribe of Levi (cf. Luke 1:5, 36). In Luke’s account of Jesus’ genealogy, he omits Mary from the list of Jesus’ ancestors because all that needed to be established was that Joseph’s line could be traced to David, to Judah, to Abraham, to Adam, to God (cf. Luke 3:23-38).

Of the hundreds of thousands of women who fit the profile of the Messiah’s mother, God chose none but Mary, the virgin from Nazareth (cf. Luke 1:26). In today’s opening Scripture, notice what Mary said, “for he [God] has looked on the humble estate of his servant.” God’s eyes were turned toward Mary’s lowly state, her humble life. He saw her humility, and she exalted her, bestowing on her the honor of being the mother of Israel’s Messiah. Anyone in that position who wasn’t humble could have been easily overcome with pride, seeking praise from people, and thinking herself to be above everyone else. Not so with Mary. God looked indeed on her humble state, for throughout the New Testament, there is not a single hint of pride from her.

Speaking of Mary’s humility, it is sad that in the Roman Catholic Church and other places, this simple woman has been idolized and essentially deified. The Mary we know in the Bible wouldn’t want anyone to pray to her, let alone bow to man-made statues of her. It would be against her very nature, as described in the Bible. 

Another important detail is that Mary called herself God’s servant. The Greek word translated ‘servant’ is doulē (pronounced DOU-LAY). It means female slave. Mary thought of herself as God’s slave. This would explain her humble estate before God. She was already submitted to God, so when she was chosen to be the mother of Messiah, she was ready to serve.

Let us learn from Mary. Let us grow in humility, that God may exalt us in due time. Amen. 

For further study: Luke 1:26-56

Christianity: Religion or Not?

Daily Devotional: Day 144

“If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.  Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:26-27, NKJV).

In today’s Scripture reading, James is addressing Christians about pure religion versus vain religion. If Christianity is a religion, that should not be a bad thing. Paul described Judaism as a religion (cf. Acts 26:4-5), though we know that Judaism may also refer to nationality, ethnicity and culture. Jesus was a Jew, and He faithfully practiced Judaism, which means He practiced a religion. Jesus was religious, a man of religion.

We know, of course, that Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets and to usher in the New Covenant. But, Jesus did not attack Judaism for being a religion. What He attacked was the man-made doctrines and commandments which the Pharisees and other religious leaders had incorporated into Judaism, thereby corrupting the purity of the Jewish religion. The fact is, the Jewish religion was God’s own idea, not man’s idea. It was the Jewish religion which gave us godly people like Moses, Joshua, Ruth, Samuel, Elijah, David, Isaiah, Anna, Mary, Elizabeth, Zachariah, John the Baptist, etc.

A common expression among some modern Christians is, “Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship.” But what’s the difference between religion and relationship? And, whose job is it to define the difference? If Christianity is a religion, then it necessarily involves a relationship. Nowhere in the Bible is Christianity described as ‘a relationship.’ The attempt to create a dichotomy between religion and relationship is a modern human construct. It has no biblical basis. The phraseology is vague, confusing and misleading. All religion involves a relationship, but not all relationship qualifies as a religion. You can have a relationship with your bag, your clothing, your TV and your dog. But it does not mean you are involved in a religion.

When you are involved in a religion, it means you have some kind of relationship with  Deity that involves worship. The Bible term ‘religion’ is a translation of the New Testament Greek word threiskeia, which means worship (of God). Any practice which involves worship can be legitimately classified as a religion. Christianity involves worship of God; therefore, it is not wrong to call it a religion. 

The modern disdain for organized ‘religion’ – in Christian circles – can be traced, at least in part, to the Protestant reaction to centuries of abuse and oppression in the name of so-called religion. In the wake of the Protestant Reformation, the reformers had had enough of the abuses within the Catholic ‘religion’ (its moral corruption, persecution, oppression, and departure from the Bible). Part of their reaction was an attempt to distance themselves from the term  or entity called ‘religion.’ If you are interested in the historical background to the modern distaste for religion or the confusion about the term ‘religion,’ the following articles will shed some light on the subject:

(http://www.christinyou.net/pages/Xnotrel.html), (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion).

Religion per se is not man’s creation, as some suppose. It is of God, but like everything from God, humans can corrupt it with their own ideas. Adam and Eve, and for that matter all humans, were created to know and worship the one true God. God gave us marriage, but we have corrupted it with all manner of ideas and evil practices. Today, marriage means different things to different people; so is gender. Shall we stop using the term ‘marriage’ because the meaning has been corrupted? Jesus gave us the Church, but today “church” means different things to different people. The Church has been adversely impacted by false doctrines and moral decay. Moreover, contrary to what the Bible teaches, when many Christians think of Church, what comes to mind is a physical building or a denomination. But, this state of confusion doesn’t mean we should distance ourselves from the term ‘Church.’

 In sum, Christianity is a religion; we should get used to that fact. What we need to do is to distinguish between God-inspired (pure) religion (cf. James 1:26-27) and man-made (corrupted) religion (cf. Mark 7:1-13); between pure Christianity which is described in the Bible and perverted (counterfeit) Christianity which is the product of human doctrines, traditions, and elaborate rituals.

The peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you and your loved ones today! Amen.

Renovating Your Mind

Daily Devotional: Day 117

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:2, NKJV).

There will be no true revival without a renovation of our minds. In the Bible, Jehovah reveals His mind to us. Likewise, when Jesus came into the world, He showed Himself to be the fullest revelation of the Mind of God. To renovate your mind, it takes an intentional effort to conform your mindset with God’s mindset as revealed in the Scriptures. Renovation of the mind is your responsibility. It won’t happen automatically. For so long, many of us have consumed garbage from television, movies, TV shows, magazines, ungodly music, anti-God public education (or “public indoctrination,” if you want), demonic ideologies, bad habits, toxic relationships, and even false teaching from the pulpit.

We all, in diverse degrees, have become victims at one point or another. We, therefore, need to be on a sustained detox program to purge our minds of toxic content. We need to repair and cleanse our mind on a daily basis through the healing spring of God’s unadulterated Word; because it is in the Word of God that we see clearly what kind of mind God wants us to have. This is a lifetime commitment, but the first step begins today.

Don’t go looking mainly for teachings that will stroke your ego or give you a good feeling. Crave, instead, for messages that will challenge you and even make you critically examine your Christian walk. You need that if you want a renovation of your mind. If you’re not being challenged, you can be sure that you’re not growing; you’re just enjoying a ‘Christian’ version of merry-go-round. You may very well enjoy the thrill of being entertained, but you will not move forward. And if you’re not moving forward, it means your mind is not being renewed, which also means you’re not being transformed.

You meet a lot of Christians, and when you talk to them, it’s astonishing how far their mind is misaligned with God’s mind. Not surprisingly, many Christians have a hard time discerning the will of God for their lives. They will often ask questions like, “So, how do I know if this is God’s will or not?” The solution to this problem is stated in today’s opening Scripture. Paul asserts that renewing our minds is necessary so that we can prove the will of God. The Greek word translated “prove” means to carefully examine, scrutinize or investigate the genuineness of something. God’s will is good, acceptable and perfect. But to discern this will, you need a renovated mind, i.e. a mind that is aligned with God’s inspired Word.

Without a renovated mind, you’ll have a hard time figuring out God’s will for you. But when your mind is in alignment with God’s mind, you can distinctly know His good, acceptable and perfect will. Transformation happens when you tune your mind to God’s mind. From today, make the effort to align your mind with God’s mind as revealed in the Bible.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you today. Amen.

Pray to our Father in heaven about what you’ve heard today.

For further study: 1 Corinthians 2:1-16

Only Believe

Daily Devotional: Day 48

“While he [Jesus] yet spake, there came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house certain which said, Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further? As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe” (Mark 5:35-36, KJV).

Words have meaning. And everything that has meaning has influence. Words are not neutral in their effect. Words – yours or another’s – can trigger fear, doubt, hope or faith. The basic requirement of our Christian life is to walk by faith and not by circumstances. The Bible explains faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Today’s Bible passage tells the story of Jesus’s encounter with a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the Jewish synagogue. Jairus’ daughter was severely ill, so he petitioned Jesus to go heal her. But, Jesus was delayed on the way by a woman who suffered from hemorrhage.

Before Jesus got to Jairus’ house, certain people came with the news that Jairus’ daughter was dead. At this point, pay attention to what they tell Jairus. They say, “Your daughter is dead: why trouble the Master any further?” These are words, and as we’ve noted earlier, words can trigger fear or faith. Jesus knew about this, so pay attention to what he does right after the news of Jairus’ daughter came. The Bible says that as soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he said to Jairus, “Be not afraid, only believe.” Jesus knew that the words spoken to Jairus could shake his faith, so he wasted no time in reminding Jairus to maintain his faith. Jesus spoke faith into Jairus’ ears to counter the bad news. 

The lesson for us is this: Be careful what you hear, the music, the movies, the TV shows, the books, the magazines, the news, the conversations, etc. Also, be careful who you surround yourself with; some people will harm your faith by the words from their mouth. Remember that your faith is precious; you can’t afford to jeopardize it. This is also why it’s important to know the Bible – God’s Word written for you. The Bible is the only true Book of Faith. Whatever happens in your life, you should quickly remember – by the Holy Spirit – what God has said about that situation. And once you remember it, go with what God has said. That’s the definition of walking by faith: going by what God has said in his Word. Only believe.

 Prayer:

Daddy, protect me from every situation that can hurt my faith in you. Make me spiritually aware of what and who surrounds me. In all things, let me only go by what you have said in your Word. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

For further study: Numbers chapters 13-14