Prayer Barriers: Sin

Daily Devotion | Day 297

“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil” (1 Peter 3:12, ESV).

The past few days we have highlighted three barriers to prayer (unforgiveness, doubt and dishonoring one’s wife). Today, we will look at a fourth barrier: sin in general. Sin is the enemy of man and an obstacle to fellowship with the Father. Righteousness, however, is the essence of the Gospel and of Christian witness. Righteousness is the only life acceptable to our Father. This explains why Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead to justify us and empower us to live righteously (Romans 5-6; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21). Christianity without righteousness is a dead religion.

Answered prayer brings joy, and this is what the Father wants for us. Listen to Jesus: “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24). Fullness of joy is the Father’s will for us. And answered prayer promotes joy. This is why the Scriptures take pains to warn us about obstacles to our prayer. In today’s opening passage, Peter has an important message for Christians concerning this subject. He is quoting Psalm 34:15. Let’s dive into the passage.

In the passage, Peter talks about two classes of people, the righteous and the unrighteous. Righteous people are those who do what is pleasing to God. Unrighteous people are those who do what displeases God (for more on this, see 1 John 3:4-10). Peter then tells us how God deals with the two different groups. Speaking of the first group, Peter says, “the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.” This needs little explanation. God looks upon righteous people with affection and He is fully open to answer their prayer. God’s eyes are pure (see Habakkuk 1:13). As a result, He looks upon righteous people with affectionate gaze.

The prayer of the righteous rises before God unhindered. In this context, you can understand why David prayed, “Let my prayer be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2, NKJV. See Revelation 5:8; 8:3). Likewise, you can understand what the angel told Cornelius (who wasn’t a Christian yet), “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God” (Acts 10:4).

Concerning the second group, Peter writes, “the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Remember, Peter is writing to Christians like us about prayer. He wants us to know that committing sin or doing evil is a barrier to prayer. God’s face is against those who do evil. In other words, a person’s lifestyle can determine the outcome of his/her prayer. Put simply, behavior impacts prayer.

Prayer is worship. It is an offering. It is a sacrifice. For God to accept it, it must be offered in a righteous vessel. God has never been in the business of accepting unclean sacrifices. That is why He doesn’t answer the prayers of those who do evil. Listen to the testimony of the man born blind: “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him” (John 9:31). He was correct.

God answers the prayer of sinners at the point where they repent and forsake sin  (see Luke 18:13-14; also Acts 3:19 and 2 Corinthians 7:9-10). 

If sin is an obstacle to you, there’s good news for you. Repent and turn to Jesus in righteousness.

For further study:  John 5:1-14 and Isaiah 1:1-20; 59:1-4

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

Take Advantage of Your Qualification in Christ

Daily Devotional: Day 236

“Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:12, NKJV).

If you have ever applied for a job or recruited people for a job, you are familiar with ‘qualifications.’ In nearly all human endeavors, qualifications play a vital role. Your qualifications tell people if you are fit for a particular task or if you deserve some benefits. In short, your qualifications can give you access to opportunities.

Today’s passage from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians contains a vital truth for all children of God. In it, Paul urges the saints in Colossae to give thanks to the Father. Reason for the thanksgiving: the Father “has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”

Did you catch that? The saints in light, i.e. God’s children (see 1 Thessalonians 5:5) have a common inheritance in Christ (see 1 Peter 1:3-5). When the Bible says that God has qualified you to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints, here are some implications. First, it implies that you belong to the fellowship of the saintsYou are a saint. Be convinced of that.

Make not the mistake of holding on to two diametrically opposed identities: sinner and saint. You are either one or the other. Sinners have no share in God’s inheritance. Today’s Bible passage, as you can see, is addressed to saints only. Notice that Paul doesn’t say, “inheritance of the sinners;” rather, he says, “inheritance of the saints in light.” The good news is, God counted you among His saints when He saved you. Believe, therefore, that you are a saint; think like a saint, and behave like a saint.

If, however, you are truly convinced that you are a sinner, don’t give up. There is hope for you. Repent, forsake your sins and turn to Christ. He will save you (see Proverbs 28:13; Matthew 1:21; Luke chapter 15).

The next implication of Paul’s message is the following:

In virtue of what the Father has done for you, you are capable of soaringYou are capable of rising above anything which hinders your walk with God. You are capable of shining. You are capable of living free from the dominion of sin (see Romans 6:14). You are capable of a life that glorifies God. God has made you fit for a higher life. He has made you fit for a life of excellence. As a new creature in Christ, you are capable of positively influencing the world around you. God has chosen you, wired you and equipped you to be a living expression of His glory. If you believe this, you should be leaping for joy right now.

In sum, you have been named in the inheritance reserved for God’s saints. Who named you? The Father did. Take advantage of your qualification in Christ and be transformed.

Stay blessed, in Jesus Name. Amen.

For further studyColossians 1:1-29

Once a Sinner, Now Redeemed

Daily Devotional: Day 167

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24, NASB).

Today’s reading is one of the oft-quoted passages of the New Testament – and for good reason. The direction of our Christian life hinges on how we understand and apply this Scripture. Before arriving at Romans 3:23-24, Paul had spent ample time explaining the judgment that is upon people for going astray from God’s revealed will. Jews had the Law, but they failed by transgressing it. Gentiles didn’t have the Law; but they had no excuse for living in unrighteousness. For, as Paul notes in Romans 1:20, “since the creation of the world His [God’s] invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” The common charge, therefore, is that “all [Jews and Gentiles alike] have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

 Notice that the Bible didn’t say all are sinners by birth. “All have sinned” means people who knew the difference between right and wrong, chose to do wrong. Moreover, notice that Paul didn’t say all never stopped sinning or all shall continue to sin. This is important, because many Christians rely – erroneously – on Romans 3:23 to justify sin in their lives and their reluctance to cease from sin. “All have sinned” is in the past tense for a reason. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, all who believe in Him shall be released from the dominion of sin and empowered to sin no more. Henceforth, they can live righteously by grace. This is the essence of being saved from your sins (cf. Matthew 1:21, John 8:34, and Romans 6:14). It is a blessed transition from being a slave to sin, to being the redeemed of the Lord. This transition is described in the next verse, Romans 3:24.

When people repent and turn to Christ, they are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.” The two highlighted words are important. “Justified” means you are made just, i.e. you are made right with God through the blood of Christ. You’re no longer on the wrong side of God. Many Christians, however, stop at this point. They love the “justified” part; but they overlook the next equally important aspect of their salvation, which is redemption. The word redemption used here in Romans 3:24, is translated from the Greek word APOLUTROSIS. It refers to the act of being released from captivity or bondage upon the payment of a ransom. This means you’re redeemed, i.e. released from the power of sin. You’re no longer free to sin; you are free to not sin. You’ve been released from sin’s captivity, so that henceforth you can live exclusively for Christ and for righteousness.

 In Christ, to be saved means you’re washed (in the blood of Jesus), justifiedsanctifiedfilled with the Holy Spiritand released from sin’s captivity. Salvation, therefore, is a transition from being a sinner to being the Lord’s redeemed. Make the most of this holy transition and blessed freedom.

May the Lord bless you and keep you from all evil. In the Name of Jesus. Amen. 

For further study: John 8:31-36.

Come as You Are, But Don’t Stay as You Are

Daily Devotional: Day 73

When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:12-13, NKJV).

After Jesus called Matthew to follow Him, many tax collectors and sinners joined Jesus at table. The Pharisees noticed it, and they weren’t pleased. Consequently, they complained to Jesus’ disciples saying, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard the complaint and defended his actions by pointing the Pharisees to the Scripture in Hosea 6:6, where God says He desires mercy and not sacrifice. Let’s briefly examine Jesus’ response to find out what this Scripture passage means for us today.

The Pharisees criticized Jesus, because they didn’t understand His mission. They only saw the “bad optics,” so to speak, of Him hanging out with sinful people. They saw only the surface and didn’t realize that Jesus was, and is, the Heavenly Physician who heals the sin problem that ruins sinners. Jesus needed to welcome the sick so He could heal them. He needed to welcome sinners so he could set them free from the bondage of sin and offer them the freedom of righteousness.

Jesus saw beyond the surface. He saw broken people who needed healing and restoration; he saw sinners who could be transformed into saints for God’s glory. And only by welcoming them could He save them. But notice that after welcoming them, Jesus saved them from their sinful conditions by calling them to repentance.

In our world today, masses of people, especially the youth, are confused by current trends in the media and the educational system. The Church can’t afford to add to the confusion. If the Church doesn’t wake up and name things for what they are; if we treat sin lightly in the name of the often-misguided notion of inclusiveness and a vague understanding of love, many souls will be lost and their blood will be on our hands. True, Jesus loved and welcomed sinners. We should do likewise. Yet, we also know that Jesus didn’t shy away from naming sin and calling sinners to repentance. So, why should we be different?

Jesus welcomed sinners, but He didn’t allow sinners to set the agenda or the tone for His ministry. He was loving, caring, compassionate, merciful, forgiving, direct, blunt and unapologetic, all at the same time. Lesson for the Church today is: Welcome sinners, but don’t let them dictate what you can preach and what you can’t preach. Welcome sinners, but don’t fall into the trap of political correctness.

Our modern society is corrupting morals and encouraging – even celebrating – immorality. If the trend continues, we won’t need an expert to tell us what will happen in the near future. We the Church, have a divine mandate to rescue the perishing. Our weapon is love plus truth. It’s unwise and utterly irresponsible to ask sinners to come as they are and neglect to call them to repentance. The only hope for sinners is love and truth; not love divorced from truth. Love is meaningless if it is not accompanied by truth. And truth is powerless if it is not accompanied by love. We have a golden opportunity to bless this generation with the power of Christ’s love and the power of His truth. 

Prayer:

Dear Father, your will is for all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. Empower your Church to minister love, truth and repentance to this world. And as we do that, bless our efforts with a harvest of repentance and salvation. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

For further study: Titus 2:11-15