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"It is the Gift of God"

Saturday, May 15, 2021

“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

Perhaps no other text in Scripture summarizes so succinctly and beautifully the doctrine of salvation as the text above. God accomplishes our salvation “by grace… through faith.” Paul goes onto say, “it is the gift of God,” so that all human boasting is excluded.

But what is “the gift of God”? The belief of many is that “the gift” refers to our “faith.” God either gives faith to us so that we can be saved or he withholds it. This reading would imply that we are completely passive in the process of salvation.

The argument goes something like this: In a state of spiritual death (2:1-3), we are utterly incapable of making any free and rational choice to obey the gospel. So we must be made alive (2:5-7), which God chooses to do on his own initiative and according to his own wisdom. Only then can we can accept God’s grace and be saved. Therefore, according to this view, “faith” must be a gift given to us by God.

Due to the subtle mixture of truth and error within this view, it is difficult to untangle. While it is true that the act of salvation is God’s alone and we are utterly dead and lost without him, it is also true that God has endowed us with freewill to respond to him rationally. If we examine the grammar of this passage, we will see that “faith,” by itself, is not what Paul refers to as “the gift of God.”

“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.”

In the Greek language, like modern German, every noun has a gender that is either masculine, feminine or neuter. The gender of the noun “faith” (pistes) is feminine. The gender of the pronoun “this” is neuter. Therefore, the antecedent for “this” is not the word “faith”. “Faith” cannot be the “gift of God” because Paul’s own grammar won’t allow it. For “this” to refer to “faith” would require the corresponding pronoun to be feminine. For the same reason, “this” cannot refer to “grace” either, because “grace” is also feminine.

If this is the case, what are the pronouns referring to? What is “the gift of God”? When the pronoun is neuter it is referring back to a general thought or phrase. So, “this” is referring to the entire preceding clause, namely, salvation by grace through faith.

Therefore, the “gift of God” which Paul refers to with the neuter pronouns “this” and “it,” is not just “faith” or “grace” but the whole process by which God chooses to save us — “by grace… through faith.” We might put it like this for the sake of clarity: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this [being saved by grace through faith] is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

God has chosen to save all those who have faith in Christ (Jn. 3:16). This is the gift of God, the wonderful way in which he saves us. He extends his grace to all humanity “bringing salvation for all people” (Titus 2:11) because he “desires all people to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:4). Yet, God has designed it in such a way that only those who have faith in the good news of Jesus can be saved (Rom. 1:16).

Though the act of salvation is entirely God’s work (only God can give life to the dead), he gives us the dignity of choice in the matter (Gen. 2:16; Deut. 30:19; Josh. 24:15). That way, as CS Lewis put it, “no soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.” This self-choice is what makes love a possibility, and for this God has destined his children (1 Cor. 13:13). “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15), the gift of salvation “by grace… through faith.”

The Honor of Motherhood

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Older women… are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

Titus 2:3-5

Because God created us in his image and because he designed marriage and the family to be the building blocks of ordered civilization, each role within the family unit is sacred. Motherhood is no less or more honorable than fatherhood (Ex. 20:12). Parenting, like marriage (1 Pet. 3:7), is an equal partnership with distinct roles.

The words “sacred” and “honorable” may not be the first adjectives that come to a mother’s mind when dirty dishes are stacked in the sink, piles of laundry are strewn about and messy children with sticky fingers are screaming in the background and drawing on the walls. But we must remember that for a thing to be true does not depend on our perception. Perception is not always reality. Truth is reality and the enemy often blinds us to it. What we must train ourselves, by God’s grace, to do is to see the truth, to perceive the reality. Only the light of Jesus can cure this blindness (2 Cor. 4:3-6) and the truth of his gospel reveals the reality of motherhood.

Sadly, some women see themselves as victims of their chromosomes. They are unable see the beautiful image of God reflected uniquely in themselves. In seeking to find equality with men, a thing which the Bible affirms on page 1, they attempt to obliterate what makes them distinct. Instead of finding freedom, they find only bondage. But the truth is liberating (Jn. 8:32) and it tells us about the reality of motherhood in places like Titus 2:3-5.

The privilege of motherhood — The older, more experienced Christian women are to “train” the younger to live out the practical implications of the gospel in their lives. Their unique duty clearly centers around the home. If this offends our modern sensibilities it only proves how far out of touch we are with our Maker. We could hardly overestimate the value of a loving mother’s influence. It is a mother’s task and privilege to oversee the forging of their child’s personality, the shaping of their heart, the building of their character.

The priorities of motherhood — The phrase “working at home” does not suggest mothers are forbidden to work outside the home (Prov. 31:13, 16-18). But it does teach that her first priority is her family and managing her household. Notice that “love” is something that must be taught. Although there is such a thing as natural affection, we who are younger often need instruction and guidance on what love does and says. If this motherly love is missing in a family, nothing can ever fill that gap. No degree, career or amount of extra income can replace parental love. Being in a position of leadership, purity, self-control and kindness are also vital for mothers. Every area of her life must be informed by these things.

The potential of motherhood — When a mother sees the reality of her exalted status, sees herself as God sees her in Christ, a whole new world opens up to her. Underneath the monotony there is a holy vocation. She understands th immense potential for good that the faithful exercise of God’s will can have, and the disastrous consequences if she should shirk her duty (the very “word of God may… be reviled”). If she should succeed to exhibit love, self-control, purity, respect and kindness (and by God’s grace and power she can), she has the power to shape the future.

Naomi, Ruth, Hannah, Mary the mother of Jesus, Lois and Eunice. They were perhaps overlooked in their day but they receive the highest honors in God’s sight. They are great in God’s kingdom. They are mighty soldiers in God’s army. They are feared by Satan and frustrate all the powers of darkness below. God makes Christian mothers great when they come under his loving, wise rule and serve their families with that same love and wisdom.

Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters

Saturday, May 01, 2021

“Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.”

Ecclesiastes 11:1-2

In the above verses, the Preacher tells us to take every opportunity to do good to our neighbor (Gal. 6:10) because the time may come when we will be the ones standing in need. The ancient farmer would sometimes cast his seed onto flooded areas hoping that once the waters receded the seed would take root and his crop would spring up. The farmer’s wisdom is seen in his taking a seemingly hopeless situation and turning it into a potentially profitable one. The application of this wisdom is plain.

We are not to be discouraged from doing good just because the situation looks bad on the surface (Gal. 6:9). We are to continue sowing the seed of the kingdom (Lk. 8:4-15) because the waters of difficulty will eventually recede. It may take some time for the seed to produce a crop but it will come (1 Cor. 15:58). “Those who sow in tears, will reap with shouts of joy!” (Psa. 126:5)

In the next few verses, the Preacher says, “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap... In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.” (Ecc. 11:4, 6)

In these verses, we learn that we shouldn’t wait for ideal conditions to get to work. If the farmer were to wait for perfect weather to sow his seed he would never reap a crop. Likewise, we will never complete the Lord’s work if we wait for ideal conditions. We must make the best use of today for tomorrow is unpredictable (Jas. 4:13-17). Jesus once said, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” (Jn. 9:4). Or in Paul’s words, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:15-16).

Are you waiting for the perfect conditions to begin God’s work?

  • Have you been meaning to tell the good news to your neighbor, friend or co-worker but you’ve been waiting for the right time?
  • Have you been meaning to send that encouraging message to your struggling brother but haven’t found the right moment?
  • Have you been meaning to further develop your devotion to God but tell yourself you have to sort out some other things first?
  • Have you been meaning to further your relationships with other Christians but are waiting for a more convenient time?

We can't expect to reap a crop of righteousness in the future if we fail to sow the seed of the kingdom in the present (Gal. 6:9-10). Follow the wisdom of the farmer and cast your bread upon the waters. Even if conditions don’t look favorable now, much fruit may come later, but only if we sow with trust and patience (Jas. 5:7-8).

Theory vs. Practice

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”

Mark 1:16-17

There once was a group of people who called themselves “the fishermen.” They lived near many streams, ponds, lakes and other bodies of water teeming with fish. The fishermen met twice a week, on Sunday and Wednesday, to discuss fishing. They talked about their special calling to fish. They had classes designed to help them be better fishermen. They listed statistics of the abundance of the fish around them. They encouraged others to fish. They zealously defended their right to fish. But they never actually went fishing.

Their enthusiasm gained the interest of others and anglers from the surrounding region joined them. This growth forced them to build a larger meeting house which only fed the excitement. In addition to these regular meetings they sent out some of their members to other places to spread the message: Everyone should become a fisherman! They held week-long seminars to promote fishing, define fishing and defend fishing as their sole purpose in life. But the men who spoke at the meetings never actually fished.

Strangely, the fishermen continued their campaign offering courses on the needs of the fish, what kinds of things the fish liked, the nature of fish, the best methods to catch fish and the psychological effects of fishing. The men who taught had doctorates in Fishology but they didn’t have time for fishing because they were too busy teaching.

One evening, two men stumbled into a meeting quite by accident. You must understand that these men were not schooled in the ways of the fishermen. After a stirring sermon entitled “The Necessity of Fishing” they were compelled to do something amazing and unexpected. They went to a local pond and actually tried fishing. And much to their surprise and delight, after only minimal effort, one of the men caught a fish!

He proudly brought his catch to the next meeting. This man was hailed as a hero. He was honored for his actions and was interviewed and fawned over by the other fishermen. He was soon scheduled to hold meetings to talk about “The Time I Went Fishing and Actually Caught A Fish”. So he quit fishing and went on tour to share his experience by giving motivational speeches. He had his fish mounted on a shining gold plate with the words “The Fish I Caught That One Time” engraved at the bottom.

Things weren’t all roses for the fishermen though. Oh no! They had to endure many sacrifices. Like going to all those meetings. And reading all those books. And living in communities surrounded by so many smelly fish. And, if you would believe it, there were even some people who had the gall to criticize them. They ridiculed the group for calling themselves “fishermen” while never trying to fish. The nerve of some people!

By now, you have caught my drift. Jesus 'caught' us to free us. He wants to make us “fishers of men” (Mk. 1:17), to save the lost and “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:18-20). We were chosen “that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9). Some Christians may go their whole life without bringing another soul to Christ. This is inexcusable. The Christian who doesn’t tell others the good news is as unthinkable to Jesus as a light you can’t see or salt you can’t taste (Mt. 5:13-16).

I’ll leave you with the following poem by DA Carson:

Shall flowers hide their beauty?

Shall rainbows turn to grey?

Shall birds forget their singing?

Shall sunlight fade away?

Shall I be silent at grace beyond degree?

Before the cross I count as loss what once was dear to me.

Jesus Our Older Brother

Saturday, April 17, 2021

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;

in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

Hebrews 2:11-12

There are many ways we relate to Jesus: as Savior, Lord, Creator, etc. In Hebrews 2:10-18, the Hebrew writer pictures Jesus as our older brother, the firstborn of the human race who identifies with his younger siblings (us) by coming to their aid in a place where they live, a land of sin and death, to share their fate and thereby rescue them from it. I don’t know about you but I don’t often think of Jesus as my older brother. 

I wonder how James, “the Lord’s [younger] brother” (Gal. 1:19), would have viewed Jesus growing up. We know the Lord’s brothers didn’t believe in him during his earthly ministry (Jn. 7:5; cf. Mk. 6:3) but after his resurrection and ascension, James quickly became a pillar of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:19; Gal. 2:9) and authored an epistle that largely echoed his brother’s teaching.

Though Jesus may have frustrated James at times (Mk. 3:31-35), he was and is the perfect older brother. For us, Jesus is not the kind of older brother you come to resent because of his perfection but the kind of older brother you come to trust and admire because, without a hint of arrogance, he helps us out of his perfect love and goodness of heart.

As our perfect older brother, Jesus is the trailblazer of our salvation (Heb. 2:10). Big brothers often show the way forward for their younger siblings. Through his example in life, suffering on the cross for our sins and his triumphant resurrection from the dead, Jesus cut a path through the tangled, frightening jungle that is “the valley of the shadow of death” (Psa. 23:4). And now, through him, we can find our way out the other side into life eternal.

As our perfect older brother, Jesus identifies with his siblings (Heb. 2:11-13). Because we are “sanctified” through him, the Lord “is not ashamed” to call us his “brothers.” God blessed me with three older brothers. There was nothing more comforting to me than knowing that my older brothers identified with me and counted me as one of them. Christ gives us that same show of solidarity today. With him, we are legitimate members of God’s family (Mk. 3:35; Gal. 3:28-29; Eph. 2:18-19) who will receive the imperishable inheritance of our shared heavenly Father (Eph. 1:3-5; 1 Pet. 1:4).

As our perfect older brother, Jesus delivers us from evil (Heb. 2:14-18). As ancient Israel once suffered Egyptian bondage, so we “through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” In suffering and dying for his brothers, Jesus became the true high priest who makes atonement for our sins. In his resurrection, he rendered the enemy’s tool of slavery, “death,” inoperable. Death no longer has the power to enslave us to fear anymore because Jesus took away its “sting” (1 Cor. 15:55). Big brothers protect their siblings from evil.

If we don’t do so already, we ought to think of Jesus as our perfect older brother. He is our hero who steps between us and danger. He is not willing that his beloved siblings should be enslaved by evil forces. He loves, comforts and rescues like an older brother.

And, also like an older brother, he sympathizes with us and understands our weaknesses. Jesus is the human embodiment of God’s mercy and reliability. He knows what it’s like to be tempted by evil because he experienced temptation himself. And because he overcame temptation without sin (Heb. 4:15; cf. Mt. 4) he “is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:18). May God bless us to love one another with that same Christ-like brotherly affection.

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