Finish The Race!

Acts 20:24

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

What an interesting personal assessment Paul gives here in this verse: “I consider my life worth nothing to me.”  He goes on to provide some context for his statement – which I think is important for us to include so that the value of his life … our lives … is put into better perspective.  Up to this point in Acts:20, Luke has been documenting the missionary journey undertaken by Paul and the evangelical opportunities for ministry afforded to him along the way.  It has been a fruitful journey, but there have been hardships and challenges in the midst of preaching the Gospel and discipling elders in the churches he labored to establish.  This is the backdrop when we reach Verse 22.

Acts 20:22-24 (NIV) – Paul is speaking

22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

This is a more useful context to understand what Paul meant regarding the “worth of his life.”  It was not that Paul thought his life had no value; rather, it was a comparison to the calling of preaching the Gospel and completing the “job” which he had been “assigned” to do.  I think this is the more salient point for us to consider.  Each of us has a life given to us by the grace and will of God.  I say will of God because if He did not ordain for you to be conceived, then you would not exist.  Likewise, I say the grace of God because if He had not orchestrated a course around all of the threats and obstacles to your life, you would not continue to be here.  In short, our lives are miracles on many levels of contemplation, and we have been allowed our own free will to navigate it towards meaning and purpose within our mortal limitations.

When we find Christ Jesus … when the testimonies of the Apostles and the Word of God convince our souls of the Truth, a new dimension of life enters our existence.  Our spirits … our beings are born again!  Our concept of “self” is radically altered with the knowledge of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We are changed!  The old has gone, the new is here! (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17) And so the value or worth we placed on our previous existence is changed as well.  What we thought we valued for our lives becomes replaced with a “purpose” of far more significant value … eternal value.  Our lives, hidden in Christ, have a new motivation … to live worthy of the Lord and to please Him in every way and to be productive in His Kingdom for His glory!

I think when Paul said, “I consider my life worth nothing to me,” I believe he was referring to his former life and the former meaning he had placed on it.  In light of his authentic encounter with the risen Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was radically changed and his new life in Christ took on a “life of its own” … a life lived in the context of a close, personal relationship with Jesus and his new assignment to be an ambassador of the Gospel in all its fullness and truth.  In essence, Paul was saying that nothing (prison or hardships) would deter him from completing the good work he was created in Christ Jesus to do, which God had prepared in advance for him to do.” (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) And he expressed this in terms that we can relate in a way to communicate that whatever the risks of following the Lord Jesus and accomplishing His will for my life is more important … of great value … than my own inward, personal aspirations for this experience of life.  It represents a complete surrender to the will of God, and I believe this is an important principle for us to embrace in our journey of faith….

As Pastor Steve shared during his sermon Sunday morning about the life of Joseph (Cf. Genesis 37-47), he observed that Joseph from a youth had a life within the will of God, and yet, Joseph suffered being ridiculed, mocked, abuse, threatened with murder, sold into slavery (human trafficked), lied about, imprisoned, and forsaken, before he finally came to the place of accomplishing what God had purposed in advance for his life.  Surely, all of these horrific hardships and challenges tested his faith in God, yet he remained steadfast in his belief in the ultimate goodness and love of God. The entire time, Joseph was within the will of God, yet his life was far from “perfect” from a human perspective.  Yet Joseph spiritually understood that God was ever present in his life to bring about His will … His good purpose … and with perseverance he awaited it in faith.

Genesis 45:4-8 (NIV) 

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.  8 So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God

Genesis 50:15-21 (NIV)

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. 18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. 19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

As we contemplate the visions and dreams God has instilled in our spirits for our lives … as we seek significance, purpose, and meaning for our lives … let us remember both Joseph and Paul – who despite tremendous opposition and hardship – went on to complete their respective roles in the Kingdom of God.  They did not consider their “own” lives worth anything compared to the rewards of faithfulness to what God called them to do.  And the application of these biblical lessons is for us to persevere in faith to accomplish the work God has given each of us to do in Christ.  As the writer of Hebrews suggested:

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

So I pray that each of us will run the race; reach the finish line; and receive the reward – the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (Cf. James 1:12) I pray we will remain courageous and steadfast in the pursuit of the visions and dreams God has given each of us to guide our journey of faith … and to bear much fruit to the glory of God the Father.  I encourage you to read John 15:1-17.  As Jesus shared with His disciples (and with us), we must remain (abide) in Him in order to bear fruit.  Further, we should understand that the Father will “prune” us in order to bear even more fruit; and that in Christ Jesus we were chosen (appointed) to bear fruit and that it should remain….

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

No Condemnation – Now!

Romans 8:1-2

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

This has always been a verse of comfort to me.  To realize the impact of the promise of forgiveness and reconciliation we have in Christ Jesus is just incredible!  There is, therefore, now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1 NKJV)  I hope that truth will sink in for everyone.  The Apostle John affirmed:

John 3:16-19 (NKJV)

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

The essential message is that Christ Jesus saved us from the certain condemnation of sin when we placed our complete faith in Him and His finished work on the cross to atone for our sin and redeem us from the penalty of sin … that is … eternal separation from God and spiritual death.  Condemnation does not happen because we have sinned.  Condemnation of sin continues because a person has not believed in Jesus Christ for their salvation from sin.  John even goes on to say that condemnation is the outcome of a hardened heart that desires the darkness of evil rather than the light of righteousness.  We were condemned already … the death sentence of sin … until Jesus redeemed us from the empty way of life handed down to us from our ancestors. (Cf. 1 Peter 1:18) The Apostle Paul explains this issue in further detail for us:

Romans 5:17-19 (NIV)

17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! 18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

Look at what that Scripture states.  ONE sin resulted in condemnation!  ONE sin required the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross.  Oh I pray none of us will ever take ONE sin in our lives for granted.  It cost the very life of Jesus Christ to redeem you and I from just ONE sin.  THAT is how God in His holiness views the offense of just ONE sin in our lives! So we need to stop overlooking, rationalizing, and dismissing the thoughtless irreverence of the slightest sin we commit.  Sin is that serious in separating us from God, and it requires the most extreme expression of atonement … an atonement none of us is capable to perform or offer for ourselves.  But the good news for us is that there is, therefore, now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!  Though all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, God has demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us! (Cf. Romans 3:23; Romans 5:8) This is the glorious news of grace that we should be sharing with those who have not yet come to a knowledge of the truth.  And, to me, this gives us all the more reason to rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances: for this is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) as we studied earlier this week….

When I think about the person I was before Christ Jesus rescued me … I can proclaim with overwhelming thanksgiving:  Thank you, Lord Jesus, that you have set me free from the law of sin and death.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, that I am no longer condemned through unbelief.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, that your light has come into the world that we might no longer remain in darkness!  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for taking my condemnation upon yourself! I am forever indebted.  I am forever grateful.  Because of your mercy, I am forever redeemed!  Hallelujah!  Thank you, Lord Jesus!

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

A Gentle Answer

Colossians 4:5-6

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

I think this passage is familiar to most of us … and its message is one of humility in our attitude and conduct.  Too often, I have seen Christians view themselves or project themselves to others as “superior” because they have come to a knowledge of the truth and believe that Jesus is the Son of God … sent to be our Savior, to redeem us, and to reconcile us to God the Father.  Sometimes they allow themselves to become filled with pride over their salvation … forgetting they did nothing to earn or deserve the unmerited kindness and mercy shown by God.  Salvation, at its core, is the most humbling experience a human being can undergo because we are utterly dependent on what God has done for us and there is nothing that we can add to it….  Salvation does not make us superior; rather, it makes us indebted to the One who gave us freedom from the penalty and power of sin.

That said … when we encounter other people, and especially those who are non-believers, Paul instructs us to be wise in how we act and speak toward them.  We are to approach others with the same attitude and grace as Christ Jesus:

Philippians 2:1-8 (NIV)

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage;rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Why is this important?  Why does Paul instruct us to be careful in how we approach seekers and non-believers?  Because we ourselves received Jesus Christ through faith … and this was not of our ourselves … it was the gift of God. (Cf. Ephesians 2:8).  It was the kindness of God that led us to repentance in the first place. (Cf. Romans 2:4) So we are to be kind to one another … compassionate … forgiving … just as in Christ Jesus God forgave us. (Cf. Ephesians 4:32) As Paul related to Timothy, the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, and not resentful. (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:24) So let our conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that we may know how to answer everyone.  This will equip us to make the most of every opportunity we are given to lead others to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ….

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Believe In Your Heart

Romans 10:9-13

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.” (Cf. Isaiah 28:1612 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Cf. Joel 2:32)

I read this passage this morning and thought deeper about what Paul is asserting here. Then I decided to looked at other translations to compare interpretations of the language used.  Here are some other translations for your consideration:

Romans 10:9-13 (New King James Version)

If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. 13 For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Romans 10:9-13 (English Standard Version)

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing His riches on all who call on Him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

To me, the emphasis in this passage is to “believe in your heart that God raised Him (Jesus) from the dead”.  Conviction of the resurrection within our inner beings … within our souls … appears to be the foundational core of faith through which we receive justification, righteousness, and experiential salvation. When we come to the realization or conclusion that the resurrection is “evidence” that Christ Jesus is in truth the Son of God … the promised Messiah … the King of kings and Lord of lords … we are changed from the soul outward.  We are born-again of the Spirit, and we embrace that Jesus is alive and enthroned at the right hand of God. (Cf. Acts 7:56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22) We submit to the power and authority in heaven and on earth that has been given to Jesus. (Cf. Matthew 28:18; John 17:2; Ephesians 1:20-22) Yes!  At the mention of His mighty and powerful name, we bow to our knees and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father! (Cf. Philippians 2:9-11)

As Paul asserted (and we have reviewed this text before) and I shared again:

1 Corinthians 15:12-17 (NIV)

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that He raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

This is why we celebrate Easter!  This is why effectual salvation requires that we believe in our hearts that God has raised Jesus from the dead.  If there was no resurrection, there is no triumph over sin, hell, or the grave.  There is no basis for faith.  But if Christ has been raised (and indeed the testimonial record is indisputable), faith in Him demands confession of His lordship.  Worship is due His name! Submission to His authority and obedience to His commands is not subject to doubt or debate.  Jesus IS Lord!  He is the author of salvation.  He is Mighty To Save!  This is how much He loves us!  This is why we celebrate His Resurrection on Easter!

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The Simple Gospel

1 Corinthians 15:1-5

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

Here we have the “Story of Easter” (the Gospel message) in a very succinct format.  I love how Paul phrases his emphasis: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance.”  So what is the primary message of the Gospel?  Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures.  Jesus was buried. That means He had a physical body that was placed in a tomb. And Jesus was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.  Paul repeats that these events happened according to the prophetic Scriptures.  This is of “first importance” for anyone to understand.  Jesus was sent by the Father.  His life and salvific ministry to us was not happenstance.  Jesus had told His disciples, “I must preach the Kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.” (Cf. Luke 4:43) And on the night He was betrayed, Jesus prayed, “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” (Cf. John 12:27)

So why is sharing the Gospel so important?  Well, for believers Paul states, “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.” Sharing the Gospel is important to faith building.  When believers were under trial and persecution, the truth of the Gospel was an important reminder of standing firm in the message of salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ.  The other reason is that we are called to share “what we have received as of first importance.” The eternal life we have received in Christ Jesus is worth talking about with others who do not know Him or placed their faith in Him…. There is a sense of urgency inherent in the Gospel message. Why the urgency? Because life is short.  As the Apostle James observed, “What is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” (Cf. James 4:14) We do not know what will happen tomorrow … or before our next breath for that matter. “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him, He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” (Cf. Hebrews 9:27-28) Yes, our sin must be judged.  God is just! And since a person cannot call upon the name of the Lord and be saved after their death, that is why the Gospel is so important … so urgent.  Jesus came to bear the penalty of our sin through His death on the cross!  And as we noted last time:  

Romans 5:8-10 (NKJV)

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life….

Yes, the resurrection of Jesus that we celebrate at Easter is how we KNOW reconciliation with God the Father has occurred; and it is how we KNOW that salvation and eternal life is found in Jesus Christ alone.  For there is no other name under heaven given among me by which we must be saved. (Cf. Acts 4:12) So I pray that each of us will take this reminder today of what is important and pass it along to others while there is still time to do so. There is a wonderful and powerful story to tell!  Let’s get the Word out so people can have an authentic encounter with Jesus … so lives can be changed by Him … so lives can be saved by Him!  Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!