Apart From Me

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Apart from Me you can do nothing. Is there any area in the Christian life where this is not true? Can the Gospel be preached, souls be won, the Bible understood, or prayers be lifted except that the Son of God is abiding in a heart that is abiding in Him? And what about overcoming sin or the pursuit of holiness? Can we suppose as the foolish Galatians did that what was begun within us by the power of Christ may now be completed through our own strength (Gal. 3:3)?

Nothing can be accomplished for the Kingdom of God except by the power of God. God never intended for it to be otherwise.

[Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.]

Jesus Stayed Behind

“Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast; and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. But His parents were unaware of it” (Luke 2:41-43)

Had you asked Mary and Joseph that first day as they departed from Jerusalem for home if Jesus was walking with them, they most certainly would have answered yes. Of course He was with them, why wouldn’t He be? But Jesus had stayed behind, and they were not aware of it.

What a terrible thing it is to have left Jesus behind. Worse still, to be unaware of it. To suppose that the Lord Jesus walks beside us when He does not is a tragedy, but are there not many who do just that? Some have never truly come to faith in the Lord and have never known what it was like to really walk with Him in the first place. Others walked with Him at one time but sin  has crowded in, their love has grown cold, and their steps have taken them in a different direction. And this is worth noticing: Jesus never leaves us behind, it is us who wander away.

Every one who supposes that the Lord walks beside them does well to make sure that He in fact does. And what to do should we discover that we have left Him behind? We will find Him in that very place where we left Him. Did we abandon Him when we began to neglect our prayer life? Then it is in a renewed prayer life that we will find Him. Have we stopped seeking Him through the study of His Word? Then when we dust off our Bibles and look again to the Holy Spirit to reveal the Son to us we will find Him again. Or perhaps it is some sin that we are reluctant to release. If we bring that sin to God, will He not strengthen us to be free from that sin and to walk with Him once again? Jesus can be found “about His Father’s business” (Luke 2:49 KJV), can we?

[Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.]

The Gift Of Conviction

“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)

I once read an interview with a celebrity who identifies themselves as a Christian. Because some have accused this person of holding only a shallow, superficial religious belief, the interviewer began to ask probing questions about how deep their Christianity goes. Finally, they were asked if they had ever asked God for forgiveness for their sins. The answer given was no, and they added that they really didn’t feel that they needed to.

Now whether or not this person is truly a Christian is not for any of us to determine, it is between them and God. But we can safely say that it is concerning for someone to claim that they are trusting in Christ and also state that they really do not need to go to God for the forgiveness of their sins. And if this person’s answer was sincere, then we have the testimony of the Bible that the Truth is not in them.

Most religions lay out a path for their adherents to walk that brings them ever-closer to some sort of greater and greater enlightenment or perfection. And while we as Christians may be “sanctified”, that is, live a life that grows into more Christ-likeness the further along we go, we acknowledge that sin is never completely vanquished in us until we enter into Heaven. In other words, the need to confess our sins to God and ask for His forgiveness will be necessary until the day we leave this world.

For most people, apparently including the celebrity I mentioned above, the problem is not that they feel they have reached perfection, but that they have no real sense of their own sinfulness in the first place. It is human nature to excuse, justify, and mitigate our own guiltiness rather than honestly recognize our own shortcomings. We can always point to someone else who is a lot “worse” than we are.

One of the things that the Holy Spirit will do in our hearts, if we will hear Him, is to convict us of the sin we commit. This is not so that God can condemn us, but so that we may confess our sin to God and be forgiven. Conviction of sin is a great gift that makes it possible to remove the one obstacle that can stand between a person and the Lord. May we be thankful when God shows us the sin in our life that we may bring it to Him for forgiveness.

[Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.]

What My God Says, That Will I Speak

Then the messenger who went to summon Micaiah spoke to him saying, “Behold, the words of the prophets are uniformly favorable to the king. So please let your word be like one of them and speak favorably.” But Micaiah said, “As the Lord lives, what my God says, that I will speak.” (2 Chronicles 18:12-13)

After 400 false prophets of the god Baal had unanimously proclaimed that a great victory would be secured in the campaign of Israel and Judah against Ramoth-Gilead, Micaiah, a true prophet of the Lord, was summoned to deliver his prophecy concerning the plan. Not wishing for King Ahab’s already sour disposition toward the one true prophet in his kingdom to worsen, the messenger sent to retrieve him urges the man of God to step in line and join in with the 400 sycophants singing the victorious rally cry within the king’s throne room. But Micaiah, like every true prophet of God, can speak neither good nor bad except as the Lord leads him. “What my God says, that will I speak“, he answers.

Anyone who speaks on behalf of God, if they truly do so, will never be a popular person, at least as the world considers such. The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword and it cuts deeply into all who hear it (Hebrews 4:12). It is a living, healing salve to those who love God but to the natural man it is hated and despised. Micaiah knew that by telling King Ahab the truth, that the king himself would in fact die in the battle that he was now planning, he would further incur the ruler’s wrath and that his own treatment would suffer because of it. But in the words of Martin Luther, he knew that “to go against conscience is neither right nor safe” and that enduring a king’s anger is nothing compared with the loss felt in disappointing the King of Heaven.

We may not be actual “prophets of God” standing in the courts of kings, uttering  dire warnings against insolent monarchs who defy our Lord, but we are entrusted as children of God with the Word of God and must be careful stewards with that which we have been given. We are not at liberty to bend, alter, or water-down what God’s Word says, even if it goes directly against what the world believes to be right or wrong.  Today, Bible-believing Christians are called upon more and more to abandon “outdated” and “intolerant” morals in the name of acceptance and compromise, to fit in with the popular worldviews which reject the truths that God has clearly spoken. May we always remember that it is neither safe nor right to do so.

[Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.]

Because You Relied On The Lord

Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim an immense army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, He delivered them into your hand.” (2 Chronicles 16:8)

The prophet Hanani uttered these words to Asa, king of Judah, after the king had decided to bribe the king of Aram to break a treaty with Israel’s king, who was now at war with Judah. Though Asa, we may assume, believed that he had acted shrewdly, the prophet declares that he been foolish and that wars would plague him throughout the remainder of his reign (v. 9). The deal that he had hoped would bring his kingdom peace would spell the beginning of a series of conflicts that would last the final five years or so of his reign.

Yet in the verse before us King Asa is commended for his actions against the armies of Ethiopia led by Zerah and that consisted of over a million men (2 Chron. 14:9). Greatly outnumbered, Asa stood firm against the horde of soldiers, fortified in the knowledge that the Lord stood with his army. His reliance in that battle was on God and not the alliance of some other kingdom.

God is glorified when we choose to trust in Him, despite the odds, and rely on Him and not our own strength. The lesson given again and again throughout the Hebrews ancient wars was that God could give them victory, regardless of their being outnumbered, if they would only put their confidence in Him. We may not be fighting literal wars and military conflicts in our daily lives, but the same principles still apply. When we make the decision to trust in the Lord despite how great the odds are against us in our own battles, the Lord is pleased and the glory will go to Him.

“A man with God is always in the majority” – John Knox

[Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.]

A Living Sacrifice

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1 KJV)

19th Century evangelist Dwight L. Moody is said to have remarked on this verse of Scripture, “The problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar.” We have a choice of whether we will yield ourselves to God or yield ourselves to sin (Rom. 6:13). Will we live a righteous, holy life or will we continue to walk in the way of this world?

What a stark contrast we have here in the New Testament book of Romans compared with the Law of the Old Testament. The watchword of Deuteronomy is “command” as the Law of Moses is given to the Children of Israel. Here in Romans, we see the word “beseech” or “urge.” Where Moses commanded, Paul appeals. He appeals to our sense of the grace and mercy, the goodness, of God as the reason for our obedience. It is not the voice of thunder shaking Mt. Sinai but the still-small voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to the heart that our attention is called toward. Eleven chapters of Romans preceding this verse spell out what God has done for us and it is based on this that we are encouraged to present ourselves as a living sacrifice to Him.

Closing the verse, we are told that such is our reasonable service. Within that word rendered “reasonable” is the root of our English word logical. It only makes sense for us to obey God and yield ourselves to Him in light of all He has done for us. May we stay upon the altar and yield our lives for His service. Though we can never repay God for all He has done for us, becoming a living sacrifice is acceptable and well-pleasing to the Lord.

Be Transformed

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

There is for the Christian one important decision concerning how they will live their life: to be conformed to this world or to be transformed by the renewing of their mind. All other decisions are dependent upon this one. To be conformed to this world is by far the easier of the two, but it comes at a great cost. For the child of God will never experience the joy and peace that the Lord has provided if they continue to walk as the rest of the world does. Nor will they be able to fulfill God’s will for their life if they choose to remain conformed to the world.

To be transformed is a choice that we can make, otherwise the Scripture would not instruct us to do so. Yet transformation is not accomplished through our own willpower or good intentions, no, it can only be achieved as the Holy Spirit works in us, conforming us not to the world but to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29). A renewed mind is a mind which sees things as God sees them and thinks thoughts in line with the way God thinks. It is the same washing and regeneration in the mind that was performed upon our spirits by the Holy Spirit when we first came to faith in Christ (cf. Titus 3:5).

Even so, this transformation is not the product of our simply waiting for God to change us. We participate in the process by spending time with the Lord in prayer and through the study of His Word. Ultimately, our mind is renewed as we delve into the Bible and let the Holy Spirit speak to us.

[Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.]