1 Corinthians 2:14, 16b – The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. …But we have the mind of Christ.
The mannishness of man. That was a phrase Francis Schaeffer used to describe human beings in their fallen state. I like to use the word, “worldling” to describe the same idea. Paul uses the phrase “natural man” or “the man without the Spirit.” All of these describe the basic antithesis between those who have eyes to see and those who don’t – those who love the foolishness of God and know it’s actually unparalleled wisdom and those who see God’s foolishness and believe that it really is folly, an utter waste of time. Like the wicked described in Job 21, they say to God…‘Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?’ (vv. 14-15)
God’s wisdom is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.
Paul writes that a person in his natural state,
doesn’t accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (v. 14).
It isn’t simply that he chooses not to know God’s ways and prefers not to understand them. He cannot. He is unable. Such things are spiritually discerned and he does not have the Spirit. His heart is unregenerate. He is blind. It is impossible for him…for him.
But Not For God
But nothing is impossible for God. Those of us who are now in Christ were once as blind as the worldlings that surround us today. There was a time when we did not understand the deep truths of God. But God is in the business of waking the dead, giving them (us) hearts that beat according to his Word, and providing eyes to see that which is invisible and eternal. This was not of ourselves, lest we should boast. It wasn’t because we were so smart, righteous, or born into the right family. It was the free and undeserved favor of a gracious God.
We now have the mind of Christ. We are able to discern the things of God. Flesh and blood do not reveal such things to us, but our heavenly Father does as he discloses himself – his good, pleasing, and perfect will. We grow in our understanding of his disclosure as we are transformed by the renewing of our minds through his Word.
Humility is Key
So it is with humility that we plead with people who do not know Christ and who are under the influence of the spirit of the age. For where they are, we once were. We know they are in darkness, that they are hurting, broken, looking for meaning and purpose, confused and don’t know the Way. We were once like them. It took the sovereign touch from the Lord of hosts to deliver us from our plight. And so we beg those without the Spirit to run toward the Light of Christ. We intercede on their behalf and ask our Father to give them eyes to see and ears to hear, that they too might enter in and walk the Way that leads to Life.
When and how did you come to faith in Christ? Do you remember what it was like to start “seeing” things in a new way? Describe that experience or process. Based on your experience and the truths from Scripture this devotional outlines, what are some key ideas you would want to communicate about becoming a Christian to an unbelieving family member or friend?
Grace and Truth,
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 - Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.
Satan’s Advertising Campaign
One of the most successful advertising campaigns perpetrated by Satan in our day is the idea that Christians are forbidden to judge anything or anyone for any reason. Even unbelievers know the Bible verse that teaches, so they think, that Christians are not to judge others in any circumstance. In this twisting of our Lord’s words, Satan has led many down an awfully slippery slope.
But is that what Christ, Paul, and the rest of the Bible teach? No. What Christ and his chosen spokesmen spoke against was having a censorious or judgmental spirit or attitude. They taught us to resist the temptation of signing up to serve as God’s official fruit-inspectors. These are the folks who believe it is their spiritual gift to criticize everyone else.
Instead, the exhortation of Jesus (Matthew 7:1-5), was for his followers to remove the giant telephone-pole-sized sin in their own lives first. Unfortunately, that’s where unbelievers, and many Christians, stop with Christ’s words. But Jesus had not yet finished his thought.
The Rest of the Story
Jesus actually taught we are to remove the beam or plank from our own eye first, and then (or, so that) we would be able to see clearly enough to remove the speck from our neighbor’s eye. Jesus wasn’t calling for the abolition of judgment, but for a godly attitude while exercising helpful discernment. We know this because less than ten verses later, our Lord said we must watch out for false teachers. Why? Because they are false teachers. Something isn’t right about what they teach or how they live.
How do you “watch out” for false teachers? By judging the fruit they produce – their works – not their hearts. And yet, according to our Lord, their fruit does tell us something about what’s going on inside of them. He says a good tree produces good fruit while a bad tree produces bad fruit. In both cases, being precedes doing. We aren’t privy to all that goes on inside a person’s heart, so our Lord tells us to judge their fruit, whether it be good or bad.
By What Standard?
How can we make such a judgment? How can we know the difference between good and bad? By using the only sure measuring stick we have, God’s Word.
The Apostle Paul said we are called to test everything. A word like “everything” pretty much says it all. Every idea, suggestion, worldview, moral teaching, news story, political platform, attitude, television program, and on and on and on, is to be tested. But how do you test these things?
With Holy Scripture. God’s Word is sufficient to teach, reprove, correct, and train us for all of life (2 Timothy 3:16-17), whether by explicit teaching, command, law, or rule – or by implicit principles and implications.
After you have tested something by God’s Word, you then must judge or discern whether that thing is good or evil. If it’s good you cling to it. If it’s evil you avoid or shun it. But you have to make a judgment. How else can you pursue holiness instead of sin? How else can you choose the hard and narrow road that leads to life rather than the wide and comfortable road that leads to destruction? You must exercise your faculties of discernment.
The Heart is the Heart of the Matter
Have Christians ever been guilty of having judgmental attitudes? Absolutely. And they should repent for it. But unbelievers have also been guilty of having judgmental attitudes. The difference is that followers of Christ have an objective and binding standard that tells them it’s wrong to have such an attitude. Every time an unbeliever tells a Christian not to be judgmental, they have to borrow from the Christian worldview to say so.
The key point is this: Christians are commanded by Christ to judge good from evil, sin from righteousness, without being judgmental. We are to practice such discernment so we may lovingly correct or restore another person. That is why we must first deal with the sin in our own lives. It humbles us, reminds us of what Christ has done on our behalf, and enables us to better see how to help others. It’s a razor’s edge to walk, but we must not give up walking along that edge simply because it’s hard to do. Instead, we must pray for the power and guidance of God’s Spirit, his gifts of discernment, and for his Word to dwell in us richly so we may walk that edge faithfully, consistently, and lovingly.
What do you think most people mean when they say people shouldn’t judge? Why do people dislike being judged? Have you ever been accused of being judgmental? Have you ever judged another person (sinfully)? Have you ever been judged in such a way? How did it make you feel? How does the counsel of Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5, help us turn from having a judgmental attitude? How does his teaching in those verses enable us to truly be a help to another person?
Grace and Truth,
2 Chronicles 7:14 - …if my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Good News Bad News
The Lord was pleased with the Temple Solomon had completed. God said he would take up residence there to receive sacrifices. Then something a little strange happened, at least from our perspective. God mysteriously changed the tone of his words to Solomon by telling him he may shut up the heavens to prevent rain from falling. Or, he may command locusts to devour the land. Or, he may even send a plague on “his own” people (v. 13). It wasn’t good.
It’s hard to understand where God was coming from here. All Israel had just celebrated the dedication of the Temple, the assembling of which, was a community project. And then we get those sobering words in verse 13.
Whatever God’s reasons were, we know this for sure: The sins of a covenant people against the Holy One was no trifle to be winked at. It was a great offense. But our gracious Lord offered hope in verse 14. He declared that when these calamities befall his covenant people, there would be something they could do.
Four Steps of Repentance
First, his people were to humble themselves. There was no room for pride and self-dependence here. Instead, God’s people were to fall on their faces before God as an act of spiritual poverty and brokenness. They had neither strength nor wisdom in and of themselves. God was then, and remains now, the Source for all that and more.
They were also commanded to pray. Prayers of adoration to God, confession of sin, expressions of their helplessness, and complete dependence upon their sovereign God would be a good place to start.
Next, they were to seek the face of God. Imagine that great Day when we will behold the face of God. It is that face which we are to pursue in this life. Therefore, we need to cultivate the character of God in our lives, trust him alone, follow his commands, seek his presence, and enter into intimate communion with him.
God also said his people must turn from their wicked ways. The rest of the chapter gives us a glimpse of what those wicked ways looked like: God’s people had been turning away from and forsaking God and his decrees, as well as serving other gods and worshipping them. This is wickedness in the sight of God and is why God said he might bring disaster on his own people (v. 22). God’s people were to abandon such spiritual adultery at once. That’s repentance.
Forgiveness and Healing Await
If God’s people humbled themselves, prayed, sought God’s face, and turned from their wicked ways, God promised to hear them, forgive their sin, and heal their land.
Ours is a land in desperate need of healing. Whether it’s our country, culture, local church, or family, there is much need for the healing power of God. But it will not come merely because we recognize the need. That’s a good first step, but more is required – genuine change – change that results in humbling oneself before God and clinging to him alone. Saturating ourselves in prayer, grieving over our transgressions and seeking his forgiveness and restoration is essential. Following hard after God – his will, commands, presence, and pleasure – should be our life’s pursuit. And biblical repentance is necessary – turning from our wicked ways and leaving them behind and turning in a Godward direction. Our prayers should include pleading with God to enable us to do just that.
We want to see our land and lives forgiven and healed. But change will have to first take place. Until then, we should expect the discipline of a loving Father – one who loves us too much to let us continue on a destructive path, and who, therefore, will do much to bring us back to the right one. Because he is holy, he will never overlook our transgressions.
And because he is gracious, God will call us away from the gods of this age. He summons us back to obedience and submission to his Lordship. And with that comes his promise to forgive us and heal our land. Thanks be to God – the great Promise-Maker and Promise-Keeper.
Which of the four steps of repentance is hardest for you? Why do you think that is? What are 2-3 ways you could make repentance a more natural part of your life? What are the positive results that would happen if you did?
Grace and Truth,
Luke 14:26-27 – “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple.  And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:33 – In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
You Better Think About It First
It wasn’t the approach most wanted to take today back then nor is it so today. Jesus wasn’t very seeker-friendly, at least here. His message wasn’t a bait-and-switch tactic to get folks in the door. Instead, it was truth in advertising. The issue? That following Jesus requires everything, including one’s very life, so you better count the cost before signing on the dotted line.
In Matthew 7:13-14, after three challenging chapters, our Lord taught his disciples, and would-be disciples, that the gate by which they must enter, if they would follow him, is a narrow one only a few find. Furthermore, that gate opens onto a hard road. Nothing Pollyanna about this discipleship program. This way was not for those who were looking for something easy and non-committal.
However, there is a road to accommodate those who have such desires. It’s the only other option available and many find and travel it. But its destination is the City of Destruction. The narrow gate, however, which leads to the hard road is the only way that leads to life.
Standards of the Way
Disciples of this way must live a radically countercultural lifestyle. They are poor in spirit, mourn over sin (their own and the world’s), are meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, show mercy, are pure in heart, make peace and willingly accept persecution as the price for such convictions.
They are the salt of the earth and light of the world. They obey the commands of the Lord of the Narrow Way. In fact, their righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
Not only must they not actually murder anyone, but they must not be unrighteously angry with another. These followers of the King must not commit adultery and, moreover, must not even look at another person lustfully, which would be to commit adultery in their hearts. Faithfulness in marriage is expected and required. Truth-telling in all situations is the norm of this Kingdom. Humble submission characterizes those who would enter this gate and walk this road.
Love for both one’s neighbor and one’s enemy is a sign that one follows this way.
Followers of the Hard and Narrow Way give to those in need, do not pray to impress people, and fast in secret. They invest in eternity by storing up treasures in heaven and not on earth. Their trust in God enables them to avoid worrying about their circumstances in this life. Instead, they seek first the Kingdom of God and the righteousness that attends it, and they count on God to provide what is needed for living in this world.
Spiritual self-examination is another mark of these followers. And while they are called to discern between good and bad fruit, right and wrong, that which pleases God and that which doesn’t, they first investigate their own souls and remove that which hinders their pursuit of Christlikeness. Then and only then may they humbly approach a brother or sister to serve them in fighting sin in their life.
There are false prophets on the prowl who, like ferocious wolves in disguise, would lead many down the broad and easy road to the City of Destruction. The fruit they bear is bad which is in marked contrast to the fruit the Lord of the Way requires.
Carrying Our Cross Along the Way
So that leads us back to our text. The gate is narrow and the way is hard, but it leads to life. Furthermore, the cost is great and must be considered before entering through the gate and upon the road. Hatred of the world – even of one’s own family (in comparison to one’s love, allegiance, and submission to Christ) is absolutely required. We must pick up our cross and follow Christ wherever he may go. Becoming a disciple, and living as one, can be fulfilled along no other path. Everything must be given up to be Christ’s disciple. Complete surrender to his lordship is expected. This is normal Christianity, not super spirituality.
It’s not an accident that Jesus closes this thought with these words: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Supernatural ears are a must to truly heed what our Lord is saying. Joyfully obedient self-denial is the norm of the Kingdom of the Hard Road and Narrow Way. There is no room for one’s desire for autonomous freedom (which is really slavery in disguise). The extra baggage, sinful and unbridled love for self and the world, must be discarded at the beginning of the journey, for it will not fit through the narrow gate.
Jesus Is the Gate. Jesus Is the Way.
If all of this seems impossible to you, then you’ve understood perfectly. Left to ourselves, in our fallen, sinful natures with the corrupt mindset and behavior that goes along with it, we cannot enter through such a gate, nor will we even want to. But the good news is that Jesus is the gate through which we enter and the way upon which we walk. To begin that journey we must first kneel before Jesus as our Lord, trust in him alone as our Savior, turn our backs to the wide and easy road we once traveled, and walk along his path in complete dependence upon his Spirit and grace. Then and only then will we be able to experience the abundant and eternal life he has promised those who follow him.
Read through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). What’s your initial reaction to learning about the norms and expectations of the Kingdom found in Jesus’ words? In your own strength, do you think you could realistically expect to fulfill that standard? What “standards” have you heard from others regarding how we should live in this world? What is Christianity’s answer to our sinful condition, to our inability to meet the standard required by God? If you have never sought God’s forgiveness and placed your trust in the work of Christ alone, then humbly pray to the Lord and ask him to help you do just that. Talk to a trusted Christian friend and ask him or her to help you, if necessary.
Grace and Truth,
Deuteronomy 14:2 - …for you are a people holy to the Lord your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession.
God’s Usual Unusual Suspects
The people of Israel were not the largest, richest, or most powerful group on the planet when God chose them. Nor were they the most righteous and obedient. And yet God chose them. In 1 Corinthians 1, the Apostle Paul tells us this is God’s usual mode of operation. He manifests his wisdom and power by choosing, and then raising up, the unwise and weak to serve him. It’s been a fairly effective plan thus far. There was a fairly well known empire that was turned upside-down by the “dregs of society” a couple thousand years ago. It seems to still be working.
What is also striking about this verse is that Israel is referred to as God’s “treasured possession.” What a wonderful way to see oneself – as a treasured possession – something incredibly valuable to God.
Not In Us
When we think of ourselves as such, our first impulse is to agree with the verdict. “Of course I’m treasured by God,” we think. “I have so much raw talent, drive, character, and more. Why wouldn’t I be invaluable to God?” And yet, this sort of thinking is antithetical to biblical truth. There is nothing in ourselves which compels God to choose us. Instead, his choice flows from his own good, perfect, and pleasing will that results in God loving us first.
But to think that those who are in Christ are God’s treasured possessions is an amazing notion. Yet that’s exactly what we are as heirs of the new covenant.
How ought we respond to such news? Humility comes first to mind. There is no room for pride in the biblical worldview. How about gratitude and joy? Yes, there should be plenty of both to be sure. There’s also obedience. We mustn’t forget that. Lives lived in humble, grateful, joyful, and obedient response to the God who first loved us is essential, and should be natural. It should register as an, “of course” response from us.
But does it? Does your life reflect that sense of chosen-ness in which God regards you as his treasured possession? If not, why not make today the day you begin living in humble, grateful, joyful, and obedient response to who God is and what he has done on your behalf.
Why do you think some people want to claim that God owes them love and grace? Do you struggle with that idea? What makes the responses of humility, gratitude, joy, and obedience so hard? Why should they be the natural response to God’s grace? Who do you know who needs to hear the good news that they cannot earn God’s favor, nor do they need to? After praying for them, why not share this good news with them today.
Grace and Truth,
Hebrews 9:26b-28 - But now [Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.  Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,  so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
A Once-for-All Sacrifice
At the end of the ages, our Lord Jesus Christ appeared once and for all to do away with sin by offering himself as a sacrifice – a lamb without blemish. In so doing he ushered in the beginning of the end – the eschaton – the last days. We foolishly think to ourselves that because it is now 2,000 years later, Christ’s day could not possibly have been part of the last days. But what’s a thousand years to an eternal God? Make no mistake about it, Christ ushered in the last days indeed!
And how did he do so? As a once-for-all sacrificial atonement for sin. No longer did a high priest have to offer animal sacrifices for the temporary appeasement of God. God’s own Son, our High Priest, settled the issue once and for all by offering himself in our stead.
Because of this, those who are in Christ no longer face condemnation. We all will die. We all will face God’s judgment. But for those who are in Christ, our sin has been covered and our punishment has been taken by Another. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
Christ will come again. Even so, come Lord Jesus. This has been part of the liturgy of the Church for two millennia. At the end of all things, Christ will appear yet again, and with him will come a new heaven and earth for those who are new creatures in Christ. He will not return as a Lamb but a Lion. He will not come in humiliation but glory. He will come and claim the victory he won at the cross and gather those who have waited on him, are waiting on him, and will wait on him. And he knows each of them by name.
Past, Present, and Future Salvation
As followers of Christ and heirs of his covenant, there is a sense in which we have been saved and a sense in which we are daily being saved as we become increasingly conformed to his likeness. But when our Lord and King appears we will be saved in glory and will rule with him in his Kingdom that knows no end. Isn’t that incredible news more than enough to bring us to our knees in humble adoration, gratitude, and submission in the here and now? Where is our boasting? We boast only in our King.
Our Urgent Call
Finally, if Christ ushered in his Kingdom two thousand years ago, and the spoils of his victory belong to those who are in Christ, then doesn’t it make urgent sense that we who are his joint-heirs should labor, as long as we draw breath, to extend our Lord’s Kingdom into every sphere of life? We want those who do not presently know him, (and the goodness, truth, and beauty of his rule and reign), to have the opportunity to voluntarily bow before him and call him Lord.
Let us make great haste, for no man knows the time of our Lord’s appearing.
Who do you know who doesn’t know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord? Write down their names and commit to praying for them daily. Pray also for God to provide opportunities for you to share with them the greatest news they will ever hear.
Grace and Truth,
Exodus 7:8-13 – The Lord said to Moses and Aaron,  “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a miracle,’ then say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ and it will become a snake.”  So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake.  Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts:  Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.  Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.
Exodus 7:20-22 – Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord had commanded. He raised his staff in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials and struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood.  The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt.  But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said.
Acts 16:16-18 – Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.  This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”  She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
I have never quite understood how the magicians of Egypt could perform the same miracles as Moses and Aaron, at least a few of them. Well, we know that they weren’t exactly the same miracles, but they fooled enough of the people enough of the time to be considered the same.
Let me back up.
Moses and Aaron stood before Pharaoh and his court. Just after Aaron threw his staff to the ground, it became a snake. That would have impressed me. But it didn’t seem to impress Pharaoh. What did he do? He summoned his wise men, sorcerers, and magicians to do the same thing. And they did, sort of. Aaron’s snake ate all of their snakes. God’s little way of reminding folks who’s sovereign and who’s not.
Then there was the scene at the Nile River. It was there Moses and Aaron turned the Nile’s water into blood. That would get my attention. Not Pharaoh. He rounded up his FX artists again and, just like before, had them do the same thing as Moses and Aaron.
In the New Testament Too
This isn’t confined to just the Old Testament. In the New Testament we learn of a slave girl, “who had a spirit by which she predicted the future.” And like so many of the demons who recognized who Jesus really was, this slave girl’s “spirit” understood that Paul and company were “servants of the Most High God,” and were telling the people “the way to be saved.”
In one sense it was good that she (or rather, the spirit in her) recognized who Paul and his companions were. But at the end of the day, it was still a demonic spirit and, by definition, up to no good. That’s why Paul cast out the spirit from the girl in the name of Jesus Christ.
Our Need to Discern
Not all that glitters is gold. Not all miracles are of God. Not all spirituality is Christian spirituality. Not all visions are from God. We make a grave error indeed when we assume, undiscerningly, that any and every sign and wonder is automatically from God. Too much in God’s Word tells us otherwise.
That’s why humility is key here. We must have a teachable spirit. We need to obey God and his Word. Scripture alone must be our final, ultimate, and sufficient authority, not our experience and feelings. The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 4:1,
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
That is wise counsel. And it’s the only sure way we’ll stand firm to the end.
Have you ever experienced someone claiming to have a “word from God” that did not seem to be Scriptural? What are the dangers in accepting such a claim without discernment? How can you “test the spirits to see whether they are from God?” Do you have a strong enough foundation in your knowledge of Scripture to spot false spirits? If not, begin meeting with a couple of people regularly to study and pray over God’s Word together, seeking encouragement, correction, and training from the Lord.
Grace and Truth,
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Walking Points Podcast
If you didn't already know about it, Ian Stake and I have a weekly podcast (about 20 minutes long) in which we discuss key ideas from God's Word to help you follow Christ in every sphere of your life. Click here to listen to previous episodes.
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