Jeremiah 7 (selected verses) and Galatians 5 (selected verses)
As was often the case in the life of Israel, God was not happy with them. They brought it upon themselves. Israel’s history went something like this: God would first save them and then establish or reestablish a covenant with them. In response, Israel would repent, and then, after the good times were rolling, Israel would commit spiritual adultery (i.e., run off after foreign lovers). Predictably, after her disobedience (and the subsequent punishment for said disobedience), Israel would routinely cry out to God, be mercifully heard by him, and the whole process would start all over again.
It is Israel’s response to idolatrous and adulterous false teaching that our texts deal with today. The Lord, through Jeremiah, tells his people that if they are going to be allowed to continue to live in peace, then they are going to have to reform their ways and their actions (v. 3).
Verses 5-7 serve as a warning against wrong behavior and an encouragement for right behavior.
If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly,  if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm,  then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever.
So why would God’s people act disobediently? Verse 8 gives us a clue: They were trusting in deceptive words that were worthless.
Again, God says to them in verse 23,
…Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you.
God wanted so much to bless them, but he wasn’t kidding about what would happen if they didn’t obey him. However, they must have thought he was, for we read these sobering words in verse 24,
But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward.
God’s people were stubbornly committed to their sin… and for that sin we discover God’s indictment regarding them. Verse 28 tells us that truth had perished…that it had vanished from their lips.
Because they were no longer trusting in God’s Word, but trusting in the deceptive words of false teachers instead, they were soon to experience the wrath of God.
There’s a similar story in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul was bewildered with the Galatian Church. They had heard and responded to the pure Word of God as Paul had preached it. But, like God’s people in an earlier generation, many of the Galatians began trusting in deceptive words. They were being enticed to mix the finished work of Christ with their own works as a means of salvation. Paul was dumbfounded at such a move. We read in verses 7 and 8…
You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?  That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.
God, through Paul, was warning them (and us) that such deceptive words were (are) like a little yeast, which works through a whole batch of dough (v. 9). It infects it like a disease. In the Bible, yeast often symbolizes evil or a false teaching.
When people begin to listen to deceptive words rather than the Word of God, trouble is sure to follow. Satan, the father of deceptive words, is not stupid. He will show us the worm, but not the hook. He will never show us the consequences that must follow his deceptive words. Instead, his words will always appear quite enticing, beautiful, practical, and relevant.
That is why everything must be tested against God’s Word – the Word properly understood. Even the best of intentions can be marred by deception. The church must constantly be on her guard against such yeast that seeks to contaminate her whole body. Whether it is what is preached from the pulpit, what is taught in a Bible study, the administration of a committee, or what programs are being implemented for evangelism, service or mercy, the church must always make sure she is taking her cues from God’s Word.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but today’s texts reveal that the church has not always gotten this right. In fact, the history of the church shows us over and over again what a little yeast can do. Even a cursory glance at the contemporary church scene shows plenty of evidence of the very idolatry and adultery that Jeremiah and Paul warned against.
So stand firm against all deceptive words. Cling to God and his Word as the only sure light by which to deal with the world, the flesh and the devil. Only with and through God’s Word may we know the one true God and his Son, Jesus Christ, whom he sent. That alone is eternal life (John 17:3).
Grace and Truth,
When I was in seminary I had a spiritual mentor who offered wonderful direction for my life. Furthermore, his life matched what he taught. One of the things that stood out about him was his love for God’s Word. I believe his love for Scripture was one of the key influences on my life.
He used to talk about a dear friend of his who, every time they would see each other would ask, “Got any fresh bread for me?” The goal of the question was to find out if these two brothers in Christ had been spending time in God’s Word. And not just within the last week or two…but that day. Was the bread FRESH?
Our Lord referred to himself as the Bread of Life. One of the chief ways we encounter him is when we meditate upon his Word day and night. His Spirit fills us and ministers to us when we do.
Interestingly, Jesus teaches us to ask God, in prayer, to give us each day our daily bread. The implication is that we need to depend on God DAILY for his gracious provision. To make such a request each day reminds us that we are in constant need of him and what he supplies – whether it’s spiritual, physical, or emotional nourishment.
The children of Israel were taught the same lesson. After they had escaped from Egypt they wandered around, not quite sure where they were heading. And they were hungry…which didn’t help their attitudes much.
Therefore, God is his great mercy, promised them food – manna from heaven. But there was a stipulation about this divine sustenance: One could gather only enough manna for each day (except on the day before the Sabbath…when one could gather enough for two days). No storing was allowed. In fact, if they tried to store the manna it would begin to rot immediately. Why? I suspect for two reasons, at least. The first reason is the same as why Jesus told us to pray daily for our bread; it shows our continual dependence upon God.
The second reason, I imagine, has a great deal to do with our fallen human nature. If God had set no limits on how often the manna could be gathered (and that it wouldn’t spoil if it was stored for more than a day), I believe the children of Israel would have started to believe that they, and not God, were responsible for meeting their needs. They would have robbed God of his glory. They may have begun to actually believe that they were smart enough, righteous enough, industrious enough to diligently collect, store, and even sell the bread.
God’s message was clear: “You must depend on me each and every day. My grace will have to be sufficient for you. Trust me…I’m all you need.”
So it is in our spiritual lives. We must turn to God each and every day. We can’t store up enough grace on Sunday morning and coast on it the rest of the week. We need fresh bread to sustain us. This is how we abide in Christ and how he abides in us.
Let us join with the psalmist who knew the joy and delight of feeding on God’s fresh bread…
How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.
 I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.
 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
 Praise be to you, O Lord; teach me your decrees.
 With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth.
 I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.
 I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.
 I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
Thanks be to God,
Nehemiah 13:2 – “Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.”
What the devil and the world mean for evil, God can use for good. He is a Romans 8:28-kind-of-God. He can turn curses, ill-will, and hate-filled words, thoughts and actions aimed at us into blessings. But to be honored in such a way, we must honor him (1 Samuel 2:30).
The priests in Malachi 1 and 2 did not honor God in such a way. Thus, God vividly reminded these “spokesmen and ministers of his” that blessings can also be turned into curses. In Malachi 2:1-2, God declares…
“And now this admonition is for you, O priests. If you do not listen, and if you do not ‘I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not set your heart to honor me.’”
A covenantal relationship involves God’s promises of blessings and curses. To even be offered a covenantal relationship with Almighty God is an expression of grace.
Why, then, do we dishonor God? Why do we show contempt for his blessings? Why wouldn’t we want to experience all that he has to offer those who honor him?
Lord, I’m a fool. Forgive me for not honoring you with everything I say, do and think. Enable me, by the power of your Spirit, to honor you in every sphere of my life and with all that I am. Amen.
Grace and Truth,
Question: How do you think a spiritually alive person learns what to desire and how to obtain it? (cf. Colossians 1:9-14 and Philippians 1:9-11)
Answer: Here are some bullet points of what the texts above reveal…
We must pray non-stop, asking God to fill us with the knowledge of God’s will – through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.
We must pray that we may live a life worthy of the gospel – of our Lord – and that we may please him in every way.
We must pray that we will bear fruit in every good work and that we may grow in the knowledge of God – strengthened with all power…with God’s might.
We must pray that we will have great endurance and patience.
We must pray that our love abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight. This will enable us to discern what is best. It will enable us to be pure and blameless until Christ returns. It will fill us with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. This will glorify God and be a praise offering to him.
And yet, God will not give us such wisdom, knowledge, discernment, depth of insight, etc., just because we want it…just because we ask for it. To be sure, we can’t obtain such things without him, but we will not receive these gifts and graces without active participation on our part.
I believe this is what it means to “let the words of Christ dwell in us richly” (Col. 3:16). This is surely what Jesus meant when he said that we are to abide or remain in him and he and his words will abide or remain in us (John 15).
God fills us with his Spirit (Eph. 5:18) as we pursue him for all we’re worth in prayer and digging deeply into his Word (i.e., more than a two minute devotional). We must study God’s Word, meditate upon it, share it, teach it to others, and obey it. This is how God’s Word abides in us and dwells in us richly.
This is how the Holy Spirit conforms us into the likeness of Christ. It’s how he transforms us – through the
renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). It’s how we begin the process of offering our bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord (Rom. 12:1)…of growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).
To restate the prayers of Paul from Colossians and Philippians, it’s how we are enabled (including even given the desire to be enabled) to live lives worthy of the gospel, lives that will please God, lives that will bear fruit in every good work, lives that will be pure and blameless until Christ returns.
Sanctification – or growing in holiness or Christlikeness – will happen in no other way. Nothing truly worth having or achieving happens easily and without effort and intentionality…including this. But the reward will be far greater than we can even imagine.
Grace and Truth,
John 8:23-24, 31-32 – But [Jesus] continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.  I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Jesus rarely, if ever, beat around the bush. Time was precious to him, so he usually cut straight to the chase. He knew how to get the attention of his hearers. In our Scripture, Jesus shares with those to whom he is speaking (including us) several important facts about them and the world in which they lived.
1.) They are worldlings (i.e., they operate under the dominion of Satan and the patterns of this sinful, fallen, enslaving world.)
2.) Jesus lived in the world but was not under its influence as they were. (in vs. of)
3.) As such, they were going to die in their sins.
4.) They must believe Jesus’ claims about himself if they were going to be set free from dying in their sins.
5.) To “believe” must mean more (though not less) than simple intellectual recognition, or even, acceptance of data. To those who had professed belief in him (verse 31), Jesus emphasized that they must “hold to his teaching” if they were truly his disciples.
6.) Therefore, only by genuine faith in Christ – which “holds to” (i.e., obeys) his teaching – can a person know the truth (Jesus is the truth – John 14:6 – and so is God’s Word – John 17:17). It is also by this means of believing or faith that a person will, therefore, be set free (freed from sin, liberated from the fate of worldlings, etc.).
True biblical, God-glorifying faith in Christ has teeth to it. It’s got a practicality to it that demands to be noticed. It’s very unlikely that the early church was so heavily persecuted and martyred simply because they “intellectually believed” the claims of Jesus…and then told others they needed to do the same to go to heaven.
Instead, because they believed Jesus was who he claimed to be, (that he was the Way to be freed from sin, the Lord of Life, the Savior of the World, etc.), and that they loved him for first loving them, they obeyed him. Put another way: They put their faith into practice.
It was as their faith in Christ permeated every sphere of their lives that they began being noticed by the worldlings around them. It was this authentic non-conformity to the world around them that led to their persecution. They refused to be “squeezed into the mold” of this world.
If we would be people of the truth, we must first be Christ’s disciples. If we would be his disciples, we must believe in him, believe him, and obey him. Nothing less is worthy of one who is the true Lord and King of the universe – which includes this world. The pretenders to the Throne notwithstanding, (their reign after all is finite and temporary), our allegiance must be to Christ alone. And that allegiance has a shape to it. It is not merely the intellectual ascent of a few doctrinal propositions (though it contains an element of that). It is not primarily a warm-fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach. It is far more. Allegiance to Christ is incarnational. It has skin on it. If we would be his, we must submit to his Lordship – his absolute authority – by obeying him in every sphere of our lives. Only then can we claim to be his disciples.
PS – This is a devotional piece. Thus, I have not qualified every sentence and covered everything I’ve written with a, “now I don’t mean this…” sort of statement. Yet, I feel the need to add that I have written much on salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone as central to my worldview. The “shape of faith and allegiance to Christ” that I have focused on in this devotion flow from the salvation won by Christ alone and received through faith alone. Nothing that I have written here, I pray, should lead anyone toward works-righteousness. Thanks.
Grace and Truth,