“James, a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1)
In order to appreciate God’s grace fully, we often need a lesson from the past. In James’ epistle, he encourages Jewish Christians to live out their faith in spite of difficult circumstances. He wrote to them saying, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). James never taught that people were saved by their works, but that true faith, faith that is “living”, works out practically in one’s life. There are many important lessons in the book of James, but I want us to see the lesson of the grace of God as displayed in the life of James. In the opening of his letter, James, the brother of Jesus describes himself as a servant. But James had a past. Having grown up alongside of Jesus, witnessing His childhood and His public ministry, James rejected Jesus as Messiah (John 7:5). It was only upon Jesus’ resurrection that James believed. So why would Jesus have any use for James after he had denied Him for all those years?
You and I have a past as well. The title of this devotion is not meant to imply that God’s grace is in some way obscure, but to show that it permeates all of Scripture, even where we may not readily see it. God’s grace is displayed not only in what the Holy Spirit inspired James to write, but also that after years of unbelief, he was allowed to write it. James becoming a leader in the church of Jerusalem and known as one of its “pillars” has wonderful implications for you and me. He is a testimony of God’s grace. No matter how long you have been in denial about Jesus Christ, when you believe, God can use you in a mighty way. God’s grace is free flowing and when truly received, like it did with James, it will affect change in our lives. So, look for God’s grace in His Word; even in the places it may not seem obvious. Think about how God has shown His grace to you and respond to Him in a manner worthy of that grace.
Father, what a gracious God you are. You displayed that grace prominently in how you used James although he didn’t believe Jesus to be Messiah until after the resurrection. But you revealed yourself to Him, changed him and used him for your glory. Thank you for that same grace you’ve shown me. Let it continue to change me that I may bring you glory as well.
Who among us doesn’t have a past filled with a certain amount of regret for sinful things we have done? Yet how many among us have been recipients of God’s amazing grace? Newt Gingrich certainly has a past and as he has admitted, it is a past full of regret. How could any of us have missed the recent media attention surrounding his failed marriage just days before the Republican primary election in South Carolina? My intent is not to justify Newt Gingrich’s past or to act as if there aren’t any consequences for his actions because there are. He’s suffering those consequences right now. Before you think I am, let me say that personally, I’m still undecided on who to support for President. But I do want to highlight a point I believe should be made. I have heard Newt explain his regret for past failures and how he has sought God for forgiveness for his sins. I take him at his word because I know that I have been forgiven for mine just as I assume you have as well.
Scripture tells us that “as far as the east is from the west, so far does God remove our sins from us” (Psalm 103:12). Do you know that King David wrote this psalm? Do you know that David committed adultery among other sins? And do you know that it is through David’s line that Jesus Christ, the Messiah came? In fact, Jesus is referred to as the son of David (Matthew 1:1). What about the apostle Paul? He persecuted Christians prior to his faith in Jesus Christ. But once converted, Paul was a changed man, writing thirteen letters of the New Testament. Do we forgo those letters because of the apostle Paul’s past? Of course not! How gracious a God we have? How great a recipient of His grace have you been? That grace comes because of Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross. When we truly receive God’s grace, we are eager to show grace to others.
Perhaps the consequences of Newt Gingrich’s past failures are that he will not be President. So be it, but don’t hold his past against him as a man. This is not a political endorsement. This is about forgiveness and grace. Why is it not possible that we could find greater joy in seeing a changed man glorify God than to watch as imperfect people repeatedly seek to destroy him? We have all sinned and fallen short of who God calls us to be. Like each of us, time will tell if Newt Gingrich is a changed man as it will be displayed in how he lives his life going forward. God’s grace should bring about a pattern of obedience and though it will never be perfect, our desire should be that it will be. But this we can be sure of, we have a Savior whose obedience was perfect. His name is Jesus and those who have faith in Him stand forgiven, be it you, me or Newt.
Imagine that, someone being criticized for publicly displaying their faith. Not really shocking considering the times we live in. American Atheists, a New Jersey based group that advocates separation of church and state, has decided that they can stand in judgment of Tim Tebow’s public displays of faith. David Silverman, president of the group, claims that Tebow is only popular because he injects his Christianity into his trade and says injecting religion into football divides the fan base. He goes on to say Tebow is “full of crap” when he displays his Christian faith on the playing field, accusing him of praying only when the cameras are pointed in his direction. And then to top it off, Silverman says that if Tebow is truly a Christian, he would pray in private, not in public. He states, “It is not surprising Tebow ignores Matthew 6:5 in which Jesus says, ‘When you pray, do not pray like the hypocrites in the street. They pray to be seen praying. Pray in the closet.’”
Tim Tebow doesn’t need anyone defending him, because he already has a Defender. And there are times when, quite frankly, great ignorance is best left without a response, but not this time. Mr. Silverman’s own hypocrisy needs to exposed for what it is. First, for someone who believes there is no Judge to then judge Tim Tebow for what he is or is not, I find quite interesting. Here you have a case of a person who doesn’t believe in absolute truth proclaiming absolute truth about Tebow’s motives. Do you see the contradiction? If that’s not enough, Mr. Silverman then takes God’s Word (though he doesn’t think it is God’s Word) and to tries to use it to make his case. Now that’s the irony of all ironies, which brings me to a second point. Mr. Silverman, if you’re going to use Scripture to make a point, try using it rightly and don’t take the passage out of context. Public and private prayer in Jesus’ day was both common and valuable. In Matthew 6:5, Jesus wasn’t saying only to pray in private, but was instead emphasizing the need for doing things for the right reasons. He was pointing out the need to check one’s own motivation before piously praying only to be seen. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day showed great hypocrisy in this regard. In Matthew 6:5, Jesus was dealing with a matter of the heart.
Mr. Silverman, you can’t see Tim Tebow’s heart, nor do you know his or anyone else’s motives for public displays of their Christian faith. But I assure you that God sees his heart and knows his motives just as he sees mine and yours as well. Mr. Silverman, don’t presume to be the judge of Tim Tebow, for there is but one Judge whom all of us will stand before one day. You might ask yourself how He might judge you.
Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Known as the Great Commission, this command is for all of us. The apostle Paul lived that command. For twenty years, he ministered alongside Timothy, a young man who joined him during the second missionary journey. When Paul wrote his last letter, he knew his death would come soon. Knowing that, he chose to write Timothy. Naturally, he had a number of things on his mind, but the primary purpose for writing Timothy was to encourage him as he carried on the faithful ministry of the gospel. Paul knew truth was under attack.
“…what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2) I imagine after twenty years there was probably very little that Timothy did not know and had not seen Paul live out in his own life. Paul’s message to Timothy was to take those lessons he had learned and pass them on to other faithful men who would fight preserve the truth of the gospel. What you see in this passage is Paul living out discipleship. Paul battled for the truth in many ways. He was a committed evangelist, missionary, pastor and church planter, but Paul was also committed to discipleship as evidenced by his relationship with Timothy. The word disciple means learner and is characterized by one faithful person teaching another.
The truth that was attacked in Paul’s day is also under attack today. Discipleship is a means God uses to protect truth, but unfortunately it is greatly lacking in the church today as evidenced by its weakness in standing up to cultural changes that conflict with what God has made clear in His Word. James Montgomery Boice comments that a fatal defect in the church is a lack of true commitment to discipleship. He says one of the reasons for problems in the church is a defective theology that “separates faith from discipleship, and grace from obedience. A theology that teaches Jesus can be received as one’s Savior without being received as one’s Lord. Discipleship is not some supposed second step in Christianity, as if one first became a believer in Jesus and then, if he chooses a disciple.” Obviously, in order for discipleship to be what it should be, our theology must be correct. Paul’s of course was, therefore his writings, as well as the writings of others, and his life serve as an appropriate model for you and me. More importantly, Jesus calls us to discipleship. Are you a disciple? Are you learning from a man or woman that is more mature in the Christian faith to help you grow in your walk with the Lord? Are you leading men or women in discipleship? If not, will you commit to? This is what all Christians are called to do, so, “Go therefore…”