Let’s start with a question. Now, you do not have to raise your hand, stand up, and share your answer out loud; keep your answer in your mind. Since your answer remains yours, don’t worry about someone laughing at you. Don’t fret if you cannot answer the question. Form the best answer you can. Alright? Here it is: What is the first sin?
Remember, God creates a marvelous paradise. The days are never too hot or too cold, never too humid or too dry. Streams water every plant, preventing drought. Prey and predator live together. No aches. No death. No arguments. No division. No fighting. No bickering.
Yet, you know what happens next. The devil slithers up to Adam and Eve. He points at the God-forbidden tree and hisses: Did God really say, ‘You cannot eat?’ How do the two respond? Eve eats! Adam watches! (Genesis 3:1-6).
So, returning to the question: What is the first sin? Eating the fruit? Nope. That action exposes disobedience, but dig deeper. Touching the tree? No. Listening to the devil? Close, but remember, being tempted is not a sin. (Jesus is tempted, but does not sin [Matthew 4:1-11].) The first sin is Eve deciding that she possesses the right to step out from under God’s command and eat. At the same time, Adam decides that he possesses the right to stand by and say nothing. Simply put, the first sin is rebellion.
That’s how the Bible defines ‘sin.’ Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). The rebellious nature of Adam and Eve have trickled down through the ages, through every human heart, and remain the inherited rebellion we still struggle against today. Our rebellious sinful nature remains self-serving— pitting you (and me) against others and against your God. The remedy? Submit Yourself to God. Because God destroys the proud and God exalts the humble.
That’s what James says, Submit yourselves, then, to God. ‘Submitting’ sounds so restrictive, something maybe considered negative. That you lose freedom to make personal choices. That someone else controls your life. That you lose self-identity and all the unique, individual characteristics that make ‘you,’ you.
The devil does such a tremendous job to sour the word ‘submit’ so that we carry a misconstrued understanding and do not want to embrace it. You see that, don’t you? He hisses to Adam and Eve: Did God really say? The question is his method to lure people out from under God’s command, evaluate its fairness, and then form their own conclusions. So, both Adam and Eve step away from God’s command. They evaluate if God might be withholding something beneficial from them. Then they conclude that God’s command is ‘wrong’ and their choice is ‘better!’ They sit in authority over God.
Even when they are caught, that un-submitting heart goes through such great lengths to defend and justify its independence. God approaches Adam, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Genesis 3:11). How does Adam respond? Slander. Speak poorly of Eve’s character. “Hey, God, that woman picked the fruit. She put it into my hands. She made me eat it. She did the wrong!” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” (3:13). How does Eve respond? Judge. Determine what aspects of God’s command do and do not apply to her. “God, never mind me. Let me tell you what the serpent did wrong. He lied to me. He’s the one who told me to do wrong. Punish him.”
James says, Anyone who speaks against [slander] his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. Adam & Eve find fault with God’s expected applications of his command. Then they form new exceptions for their behavior. Yet, When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. The created exalt themselves over the Creator. They tell God what they will obey. Then, they hold each other to their own manmade standards.
You do not have to search long for more examples of the created exalting itself over the Creator. That same puffed-up heart of pride is the natural condition of our hearts as well. God’s command is clear: Worship the Lord your God and serve him only (Matthew 22:37). How is that treated? The devil lures us to step out from under Jesus’ expectation. Then we evaluate if Sunday worship fits into our weekend schedule. If it does, then we go; if it does not, then we put God on hold. You see, we, the created, have just determined how we will execute God’s command. We have determined how and when we will obey. (Maybe more shocking, is when defend our choice!)
Or, Christians are people who follow Christ. They love Christ; they cherish his Word. You (and I) have countless opportunities to spend moments with God outside of worship. We have two Bible class times. You carry home devotions. You have Bibles at your house. Yet, out of the heart comes all these excuses as to why God does not fit into your schedule! We can make time for friends at a moment’s notice, but know in advance learning opportunities— and then we just cannot commit. Even when the heart’s excuses are exposed as the excuses they truly are, then turn on the one who exposes it in the first place. “Pastor’s wrong! My Christian parents are wrong! The church is wrong! But never me!” Why is everyone else wrong? Because the heart steps out from God’s command, evaluates it, and decides to reject inconvenient truths for its own pleasures!
You see, that sinful nature is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law (Romans 8:7). It leaves you (and I) daring to stand before God, open up his Word, point out what it teaches, and then say, “I don’t want to listen.” You might believe in your heart of hearts that you can somehow deceive God. That does not see your hidden faults. That he is unaware of your secret, underlying motives. You might believe you can dupe God into believing something not true. That God actually thinks you do have a legitimate reason to ignore him. That God actually condones worldly living. Yet, James sounds the warning: There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. That person is not you. That person is not me. When you leave this life, God will take the seat as Judge and he will execute his authority to punish every lawbreaker. Those who fail to Submit to God will find God destroys the proud.
James does not mince words. He stresses the seriousness of our behavior so that we step back, evaluate our own actions, and approach our God with the right heart. Because those who Submit to God will find God exalts the humble.
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Remember, James speaks to you (and me), Christians. The only reason we would ever want to come near to God is that God has already made us his children. He has put his name on you at your baptism (Matthew 28:19). When we have wandered from his Word, it is the Word that shatters pride. The Word reveals that without God, we are forever lost.
Submit Yourself to God and God will draw near to you. How? God approaches you through his Word. There, he shows you (and me) Jesus. The One who has come to obey his Father (John 6:38). The One in whom there is no deceit (1 Peter 2:22). In the Bible, you again hear the Father say, “Jesus has amputated your wild heart and has placed his obedient heart inside of you. You want proof? This new life became yours in baptism. Baptism has washed your guilt away (1 Peter 3:21). Baptism created faith; baptism gives you a new way of life. You want more proof? Then approach the altar. Receive Jesus’ body and blood that was broken for you, that was poured out to make the payment you could never make.” Draw near to God, turn your attention to the Word, and the pride comes down, and God again assures you: “I remember your rebellion no more. You still have full rights as my child.”
And when you (and I) stumble and fail again, when the Word convicts and crushes you as the lawbreaker you are, draw near to God and God will draw near to you. In the front of our hymnal, in the ‘Common Service,’ how does it begin? “Beloved in the Lord: Let us draw near (or approach) God with a true heart…” an honest heart that will not hide or distort the facts. Wash your hands, you sinners. Wash away, remove the actions you know are wrong. Remove the excuses you create to stay away from the Word. Throw away the excuses as to why you can knowingly embrace the wrong. That is moral filth and God has washed you holy.
[P]urify your hearts, you double-minded. Until the day you enter heaven, you will struggle between two choices: For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing (Romans 7:19) Yet, Jesus has purified your heart (and mine). Look to the cross; see him wipe away every blemish, every stain. God sees you as pure and holy in his sight. This love is the motivation to serve with happy and willing hearts.
Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. No, not that God wants you to stop laughing or to mope around. Rather, do not rejoice or embrace the sin you know is wrong. Instead, Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. And he has. Christ has set you free from death in hell. He has set you free from seeing his commands as slavish bondage. Now, he has transformed your view of his commands. These Words form a loving God that preserve your life to heaven.
As you live under him, you resist the devil. The devil will still hiss his seductive whispers: Did God really say? The question is his method to lure people out from under God’s command, evaluate its fairness, and then form their own conclusions. Yet, submit to God’s Word and the devil flees. Why? Because God’s Word exposes the devil as the liar he is. It tells him that his promises are empty and that you do not want empty promises.
Submission is not enslaving. It does not strip away personal freedom or remove self-identity. Rather, living under God means you share in his heavenly victory. You remain close to him. You purge the sin that seeks to snag you into death. You live exalted as an heir of heaven.
That carries implications. The first sin is Adam and Eve appointing themselves as god. No matter what sin exists today, they all remain the same at their very core. Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). It declares the self-appointed right to be God. Nothing could be further from the truth.
You (and I) have one God, one Law-Giver who obeys. One Judge who declares us “not guilty!” through the life of Jesus! So, what does that mean for you? You are not condemned (Romans 8:1). Instead, you are free! Free to lay aside pride. Free to wear humility. Free to serve the needs of each other. Our rebellious sinful nature remains self-serving— pitting you (and me) against others and against your God. The remedy? Submit Yourself to God. Because God destroys the proud and God exalts the humble
Last Sunday I shared two phrases, phrases most had little trouble answering. So, since they were so simple, let’s review. Like before, I will start the phrase and if you know it, then finish it. (You can even say the words out loud). Okay? Alright, here they are:
Both phrases present two realities: (1) Actions reveal appropriate character and (2) Words reveal appropriate actions. Ducks have feathers, waddle around, and quack. Put those sights and sounds together and you can determine this creature must be a duck. Actions reveal appropriate character; the actions of this duck reveal it to be a duck. Or, a football player brags that he can outrun and out-jump any defender. He must prove the truthfulness of his words with actions because words reveal appropriate actions. What is inside must agree with outside actions.
That is why James said [last week]: Faith without works is dead (2:17). Christianity is more than just having knowledge of Bible teachings; Christianity is a lifestyle. Christians learn the Bible’s teachings and then put those teachings into practice. Faith inside is revealed with outside actions.
Today, you gain proper perspective for Christian living. You Sow peace and reap righteousness from the Real Wisdom that Comes from Above.
That’s where James directs our attentions this morning. Up. “Who is wise and understanding among you?” he asks. We often hear those words in the Bible: ‘wisdom’ and ‘understanding.’ Yet, “wisdom” and “understanding” is more than having good advice or being smart. “Wisdom” is knowing by personal experience (or from the experience of others) what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ “Understanding” means putting knowledge to work. So, for example, experience teaches that touching a hot stovetop is dangerous. You prove yourself wise if you know this truth. You demonstrate understanding when you take this knowledge [stovetops are hot] and properly apply it [do not touch hot stovetops].
So, James asks, “Are you wise in knowing what behavior pleases God? Do you put that proper knowledge into action?” By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness [or, humility] of wisdom. There it is again! Your faith reveals itself with actions. Usually we boast about what we know with diplomas and certificates, with success and experience. Yet, Christians do not boast about behavior, they prove wisdom with actions. Those who know God’s Word, know God’s command to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (James 2:8). That command is applied by laying aside self-importance and humbly serving the needs of others.
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. Just let those words sink in for a moment. This is how the world tends to operate. A wife exaggerates her emotions in order to manipulate her husband into satisfying her demands. If someone gets cut off on the road, blast the horn and flip the finger. Shred reputations so that you can promote yourself. Bitter jealousy treats others with anger and resentment. Selfish ambition does not consider the needs of friends, family, or strangers. Instead, jealous selfishness fights for personal advancement.
Compare that worldly behavior to the Godly wisdom described in verse 13 and you realize selfish jealousy is the opposite of humility! This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. God does not equip you with gifts of jealousy and selfishness. Jealousy and selfishness comes from the devil!
And you realize which wisdom you adopt when you compare your actions to God’s Word. You (and I) live in the world. That means, you (and I) will constantly encounter this attitude of self-promotion. That means, you (and I) will face constant temptations to adopt that attitude of self-promotion.
Little-by-little the devil curls you onto yourself, and he begins inflating this effort to protect your pride. The first step to protecting pride starts by creating a list of expectations. You crave (1) kindness and respect. You demand (2) unquestioned obedience to your wants. You expect (3) your plans to always happen! Your chief goal becomes getting your way. So, step two controls others in order to fulfill your demands. If you want your daughter’s attention, then call her. Gripe. Complain. Selfishly promote your desire for attention by questioning her commitment to you. If you’re jealous of your neighbor’s wealth, then attack him. Criticize his character. Label him ‘greedy,’ a ‘cheat,’ ‘uncaring.’ Take away his reputation so that you appear mightier in the eyes of the world. If your sibling attacks you, then hold a grudge. Stop talking— no— do not even try to make an effort to talk. Ignore her; pretend he does not exist. Selfishly refuse the need to admit your fault. Instead, force them to come to you!
You see, the devil tempts you (and me) to look inward. The sinful nature elevates itself. The world preaches to guard for your needs above anything else! That earthly sermon has been preached so long that eventually you (and I) get used to it. But God sounds the alarm: “This earthly wisdom is not from me!” If you care only about your needs, then you are embracing a wisdom that comes from the devil. You embrace a wisdom that rejects the words of others and only cares about the words of you. Left unchecked, you will eventually ignore God’s Word. Try to cover up your intentions if you want. Yet, your actions will prove if you lie and go against the truth— that in reality selfish jealousy rules the heart.
James draws a clear distinction between two kinds of wisdom. (1) One lines up with God and his Word by serving others. (2) The other partners with the devil by serving the all-important demands of self. Look up, and you will find the Real Wisdom that Comes from Above.
That ‘wisdom’ is knowing what pleases God. As you look up, you naturally stop looking at your own needs. You look up at the Son of Man who did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). He sees selfishness reign among his disciples, selfishness that only seeks self-promotion. Instead of reminding each one of his title as the Almighty, Eternal Son of God, he wears a crown of thorns. He allows nails to be pounded through his hands. He hangs from a cross while crowds turn their noses up and shake their heads, thinking themselves so much more moral than Jesus. Yet, Jesus’ perfectly moral life spills over our immorally self-seeking lives. Jesus looks so lowly on the cross, but rises in authority. He has the authority to give you a pretty powerful title as well: ‘Heir of the kingdom.’
Real Wisdom Comes from Above. Jesus has the knowledge to (1) know God’s commands. He has the understanding to (2) put those commands into perfect practice. Then he serves you. With his life, he satisfies God’s anger. With his life, he removes any need for self-promotion.
[T]he wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. From where does this wisdom come? From above. Look up and realize you own the most priceless object of all. Heaven is something you could never earn. You are not entitled to eternal life. This is a gift— won and handed to you from the most significant Person of all time. That wisdom comes down into your life from the Word, that is, the Bible. When our attentions drift from the Word, our hearts will begin drifting into worldly wisdom that only divides and destroys. Remain in the Word and gain the proper perspective for Christian living. Sow peace, reap righteousness.
And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. Take that verse piece-by-piece. First, you see the results: a harvest of righteousness. Imagine riding on your tractor, cutting hay, but instead of hay, you harvest righteousness (that which is ‘right’). You will gather up all this good stuff and it will benefit you. How did this “righteousness” get there? People of peace planted seeds of peace. Those who carry the peace and patience of God in their individual lives, reflect it to the world. They Sow peace with their words and actions; they reap righteousness.
Sow peace among your relationships and reap righteousness. Yes, some of you have been wronged. Relationships within your family are strained. Conversations are awkward. You feel forgotten. Thinking about your sibling makes your blood pressure rise. What do you do? Remember: Sow peace, reap righteousness.
Begin with you: identify if the anger is really valid. Are you holding grudges because your friend took something away from you, and so now you will take something away from her? “She crashed my car, so I will never forgive her!” “He called me names, I will never forget that!” “They gave me no inheritance, I will sue for something!” The world says, “Get revenge!” Your sinful nature screeches, “Make them suffer!” The devil hisses, “Get even!” That is not wisdom, that is foolishness. Holding onto grudges only sows anger; you will deal in anger and people will respond in anger. That will only make life more miserable, more lonely, more empty— and more importantly, it tarnishes the patience with which God deals with you.
So, if a grudge festers in your heart, reflect on it. If you are simply defending your pride or wrestling for control, then look up and find wisdom from above. See how God does not defend his pride, but humbles himself to die for you. See how God does not wave guilt over your head, but forgives freely. You know that wisdom. Loved by God, you love others. Sow peace in your relationships, and reap peace in relationships.
Yes, sometimes you must address a painful issue. You may have to address verbal attacks and hurtful actions. If so, remember: sow peace. You are not trying to win an argument, you are trying to win a person. Be gentle with words. Sometimes well-meaning things come out wrong. Be gentle and patient. Be wise to know some issues are better addressed another day with better opportunities.
Damage done will never be undone. Yet, your sowing of peace seeks to repair the brokenness of that damage. Sometimes hurt is put in the past— and if it is, then good! Keep it in the past! Nothing good comes from dredging up past wrongs. The only reason it will be brought up is to stoke selfish ambition. Sow peace to reap peace. Sometimes hurt festers. The other person does not listen and you recognize that. Deal with each other in peace. If anger starts simmering, then move yourself out of that situation. Keep peace by not letting anger get a foothold in you. Real Wisdom Comes from Above. Look up, and you gain motivation to sow peace and reap righteousness.
Christianity is more than just having knowledge of Bible teachings; Christianity is a lifestyle. You put Bible’s teachings into practice. Your faith inside is revealed with outside actions.
It’s not always easy to do, is it? Honestly, it’s difficult. Humility is difficult if our eyes remained locked on self-seeking interests. That’s why God gives you his Word. So that you can look up. Look up and you see what you have gained. Forgiveness and freedom from hellish consequences. Forgiveness and the freedom to live for God today. Forgiveness and freedom for eternal life. Look up and Gain proper perspective for Christian living. Motivated by God’s love for you, Sow peace, reap righteousness. You know this. You are understanding. Look up and find that Real Wisdom Comes from Above.
Let’s start a little differently today. I have two phrases in mind, phrases I believe are common, but I’m not entirely sure. So, I will start the phrase and if you know it, then say the words out loud. Okay? Alright, here they are:
We could also add another phrase to our list: Faith without Works is Dead. Christian living is more than simply speaking your intention to live a God-pleasing life; Christian living means that you actually do live a God-pleasing life. Because Faith produces God-pleasing living and God-pleasing living is evidence of faith.
Let’s make sure we understand that point. Verse 17 does say: [F]aith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. At first, it sounds as though God gives you faith, but faith is not enough to save you; you must do your part, you must do something. You must live as a Christian in order to prove that you truly are a Christian. You must pray. You must go to church. You must be patient, be kind, be forgiving, be generous. If you do these things, then God will finish saving you. Yet, that’s not what the Bible teaches, nor does our reading teach that.
The Bible clearly teaches that God saves you by grace. ‘Grace’ means ‘undeserved love.’ Or, we could put it this way: God does not treat you (and me) as we deserve (Psalm 103:10). God commands: Love me! Love each other! Do this always and you will enter heaven (Luke 10:27-28). Yet, being bored in worship is not showing love for God. Self-righteously pointing out faults does not demonstrate love for your friends. Breaking God’s commands makes us lawbreakers, people who fall under judgment. We deserve hell. Instead, God forgives us, removing our death-sentence.
That forgiveness is a gift, a free present. You did not earn it. You did not choose to receive this gift (1 Corinthians 12:3). God declares you (and me) ‘not guilty’ for sin— without any conditions attached (Romans 3:24). That verdict— that ‘not-guilty’-sentence— is your possession through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). Faith says, “Jesus has forgiven me.”
So, when James says: Faith without Works is Dead, he does not say that you must earn faith. Rather, his point is this: Those loved by Jesus love Jesus and love his Word. Your Faith naturally produces God-pleasing living.
That’s what makes this situation in a Christian synagogue alarming. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes… This man rolls his metallic blue BMW into the church parking lot. The driver side door opens and out steps a man wearing a double-breasted suit, perfectly tailored to his body. Brilliant white dress shirt, crisp pocket square, slicked-back hair. A Rolex glistens on his wrist; golden rings sparkle on his fingers. This man just shines. And the Christians in this synagogue show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you… Sit in the front, right on the end! Then you can see and hear with ease, you can leave first; people can see how wealthy and powerful you are! Anyone in need can ask you for help; you provide something for us.”
Then, [A] poor man in shabby clothes also comes in… His rusty car is caked in mud. The driver side door creaks open and out steps a man with shaggy hair. His khakis are wrinkled; there’s a faded mustard stain on his untucked polo. No one notices him walking into the synagogue. When looking for a seat, someone say[s] to the poor man, “You stand there… against the wall, you can stand for an hour.” Or, “Sit on the floor by my feet… in the dust and rocks; I’ll try not to kick you.”
These two reactions contradict Christian living! God commands: Love your neighbor as yourself. By giving special treatment to a rich Christian, the church neglects the physical needs of their poor friend. Even worse, they care little about the spiritual health of rich and poor. They act as though the rich man carries God’s favor because of his wealth. They act as the poor man, who has nothing to offer society, has little to receive from God. These Christians have just judged that God’s love is reserved for some people and not for all!
That is not faith. Faith believes Jesus is Savior—and not just for some, but for the world (John 1:29, 3:16). Their favoritism-works reveal that their faith is sick. If God-pleasing living does not flow out of them, then James worries their faith could die! Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
Those words serve as a wake-up call. First, pay attention to the audience. James speaks to Christians. In verse 1 he does not say, “Dear nonbelieving heathens…” Rather, he says, “My dear brothers… who share one common faith, one God, one eternal hope.” Then, he urges you (and me) to continue evaluating our actions and see if they line up with God’s commands.
As members of a congregation favoritism can creep into your heart (and mine). You may eagerly greet visitors who look, smell, and act like you. Yet, when a rough-looking stranger sits beside you, you may try to avoid him and let him fumble through service alone. Or, you may be more prone to help the stable family unit instead of lending patience to a family struggling to control their children. Or, you may suppress the desire to invite a friend to worship because “he’s just not the Jesus-type” or you do not speak about Christmas and Easter services to the stranger because tattoos cover his arms. Favoritism overlooks those in need because you have judged that person is not worthy of your attention. More than that, that this person is not worthy of receiving God’s love.
Favoritism deals with people differently than the way God dealt with us. If you say that God forgave you and you did not deserve it, then how can you say to someone else: ‘They don’t deserve to be here.’ It’s a contradiction! God could say the very same thing to you or me: “You don’t deserve to be here either.”
Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? God chose you (and me), people who were spiritually poor. The moment you were conceived, no faith was in your heart. It was as though your heart was an empty bank vault; you had nothing to offer God. You entered this world not wearing clean clothes; rather, filthy garments covered you head-to-toe. God would have every right to look past you (and me). Instead, he sent Jesus for you (and me).
Jesus took off the soiled garments of sin, removed them, gone forever. He fits you in a pressed white suit, fitted to you—free of fault. He dresses you in a fitted, clean white dress. He places a ring on your finger, a ring that marks you as an heir of heaven. Now, you are spiritually rich! You own the priceless riches of perfect health, perfect happiness, perfect, unending life in heaven!
When you (and I) soil our garments with favoritism, God cleanses us again and again. Your faith remains; it never went away. God still says, “You are still mine” (Isaiah 43:1). God’s love, his mercy produces God-pleasing works. You want to love others because God so richly, so daily loves you! Your Faith is not Dead. It is living! And God-pleasing living is evidence of faith.
Remember: If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, sounds like a duck, then it must be a duck. So, if you see a small creature with feathers, waddling around, quacking, then those actions demonstrate that creature must be a duck. That duck does not wake up and say, “Well, I have to remember to quack, otherwise people will think I’m a dog… I have to push out feathers and waddle or else I will be confused with a rock.” No! A duck does not consciously act like a duck in order to prove it is a duck. A duck does not consciously look like a duck to remain a duck. Rather, since the duck is already a duck, he will automatically act as a duck.
You already are a Christian and will naturally live a God-pleasing life— and you already do. God’s love for you transforms verse 8 from a “must” to a “want.” If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.
So, suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. What do you do? Well, as a congregation, you have turned an eye towards those in need. You have identified individuals in the area who are in need of food. So, you hold food drives. As individuals, you may give extra clothing away to someone with a new baby or donate clothes to GoodWill. Notice, you do not intentionally wake up and consider the ways to prove you are a Christian. Rather, you already are a Christian. With eyes of faith, you look at the many ways God has blessed you— extra money, extra clothes, extra food— and you give a designated amount to benefit others.
Or, we could bring this closer to home. When your sister loses her spouse, how do you act? You write cards. You call. You wrap your arms around her. Why? To prove that you are worthy of heaven? No! Because you are sharing the comfort with which God has comforted you! When your friend returns home after surgery and is slow to move, how do you respond? You bring dinner. You help with chores. You drive him around. Why? So that God will save you? No! He already has! Your heart, satisfied by God’s mercy, seeks to satisfy others. The reason you give is more than just the warm, fuzzy feeling of doing something nice. You give because you consider how much God has given you.
Your faith reveals itself through actions. God’s love for you flows through you. That which is inside of your heart bursts out automatically. As you remember how graciously God deals with you, you cannot help but to give evidence of your faith.
Christian living is more than simply speaking your intention to live a God-pleasing life; Christian living means that you actually do live a God-pleasing life. It sounds daunting, as though you must do something to earn heaven. Relax. God has already made you heirs of the kingdom. He has made a heart without faith into a heart of faith. Now, that Faith produces God-pleasing living and God-pleasing living is evidence of faith.
What do people remember about you? Maybe they point out your commitment as a spouse. You are faithful and loyal— keeping your vows from day one. You persevered through sickness and disease. You work through disagreements and conflict. Perhaps people remember your contributions to society. You impacted so many lives at work. You are kind and charitable; you help those in need. Your volunteer-work addresses local issues. Or, maybe people remember your characteristics. Co-workers consider you a very patient listener. Those younger than you appreciate your wise advice and imitate you. Friends consider you trustworthy. What do people remember about you?
Undoubtedly you will ponder that question at least once in your life (and chances are, you’ll wrestle with it more the older you get). Contemplating a question like that demonstrates that life is significant; you will impact others. People will remember a trait about you.
When confronted with that reality, you may feel pressure to be known for something great. Let’s make it simple. Out of all your accomplishments and attributes, Boast about the Only Thing Worth Boasting About! No, not in your human achievements. Rather, that God knows you.
We read in Jeremiah 9:23-24: 23 This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, 24 but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.
Out of all the important qualities in life, which one reigns supreme? That you know God. Do you realize that’s all God really needs to say? Let him who boasts boast about [me]… Enough said. Yet, he includes more.
In verse 23, God identifies three commonly prized attributes. (1) Wisdom, that is, knowledge gained from past experience (and the resulting consequences). After squandering money as a teenager and having very little, you might be disciplined to save a set sum. Grandparents know many different ways to calm crying babies because they spent many nights trying to quiet their own child. They know what works and what does not. Wisdom grows through life experiences. God also mentions (2) strength, which is having physical abilities, mental toughness, or powerful authority. Finally, he cites (3) riches; either having wealth and possessions (such as houses, cars, and property) or feeling confident in your bank account.
God holds up these three common blessings, but then gives a warning. Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom. Many crave wise advice because wisdom presents a right answer immediately (preventing you from fumbling through all the wrong solutions). People may turn to you for advice, or maybe you think you have all the right answers. Go on Facebook and maybe there’s a friend who shares political posts— and implies that if he were in charge, the world would be a better place; all we need to do is follow his opinions as truth. Those holding college diplomas and advanced degrees may deny God because “they’re too smart for that.” The wiser people think they are the more they begin relying on their own knowledge. Then, there is no need to listen to others. In fact, many stop listening to what needs to be heard.
Let not the strong man boast of his strength. Those who feel strong find security in their own abilities. Nations find security in the size of their armies and the power of their weapons. The physically fit feel safe because of bulging muscles and youthful bodies. Many pride themselves in their last names because influential city and community leaders offer them favors.
Let not the rich man boast of his riches. People act as though money solves troubles! Yes, money might not make you happy, but you can buy medicine. If only you had more money, then you could have the cool clothes, a big house, and a luxurious retirement; you do not feel needy. With wealth comes respect because people will ask you for financial help.
What does this have to do with you (and me)? Well, remember that question I asked at the start? What do people remember about you? What was your answer? Did you boast about your worldly knowledge, power, or success?
God knows these blessings can pose a serious threat. The Bible makes you wise for eternal life (2 Timothy 3:15). So, you learn the many Bible stories in Sunday School. You learn Bible teachings in catechism class. The more you learn, the wiser you may think you are. After a while, you can think you have learned everything there is to know about God! So, when you (and I) approach the Word, the heart quickly glosses over it. John 3:16? You know that Bible verse. Skip it. Tune it out. You already heard it. Next. Christmas? Easter? You know the story. Jesus is born. Jesus rises. Move on to bigger life issues.
Or, we stumble into the delusions of strength. You may believe you have many more years to live, and therefore many more years to get right with God. Perhaps life does not seem all that challenging or complex. And if it does not seem to challenging, then you do not need help. So, why worship? You don’t need God right now; If troubles flare up, well, you know where to turn. Or, you boast that you are saved because this is your family church. God must save you because great-great grandpa built this place!
Or, money can sink its poisonous roots into the heart. Money is withheld from offering so that it might be used on toys. Money robs trust in God. After all, God promises to care for bodily needs, but how many hours of sleep are lost because you worry about retaining money? Money becomes a status symbol; you find self-worth in what you own. These blessings can become our boast, our source of self-pride; something we hold up so that others may praise us!
Wisdom, strength, and money solves very little. Because death strips away knowledge, strength, and wealth. When you stand before God and he asks, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” there is only one answer. The arrogant wise might say, “Because I demand you love me!” The strong one might say, “My name was in the church membership book!” The rich one might claim, “I gave my offering!” But all those answers remain terribly wrong. All those answers reveal a heart that has rejected a Savior and praises itself as god. None of those worldly treasures can save you.
That’s why verse 23 serves as a warning. If you are elevating yourself as God, then time to turn is now! “Do not boast in wisdom or strength or riches… Instead, Let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me.” That, my friends, is the only knowledge that will save your life. What do you understand and know about God? That I am the LORD.
God uses the Bible to teach you that only one eternal, all-powerful God exists. That God is not you or your achievements or your self-glory. That God is the One who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth…
God so loved the world— he so loved you— that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16). Christ Jesus was in very nature God, but did not consider equality with God something to be grasped (Philippians 2:5-6). He does not seek riches or a kingdom. Instead, he made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (2:7). The God-man does not demonstrate powerful might and damn to hell every soldier who slaps his face or every smug creature who dares challenge his teachings. Instead, God exercises mercy. He could very well leave you (and me) wallowing in our destructive self-pride. Instead, he sends Jesus and exercises justice.
Jesus humbled himself, becoming obedient to death on the cross (2:8). God does what is fair; he upholds his threat. Our pride deserves death (Romans 6:23). With our self-pride draped across Jesus and Jesus suffers our death-sentence— and Jesus wipes pride away. God does what is fair; he upholds his promise. He raises Jesus to life because Jesus is perfect. He raises Jesus to life in order to demonstrate that the payment for sin has been made for all time. In complete fairness God now says, “Jesus died for what you did wrong. He is punished so you never will be. You are forgiven.” He declares you: righteous!-- right in his sight, without fault or blame or blemish.
In these things I take pleasure, declares the LORD… Out of the many attributes the world considers so important nothing is greater than standing right in the sight of God. Boast about the Only Thing Worth Boasting About! God knows you.
You boast that you understand and know him. Be proud in what God has done for you. You can boast with certainty that you will enter heaven. That is not arrogance, that is truth. You can point to the Bible and say, “God promises me that I will live because Jesus lives (John 14:19). Of this I can be sure. It all hinges on what Jesus has done.” That brings real joy and peace.
Find joy in understanding and knowing God better. Make the effort to add to your knowledge. The Sunday School lessons you learned, build on them. In every story see how God worked in spite of weakness and still sent you a Savior. Take out your catechism; read (and relearn) the work God did for your benefit! God keeps his promise; this removes worry and fills you with peace. Reflect on Sunday’s message or your devotions during the week. Take home one key truth to discuss with your child or apply one point to a specific area in life. This is how you “boast in God.” Your pride, your joy is centered in what God has done for you. You know it. You understand it. You Boast about the Only Thing Worth Boasting About! No, not in your human achievements. Rather, that God knows you.
Life holds many qualities. Some are a reason to be proud. Your commitment as a spouse is commendable. Your contributions to society serve as a blessing for many. Your personality can benefit other. People may remember you for all those achievements.
Yet, all human achievements pale in comparison to Jesus’ great achievement. He does the one thing you (and I) never could; he makes you right before God.
That, my friends, is something worth boasting about. That is something to delight in. That is something to rejoice over. Out of all your accomplishments and attributes, Boast about the Only Thing Worth Boasting About. No, not in your human achievements. Rather, that God knows you.
“God said ‘No.’ That’s why.” She could eat from any other tree in the garden. Any one! Any time! Yet, this one specific tree is off limits. No, it does not possess magical powers. No, you would not become a god and then rival the true God. Rather, this one specific tree stands off limits because God said, ‘Do not eat.’
Quite frankly, Eve loved that command. She knew God loved her. She knew God’s Word is good; that Word kept her close to him. In fact, God’s love for her fueled her love for God. That love revealed itself by respectfully obeying the good Word of a good God.
He could not deny that. God’s Word is good. In fact, God’s Word is perfect. It accomplishes what God desires. Since he could not attack the Word, he attacked the person. “Eve, what do you think about the forbidden tree? Yes, we know what God says, but for just one moment, put the Bible down and tell me, do you want to eat?” And Eve fell right into the trap.
Oh, you would never fall for the same tricks, right?! If you were in the Garden of Eden, you would have resisted temptation, outwitted the devil, and life would still be perfect! Ever think that?
Believing you (and I) can withstand the devil on our own falls into the devil’s trap. If you want to resist, withstand, and overcome the devil’s lies, you must Be Strong in the Lord! Identify your enemy, Put on the armor of God, and then you can March forward in victory.
It’s no secret that Christian living is challenging. Friends might slap you with the word: ‘bigoted,’ ‘narrow-minded,’ ‘old-fashioned’ because you follow God’s definition of marriage. You feel this tug-of-war inside; either brush off what God calls ‘right,’ or live with tension between friends. National laws may endorse behavior God does not condone. So, you struggle: stand up for the life of the elderly or condone the relatives who want to end life with medicine. You see, you (and I) face this constant struggle between obeying God’s Word or ignoring it. You feel this tension because you want to obey God out of love, but you also want to be loved by all. In verse 12, the apostle Paul makes that clear: You will have this struggle.
Yet, remember this: You struggle because you are a Christian; you follow Christ. Pay attention those verbs; you are, you follow. You do not switch Christian beliefs on and off, just like a light-switch controls a light bulb. The desire to trust God does not exist only here in worship (and then when you get home, you hate trusting God). We do not forgive people here only (and then you “flip the switch” and hold grudges later this week). No, through faith you follow Christ and continue following Christ. God has made you a citizen who belongs to him. Just like a king governs behavior with his word, so Christ governs your decisions, actions, and thinking with his Word.
Still, because you live on God’s side, it means you will stand against those who oppose God. Quite simply, those who hate God also hate those who follow God.
Who stirs up that conflict inside of you? [O]ur struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Did you catch that? Who is your enemy? Not: flesh and blood; believers do not attack people. Your enemy are not atheists (people who deny God’s existence), nor do you argue and insult nonbelievers. God does not ask you to disengage from the world and never talk to a nonbelieving neighbor, or to only have Christian friends, or to quit your job because you deal with nonbelievers. Your struggle is not ungodly influences, like the teaching of evolution (which denies the existence of a Creator) or progressive social ideas on marriage, abortion, and euthanasia. Your fight is against the unseen spirits who love what is wrong Your enemy is the devil (1 Peter 5:8).
If you wish to resist temptation; if you wish to remain strong with the Lord, you must identify your enemy. Know who you stand up against. Recognize his powerful might.
Then, Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. Because the devil is crafty. He is clever. He prowls around like a lion— hiding, stalking, waiting patiently for the right moment to lunge, collide, and drive you into the ground.
Ponder that. The devil recycles his timeless temptation and it sounds so innocent, as though no harm can come out of it. He plainly asks, “What do you think?” Do you realize that is the anthem ruling our present-day society? “Don’t force your beliefs on me!” the world cries! That’s the fancy way of saying, “I will tell you what I feel is fair and not what God says is right.” An early rally cry for same-sex marriage was: “If you don’t like it, that’s fine. Just don’t tell me I’m wrong.” That sounds fair. Yet, Jesus teaches, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). You speak what God teaches on marriage so that others have a chance to hear.
The devil wants you to lay aside God’s Word so that you can create manmade rules. So, if you feel it fair that your teenage child (who still lives at home) wants to skip worship, then let him! It feels fair to you; never mind God puts you in charge over the spiritual life of your house (Ephesians 6:4). If you believe you are entitled to hold a grudge, then do so! You think it is fair; never mind God forgives you (Ephesians 4:32). If you do not want to commit to marriage, then don’t! Follow the world; stare at computer images, daydream, do not work toward getting married! Never mind God’s command to honor the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4).
Do we need to go on? The scheming, conniving devil employs the most innocent of looking strategies: Put down the Bible and follow the flawed thinking of a sinful heart (Mark 7:20-23).
On our own, you (and I) can never stand against the devil and win. And he knows that; he knows you are no match for him. He knows he will conquer you without Christ. Fail to put on the armor of God and you (and I) will fall.
Only God makes you strong to stand your ground. Did you catch that? [B]e strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Right away our minds like to change those words to say, “I am strong. I can be strong. All I have to do is…” No! You do not make yourself strong; it’s an action God does. God makes you strong.
God’s Word—a word, which (by the way) you did not create— makes you strong. Your words are not more powerful than the devil. Your opinions are not what is needed. It deflates the ego to know that God’s Word drives away the devil— and God gets credit for those words. But that’s the point!
God’s Word exposes the hollowness of our self-trust. God’s Word leads you to the cross, where Jesus crushes the serpent’s head. There you hear powerful words: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). On Easter morning he says, “Peace be with you!” (John 20:19) Jesus reveals your future: “Come you blessed by my Father” (Matthew 25:34). God has brought you into his kingdom; you are his (Isaiah 43:1). Then, he dresses you in his armor so that you may stand your ground and never fail into unbelief.
You are Strong in the Lord as you put on the armor of God because with God on your side, nothing stands against you. You march forward into victory.
That’s the reason for the battle call: Stand firm then… Stand and fight with courageous confidence. Stand with the belt of truth buckled around your waist. Roman soldiers wore a thick leather apron around their midsection and upper legs. It kept very vulnerable parts protected.
The devil will lunge at your (and my) weaknesses. He will lie: It does not matter what you believe. Follow what you feel right and fair.” If that lie penetrates your heart and you believe it you can die. Yet, God’s truth protects you. The Bible identifies the devil as he truly is: the father of lies (John 8:44). When temptation seizes you, call the devil by his name: ‘Liar!’
[Stand firm] with the breastplate of righteousness in place. Protect your heart with body armor. The devil never stops his assault. If he cannot get you to believe his lies, he will point to history. He will dredge up your regrets. Just when guilt pierces into your heart, he drives you into despair. Because when you feel so terribly guilty, you feel that God could never love you. If you feel God could never love you, you may actually believe it to be true.
But Jesus died for you. And he placed his righteous life over you. Jesus’ righteousness, his perfection, keeps your heart safe. The devil’s lies bounce off because Jesus tells you what really happened: You are forgiven!
[Stand firm] with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. Feet carry good news. Soldiers covered the tops of their feet, just like you wear shoes. Shoes prevent thorns and sticks from piercing your feet. Just like a messenger runs to share good news, be ready to remind the devil the good news of Jesus’ victory.
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith… and not just a little trashcan lid-sized shield. We’re talking about the shield covering you from head to toe. The devil shoots little flaming temptations at you so that they burn into great fires. Lust turns into action which turns into a lifestyle. One beer becomes two which evolves into constant heavy drinking. Anger burns into rage burns into hate.
With the shield you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Faith clings to Jesus as Savior. Faith clings to the Word of God. When temptations poke you, remember who you follow and those flames snuff out.
Take the helmet of salvation… At your baptism, the sign of the cross was made over your head and your heart to mark you as God’s child. That cross reminds you of Jesus dying for you. That cross reminds you that Jesus’ death is your possession; you carry it. You carry Jesus’ perfection. You are saved; you will enter heaven. His perfect life protects you.
Finally, take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Do you see the only weapon you carry? The Word of God. The Word reminds the devil of what God has done. This is that truth, and the devil cannot deny the truth. Nothing and no one has more authority that God. God has already explained what will happen, you win and the devil loses forever— and the devil can do nothing to stop him. When tempted wield God’s Word. Tell the devil:“God says” and he will flee. And you get to March forward in victory.
Eve put down the sword and tried to fight the devil with her cleverness. That is exactly what the devil wanted and he won the battle… but Jesus wins the war.
As a Christian, remember that you have an enemy. Someone who hates God. Someone who wants to take believers away from God. Someone who attacks you. Yet, you can stand because God dresses you in his armor. He sets the sword of the Word into your hand. Remind the devil of Jesus’ victory on the cross. Remind the devil of your eternal home. Remind the devil his promises are nothing but empty lies. He will flee; you will march forward in victory.
This is all yours— not because you are morally tough and strong. Rather, God makes you Strong in the Lord! He Identifies your enemy. He puts the armor of God on you. And you get to March forward in victory.