My son’s blue eyes sparkled with excitement as he showed me a paper he had brought home from school. It was a math test, marked with a red star and a grade of 100 percent. As we looked at the exam, he said he had three questions left to answer when the teacher said time was up. Puzzled, I asked how he could have received a perfect score. He replied, “My teacher gave me grace. She let me finish the test although I had run out of time.”
As my son and I discussed the meaning of grace, I pointed out that God has given us more than we deserve through Christ. We deserve death because of our sin (Rom. 3:23). Yet, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8). We were unworthy, yet Jesus—sinless and holy—gave up His life so we could escape the penalty for our sin and one day live forever in heaven.
Eternal life is a gift from God. It’s not something we earn by working for it. We are saved by God’s grace, through faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8-9).
Olaudah Equiano (c. 1745–1796) was only 11 years old when he was kidnapped and sold into slavery. He made the harrowing journey from West Africa to the West Indies, then to the colony of Virgina, and then to England. By the age of 20 he purchased his own freedom, still bearing the emotional and physical scars of the inhumane treatment he had experienced.
Unable to enjoy his own freedom while others were still enslaved, Equiano became active in the movement to abolish slavery in England. He wrote his autobiography (an unheard of achievement for a former slave in that era) in which he described the horrific treatment of the enslaved.
When Jesus came, He fought a battle for all of us who are enslaved and unable to fight for ourselves. Our slavery is not one of outward chains. We are held by our own brokenness and sin. Jesus said, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34–36).
Wherever such a freedom seems unheard of, His words need to be declared. We can be liberated from our guilt, shame, and hopelessness. By trusting Jesus, we can be free indeed!
Madagascar’s National Road 5 offers the beauty of a white sand coastline, palm forests, and the Indian Ocean. Its 125 miles of two-track road, bare rock, sand, and mud, however, have given it a reputation for being one of the worst roads in the world. Tourists looking for breathtaking views are advised to have a four-wheel-drive vehicle, an experienced driver, and an onboard mechanic.
John the Baptist came to announce the good news of the coming Messiah to those traveling on rough roads and through barren landscape. Repeating the words of the prophet Isaiah written centuries earlier, he urged curious crowds to “prepare the way for the Lord” and to “make straight paths for him” (Luke 3:4–5; Isa. 40:3)
John knew that if the people of Jerusalem were going to be ready to welcome their long-awaited Messiah their hearts needed to change. Mountains of religious pride would need to come down. Those in the valley of despair because of their broken lives would need to be lifted up.
Neither could be done by human effort alone. Those who refused to respond to the Spirit of God by accepting John’s baptism of repentance failed to recognize their Messiah when He came (Luke 7:29–30). Yet those who saw their need for change discovered in Jesus the goodness and wonder of God.
From my window I can see a 1,700-meter hill called the Cerro del Borrego or “Hill of the Sheep.” In 1862, the French army invaded Mexico. While the enemy camped in the central park of Orizaba, the Mexican army established its position at the top of the hill. However, the Mexican general neglected to guard access to the top. While the Mexican troops were sleeping, the French attacked and killed 2,000 of them.
This reminds me of another hill, the Mount of Olives, and the garden at its foot where a group of disciples fell asleep. Jesus rebuked them, saying, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38).
How easy it is to sleep or become careless in our Christian walk. Temptation strikes when we are most vulnerable. When we neglect certain areas of our spiritual lives—such as prayer and Bible study—we become drowsy and let our guard down, making us easy targets for our enemy, Satan, to strike (1 Peter 5:8).
We need to be alert to the possibilities of an attack and pray to maintain vigilance. If we remain watchful and pray—for ourselves and for others—the Spirit will enable us to resist temptation.
When my friend Elaine was recovering after a bad fall, a hospital worker placed a bright yellow bracelet on her wrist. It read: Fall Risk. That phrase meant: Watch this person carefully. She may be unsteady on her feet. Help her get from place to place.
First Corinthians 10 contains something like a “Fall Risk” warning for believers. With a glance back at his ancestors, Paul noted the human potential to fall into sin. The Israelites complained, worshiped idols, and had immoral relationships. God grew unhappy with them and allowed them to experience consequences for their wrongdoing. However, Paul said, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us . . . . So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (vv. 11–12).
It’s easy to trick ourselves into believing that we’re done with a particular sort of sin. Even when we’ve struggled through the worst of it—admitting our problem, repenting, and recommitting ourselves to following God’s ways—temptation may come calling. God makes it possible for us to avoid falling back into the same patterns. He does this by providing a way out of the sinful act we’re considering. Our part is to respond to His offer of escape.
In his book Jumping Through Fires, David Nasser tells the story of his spiritual journey. Before he began a relationship with Jesus, he was befriended by a group of Christian teens. Although most of the time his buddies were generous, winsome, and nonjudgmental, David witnessed one of them lie to his girlfriend. Feeling convicted, the young man later confessed and asked for her forgiveness. Reflecting on this, David said that the incident drew him closer to his Christian friends. He realized that they needed grace, just as he did.
We don’t have to act like we’re perfect with the people we know. It’s okay to be honest about our mistakes and struggles. The apostle Paul openly referred to himself as the worst of all sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). He also described his wrestling match with sin in Romans 7, where he said, “I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out” (v. 18). Unfortunately, the opposite was also true: “The evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (v. 19).
Being open about our struggles puts us on the same level with every other human alive—which is right where we belong! However, because of Jesus Christ, our sin will not follow us into eternity. It’s like the old saying goes, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.”
When I first meet a new group of students in the college composition class I teach, I already know their names. I take the time to familiarize myself with their names and photos on my student roster, so when they walk into my classroom I can say, “Hello, Jessica,” or “Welcome, Trevor.” I do this because I know how meaningful it is when someone knows and calls us by name.
Yet to truly know someone, we need to know more than that person’s name. In John 10, we can sense the warmth and care Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has for us when we read that He “calls his own sheep by name” (v. 3). He knows even more than our name. He knows our thoughts, longings, fears, wrongs, and deepest needs. Because He knows our deepest needs, He has given us our very life—our eternal life—at the cost of His own. As He says in verse 11, He “lays down his life for the sheep.”
You see, our sin separated us from God. So Jesus, the Good Shepherd, became the Lamb and sacrificed Himself, taking our sin on Himself. When He gave His life for us and then was resurrected, He redeemed us. As a result, when we accept His gift of salvation through faith, we are no longer separated from God.
Rejoice in Jesus! He knows your name and your needs!
Last year at a retreat I reconnected with some friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. I laughed with them as we enjoyed the reunion, but I also cried because I knew how much I had missed them.
On the last day of our time together we celebrated the Lord’s Supper. More smiles and tears! I rejoiced over the grace of God, who had given me eternal life and these beautiful days with my friends. But again I cried as I was sobered by what it had cost Jesus to deliver me from my sin.
I thought about Ezra and that wonderful day in Jerusalem. The exiles had returned from captivity and had just completed rebuilding the foundation of the Lord’s temple. The people sang for joy, but some of the older priests cried (Ezra 3:10-12). They were likely remembering Solomon’s temple and its former glory. Or were they grieving over their sins that had led to the captivity in the first place?
Sometimes when we see God at work we experience a wide range of emotions, including joy when we see God’s wonders and sorrow as we remember our sins and the need for His sacrifice.
The Israelites were singing and weeping, the noise was heard far away (v. 13). May our emotions be expressions of our love and worship to our Lord, and may they touch those around us.
During my friend Myrna’s travels to another country, she visited a church for worship. She noticed that as people entered the sanctuary they immediately knelt and prayed, facing away from the front of the church. My friend learned that people in that church confessed their sin to God before they began the worship service.
This act of humility is a picture to me of what David said in Psalm 51: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise” (v. 17). David was describing his own remorse and repentance for his sin of adultery with Bathsheba. Real sorrow for sin involves adopting God’s view of what we’ve done—seeing it as clearly wrong, disliking it, and not wanting it to continue.
When we are truly broken over our sin, God lovingly puts us back together. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This forgiveness produces a fresh sense of openness with Him and is the ideal starting point for praise. After David repented, confessed, and was forgiven by God, he responded by saying, “Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise” (Ps. 51:15).
Humility is the right response to God’s holiness. And praise is our heart’s response to His forgiveness.