Devotional

How Are You To Be “More Than A Conqueror”?

How Are You To Be “More Than A Conqueror”?

Because of Jesus’ resurrection, all threats against you are tamed. Jesus conquered death, so death and evil are not the end of the story and we can have hope.

To the One Who Conquers, I Will…

In Revelation, one of the key themes is conquering through suffering. The number of occurrences of the verb “to conquer” throughout the Book of Revelation illustrate this theme.[1] John describes amazing promises made to Christians, addressing the promises specifically to those who “conquer”:

  • To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God (2:7)
  • The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death (2:11)
  • To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it (2:17)
  • The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations (2:26)
  • The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels (3:5)
  • The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name (3:12)
  • The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne (3:21)

The One Who Conquered

How will these staggering promises come to pass? How will “the one who conquers” conquer amidst affliction and persecution? How will they find the strength to endure and overcome against all odds? John provides the answer: they will conquer by looking by faith to the One who has already conquered, Jesus Christ. We read in Revelation 5:5-6:

And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain.

John describes Jesus as both the kingly Lion and the meek Lamb who has conquered all His and our enemies. Jesus has conquered his enemies through his suffering and death on the cross and yet he is also one who has been slaughtered. Jesus is “the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth” and he is the one who “loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.”[2] We reign with him because he died and freed us and made us a kingdom for his glory.

This truth is a strong encouragement to you in the midst of suffering. We follow a crucified redeemer who by his death and resurrection has conquered death. Death is no longer the enemy that produces fear in you. Jesus says: “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”[3]

This image of the conquering Christ who prevailed through suffering gives you hope. In being united to Christ, you too will conquer as you look through the eyes of faith to the one who has accomplished everything on your behalf through his death and resurrection. It is for this reason that John writes in 12:11: “And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

We Are More Than Conquerors

The truth of Rev 12:11 can free you to breathe a sigh of relief and thanksgiving instead of despair. Because God’s plan for you is never to allow anything to separate you from his love, you can face the worst of the world’s uncertainties with great confidence, as St. Paul writes in Romans 8:31-39:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.[4]

No opposition. No accusation. No condemnation. No separation.

And since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, God will most surely, most certainly, without any doubt or any possibility of failure, provide for us. John Chrysostom explicates: “The wonder is not only that God the Father gave His Son but that He did so in this way, by sacrificing the one He loved. It is astonishing that He gave the Beloved for those who hated Him. See how highly He honors us. If even when we hated Him and were enemies He gave the Beloved, what will He not do for us now?”[5]

Because God’s plan for you is so certain, you can face the most difficult circumstances, the most terrifying enemies, and the most devastating ordeals with confidence. You do not merely survive your trials; you are “more than a conqueror” because absolutely nothing will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ.

 

[1] John uses the verb “to conquer” 17 times: Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 5:5; 6:2; 11:7; 12:11; 13:7; 15:2; 17:14; 21:7

[2] Revelation 1:5-6

[3] Revelation 1:17-18

[4] Romans 8:31-39

[5] John Chrysostom, “Homily on Ephesians I.I.8.” in Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. 8, Ed. Mark J. Edwards (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 114.

The Church and Women at Risk

The Church and Women at Risk

Lindsey, my wife, wrote this article—“The Church and Women at Risk”— for the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible. This article is relevant for October being designated as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

The entire article can be downloaded, but here is an excerpt:

The Christian church has, at its best, been known for exemplary love and sacrificial service to “the least of these”—the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. Such service has provided a powerful witness for the gospel. By upholding the dignity of all human life as the image of God, and by tangibly expressing the biblical ethic of personhood that flows from it, the church has the opportunity to be a light to the nations by welcoming the weak and powerless to find grace, mercy, and rest in Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, many victims who reach out to churches in times of need receive blame, disbelief, suspicious questions, bad advice, platitudes, and shallow theology instead of care and compassion. Rather than pat answers, victims need practical victim advocacy full of biblical and theological depth.

Churches have a great opportunity to offer victims of violence love, safety, patience, and counseling. Caring for and responding to women at risk is an opportunity for Christians to take the gospel to those who are most in need, provide an alternative community centered on Jesus to the marginalized, and show the transformative power of the gospel to the watching world. Moreover, responding to the epidemic of violence against women is a way the church can follow the charge of James to practice “pure religion” ( James 1:27) by caring for vulnerable women.

DOWNLOAD ARTICLE

Brennan Manning On God’s Love

Brennan Manning On God’s Love

Here is the text:

“The compassion of Jesus is the compassion of Almighty God, and Jesus says to your heart and mind, “Don’t ever be so foolish as to measure my compassion for you in terms of your compassion for one another. Don’t ever be so silly as to compare your thin, pallid, wavering, moody, depending on smooth circumstances human compassion with mine, for I am God, as well as man.” When you read in the Gospels that Jesus was moved with compassion, it is saying that His gut was wrenched, His heart torn open, and the most vulnerable part of his being laid bare.  The ground of all being shook, the source of all life trembled, the heart of all love burst open, and the unfathomable depths of the relentless tenderness was laid bare. Your Christian life and mine don’t make any sense unless in the depth of our beings we believe that Jesus not only knows what hurts us, but knowing, seeks us out whatever our poverty, whatever our pain. His plea to His people is, “Come now, wounded, frightened, angry, lonely, empty, and I’ll meet you where you live. And I’ll love you as you are, not as you should be, because you’re never going to be as you should be.” Do you really believe this? With all the wrong turns you made in your past the mistakes, the moments of selfishness, dishonesty and degraded love? Do you really believe that Jesus Christ loves you? Not the Person next to you, not the church, not the world. But that He loves you—beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity and infidelity. That he loves you in the morning sun and in the evening rain. Without caution, regret, boundary, limit. No matter what’s gone down, He can’t stop loving you. This is the Jesus of the Gospels.”

 

Brennan Manning (April 27, 1934 – April 12, 2013) was a writer and speaker who was known mostly for his full-throttle proclamation of the good news of the unconditional love of God. He wrote many popular and influential books, including The Ragamuffin Gospel, Abba’s Child, Signature of Jesus, Ruthless Trust, The Wisdom of Tenderness, and others. His final book, was his memoir, All is Grace.

Why Does Grace Matter?

Why Does Grace Matter?

Grace is not an abstract principle, but a reality of our life with God. As Karl Barth once emphasized: “Grace must find expression in life, otherwise it is not grace.” And you can be assured that God’s grace will embed itself into your life in profound ways. That is simply how the Holy Spirit works.

The grace of God extends down to us, not because we deserve it, but precisely because we do not deserve it (Rom. 5:8). When we are born, we are dead, condemned, depraved, corrupt, perverse, sinful, and completely unable to save ourselves or even lift a finger to enable salvation (Rom. 2–3; 6:23).

GRACE IS A GIFT

Our works, even attempts at good works, are not adequate to contribute to our salvation. We are often tempted to believe it is the spiritual effort that matters. As J. Gresham Machen once wrote,

The reception of [the grace of God] is faith: faith means not doing something but receiving something; it means not the earning of a reward but the acceptance of a gift. A man can never be said to obtain a thing for himself if he obtains it by faith; indeed to say that he does not obtain it for himself but permits another to obtain it for him. Faith, in other words, is not active but passive; and to say that we are saved by faith is to say that we do not save ourselves but are saved only by the one in whom our faith is reposed; the faith of man presupposes the sovereign grace of God.

But the intention of a dead man has no profound influence on a living God. Once the Spirit regenerates our dead hearts, we by faith receive the completed work of Jesus who accomplishes our justification—a declaration of his righteousness on us. As his grace continues to work in our lives, the gospel comes to fruition in every aspect of our life (Col. 1:6; 2 Peter 1:3–9).

Through and motivated by God’s grace, we are called to live in righteousness and holiness as God’s adopted children but we are not left to our own power. God has graciously sent the Holy Spirit to work in us to want to do and actually do true good works (Phil. 2:13; Eph. 2:8–10).

HE MEETS US

Our God of grace has a kindly disposition toward us, and throughout history he has demonstrated his grace in specific acts of kindness. He meets us in our places of hurt, sin, and brokenness and brings hope, healing, and comfort. It is in those seasons in our lives when the grace of God is most needed and best understood. The ultimate act of the God of grace is the ministry of Jesus: his incarnation, his sinless life, his death on the cross for the sins of the world, and his resurrection from the dead.

Our God of grace carries us all our lives, even when, and especially when, we are completely unable to move forward on our own. In fact, it is in our weakness that God’s grace is made perfect. In our state of disgrace, he continually and always gives grace.

“My grace is sufficient for you.’” 2 Corinthians 12:9

This post is adapted from On the Grace of God.

Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work

Why New Year’s Resolutions Don’t Work

Willpower Is Weak

If you’re considering making some New Year’s resolutions this year, consider this: like other exercises of raw willpower, most New Year’s resolutions fail miserably.

According to research, 80 percent of those who make resolutions on January 1 have given up by Valentine’s Day. Nutrition experts say that two-thirds of dieters regain any weight lost within a year, and more than 70 percent of people who undergo coronary bypass surgery fall back into unhealthy habits within two years of their surgery.

“Most of us think that we can change our lives if we just summon the willpower and try even harder this time around,” says Alan Deutschman, the former executive director of Unboundary, a firm that counsels corporations on how to navigate change. “It’s exceptionally hard to make life changes, and our efforts are usually doomed to failure when we try to do it on our own.”

As we think about New Year’s resolutions, it’s important to realize something about human nature: people do what they want to do. The Reformation theologian Thomas Cranmer held this view of human nature (as summarized by Anglican historian Ashley Null):

What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies. The mind doesn’t direct the will. The mind is actually captive to what the will wants, and the will itself, in turn, is captive to what the heart wants.

So making a resolution and summoning up all your willpower does little good if, ultimately, your heart isn’t in it. Does this mean you should abandon any hope of change? Not at all. If you’re going to make a New Year’s resolution, here are a few things to keep in mind.

 

1. Is It A Good Resolution?

Try to determine if the resolution is actually good. Are you planning on working out more? If so, is it because you want to be a good steward of the body God gave you or is it vanity? In reality, it is probably some of both. But what is the driving desire? Is it a good one?

 

2. Just Do It

If your resolution is actually a good one, just do it. Go ahead and work out more, smoke or drink less, read your Bible more, pay down your debt and save more for retirement, focus on your marriage, spend more time with your children. Every once in a while, people start a New Year’s resolution and it sticks. But most don’t. That’s because (1) you are sinner and (2) your heart is an idol factory.

 

3. Grace Actually Works

The reality is that your resolution is likely needed because, like everyone else except for Jesus, you are not loving God with your entire being and not loving your neighbor as yourself. These two failures lead to havoc, discord, pain, and destruction. Jesus gave us the basic requirement: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:40).

That basic failure is why we need the gospel: Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection deal with the guilt and the stain of sin. It’s also why we so often fail at our attempts to improve ourselves.

But Jesus also gave us the Holy Spirit, who can change our desires and empower us to love God and neighbor. As Paul tells us, “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). With us and our willpower, Jesus says, change is impossible, “but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).

 

God Gives Grace to Change

As Cranmer realized, our wills are captive to what our hearts love, and we are powerless to change ourselves without the work of God’s Spirit changing our desires. When you think through New Year’s resolutions, here’s a prayer from the Book of Common Prayer as you ask God to work on your heart:

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

God Chooses The Weak And Outcast

God Chooses The Weak And Outcast

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

1 Corinthians 1:27–29

Paul wrote these words to the Corinthians because the religious people couldn’t accept a defeated Savior, and philosophers couldn’t believe in a God who would take on a frail human body and die. Paul honed the point later by repeating what God said to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Basking in this promise, Paul declared, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10).

THE INVERTED WAY OF JESUS

Jesus’ humble life and humiliating death informed Paul’s thinking. Jesus spent much of his time with the losers and the outcast. He talked about the last becoming first and the first becoming last. He embraced the meek and the broken—the humble ones who felt swamped with heavy burdens. He died alone, bitterly forsaken by all.

This is Jesus’ upside-down approach to our world. It is the way of his grace. We live in a world where the biggest, best, and brightest succeed, while the littlest, last, and least get trampled. But Jesus disrupts and interrupts our quest for power and our lust for significance. The ways of our world are rebuked by the inverted way of Jesus. Because of this, Christianity has from its beginning prized weakness and rebuffed strength.

D.A. Carson writes, “God has not arranged things so that the foolishness of the gospel saves those of us with an IQ above 130. Where would that leave the rest of us? Nor does the foolishness of what is preached transform the young, the beautiful, the extroverts, the educated, the healthy, the wealthy, the upright. Where would that leave the old, the ugly, the illiterate, the introverts, the poor, the sick, and the perverse?”

DESPAIR IS GOOD

This should leave us in despair. But it can be “gospel despair” if it leads to trusting in Christ and not in ourselves. As Martin Luther wrote, “It is certain that man must utterly despair of his own ability before he is prepared to receive the grace of Christ.” This means that we are not operating out of self-sufficiency, but out of total dependency on Christ and in need of being empowered by the Spirit. So, let’s boast in our weakness instead of displaying our self-righteousness and strength. This obviously looks like foolishness and nonsense to the world, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.

Ransomed Out of Slavery

Ransomed Out of Slavery

“You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” 1 Peter 1:18–21

Writing to Christians, the Apostle Peter highlights both our desperate situation on our own (“futile ways”) and the high cost to God of rescuing us (“the precious blood of Christ”). These two are brought together when it says we were “ransomed,” which means “delivered from slavery upon payment.” In the ancient world, a slave would only experience freedom if their master set them free or if someone paid the price for their freedom.

In this context, Peter says we were ransomed when Jesus paid for our freedom. In the word “ransom” we see that:

  1. We needed to be redeemed, because we were slaves.
  2. Jesus Christ redeemed us with his death.

SLAVERY TO SIN

Peter’s use of “ransom” easily would have caused the Gentiles to think of slavery. And for the Jews, he referred to the Passover Lamb in verse 19, which would have triggered images of their ancestors’ slavery in Egypt.

Peter is underlining the point of our helpless situation under sin, using intense imagery to highlight the desperation of our situation.

Peter is not alone in using this language of slavery either. Jesus says, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34), and Paul explains that when you sin, you’re offering yourself as a slave to sin (Rom. 6:16).

REDEEMED AT A HIGH PRICE

God responds to our desperate need by sending Jesus Christ to redeem us with his death. God’s action matches the desperation of our slavery. Our salvation cost God the precious blood of Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes that true grace “is costly because it cost God the life of his Son . . . God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life.”

This is why Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Paul also uses the language of ransom: “You were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 7:23).

Peter has the Passover lamb in mind when he says we were ransomed “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pet. 1:19). That’s straight from Exodus 12 and Leviticus 22. Jesus is the Passover Lamb that was sacrificed for us.

Being ransomed by the blood of Christ is all about substitution. But the point about “without defect or blemish” highlights his perfect life, his purity—the fact that he was not deserving of death. The spotless Lamb without defect died for the blemished, spotted, and scarred—you and me.

Waiting For A Savior

Waiting For A Savior

During Advent, we reflect on the prophecies that preceded the birth of Jesus and how he fulfilled them. This grounds the entire season in the story of God’s people waiting for the coming of the Messiah.

God is sovereign over the future and he alone is capable of telling the future perfectly. God told his people about their coming savior so they would have hope and anticipate his arrival. He detailed for them who was coming to save them, and how, where, when, and why he would arrive.

The prophecy in Genesis

The very first prophecy about Jesus was in Genesis 3:15, right after Adam and Eve sinned. God promised that their savior—Jesus—would be born of a woman. Some of the other major prophecies about Jesus were that he would be:

  • Born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14),
  • Born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2),
  • Arrive after John the Baptist (Mal. 3:1),
  • Die at a specific time and by crucifixion (Dan. 9:24–27; Ps. 22:16),
  • Rise from the dead (Ps. 16:10), and
  • Save people from their sins through his death and resurrection (Isa. 53:1–12).

People knew of Jesus and his work in advance because God gave many prophecies hundreds and even thousands of years before he arrived. There are hundreds of Old Testament prophecies that point to the coming Messiah and to his life and death. Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled every single one of them.

A perfectly timed first coming

The timing of Jesus’ arrival was so precise that many people were prepared for him. In Galatians 4:4–7, Paul explains that the purpose of Jesus’ perfect timing is so we could be saved and adopted as children of God: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.”

One of the most beautiful and profound images in the Old Testament, Isaiah 2:1–5, looks forward to the Savior who will come and set things right, verse 4:

He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.

This prophecy looks forward both to the birth of Jesus and to his second coming.

Waiting for the second coming

The Advent season is rich with theological significance, a somber time of personal reflection, hope and longing, and joyful expectation for the coming of Jesus. As we reflect during Advent, we remember God’s faithfulness to his promises in delivering his people and sending Jesus, just as he promised. God’s faithfulness in the past gives us confidence in the future: though we are faithless, he remains faithful.

The Bread Of Heaven

The Bread Of Heaven

“Seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.’ One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?’ Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.” John 6:5–11

In John 6 we read how Jesus performs a major miracle, multiplying a small amount of bread and fish to feed over 5,000 people. Some have used this passage to try to say that Jesus had to wait for the boy to offer his food before Jesus would do his part. Applied to our spiritual lives, that message would be: “God cares about you, but he wants you to show that you really care about him before he will act. He wants you to make the first move and show him that you are serious. After you respond, God will look upon you with favor and good pleasure. God may even ‘use you.’”

Nothing could be further from the true meaning of this miracle.

JESUS: THE BREAD OF LIFE

When Jesus’ first-century audience sees this miracle, they corner him and beg him to explain: “What do your works mean? Come on! Tell us what you’ve come to do. We want to know. We’d like you to be our king. We have an agenda for you.”

Jesus reminds them about the bread (or manna) God provided in the desert with Moses and reveals, “It was my Father who brought the bread from heaven in the desert. And now my Father is giving you the true bread from heaven. And it’s me! I am the bread of life. I am the true life that has come down from heaven.” Jesus declares himself to be the one who can truly give the life of God: “If you do not have me you do not have life.”

In Jesus’ words about being the bread of life, claiming that he is the life of God on earth, we are looking at the heart of Christianity. We do not climb up to God; the bread comes down from heaven. We cannot climb the ladder to God through some technique or effort. Rather, Christianity teaches that we are alienated from God until Christ comes to us. God came near to us in Christ, so Christ could overcome the sin which separates us from God and then bring us near to God, giving us new life through his Spirit.

GOD HAS COME DOWN

To understand this is to get at the heart of what Jesus is about. We do not inherently have “spiritual life.” Christ is our spiritual life on our behalf (Col. 3:4), and he gives us the Holy Spirit. As the bread of life, Jesus disarms us of our self-reliant spiritual efforts. We do not naturally come near to God. He must come near to us. A relationship with God is based on God coming down to us through Jesus, the bread of life from heaven.

It is not that we have risen to spiritual heights, but that the bread of heaven has come down to us. It is not about what we do, but what Christ has done for us.