Philippians 3:1-3 (Devotional Thought)

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh- (Philippians 3:1-3 ESV)

Christians should be good, but being good isn’t what saves us. Jesus is the one who saves us. There are people who think that Christianity is all about seeing who can be the best at being good. They like rules and have made up extra rules along the way. They look at how well you can keep the rules and that determine how good of a Christian you are… Paul has a big problem with that, being a Christian isn’t about keeping rules as much as it is about loving Jesus.

You see the whole point of the gospel is that while you are unable to do anything to save yourself, Jesus willingly went to the cross as a substitute for you, died, and rose again from the dead. To be admitted into the kingdom of God by God’s grace you have to receive what Christ has done. You actively trust in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. There isn’t anything that you can point back to and say, “I’m saved because I DID THIS, I KEPT THIS RULE.” You can only look back and say, “I’m saved because JESUS died on the cross for my sin, and rose from the dead! I’m trusting HIM!”

Paul writes to remind the church at Philippi that their joy comes from the Lord. We may get a certain sense of joy from knowing that Jesus changes us. After all you can’t follow Jesus and be the same. But the focus, the joy, comes from a real relationship with Jesus, not in being good at being good.

Think of it this way. I love my wife and so I do certain things that I know she likes. I buy her flowers and small gifts from time to time. I wash dishes so she doesn’t have too. I pick her movie to watch instead of the one I want to see, etc. But what if I became obsessed with how good I was at becoming a good husband? so much so that I stopped actually loving my wife! What if I cared more about doing dishes than actually loving my wife! Something would be wrong. I would have replaced a relationship with my own set of rules.

That’s like what people were doing in Paul’s day. They were going around following the Apostle Paul where ever he went and right after he left they would swoop in and tell the new church he had started that God was all about rules, not a relationship. They insisted that for people to truly follow God that they had to follow their own prescribed set of rules. The problem was that all their talk about rules actually lead people away from JESUS and into trying to live a moral life without Jesus at the center.

Paul reminds the Philippians, “Rejoice in Jesus” (“the Lord” is another way of referring to Jesus). Don’t take your eyes off Jesus. He is where true Joy is found. Don’t be distracted by people who talk about how good they are and how good you can be. Sure when following Jesus you can’t help but become a better person, but its because of the work of God in your life… not because of all the stuff you do.

So here is the deal. You may wrestle with a habitual sin. You think. If I can just quit ____ I’ll be ok. And maybe you do need to quit whatever you struggle with, but don’t let the struggle become your focus and steal your joy. Paul says it’s no trouble for him to remind folks where the real joy is… Jesus.

James 2:14-26 (Devotional Thought)

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”–and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:14-26 ESV)

I like fruit. I especially like blueberries (My all time favorite fruit). So I planted a blueberry tree in my back yard. I put fertilizer around it. I water it. I made sure that I planted it in a place where it can get plenty of sunshine and when it gets cold outside, it is the only plant in my yard that I put a blanket or sheet on to keep it from getting damaged by the frost. I cannot wait to taste the blueberries that it produces. You see that is the point. Blueberry trees produce blueberries.

Faith and works look like that. Faith is what we believe about God to be true. True faith produces the fruit of works. Just like a blueberry tree produces blueberries. James says that if you believe that everyone is made in the image of God and then you respect them by taking care of people who do not have the basic necessities of life (food, clothing, etc.). The evidence of our faith is how we respond (works).

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