The obvious benefit of belief in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for us on the cross is salvation. But the most compelling reason for our present circumstances is a changed life. In today’s reading we see a prime example of this when Paul and Silas are beaten and jailed. When the earthquake happened and all the prison doors were opened, instead of running away, Paul and Silas did what most people would not and stayed. Moreover, they took the opportunity to save the jailer, not just physically, but spiritually as well. We see this in Acts 16:31, They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.” Paul and Silas knew that a changed life does not just impact the individual, but everyone around them. Sometimes the impact is positive and sometimes it is negative, but there is no doubt there will be a reaction.
The Law of Moses was put in place to guide the people of Israel. They had no other choice but to try to follow the Law because it was the only way to stay in communion with our perfect God. But the Law was hard and it was impossible to keep fully and to the extent required by God. It was for this reason Christ died on the cross for us; to give us a way to God provided by grace. In Acts 15:10-11 Peter spells this out, 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are. It is a simple process to believe and yet we all know it is conceptually difficult for some. It all comes down to trust and faith in the love Christ has for us all.
Today we finish up the book of James and I appreciate what he has to say in James 5:12, Above all, my brothers, do not swear – not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned. We all know that person who likes to exaggerate the truth. And with Social media in play, we see many “creative liberties” with the way people present their lives. A person’s reputation is formed by living a life of integrity and their ability to present who they are and what they do in a truthful manner. When someone lies, presents half-truths or omissions of the truth, they become untrustworthy. In the end, the truth always makes its way to the surface. Mark Twain once said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
Why do we worry so much about tomorrow? James 4:14 says, Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. When we spend the majority of our time worrying about what happens next, we miss out on what is happening right now. God has placed us in this life for a reason and we may never know what that reason is. But when we spend all our time working for the future, we may lose sight of the impact we can have in this world through our actions today. Trusting in God is more than just trusting He will take care of our future; we already know He has done that. Trusting in God is more about having faith that He will guide our steps. Let us all look to God in our daily lives and how we can influence others today.
Peace comes from one source and that is from God. This is a great reminder for all of us. When we face situations that make us anxious, remember God can bring us peace and tranquility if we simply ask and have faith. Also, He does it in a way we don’t necessarily understand, but that is what makes it even more special and fulfilling.
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It is easy to criticize people who do things we don’t agree with. James explains in James 3:9-10 how wrong it is to criticize with the same mouth that is supposed to encourage others and provide praise to God, 9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. James clearly states how wrong it is to use your mouth to criticize, when we should be using it to praise our Lord and Father. If we are so busy praising God, we will not have time to find fault in others.
In our reading today, James 2:14 can be a bit confusing, What good is it, my brother, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? When I first read this, it seemed to imply that works were necessary for salvation. But just the opposite is true. The verse simply states that faith should transform us. If our lives remain the same, we don’t truly believe the truth about who Jesus is and what He came for. As true believers we should be transforming into being more like Christ. If that isn’t happening, then our relationship is not true, or at a minimum, not growing. Faith is revealed by how we act based on our beliefs.
Today we begin reading in the book of James. As you will recall, we are reading the New Testament in chronological order of events. The book of James was the first book written after the gospels and lines up with events as they happened in the book of Acts. The author is obviously James who was the half brother of Jesus. There are some people who have a hard time with the book of James because, while he talks about grace that comes through salvation from Christ’s sacrifice, there is a lot of talk about actions. This tends to confuse people into thinking it is all about works. James simply brings into view the outcomes that should come from those who have been miraculously saved and are in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In the first chapter of James we find my favorite verse, James 1:12, Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. As we have seen in our past reading, God does not promise an easy and perfect life. But He has promised our reward of eternal life when we have stood against all this life has to throw at us.
In today’s reading I found it entertaining the people of Lystra thought Paul and Barnabas were Zeus and Hermes. The Greeks of that area recognized the supernatural abilities of the Apostles. But it was not the abilities of the Apostles, but of God working through them. If we stop trying to do great things for God and allow God to do great things through us, we would see much greater results. The total submission and willingness to be used by God to bring others into knowledge and relationship with Christ is the example we should learn here.
The beauty of the Gospel is that we are freed from the guilt of sin. This does not mean we can sin freely, but that we are not slaves to our sin nature. In Acts 13:38-39 Paul says, 38 Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses. Previously, the law was like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. But through Jesus’ sacrifice for each of us we are free from the bondage of sin and the effects of it. We are all given a gift we could never give ourselves no matter how hard we try.