Obedience is an Invitation

Let me give you something to do. Or rather, not to do. Just think about what would happen if you did.

Starting tomorrow, tell everyone you know–coworkers, neighbors, friends, family–that from now on, your friendship and love toward them will depend on them doing what you say. Then let me know how it goes.

So, why would Jesus say something to us that would sound like that if we said it to other people? Why is Jesus’ statement not bossy or selfish when he says it? To see what I mean, look at what he says in John 14:21:

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me, and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.

So, why is it not only ok”, but actually good and right for Jesus to say this to us?

The other day, I met with Jonny, a student I am discipling. I had us both write down our observations and questions as we looked at John 14:21 for a few minutes. Then, we discussed it together and had a great time! Here are just a few truths we talked about:

Jesus is the only one whose will for us is always good for us

We rightly shrink from bossy or self-centered people who are only happy with us when we please them. But if we think about why, it is because we cannot trust that they will always want what is best for us.

But with Christ, what he tells us to do is always for our good. So, to obey Jesus is to do what is the best thing in the world for us at every moment. But, that doesn’t always make it easy! And that’s where the next truth is so helpful!

Jesus himself lived out this verse

John 14:21 can seem like a rather strong statement to us. But I find it so humbling and exciting that Jesus made similar statements about his own relationship with his Father!

For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again (John 10:17).

I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here (John 14:30-31).

Jesus showed his love for the Father by obeying him, even to the point of obediently dying on the cross.

What at first may seem like a strong or even harsh command in John 14:21 is not so. Actually, it is an invitation for us to join Christ in his life of obedience and love toward the Father. We are welcomed into the indwelling presence of Father, Son and Spirit with us as we love and obey Jesus.

May God help us see obedience to him as not simply something we must do, but as a pathway to deeper fellowship with Christ and his Family!


Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

July 19, 2021

Is being biblical” really what drives me?

I don’t know about you, but I am very concerned with what is biblical. I even try to capitalize the word Biblical, at least most of the time! I believe we should live according to what God has revealed as true and good. And since he has revealed that in the Bible, we should all be highly motivated by the question: is it Biblical?

But today I was thinking about an interaction Jesus had with the Pharisees and experts in the law. The specific point of tension in the story circles around healing. Is it permissible to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”

Here’s the story from Luke 14:1-6 in my words, which are similar to the ESV and NLT:

One day, Jesus went to the home of a leader of the Pharisees on the Sabbath, to eat a meal. And they were keeping a close watch on him.

And, wouldn’t you know it, there in front of Jesus was a man who had a disease called dropsy that makes your body swell up.

Jesus responded to the experts in the law and to the Pharisees, saying, Is it permissible to heal on the Sabbath, or is it not?” But they would not say anything.

So, Jesus took hold of the man, healed him, and let him go.

And he said to them, Who of you, if his son or his ox falls into a well, will not rush to pull him out, on the Sabbath day?”

But they could not give an answer to these things.

Who of you?”

The point of tension in the story is clearly around what is lawful.” But, Jesus does not even bring up anything from the law or from any Scripture. After healing the man, he does not say, It is written…” Instead, he asks who of you…?” He points to the actual lives of these Pharisees and experts in the law.

Their desire to please God is not their deepest drive. And that, of course, is Jesus’ point.

There is more to this story, but Jesus has really given me some things to think about.

Is being Biblical” what really drives my behavior?

Is my concern about being Biblical” actually rooted in a desire to please God?

April 23, 2021

No other name

I’ve got two questions for you:

  1. Is there salvation apart from Jesus Christ?
  2. Do people need to know the name of Jesus in order to be saved?

My answers, which I believe come directly from Scripture, are:

  1. No
  2. Yes

I believe God makes these answers very clear. But first, let me give some background.

Why am I bringing up these questions?

A friend recently told me of a conversation with fellow Christian missionaries. One of them gave a long explanation for why he believes some people today may be saved by Christ, but without actually knowing Christ. The idea is that while Christ’s perfect life, atoning death and his bodily resurrection are the basis for salvation, perhaps people can be counted righteous like Abraham, even though they may never have heard anything about Jesus Christ of Nazareth. So, the idea is that Jesus is the basis or grounds of our salvation, but maybe does not need to be the object of our faith.

My friend sees this way of thinking as an attack on the Gospel. I agree. He also believes this undermines any real motivation for evangelism or missions. I agree.

Let’s look at a few passages of Scripture which address these ideas.

Jesus is the salvation we need

In this verse from Isaiah, the LORD is speaking to his Son:

It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. (Isaiah 49:6)

Through Christ, God’s salvation reaches to the end of the earth. That means that apart from Christ, God’s salvation does not reach to the end of the earth.

Furthermore, we see that in the previous verse, God is talking to one who will be formed from the womb.” So, there is a matter of timing and history here. Isaiah’s prophecy is about the arrival of Christ in the flesh. Jesus was not yet the Light for the nations until he was incarnated and born. Only through Jesus Christ incarnate does God’s salvation reach to the ends of earth.

But how does Jesus’ salvation reach the ends of the earth?

Through the preached Gospel.

Paul says that this Isaiah verse is a command from God for him and Barnabas to preach the gospel of Christ. Look at this verse where Paul quotes from Isaiah 49:6:

For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 13:47)

Did you notice the slight change in wording in the last line of the quote? In Isaiah 49:6, God had said that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth”. But when Paul quotes it, he says, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”

Paul’s understanding is that the preaching of the message about Jesus is the way that Jesus’ salvation will reach the ends of the earth.

Notice the logic Paul uses here. Jesus is the light for the Gentiles. He is the salvation that everyone needs. However, in order for people to receive the Light of Christ and enter into that salvation, they must hear the Gospel of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The preaching of Paul and Barnabas (and of Christians today) is the way that God has chosen for his salvation through Christ to reach the ends of the earth.

And Peter and John said, Amen!”

When Peter and John were confronted about their healing in the name of Jesus, they took the opportunity to preach the much more important message: Jesus is God’s chosen cornerstone and the only source of salvation.

11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:11-12)

Verse 12 is very clear. There is salvation in no one else, only in Jesus. Not only that, but it is explicitly in the name of Jesus that salvation is to be found. And not only that, but this is the case for everyone who lives under heaven”. That is universal language. So, whoever lives under heaven must put faith in the name of Jesus as their Savior. Outside of calling on the name of Jesus of Nazareth, there is no salvation.

Let’s tell people about the salvation that only Jesus can provide.


Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

March 31, 2021

Believing in God’s Unchanging Goodness to Us

We are tempted to believe that God holds back from us.

Notice the way James draws our attention to this tendency:

Don’t be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights, in whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (James 1:16-17, my translation)

James warns us strongly that we can be deceived into thinking of God as fickle or intermittently uninterested in us. I think that’s what the variation or shadow of turning” refers to.

It’s like being at a party with someone you enjoy, and you have all their attention. Then, they see someone else in the room they want to connect with, and suddenly your friend turns toward them instead of keeping their face and posture toward you. And it hurts when our friend turns from us.

And as James brings this up, he doesn’t just say, It is very important for you to remember this,” or something like that. He uses the strong phrase, don’t be deceived.” To doubt God’s goodness toward us is to be deceived.

But what’s at stake?

First, when I stop trusting that God will provide what is good for me, I will look somewhere else. I might start to be overly reliant on money or planning ahead, for example. Going down this road a bit, I might become more open to self-help gurus. Or I might double down to be pleasing to God as a way to earn his approval, when in fact I already have it and cannot earn it. I think we all inevitably become more self-protective when we doubt God’s goodness toward us. I really see that theme in the Sermon on the Mount: self-protection vs trust in our good Father.

Second, if we are duped by this deception and think that God is shifty or not solidly good toward us, then we are believing what is unworthy of God. I’ve been listening to an audio book of Augustine’s Confessions. He often points out how easy it is to believe lesser things about God, which dishonors him. To believe that God is pretty good or somewhat faithful to us his children is basically to call him a bad Father and an uncaring or incompetent Provider. Ouch.

But God IS good to us

For those of us who are trusting Christ as our Savior and Lord, we can be sure that God is unwaveringly, unhesitatingly good to us.

He has already given over his Son to suffer and die in our place; therefore, we know he is NOT holding back any good from 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? (Romans 8:32 ESV)

James points out that this Father of Lights gives us not only a gift or even gifts, but good and perfect gifts. And not only that, he gives us every good gift and every perfect gift. In fact, he is the source of all the truly good things in our lives! James helps us remember that our new birth into God’s family, our salvation itself, is the gift of this good Father.

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:16-18 esv)

Let’s resist the deceptive thought that God is sometimes ambivalent toward us. Let’s hold onto the truth that God is for us as our Redeemer and our Father.

He never looks away from us.

He never turns his back to us.

In him, there is no variation or shadow due to turning.” He is for us.


Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

March 17, 2021