Week 47 Devotion
This week we will continue reading the book of Acts, which is a continuation of the gospel of Luke. In fact, the books of Luke and Acts are really two parts of one unified story about what Jesus began to do and to teach (Luke) and what Jesus continued to do through His followers throughout the world (Acts). This is a fascinating book that shows how the gospel of Jesus spread from Jerusalem to Judea, from Judea to Samaria, and then to the very ends of the earth.
Next, we will be reading the book of James, who was the half-brother of Jesus and also the man who became a “pillar” in the church in Jerusalem. If you read the book of Acts chapters 12-15 you will see James in action and you will also read about his death at the hands of persecutors in Jerusalem. This book is heavily influenced by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and it serves as a strong encouragement for the followers of Jesus to live out their faith in very practical ways.
Finally, this week we will also be reading the book of Galatians which is one of the Apostles Paul’s letters to a church that is really struggling to keep the gospel of God’s free grace at the center of their faith. A problem has risen in this church and it comes in the form of a group of teachers who are teaching that in order to be the true people of God Gentile Christians must obey the Torah, especially the commands to be circumcised, to eat kosher and to keep the holy days. Paul writes this letter to make it clear that salvation comes to those who trust in Christ by faith and not by works of the law. He then explains one of the purposes of the law and helps the church understand how the Spirit brings transformation in the lives of God’s people
Something to meditate on…
The opening chapter of the book of Acts sets up our expectation of what we will read about in the chapters that follow. In chapter 1, Jesus is still with the Apostles and He has spent the last 40 days teaching them about the Kingdom of God but the time has come for Jesus to go back to the Father. Before He ascends back into Heaven, Jesus tells the apostles that they are about to receive the power that Jesus promised them.
In John 13-16, Jesus promised His friends that the day was coming when they would receive the Holy Spirit who would bring to their memory all the things that Jesus had taught them and would bring conviction of sin and righteousness to the world. But here in Acts 1 Jesus lets them know that the Holy Spirit is also going to give them the power they would need to accomplish their mission. They are going to bear witness to Jesus and His gospel in Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria, and finally to the very ends of the earth.
The gospel of the Kingdom is going to spread out and bear fruit in all the world. That’s what we see taking place in this book. The Holy Spirit falls on the day of Pentecost filling the followers of Jesus with power and with miraculous gifts. Those people who are filled with the Spirit begin to bear witness to the gospel and the peoples need of salvation through faith in Christ. When new people believe it not only changes their lives but it begins to also change the city where they live. This change makes some people glad but it also angers others and this leads to the church being persecuted. But this persecution doesn’t stop the preaching of the gospel it only serves to intensify it.
This is the story of the book of Acts and we will see this cycle take place over and over again until the end of the book. What began in Jerusalem with just a handful of Jewish Christians ends in the city of Rome where Paul awaits an audience with the Emperor. The book comes to a close with no real ending because there is no end in sight for the powerful spread of the gospel in the world. Our lives today are a continuation of the story that Luke began in the 1st century and God has called us to live out our part of the story as we allow the gospel to spread in and through us today.
Something to discuss…
The book of James is considered by many to be in the same tradition as the wisdom literature in the Old Testament because at times it reads like the Proverbs. In fact, it seems clear that the two main influences on James’ writings were the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus summary of the Torah, and the book of Proverbs.
But some have also worried that James might not be emphasizing the gospel of grace as clearly as other New Testament authors. Some have even suggested that James contradicts Paul’s message of justification by faith alone. But I don’t think the main burden of James’ letter is to develop our doctrine of sanctification, rather he is emphasizing how the gospel affects our lives. He isn’t focusing on gospel doctrine so much as he is focusing on living a life that bears the fruit of gospel transformation.
His point is not to convince us that we are saved by faith alone, but that real faith will never stand alone. Real faith works. It moves us. It changes us and gets us on our feet to fuel our love for God and for our neighbor. The gospel teaches us how to love others, how to care for the poor, the widows and the orphans. The gospel teaches us to value spiritual wealth more than material wealth. The gospel teaches us to guard our words, to mourn indwelling sin and to live each day like it is our last.
This short book is helping us to understand what it means for us to live as wholehearted, grace transformed followers of Jesus. This book doesn’t contradict the gospel of free grace, it complements it and shows us that true faith in Christ is the root that leads to fruit in our Christian life. Take some time this week to discuss how Jesus teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is influencing James’ writing. Discuss how genuine faith serves to motivate the kind of obedience that James is encouraging in this book.
Something to pray about…
The book of Galatians is the earliest letter of Paul and it shows us that it didn’t take long for legalism to become a real threat to the gospel in the churches. Paul begins this letter by voicing his astonishment that the Christians in Galatia have so quickly abandoned the gospel of salvation by grace alone. He spends the rest of the letter dismantling the legalism that is being promoted by those within the church.
In this book, Paul is going to help us understand one of the purposes of the law and he is going to help us to stop trusting in ourselves for salvation. Jesus alone can save us from sin and keep us in the favor of God.
We may think that we are beyond this kind of legalism but I don’t think we are completely free from it. Legalism lives in our hearts. It shows itself time and again. We are naturally bent toward the belief that in order for others to love us we must do something to earn that love. We are naturally bent to think that in order for God to love us, we must make ourselves lovable. But the gospel seeks to destroy the natural bent of our hearts.
The gospel teaches us that, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The gospel tells us that God loved us before the foundation of the world. The gospel is a testimony to the fact that God’s love for us is not a response to our loveliness but is a product of God’s gracious and merciful heart.
As we read through the book of Galatians this week lets pray that God would let the authority, impact, and power of the gospel destroy the roots of legalism that live in us. Let’s pray that the grace of God would overwhelm our hearts again.