Day 61: Grace and Duty

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV

 

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?

So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ”

Luke 17:7-10, NIV

 

I believe One of the most important things for Christians to understand is the relationship between grace and duty. When we read that we are not saved by works, many people conclude that works are not even needed. Of course this is wrong, because the same passage that points out that we are not saved by works also points out that we were created to do good works.

 

While this might be confusing at first, Jesus' teaching in Luke 17 helps us to understand. The fact is that we are servants, and the function of a servant is to serve. The Bible's teaching is clearly not that we have no work to do, it's just that work alone is simply not enough. That's where the relationship between grace and duty comes in: Though we could never do enough to be worthy of eternal salvation, (thus grace), we still have our part to do (thus service).

 

When we understand that we were created to serve, but that we are saved by grace through faith, it takes the pressure off. The reason for this is that we could never do enough work to pay back Jesus for His sacrifice, but through grace we can do enough to do our duty. And, when you think about it, that's all God has ever asked of anyone. No more, but no less!

 

Today's reading is Luke 17. Like the rest of the Word of God, it helps us to understand.

Day #60: Two Masters

No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.

Luke 16:13-14, ESV

 

Of all the truths that Jesus uttered, this is probably one of the hardest for men to accept. We live in a physical world that demands our attention. After all, we have to eat and have a place to stay. Since  these things take money, we have to work, and we have to give serious thought to money.

 

But note that Jesus is not denying our need for money, or even the fact that it will take hard work and large amounts of time to get it. He is simply saying that we cannot serve God and money, for a man can only have one master. It is not until we understand that God alone is our Master, and that all other things, including money, are merely tools that we use to serve Him, that we can actually live in the way that God wants us to live.

 

When the Pharisees heard this, they ridiculed Jesus. Do we?

 

The reading for today is Luke 16. It contains a perspective that we have to have in order to live for the only Master that we can have.

Day #59: A Father's Love

And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.

And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But the father said to his servants,[fn] ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.

Luke 15:11-24, ESV

 

Has there ever been a story that reveals the Love that God has for us as the one in this parable told by Jesus? Just think about what we can learn from this lesson:

 

First, we find an entitled son who demands that his father give him property that he has not earned. Then he takes the proceeds, leaves home, and begins to consume his father's possessions in a sinful life. And then something happens that nearly always happens: The son runs out of money, but not before learning one of the critical lessons of sin: While we might enjoy a few fleeting moments of pleasure from sin, we will always, always, always experience long term grief from such a lifestyle.

 

So he ends up in the pig pens, no doubt covered in the filth that is always present in such surroundings. Then, after a while, the son does something that far too few sinful sons do - he comes to his senses! And he repents! And he then decides that he will go home and throw himself on the mercy of his father, not to be given more funds to spend on more sin, but just to have an opportunity just to be in the father's home so that he can serve him And then he starts for home...

 

But no sooner does he stars for home than his father sees him coming. It would seem that the father has been looking to see if his son would repent. And when he does, the father rushes to help him home!

 

This raises a couple of questions. Why does the father not go and get the son before he gets into such a bind? For that matter, why does the father let the son go in the first place? The answers to these questions will help us to understand some very important things about our relationship with God. First, while God does not want any of us to go off into sin, He will let us because part of the test of life is the privilege of our own free will. Second, we cannot be in the presence of God while we are steeped in sin, so we will always have to leave Him when we involve ourselves in such sin.

 

There is a lesson in this for all of we parents who might be tempted to go and "bail out" our children when they are still living in sin. As loving an act as this might seem, we cannot allow our children to live in sin in our presence, for they will end up polluting our entire households with the products of their sinful lifestyle. And, though it would be folly to try and get them to come home prior to repentance, like our own loving Father in Heaven, we must be looking for them. For there hopefully will come a day when they come to their senses and will need help coming home.

 

And, by the way. Our loving Father will do the same for us... if we will let Him!

 

This is why we read! So we can learn the lessons that our Father has for His beloved children. Today's lesson is from Luke chapter 15.

 

 

 

 

Day #58: Counting the Cost

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’

Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

Luke 14:28-33, ESV

 

What is Jesus trying to tell us with all of this talk of building towers and going to war? And, why should we even care about such things? After all, we are not planning on building a tower or going to war, are we? Well, in a way we are, for when you are deciding whether or not to become a true disciple of Christ, you really do have to count the costs.

 

So, let's break these thoughts down a bit more. What does a Christian life have in common with building a tower? One similarity that comes to mind is that both are meant to be very prominent. In other words, they are designed to be seen. So, if you are building a tower and stop halfway, people are going to notice. In a similar fashion, anyone thinking of becoming a Christian, but who stops part way is going to open himself up to ridicule.

 

But what about the comparison of kings going to war? I thought that Christians were not supposed to be inclined towards conflict and conquests. While this is true enough, whether we like it or not, becoming a Christian is going put you at enmity with a number of people. If we are serious about following Christ and wearing the name "Christian", this is going to open us up to hostile "fire" from those on the other side, just as wearing the opposing uniform would during a time of war.

 

So, whether we are talking about the comparison to towers or warfare, we are going to have to calculate if we are willing to pay the price - thus the importance of counting the costs. Jesus said that in effect it is a renouncing of all that we have, so we really do have to decide in advance if we can afford to pay the price of being a disciple of Christ.

 

Have you?

 

Today's reading is from Luke 14. It will help you to decide if you can afford the price of serving Jesus.

Day #57: The Last Chance

And he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, 'Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?'

And he answered him, 'Let it alone, sir, this year also, till I dig about it and put on manure And if it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"

Luke 13:6-9, RSV

 

This is a sobering parable, once we realize what it is all about. Yet, it can also be a very encouraging parable for those who heed its message.

 

It's certainly not a difficult parable to understand. It involves the example of a fig tree that should have been producing fruit for three years, but had not. So the man who owns the tree wants it to be cut down since it is just taking up valuable resources, but the man who looks after the trees asks for one more year. If it bears fruit, great! But if not, it will be cut down.

 

The message cannot be lost on us. We have been placed here by God and He expects us to bear fruit for Him. There comes a point in everyone's life where they should be bearing that fruit, but for some reason or another, they do not. That being the case, there will come a final chance. Only God knows when His willingness to let us go without bearing fruit will come, but the day will certainly come. If we begin to bear fruit, great! But if not...

 

Are you bearing fruit? If not, when do you think your last chance will come? Could this be your final year?

 

This is why we are reading! To make sure that we do not miss our last chance. Understand that God does not want you to miss it, thus the chance, but we must at some point begin to bear fruit or be cut down.

 

Today's reading is Luke 13. It will help us to recognize the responsibility and the privilege of serving our Lord.