Tag Archives: Romans 8:28

Faith that saves embraces and acts

29 May

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. James 2:18-22

—–

In Sunday school growing up, I heard many conversations between student and teacher that went a little bit like this:

T: “Who can tell me what it means to be saved?”
S: “Believing in God.”
T: “Yes, but believing in God is not enough. Even the devil believes there is a God. We have to repent of our sins, accept Jesus into our hearts and strive to become more like him. That’s what separates us.”

In other words, we can’t just believe IN God to be saved….we have to actually believe him. That means we take him at his word. We believe that what Christ did on the Cross is real and true. And we repent of our sins and work hard to be doers of the word (James 1:22) and become more Christlike, which is our calling (Romans 8:28-29a).

This is confirmed in the commentary on James 2:19 provided by Crossway’s ESV Study Bible:

The affirmation of monotheism stems from the core Jewish creed called Shema. But James stresses its inadequacy, since even the demons believe this, and they shudder. Mere mental assent to the Christian faith does not save anyone. The faith that saves, as both Paul and James affirm, embraces the truth of the gospel and acts accordingly.

So, what is the result of faith that actually believes God? Faithful obedience. But it requires action. How do I know that? Well, let me make a list from Hebrews 11…

  • By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain…
  • By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark…
  • By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age…
  • By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac…
  • By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau…

By faith, they all obeyed. They acted. They trusted. Their faith was ever-so-clearly completed by their works (James 1:22).

Is that not inspiring? I’m feeling challenged to evaluate areas of my life where I’m simply believing in God and not truly believing him. I hope you are, too! Let me leave you with one of my favorite parts of James that helps us remember to do more than just believe IN:

But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. James 1:22-25

Jen


God knows better than I do

10 Apr

Do you ever feel like your prayers go unanswered? Have you ever thought that maybe God has something else for you other than what you’ve been asking for? Something that will answer your prayers, but not the way you want him to? Perhaps that’s because he’s got even better plans for your life than what you could imagine.

I’ve experienced this multiple times within the last few years, and even within the last few weeks. In one instance, I’d prayed for so long that God would make something happen in my life that I thought would be simply perfect.

Turns out, it wouldn’t have been so perfect. He answered my prayer loud and clear, saying, “No.” But then I continued to listen. And he began to reveal to me that he had something else…something better, and something that would bring him glory. But it requires trust. Why? Because I have no idea what his plans are for my future, yet I must know that they will be for my good because that’s what his Word says (how many times can a girl reference Romans 8:28-29a before it becomes redundant? I’m thinking about three billion sounds good).

So anyway, here’s another example of how this has happened very recently: I’ve been out of full-time work since November 2011. For the first month, I was perfectly okay with that because I needed to focus on finishing up my last semester of college. But then I graduated, and four more months passed. Still no job. I was applying, I was praying, I was asking around…and yet, nothing. I wanted to be the girl who graduated and starting working full time right away. I wanted things to go smoothly and perfect.

But God knew what he was doing. He knew I was going to be facing a trial after the new year, and that I would need the first three months of this year to focus on my spiritual life and my relationship with him…without any distractions.

But my favorite part was this: he didn’t leave me penniless in the meantime. In fact, he provided all kinds of side work, freelance jobs and babysitting that has carried me through, paid my bills and even allowed me to set aside $800 so far for a new laptop (since I murdered my old MacBook with a glass of water. Dino, may you rest in peace). This time of working from home, babysitting a little and being frugal with spending has taught me complete dependence on God–a dependence I had not yet known.

It’s been beautiful. Even though I could look at this situation and say, “I’ve been praying for a job for almost six months, why is this happening, God?!” I know that he knew better!

So…in sharing all of this, I must also share that yesterday I got a phone call. I got a job. It’s only part time, but it’s my first step toward working full time again and it’s in my field! And I’ve got another interview on Thursday for a potential second job for the summer. He knows what he’s doing! He knows I’m ready and he will equip me as I dive back into “the real world.”

So let me ask you, are you struggling with trusting God today? Are you experiencing a time of unanswered prayers? Let me encourage you to continue to present your need to God, but then do your best to listen. Ask him to give you strength to follow his will and trust him no matter what the answer is to your prayers!

Jen

That “pesky verse” in James

7 Apr

You know that verse in James that tells us to rejoice when we’re going through a tough time?

You know what I’m talking about. A guest speaker (actually, the former pastor of my church and our current lead pastor’s father) mentioned this verse last Sunday and referred to it as “that pesky verse in James.” Hearing it reminded me of how I have been wanting to blog about it. Check it out:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kids. James 1:2

If you’re reading that verse for the very first time, you’re probably thinking, “Huh? Seriously?”

Yes, seriously.

The NIV words it like so: “Consider it PURE JOY whenever you face trials of many kinds.” The reason we’re told do so comes in the next two verses (ESV):

For you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:3-4

The greatest good that can come of our lives, according to Romans 8:28-29, is to be conformed to the image of Christ. That’s what Paul meant when he wrote, “For those who love God, all things work together for good.”

So…when you face a trial, God allows it because he’s perfecting your faith. He’s also molding you into the image of his Son, if you let him. Those are pure joys.

Today, let go of your hurt and give it to God. Do it every day if you have to! I encourage you not to dwell on your trial, but to look to God and allow him to heal you. Ask him for strength. Consider this time in your life a pure joy. You might not see it now, but when you’re on the other side of this, you’ll be grateful that God allowed whatever you’re facing to happen.

Jen

Difficult transitions

6 Mar

Life is full of change. Sometimes it’s good, and other times it seems bad. Really bad.

But sometimes I wonder if it’s all a matter of perspective.

Maybe I should explain myself. The way I see it, our lives are filled with points of transition. I might get a new job, move into a different house, start going to a new school or decide to start eating healthy. These are all things that consist of a shift, a change or an adjustment. But you know what else we can also define as points of “transition?” Heartbreak. Sorrow. Pain. Even Loss.

These times in our lives really, really stink. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about. Yes, my life is relatively easy compared to people who live in third world countries or to those who live in places where they are persecuted for their faith. Yes, I have it good. But life still hurts sometimes. I’m sure you would agree.

But these times are not times of defeat. These times are not awkward or inconvenient. And most important, they don’t define me. They’ll only define me if I let them define me by choosing to label myself as “the girl who did this or that,” “the girl who dated this person and that person,” or “the girl who used to be ______.”

Yes, these times are times of struggle. But don’t forget, they are only times of transition…difficult transition, that is. But let’s look up “transition” in a thesaurus. Do you see anything negative? Let me know if you do, because I only see words such as “jump,” “leap,” “progress,” “transform” and “convert.” Oh, those are good words! These times of transition are times for us to progress and transform into the image of Christ….hmm, does that sound familiar?

I want to share with you three new ways of looking at a difficult time in life as a transition. Like I just mentioned, these are times that can conform us to the image of Christ like I also discussed in my last post about Romans 8:28.

For my examples, I’m using the phrase, “this is not awkward, this is an opportunity.” This is because a recent, painful event in my own life is now causing me to feel awkward in certain situations. But these moments aren’t really awkward; no, they are opportunities for me to show others that I am a follower of Christ above all else. Feel free to fill in the blank with however you’re feeling and it will still apply. (“This is not defeat, this is an opportunity.” “This is not the end of the road, this is an opportunity.” “This is not the worst thing that’s ever happened, this is an opportunity.”) If you’re facing something tough in your life right now, writing these phrases out on a notecard and preaching to yourself will really help!

This is not awkward, this is an opportunity for me to give God praise.

I recently heard a song on K-LOVE that nearly brought me to tears as I was driving around in my little red Saturn. It’s called “Bring the Rain” by MercyMe, and it goes like this:

Bring me joy, bring me peace
Bring the chance to be free
Bring me anything that brings You glory
And I know there’ll be days
When this life brings me pain
But if that’s what it takes to praise You
Jesus, bring the rain

What bold words those are! But this is how we should train ourselves to think every time we face a trial in our lives. Think about it: if your life were exactly as perfect as you want it to be, do you think you’d never fall away from your faith? Do you think you’d never begin to depend on yourself, thinking you don’t need God because you are controlling your life and doing pretty well with it? Sometimes in our lives, difficult times are gentle whispers from the Lord to remind us to whom all of the glory belongs and on whom we can fully depend. I don’t know about you, but I want to the Lord to do whatever it takes to keep me in his will and keep me trusting and thanking him. Even if it means bringing the rain and rejoicing in the middle of the storm! (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.”)

This is not awkward, this is an opportunity to display Christ.

I have to be honest, sometimes when I am facing a trial, I can be very self-focused. Sometimes, but not always, I shut others out and focus on myself and how bad my pain is. I begin to develop self-pity and think my problems are worse than anyone else’s. In doing so, I am labeling myself and defining myself by what has happened to me instead of using the storm as a chance to show myself as a follower of Christ.

Even though it can be hard to imagine when the pain is real and I’m feeling vulnerable, I want others to see how strong I am and how blessed I am by the Lord as a testimony to them. I want to give him the glory for what he’s doing in my life and not just tell others about the gospel of Jesus Christ, but also live in such a way that I don’t even have to say a word. I want to live in such a way that what I do, not just what I say, displays Christ!

I want to share with you what a friend of mine recently reminded me of. I told her that I was going to have to face some awkward moments in the near future that made me want to just run away from the situation and avoid it altogether, and she reminded me that God gives me the quiet place where I can cry out to him and tell him how I’m feeling. I can give him my hurt and know that I don’t need to fear (1 John 4:18). Then, I can get up and face the day, knowing that he’s with me. He never leaves me. I can do this. This is my story. And he’s the one writing it!

This is not awkward, this is an opportunity for me to trust.

I’m a big big fan of Kari Jobe. I love her voice, I love her music, I love her personality and most of all I love her shoes and her hair! Ok maybe not most of all…actually, most of all, I love this new song of hers called “Find You On My Knees.” Here’s an excerpt:

So what if sorrow shakes my faith,
What if heartache still remains,
I’ll trust you, my god I’ll trust you.
‘Cause You are faithful and

I will find you in the place I’m in, find you when I’m at my end,
Find you when there’s nothing left of me to offer you except for brokenness.
You lift me up, you’ll never leave me thirsty,
When I am weak, when I am lost and searching
I’ll find you on my knees, my knees.

(Side note: watching this video is a lot better than reading the lyrics on a page.)

I love this song because it teaches me to trust. It reminds me that I can trust God because he’ll never leave me. When I’m feeling weak and when I’m feeling lost, it doesn’t take long for me to “search” for God. I just gotta get on my knees. These moments that feel awkward now are the lessons God is using to teach me to trust him. He knows what he’s doing!

This post is getting long, so I will stop here for now. I pray that this reaches some aching hearts today and brings a message of hope!

Jen

He makes all things work together for my “good”

28 Feb

You’ve heard it, I’ve heard it: “He makes all things work together for my good” (Romans 8:28). In fact, I quoted it in my last blog about Colossians 1:17.

When I hear that verse, what comes to my mind is something I think comes to many people’s minds: God is good, he is on my side and he’ll make good things happen to me if I believe in him, such as prosperity, success and happiness. (And I mean, not to start a controversy, but that’s what people like Joel Osteen seem to tell us.) Right?

Wrong.

Romans 8:28 is what I consider to be one of the most commonly quoted (and sometimes misquoted) passages of scripture. It’s kind of a feel-good scripture, isn’t it? And it’s even in a popular worship song that we sing at my church frequently (“Your Name High” by Hillsong). It’s great song and a great message, but only if we understand it the way that it was intended to be perceived. So here’s my attempt at explaining it.

If you read the verse isolated, it’s very difficult to understand what Paul, the author, is telling us. That’s why I want to include part of the following verse (v. 29a). This is from the English Standard Version:

 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.

My first observance when reading this is that the promise of “working all things together for good” is only for those who believe. It’s not for the sinners of the world, but for the sinners who have recognized what Christ did on the cross and become believers, whom I like to call “sinners saved by grace.”

Secondly, this “good” that Paul tells us we are promised is not prosperity. It doesn’t mean that our lives are going to be perfect just because we call ourselves Christians. In fact, life can be even harder because we are Christians.

So then what does he mean?

Well, I absolutely love the Word of God, but it’s true that I am no theologian and I have no biblical degree. I went to college to become a writer, but I can promise you I like to know what I’m writing about. So I did a little research. In fact, I pulled out my dad’s massive ESV Study Bible from under the coffee table and flipped it open to Romans. I found this in the commentary for verse 28:

God weaves everything together for good for his children. The “good” in this context does not refer to earthly comfort but conformity to Christ, closer fellowship with God, bearing good fruit for the kingdom, and final glorification.

This definition of “good” is SO different from what we might naturally think. To me, good things are happiness and wealth. Good things are a new car, the perfect job, a family that gets along, etc. I think that’s a pretty natural way for us to feel. But those aren’t things that necessarily bring God glory or things that are “good” for us when it comes to eternity. Nope! But conformity to Christ and bearing good fruit for the kingdom are things that do bring God glory. Things that are truly good for us as his children, in order to further his purpose.

I’d also like to mention that the commentary for verses 29-30 goes on to explain why we can trust God to work things together for good:

Verses 29-30 explain why those who believe in Christ can be assured that all things work together for good: God has always been doing good for them, starting before creation (the distant past), continuing in their conversion (the recent past), and then onto the day of Christ’s return (the future).

I’m sorry, can I just pause right here and say I LOVE THIS?! God has always been doing good for us and always will. Always! So whenever I am in trouble, whenever I am heartbroken, whenever life is more than I can handle, I can know (because his Word tells me) that he is working ALL THINGS together for good. That’s all things…even the tough stuff. Everything that happens to me, everything in my life…all of it is for my good so that I may become more like Christ. That is extremely comforting and it gives me peace!

Also in my Romans 8:28 research, I found this lovely study by Bob Deffinbaugh called “A Solace in Suffering: The Sovereignty of God” that puts this verse into perspective for when we’re going through difficult times in life. Here’s an excerpt:

Paul turns in verses 28-30 to yet another truth which should sustain the Christian in the midst of the suffering and groanings of this present life—the sovereignty of God. Whatever the Christian sees happening, we may be assured that it is not only under God’s control, but its purpose is to produce what is for God’s glory and for our good. When life’s trials cause some to wonder if God even exists, and others to wonder whether He is in control, the Christian may be assured that God is there. He is in charge of bringing about His purpose for His glory and our good. Let us savor the truth of God’s sovereignty. While His sovereignty brings terror to the hearts of unbelievers, it is music to the Christian’s ears.

I really want to challenge you to consider this passage of scripture the next time you find yourself in a place where life is more than you can handle. Know that God is working all things together for good. For our good! Instead of asking God, “Why is this happening to me?” Try asking him, “How can I become more like Christ through this situation?” It’s a matter of trusting, and it’s also a matter of walking in obedience.

I want to leave you with an example of how Christ himself was obedient to God in times of suffering. Hebrews 5:7-9 tells us that during his earthly life, Christ cried out to his heavenly father to save him from death on the cross. Yet God did not change the course of Jesus’ life; God did not change his destiny. And Jesus was obedient. Oh, and by the way, his obedience is what saves us from our sins today. Please savor that today!

Jen

He holds me together

20 Feb

Our world is filled with hurting people who have lives that are spinning out of control with pain we didn’t ask for or could ever even imagine. And God is making a promise to us, saying, “I am a universe maker and I am a heart former, but I am also big enough to be intimately acquainted with all the circumstances of every one of your lives, and I promise you, no matter what comes in this lifetime, no matter how difficult the road or how dark the night, I will hold onto you and I will literally hold you together.” -Louie Giglio

I have to be honest. Sometimes I think I’ve got it all figured out.

And then something in my life doesn’t go as planned. Nope. In fact, things go the exact opposite of what I wanted. That’s when I get a massive reality check and suddenly realize I haven’t been surrendering my life to God. I’d been trying to do things all on my own. Let me tell you, this experience is humbling.

The truth is that I don’t know a single thing about how the God of the universe works all things together for good (Romans 8:28). What do I mean by that? Well, I understand that good things can come out of a tragic event, but I don’t always get to see the whole story unfold and I definitely don’t always get an answer when I ask, “Why, God?”

But the important thing is that I do know this: In every season, he holds me together. And he holds you together, too.

This is something I learned from a scripture verse that has recently helped me during a difficult time. It’s Colossians 1:17, and it says this:

 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

The first time you read that, you might not really get it. Read it again. Let it sink in. Integrate yourself into that verse: “He is before all things, and in him I am held together.” That means we can trust in God because, first of all, he existed before any of us and he created us. We can also trust in him because he holds ALL things together, meaning that even when our worst nightmares come true, we can know that he will take care of us. He will never forsake us. He will hold us. And he will hold us together. 

Often times when I pray and ask God to help me or someone else, I use the phrase “God, please be with me and/or them.” It was only after a loving friend pointed it out that I realized the silliness of this request. God is always with us. We just need to draw near to him and he will draw near to us (James 4:8)! This gives me SO much security during any storm. All I have to do is draw near and then trust. He will never leave me.

Now here’s the part where things get kinda cool. When I first read Colossians 1:17, I initially thought that it was only referring to the fact that God holds me together in mind and spirit. And he does! But some say it means even more. Watch this video clip of Louie Giglio, pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta and speaker and founder of the Passion movement. This may be old news to some, but I just learned of it recently. In this clip, Louie talks about Laminin, a protein molecule that literally holds us together. When he first Googled the term, he had no idea what he would find. Check it out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_e4zgJXPpI4

Isn’t that amazing? Some say it’s no coincidence that Laminin is shaped like the Cross. And honestly, it should be no surprise to us that it is God who holds us together, even in body. Scripture tells us that he created us and he formed us (Colossians 1:15). He even knew us before we were born and knitted us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139).

While some may argue that it’s just coincidence and that we have no proof of God purposely making this protein in the shape of the Cross, the point is not only that God is powerful enough to have created everything on this earth (including you and me), but also that he cares enough to take care of each of us! No matter what comes our way–the loss of a loved one, a really bad breakup, family drama, physical injury–all we have to do is get on our knees, give our hurt to God and then simply trust. He knows how much our pain hurts and he understands us better than anyone else. He will heal our broken hearts and we will have a story to tell when we’re on the other side of our hard times if we trust him (Please read Psalm 34:18-22 and James 1:2-4!).

As trials come and go in my own life, I have to constantly remind myself that this earth is not my home. And thank God! It is not the end, but it is instead preparing us for eternity in heaven if we give our lives to him. As long as he holds me together–that is, as long as I am on this earth–I will praise him!

If you’re questioning God’s existence or faithfulness in a hard time, just turn to Colossians 1 and any Psalm I have referenced. I pray it would give you the peace that it has given me. During those times when I don’t have all the answers, the best thing I can do is wait, trust and ask the Holy Spirit to fill me with his peace.

Jen