What Is a Christian?

See the source image

How do others know you’re a follower of Christ? Is it your “Daughter of the King” T-shirt? Maybe it’s the fish on your car or posting Jesus memes on social media. Perhaps it’s how you rail against sins you would never commit. Do these things say you are a Christian? No more than sitting in a garage says you are a car. There are three things that Jesus identified as marking His followers.

Love – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Twice: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” ((John 15:12). And again: “This is my command: Love each other” (15:17). Three times Jesus said, “Love one another.” And this is the only time in all four gospels that Jesus called His words a “command.”

Fruit – “This is to my Father’s glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15:8). Fruit is the evidence of what something or someone is. A peach tree bears peaches. A banana tree bears bananas. A Christian bears the fruit of the Spirit: love (there it is again), Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Persecution – “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19). If you belong to Christ, you have a target painted on your back.

The church wants to say it is all about doing and saying the right things. The world says it is approving all kinds of sin for the sake of “love.” But Jesus said the mark of a Christian is love for the Body of Christ, producing fruit, and being hated by the world. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little uneasy right now. Beloved, what is it about you that tells the world you belong to Jesus?

The Joy of the Lord

Photo: my precious Joy – photo by her mommy, Ashley Andrews

You may have noticed when I write the word Joy, I always capitalize it as a nod to my granddaughter Joy. She has brought so much Joy to my life. No, my Joy is not in her, but God has used her to open my crusty heart to receive the Joy of the Lord.  I’ve never been a bubbly, happy-happy person. My best friend always gave me coffee mugs, kitchen towels, and wall hangings with “JOY” plastered on them. She said she was going to force Joy on me “whether I liked it or not.” Don’t tell her I said this, but I did like it. When they told us what our granddaughter’s name was going to be, I called my bestie and we both laughed. But even as much as we love her, the past two years haven’t always been grins and giggles. There have been some hard days, but my Joy has remained. Not because of my granddaughter, but because my Joy is rooted in the Lord.

She’s not the first baby to inspire Joy. When Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, went to visit her much-older cousin, Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John, the older woman declared, “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for Joy” (Luke 1:44). How could a baby in the womb recognize the Lord? Because “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 41). That’s the secret to Joy. Joy is not an emotion, it is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). In the Scriptures, fruit is the outward evidence of what is going on inside. We recognize a peach tree by its soft, golden-pink fruit which is produced in the tree. People will recognize the presence of God’s Spirit in us by the fruit: “love, Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control” (vv. 22-23).  When we “live by the spirit” (v. 16) and are “led by the Spirit” (v. 18) and “keep in step with the Spirit” (v. 25) we will exhibit all the fruit of the Spirit.  

Beloved, are you low on fruit? Maybe you need to nurture your soul with more of the Holy Spirit. How? Feed on the Word. Drink in praise. Prune off the dead branches of sin. And let the Son shine on you. That where you’ll find the Joy of the Lord.

Okay, I’m Saved. Now What?

May be an image of text that says 'UNDER CONSTRUCTION RUCTION'

Yesterday I wrote about God’s grace, about how salvation is a work that God alone accomplishes on our behalf. It is truly an amazing thing. But what comes next? Now that we are a “new creation in Christ” (2 Cor 5:17) do we just wait around for heaven? No. Now a new work begins. It’s called sanctification and it’s not just behavior modification though your behavior will change. It involves a transformation on the inside that works its way to the outside.
Like salvation, sanctification is God’s work. But it is not His work alone. It is also our work. It is a combined, life-long partnership between us and the Holy Spirit. Paul explained it well saying, “It is God who works in you” (Philippians 2:13) as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (v. 12). After His opus of salvation, God works in us through His Word and His Holy Spirit. We read the Word which “teaches, rebukes, corrects and trains us in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). The Spirit roots those truths in our hearts. He convicts us of sin, encourages us to persevere, and empowers us to obey and to walk in righteousness. That’s a lot! What’s left for us to do? Our part is studying His Word, praying, coming together with the Body (the church), and especially, responding in obedience to His commands and His promptings.
“Working out” what God is “working in” us is a daily discipline. And it’s hard work. There are no shortcuts to sanctification. It will require everything of you. Part of sanctification is pruning – removing from us those things that hinder our progress – habits, addictions, wrong thoughts, immorality, prejudices, pride, rebellion, selfishness, anger, laziness, lack of self-control. Oh, He has so much work to do in me. But then He begins the building work – filling us with “the fruit of the Spirit:” love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). That’s where we see the transformation on the inside working its way to the outside.
What’s the goal? That you and I might be “conformed to the likeness of the Son of God” (Rom. 8:29). That the world might see Jesus when they look at you. Beloved, will you join God in the good work of sanctification?

The Fruit of Peace

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” Galatians 5:22

We have looked at peace in several different ways this Advent week, like turning a precious jewel to see its different facets.  Today, we are going to turn this gem one more time, and see another beautiful perspective of peace.  In this devotional, we will be looking at the fruit of peace, as we celebrate this season of the birth of the Prince of Peace.

First, as our key verse says, peace is a fruit in itself.  It is one of the fruits produced by the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Peace is not something we manufacture on our own.  It is a natural by-product of being filled with the Spirit through the vine that is Jesus Christ (see John 15:1-8).  But we are told to “seek peace” as Psalm 34:14 says: “Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”  We can’t make peace, but we can follow Jesus Christ, who is the Peace-giver.

Peace produces “fruit” of its own, according to the Bible.  Proverbs 14:30 tells us that peace is a path to good health – “A heart at peace gives life to the body.”  A heart at peace beats in a body that is generally free from the stress and anxiety and bitterness that medical science warns will destroy our health.  Daniel 10:19 also tells us that peace brings strength – “”Do not be afraid, o man highly esteemed.  Peace! Be strong now; be strong.”  The peace that we find in our God strengthens us to persevere in difficulties and to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Prov. 3:5). God’s peace assures us that our Heavenly Father is in control of all things that concern us.  Peace combined with trust equals hope – “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).   James 3:18 says “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”  Now we have a vine that is becoming heavy with the fruit of peace.

And now we take the fruit of peace and reach out beyond ourselves, as Ephesians 4:3 says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  Peace brings God’s people together in unity.  If you are following the Prince of Peace and I am following the Prince of Peace, we are of one heart and mind – the perfect picture of unity in Christ.

Jesus promises us peace in times of trouble – “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  This is the peace that Paul talked about in Philippians 4:7 – “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  This peace of mind and heart is the peace that only comes when we trust in the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, God’s perfect Son.

Perhaps the most precious fruit of peace is found in Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5.  Jesus declared “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (v. 9).   When we bear the fruit of the peace of Christ in our lives; when we pursue peace by following Jesus the Peace-giver, we have His promise that we will be called sons (and daughters) of God!

The promise of peace is indeed a precious gift, a gift that continues to give, producing fruit that benefits us and others, and ultimately unites us with our Heavenly Father as His children.  “For He Himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14).

 Father in Heaven, I receive this gift of peace through Your Son, Jesus.  I will seek peace by following my Savior all the days of my life; and will be your child for all eternity.  Amen

Peace of Mind

“The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7

We need peace in this world.  We need peace between ourselves and God.  We need peace when we are afraid.  And we need peace when we are upset and our minds are a whirlwind of anxious and angry thoughts.  We need the peace that only comes from the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.  This is the peace we are focusing on in this week of the Advent season.

I am upset today.  My mind is racing with a hundred thoughts of frustration and anxiety, all because of some comments my seminary professor made.  I am having a hard time grabbing hold of the things that I need to focus on today.  I need peace of mind this morning.  I wonder if you do too.

God promised us the gift of peace, and if you have received Jesus Christ as your Savior, that peace is yours.  We’ve seen that He has made peace possible between us and God, and that He is our peace when we are afraid.  But what about now, when the real issue is simply my thoughts and attitude?  How do I find peace when my mind is anything but peaceful?  I have to choose peace.

The peace of Christ is there for me, but it is my choice to receive and apply it, or to leave it on the shelf and continue to stew.  Where will I allow my thoughts to roam – to the wasteland of anxiety or to the peace of Christ?  Two verses of Scripture offer me important keys.  From the Old Testament, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trust in you” (Is. 26:3). And from the writings of Paul, “the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6).  I can have the peace of God by focusing my mind on Him, trusting Him, remembering His faithfulness and His character; and by submitting my mind to the control of the Holy Spirit.  I cannot just grit my teeth and force myself to be at peace.  Peace is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22), and it only comes when I am surrendered to the Spirit.  Ephesians 4:23 tells us to “be made new in the attitude of your minds.”  This will only happen when we fill our minds with the things of God; things that are “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy” (Phil 4:8).  Isn’t it interesting that when we consider all these characteristics we are to think on, they all add up to one thing. Jesus.

Holy Father, Giver of true Peace, I chose today to turn my thoughts to the Baby in the manger, the flesh-and-blood gift of your perfect peace.  Let my mind be at peace, Jehovah Shalom as I trust in You.  Amen.