A physical prison is built brick by brick. Similarly, a spiritual prison can be erected one sin at a time without a believer noticing. Ensnarement happens slowly, beginning with a thought. Over time, unless the thought is eradicated, contemplation turns to action. With Satan falsely promising happiness as the reward for giving in to temptation, sin gains strength through repetition until our conscience is finally overpowered. One day we discover the devil holds our will in bondage.
But we can avoid spiritual chains. Our first step is to acknowledge two basic truths: All sin enslaves, and bondage begins in the mind. We cannot maintain a healthy relationship with the Lord while indulging sin. When a wrong thought creeps into our consciousness, we have the choice to expel it or to entertain it. Through the strength of the Holy Spirit, every believer possesses power to change his or her mind.
A strong antidote to temptation is a long-term view of disobedient behavior. A second step, then, is to ask ourselves, Is the pleasure of this sin worth the consequences of enslavement? Inevitably, the answer is no. What alcoholic would claim that his next drink is worth the powerlessness he feels against the bottle?
Third, we order our life according to Scripture. That is, we make the choice to place ourselves in bondage to the Father because we find true freedom in Him. His Word trains us to recognize sin and excises wrongdoing from our heart. Ask God to speak through the Bible today, and see what He reveals about your life.
Bible in One Year: Ezekiel 43-45
Read: 2 Corinthians 3:1–6
Bible in a Year: Proverbs 8–9; 2 Corinthians 3
You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. —2 Corinthians 3:2
My mother and her sisters engage in what is increasingly becoming a lost art form—writing letters. Each week they pen personal words to each other with such consistency that one of their mail-carriers worries when he doesn’t have something to deliver! Their letters brim with the stuff of life, the joys and heartaches along with the daily happenings of friends and family.
I love to reflect on this weekly exercise of the women in my family. It helps me appreciate even more the apostle Paul’s words that those who follow Jesus are “a letter from Christ,” who were “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God” (2 Cor. 3:3). In response to false teachers who wanted to discredit his message (see 2 Cor. 11), Paul encouraged the church in Corinth to keep on following the true and living God as he had previously taught. In doing so, he memorably described the believers as Christ’s letter, with their transformed lives a more powerful witness to the Spirit working through Paul’s ministry than any written letter could be.
How wonderful that God’s Spirit in us writes a story of grace and redemption! For as meaningful as written words can be, it is our lives that are the best witness to the truth of the gospel, for they speak volumes through our compassion, service, gratitude, and joy. Through our words and actions, the Lord spreads His life-giving love. What message might you send today? —Amy Boucher Pye
Lord God, write the story of my life so that I might reflect Your love and goodness to those I encounter today.
We are Christ’s letters.
INSIGHT: Our Lord Jesus said we are the salt and light of the world (Matt. 5:13-14) to illustrate the impact believers have in their community (v. 16). We are not saved by our good works (Eph. 2:8-9), but once saved what we do and how we live are a witness to the power of Christ to change lives. Sim Kay Tee
Author Flannery O’Connor wrote stories set in the South about odd characters facing spiritual choices. “I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe,” she said. Today’s passage appears to be a disagreement about bread, but it is really about the difficult choice between belief and disbelief.
To both His disciples and to the crowd in the synagogue, Jesus claimed to be the living “bread that came down from heaven” (v. 58). This conversation clearly reveals the confused state of mind of His followers. First, they were looking for a direct solution to their physical needs. They wanted Him to be the bread that satisfied their physical cravings. Notice how they compared him to manna (v. 31). They even phrased it as a demand: “Always give us this bread” (v. 34).
They did not understand that Jesus Himself was the only bread that would satisfy their deepest spiritual longings. They wanted Jesus for what He could give them—physical healing, miraculous provisions, or political freedom. They saw a man whose parents they knew, and they resisted His claim of divinity (v. 42).
Jesus redirected the conversation to His identity as the Son of God. He referred back to the Scriptures and attempted to explain to them that He is the “bread of life” (v. 48). But even after several lengthy explanations, they continued to misunderstand His message: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (v. 52).
The religious skeptics were not the only ones confused. Even His disciples struggled to believe. In fact, many turned away from Jesus and quit following at this point. This was the fork in the road, the dividing point. Would they believe or would they walk away?
APPLY THE WORD
Each of us comes to a crossroads where we must either choose to believe or walk away. What is your choice? Do you believe that Jesus is indeed the Son of God, the bread of life? Do you trust His claims rather than demand that He conform to your own expectations? Through Jesus we can find life, but only if we follow Him.
Is not My word like fire [that consumes all that cannot endure the test]? says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks in pieces the rock [of most stubborn resistance]?— Jeremiah 23:29
What do you usually think of when you hear the word “confession”? Many people think first of the definition that has a negative connotation—being forced to admit you have done something wrong. But when we agree with God’s Word by “confessing” it out loud, the result is always positive.
An acquaintance of mine says we cannot defeat Goliath with our mouths shut. When David was preparing to do battle with the giant Goliath, he ran toward him, confessing out loud what he believed the end result of the battle would be: “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand… “(1 Sam. 17:46 AMP).
This is a good example of how we should approach the enemies in our own lives. We must open our mouths and speak the Word of God.
I strongly encourage you to confess the Word of God out loud daily. Each time a thought comes to your mind that does not agree with God’s Word, confess the truth of His Word out loud, and you will find that the power of the Word will overcome the lie.
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7, KJV).
If you and I have a desire to imitate God, seldom do we accomplish that purpose more than in the practice of showing mercy.
God delights in nothing more than in the exercise of showing mercy. One of the clear prerequisites to real happiness is this display of genuine mercy. Surely God has given us the supreme example, by giving His only Son to die in our place. That is mercy beyond comprehension, beyond description.
The world speaks often of having someone at its mercy. In a very real sense, God has us at His mercy – but He chose to be merciful and make a way of escape for us. The decision to take that way is ours.
To the degree that we show mercy to the poor, the wretched, the guilty – to that degree we are like God. And if He keeps us here on earth to be conformed more and more to His image, how important it is that we trust Him – by His indwelling Holy Spirit – to make us merciful.
When we do something to glorify God, like giving a cup of cold water in His name, in obedience to His commandments, and with a desire that He should be honored, He will consider it as done unto Him and reward us accordingly.
The lesson is clear: the merciful shall obtain mercy. And who among us is not a candidate for more of God’s mercy?
Bible Reading: Luke 6:31-36
TODAY’S ACTION POINT: “Dear Lord, with Your great mercy as the supreme example, I resolve to allow your Holy Spirit to show mercy through me.”
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Ephesians 4:15
You confront because you care about the circumstance, the person, and/or the organization. Non-confronters are driven by fear, not care. They are fearful of rejection, of hurting someone’s feelings, of losing their position, even their job. Fear drives out care and replaces it with delayed dysfunction. A non-confronting culture is filled with fear, gossip, and resentment. A confronting culture, on the other hand, is safe, secure, and rewarding. You are praised for speaking your mind. Authenticity is encouraged, and you speak up because you strongly believe in the values of the organization. You are compelled not to compromise excellence by expedience, or value results over relationships.
So you take the time to speak your mind with respect. You say what you mean and you mean what you say. Your clarity in communication means you want to resolve any relational rubs with a better process or program. You confront because you care, so confront often. This keeps any wrongs from turning into resentments. Confront caringly, for this shows respect and that you want what’s best for everyone. Confront calmly and attack the issue, not the individual; this invites dialogue. The spirit of confrontation defines its effectiveness.
It is also important to get the facts before you confront. Take the time to understand the situation and the people involved. Clarification around the truth avoids misunderstandings and many times prevents major blow-ups. Without confrontation we assume inaccuracies that come back to bite us; phrases like, “I didn’t know you meant that,” or, “I didn’t understand, so I assumed…” Fact-finding keeps us from wrongly accusing, or at the very least, wrongly assuming. Teachable hearts accept truthful speech when it’s delivered in love. So, honor the person, as this increases their receptivity. Apologize for your insensitive or inappropriate actions, for this disarms the other person and promotes trust. In the same way, receive those who confront you.
Read: Luke 1:26-38
Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (v. 30)
In Luke 1, both Zechariah and Mary are surprised by angels who tell them not to fear. Zechariah says, “How shall I know this?” (v. 18). Mary says, “How will this be?” (v. 34). After all, the fulfillment of both promises will require a miracle. Zechariah’s wife is too old to conceive a child, and Mary is still a virgin.
Both receive comfort and encouragement from the angels who tell them about each of their promised sons. While Zechariah desperately wants a son to preserve his reputation and legacy, Mary knows that the timing of this birth could ruin her reputation. Zechariah’s and Mary’s attitudes and heart responses are also different. Zechariah’s fear causes him to be skeptical and he wants proof. Mary’s fear turns to curiosity, wonderment, and then acceptance. She replies, “I am the Lord’s servant . . . may your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38 NIV).
It is human nature to want a guarantee that when God promises something spectacular yet humanly impossible, it will happen. When God says, “Do not be afraid . . . your prayer has been heard,” or “You have found favor with God,” what will my response be? I would like to follow Mary’s example by humbly asking God how something will happen rather than following Zechariah and expecting proof. —Denise Vredevoogd
Prayer: Dear God, help us to surrender our fears and say, like Mary, “May your word to me be fulfilled.”