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“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:13-16).

I know the title of this study seems wrong. That’s because we have been consistently taught that living a holy (please understand I use the term “holy” in this post in a relative sense) life before God enables us to experience happiness (joy or contentment). I’m not arguing this isn’t true. On the contrary, the Scriptures often reveal that living according to God’s ways produces a cleaner conscience and a clearer view of Him. Proverbs 3:7-8 is but one good example of this truth: “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil, It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”

It is true – living in a way that pleases God brings pleasure to those who love Him. But this seeking to please God, to be holy and Christ-like, is not some sort of manipulation in order to achieve happiness, as if we can “win” God’s favor. It is actually the byproduct of loving and adoring and treasuring Him above all else because of His grace and glory. This is why we seek to please Him and the blessed benefit is that it brings us closer to Him and thus more joyous. As Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied…”Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:6, 8). Our motivation, however, in this model is His pleasure (happiness) first and ours is secondary, yet our contentment is realized in the pursuit.

Not disputing this profound reality, please bear with me. Let’s go a bit deeper. You see, I think this can be turned around as well. Maybe we are to pursue holiness (which, if I may, makes God “happy”) because we find our happiness (contentment or joy) in Him and Him alone. John Calvin said, ”Unless they establish their complete happiness in [God] they will never give themselves to truly and sincerely to him.” This may sound like semantics, but it isn’t. When we are content in Christ, holiness (pleasing God) is the supernatural (not natural) byproduct of this love and adoration. The first paradigm – we are happy when we are holy – though true, has a distinct ring of obligation and duty. Pursuing a righteous lifestyle, however, because we are so enamored with Christ, echoes authentic worship and genuine devotion.

I think we see this modeled in our focal passage. As you look at verse 13, think of joy or happiness instead of hope. The principle is similar – Peter is telling us that focusing on our hope (or joy or happiness) in Christ is a precursor to the holiness God demands. And that makes perfect sense. In this pattern we see relationship with Christ, not religion, as the motivator of good works. We pursue holiness because of the happiness we have in Him. His being our greatest treasure and the object of the affections of our minds and hearts compels us “to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10). In other words, because Jesus is our prize and possession nothing less than living like Him will satisfy or suffice.

Once again these ideas are not mutually exclusive or contradictory – they are gloriously symmetrical. We are happier when we are living a holier life because this pleases God and magnifies our vision of His majesty. And we intuitively seek happiness. But, just as importantly, we pursue righteousness because we find Jesus as our all-satisfying and all-sufficient Savior and sustainer. And to live in a way that dishonors Him would contradict Him as our greatest pleasure.

Interestingly, the writer of Hebrews suggests both of these ideas in 12:1-4. See for yourself – he tells us to pursue holiness (v.1) but do so compelled and empowered by hearts and minds fixated on the initiator and completer of our faith, Jesus (v.2). And that focusing on our Lord is what enables us to not grow weary in our struggle with sin (v.3,4):

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

So we see a continuum. We find all of our happiness in Christ. This adoration compels us to live a holier, more Christ-like life. The closer we get to Him and the more of His fruit we bear, the happier we are and the more we experience Him who is our greatest pleasure. This experience motivates us to an even more God-pleasing life. And this glorious cycle moves onward and upward! But, as in everything else, it always starts with Jesus.


*This is an excerpt from my book “Captivated Anew: Restored to Pursue Him.” It can be found on virtually any major on-line bookstore in both digital and hardcopy formats.

The most memorable presentation I ever heard took place at a speech competition. The speaker was a tall and sturdily built young man with long, curly red hair and an intense stage presence that captured attention. The man’s content and timing were impeccable; he kept the audience roaring with laughter.  

The giggles, chuckles, and bellowing delight revolved around the speaker’s personal barroom experiences as a drunken reveler. His tales were rich with the humor of falls, curses, faints, cavorting, and his history of making a fool of himself. Each story built on the previous one as the man increased the intensity of the hilarity to a crescendo. The auditorium echoed with riotous laughter as he took a long pause. 

Then … BAM!!! He slammed the podium with his fist and screamed a curse. “What are you laughing at?” he demanded, “I’m an alcoholic!” Immediately the laughter ceased. The room became utterly still; the silence deafened. As the young man returned to his seat without further comment, his point was clear: Why do people laugh at tragedy and shameful topics? Why do we laugh at sin?  

Proverbs 14:9 says, “Fools mock at sin” (NKJV). The bulk of American comedy, in all of its forms, is generally crude, mean, offensive, and sacrilegious. Certainly we question the morals of those who would speak such filth in order to accumulate wealth and popularity, but few of us bother to avoid movies and television shows in which such comedy is embraced. Jesus said: “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander’” (Matthew 15:18-19). He also stated: “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). I’m deeply distressed that Christ-followers find amusement in things that point to the tragedy of sin—things that only highlight the sad, evil thoughts that hold so many hostage. 

In First Thessalonians 5:22 Paul says to believers, “Avoid every kind of evil.” But often believers become intrigued by the vile and base language and stories shared in modern comedy. In doing so, we become participants in the propagation of trash. I agree with few Christian slogans since I find very little substance in “bumper sticker religion,” but one catch-phrase that holds merit when it comes to whether or not a Christ-follower should find enjoyment in vulgar or sacrilegious comedy is “WWJD: What Would Jesus Do?” We should constantly ask ourselves, Would Jesus listen to and laugh at this if He were watching and listening to modern entertainment? If the answer is “no,” we are wise to find entertainment elsewhere.  

Clearly Christ condemned the evil thoughts and words that contaminate our society and taint His creation. They indicate a deeper spiritual issue: our sinful and wicked hearts. In Matthew 12:34 Christ asked, “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” On the surface, it’s easy to see the spiritual depravity of the purveyors of the kind of comedy I’ve mentioned, but to enjoy such filth is also a reflection of our sin-stained hearts. We must hold to Paul’s advice to the church as Ephesus: “There [should] be [no] obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place” (Ephesians 5:4). 

Our innate sinful nature and desire for base things over virtuous ones highlight why we so desperately need a Savior from our sin. When we peel back the layers of our human nature, we expose hearts that are radically different than the ones needed to have fellowship with Holy God. Despite the fact that both our culture and those who live in it have lost their innocence, purity, and naiveté, God still demands these virtues (See Colossians 3:8). God’s Word says, “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11). In the truest sense we can only find those things in Jesus, and so we must pursue Him.  

The Lord is certainly not against laughter; in fact, He created it.  However, let’s remember that He said, “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16) and that His ultimate standard is complete righteousness.  Second Corinthians 5:21 tells us that only in Christ will we find what we don’t have and yet what a holy God demands. That’s why pursuing Him and His way is no laughing matter.

“Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.  Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.  When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.  Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the [temple] messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, NIV).

Understanding that God is not always worshipped at His “house” and we can and should worship God anywhere and everywhere in “spirit and truth” (see John 4:19-26), Solomon gives us some sage advice on the purposefulness and sincerity involved in rightly worshipping God. In these seven verses he speaks of some areas that directly impact whether or not we experience the awesomeness of God (v. 7) and the heartfelt worth we should be ascribing to Him. This best happens when our lives, hearts, and minds are aligned in such a manner that we don’t trivialize being in the presence of holy God. These worship instructions are profoundly simple. Solomon talks about our steps (our behavior), our words, and our vows (commitments) being pivotal in experiencing God.

In the first verse Solomon reminds us that we must be ready to experience God. We have often heard of the hypothetical family riding in the car on their way to corporate worship. They are snipping and biting at each other until the mysterious line, usually found near the church parking lot entrance, appears and then suddenly they become “spiritual” and stop their bickering (only to resume their behavior as they exit the parking lot after the service). This story is only funny because we all have done this type of thing. But this passage points to being prepared for worship. We can’t expect to experience God or genuinely adore Him when our steps (behaviors) do not honor Him. So How can we presume that God will visit us and we will hear His voice when we are living in a manner that is unworthy of His holiness (see Romans 12:1)? Although Solomon is not suggesting that our house must be perfectly in order to effectively worship Him at His “house” (which, of course, is everywhere) but living in willful disobedience hinders our ability to fully experience His presence.

Verses 2-3 are about our words. Solomon, like other passages (Psalm 46:10), indicates that frivolous thoughts and speech serve as a barrier to genuine worship. What are we thinking about, thus probably uttering, when we are seeking to experience the presence of God? It is easy to forget that worship means engaging a holy God and that requires our thoughts to be laser focused on Him. Often we are much better off and He is more honored when we are reverent and silent as we approach Him. We need  more to listen for His voice than to be “quick with our mouth” and talk like a “fool” who isn’t cognizant that God is to be central in our worship. He expects that we be so enamored with His presence that sometimes we are mute before Him – with feelings that defy articulation. For example, because my thoughts are so easily distracted from Him, sometimes I prefer to focus on the words of the worship song or hymn with eyes closed as opposed to singing and easily ignoring the meaning of the words (and that’s not just because I sing like a frog with a man in his throat – yes, you read that correctly).

Verses 4-7 talk about the vows (commitments) that are often a part of intentional worship. Virtually every time I truly experience God and am rocked by His awesomeness I’m moved to make commitments to Him. This makes sense – as we catch a vision of God in all of His holiness, light, and perfection we grasp our shortcomings. Then we are typically compelled to make a vow of service or obedience knowing how far short we fall. But how long do these vows last? How real are our commitments if they don’t linger much longer than the seconds it took to contemplate them? True worship radically changes us and we realize the gravity of making promises to an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and absolutely holy God. Understanding the bigness of the God we serve and worship should make us hesitant to babble meaningless promises as if He is not offended by our triteness and insincerity.

The overarching thought that comes to mind when I study this passage is “sacred.” Have I lost the sense of the sacredness of God and worshipping Him? Our worship is to be sacred because God is sacred. He is about sacred things. Anything, therefore, we do, inside or outside of formalized worship, is to never be treated as ordinary. In other words, as followers of Jesus we must be acutely aware that we always walk on holy ground, especially when we intend to worship. And, according to wise Solomon, approaching God with behaviors that do not honor Him, words that do not focus on Him, and making meaningless vows before Him does not please Him. For He is a transcendent God who is infinitely worthy of our full focus and endless adoration.

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Twenty-Two – First, Seek the Lord

“For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:32-34).

How will I afford new clothing, that next meal, the wine for my son’s wedding? Questions like these represented legitimate concerns faced by the crowd gathered to hear Christ’s sermon. While Jesus recognized that life brings challenges, He encouraged hearers to exchange their anxiety for faith in God’s provision. To let go of the need to secure their own tomorrow. To hand control over to God. Here, in the last three verses of Matthew six, Christ reiterates His earlier message and clarifies the essence of His kingdom.

Christ’s followers should sell out in the pursuit of His kingdom and His righteousness. Rather than wringing their hands in worry like pagans who live without the hope God provides, believers should trust that God’s in control: Tomorrow belongs in His hands. As people seek after the things of Jesus and faithfully live in the present with a hopeful eye on a glorious future, they discover peace and grow in the ability to help others. By regularly and seriously considering our ambitions and aspirations, we can gauge the depth of our relationship to King Jesus.

Within those who pursue Him, Christ places His kingdom (see Luke 17:21). In teaching hearers to “seek first his kingdom,” the Lord encouraged believers to seek after His rule in all aspects of their lives. Taking a good look at how we handle relationships, considering how we spend leisure time, appraising our approach to work, and assessing the value we place on His church reveals how completely we yield to Christ’s invasion of our hearts. True followers submit willingly and joyfully to His reign. They allow the pursuit of His honor and glory to alter their attitudes, actions, and activities. God uses our surrender to expand and enhance His kingdom. This differentiates believers from a lost and spiritually dead world (see Ephesians 2:1-6).

We must obsessively pursue Heavenly things and store up for ourselves eternal treasure by living through Jesus while faithfully acknowledging His kingdom in the present. Paul reiterates this principle when he tells the Colossian church, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above … not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4). Men and women who remember that life serves as a precursor to eternity with God are better positioned to most fully experience God in the here and now, to serve as ambassadors for His kingdom, and to accumulate eternal rewards.

Jesus calls us not to a balanced life, but to one completely imbalanced and weighted by Him. By placing an undivided focus on Christ we receive His power to live in such a way that the kingdom within us is most evident. This type of Godward fixation demonstrates a supernaturally powerful experience radically different than those who don’t know Christ and, thus, they are drawn to His beauty. This—not the accumulation of things or the fattening of our retirement accounts—summarizes the true purpose of life (see Luke 12:15).

To those who pursue God and wholeheartedly serve Him, Christ promises: “All these things will be given to you as well.” These “things” certainly refer to the necessities: food, clothing, and shelter (Matthew 6:25-31). I believe, however, that Christ also refers to more lasting blessings. Throughout the sermon His earnest followers find contentment in the knowledge that the kingdom of Heaven exists within them, that He provides divine comfort, that spiritual possession of the earth and divine satisfaction belong to them. Further, they enjoy God’s incomprehensible mercy, may see and know God, and they can live as God’s children. Nothing the world offers can touch the immeasurable value of these gifts of grace!

We begin to experience God’s blessings in the here and now as we learn to abide in Christ and to saturate our hearts in Him. Christ and all of His “unsearchable riches” come to those raised with Him; those whose lives are hidden in His (see Ephesians 3:8-12). Jesus is our power, hope, and purpose. When we seek His kingdom we receive the greatest treasures—relationship with Him now and the promise of eternity in His presence. Christ is our life. Our past, present, and future belong in His capable hands. 

Apply It.

The New Testament condemns “selfish ambition” on six occasions. Do a word search in The New International Version to study each passage. Then, take an honest inventory of your actions. Use two columns to list selfish things you do versus actions done for the kingdom of God. Sincerely ask God to reshape your priorities to better reflect Him as needed.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Eleven – The Source of Righteousness

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I  have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke  of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and  teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven,  but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the  kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the  kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).

When faced with the awesome and noble task of living as salt and light, I  can easily fall into the trap of thinking I’ve arrived. That I’m a better Christian than so-in-so. That I no longer need improvement. In truth, however,  I along with every other believer travel a journey towards perfection: we’ll not achieve it until we breathe our last. Anything good in me—anything good in any Christ-follower—comes not through our righteousness, but the Lord’s. Our best efforts, no matter how sincere, are always as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

The unvarnished truth? No one is righteous. Nothing about us and nothing generated on our own merit is good (Romans 3:10-11). Though the Pharisees and
devout people of Christ’s day sought holiness through ritual and ceremony and adherence to laws, Christ taught that their efforts were worthless. “Unless
your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees,” He said, “you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” But since righteousness proves a foundational need in participating in God’s kingdom and honoring His kingship, we must understand how one achieves it. We must grasp that the righteousness of Christ provides our only hope in satisfying the demands of holy God.

The writer of Hebrews sheds light on Christ’s role:

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Before Christ came to earth in human form, mankind had only one avenue toward pleasing God: keeping the Old Covenant law given by God to the nation of
Israel. This set of rules, which included much more than the Ten Commandments, served as the yardstick by which God measured the love and obedience of His people. James 2:10 clarifies that in order to live as holy a life as God required people must keep all of the law. Not surprisingly, this standard proved too high and the people failed. No religious rituals could bring them acceptance before God who demanded perfect obedience; they desperately needed a Messiah, or a Savior from their sins (see Hebrews 10:1-9).

When Jesus gave His life on the cross, He completely fulfilled the perfect law that humans prove incapable of keeping. While God might have chosen to do away with His righteous demands regarding idol worship, lying, murdering, and committing adultery, He chose not to abolish them. Instead, He had Jesus fulfill the holy dictates; in doing so, God accomplished the obedience necessary to satisfy His own demands and plans. In a sense, God modified the original law, making it richer and deeper and giving it a new and enhanced meaning. In a real and profound sense, Jesus became the New Covenant law of God. Through the person, teaching, and finished work of Christ, we see the completion of all the Old Testament’s revealed teaching, ethical precepts, and prophecy. In Jesus we see the implementation of a New Covenant between God and humanity. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, all who believe in Him can embrace the good news. The unchanging law of God was fulfilled in Christ. Those who believe in and receive Him by faith are declared righteous. This is our salvation!

Unlike the showy ways that the Pharisees and teachers of the law chose to obey the Old Covenant, obedience from the heart proves a requirement in keeping
the new one. Living out kingdom principles projects a different kind of personal obedience. The outward and shallow form of righteousness found in ritualistic religion doesn’t work. God requires inwardly prompted righteousness of mind and motive compelled by a transformed heart. This kind of obedience surpasses the religion of the Pharisees and typifies those who belong to God’s kingdom. Astonishingly, the Old Testament prophets predicted this new type of obedience long before Christ’s birth: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). And in Ezekiel 36:27, people were given a clue as to how this would happen, “[God] will put [his] Spirit in you and move you to follow [his] decrees and be careful to keep [his] laws.”

Jesus calls us not only to obedience but to a deeper heart-righteousness that has external manifestations. In John 3:3, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Truly, we cannot achieve true righteousness without first surrendering to Christ. After that, we receive indwelling power that comes through the Holy Spirit. Kingdom living necessitates a radical righteousness that comes only through the God Himself. In order to see the righteous demands of God’s kingdom fulfilled in us, we must look to Jesus and rely on His Holy Spirit.

Apply It.

Meditate on Second Corinthians 5:21 and John 1:29. Righteousness comes only from Christ. Consider why you obey God’s Word. Do you do so to justify yourself before God or to show loving and thankful acknowledgement that He is worthy of your submission? Ask God to reveal any self-righteousness and to give you an obedient heart.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –    

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” Ephesians 4:26-27.

OK, you aren’t too sure about the title of this post. But don’t get angry with me yet. Please hear me out on this one. Yes, there is much debate about what Paul intended here, especially when you consider what he says in verses 31 and 32 found later in this chapter: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Some say that the tense of the Greek verb suggests concession: that we are bound to get angry but should manage our emotions in a Godly fashion. This is why the NIV translates this as, “In your anger, do sin.” Others, including John Stott and Gordon Clark, say it is not a concession but a command. I would agree with the latter but I need to explain. Either way, this is NOT a suggestion, as proposed by many secular psychologists and some “Christian psychologists,”  to ventilate one’s sin-induced and ungodly (never mind, unhealthy) inner rage (an emotional catharsis where “venting” leads to healing). This is a passage that speaks to a characteristic of God that we should embrace; anger with sin or righteous indignation.

To give credence to this idea, we need to remember these 2 verses are a reference to Psalm 4: “But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him. Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD” (vs. 3-5). In Psalm 4 God is rightly portrayed as righteous, a God who has an aversion to sin. His holiness demands it. Calvin suggested Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:26 are a command to be angry with one’s own sin, but I think it goes well beyond that. I believe it speaks to the new creation we have become in Christ as one that sees sin, injustice, and spiritual rebellion as God sees it – with a paradigm of holy vitriol.

Jesus displayed this same attitude when He cleansed the temple that had been desecrated by thievish moneychangers. We see this in John 2:13-17:

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the
money-changers sitting there.  And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 

Please do not misunderstand. I’m not talking about self-centered anger. We have way too much of that and Paul is speaking to this problem in Ephesians 4:31-32. This is not a license to rage against any and everything. This is about needing to have a God-centered anger against all that stands against Him (including our own sin). It is indignation toward sin, injustice, evil, and immorality. But this is not a dangerous, destructive, damaging type of emotion. This anger is a grieving, love-compelled passion for what is right and good. It’s similar to the way we get upset when our children disobey. Because we love them and want them to honor God, we are angry because they are not living in a manner that befits one made in the image of God. Our desire for what’s best for them fuels  disappointment and requisite discipline.

It is told that at a certain Christian conference John Piper was listening to one of the other panel members who was particularly known for his assessment and criticism of our godless culture. After complimenting him on his astuteness in identifying and decrying the moral decay of America, Piper said, “There is only one thing lacking in your ministry.” The fellow panelist then asked Piper exactly what that was. “Tears,” was his gentle response.

This should cause us serious contemplation. Do we have a God-centered, tearful disposition against all that is unholy (in ourselves, others, and our society) and disrespects our holy God? Or does our wrath only become enlivened when it is us, not God, who is the offended one. I think the church of Jesus Christ needs more God-glorifying, grieving anger towards all that separates us from God. A righteous indignation that is fueled by love for God and others and is communicated through tears. I pray that God transforms us to be the kind of people that images-forth His holiness as His Spirit motivates us to “Be angry and do not sin.” And may it start with me.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was
to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus”
(Romans 3:21-26).

OK, you might not agree with this title. After all, the prevailing thought of our culture (and Rob Bell) is that God’s love trumps His justice. Truly there is a divine paradox here but we are talking about God. It’s not as if He can’t have both the attributes of love and wrath in equal measure. Jesus Himself was said to be, in a similar sense, both completely full of grace and truth (John 1:17). I would suggest that the attributes of love and wrath are not contradictory (to the human mind, maybe) nor one takes precedence over the other – especially given the incomprehensible nature of an infinite being that entails what the very idea of “God” means. Furthermore, I would actually suggest they compliment each other in perfect harmony. Let me explain.

God is holy. He must punish sin. This is His justice and is a demonstration of His love for Himself and His righteous standard. God is angry with us because of our sin (see Ephesians 2:3, John 3:36, Romans 2:5, 8). God’s wrath is not just the natural fallout from sin but is His determined disposition diametrically opposed to unrighteousness. Scripture portrays Him as angry with us because of sin (Romans. 1:18-32). God’s wrath is personal. His anger is not some impersonal force that works itself naturally like “bad karma.”  The curse on the human race is purposeful and judicial. Our sin and disobedience is an offense to a holy and righteous God. Because of His faithfulness to Himself, justice must be served. God punishes sin and His wrath against it must be appeased.

Enter the doctrine of propitiation (a word excluded from many modern translations as “too theological”). Propitiation means to appease or avert divine wrath. And how is God’s anger pacified (a synonym for propitiation)?  By the death of his Son Jesus Christ on the cross.  Jesus takes upon himself the sin of His people and experiences the punishment that we so rightly deserve (see Isaiah 52:13-53:12; 1 Peter 1:18-21, 2:21-25). This was all foreshadowed in the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant and those various sacrifices gained their efficacy from Christ’s own death (see Hebrews 9:11-10:18). New Testament passages that show that the appeasement of God’s anger toward sin was accomplished through the propitiation provided in Christ (God’s wrath against sin being poured out on Him and not us) include: Romans 3:21-26; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:1-2, 4:10.

In other words, sin is serious and forgiveness is costly. God is angry and can’t just “wink” at our sins without offending his holiness, righteousness, and justice. Sin must be atoned for. Sin is atoned for by means of God’s son, Jesus Christ, taking our place and bearing the punishment for our sins and thereby averting/appeasing God’s wrath. Our salvation was obtained at the costly price of our dear Savior and Lord’s life! Jesus was cursed for us. Jesus provided our justification. We are justified by union with Christ by grace through faith. Here we are reminded of the lengths to which God will go to rescue us from his own holy wrath. He did this by putting his Son in our place so that he could be both just (consistent with his own holy nature) and also the justifier of the ungodly. We see that only in the cross of Christ have we been rescued from the condemnation we deserve because of sin. Jesus’ sacrificial provision is our own justification as we trust in Him by faith.

Now this may seem like a bunch of theological mumbo jumbo; much of which was “borrowed” from this excellent resource –
So let me try to make this idea of God demonstrating His love through His wrath as clear as possible. Simply think of Calvary. There God poured out His anger against sin on His blameless Son for us. Can you think of any more loving act?  No, it is not, as some heretics have suggested, cosmic child abuse. At the cross God’s justice was satisfied and we were justified base upon His infinitely loving grace. God showed His love for us by satisfying His own justice, appeasing His wrath in the person of Jesus and not us. What love! Unfathomable, agape love that is demonstrated by God’s propitiation of His wrath for Himself and His chosen.

*Section 1 – Kingdom Character

Six- The Mercy Experience

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

Often life seems merciless. Our days require constant work, whether we feel ill or well. Hunger gnaws, whether or not we have the means to buy food. And unfortunate circumstances and death happen, whether or not we toe a moral line. The relentless cycle of life, with its challenges and struggles, leads some to adopt a Scrooge-like sense of self preservation that routinely exalts itself over the needs of others. Unfortunately, this survival of the fittest, do-whatever-it-takes to come-out-on-top mentality has made the notion of extending mercy appear a sign of weakness. An old-fashioned idea that makes you vulnerable to manipulators.

When Jesus explained, in Matthew 5:7, that the merciful will receive mercy, He highlighted once more how different the lives of kingdom dwellers should seem when compared to the world’s ideals. In the days leading up to Christ’s delivery of this sermon, Jewish law made the stoning of an adulterer acceptable, though those who’d mete out the punishment were no less “sinful” than the one receiving it. Furthermore, the Jerusalem of Jesus’ day was under Roman rule. Rome prided itself on merciless advancement. They routinely crucified those who questioned their ways, determined to wipe out any resistance. Mercy was not a widely embraced concept in either Jerusalem or Rome at large. In ancient times, too, mercy was often dismissed as an Achilles heel.

The Greek word translated “mercy” in this passage essentially speaks to situations of need, pain, and distress that will go unalleviated unless someone steps in with an offer of compassion.[i] That intervention, an undeserved act that relieves a need, defines mercy. It lifts a burden. It pays a debt that its beneficiary cannot pay. We best understand the concept in light of what God did for us. Because of sin, humanity remains hopelessly separated from holy God. Between us stands a moral debt that we cannot settle: we deserve only His wrath and condemnation (see Romans 5:13-21). Yet out of love for us, God sent His only Son to die as a sacrifice that would cover the sin debt of all who believe in Him.

The mercy extended to us through Christ’s offer of salvation and the incredible way that God sustains us reveal how God lovingly withholds from His chosen what we truly deserve. It reveals a divine attribute that the world finds surprising. Our holy ruler and judge exhibits love and grace towards us by removing us from the eternal consequences of our sin. It makes sense, then, that those who serve Him would choose to project to others the merciful attitude their King first extended to them. We can better identify with Christ and more fully understand His design for His kingdom when we choose to display His mercy. As we show unmerited kindness, we’ll find supernatural satisfaction.

In my own experience, too much negative introspection, self-pity, and self-absorption trigger discouragement and depression. When I find myself in such a state I need to “get outside of myself” and practice acts of kindness and mercy. Such was the case when I decided to start a Bible study at a local nursing home. Although I felt saddened by the circumstances of the attendees, I found my spirits lifted with each visit. As the elderly men and women began to depend on me for instruction from God’s Word and simple caring, I received the blessing of a renewed heart. The thoughts that clouded my perceptions crumbled, and I increasingly sensed Jesus’ movement in my attitude and life. The more I ministered to those nursing home residents, the more Jesus ministered to me.

As this story suggests, mercy goes beyond feeling concerned for people. The language of Matthew 5 implies that merciful people actually do something to alleviate dire circumstances. This verse suggests extending relief, healing, and helping whether the recipient proves worthy or not. Interestingly, mercy in action is a clear symbol to those outside of God’s kingdom: Someone out there is willing to extend unmerited favor. As Jesus’ disciples show mercy, we project a unique sense of God’s favor and the joy and blessing He brings. Demonstrating mercy shows that we live as examples of what He has done for us.

In Matthew 6 Jesus says, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15). Clearly, God expects the forgiven and aided to pass the blessings on to others. This does not mean that we must earn God’s mercy by being merciful. Instead, when we reflect the mercy God first demonstrated to us through Christ, we gain a heightened sense of the benevolence He shows us. For example, the more I give, forgive, and show mercy, the more I grow aware of the gifts that God graciously showers on me. Kindness to others simultaneously gains for us a greater knowledge and experience of God’s mercy in our own lives.

These days the weak and needy are often overlooked and abandoned as people seek after personal pleasure and ease. Many corporations give only for the purpose of gaining tax breaks, and they often avoid causes that won’t make the news. Charity giving dwindles as families spend more on their personal desires and set aside less for the needs of others. Even some churches have become more myopic, focusing their budgets around scrapbooking seminars and elaborate sound systems instead of meeting the more pressing needs of the hurting and pained people who live nearby. We must remember that our King loves benevolence. He desires that the Jesus follower’s life be defined by giving and forgiving—ideas often diametrically opposed to the philosophy of our culture.

Various actions exhibit mercy. At times, extending mercy requires that we offer forgiveness, even to those who wound, wrong, and malign us (see Matthew 5:44). In those instances we can choose to image forth the forgiveness and grace of our loving Lord, even though we may feel our “enemies” deserve our vengeance. Sometimes, as in the case in the parable of the Good Samaritan, mercy means providing assistance to someone we do not know (see Luke 10:30-37). Perhaps it requires making and delivering a meal. Maybe it means giving towards the medical bills of a family facing tragedy. Even personal involvement in local and foreign missions is an example of mercy as we seek to help spread the message of God’s saving grace. But whether extending kindness and generosity towards needy friends, strangers, neighbors, co-workers, or other believers who fall on difficulty, we show mercy as we meet needs and offer aid without thought of reciprocation. In all instances, merciful acts evidence that we understand the undeserved kindness God extends.

Apply It.

Read and internalize Matthew 25:35-45. Grasp the significance Jesus places on showing mercy to the undeserving and down-and-out. Who in your life could use some mercy, some help, or just a friend? Pray that God might raise your “spiritual antenna” to help you sense opportunities to serve. He’ll provide you the power to act in those situations.

[i] Lenski, R.C. H. Interpretation of St. Matthews Gospel (Augsburg, 1964), 191.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –     

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

*Section 1 – Kingdom Character

Three – Comfort for Mourners

 “Blessed are those that mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

The second statement Jesus utters in His Sermon on the Mount proves just as shocking as the first: God provides comfort for those who mourn. This passage speaks to God’s compassion, to His provision, to His willingness to act as supporter of those who face hurt and sorrow. Unlike the capricious gods of many cultures—supposed deities who do nothing to alleviate sorrow and sometimes manipulate mortals to inflict it—God the Father shows love for His children. The psalmist adds, “You who seek God [be encouraged.] The Lord hears the needy and does not despise his … people” (Psalm 69:32-34).

When taken in context with the previous verse, Matthew 5:4 also reveals a critical truth on how fallen humans should approach holy God. While the first beatitude points to the absolute necessity of confessing our unrighteousness before Him, the second speaks to the importance of contrition over our unworthy and unholy state. Taking root in God’s kingdom requires remorse over and repentance of our sin: this is the essential second step. While acknowledging one’s sin goes hand in hand with receiving Christ’s offer of salvation, truly recognizing the foulness of our sins helps us to understand the depth of His love.

Some teach that our faith journey is bubbly, positive, and sorrow free: a virtual rollercoaster of unceasing ecstasy. Jesus, however, says that mourning is mandatory in knowing the real comfort of God. In His classic contrarian style, Jesus explains that what is despised and avoided in many cultures, namely godly grief, is actually the posture that opens the door to divine and supernatural satisfaction and contentment. According to our Lord, joy comes from brokenness. In Luke’s account of the sermon, Jesus even adds this solemn warning: “Woe to you who laugh now—” as if to suggest that living too lightheartedly might actually lead to trouble (see Luke 6:25).

The idea fails to align with the “feel good” message often heard in modern churches, places where remembering our wretchedness is seldom in vogue. Candidly, weeping and mourning doesn’t sound too appetizing. Today’s mantra? “Happiness is found through the exercise of positive self-talk, the building of self-esteem, mental gymnastics, physical exercise, and making enough money to live like a king.” In this view, often shared from pulpits as well as self-help books, happiness gets characterized by self-actualization through self-effort. In other words, if we think positively about ourselves, we will feel good about ourselves; therefore, we will lead happy lives.

How shocking that Jesus preaches just the opposite! He says that real, lasting, and complete comfort comes only from God—not from man’s futile attempt at self-induced consolation. Second Corinthians 1:3 describes the Father as “the God of all comfort.” Jesus makes it clear that any pursuit to find satisfaction or happiness outside of God proves fleeting and ineffective. The “let’s get positive” philosophy of comfort espoused by finite man doesn’t come close to reaching the kind of contentment that comes from knowing the mercy of infinite God. It can’t! Why? Man and his thinking are not the solution for finding contentment; they are the essential problem separating him from the Lord.

In my own conversion, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, the words of Isaiah reverberated in my heart: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6). I sobbed and shook as the Spirit pointed me to the humanly unattainable righteousness of Jesus. I had a frightening vision of the disgusting nature of my sinful disease that made me worthy of eternal punishment. The truth of my hopelessness and my inability to ever stand pleasing in God’s sight shattered my heart. But then I remembered Second Corinthians 5:21: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” I recognized then that grace received by faith was my only hope. But once I grasped that, oh what a comfort!

Jesus, the Messiah, was called “the comforter” who would “bind up the brokenhearted” (Isaiah 61:1). In John 14:16 of The King James Version Jesus claims that the Holy Spirit also fills this Comforter role. I love that word! It explains so beautifully that Christ’s sacrifice, offering the absolution and forgiveness of sins, is the only source of eternal consolation. Blessing follows when we come in our brokenness to Jesus, and remember Calvary where He redeemed and liberated us from the bondage of sin and hell. When we give ourselves to the Lord, we find immeasurable and eternal blessing. As we remember our rottenness and mourn over our sin, Jesus speaks peace to our souls and heals scarred consciences. His grace, what comfort!

Jesus Himself was described as “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). Throughout His ministry, Christ wept over the sins of others, over the terrible consequences of judgment, and over the city of Jerusalem which refused to embrace His kingship. He mourned because He knew the utter hopelessness of our situation should we reject His sacrifice. The issue of where a person will spend his or her eternity proves no laughing matter. While I’m not suggesting that we should spend our lives sitting in sackcloth and ashes, we do well to remember what He did for us, to realize how much we need Him, to constantly remind ourselves of the horrible outlook awaiting those who don’t know Him.

Let us go to Jesus weeping over our sin, confessing, and desperate. There we will find the all-satisfying, infinite comfort of an unfathomably great God who loved us enough send His Son to die in our place. To provide us a future of endless joy, satisfaction, and the comfort of His embrace.

Apply It.

Read Romans 3:9-20. Look for yourself in the passage. How does your history of sin contrast with a holy God?

Read aloud 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, and praise Him for being the God of all Comfort. Remember, Christ comforts those who mourn over their sins.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form –     

Amazon Kindle –

Barnes and Noble in book form –

Other eReader formats –

If you follow along with this category (albeit, backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). 

Isn’t the Easter season wonderful?! We are moved and inspired as we marvel in our Lord’s crucifixion and glory in His resurrection. Hopefully, we all capture what these events mean, and especially mean to us, in all of their depth and richness. Although one could never exhaust an exposition of these topics, it is always, and I mean always, best for us to keep them top of mind and pondered in our hearts. For Jesus’ work at Calvary and His being raised from the dead frame the essence of our faith and hope. 

Since today is exactly one week since the Christian community celebrated Easter, I’m reminded that it is so very easy for the inspiration of that celebration to fade. We too quickly forget the way we were touched and changed during this most important holiday season. The impact of Easter, however, shouldn’t and doesn’t end on a date or after a designated time. Just as Rebekah and I were discussing during our “Celebration Wednesday” time, Jesus’ work did not cease after His Passion and ascension. Instead He has moved into a high priestly role and is now active in sustaining us and guaranteeing the efficacy of His earthly work that we celebrate during the Easter holiday. 

The writer of Hebrews tells us that one of the reasons for Jesus’ resurrection is that He now lives to intercede on His follower’s behalf. In other words, Christ’s redeeming and sanctifying work continues so that we are completely and utterly saved. And don’t we ever need this?! When we receive Christ our sin nature does not disappear. Sure, our desires change but our attitudes and actions continually fail to meet His holy standard. Though we grow more and more like Him, which is called progressive sanctification (see Romans 8:29 and 2 Corinthians 3:18), we will never in this life reach a state of perfection. We are counted as totally righteous because of our faith in the finished work of Christ, but in practical reality we don’t live in total righteousness. This is why Christ’s high priestly function is so critical for His people, a people still in desperate need of a Savior who continues His work from the right hand of the Father. 

Paul affirms this: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Romans 8:33-35). And so does John: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2). 

And what a comfort this is! But that comfort comes only from understanding that these three of Christ’s activities – the crucifixion, the resurrection, and His intercession – are inextricably linked. He died for our sins, He rose to give us victory over the grave and eternal life, and He is our righteous defense attorney (advocate) that sustains us by pleading His case (not ours) when we fall. Because He died for us and was raised again, Jesus is now appearing before God and stating His indisputable argument, saying, in essence, ‘look at my righteousness and not their filthy rags’. 

Some questions come quickly to mind when we contemplate Hebrews 7:25. The writer says Christ is interceding for, “those who draw near to God through Him.” He is only interceding for those who have surrendered, by grace through faith, to Himself. So, are you one of His disciples, someone who has Jesus pleading His righteousness on your behalf before a holy God? That’s one important reason we celebrate Easter – because our capitulation to a crucified and risen Savior grants us His eternal intercession. God’s Word says that we must believe with all that we are and fully receive Him in order to be given these amazing gifts and blessings (John 1:12). So, if you’ve never surrendered to Christ as your Master and Savior, I pray that God will draw you to Himself and that you will seek out someone who can fully explain the good news of Jesus. And I pray the Holy Spirit compels you to say an eternal “Yes!” to Him knowing that means He has already said an eternal “Yes!” to and for you. 

Or have you surrender to Jesus but aren’t fully experiencing the forgiveness found only in Christ, the righteousness He has purchased for you? Are you still looking at Jesus, as wonderful as this is, as only crucified, raised, and ascended?  If not, focus this day on Christ’s ongoing intercessory work for you that saves you to the uttermost! For in truth, He is now our perfect defense attorney that guarantees that we stand forgiven and counted as righteous before a holy God. So draw near to God in Christ and rest in this truth. And give Him the glory not just for what He did for you during the Passion Week but also what He continues to do in sealing the incomparable reality of His forever presence with those who believe on Him.


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