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Day 257

'Are You Saved?'

Wisdom Psalm 107:10-22
New Testament Galatians 1:1-24
Old Testament Isaiah 33:1-35:10

Introduction

I have a picture, sitting on the windowsill in my study, of Bishop Westcott. It was given to me by his great-grandson. The nineteenth-century English scholar, Bishop B.F. Westcott, was Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University.

On one occasion he was approached by a zealous undergraduate who asked him, ‘Are you saved?’ ‘Ah,’ said the Bishop, ‘a very good question. But tell me: do you mean…?’ And then he mentioned three passive participles of the Greek verb ‘to save’, indicating that his answer would depend on which of the three the student had in mind (the English translation is given here in italics). ‘I know I have been saved,’ he said; ‘I believe I am being saved; and I hope by the grace of God that I shall be saved.

‘Salvation’ is a huge and comprehensive word. It means ‘freedom’. As the Bishop pointed out, there are three tenses of salvation: you have been set free from the penalty of sin, you are being set free from the power of sin and you will be set free from the presence of sin.

Wisdom

Psalm 107:10-22

10 Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
    prisoners suffering in iron chains,
11 because they rebelled against God’s commands
    and despised the plans of the Most High.
12 So he subjected them to bitter labor;
    they stumbled, and there was no one to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,
    and broke away their chains.
15 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
16 for he breaks down gates of bronze
    and cuts through bars of iron.

17 Some became fools through their rebellious ways
    and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.
18 They loathed all food
    and drew near the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
20 He sent out his word and healed them;
    he rescued them from the grave.
21 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for humankind.
22 Let them sacrifice thank offerings
    and tell of his works with songs of joy.

Commentary

Know freedom from the past

The psalmist continues to give thanks to God for the many times he has saved his people when they have cried out to him in their trouble (vv.13,19). Each time, he set them free.

In this section we see two examples:

  1. Freedom from chains of sin

Here the people are sitting in ‘deepest gloom’, prisoners suffering in iron chains (v.10). ‘When they cried out to the Lord in their trouble he saved them from their distress’ (v.13).

Often what happened to people physically in the Old Testament is a picture of what happens to us spiritually in the New Testament.

Sin leads to darkness and deepest gloom. It is addictive. It chains our hearts. On the cross, Jesus broke the chains. He forgives your sins and sets you free. You, like Charles Wesley, can declare, ‘My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth and followed thee.’

  1. Freedom from fear of death

The psalmist goes on to say that again they rebelled and drew near the gates of death. Again, they cried out to the Lord and he saved them. ‘He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave’ (v.20).

Again, this foreshadows what Jesus did for you. Through his death and resurrection, he rescues you from the grave and from the fear of death. You are freed from death – from the fear of death and all the fears that go with it. No wonder the psalmist wrote:

‘So thank God for his marvellous love,     for his miracle mercy to the children he loves; Offer thanksgiving sacrifices,     tell the world what he’s done – sing it out!’ (vv.21–22, MSG).

Prayer

Lord, how can I ever thank you enough for setting me free from the chains of sin and addiction? Thank you that I need never fear death because you, Jesus, have conquered death through your death and resurrection.

New Testament

Galatians 1:1-24

1Paul, an apostle —sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead — 2 and all the brothers and sisters with me,

To the churches in Galatia:

3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

No Other Gospel

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Paul Called by God

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.

18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.

21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.

Commentary

Enjoy freedom in the present

Your salvation was won at a great cost. Jesus ‘gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age’ (v.4).

Galatians is one of Paul’s earliest letters, possibly written as early as AD 48. Paul is burning with indignation because the freedom of the gospel is under threat. Freedom is hard won and easily lost.

Religion can be used as a means of controlling people. That is how Saul of Tarsus had used it. Then he encountered Jesus and experienced something radically different – a freedom that comes from within.

The message of the gospel is one of freedom. You are freed from sin, guilt, shame, addiction and death. You are also set free from justification by works of the law. You do not have to be circumcised. You do not first have to become a Jew before you can become a proper Christian. Paul’s passionate indignation in this letter is explained by the fact that the freedom of the gospel was at stake.

In his early travels, he had planted a series of churches in the Roman province of Galatia. He had told them about this Jesus who sets us free. They had experienced this freedom. A few years later some religious leaders had come along questioning Paul’s views and authority and trying to introduce rules and regulations that would have taken away the new-found freedom of the Galatians.

They were saying it was not enough to put your faith in Jesus. You had to be circumcised as well. They were drawing the boundaries of what it meant to be a true Christian far too restrictively.

Some today try to draw these kinds of boundaries. They say it is not enough to be a Christian. You need to be ‘like us’. You need to be ‘evangelical’ or ‘Catholic’ or ‘Pentecostal’ – you have to be like us, whatever we are. You have to be a particular type of Christian to be a proper Christian. But faith in Jesus is enough. You do not need to add to it by circumcision or by any other brand. Accept one another on the basis of faith in Jesus, rather than the type of Christian.

Paul testifies to his own experience of finding this freedom in Jesus and how it changed him from someone who was ‘all out in persecuting God’s church’ and ‘systematically destroying it’ to ‘preaching the very message he had tried to destroy’ (vv.13–24, MSG). Paul’s conversion reminds us that no one is beyond the reach of God.

Have you ever wondered whether God could use you? Have you ever thought that something you have done in the past might disqualify you? Paul’s testimony is evidence that God not only forgives, he sets you free and can use you greatly – no matter what you have done in the past.

This testimony was powerful: ‘Their response was to recognise and worship God because of me!’ (v.24, MSG). Your testimony, even if seemingly far less spectacular than Paul’s, will have an impact on those who hear it.

Prayer

Lord, thank you that the moment we put our faith in Jesus we find true freedom. Help me today, and every day, to live in that freedom.

Old Testament

Isaiah 33:1-35:10

Distress and Help

33Woe to you, destroyer,
    you who have not been destroyed!
Woe to you, betrayer,
    you who have not been betrayed!
When you stop destroying,
    you will be destroyed;
when you stop betraying,
    you will be betrayed.

2 Lord, be gracious to us;
    we long for you.
Be our strength every morning,
    our salvation in time of distress.
3 At the uproar of your army, the peoples flee;
    when you rise up, the nations scatter.
4 Your plunder, O nations, is harvested as by young locusts;
    like a swarm of locusts people pounce on it.

5 The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high;
    he will fill Zion with his justice and righteousness.
6 He will be the sure foundation for your times,
    a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;
    the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.

7 Look, their brave men cry aloud in the streets;
    the envoys of peace weep bitterly.
8 The highways are deserted,
    no travelers are on the roads.
The treaty is broken,
    its witnesses are despised,
    no one is respected.
9 The land dries up and wastes away,
    Lebanon is ashamed and withers;
Sharon is like the Arabah,
    and Bashan and Carmel drop their leaves.

10 “Now will I arise, ” says the Lord.
    “Now will I be exalted;
    now will I be lifted up.
11 You conceive chaff,
    you give birth to straw;
    your breath is a fire that consumes you.
12 The peoples will be burned to ashes;
    like cut thornbushes they will be set ablaze. ”

13 You who are far away, hear what I have done;
    you who are near, acknowledge my power!
14 The sinners in Zion are terrified;
    trembling grips the godless:
“Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire?
    Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?”
15 Those who walk righteously
    and speak what is right,
who reject gain from extortion
    and keep their hands from accepting bribes,
who stop their ears against plots of murder
    and shut their eyes against contemplating evil—
16 they are the ones who will dwell on the heights,
    whose refuge will be the mountain fortress.
Their bread will be supplied,
    and water will not fail them.

17 Your eyes will see the king in his beauty
    and view a land that stretches afar.
18 In your thoughts you will ponder the former terror:
    “Where is that chief officer?
Where is the one who took the revenue?
    Where is the officer in charge of the towers? ”
19 You will see those arrogant people no more,
    people whose speech is obscure,
    whose language is strange and incomprehensible.

20 Look on Zion, the city of our festivals;
    your eyes will see Jerusalem,
    a peaceful abode, a tent that will not be moved;
its stakes will never be pulled up,
    nor any of its ropes broken.
21 There the Lord will be our Mighty One.
    It will be like a place of broad rivers and streams.
No galley with oars will ride them,
    no mighty ship will sail them.
22 For the Lord is our judge,
    the Lord is our lawgiver,
the Lord is our king;
    it is he who will save us.

23 Your rigging hangs loose:
    The mast is not held secure,
    the sail is not spread.
Then an abundance of spoils will be divided
    and even the lame will carry off plunder.
24 No one living in Zion will say, “I am ill”;
    and the sins of those who dwell there will be forgiven.

Judgment Against the Nations

34Come near, you nations, and listen;
    pay attention, you peoples!
Let the earth hear, and all that is in it,
    the world, and all that comes out of it!
2 The Lord is angry with all nations;
    his wrath is on all their armies.
He will totally destroy them,
    he will give them over to slaughter.
3 Their slain will be thrown out,
    their dead bodies will stink;
    the mountains will be soaked with their blood.
4 All the stars in the sky will be dissolved
    and the heavens rolled up like a scroll;
all the starry host will fall
    like withered leaves from the vine,
    like shriveled figs from the fig tree.

5 My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens;
    see, it descends in judgment on Edom,
    the people I have totally destroyed.
6 The sword of the Lord is bathed in blood,
    it is covered with fat—
the blood of lambs and goats,
    fat from the kidneys of rams.
For the Lord has a sacrifice in Bozrah
    and a great slaughter in the land of Edom.
7 And the wild oxen will fall with them,
    the bull calves and the great bulls.
Their land will be drenched with blood,
    and the dust will be soaked with fat.

8 For the Lord has a day of vengeance,
    a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s cause.
9 Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch,
    her dust into burning sulfur;
    her land will become blazing pitch!
10 It will not be quenched night or day;
    its smoke will rise forever.
From generation to generation it will lie desolate;
    no one will ever pass through it again.
11 The desert owl and screech owl will possess it;
    the great owl and the raven will nest there.
God will stretch out over Edom
    the measuring line of chaos
    and the plumb line of desolation.
12 Her nobles will have nothing there to be called a kingdom,
    all her princes will vanish away.
13 Thorns will overrun her citadels,
    nettles and brambles her strongholds.
She will become a haunt for jackals,
    a home for owls.
14 Desert creatures will meet with hyenas,
    and wild goats will bleat to each other;
there the night creatures will also lie down
    and find for themselves places of rest.
15 The owl will nest there and lay eggs,
    she will hatch them, and care for her young
    under the shadow of her wings;
there also the falcons will gather,
    each with its mate.

16 Look in the scroll of the Lord and read:

None of these will be missing,
    not one will lack her mate.
For it is his mouth that has given the order,
    and his Spirit will gather them together.
17 He allots their portions;
    his hand distributes them by measure.
They will possess it forever
    and dwell there from generation to generation.

Joy of the Redeemed

35The desert and the parched land will be glad;
    the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, 2 it will burst into bloom;
    it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
    the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
    the splendor of our God.

3 Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;
4 say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
6 Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.
7 The burning sand will become a pool,
    the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
    grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

8 And a highway will be there;
    it will be called the Way of Holiness;
    it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
    wicked fools will not go about on it.
9 No lion will be there,
    nor any ravenous beast;
    they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
    10 and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Commentary

Anticipate freedom in the future

Although you have been saved from the penalty of sin and you are being saved from the power of sin, you are still anticipating an even greater future freedom from the presence of sin – from the struggles of this life. You await the time when you will know everlasting joy and when sorrow and sighing will be removed (35:10).

Isaiah paints the picture of a scorched desert (chapter 34) – but then he anticipates how the desert will be transformed into a lush garden – with bubbling springs and blossoming crocuses and grass and reeds and flowing rivers (chapter 35).

For God’s people, as they were being taken into exile in Babylon, they could look forward with anticipation and expectation to being rescued by God and brought back to the freedom of Jerusalem.

Yet, this picture in Isaiah 35 is of something far bigger than just a return to a physical homeland. This is a prophecy of God’s people returning to their eternal homeland in a new heaven and a new earth.

Isaiah writes of how ‘the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away’ (v.10).

And, just like the people of Israel, as you are in anticipation of future freedom, how should you wait? In frustration? In anger? In disbelief? In denial? In rejection?

Isaiah gives us two commands as to how to wait:

  1. Be strong

‘Strengthen the feeble hands, and steady the knees that give way. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, do not fear, your God will come’ (vv.3–4).

  1. Be holy

‘A highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; … Only the redeemed will walk there and the ransomed of the Lord will return’ (vv.8–9).

Whatever the highs and lows of life are for you, try to lift up your head and look forward. You can look forward through struggles, through challenges, even through your own death, until you come in your mind’s eye all the way to heaven. It is right to anticipate your freedom from your present struggles.

Having this certain future in mind will enable you to live now a strong and holy life – even in times of sorrow and sighing.

Prayer

Lord, thank you that because of your victory on the cross, one day all creation will be liberated. As I await this day, be my strength every morning (Isaiah 33:2).

Pippa adds

Galatians 1:12b

‘… I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.’

In Galatians 1:12, Paul says he wasn’t taught the gospel by any person or teaching but he received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

It is amazing when someone encounters Jesus through no human intervention. We must keep praying for people to be woken in the night with a vision of him, particularly if you come from a part of the world where you are unlikely to hear about Jesus.

However, most people become Christians after hearing someone talk about their faith. A new term is beginning soon and Alpha courses are being run all over the world. Is there someone you could invite to join one of these? There may be people like Paul who will go from antagonistic to proclaiming Jesus in just a few days.

Verse of the Day

Isaiah 35:4

‘… Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…’
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References

The One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers. Used by permission.

Charles Wesley, ‘And Can it Be’ (1738).

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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