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(From Forerunner Commentary)
This is a somewhat elementary, perhaps even a crude, illustration that clearly pictures why the relationship with God is absolutely necessary. It begins by admitting that we neither created ourselves nor gave ourselves life. David admits someone else made him; he did not arise to life fully formed out of nothing. Like him, we did not determine that we would physically be in God's image. The Creator made that determination. Can we mentally picture God kneeling down in the dirt, placing Adam's every part where He wanted it and determining how every part would function with every other system in his body? Even everyday realities such as these need a functioning Creator to bring them to pass.
The need for a relationship with our Creator is beginning to emerge. II Corinthians 5:17 carries the need of the creative relationship a major step further: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” We are now a new creation, a spiritual creation. A process begun in Eden continues.
When Paul wrote about a “new” creation, he had his choice of two Greek words. One expresses newness in the sense of “renovation.” However, Paul used the second term, which suggests new in the sense of “brand new.” He indicates, then, a person as a new individual with a new family, a new set of values, new motivations, and new possessions. Nothing new in this sense creates itself. Even a new baby in a womb does not make itself. The baby has absolutely no idea what it is in process of becoming.
Are we making ourselves spiritually? As a new creation in Christ Jesus, we are no more making ourselves spiritually than we did physically. However, this creation is far more difficult and important because it requires our mindful and willing cooperation with our Creator.
How clearly and precisely do we foresee where our spiritual Creator is headed? To say it bluntly, without God's calling, which creates the relationship with Him, there is no possibility whatever of knowing anything meaningful about what God is in the process of creating, and therefore no eternal, spiritual salvation would exist. Do we know how to give ourselves everlasting life? Do we know where we will fit into the Creator's finished plan?
Therefore, it is our responsibility always to do whatever is necessary to seek Him and glorify Him, helping to keep the relationship going and knowledge increasing. Without the relationship that He invited us into, there is no possibility of ever accomplishing the end that He is heading toward and yielding to what He desires. It is as though He has opened the gate to allow us back into the Garden of Eden, right into the very source of every good and perfect gift that will enable us to glorify Him by fulfilling our responsibilities to Him. It is as if He says, as He opens the gate, “Now there, let's begin the next step in My overall purpose!”
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Seven): Contentment
(See also Ezekiel 37:26; Jeremiah 50:5, 20)
Jeremiah 31:31-34 provides an encouraging conclusion to the saga of Israel and Judah once they have repented and returned to the land. These verses, quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12 and 10:16-17, show that this is the same covenant that the church has already made with God. Rather than doing away with the law of God, the New Covenant gives the people the means, not merely to obey it, but to accept it and make it a part of their lives. God will give the people of Israel and Judah new hearts, and they will finally be able to follow God consistently and have real relationships with Him. God will forgive their sins, and Israel will finally begin to be the witness to the rest of the world that God intended her to be (see Deuteronomy 4:5-8; Isaiah 62:1-2).
Even though God makes this covenant primarily with Israel and Judah (Jeremiah 31:31), it is not exclusive. Through Isaiah, God shows that Gentiles who submit themselves to Him can and will also make this covenant. Of particular interest is the requirement that the Sabbath be kept by those wishing to do this (Isaiah 56:1-2, 6-8).
Ezekiel 11:17, 19-21 foretells of Israel and Judah receiving from God a new heart—a spiritual heart that will enable them to keep His commandments and statutes.
Throughout its history, the essential difficulty in Israel's relationship with God has been one of the heart. God exclaims, "Oh, that they [Israel] had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!" (Deuteronomy 5:29). In Hebrews 3:10, God again identifies this problem: "Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, 'They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known My ways'" (emphasis ours throughout).
The heart or spirit of a man is the center of his thought, reason, and motivation. Because of human nature, the natural—unconverted—heart is "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9). It has an innate, powerful pull toward the self, always making evaluations based on what it perceives as good for the individual regardless of the effect on others. Humanity has had approximately 6,000 years of such self-centered and destructive living, proving that man is simply unable to govern himself for very long. He needs direction and leadership from another—divine—source.
The Old Covenant that God made with Israel was a good agreement as far as it went, because all of God's works are good. The problem was not with its terms, but with the people who made it (Hebrews 8:7-8, 10). They lacked the right heart that would have allowed them to follow God truly and obey His laws. God, though, will give a new heart—a new spirit—to repentant Israelites, along with any others who desire to covenant with Him.
This "new spirit" is the Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit (see also Jeremiah 32:37-42; Ezekiel 36:26-27; 37:14; 39:29; Joel 2:28-29). It is the same Spirit that Jesus told His disciples they would receive, the power that would allow them—through their words and especially through the conduct of their lives—to be witnesses of God (Acts 1:8; see Luke 24:49). It is a Spirit "of power and of love and of a sound mind" (II Timothy 1:7)—a mind that is balanced because God's concerns reside at its core. It is a mind inclined to obey God and to seek Him as the only Source of true solutions in a world that does not have the means or inclination to live in a way that is good for everybody and good eternally.
As Israel becomes God's model nation, due to her new heart and Spirit, the rest of the world will see that God's way—including His commandments, statutes, and judgments—produce peace and abundance. It is the nature of God's laws that, because of their Source, they bring good, prosperity, health, abundance, peace, and contentment (Deuteronomy 4:5-8). Yet, it takes the same spirit—heart—as the Lawgiver for one to understand and keep the laws in their true spiritual intent.
David C. Grabbe
The Second Exodus (Part Three)
The teaching on the born-again doctrine—found primarily in John 3 but expanded by Paul, Peter, and John in later writings—has been prone to misunderstanding since Jesus Christ spoke to Nicodemus about it nearly two thousand years ago. In fact, Nicodemus immediately misconstrued what Christ meant, understanding His analogy on a purely physical level, as another literal birth. He was not alone in this. A study of Jesus' discourses throughout the book of John shows that people frequently interpreted His entirely spiritual instruction in a physical manner, and thus failed to grasp the truth He taught.
That Christ's teaching on being born again is pivotal is revealed in the fact that it is the first major discourse that John records. In addition, it is introduced with the words, "Most assuredly, I say to you" (NKJV) or "Verily, verily, I say unto thee" (KJV), a construction that announces that what follows is significant and weighty, urging us to pay close attention.
Even so, it is not necessary for us to understand all the particulars of the born-again doctrine to be saved, although a deeper understanding of it helps us to grasp how God perceives us once we experience the born-again event. This teaching reveals that God sees us as His children, already part of His Family Kingdom, and able to function as adults before Him in this world. Further, it shows that, to Him, we are a new creation embarking on a spiritual journey, in which we will grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ and transform into His image.
In turn, this doctrine should also teach us how to perceive ourselves once we are converted. We are not what we once were—spiritually dead to God and His way of life—but now we are alive in Christ, heirs of salvation, and free from spiritual bondage, able to pursue the holy, righteous character of our Savior. Jesus' teaching reveals that we are special to God, and at the same time, that we are responsible for what we have been given and under judgment, unlike the rest of the world.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part Two)
What, then, is the new birth? It is not the removal of anything from the sinner, nor the changing of anything within or without the sinner's body. It is, instead, the communication of a precious gift to the sinner. It is forgiveness and the imparting of the new nature. When we were born from our mothers, we received from our parents their nature, what Paul calls the "carnal" or "fleshly" nature. When one is born again, he receives from God His nature, as II Peter 1:4 relates, ". . . by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature."
As early as Genesis 1, the Bible shows that a fundamental law of nature is that every living thing brings forth its own kind. What is produced by a vegetable is vegetable; what is born of animal is animal. What is born of sinful man and woman is a sinful child, which Paul designates in Romans 8:8 as being "in the flesh." It cannot be anything else. We may educate and cultivate it all we please, but human nature remains "in the flesh." It may be refined flesh, beautiful flesh, or religious flesh, but it is still "in the flesh."
On the other hand, what is born or brought forth by the impartation of God's Spirit is spirit. To use Paul's term, such a person is "in the Spirit" (Romans 8:9). The child always partakes of the nature of its parents. What is born of man is carnal and sinful; what is born of God is spiritual.
Being born again is the creation of a new man in Christ Jesus. It is the birth of a new spiritual man within the physical. The new birth is the imparting of the mind, the nature, of Jesus Christ. Paul explains in I Corinthians 2:9-16:
But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him." But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.
Every born-again person is automatically and instantaneously a child of God, a member of the Family of God, and being part of that Family, he becomes a citizen of the Kingdom of God. In every case in which God commands or exhorts His children, He does so as to an adult who is fully capable of carrying out what He says. A command may be said to one young in the faith, even one called a "babe" due to his spiritual immaturity, but he is not a spiritual fetus. He is physically an adult with a great deal of experience from which he can draw for decision making, along with his growing knowledge of God.
There is no gestation period, just as there was no gestation period when God created Adam and Eve as the culmination of the physical creation. In Genesis 2:7, God breathed into Adam the breath (ruach, a type of the Holy Spirit) of life, and he immediately became a living soul, not a fetus in a womb. Paul calls us "a new creation" (II Corinthians 5:17). However, the spiritual creation is not fully complete, in the same way as the development of a newly born human child is incomplete. Much growth remains to be done.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part Two)
Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any great importance in terms of conversion, the way of God. What is important is that there is a new creation. This verse, then, is really neither for nor against circumcision. It is only saying that what matters is whether a person has been divinely transformed into a morally new and different person. In that, there is great spiritual benefit, a new creation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Pentecost and the Holy Spirit
The ritual itself does not change a person's heart, as it has no power to do so. However, what really avails, what is really important, is "a new creature," that is, a new creation: a person who is then born of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 28)
Notice first how this chapter begins: He has made us alive (Ephesians 2:1). Paul makes sure that we understand that it is God who gives what we spiritually possess. As for verse 8, it does not matter whether we believe that the pronoun "it" refers to grace or faith; both are gifts of God.
Grace is God's kindness to us, shown or demonstrated by His revealing Himself to us. It might help to think of this in reference to God revealing Himself to Moses in the burning bush before He sent him to Egypt. If God did not freely purpose on the strength of His own sovereign will to reveal Himself, neither Moses nor we would ever find Him. If a person cannot find God on his own, how could he possibly have faith in Him? Satan has deceived us so well that men have only the foggiest idea of what to look for.
Faith—with God as its object—begins and continues as part of His gift of kindness. The gift includes His calling, the granting of repentance, the sacrifice of Christ for our forgiveness, and His giving of His Spirit. It is a complete package of many individual gifts. The gospel is the medium that provides knowledge of the objects of the faith He gives, that is, what we believe and trust in. Paul, perceiving these gifts as a package, uses "grace" as its label. In verses 9-10, he advances to the logical "next step" in God's purpose.
Our works in no way jump-start the process of justification, sanctification, and glorification. All our works, beginning with repentance and continuing through our period of sanctification, depend directly on the freely given kindness and faith God provides. Our God-ordained good works are the result of our response to the gift of faith that God gives. Works, then, are the external evidence of the unseen, internal faith that motivates them. A person could not do them unless God had given the gift of faith beforehand. Good works follow, they do not precede.
II Corinthians 5:17-18 confirms this: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation." This corroborates that it is God working in the person. His work is termed a "new creation." Since nothing new creates itself, we are the workmanship of another. We are God's workmanship. In sum, because of what God does, we cooperate and produce works that He ordains.
The apostle Paul adds to our understanding in Philippians 2:12-13: "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." He is not saying that we should work in order to obtain salvation. These verses indicate the continuing use of something one already possesses. They suggest carrying something to its logical conclusion, which is for us to live lives worthy of the gospel, doing the works God ordained, as in Ephesians 2:10.
In Romans 9:9-19, Paul, using Jacob and Esau's pre-birth circumstances as a foundation, provides a clear illustration to show that from beginning to end, the whole salvation process depends upon God's involvement. Jacob, representing those called into the church, received God's love in the form of gifts designed to prepare him for the Kingdom of God. From Esau, representing the uncalled, God has simply withheld His love for the time being.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Four)
God creates the "new man." Paul makes this clear when he tells us that God "create[d] in Himself one new man from the two" (Ephesians 2:15). Writing about reconciliation, he defines these two men in verse 11: physical Israelites (the "Circumcision") and Gentiles (the "Uncircumcision"). Just two chapters later, he reiterates that God created the new man; he commands Christians to "put on the new man which was created according to God, in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24). Finally, this time in his letter to the Colossian and Laodicean Christians, Paul makes the same point; he tells us to "put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of [God] who created him" (Colossians 3:10).
Clearly, God creates the new man in His own image. This is an important starting-point in understanding what Paul means by the term new man for two reasons:
It strongly argues against the false doctrine that Christians are "born again" when they "accept" Christ. While various denominations hold somewhat different beliefs, a common thread is that the new man, as well as the inward (II Corinthians 4:16) and inner men (Ephesians 3:16), are metaphoric designations for the same thing, a spiritual entity which resides within Christians. This entity, they submit, is an invisible, ethereal, eternal being that is the product of the spiritual birth Christ mentions in John 3:3-8. In short, Protestants believe that the new man is born within Christians at the time they are "born again."
A twig this is not! It is a misunderstanding of a major truth in God's Word. It leads those who subscribe to it into one error after another. Notice how Protestant theologians use this misunderstanding to support another lie—that heaven is the reward of the saved. They interpret Christ's statement to Nicodemus that "[N]o man has ascended to heaven" (John 3:13) to mean that no natural man (I Corinthians 2:14) or old man (Romans 6:6) has done so. While they correctly understand these two men to represent the unconverted person, they incorrectly believe Christ was not speaking of the new man. They believe that the new man, whom they confidently proclaim resides within them as a separate spiritual entity, ascends to heaven when they die, there "to be with the Lord." In other words, they understand Christ's words in John 3:13 to refer to the "old man" only.
This simply does not square with Paul's teaching. He sees the new man as created, not born. In fact, not even once does he refer to the new man as born—much less "born again"! The Greek verb translated "create" or "created" in Ephesians 2:15; 4:24; and Colossians 3:10 is ktizo, not gennao. Ktizo can mean "to create" (or as a noun, "creator"), "to form," "to make," "to found," or "to fabricate." New Testament writers use ktizo only fourteen times, and never does it refer to or even imply birth or conception. The idea that the new man is born is not consonant with the Scriptures as a whole.
However, God's use of ktizo tells us something vital about the new man. The most specific sense of this Greek verb is "to found originally." Ktizo, whose stated or understood subject in Scripture is always God, refers to "the founding of a place, a city or colony" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).
Consider this nuance of meaning as it relates to the new man. A newly founded city or colony is almost always small. If it matures, it will be through the continued efforts of its founder and its rank-and-file citizens over many years. The imagery is important: The new man, when first established in us by God, is immature and inexperienced. As we will see later, we have a responsibility to cooperate with God, the new man's founder, to ensure that he grows and matures.
The fact that God creates the new man is important for a second reason: It argues that the term new man is synonymous with new creation (KJV, "new creature"). Paul uses this term in Galatians 6:15 and II Corinthians 5:17.
Once created in us by God, how does the new man mature and grow? Remember, Paul refers to the new man in Colossians 3:10 as a man "renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him." "Renewed," translated here in the passive voice, comes from the Greek verb anakainoo. It means "to make new" in the sense of "to make different." The new man is different from the old one in that he bears the image of God!
Paul uses a similar verb in Ephesians 4:22-23, where he asks that "you . . . be renewed in the spirit of your mind." That Greek verb, ananeoo, again translated in the passive voice, means "to renew" or "to renovate." Through years of living Satan's way of life before conversion, our mind grows corrupt; even the best parts of it become "like filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6).
The apostle provides more details about this renewal process in Romans 12:1-2. Here, he uses the same phraseology—the renewal of a person's mind—in a context that makes his meaning crystal clear: "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."
The noun "renewing" (anakainosis) is related to the verb anakainoo. Like anakainoo, it carries the sense of renovation to a different, rather than a younger, state. This attests again that the new man is different from the old.
Choosing the New Man (Part One)
Christians are clearly identified as saints in Scripture. A saint is a "holy one," separated from the unconverted, who do not have God's Spirit. We must not confuse righteousness and holiness. Though they function together in the salvation process, they are specifically not the same qualities. Righteousness is the practical and consistent application, the right doing, of God's way of life. At its foundation, holiness is being cleaned, purified, and set apart, distinguished from others, for God's uses. Holiness is notable by a life as free from the defiling acts of sin as the convert can achieve as he overcomes and grows. Holiness is godliness.
So essential is holiness that the author of Hebrews declares, "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14). Holiness must be pursued. Thus, God's legal declaration of holiness, which we receive through Christ's righteousness as we begin converted life, is not the end of our pursuit of glorifying God. I Peter 1:13-16 charges us with this responsibility:
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy."
Holiness reflects the attitude and way that God conducts His life. Peter's charge to us is not to add to the righteousness conferred on us by receiving Christ's righteousness. Never in our human lives will we ever be more righteous than at that moment. The purpose of the pursuit of holiness through living God's way in our daily lives is to engrain His way into our pattern of living so thoroughly that it becomes habitual, or as we might say, first nature. This effort as a living sacrifice is our contribution that helps transform us into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 12:1).
II Corinthians 5:17 describes what we presently are in God's purpose: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: old things have passed away; behold all things have become new." II Corinthians 3:17-18 more specifically defines where God's creative process is headed:
Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
J.C. Ryle, the author of Holiness, writes:
Sanctification is the same with regeneration, the same with the renovation of the whole man. Sanctification is the forming and the framing of the new creature; it is the implanting and engraving of the image of Christ upon the poor soul. It is what the apostle [Paul] breathed after. (p. 317)
In Galatians 4:19, Paul writes, "My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you. . . ." He also says in I Corinthians 15:49, "And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly man."
Just as surely as Christ's sacrifice is absolutely vital to our justification before God, so His labor in support of our sanctification forms the reflected image of Him within our very beings, our "hearts," in preparation for life in the Kingdom of God. There would be no salvation, no entrance into that Kingdom, without His efforts because we would be unprepared to live in that sinless environment.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is God's True Church Today?
Following this time of judgment, God will create "a new heaven and a new earth" - a clean, pure world fit for God the Father Himself. For all eternity, "there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." All those who have accepted God's way will have been glorified as members of the God Family, and they will live forever. Like God, they will create, beautify, and spread God's rule over the entire universe! With this wonderful potential ahead of us, we can eagerly echo the apostle John's words in Revelation 22:20: "Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"
Martin G. Collins
Holy Days: Last Great Day
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