What the Bible says about
Submitting to God's Will
(From Forerunner Commentary)
This is an amazing verse—the pivotal point of the narrative. We read that Abraham built the altar. Imagine what must have gone through his mind as he piled up rock for a base then laid the wood upon it, knowing all the while he would soon be sacrificing his beloved son on it. Surely by now, Isaac understands what was going to happen; he knows that he will be the sacrifice. His total submission throughout the entire story is impressive. He may have even helped build the altar he was to be sacrificed on!
Scripture says that Abraham bound his son and laid him on the altar. How does a 133-year-old man tie up a strapping 33-year-old, unless the younger man consents? Isaac, like Jesus, went willingly to the slaughter. He certainly was not eager to die, but he submitted to Abraham's will and thus to God's will. He had complete confidence in Abraham and in his relationship with God. This verse shows a template of prophecy to be fulfilled in Christ.
Abraham's One God
The Living Bible paraphrases the first phrase, "Where there is ignorance of God the people run wild." For us, that ignorance is gone because of God's calling. We have a prophetic vision, and we discipline ourselves to restrain human nature, to keep it from exercising its will. Thus, we are now governing ourselves as a normal part of life. This has to be, or we will not be prepared for God's Kingdom. We must do as Christ did.
We need to be a people with a sharp vision of where we are headed in life. The gospel tells us why we were born and provides us with detailed knowledge on how to prepare for that goal. The relationship with our God frames these elements into a vision that becomes our goal in life and helps to motivate us to do what is good in God's sight.
Hebrews 11:10 says that Abraham "waited for the city . . . whose Builder and Maker is God." This was a major part of his motivating vision. Hebrews 11:27 tells us that Moses "endured as seeing Him who is invisible." These men followed the vision that formed as a result of their relationship with God and what He taught them. As we walk with Christ, we are led along similar paths.
They believed thrillingly good news that provided them with the motivation to submit their lives to God's will. I Corinthians 9:24-27 shows us Paul's example of what every person who has achieved a great goal has had to learn and do:
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
Those who achieve must be focused on a goal to a degree given to no other area of life. They must be determined, disciplined, and sacrificial enough to become exceptionally skilled at what they hope to achieve.
However, regarding what we hope to achieve in becoming part of the Kingdom of God, even going all out is not enough! We cannot achieve our goal without Jesus Christ, our sovereign God, Creator, Savior, and High Priest, by whom we are saved because He is alive and oversees our lives. He supplies every need for salvation and sustains us along the way. Salvation is absolutely, totally impossible without help from Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part Four)
Ecclesiastes 7:16-22 can help to solve the riddle of verse 15. To begin with, “Do not be overly righteousness” does not warn against aiming for excellence in obedience to God. Rather, it is a further caution not to find fault with God for allowing situations like those in verse 15 to exist, for such circumstances hold vital teaching for those directly involved.
Thus, this passage is first an appeal for humility, a caution against arrogant self-righteousness that guides a person to assert that he “knows it all,” that he fully grasps what is going on, and that his judgment is correct. The wisdom Solomon teaches here is that the goodness of the righteous must be accompanied by humility. Without the presence of humility, a person's goodness and righteousness run the risk of producing intellectual and moral pride.
This can be learned from the bad experiences of others whose examples are given in Scripture. The Pharisees became involved in such moral pride hundreds of years later. Jesus charged them with hypocrisy. In their self-righteousness, they were calling God into account because they believed His law was not enough. The Pharisees added their self-righteousness to God's written law by means of the spoken or oral law, a set of rules framed by the minds of men through the centuries. What a lack of humility! Their trashing of the written law was not wisdom, as Mark 7:6-9 shows.
Blinded by their proud self-righteousness, they could not see that, in their blind attempts to make up for what they perceived as God's deficiencies and the people's failures, they were adding despair to people's lives. Their judgment severely lacked a proper sense of proportion about what God requires.
An interesting sidelight is that the Bible shows that most Pharisees appear to have been well off. According to Jesus' judgment, they were far from righteous, so they actually fit the description of prosperous evil people given in Ecclesiastes 7:15.
But what the Pharisees were involved in is not the real lesson for a converted person, as the Pharisees were unconverted.
Psalm 73:1-17 vividly describes the emotional and spiritual involvement of a person caught in a paradoxical situation. This psalm depicts a righteous man for a time severely misjudging the reality of his situation until God reveals the truth. Any of us could be guilty of the same. The wicked appear to prosper only if we, in our judgment, consider only what appears on the surface.
What God reveals to the psalmist is that these people may appear to gain the whole world, but in reality, they are losing something of far greater value. The psalmist grasps this through prayer and meditation, and his emotional and spiritual state return to an even keel through God's revelation.
At one point, through a bad attitude toward God fueled by his envy of the worldly, the psalmist appears to have been rapidly sliding into despair and perhaps “right out of the church.” This presents a grave danger in such a paradoxical situation.
Assuming the psalmist was a converted man, what would have happened to him if he had not done the right thing and appealed to God, or if he appealed, but God did not respond as quickly as he expected? What if the trial had gone on and on without relief? From the psalmist's own testimony, as he went into the sanctuary, he was at the point that his feet had almost slipped. However, an answer on recognizing the issue appears within the psalm. Despite his envious attitude, the psalmist did not stop praying to God for understanding and relief. God has the answers.
When involved in such a scenario, we have in reality only three alternatives: One, we can continue as is, faithfully enduring with much prayer and steadfast submission to God's will. Two, we can give up in despair and leave the church. Three, we can strive all the harder to impress God by becoming super-righteous to attract His attention and receive blessings for our righteousness, relieving the stress. Solomon is addressing the third alternative in these eight verses.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Ten): Paradox
These verses show the intent of God's law. Jesus virtually lifted this word-for-word from Micah and applied its principle in Matthew 23:23. He substituted the word "faithfulness" for "humility," because a person who is truly humble will show it by submitting to God's law, and he will thus prove himself to be faithful.
The essence of the instruction is not that God did not want the Old Covenant sacrifices in Micah's day. What He did not want was rigid, hollow conformity even to ceremonial obligations without a corresponding understanding of their intent and their application in their conduct and attitude in daily life. This is what Jesus was correcting in Matthew 23. The Pharisees had corrupted the intent of tithing, the intent of honoring parents (which He addressed in Mark 7), the intent of the Sabbath—and therefore had perverted the keeping of these commands.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sabbathkeeping (Part 4)
Commentator Albert Barnes explains:
The word "life" in this passage is used evidently in two senses. The meaning may be expressed thus: He that is anxious to save his "temporal" life, or his comfort and security here, shall lose "eternal" life. . . . He that is willing to risk or lose his comfort and "life" here for my sake, shall find "life" everlasting, or shall be saved.
This scripture is one of six similar scriptures scattered through all four gospels (Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24; 17:33; John 12:25).
Jesus attaches a double meaning to the word "life": a lower, physical, and temporal meaning and a higher, spiritual, eternal meaning. Christ warns us that we must make an entire sacrifice of the lower for the higher. For if we do not completely and wholeheartedly surrender the lower for the higher, we will lose both. "When we learn how to die, we learn how to live." Indeed, to learn how to die physically is to learn how to live spiritually (Romans 6:6; II Corinthians 5:17).
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:24-26)
As Christ tells us, if we want to seek Him, we must follow Him and surrender to God everything—our wills, our bodies, and our lives. The self must be denied because our carnal mind is driven by pride and an underlying belief and desire that we must get things for ourselves. We must subsequently live our lives as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), following Christ's example of complete submission to the Father's will. If we are anxious to save, to preserve, our physical lives and/or to put our security in physical things, we will lose our spiritual lives.
Those who seek to gain the world's physical treasures (Matthew 6:19-21) will lose the Father's spiritual treasures. All of the world's physical treasures are not enough to purchase one eternal life, but if we are willing to sacrifice everything—and it takes everything—if we, with complete trust in Him, put everything in our faithful Creator's hands, we will find everlasting life.
As Christ tells us in Matthew 10:39 and its parallel scriptures, if we want to know Him, we must surrender everything to God. He instructs us to follow His giving example of total self-sacrifice in devotion to God's will. He teaches us to deny the self because our carnal mind is driven by the way of get, which always forces us off the right path. Finally, He advises us to sacrifice entirely the lower, physical, temporal life for the higher, spiritual, eternal life. For if we do not completely and wholeheartedly surrender the lower for the higher, we will lose both.
In our daily prayer and self-evaluation, we should ask ourselves, "Is today the day? Have I surrendered everything to God and am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person that God wants me to be?" We must remember that life can end in an instant, but we are to live in the fear of God, not in the fear of death. In order to live, we must first learn to die.
To Live, We Must Die
The carnal mind is the nature in which a person's conduct is based until God acts to convert or transform him; it is man's deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Once an individual is called, and the Father and Son have revealed Themselves and some of Their purpose to him, this verse succinctly describes the major impediment to our submitting to Them. This resisting influence from within each of us is the major barrier to perfect deference and compliance to Them.
Of course, Satan and the world also influence us, but the major impediment to our responsibly submitting is what is already part of our characters even as we are being converted. We quickly revert to carnality when confronted with something that we do not want to do.
What element in our carnality drives our resistance? Solomon states in Ecclesiastes 1:2, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Vanity implies something that is useless and impermanent, like vapor rising from a pot of boiling water, and therefore something of little or no value toward accomplishing God's purpose for mankind. The "all" in Solomon's statement includes us.
Notice this evidence regarding mankind's unconverted state from Psalm 39:5-6, where David writes:
Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my age is as nothing before You; certainly every man at his best state is but vapor. Selah. Surely every man walks about like a shadow; surely they busy themselves in vain; he heaps up riches, and does not know who will gather them.
In Psalm 62:9, he adds, "Surely men of low degree are a vapor, men of high degree are a lie; if they are weighed in the balances, they are altogether lighter than vapor."
These are blunt statements, showing that unless something is done to change the value of what we are in reality, what good reason does God have to work with us?
But there is more from God's Word that paints the picture of our unconverted value and the strength of our natural resistance to Him even more acutely. The aforementioned Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" "Above all things" implies all things considered evil. This by itself is a vivid comparison—and God does not lie—but He goes beyond that by adding that man's heart is not merely wicked but desperately wicked. This means our heart is without care for danger and recklessly, badly, extremely, furiously, impetuously wicked.
Jesus adds force to this word-picture by confirming in Matthew 15:17-20 that the heart is the place from which our evil resistance to God is generated. However, an irony comes into play because the heart is the same place that generates to us in our thoughts the belief that we are really something good! This is quite an effective combination in producing sin. It occurs because our hearts produce self-esteem with the result that our ideas and actions—our very lives—are focused on self-satisfaction. To meet that need, we will sin as a way of life.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and Human Pride
What we fear to do is to suffer the pangs of self-denial. We fear putting to death our flesh that is demanding satisfaction. But the truth is that we are dealing with the most troublesome aspect of our humanity. It is pride demanding its due. That is what we do not want to face because, in submitting to God, we are denying what pride is demanding, that we stand up for ourselves.
Do you understand that it is pride within us that wants to be god? It loves being praised and being coddled. It quickly puffs up with angry judgment over the real or perceived wrongs of others while being oblivious to its own. It is almost like a living, breathing something, a form within us unlike that of any other creature. It can be fed, or it can be starved. When fed, it grows. When it is starved, it diminishes and dies daily.
Pride starves and diminishes when we choose to submit to God's Word in obedience. But it is going to put up a strong defense of itself through the fear of being denied. It wants satisfaction. "You shall be as gods," the serpent told Eve. God made the serpent say exactly what was happening. Pride in Adam and Eve exalted itself over God, and made them god by changing the standard to satisfy themselves when they saw that the fruit was attractive. They did not deny their flesh.
Whether the challenges arise in what we permit ourselves to eat or to drink, how much we permit ourselves to eat, the control of the tongue, directing the temper, or whether we choose to be kind or sarcastic or cynical or hopeful and encouraging, the test to control our fear of humbling ourselves exists. That is where the battle is being waged.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Does Doctrine Really Matter? (Part Four)
"Now the just shall live by faith" is both a statement of fact and a command. It is not easy, but at the very least, God has gifted each member of the Body. It requires of us a great deal of focused and disciplined living to live by faith. To do it well, we must fully accept God's sovereignty, not merely as a random fact, but as a reality working in our lives of faith.
Recall that many Israelites failed along the way to the Promised Land because their faith failed at some point during their pilgrimage. But their faith in whom and in what? Of course, it is faith in God, but unlike them, have we fully accepted what He is and what He does? Jesus commands in Luke 14:26 that we must place Him before all else in our lives. What are His qualities and attributes? What is our vision of God's place in our lives?
Besides God's warning about the world, we must often be reminded that the carnal mind is not subject to Him, as indeed it cannot be (Romans 8:7). A major reason the Israelites in the wilderness failed is that it never entered their minds at the beginning of their journey that it would be so difficult.
Our positions as called children of God place us in a position in which we must determine who is regulating affairs on this earth. To whom will we submit our lives, God or Satan? It is not as though there is a struggle between them. The "contest" has already been decided. God won. However, He permits Satan limited leeway to test and try us. Which of these two—between whom we must choose—is supreme? Which will we choose to be sovereign over our lives?
Revelation 12:9 states that Satan has deceived the entire world. He is an accuser and the author of confusion. If we take an overview of conditions on earth, we see turmoil everywhere, providing a clear picture that mankind as a whole has given itself over to Satan. Indeed, in II Corinthians 4:4 the apostle Paul names him as "the god of this age" who has blinded men's minds to the light of the gospel.
However, this is not so with us. By God's mercy, our minds have been opened for the very purpose of freely choosing God as our sovereign and submitting to Him. So then, how much do we truly know about His attributes, character, and judgments as shown in His Word?
For instance, are we aware of what it says in Deuteronomy 28:63?
And it shall be, that just as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess.
This is a side of God that is not often taught, yet it is part of the whole of what He is, and we must face it and choose. Judgments are often painful. God says in Deuteronomy 8:3 that He humbled the Israelites and caused them to hunger. Will He for His purposes bring similar judgments on us so that we must choose to accept His chastening and submit to Him as our sovereign?
Why might He rejoice in exercising His judgment against people? It is actually because of His merciful love. Peter reminds us, "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). Paul, in I Timothy 2:4, confirms this, saying God "desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." Thus, He can rejoice in punishment because He knows that the punishment will be the means of drawing men to the knowledge of the truth by which they can repent and be saved.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part One)
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