What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Self-mastery ("soberly" in NKJV) is self-government or self-control, the foundation of a strong godly life, growth, and producing fruit. If a person cannot govern himself, if he cannot master his passions, he will certainly not have a good relationship with his fellowman or God. His life will likely be marked by major excesses.
The biblical writers use this word in various ways: to behave in an orderly manner, to be sober, serious, sane, sound-minded, discreet, self-disciplined, prudent, and moderate. In context of a person controlling himself, Paul writes, "For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith" (Romans 12:3; see Titus 2:6; I Peter 4:7).
A person who has self-mastery is even-handed, and his passions are under control. He makes proper use of his drives and desires, and his manner of life is not one of extremes. A person reflecting this quality will be making steady progress in growing into the perfectly balanced character of Jesus Christ.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Five Teachings of Grace
1. Growth, like everything controlled by law, is orderly. It occurs in natural stages and is, therefore, predictable. A normal boy does not grow facial hair before he learns to talk. In the spiritual arena, God knows we cannot take the meat of His Word until we can handle the milk (Hebrews 5:12-14). We need to start with the basics.
2. Growth is planned. One of the most fascinating things we have come to understand recently is that the upper limits of some growth factors are DNA-encoded. It appears that physically (and perhaps to a lesser degree, mentally) our potential is preprogrammed. For example, because of genetic limitations, a particular individual can grow to six feet two inches, and no higher. However, this does not mean that the individual must or will reach that height. The height he finally attains will depend on nutrition, exercise, and other environmental factors. This explains a phenomenon we have all witnessed: tall parents whose children are even taller! The exceptional nutritional advantages enjoyed by the children permitted them to mature to their full potential.
Spiritual growth, also, is planned. God has called us to an incredible potential. But, we must choose whether or not we will attain to it. We stunt our spiritual growth if we remain diseased by sin. We will not grow if we adopt a wrong attitude when God exercises us with trials. Poor spiritual nutrition, preferring the junk food of this world's philosophies and entertainments over God's Word (Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4), will also stunt our growth in Christ.
3. Growth is slow, but undeniable. Humans may not reach physical maturity until sometime after the twentieth year. Children particularly perceive growth to be slow, longing to "be grown-up." As imperceptibly slow as it is, over time growth becomes manifest. In the same way, our spiritual growth may not be fast; God does not expect that. Spiritually, we need to grow steadily, little by little, slowly but surely.
4. Growth occurs in spurts. There are times when a child does not grow as fast as other times. In adolescence, children often seem to sprout. Spiritually, we may go through times of discouragement, which temporarily arrests our growth. But, if we maintain a good attitude, God will intervene. We will begin to grow again.
5. Retrospectively, growth is rapid. How fast our childhood sped by! As slow as growth seems while it is occurring, when we look back on the whole experience, it seems to have taken place so very quickly. It will probably be the same with our spiritual growth. When we become God as God is, we will be able to view a day as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day (II Peter 3:8). Then, what now appears to us to be such painfully slow growth will probably look much faster. We can all take encouragement in that.
Growing to Perfection
Over the past several hundred years, the idea of a "work ethic" has captured the imagination of philosophers, theologians, and ordinary men and women. The fundamental principle in any ethic of labor is that hard work teaches certain virtues and enables people to advance beyond the circumstances of their birth. If a young street urchin desires, he can—through hard work and integrity—climb from welfare to well-paid. The "rags to riches" motif grew from this ethic of work.
In His curse on Adam, God tells the man that his entire existence—"all the days of your life"—would be filled with labor. He would have to work for every morsel of food that would pass between his lips or those of his family. He would have to wage war on the natural processes of nature, such as weather, weeds, insects, fungi, and disease, to reap a crop, and he would never be assured of success. He would sweat in work, and he would sweat in worry.
All of this fighting, as one would expect, would take its toll on him. The constant pressure to provide for his own would drive him to work harder, longer hours. He would be constantly exposed to the fickle elements, which would sap his vigor. All this work would age him prematurely, and one day in the midst of his labors, he would simply die and return to the dust that he had been fighting all his life.
But amidst this struggle would come something of eternal consequence. Notice the words of Solomon:
For what has man for all his labor, and for the striving of his heart with which he has toiled under the sun? For all his days are sorrowful, and his work grievous; even in the night his heart takes no rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that his soul should enjoy good in his labor. This also, I saw, was from the hand of God. (Ecclesiastes 2:22-24)
Solomon, knowing the human condition was a result of God's purpose, reveals that men can receive something good from his toilsome lot. Verse 26 lists three virtues we can derive from our labors: "For God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy to a man who is good in His sight; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and collecting, that he may give to him who is good before God."
A person who combines his work with a relationship with God will receive growth in character! On the other hand, a sinner, cut off from God, must endure the drudgery of the struggle, and the rewards of his work would eventually benefit the righteous, not himself!
Later, Solomon repeats his observation in chapter 3:
What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. . . . I know there is nothing better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God. (verses 9-10, 12-13)
This seems to verify that God's curse on Adam is in the end a gift from Him! Why is this curse really a blessing? We find the answer in verse 11:
He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time [or, God times everything beautifully]. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.
The curse, if properly used, can lead a man to merge his life with God's "work" or purpose, which leads to "eternity" or eternal life! Man, apart from God, has no idea what God is doing, but one with a relationship with Him will have it revealed to him—and he can then use this knowledge to "work out" his salvation (Philippians 2:12)! He can direct his labor along eternal lines.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The First Prophecy (Part Three)
When Jesus taught parables as prophecies of the course of the church's history until His return, He provided two views of the one subject: specifically, the outward aspect, shown to the multitude of people; and the inward aspect, as revealed to His disciples. He gave the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32; Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18-19) to the mixed multitude to disclose evidence of a specific characteristic of the church compared to the outside world.
The historical development of the church of God would be one of humble beginnings. However, this parable contains more than this important truth. Hidden within it is a warning about the perversion of the church's method of growth and of satanic attacks upon it. This parable is an analogy, and as with all analogies, the symbolism is not exact but similar. Therefore, the symbolism of the Kingdom of God being likened to a mustard seed is not identical, yet it explains a particular aspect of the process that the church goes through in preparing for God's Kingdom.
Martin G. Collins
Parables of Matthew 13 (Part Four): The Parable of the Mustard Seed
The heart symbolizes our innermost being, the source of our words and actions. Today we call it the mind. When God awakens us to some of His great truths, when we at last begin to realize the vital importance of righteousness, there is a blush of first love, and we begin to hunger to apply them in our lives. But what is already in the heart fights almost desperately not to be displaced by the new nature in hope of wearing down our enthusiasm for the truth. Paul illustrates this resistance in Galatians 5:17:
For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.
Why do we not do the things we wish? The answer lies in the extraordinary power of ingrained habits. They are most difficult to break because they have had free sway for so long one unconsciously does what they incite. Paul speaks of this using a different metaphor in Romans 7:23: "But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members."
The almost constant persistence of these habits can be depressing. If we seem to be making no progress, life can become downright discouraging. But we must not give in to discouragement. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose except that which is of no value for the Kingdom of God anyway. Discouragement that feeds frustration only makes Satan's work that much easier for him.
There are things we can do to enhance the initial hunger God gives to us. If we were physically hungry or thirsty, we would give every last ounce of strength we had to find food and water or die in the effort. We must be willing to do whatever it takes to make progress in our quest for God's righteousness.
As adolescents, we were unaware that growth was taking place until someone who had not seen us for a while brought it to our attention. Even though we were not aware we were growing, we still made efforts to grow by eating and drinking the things that promote growth. In the same way, spiritual growth may also seem so slow that we think it is not happening. But we should not let that stop us! We must keep on making the spiritual efforts even as we did the physical, and growth will occur. Keep on praying for others, thanking God for His goodness and mercy, asking for wisdom, love, and faith. Keep studying God's Word, filling the mind with
Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Four: Hungering and Thirsting After Righteousness
The tragedy of the story and the focus of the parable is the man who hid his talent. From him we probably learn the most. First, the talent was not his in the first place; it was on loan. Second, Christ shows that people bury their gifts primarily out of fear. Third, the whole parable illustrates that regarding spiritual gifts, one never loses what he uses. That is a powerful lesson: If we use the gifts that God gives us, we cannot lose! The one who was punished never even tried, so God called him wicked and lazy. His passivity regarding spiritual things doomed him.
Comparing this parable to the Parable of the Ten Virgins, we see a few interesting contrasts. The five foolish virgins suffered because they let what they had run out. This servant with one talent apparently never even used what he had. The virgins failed because they thought their job was too easy, while this servant failed because he thought it was too hard. On many fronts they seem to be opposites.
The servant's true character comes out in his defense before the master and in the master's condemnation. In verse 24 he claims, "Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed." That is a lie! Not having this belief, the other two servants immediately go to work, never suggesting that they think their master is harsh and greedy.
The wicked servant justifies his lack of growth by blaming it on God. "It was too hard, Lord." He accuses God of an insensitive and demanding evaluation. That is why Christ calls him wicked. He calls God a liar and accuses the master of exploitation and avarice. If he did work, he says, he would see little or none of the profit, and if he failed, he would get nothing but the master's wrath.
The master then asks, "Why didn't you at least invest my money so that I could receive interest?" The servant, in his justification and fear, overlooks his responsibility to discharge his duty in even the smallest areas. Blaming his master and excusing himself, this servant with one talent fell to the temptations of resentment and fear. Together, the two are a deadly combination.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
Growth requires an honest and noble heart. We deceive ourselves through rationalizations and justifications, allowing our appetites to overwhelm what we know is true. Sin engulfs the mind with a cloud of alibis and cover-ups to hide from ourselves the wrongness of what we do. Sin promotes twisting and distorting of truth. We reason, "This isn't so bad"; "I'll do it just one more time"; "I'm too weak. God will just have to take me as I am"; "God will just have to do it for me." We have all reasoned ourselves into transgressing.
Have we been deceived into thinking of sin only in the sense of breaking one of the Ten Commandments? While sin is the transgression of the law (I John 3:4), its biblical usage is much broader. When we fail to think of sin in its broader sense, we stumble into a trap. It is far better to think of sin as falling short of the glory of God. The central concept of sin is failure—failure to live up to a standard, God Himself. The glory of God includes His attitudes, intents, and His very thinking processes, all of which produce the way He lives. For us to fall short in any of these areas is missing the mark—sin.
We are deceived, lured into actually transgressing, through neglect, carelessness, laziness, irresponsibility, ignorance, bull-headedness, fear, shortsightedness, and ingratitude for forgiveness and the awesome potential that God has freely and graciously handed to us on a golden platter of grace. We are detoured from progress to holiness and are enticed into sin by failing to see God and by not considering seriously the subtle influences on the fringes of actual transgression of the law. At the foundation of both spiritual and physical health is how we think and what we think about.
James 1:13-16 confirms this:
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
The way to stop sin, as well as to improve health, is to change our thinking. Between what God does and what we should do, we can do it. This is real conversion!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Five)
2 Corinthians 4:7-8
No matter how thoroughly a minister counseled us for baptism or how vividly he warned us the Christian life might become, very few are dissuaded from being baptized. This is, of course, good. However, most of us are also full of misplaced confidence. Though none of us is ever sure of what we will have to experience to be prepared for what God has in store for us in His Kingdom, we are sure God will be there for us in our times of trial. He will indeed, but will we be ready to face our discouragement over what we come to see in ourselves?
As we become educated in God's way, as we grow and become more discerning, sin becomes more apparent everywhere we look. The discouraging aspect is that the sin is not necessarily in others but that we see it in ourselves. We may even reach a level of outright despair because, everywhere we turn, every angle we view ourselves from, we see "little" deceits. We become aware of envy rising, jealousy, anger, and sometimes even rage and hatred. We attempt to bottle them up to keep them from breaking out.
Yet, they always seem to be just below the surface, ready to leap out in a foolish act. Sin is like a cancer, invisible most of the time but silently working to destroy us. Sin desires to return us to our former state. We may have even imagined that, when we began to grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ, life would become continually easier - we would grow in holiness, and life would become an unending pleasure. Too frequently, it seems to work in the opposite direction.
This course, however, is good. First, the older and more mature we become in the faith, the more of the filthy corruption of sin we can discern. Our discouragement can turn to thankful encouragement because, even though we perceive the filthy corruption in ourselves, our ability to discern it more clearly is evidence of growth.
Second, it is encouraging to understand that for us to overcome sin and grow, we must first be aware of the corruption.
Third, it is wonderful to understand that our merciful God has covered even all this accumulated sin that we have been completely unaware of. Christ's blood is sufficient to cover the sins of the whole world! That we can see more of the evil aspects of human nature should help us also discern some of the implications of Christ's sacrifice.
Fourth, these things should motivate us to cry out to God, "Your Kingdom come! Your will be done!" and help us yearn for the time we will be free of the pulls of the flesh.
The removal of ignorance is a wonderfully rewarding gift. Even so, despair sometimes comes easily because we have allowed ourselves to be deceived into trusting our own works to keep us in good standing with God. If we fail to conduct ourselves properly even according to our own standards, it is not difficult to become guilt-ridden and full of despair.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Seven): The Sin and Trespass Offerings
The part we have to play is to walk worthy of our calling, and as the apostle goes on to say, our calling is to be one: one body, one spirit, one faith, one baptism, one hope, just as we have one Lord and one Father. We are to be one bride of Christ. He is not a polygamist; He will not marry many brides but one united bride.
We in the church can be disunified if we fail to practice verses 2 and 3: Without lowliness (humility), without gentleness (meekness), without longsuffering (forebearance or patient endurance), without love and peace, we will never have unity. As long as we are proud, easily angered and offended, jump on every little thing, lack patience, and treat each other hatefully—as long as we cause strife—there will never be unity. Even with all that God does (I Corinthians 1:4-9), it will not happen. He will not force unity upon us if we show that we do not want it. The natural order of things is that we will disunify further if we fail to show Him that we are working toward it. So, without these virtues, even with God deluging us with His Spirit, we will not have unity.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Paul suggests that a new convert is a child, unstable in his ways, who really does not know which end is up spiritually. He can easily be tricked and deceived.
Someone who has grown, on the other hand, is someone who is stable, who will not be swept aside by persecutions, trials, deceitful teachings, and false doctrines. He can fight these off because he knows, understands, is convicted, and continues in the truth. However, he did not get to this point without also going through a process of growth. He had to pray, study, obey, make choices, analyze, compare, look at the fruits of things, and so on. He had to set his will and change. As he does these things, growth takes place.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 19)
Notice the encouraging reason Paul gives to wake up and carefully mind how we live: "Christ will give you light." This is an outright promise that He will give us the help to do what we must do. Backed by this promise, we are to redeem the time "because the days are evil." If his days were evil, what would Paul think of ours?
This passage reveals how the early church regarded time as it applies to a Christian. For us, all days - every period in which God's people have had to live their lives by their God-given understanding, thus by faith - are evil. God's truth has always run counter to the course of this world. Thus, the truth adds a peculiar, stressful difficulty to life regardless of when it is lived. Moreover, since each called-out individual has only one opportunity to lay hold on eternal life, and must overcome, grow, and prove his loyalty to God during that time, he must make use of every experience.
Galatians 1:3-4 confirms this perspective: "Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father." In terms of growing and overcoming, living in a particular period in history gives a Christian no advantage. Every era, every age, is against him, and within it, he must make the most of his calling. The times have always been evil.
To the church, then, because it must operate responsibly toward God within a highly specialized understanding of life and its purpose, every age is full of the cyclical, frustrating, repetitious events that Solomon called futile vanities. Such events lead nowhere and produce a discouraging fatalism.
However, a Christian also knows that God is directing time and events to His desired end. Thus, the church's view of time is an elegant combination of both realities, realizing that it has a work to accomplish as an organization and that each individual Christian must grow and overcome within it. So, as Christians, we must face the evil of repetitious vanity produced by sin, which history clearly records, with faith in the hope of a glorious victory for God's called-out ones, which God's Word prophesies.
Thus, Paul advises in Ephesians 5:17, "Therefore . . . understand what the will of the Lord is." As we live our lives each day, we should never let what God says slip from our minds. His point is that we need to make the most of every opportunity because time is inexorably moving toward God's desired end, and it will not stop and wait for us. We do not want to be left behind! No occasion is too insignificant to do the right thing. Time is precious! We, like God, must take it very seriously.
We must not make the mistake of relegating Christian living to a mere couple of hours on the Sabbath. Christianity involves every aspect of life. Personal study and prayer are times of clarifying God's will. But we must not neglect the doing of His will as occasions arise - and they will arise every day. Woe to us if we disregard them, for they comprise the very circumstances that challenge us to overcome and grow in our seeking of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Seeking God (Part Two): A Foundation
The word picture in Philippians 3:12-14 is of men straining to win a foot race. The Christian life is especially like the longer races where the runner must sustain a winning frame of mind over a longer period of time. We cannot run our race like the hare of the "Tortoise and the Hare" fable, in which the hare took a nap during the race.
Paul illustrates that after having received God's grace, our responsibility is to return full effort to God in striving to perfection in moral, ethical, and spiritual areas. He did not see the struggle against sin, fear, and doubt as being accomplished by God alone. The apostle is here urging his erring brothers to follow his example in persistently concentrating on our common goal.
Life for us now consists of discarding wrong attitudes and habits accumulated in the past. In modern, psychological terms, we must lose our baggage. For us, the past is dead, buried in the waters of baptism. With that behind us, we must diligently make unwavering progress in putting out the leaven of sin, growing in God's love, producing the fruit of God's Spirit, moving toward the Kingdom of God, and putting on Christ's perfection, His image in us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Five Teachings of Grace
Notice how many active words Paul uses in Colossians 3:1-17 to describe what a Christian must be doing:
- "Seek those things which are above" (verse 1).
- "Set your mind on things above" (verse 2).
- "Put to death your members" (verse 5).
- "Put off all these" (verse 8).
- "Do not lie to one another" (verse 9).
- "Put on tender mercies" (verse 12).
- "Bearing with one another, and forgiving" (verse 13).
- "Put on love" (verse 14).
- "Let the peace of God rule . . . and be thankful" (verse 15).
- "Let the word of Christ dwell in you" (verse 16).
- "Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (verse 17).
Paul makes sure we understand that we must actively participate in order to grow. When God talks about growth, He means increasing in His attributes, the qualities that will conform us to His image.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Five Teachings of Grace
1 Timothy 2:3-4
If it is God's will that we be saved and grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ, why is it so hard? If God is working with us, should this not be easy? Our first response to this is very likely, "Well, I guess it's just that I am so evil"; "It must be human nature"; or "I'm so bad God must not be hearing my prayers." Some get so weary with the difficulty that they say, "God will just have to take me as I am."
All these justifications may indeed be factors, but they are not precisely correct because most of us have some besetting sin or sins that we fail miserably to overcome time after time. Why, if it is God's will, do we not overcome them more easily?
The sin need not be easily recognizable by others, as Paul writes to Timothy that "some men's sins are clearly evident" (I Timothy 5:24). It can be a hidden sin, though we are well aware of it, know it is evil, and feel constant guilt and self-condemnation because of our weakness before it.
It can be a sin of omission and not a sin of commission, in which one is directly guilty of bringing loss or pain upon another. Perhaps the failing concerns acts of kindness or mercy that we have frequently and consistently failed to do to relieve another's burden, but we know of it and are convicted of its seriousness.
This is the key to understanding why spiritual growth is so hard. Consider one's original conversion. Why did this even occur? Romans 2:4 says, "Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance." This happened only because God was revealing Himself and making us conscious of factors of life we had never before felt with that force. It moved us to repent and throw ourselves on His mercy. In reality, it was the only option He held open to us because we felt powerless to go in any other direction. Can we overcome death? The key is our awareness of powerlessness as the first essential element to spiritual growth.
In II Corinthians 12:10, Paul makes this point. "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong." In chapter 13:4, he adds emphasis to this by saying, "For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you." Just as a prerequisite to conversion is recognizing and acknowledging our utter failure in the face of sin and death, so also is a deep consciousness of our frailty required in the face of overcoming and growth in following God's way and glorifying Him.
Without this overriding sense of dependence, we will never turn to God in the first place. Without this sense of need, we will not continuously turn to Him because our passivity in this will declare that in reality, like the Laodiceans, we think we need nothing and are sufficient unto ourselves. We will be like the confident Peter, who, boasting that unlike others he would never desert Christ, immediately fell flat on his face in spiritual failure. The secret of growth in Christian character largely lies in realizing our powerlessness and acknowledging it before God.
Perhaps John 15:5 will now have more meaning. Jesus says, "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." It does not mean that without Him we could never design an automobile or send a rocket to the moon. It means that we could produce nothing of a true, godly, spiritual nature within the calling of God that truly glorifies Him.
Just in case we think He is saying more than He really means, think about the following commands. Jesus says in Matthew 5:44, "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you." He adds in Matthew 6:31, "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'" If these are challenging, try I Corinthians 15:34: "Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame."
We have a long way to go. It is time to stop playing church—realizing that judgment is now on us—and turn to God with all our heart. He promises that, if we do this, He will hear from heaven and respond. We must constantly keep in mind that God is the Potter with the power to mold and shape as He wills. As the clay, our job is to yield, realizing even the power to submit comes from Him.
To understand this from an even broader perspective, we must consider how mankind has acted in its relationship with God beginning with Adam and Eve. They said, "God, stay out of our lives. We don't need you. We will do this ourselves." Therefore, rather than choosing from the Tree of Life, they chose from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. All mankind has copied this approach down to the Laodiceans, who say they are rich and increased with goods and need nothing. It will continue even to those who will curse and blaspheme God during the final plagues in the Day of the Lord (Revelation 16:21).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility: Part Eleven
1 Timothy 6:15
With a description like this, we have only begun to scratch the surface of the sovereignty of God, especially in its importance to our Christian life and growth. Understanding even a tiny portion of God's glory, wisdom and power is much needed because the god of this world's "Christianity"—a miserable, blasphemous creature and a travesty of the truth—has given us a deceptive picture of Jesus Christ, causing us a great deal of misdirection. Some of the concepts of that false Christ, planted before conversion, remain in our minds, influencing our attitudes and choices.
He has presented a portrait of a helpless effeminate, a maudlin, hand-wringing sentimentalist who is desperately trying to save humanity. If He is as He is portrayed, then He must be constantly disappointed, dissatisfied, and discouraged! In His ineptitude He is being defeated by the very creatures He is supposed to have created and be greater than. Is God so weak that Satan and sin in recalcitrant man thwart His purpose for mankind at every turn?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Two
"First principles" are fundamental, rudimentary, elementary things. There are things with which we begin, but we have to get off the dime, as it were. Something must be done in order to increase, because if we remain at the starting point, we prove to be not very usable. How much good to human society is a baby? Even so, a newborn Christian is not a great deal of use to. This situation is remedied by growth.
From unskilled to skilled, from oblivious and uncomprehending to discerning—a process happens? It is an integral part of the way of God. It is how He writes His laws into our hearts.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 19)
We are those who are "perfected forever." However, "perfected forever" does not mean we are morally perfected. Rather, His one sacrifice is perfectly adequate to assure our standing before God. As we have seen, the sacrifices show Him proclaiming how He lived His life, but here we are seeing its impact, the consequences of what He did so well. We see man, sinning and imperfect, becoming at one with God through Christ.
By means of the burnt, meal, peace, sin, and trespass offerings, we see all of God's holy requirements met in Christ so that we might be quickened by His Holy Spirit, be in continual fellowship with Them, and grow to become fully at one with Them. Ephesians 1:3-6 adds Paul's thoughts on this:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
The consequences of Christ's sacrifices do not end with our acceptance before God. Acceptance creates the requirement of being conformed to the image of the Son; we are expected to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Peter frames his instruction on our responsibility once we accept Christ's sacrifice in our stead in this way: "Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (I Peter 2:4-5).
This is in language any of God's children can understand. We are to offer up sacrifices in the way He did. There is not one record of Him ever making a sacrifice at the Temple. Rather, He lived their intent as a living sacrifice. This is why our identification with Him is so important. We are now part of His body; we represent Him. He lives in us, and we experience life with Him as part of us. Our conduct is open to the view of all who care to look. Are we glorifying Him?
Please understand that, though our offerings will be poor and weak in comparison to His, they are not worthless by any means. They are still acceptable to God because of Christ, and they are still a witness.
Consider these illustrations: If a couple have a small child of perhaps just a few years of age, do they expect him to run one hundred yards in nine seconds? Are they disappointed because he cannot drive a car or understand Einstein's theory of relativity? Of course not! If their child is only one year old, he may just barely be able to toddle across a room! If he falls a couple of times, do they lose their temper and put him out of the house?
Of course, they are neither disappointed at his present inabilities nor do they even think of putting him out of the house. Why? Because they know he is just a baby, and they adjust their expectations and judgments accordingly. They are confident he will get better as he matures and gains experience. They know that someday he will stride confidently across the room and much more besides. Someday, he may run a hundred yards in under ten seconds and grasp the essentials of the theory of relativity.
In other words, growth is anticipated. God's judgment of us is much the same. When we are first in Christ, He considers us as babes (I Peter 2:2; Hebrews 5:13). At this point, He very well may consider us as "perfect" for the time since our regeneration, and we are acceptable because of Jesus Christ. He allows us time to grow, even though we may make mistake after mistake because of our weakness and immaturity. Because of Christ, He keeps judging us as "perfect."
This is a wonderful gift! He is not overly concerned about our individual sins as long as He sees in us a steady, upward trajectory toward maturity in our conduct to reach the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. If a child falls as he toddles across the floor, will not his parents set him upright, dust him off, comfort him, and show him, "This is the way you do it"? Can we expect any less from God, in whose image we are? Therefore, our acceptance before Him gives us time to grow.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Nine): Conclusion (Part Two)
1. Trials should produce growth. Just as we prune a shrub or tree to force it to grow into a more perfect form, so God does with us. William Barclay makes an excellent comment on this:
. . . these tests or trials are not meant to make us fall, they are meant to make us soar. They are not meant to defeat us; they are meant to be defeated. They are not meant to make us weaker; they are meant to make us stronger. Therefore we should not bemoan them; we should rejoice in them.
Notice that trials should produce growth, rather than that they will produce it. Sometimes, we just do not learn the lesson; we fail; we regress; we sink into self-pity. This leads me to another lesson learned.
2. The fruit we produce depends on our outlook. This does not imply that anger and depression are not normal human emotions. They are. With any trial, you wonder why. You evaluate your actions, your mistakes, your sins. You repent, fast, and pray. You cry out to God with more emotion than you knew you possessed. If you are normal, you have moments of anger, perhaps even doubt.
Here is where we can produce fruit or destroy it. With God's help, we must forcibly evict these carnal thoughts from our minds. We cannot allow seeds of doubt to germinate, and if they do, they cannot be allowed to grow. We must look forward and deal with the situation.
. . . we know for certain that He who raised the Lord Jesus from death shall also raise us with Jesus. We shall all stand together before Him. All this is indeed working out for your benefit, for as more grace is given to more and more people so will the thanksgiving to the glory of God be increased. This is the reason why we never lose heart. The outward man does indeed suffer wear and tear, but every day the inward man receives fresh strength. These little troubles (which are really so transitory) are winning for us a permanent, glorious and solid reward out of all proportion to our pain. (II Corinthians 4:14-17, Phillips)
So it is good advice that we not resent our trials or bemoan our fate or the state in which we find ourselves. As James says, "Count it all joy," which brings us to the next lesson.
3. Joy comes after, not before, the trial—and often not during it. No sane person sits around, wishing he had a trial. That is absurd. No one is ecstatic to find himself encompassed in pain. Only when you have faced your troubles and started to fight can you begin to see even a glimmer of a positive result at its conclusion.
James' advice is to count or consider our trials joyfully. The Phillips' version continues, "Realise that they come to test your faith and to produce endurance" (James 1:3). These words reflect a passage of time. Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus endured the cross "for the joy that was set before Him." He thought nothing of the pain and shame because of the joy He knew would follow His suffering. Joy came afterward.
Verse 11 says, "Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." Here is convincing proof that joy is primarily post-trial.
Yet even this joy is not the ecstatic, "Hallelujah!" kind of joy. Chara means "cheerfulness" or "calm delight." God's Spirit does not produce in us a gloating, "I did it!" kind of emotion, but a cheerful peace of mind, an awareness that we survived and grew. We feel a kind of satisfaction that God has pruned us so that we might become more like him. This process helps us to appreciate our lives more, and to be more thankful, understanding, and sympathetic to the plight of others.
A lady with a long-term illness once wrote to us about her trials. As she came slowly out of her personal struggle, she passed on to us several things that we found to be true. One line she wrote is very true: "I never realized how wonderful it is to be able to do ordinary things until I couldn't do them." She had "never realized." Yet now, because of her trial, she counted or considered her situation and found joy in a simple act.
By sharing this with us, she gave us hope and encouragement. We saw this new perspective as positive. This is fruit borne through testing. It is God's refining process at work. He is removing impurities.
As hard as it seemed, after giving them much prayer and thought, we found that each trial was specific to us. It was what we needed to make us more like God. We did not see this initially, but through perseverance and growth, it became clear.
This is why we are happy that God has chosen us to suffer whatever trials He may allow. As James goes on to write:
Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been proved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:12).
Joy and Trial
2 Peter 1:5-10
This passage builds on the implication of grace, that is, the gifts of God alluded to in the previous verses. Grace both enables or empowers us and makes demands on us by putting us under obligation. Titus 2:11-12 tells us that the grace of God teaches us that "denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly." Receiving the grace of God puts us under obligation to respond.
Peter is teaching that the grace of God demands diligence or effort. Verse 5 reads, "giving all diligence [effort]." In addition, it is helpful to understand that Peter is saying in the word translated as "add" that we are to bring this diligence, this effort, alongside or in cooperation with what God has already given. God freely extends His grace, but it obligates us to respond. We are then to do our part in cooperating with what He has given to us—and He inspired Peter to tell us to do it diligently and with a great deal of effort.
We ministers almost constantly speak of growth. Yet, notice where Peter begins his list of traits we are to become fruitful in: He writes, "Add to your faith." "Add" is woefully mistranslated into the English. Yes, it can mean "add," but it is actually much more expansive than that. "Generously supplement" is a more literally correct rendering, which brings it into harmony with "diligence." In other words, make great effort to supplement your faith generously.
Peter sees faith as the starting point for all the other qualities or attributes. He does not mean to imply in any way that faith is elementary, but rather that it is fundamental or foundational—that the other things will not exist as aspects of godliness without faith undergirding them. In the Greek, it is written as though each one of these qualities flows from the previous ones. We could also say that faith is like the central or dominant theme in a symphony, and the other qualities amplify or embellish it.
How much and what we accomplish depend on where we begin. Peter is showing us that there is a divine order for growth, and it begins with faith.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part 5)
2 Peter 3:17-18
Everybody knows that growth is a process. When a child is born, it is not immediately a full-grown adult with a lifetime of experiences crammed into its cranium while in the womb. The weakest and most helpless of all newborn things must be a human baby. It has to be taken care of completely and totally by its mother and father, or it would die.
When they are born, most other mammals are at least able to find a way to get something to eat. However, human babies are absolutely helpless. Even though they grow very rapidly—especially in the first few years—during which time they accumulate a great deal of knowledge and experience, their growth is little by little.
Here, right in the Word of God, we are being told that we, too, are to grow! We are not instantaneously a canister full of all kinds of facts and figures and the knowledge of God. We do not understand all the biblical principles. We certainly do not have all wisdom. We know very well that these things accumulate over many years of living.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 19)
2 Peter 3:17-18
Verse 18 makes it clear that there is a contrast. Peter says, ". . . but grow." Verse 17 is a warning: ". . . beware lest you also fall . . . being led away with the error of the wicked."
The command is to grow, so if the contrast that he is establishing in our minds is to be met, the positive part of the instruction is that effort has to be made in order to grow. If we are not making an effort to grow, the only alternative is to go in reverse. We begin to degenerate if we do not make an effort to grow.
II Peter 3:17 (Moffatt) Now, beloved, you are forewarned: mind you that you are not carried away by the error of the lawless and so lose your proper footing;
My attention is on this verse 17 where he says, "mind you," rather than "beware." He turns it into something that is positive. "Beware" could mean to just look around to make sure that one is safe. But "mind you" says, "Hey, turn your attention to focus on this!"
We can see from the combination of these two verses that effort must be made to produce growth or we will likely fall into the error of the wicked. In other words, doing nothing regarding our spiritual responsibilities is akin to doing nothing regarding our physical responsibilities pertaining to our physical health.
So we are faced with a choice. We are forewarned. Something has to be done; we cannot just stand still. Nor can we just drift. Some effort has to be made to ensure growth takes place.
John W. Ritenbaugh
1 John 1:7
As we grow, God reveals more of His perfection to us, and as He reveals His perfection, His light, His truth, we continue to repent. Knowing better what He is, we go to Him for forgiveness of what we are and what we have done, and He continues to cleanse us by the blood of Jesus Christ, washing our imperfections away.
Everything in the Christian life ultimately comes down to our relationship with God. Without the relationship, without the fellowship that is made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ—which bridges the gap between us and God and enables us to have the relationship—no growth will take place. The practice of walking in the light makes perfect. It is not a matter of changing and cleansing ourselves, but rather that fellowship with God has a transforming and perfecting quality.
We know that "evil communication [company, NKJV] corrupts good manners" (I Corinthians 15:33, KJV). The obverse of this is that wonderful, pure, good communication produces good manners. When we are around evil people, we will pick up their habits and their ways. When we choose as our companions people who have the standards of God and fellowship with them, they will likely rub off on us. We cannot fellowship with anyone better than God. That is the whole purpose of the relationship. When we are around Him, we become like Him, unless we consciously decide to cut ourselves off from Him by rejecting His truth.
It is a wonderful system. Everything hinges on the relationship, on the fellowship, and then ultimately on the response to truth. We cannot afford to allow the carnal nature in us (it is still there even after conversion, as Paul said that sin was still in him; Romans 7:14-25) to gain the upper hand and prevent us from working and building on this relationship.
Leviticus 19:2 tells us that we are to be holy because He is holy, and that is what this fellowship is doing, equipping us for holiness on a day-to-day basis. Maintaining that fellowship is not always easy because of the prejudices that we bring with us due to the traditions of our human cultures. We were once helpless before them, having absorbed what our parents taught us until God opened our minds to the truth. Even now, it takes conscious effort for us to respond to the truth, but if we want to be holy, we must maintain the relationship.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Truth (Part 3)
The wealth of the Laodicean is not the problem. His problem derives from allowing his wealth to lead him into self-satisfaction, self-sufficiency, and complacency. His heart is lifted up. These attitudes lead him to avoid self-sacrifice by which he could grow spiritually. People normally use wealth to avoid the hardships of life, and although there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that, a person not spiritually astute will allow the comforts of wealth to erode his relationship with God. In his physical wealth, the Laodicean is poor in the things that really count and blind to his need. He no longer overcomes and grows. His witness is no good - and useless to Christ.
God reveals His love for the Laodicean when, rather than giving up on him, He gives him a punishing trial. He allows him to go through the fire, the Great Tribulation, to chasten him for his idolatry, to remind him of his true priorities, and to give him the opportunity to repent.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
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