What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
This is the original request Moses made to Pharaoh for Israel to be set free. The reason was that they might be free to sacrifice to their God. The same principle applies to us; this is why God has freed us. Recall that Romans 12:1 charges us with the responsibility, once we are free of our slavery to Satan and sin, to be living sacrifices.
The blessing of our God-given calling makes available to us the opportunity to dedicate our lives in service to Him. Its magnificent potential opens the door to positive motivation to counterbalance the somewhat negative sense that obligation to Christ seems to impose. Because He first gives us evidence of His love for us, it enables us to believe Him, to live by faith, and to live a life of self-sacrifice to glorify Him. It has provided entrance to the Kingdom of God.
The just shall live by faith because they know Him in His loving character. This causes any lingering negative sense that human nature has toward being required to keep God's commands to fade gradually into the background, freeing us to obey from the heart in sincere gratitude and joy.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Priceless Gift
Some claim that, since these specific instructions are given in reference to animals offered to God, the principle of giving one's best to the Master does not apply to vegetable or grain offerings! Does that mean we may give God any old vegetation we happen to have lying around? As living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2), are we free to give God any old thing, and He must accept it or else? Does He not deserve the best we have?
A holy people must give holy offerings! A holy offering is one given according to the details that God lays down. Jesus gives a practical application of this principle in Matthew 5:23-24: "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift."
He is essentially saying, "First things first." If a reconciliation does not take place, God has no obligation to accept the offering. It has been made based on a corrupt relationship with a brother, making the offering unacceptable. Likewise, God has no obligation to accept a defective, corrupted animal or unqualified grain offered before Him.
Furthermore, the principle of holiness comes to the fore in an additional way, for God plainly stipulates in Leviticus 22:25 that nothing is to be offered to Him from a foreigner's hand because the foreigner's corruption is in them. The uncleanness from the foreigner's idolatries is in the thing offered. The foreigner is not a holy, sanctified, or set-apart person.
In the case of Joshua 5:10-11, the Israelites clearly would have had to offer produce from the foreigner's hand—if they offered anything, which they did not—because that was all they would have had to offer. Having just come from the wilderness, they had no harvest of a crop they had sown, as Exodus 23:16 demands.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Pentecost Revisited (Part Two): Joshua 5
The holy days and their offerings are shadows of good things to come (Hebrews 10:1). The offerings especially are indicative of many aspects of Christ's conduct and attitudes while serving God. We are to imitate Him (I John 2:6). Understood correctly, they represent the spiritual manner in which we are to observe these days.
Numbers 28:16—29:40 lists all the offerings to be made at the feasts. One can quickly see that more offerings were required for the Feast of Tabernacles than all other festivals combined. This ought to indicate what God expects regarding our conduct during the Feast of Tabernacles. He requires that we offer ourselves as living sacrifices so that it be most fruitful spiritually. It should be both a spiritual and physical feast whose fruit is rejoicing and learning to fear God as a result of the sacrifices done with understanding and a good attitude. This cannot be forced. It is the fruit of a right approach and use.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Amos 5 and the Feast of Tabernacles
Isaiah 53 presents an entire chapter about the Lord's Servant sacrificing Himself. Notice verse 10: "Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand."
The word "pleased" does not mean that God's mind was merely inclined in that direction. Rather, it carries as a strong undercurrent of a sense of satisfaction, even pleasure and delight. Why would one have a sense like this in relation to an excruciating and painful experience such as Christ experienced in His crucifixion? Because God foresaw the overwhelming good that it would produce.
Recall that the peace offering shows us that God is satisfied because man is in communion with Him. A man is satisfied because he knows he is accepted by God, that he is in fellowship with and sharing with Him. The Priest, Christ, is satisfied because, as the common friend of formerly estranged parties, He is happy to see them sharing due to His work. Each party encompassed by the peace offering is at peace with the others.
On the eve of His crucifixion, as He takes them through the New Testament Passover service, Jesus tells His apostles, "With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (Luke 22:15). He is certainly not looking forward to the pain of sacrificing His life but to what would be accomplished as a result of His sacrifice. It would be the major means of producing peace between God and man. He knows His sacrifice would make possible a Family born of God.
God repeatedly shows that, whether in a family, business, nation, or in any aspect of God's creation, peace is a major fruit of sacrifice. Most specifically, for us it means sacrificing ourselves in keeping God's commandments and fighting human nature, holding it in check. It means being a living sacrifice by not conforming to this world or yielding to the base demands of human nature. The peace offering reveals the consequence of truly loving one another: Sacrifice is the very essence of love!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Five): The Peace Offering, Sacrifice, and Love
This paragraph presents an overall and continuous solution to this weakness in the lives of the converted. First, notice that this paragraph is in the form of a command. It is not a mere suggestion but a direct charge from our Creator. As the reference to David indicates, it is addressed to His people, so His audience already knows Him to some degree. The word "return" (verse 7) confirms this, indicating that He and they already have a relationship, but those He is speaking to have lost some resolve and drifting apart has occurred.
The mention of David appears in verses 3-4. When this was written, David had been dead for about 250 years, so this inclusion inserts some symbolism and moves the time-setting, making it a prophecy that fits it into the end time as well as Isaiah's lifetime. David is a type of Jesus Christ in His office as King, which further confirms that God is commanding this of those who already know and have a relationship with Him. Not only have these people drifted away, but they are also not making the effort to "seek" Him to strengthen the relationship.
The responsibility of those who have made the covenant with Him to seek Him is thus not that of striving to find Him in order to establish a relationship as a relationship already exists. Rather, it is seeking Him in order to be like Him and become more fully intimate with His will.
Verses 1-3 remind us that our relationship with Him is not without cost. This paragraph begins with an urgent command: "Come!" The sense is that paying the cost of seeking is obligatory if the relationship is to continue.
We need to understand our position here. God not only loves us, but He also greatly desires us to be in His Kingdom. At the same time, He wants us to show voluntarily that we desire the relationship. In addition, to reinforce our obligation, we must grasp and fully accept that He has every legal right to command us to do this.
In Isaiah 55:1-3, our part in this relationship is clearly not costly in terms of money, but it is in terms of our lives and how we spend them. Our lives must be lived by faith in the One who redeemed us. Paul describes the Christian life as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part Two)
Zephaniah makes no bones about the fact that his prophecy deals with the Day of the Lord and His anger at humanity for its hostility to Him: "'I will utterly consume everything from the face of the land,' says the Lord" (Zephaniah 1:2). It is clear that He is most disappointed with His chosen people, who should have known better because He had worked with them for many generations (Amos 3:1-2). Yet, even they had become idolaters, worshipping Baal and Milcom and "the whole host of heaven," turning away from God and no longer seeking Him (Zephaniah 1:4-6).
In verse 7, God calls for silence; He wants no more protests or excuses. He has decided to prepare a sacrifice and invited guests to partake of it. The modern Westerner has little notion of what this entails. Under the Levitical system, not all sacrifices were completely consumed in the altar's fire. Some burnt sacrifices, as they were called, were annihilated, but others were strictly divided: Certain parts went on the fire, another part was given to the priest to eat, and the remainder—the majority of the animal—returned to the offerer. Usually, with such a large amount of meat to consume in a short time, the offerer would call a feast for his family and close friends.
From this comes a major principle of the sacrificial system. The altar symbolized a table and the giving of an offering represented the sharing of a meal among God, the priest, and the offerer. The three were united in fellowship, solidifying and strengthening a relationship. For Christians, this three-way relationship exists among the Father, the Son (who is our High Priest), and the Christian. As the apostle Paul enjoins us in Romans 12:1, rather than giving our lives in death to Him, we are to be "living sacrifices," holy and acceptable to God, continuing the relationship in service to Him.
However, Zephaniah reveals that God has something different in mind for the Day of the Lord. For His sacrifice—or sacrificial meal—He has invited guests from afar, and the sacrifice of which they will partake is His people, Judah! In verse 8, He is particularly incensed against Judah's rulers, the corrupt descendants of David, who have led the nation further into sin. He expected the royal house to follow the examples of David and Josiah, but they had instead pursued carnal habits and political expediencies, bringing Judah to the brink of war, captivity, exile, and destruction.
As the verse closes, He highlights the particular failing of listening to foreign influence, seen in the wearing of "foreign apparel." It likely refers to a trend among the aristocrats of the time of wearing the clothing style of the foreign nation he supported in the power-struggle over the strategic land-bridge that was the Kingdom of Judah. (The conflict over that bit of territory is still ongoing today.) At the time, it was probably the distinctive styles of Egypt and Babylon, both of which were quite different from that of the Israelites. The verse suggests that the nation's leaders had stopped wearing Israelite-style clothing altogether—symbolizing their departure from God and what He had commanded (for instance, Numbers 15:38-40)—and by donning the clothing of these powerful, competing empires, they were pledging their loyalties to the nations rather than to God. It could also mean that these aristocrats were worshipping the idols of these nations.
Behind the NKJV's translation of "punish," the Hebrew literally reads that God will "visit" the royal sons of Judah, which, in its negative sense, is a common metaphor for coming in judgment. It should come as no surprise that, when Judah finally fell to the Babylonians, Zedekiah's sons were killed before the eyes of their father, just before he was blinded and taken off to Babylon (II Kings 25:2-7). In addition, many of the aristocrats were killed and their children were dragged off to Babylon as slaves, as was the case with Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego (Daniel 1:1-4).
Judah's destruction in the early-sixth century BC is just a type of the Day of the Lord that will be visited upon the world just before the return of Jesus Christ. God will be just as jealous for the loyalty of His people, true Christians, at that time as He was 2,600 years ago. We need to be asking ourselves if we have allowed ourselves to be "clothed with foreign apparel."
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
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
These verses give us a formula for entering the Kingdom of God. It is just that simple—or is it?
We should love the Lord our God more than anything else. Nothing is to take precedence over Him, not our desires, our will, nor anything else. God is always first. We are to love God with all of our soul. We are to be ready to give up our lives to honor God, if it is required. We are to endure all types of ridicule and torment for His sake, if it falls our lot. That is part of loving God.
It is our loving God with all of our strength. Whatever we possess has come from God. If we do something to physically serve God, or if we have to give our substance as living sacrifice, this, too, is just part of loving God with all of our strength.
Adam Clarke summed up the first part of verse 28:
In a word, he [one thinking with and using the mind of Christ] sees God in all things; thinks of Him at all times; has his mind continually fixed upon God; acknowledges Him in all his ways. He begins, continues, and ends all his thoughts, words and works, to the glory of His name. This is the person who loves God with all of his heart, his might, and strength and his intellect.
That is a tall order, but it is exactly what God wants from us. He wants us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, loving our neighbors as ourselves. It is self-explanatory.
If we are in trouble, do we want someone to come and help us? Of course! Do we want someone to listen to us when we need someone's ear? Of course! Do we want someone to rescue us when we find ourselves in financial difficulties? Certainly! Likewise, we should be concerned for others, as we are concerned for ourselves.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Don't Take God for Granted
What He is saying is that God does not expect us to give out of our own poverty, to put our family at risk to help other people, or to give in any way things that we do not have. The best gifts that we can give are things that we already have to give—things from inside us, as it literally says. The margin reads, "Give alms of what is inside."
Give alms—give help to others from what is produced by the character we have already built. That way, we know it will be a pure offering and acceptable, not only to the person who receives it, but also to God. We are to be living sacrifices, sweet savors in our dedication to both God and to man. It comes out in our good works.
If we give of what we have already built within us, it will be an acceptable and a pure offering before God. Remember the widow's mite? It was not the amount she gave but the relative value of it that impressed Jesus. She gave of what she had.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
"If I Have Not Charity"
Paul's exhortation is especially interesting in light of what precedes it. Chapter 11 concludes a lengthy dissertation on the doctrinal foundation of Christianity, showing the central importance of faith and grace. Instruction in the practical aspect of Christianity begins with chapter 12. The two sections are linked by the word "therefore." By this, Paul demonstrates that Christian living is inseparably bound to Christian belief. Faith without works is dead, and works without the correct belief system is vanity. Wrong thinking cannot lead to right doing.
If a person drinks in the spirit of Paul's doctrinal teaching in the first eleven chapters, he will present his body a living sacrifice and renew the spirit of his mind. Thus, outwardly and inwardly he will be on his way toward God's ideal for human conduct. All the virtues produced from this change will begin to grow and manifest themselves in his life. Self-surrender and its companion, self-control, are inseparable parts of this command.
Paul uses the metaphor of sacrifice throughout verse 1 to reinforce both similarities with and contrasts between Israel's Old Covenant sacrificial system and the Christian's sacrifice of His life in service to God. "Present" is a technical expression from the sacrificial terminology. Under the Old Covenant, the offerer's gift was presented to God and became His property. Similarly, the gift of our life is set apart for God's use as He determines. When we are bought with a price, we belong to ourselves no longer.
The Old Covenant sacrifices produced a sweet smell that God declares in Leviticus 1:17; 2:2; and 3:5 to be a fragrant aroma in His nostrils. In the same way, the gift of our life is "acceptable to God." Then Paul says that giving our lives in this way is "reasonable," that is, of sound judgment, moderate, sensible, or as many modern translations say, rational or spiritual. The outward acts of a son of God spring logically from what has changed in the inner man. His mind is being renewed, and he is thus controlling himself to live according to God's will rather than in conformity to the insanity of this world.
The last word in verse 1, "service," is as important as any, for within this context it describes the service, not of a domestic slave, but of a priest in complete self-surrender performing his duties before God's altar (I Peter 2:5). It means that we must, first of all, be priests by our inward consecration and then we must lay our outward life on the altar in God's service. This is what our works accomplish.
Almost from the beginning of the Bible, sacrifice is one of the great keywords of God's way. God clearly alludes to Christ's sacrifice in Genesis 3, and the first sacrifices occur in Genesis 4. The principle of sacrifice is then woven into the fabric of virtually every book until beginning with Christ, the Founder of Christianity, it becomes perhaps the master-word for the outward life of His followers.
Sacrifices are inherently costly to the giver, or there is no real sacrifice in the offering. David explains in II Samuel 24:24, "Then the king said to Araunah, 'No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price; nor will I offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God with that which costs me nothing.'" Jesus amplifies this principle with a statement of far reaching day-to-day consequences: "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:13). What could be more costly than a person giving his life in service by living a way of the very highest of standards that his mind and body do not by nature and habit want to live? It requires a decision that will from time to time bring intense pressure upon him to control himself against strong drives to go in an entirely different direction. But he must control himself if he is to work in the service of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control
Notice that the days of sacrifice are not over. We are to present our bodies a living sacrifice. Sacrificing has been transferred from the physical slaughtering of animals to the sacrifice of the self, from the slaying of a dumb and uncomprehending beast to the intelligent and deliberate choice of an understanding human, made in the image of God.
The principles of the sacrifices given in Leviticus 1-5 and so forth still apply to us under the New Covenant in their spirit—the stretching out of principles to their spiritual intent. It is these principles that Paul is drawing on for this command. We are to present our lives as a sacrifice to God.
Remember, our salvation rests on the human sacrifice of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. First, He gave up His glory to become a man. Second, He sacrificed His life; for 33 ½ years, He laid it down as an offering to God, and as an example to us of perfect obedience. Finally, He gave up His human life as a sacrifice on the stake.
Sacrifice is a New Testament doctrine! It is on such a higher plane that there is no comparison with the sacrificing done in the Old Testament. Now we have to be sacrificed and much in the same way, in principle, that Christ was. Many individual verses or paragraphs in the Bible explain that such things as prayer, thanksgiving, faith, and repentance are Christian sacrifices.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Nineteen)
Paul makes a strong, urgent appeal to Christians to devote their lives to sacrifice. Sacrifice suggests the giving up or forfeiture of something or oneself for something or someone considered to be of greater value. In this context, the "Someone" is Jesus Christ and the "something" is God's way of life. The apostle is urging those of us who have had the revelation of God given to us to devote ourselves entirely to living it.
He urges us to sacrifice our bodies. He does not mean to imply giving up merely our skin and bones but the totality of what we are—our entire beings including our minds with all of their character, energy, knowledge, experiences, skills, perspectives, and attitudes—with nothing held back, since we are likely to hold a portion of our life in reserve just for ourselves. In other words, he is asking us to consecrate our entire lives to God. Note that Paul does not call this "extreme," but "reasonable."
Why would one even consider taking on the potential for such costly pain? No one really grasps the fullness of what God asks of those who make the New Covenant with Him at baptism. This witness in Romans 12:1-2 is nonetheless part of His Word to testify against us. There is a good reason, succinctly given in Romans 5:5: "Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us." We do it because God's love for His Son has been given to us and is growing. His investment in us, His grace, is beginning to be returned.
The love of God, the biblical love, is not a mere affection but an outgoing concern equal to or greater than self-concern. This love, which we do not have by nature but is given by God as a gift, will sacrifice itself for the well-being of others. It will pay the costs of forfeiture of self-interest for the well-being even of enemies. It will choose to lay down its life following the pattern shown in Jesus' life.
The love of God is an unearned, dynamic gift from God that influences one who has it toward oneness with God and fellow man. It must be deliberately chosen, though, in order to be put to use.
At this juncture, its costs come to the fore because, despite conversion, human nature remains. Though considerably weakened, it still exerts its influences toward the self (Romans 7:14-23; Galatians 5:16-17). We must overcome human nature's influences, but in virtually every case, we must make a sacrifice to fulfill the influences of the love of God. Sacrificing almost always involves the potential for loss, at times a considerable loss.
A number of verses reveal that, in one sense, choosing whether to sacrifice oneself in obedience to Jesus Christ is not a realistic option to anyone who claims to love Him. In John 14:15, Jesus says, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." He adds in John 14:21, "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me." Verse 15 is a direct command and challenge to anyone claiming to love Him, and verse 21 says that one's following through in submissive obedience is the proof that the claimant loves Him. I John 5:3 adds a resounding confirmation to verse 21 by providing the Bible's definition of love: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome."
Love comes at a high price, but it is also rewarding because, as we make the sometimes costly choices to please God by following Jesus Christ, we transform more fully into His image due to following the pathway our Savior blazed before us. Becoming a living sacrifice is one of the costs that observing Passover should recall to our memories, giving us substance for sober reflection aimed toward revitalizing our understanding of the significance of this important day.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Awesome Cost of Love
Paul exhorts us to consider a principle that applies to two areas of priestly conduct, offering sacrifices and praising God. In Greek, the emphasis in verse 1 is on the word "therefore." Why? Because Romans 12:1 begins the summary of the practical application of the principles, the teachings, the instruction that Paul gives in the first 11 chapters. He is preparing to draw practical conclusions to all the doctrinal things he taught, that is, about justification, sanctification, our calling, and the Holy Spirit, including the glorious things about Israel and what will happen in the future. It is as if he is saying, "In light of everything that I have given you thus far, here's what you are to do, priests! Sanctify yourselves by being a living sacrifice."
He means that, due to God's great gifts to us, it is "reasonable" for God to expect us to sacrifice ourselves. Sometimes modern Bibles will render this word as "spiritual," which is a correct alternative. The Greek word underlying it appears only one other time in the Bible, and in that place it clearly means "spiritual." Here, though, it means "reasonable," that it is right that we should be a sacrifice. It is logical, rational, to do this.
The "therefore" brings an exciting conclusion to his thought. He is saying that everything we do, every activity in all of life, is to be an act of worship in service to God. Everything! We are to live our lives as living sacrifices—except on those days that we want to do our own thing? No, not at all. God owns us, and He wants our lives lived all the time—every day, 24/7—as a living sacrifice. We are to sacrifice our lives to Him because it cost the life of His Son to give us the privilege of drawing close to Him.
So, He has every right to ask this of us. It is logical. It is rational for Him to demand it of us. In this case, even as Jesus is portrayed in the offerings of Leviticus 1-7, we, as His brethren, are both the priest making the offering and the offering that is being sacrificed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
New Covenant Priesthood (Part One)
The reality of the New Testament's teaching is that becoming a true disciple of Jesus Christ obligates a person to a great deal of sacrifice—even to the point of becoming what the apostle Paul calls being “a living sacrifice." The disciple of Christ is clearly the sacrifice. Why do the sanctified ones make these sacrifices since the price they pay for forgiveness is dedicated, obedient devotion to the leadership of Jesus Christ?
This price requires the sacrifice of every function of a Christian's body, mind, and spirit to the way of God. It can be very costly. It may cost the Christian his employment because of work requirements on the Sabbath. He may lose his family attachments because the family may not accept his beliefs. He may lose his general acceptance within a community for the same reason.
We commit to Christ for two primary reasons. The first is personal and somewhat self-centered: We want to be delivered from the burden of the death penalty, and we desire the awesome rewards God promises like everlasting life and, sharing eternity with our Creator and Savior. The second is generally slower to grow within us but proves far more critical in the end: We love God and desire the completion of His purpose in us. Through baptism, we want the means to express that love for God and for others as He continues with His creative purposes, preparing us for active participation in His Family in the Kingdom of God.
We should never let the encouraging Romans 5:1-5 slip from our minds:
Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts, by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
These verses, naming gifts God gives us upon our agreeing to the New Covenant, remain as a brief but constant reminder of how the New Covenant enables us. They inspire and empower our faith in ways no prior covenant, even with God, has. But the New Covenant does not erase God's laws, just the penalty we have incurred by breaking them. Even the sacrificial laws involving animals, though they no longer have to be physically made, remain part of the Word of God because we can learn so much from them. They deepen and broaden our understanding of the sacrifices we must make under the New Covenant to show love to both God and men.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part One)
Do we see a similarity between this passage and Romans 12:1-2: "Present your bodies a living sacrifice. . . . And do not be conformed to this world"? Paul is saying the same thing here, also mentioning the shunning of fornication, uncleanness, covetousness, filthiness, and other things, that is, sinful behaviors, how the world does things. The point is that we fulfill the showing forth of God's praises through being a godly example to the world. Showing forth God's praises involves our witness of how God lives.
But to do so requires sacrifice—putting human nature to death and overcoming indwelling sin. It is not easy. It requires disciplining ourselves, controlling ourselves, saying, "No!" to ourselves. On the other hand, it also requires us to say, "Yes, I need to do this good thing"—in service, in kindness, in mercy, in love. Either way—positively or negatively—we will have to sacrifice as a sacrifice is involved in almost any act of love.
If we conform to the ways of the world, how can we possibly show forth the praises of God? We would be just like the people of this world. Peter means that, in showing forth the praises of God, we must live contrary to the carnal ways of the world. The principle also includes the preaching of the gospel to the world, giving it a verbal representation of the praises of God through explaining His purpose.
Now, making acceptable sacrifices through Jesus Christ involves doing activities more frequently thought of as being "priestly." Such sacrifices include things like prayer (which we do privately) and study (which we also do on our own). When there is nothing else to distract us, we carve out private time with God's Word—come right before Him, into His presence. Making acceptable sacrifices also includes meditation, whenever and wherever. God tells Joshua in Joshua 1:8, "You shall meditate in [the Book of the Law] day and night." In Psalm 119:97, the psalmist says, "[The law] is my meditation all the day."
It includes praying about the multitude of subjects God reveals in His Word. It means praying for leaders in the church, both the faithful ones and those who have gone astray, at least for a time. It also includes the activities that Paul mentions in Hebrews 13:15-16: offering "the sacrifice of praise to God" and doing good works and sharing our blessings. Jesus advises in Matthew 6:3 that in doing such things, we should not let our right hand know what our left hand is doing. Most of these deeds are things that we are to do privately.
John W. Ritenbaugh
New Covenant Priesthood (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?
Many hold the mistaken belief that the New Covenant transforms living by faith and glorifying God into a far easier task than under the Old Covenant. “Easier” is an erroneous descriptor. Even though a convert is forgiven of past sins and receives wonderful gifts from God, including the Holy Spirit, the New Covenant also requires him or her to become a living sacrifice. Sacrificing one's life in humble submission to God is not easy, as the New Testament attests. Jesus lists some requirements in Luke 14:25-27:
Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”
Almost all who call themselves Christian today hold the opinion that, through the New Covenant, God has made salvation much easier to obtain. The central pillar in their belief seems to be that since Jesus kept the laws perfectly, and since He paid for the forgiveness of our sins through His sacrifice, when one accepts Him as Savior, the convert's obligation to meet the New Covenant's demands is somehow magically reduced or even eliminated. People carelessly say, “Jesus did it all for me.”
In plain language, a high percentage of professing Christians accept as true that God's law is essentially done away. They believe that Jesus kept it for us. While that idea contains truth, it has been twisted into a misleading concept: that we need not be as concerned about keeping it as those who lived under the Old Covenant. Nothing could be further from the truth! Why? Our willing, devoted, and careful participation in keeping His law is absolutely necessary to be created in God's image!
The reality is that the New Covenant establishes what we might call graduate-level requirements of keeping God's law. However, God compensates for our weaknesses by providing the spiritual tools to reach those levels. Jesus did keep the commandments for our benefit, in that God is mercifully willing to accept His righteous life and death to pay our debt to Him for our sins because we do not have sufficient righteousness to pay the cost to have the death penalty removed.
But something is missing in people's misunderstanding of this reality, so their trust in it is also skewed. What is missing is what radio broadcaster Paul Harvey called “the rest of the story”: the truth that godly character is not imposed but built, created, with the willing and dedicated assistance of the person being transformed. The world's flawed conclusion dismisses the fact that God's creation of each person into His image is only just beginning at the individual's forgiveness and baptism into the church and the Family of God.
Anyone thinking of baptism should consider—if we have little need to be concerned about sin—why Jesus is so solemn and stern in His admonition in Luke 14:25-27 about His disciples following such high standards. Not being discussed at this point is that, despite Christ's wonderful gift in sacrificing Himself to pay our indebtedness to God, the reality is that the wages of sin, death, remain because the existence of the laws continues.
What we find is that God not only forgives us, but in our calling He also gives us the spiritual tools to fight and win the spiritual battles we engage in to keep sin from re-enslaving us. The fight against sin continues. God provides the tools for us to go on to perfection (Hebrews 6:1-2) if we will believe in them and use them.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part One)
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)
For many of us, the ability, opportunity, desire, and obligation to follow the first half of this admonition occurs without question in our lives. After all, praising and giving thanks to God is a Christian's duty. For some, the harder part is taking Christianity one step further, sacrificing ourselves in service, fellowship, and communication with others, especially those outside our "community," be it a group designated by age, experience, likes or dislikes, location, or any other boundary that applies to us personally.
This willingness to give of ourselves must be a key piece in linking one generation to another. It is and must be a dual obligation: the older teaching the younger, as well as sharing experiences widely, not just with those we are most comfortable with.
Precious Human Treasures
The issue in the vision of Revelation 5 is finding One who is qualified to open a certain scroll that contains a listing of events that will occur beyond the present time, both before and after Christ's return. The issue is resolved because Christ, the Lamb, is qualified to open it because of what He has already accomplished. He is our Redeemer and thus qualified. His qualification sets an example for us to follow in our Christian lives.
Verse 10 concerns us most. It helps to know that the term “kings and priests” is better translated as “kingdom of priests,” as numerous modern translations render it. Christ has appointed the redeemed (verse 9) as a kingdom of priests to serve our God and to bear a measure of rulership (“we shall reign on the earth”). They are appointed to a responsibility by Christ because they, like Him, have been prepared to render these services in God's behalf.
Beyond the priestly functions, rulership is clearly in view for the redeemed. Christ will appoint only those already prepared for these positions. Both rulership and priestly functions contain shepherding responsibilities. A priest is an individual especially consecrated to the service of a deity as a mediator between the deity and his worshippers.
Note two passages of Scripture that confirm what we are being prepared for:
» 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. . . . But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (I Peter 2:5, 9)
» They sang as it were a new song before the throne, before the four living creatures, and the elders; and no one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who were redeemed from the earth. These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. (Revelation 14:3-4)
Both of these future positions help us focus on what we are to do within our calling now before the events of Revelation 5 and 14 occur. We must prepare to lead in the Kingdom of God. The world's approach to salvation focuses almost exclusively on being saved by confessing Jesus Christ as Savior. As important as that is, it pays little attention to any other purpose and responsibility attached to it.
However, this period prior to our ultimate admission into the Kingdom of God has a major purpose: to be prepared to continue serving God at a remarkably higher level of responsibility after Christ returns. We are being created into Jesus Christ's image, and leadership is what God is looking for in us. He does not need to see us leading vast numbers of people, but He wants to see leadership in spiritual growth as we overcome our carnal natures.
How? We are to be living sacrifices, deliberately choosing to allow ourselves to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ through obediently following His way of life. If we lead others in this life, it is primarily by example, as we are not forcing God's way on others.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Leadership and Covenants (Part Four)
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