What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
In all its forms, sin is marked as mankind's enemy. It must be defeated to God's satisfaction for Him to accept us. If not, our relationship with Him will not be continued for eternity.
Because sin is an ever-present reality of life, it is essential that we have sufficient knowledge to recognize it before its fiery darts strike us down. This requires consistent, thoughtful study of God's Word and effort to build an awareness of its presence, enabling us to beat it to the punch, so to speak.
Overcoming sin is indeed a formidable task, but not a hopeless one. One reason why it is not hopeless, when rightly thought through, is quite encouraging. Jesus teaches in Luke 12:48:
But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.
We are admonished to be alert because our enemy is at the door (Genesis 4:7), stalking us as we make our way through life. However, we are also encouraged to understand that we are all judged individually. God judges everyone against the same standard, yet He judges individually according to our natural talents, gifts, dedication, faithfulness, discipline, time sacrificed, and energies exerted to overcome against what God knows we are capable of.
We stand alone, as it were, not measured against any other person. Though the ultimate standard is the holy, righteous character of the Father and Son, we are neither measured against their performance nor any other human's performance. We are not in competition against others.
Though not measured against the performance of the Father and Son, we are nonetheless urged to strive to be at one with them. They are in complete and total agreement with each other. It is to this oneness that God wants to bring us, not merely intellectually, but also in attitude and conduct. They do not sin, and imitating this sinlessness becomes our great challenge in life.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Sin, Christians, and the Fear of God
The Greek word for "faith" can also be translated "fidelity," as it is in Titus 2:10. To understand what the scribes and Pharisees lacked, we need to examine fidelity along with the traditional definition of faith.
Fidelity, as defined by Webster, is "the quality of being faithful, accuracy in details, exactness." The dictionary adds an interesting modern analogy to explain fidelity: "the degree to which an electronic device (as a record player, radio or television) accurately reproduces its effect (as sound or picture)."
We know we are to bring "every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (II Corinthians 10:5) and to "let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5). John tells us "to walk just as He walked" (I John 2:6). Peter advises, "Christ . . . [left] us an example, that you should follow His steps" (I Peter 2:21).
Spiritually, fidelity is to reproduce faithfully and exactly the thoughts, attitudes, steps, and paths of Jesus Christ. The "sounds" our lives make on earth reach heaven either as the scratchy, tinny, garbled clanging of carnality, or as harmonic, melodious, pleasant reproductions of Christ in us, the hope of glory.
This is where the Pharisees missed the whole point of the law. They were not like God at all! They were so busy with their little "additions to make it better," they forgot how to treat each other. This is a great danger facing the church today. We can focus so intently on a specific point of doctrine—the calendar, divorce and remarriage, or church government—that we forget that God bases our judgment on how we treat others (Matthew 25:34-46). Christ went about doing good (Acts 10:38). He showed compassion, healed, helped, and set a righteous example in all His activities. He never once gossiped, slandered, or verbally abused anyone. While correct teaching is of extreme importance (II John 10), living it is of even greater importance because doers will be justified, not hearers only (Romans 2:13; James 1:22-25).
The "sounds" the scribes and Pharisees produced were low fidelity, unrecognizable to God in the intent of His law. When God hears our voices, does it sound to Him just like Christ did? Because we are still alive, we are better off than the Pharisees. We still have opportunity to learn to think and act like Christ, to work on reacting to wrongs and persecution—deserved or undeserved—just as He would. We have time to grow in saying just the right thing at the right time to help, encourage, inspire, or guide others.
James 3:9 says we bless God and curse men made in His likeness; we respect God but not His creation. James shows this is a contradiction and wrong. Disrespecting God's creation is disrespecting Him. He expects high fidelity from us in what we say—"pure, . . . peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy" (verse 17). He will not listen to what is "earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing will be there" (verses 15-16).
Fidelity is the kind of faith mentioned in James 2:14-26. Just "believing" or blindly trusting that we are qualified to enter God's Kingdom is not sufficient. Christ must see Himself in us. Faith without works is dead, so we show real faith by our actions (verses 17-18). Even the demons "believe" God exists—and they tremble in fear (verse 19), but they are unwilling to think like Him, talk like Him, live like Him. Theirs is a dead faith. We are to show our faith by our works, by walking exactly as He walked, by our "fidelity."
The Weightier Matters (Part 4) : Faith and Fidelity
The apostle Paul confirms this principle in I Corinthians 4:16, where he strongly states, "Therefore I urge you, imitate me." In I Corinthians 11:1, he repeats, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ." Finally, in Philippians 3:17, he writes, "Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern." In addition to Paul, Peter teaches us in I Peter 2:21 that Jesus set "us an example, that [we] should follow His steps." Imitation and conformity are facts of life. However, these scriptures make clear that who and what we imitate is critical because much that we might strive to imitate within humanity is a sheer attention-seeking and statement-making vanity—and in some cases, downright degrading to both God and humanity. Do athletes, entertainers, politicians or whatever deserve our homage? It is one thing to admire or respect qualities in another, but admiration and respect begin to slip toward worship when imitation enters into the mix.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Worship God?
During the Passover service, we always read John 14 in its entirety. It is chock-full of insight and instruction that we, as Christ's disciples, need to live fully as Christians and to prepare for eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Jesus opens the chapter by saying:
Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know. (John 14:1-4)
He sets the goal before us, eternal life in God's house. He says that He will soon be going to that same goal, where He will be in a better position to prepare us to reach it. Then He says, "You know the way there," which has Thomas scratching his head. "Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?" (verse 5). In other words, if we do not have a clear idea of the goal, how can we find our way there? It is impossible. A person must have a destination in mind before he can map out the route.
In verse 6, Jesus provides the answer: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." Jesus' emphasis is on "the way," since that is the force of Thomas' question. Some commentators have even gone so far as to say that the real sense of His statement is, "I am the true and living way"—that is, the words "life" and "truth" modify "way."
He implies that the Father will only accept as His children those who imitate the character and process of salvation that Christ pioneered. He is called the Captain or Author of our salvation (Hebrews 2:10). Jesus has blazed the trail before us, showing us the way to go—and the way to go is to follow in His footsteps, to imitate Him (I John 2:6). There is only one road that leads to the Kingdom of God, the road that Christ Himself trod. He expands this idea in John 14:7-11:
"If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him." Philip said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us." Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father, so how can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves."
This paragraph adds another level to why God will only accept us through Christ—because Jesus was and is just like the Father. A son, if he is a true son, will show the characteristics of his father, which is exactly what we see in Jesus Christ and the Father in heaven. Christ thinks like the Father, speaks like the Father, and acts like the Father. Everything the Father would do is what Christ does. Therefore, if we want to be members of this Family, we, as Christ's brothers and sisters, will have to think, say, and do the same sorts of things as the Father and the Son.
This is why we must go through Christ. There is no other way! The children must have the same character as the Father and the Son, or there is no admittance. Thus, we must imitate Christ if we desire to enter God's Kingdom. He is the way, the method, or the process by which eternal salvation is secured, and if we should try to achieve it any other way, we will fail.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
This does not exclude our responsibility to work for the purpose of sanctification. Works are not for justification but for sanctification. Works do not save us, but they are essential for transformation! To put it bluntly, we have to practice being God; we have to learn to live as God lives. Is that not how one becomes proficient at something?
God shows in many places in the Bible that He is pleased with our obedience. Our works do not save us, but they please Him (see Hebrews 13:16; Colossians 3:20; I John 3:22; etc.). He is so happy when we work at sanctification because they assist in the transformation process.
Parents ought to understand this. We are pleased by the stumbling efforts of our child to please us. So is God! He looks on our motives, intentions, and the principles involved in what His child is doing. He does not just look at the quantity or the quality—He looks at us as His children, who are trying to imitate Him.
Sanctification is absolutely necessary to prove to God our righteous character and belief in Jesus Christ.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 9)
Love is the essence of the spirit of God's law. The commandments are proscribed as rules of life. When we love, we have found the true principle of obedience, the true spirit of the holy law. Paul sums it all up in love. And we, having received the love of Christ, living in His love, see the law not as a stern, condemning taskmaster but as an appealing, bright vision of understanding and blessing.
We see the law embodied in Christ, and our imitation of Christ involves obedience to the law, but we fulfill the law, not simply as a standard outside, but as a living principle within. Acting according to the dictates of the way of love, our lives conform to the image of Christ, as we conform to the law. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.
Martin G. Collins
The Law's Purpose and Intent
1 Corinthians 11:1
This verse is unfortunately misplaced as the first verse of chapter 11, as it rightly belongs to the subject matter of chapter 10. Just three verses earlier (verse 31), Paul admonishes them, ". . . whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." This was how Jesus Christ lived life, doing it perfectly. The apostle strove to do the same. To imitate them, we must live life as a living sacrifice. We can imitate Christ, not in the sense of enduring the agony of His crucifixion, but by obediently walking in His footsteps (I Peter 2:21) and by showing love and thankfulness to Him by keeping His precepts.
Christians who love God fully with heart, soul, and mind, and who love their neighbors as themselves, will do everything to please Him. So how can a person sacrifice himself before the God he says he loves without doing the works entailed in those sacrifices? Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 5:1-2: "Therefore be followers of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma." Love is extremely rewarding yet also costly since one who loves will sacrifice. Indeed, sacrifice is love's very essence.
We can illuminate Paul's thought in Ephesians 5:1-2 by placing it in a larger context. Note Ephesians 2:8-10:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Salvation indeed is a free gift; it cannot be earned by works. Yet, after saving us from our sins, God requires us to work! We are to perform work that He has laid out beforehand for us to accomplish. In fact, verse 10, standing by itself, asserts that to do these good works is the very reason we have received justification!
This verse, in the phrase, "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus," also says that God, in turn, is working on us. Before being saved, we were not in Christ Jesus. God's creative processes brought us into Christ, and once there, He continues to shape and form us into His Son's image (II Corinthians 3:18).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required to Do Works? (Part One)
Paul's plea here is found in numerous other epistles as well, where he beseeches his readers to follow him: "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (I Corinthians 11:1; see also I Corinthians 4:16; Philippians 3:17). Paul is not trying to put himself above God or establish a position for himself; Philippians 3:17 gives the reason: "Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern." Paul is pointing to himself as an example, as someone more spiritually mature and experienced—someone who knows the ropes and understands the consequences of the weighty decisions the Galatians were facing.
The Galatians appear to have been spiritually immature. Had they been of the same mind and inclination, they would not have rejected authority (a sign of immaturity), and Paul would not have had to concentrate so much on establishing his credentials at the beginning of the letter. When children do not respect their parents' advice, they grow up missing the significance of much that they encounter and slow the development of wisdom. Similarly, if the Galatians were rejecting the authority that Christ gave to Paul, it is likely that they were not of a wise or mature mindset, which explains the foolishness they were exhibiting (Galatians 1:6; 3:1, 3; 4:9).
Paul has just finished a stern and lengthy rebuke of the Galatians, which they may not have responded to well if they were spiritually immature and rebellious. His tactic changes here, as he urges them to consider his own example and conduct as a guide. Rather than just telling them what to do, he also shows them.
If the Galatians followed Paul's example, they would have kept the Sabbath (Acts 13:13-14, 42, 44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:4), observed the holy days (Acts 18:21; 20:6; I Corinthians 5:7-8; 16:8), obeyed God's law (Romans 2:13; 3:31; 6:15; 7:7, 12, 14, 16, 22, 25; 8:7; I Timothy 1:8), and at the same time abstained from the customs, rites, and traditions of Judaism (Acts 22:3; 26:4-6).
The phrase translated as "become as I am, for I am as you are" is misleading in its verb tense. A closer rendition would be "become as I am, for I became like you." Paul is exhorting the Galatians to follow his example, to take the same steps that he did in renouncing the traditions and stumbling blocks of Judaism. He encourages this "because I became like you"—that is, in the past he was so consumed by Judaism (Galatians 1:14) that he was exactly where the Galatians were now or would be shortly: rejecting the word and law of God in favor of the "traditions of the fathers," whose emphasis was on being able to save oneself through a personal level of righteousness.
David C. Grabbe
When Paul speaks of putting on the new man here, he gives us several attitudes we need to emulate as followers of Christ. Most of them involve the way we deal with each other because a major part of what God is teaching us has to do with building and solidifying our relationships. As we see in the next few verses, he comments specifically on the husband-wife, parent-child and employer-employee relationships.
Why? Largely, our judgment by our Savior hangs on the quality of our relationships. We should never forget the principle found in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats: "Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me" (Matthew 25:40, 45).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Road Less Traveled
1 Thessalonians 2:13-14
That the Colossians "became imitators of the churches of God which in are Judea" is the evidence Paul gives to show that the Word of God was working in them.
To whom is he writing? To a Gentile church of which he had been the instrument of raising—and they were doing the same things that the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were doing! Why? They believed the same Scriptures. They had faith in the same laws and the same way of life that the Jews did. They did not do it because the Jews were doing it but because they had faith in God, just as the Jewish converts in Palestine did.
Thus, they became imitators. The word here is the same as the one in I Corinthians 11:1, where Paul says, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ." Here was a Gentile church in Thessalonica imitating the Jewish Christian churches in Judea—and Paul commends them for it!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 20)
Do these people have the faith of Jesus Christ, that is, do they believe in and practice the same things He did? Are they truly walking in His steps? Even to casual observance, it is obvious they are unwilling to make sacrifices to practice many of the things He did. Jesus kept the weekly Sabbath and annual holy days of Leviticus; they do not. Jesus kept Passover; they keep Easter, which Jesus never did. He never observed a single Halloween or Christmas, which are never commanded in the Bible and, in fact, are clearly pagan to the core.
This barely scratches the surface, involving only the more obvious pattern of works. However, it points to the fact that the verification that one loves God is moral. God determines the standards of morality, not men who say they love God yet often ignorantly go their own way in many areas of life. Without the keeping of the commandments, there is no other means acceptable to God to identify that we are in union with Him (John 14:15; I John 2:3-5).
This does not mean that love ends with these works—in fact, just the opposite. Keeping His commands, which express godly love, only begins the process. It is by this means that we make our witness to the world. The apostle John writes, "But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him" (I John 2:5). Thus, this process also produces the boldness and confidence that enable us to overcome our anxious fears and conform our life to His.
We were created, called, and granted forgiveness upon confession of faith for this very purpose. In Romans 8:28-30, the apostle Paul confidently declares:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, and that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
Romans 5:2 reminds us that we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Our goal is set, but now we learn it is conformity to Christ that leads to glorification. Justification by itself is wonderful, but it only begins the process.
Can we honestly say that our walk is every bit as pure as His walk? If we are honest, we freely admit that, in comparison, our walk is irregular, inconsistent, and sometimes thoroughly misguided. Our actions, reactions, words, and attitudes are all too often not in accordance with Christ. We take Him into situations He never would have gotten into Himself. It should be evident why we need Passover each year. It is comforting and encouraging to remember God's mercy—that because He sees us as Christ, He gives us time to recognize what we are, repent of it, yield, and progressively conform to His Son's image.
The days of sacrificing are most assuredly not over—only what is sacrificed has changed. No longer are blood or grain offerings given but things of immeasurably greater value. Our life given in total devotion to walking as our Creator and Elder Brother Jesus walked is the sacrifice that brings conformity to Him. Before our calling, our lives may have been filled to the brim with status, activities, and things we felt were important to our well being. However, in many cases, such things must be jettisoned to accomplish this.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Nine): Conclusion (Part Two)
We are responsible for maintaining our fellowship with Him by doing the works that He has appointed for us to do. For instance, there must be continuous exercise of prayer, study into His Word, and seeking to be like Him. We seek Him because we grow to admire—indeed respect—His love and character, appreciate the purpose He has brought into our lives, desire His merciful forgiveness, and realize He is our Benefactor in every aspect of life. However, we must do all of these things in faith.
Notice Paul's counsel in II Corinthians 5:7: "For we walk by faith, not by sight." Like life, walking is a continuous process. Thus, when Hebrews 11:6 says, "He who comes to Him must believe that He is," it means far more than just assenting to a vague idea of a "First Cause." Under the New Covenant, we are dealing with a living Personality working within His creation.
To walk by faith is a practical responsibility. It results from believing in His character and His works as revealed in His Word to the extent that we trust Him and submit to His commands in every area of life. His character is a major reason why we must continue to seek Him: so that our knowledge of Him is continually sharpened and refined to inform our imitation of Him in our lives. Otherwise, we will be pursuing a phantom designed by our own imaginations. We need to grasp as much of His transcendent holiness, supreme sovereignty, almighty power, and perfect justice, as well as His abundant mercy and wonderful grace.
Hebrews 11:6 emphasizes that He is a Rewarder, a Benefactor to those who come to Him and consistently walk with Him by faith. He rewards those who, as a way of life, seek Him in anticipation of His treating them with patient, respectful kindness, even abundance, as He works to create us in the image of Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 11:5-7 balances reward with duty. Together, these verses show that, to be rewarded, we must walk with Him and seek Him. Walking and seeking are where "works" come into play, troubling those who believe in the incomplete Eternal Security doctrine.
In summary, walking with God and seeking Him by faith require keeping God in mind combined with making the efforts of obedience and any sacrifices of time, energy, and rejection by worldly family, friends, and business associates. Nevertheless, these result in being rewarded by God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)
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