What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
God's salvation is clearly revealed to be a process consisting of His calling, justification, sanctification, and glorification. In the Exodus account, justification is exemplified by Israel being called out of slavery, coming under the blood of the lamb on Passover, and passing through the Red Sea in a type of baptism. Like us under the New Covenant, the Israelites were then prepared to make the Old Covenant with God.
Glorification is pictured by their passing through the Jordan River and entering into possession of their inheritance. If we measure the time required for their justification and glorification, we can see they were very short periods. But sanctification, the in-between period during which the Israelites were preparing to possess their inheritance, took a long forty years.
John W. Ritenbaugh
After Pentecost, Then What?
God's freeing of the Israelites from their bondage and His use of them in the journey to the Promised Land and in the Promised Land were for an entirely different purpose than salvation at that time. Ultimately, the experiences these people had will stand them in good stead.
Of course, God certainly did not use them for the purpose of abuse. He was causing Moses, primarily, and others to reflect on those experiences in the wilderness so that they would write them down under God's inspiration, supplying us with an accurate record to consult and come to understand the purpose of God, be humbled by it, and have the right perspective on salvation.
For this reason, He never gave the Israelites the Spirit of God. No salvation was really offered to them—no forgiveness of sin, no invitation to join God's Family. They did not even have access to Him. They were, in a sense, actors on a stage; God was moving them about so that a record would be left for us: the Bible. When they are resurrected in the second resurrection (see Ezekiel 37:1-14), they can look back on the record, hit themselves in the forehead, and say, "Now I see!" The scales will be removed at that time.
Nevertheless, He never gave them His Spirit and never really revealed to them what He was doing with their lives. Thus, they reacted to their circumstances as human beings would normally react without the miracle of His Spirit being performed on them, opening up their minds and revealing what His purpose is all about.
In Hebrews 4:2, Paul reflects that God preached the gospel to these people, or at least a gospel that pertained to them. They heard a "good news," yet because it was not mixed with faith, it did them no good. All through the wilderness trek and on to their deaths, neither they nor their relationship with God improved in any way. If anything, as Hebrews 3:17 declares, they deteriorated as they went along.
John W. Ritenbaugh
We Are Unique!
1 Kings 5:17-18
Much of the rock chosen was probably the hard white limestone found near Jerusalem, but Solomon's builders found many other beautiful stones, boulders, and pillars from all over the known world.
Blocks of stone, granite, or marble are not hewn out of a rock mass easily. If rocks could speak, they would probably complain bitterly about the harshness of the chisel and saw. We too are required to endure hardships and setbacks. Suffering is part of the process of quarrying, sizing, polishing, and preparing us, the living stones, for our roles in God's Kingdom.
In I Peter 5:10, Peter prays, "But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal gloryby Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you." The hewing, chipping, sizing, and polishing are all vital parts to making each stone fit the Architect's blueprints please the Master Builder, God the Father. The church is His House, the "House of God" (I Timothy 3:15).
Even Jesus experienced "the quarry," as God perfected Him for His dual role as High Priest and King of Kings, by what He suffered:
[Jesus], in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him. (Hebrews 5:7-9)
A great deal of sacrifice awaits us once we commit ourselves to the salvation process, which prepares us for our responsibilities in the Temple of God. That process is not all fun! If we do not feel the shaping going on, we will. It must! Many valuable stones lose as much as sixty percent of their initial size and mass before they are considered finished as beautiful jewels. We must sacrifice significant parts of our lives, habits, cultures, reasoning, and values to be transformed into one of God's jewels (Malachi 3:17), a gem fit for our Master, which is His will and desire for each of us (Romans 12:1-2).
Living Stones in God's House
If anything is certain about the future, there is a judgment according to works for all who live and die. How can anyone who says he believes the Bible claim that works are not required of the Christian when God emphatically declares that they are required of us, even though they do not justify us before Him?
The truth is plain. If a Christian does not work, there will be nothing for God to judge and thus no evidence the person is prepared for His Kingdom. God will not give him salvation because there will be nothing to verify that he belongs there. The lack of evidence proves that he does not belong there! Such a one is not a son of God. A faith that does not work is dead (James 2:17, 20, 26). God is the God of the living, and according to James 2:22, faith is perfected, brought to completion, by works. Sanctification is necessary as a witness to the Christian's character as he passes before the judgment seat of Christ.
Do we not all desire to be in the Kingdom of God? Certainly, we must if we are at all impressed with the glory to which God has called us. However, have we considered deeply whether we would enjoy being there, should we be given that privilege? God's Kingdom will be a holy place inhabited by holy people. Is it not apparent that those in God's Kingdom will have spent a great deal of time being prepared, trained, and formed and shaped for living there?
The concept of deathbed repentance and absolution is a lie palmed off by Satan. Likewise false is the belief in a purgatory following death, in which a person prepares for living in paradise. These are nowhere found in Scripture, nor is the idea that one needs only to be justified through Christ's blood. If these things were so, Romans 5:9-10 would not declare:
Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
The false concepts above do not take into consideration that God's purpose includes more than just atoning for our sins through Christ's blood. God's purpose includes the work of Jesus Christ as our High Priest, perfecting our character by means of living in us through His Spirit (John 14:18-23). It is our High Priest, Jesus, who intercedes in our behalf (Romans 8:26-27). As Head of the church, He inspires and corrects us, and He gives us gifts to fulfill our responsibilities (Ephesians 4:7). He labors to create in us a clean heart, purified and in the character image of the Father (II Corinthians 3:17-18).
We need to be sanctified as well as justified. Sanctification requires the works of submission to and cooperation with Almighty God to bring to completion His purpose for us. King David writes in Psalm 16:11, "You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures evermore" - a brief snapshot of what life will be like in the Kingdom of God. No one can be happy where he is not in his element. An unsanctified person would not find God's Kingdom congenial to his tastes and character. Being there would be a condemnation rather than a blessing.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Four)
Some of the Christian churches of this world have a doctrine titled "Eternal Security," and some, a few maybe, "Extreme Eternal Security." This essentially postulates that once one has accepted Jesus Christ's blood, salvation is assured. This doctrine almost makes Christian life seem as though it is a walk in the park.
This doctrine was one of the central themes of the Protestant Reformation, as theologians like Martin Luther and John Calvin moved to reject doctrines that they considered "Catholic." The central theme of this doctrine claims that the called individual has absolutely no part in the salvation process. That is the one they call "Extreme Eternal Security."
Belief in this teaching was one of the major reasons why Martin Luther rejected the book of James. He called it "an epistle of straw," seeing it clearly rejected eternal security. James makes it clear that a person's works are important to his salvation, because he states that "faith without works is dead." Dead faith will not lead to a resurrection to life.
We can learn from this that rejection of clearly-stated biblical truth is not limited to the man in the street. People considered great, like Martin Luther and John Calvin, got things wrong too. Even though it may have been pointed out to them by others, they rejected it in favor of what they had devised.
Did not Jesus—Christianity's Founder—say very clearly that the way to life is difficult and narrow? Why are there so many warnings and admonitions not to turn out of the way if a successful conclusion is virtually assured as soon as one begins?
John W. Ritenbaugh
Does Doctrine Really Matter? (Part Four)
What kind of message does it send to God if His children, those called by His name, either do not seek truth or carelessly ignore what they have? Perhaps it would be good for us to think of it like this: He is Truth personified. Therefore, to ignore truth is to ignore Him and, by extension, to ignore salvation. Remember, salvation is the active, continuous process by which God delivers us from what causes disease in the mental and physical areas of life and eternal death in the spiritual. Is it really worthwhile to ignore truth?
Truth does not come to us all at once. It gradually accumulates in those who ask, seek, and knock for it, then use it in their own lives to glorify God. We do not always easily find it. Sometimes truth emerges only after a long and confusing search that is constantly impeded by conflicting information. Nevertheless, we must persevere!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Six)
Taken alone, these three verses could give us the impression that salvation is a free, downhill ride. However, II Peter 1:10 levels the playing field considerably in its sobering instruction: "Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble." If salvation is a free coast into the Kingdom, why does Peter admonish us to be diligent to make sure we do not fall? Paul adds that we have a responsibility to "work out [our] own salvation" (Philippians 2:12). These instructions do not contradict but complement and balance, making our responsibilities more specific and varied.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility: Part Eleven
Sanctification and justification are not the same. They are, however, different processes within the same purpose, and they are definitely related issues. They both begin at the same time: when we are forgiven, justified, and sanctified. Justification has to do with aligning us with the standard of God's law that in turn permits us into God's presence. We will never be any more justified than we are at that moment; justification does not increase as we move through our Christian lives.
Some believe that Jesus Christ lived and died only to provide justification and forgiveness of our sins. However, those who believe this are selling His awesome work short. As wonderful as His work is in providing us with justification, His labors in behalf of our salvation do not end there. Notice that verse 10 says we are "saved by His life." Jesus rose from the dead to continue our salvation as our High Priest. God's work of spiritual creation does not end with justification, for at that point we are far from complete. We are completed and saved because of Christ's labor as our Mediator and High Priest only because He is alive.
Sanctification unto holiness continues the process. Hebrews 2:11 states that Jesus is "He who sanctifies," and those of us who have come under His blood are called "those who are sanctified." Note these verses carefully:
» John 17:19: And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.
» Ephesians 5:25-26: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.
» Colossians 1:21-22: And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight. . . .
» Titus 2:14: . . . who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
Sanctification has a definite purpose that is different from justification. In one respect, justification—as important as it is—only gets the salvation process started. Sanctification takes a person much farther along the road toward completion. It occurs within the experiences of life generally over the many years of one's relationship with the Father and Son. How long did God work with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and the apostles to prepare them for His Kingdom? By comparison, will our perfection be achieved in just a moment?
Sanctification is the inward spiritual work that Jesus Christ works in us. Notice His promise, made on the eve of His crucifixion, in John 14:18: "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you." Moments later, when asked by Judas, "Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?" (verse 22), Jesus replies, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him" (verse 23). These clear statements show that Jesus would continue His work with them following His resurrection.
As our High Priest, He continues that work in us after our justification. He not only washes us of our sins by means of His blood, but He also labors to separate us from our natural love of sin and the world. He works to instill in us a new principle of life, making us holy in our actions and reactions within the experiences of life. This makes possible a godly witness before men, and at the same time, prepares us for living in the Kingdom of God.
If God's only purpose was to save us, He could end the salvation process with our justification. Certainly, His purpose is to save us, but His goal is to save us with character that is the image of His own.
Notice Hebrews 6:1: "Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God." This verse and those immediately following confirm that, at the time of justification, we are not perfect or complete. Justification is an important beginning, but God intends to complete the process of spiritual maturation that He began with our calling. When sanctification begins, our Christian walk truly begins in earnest.
Sanctification, then, is the outcome of God's calling, faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, justification, and our becoming regenerated by God through receiving His Spirit. This combination begins life in the Spirit, as Paul explains in Romans 8:9: "But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His."
At this point in Christian life, the principles of Christianity must be practically applied to everyday life. At this juncture, it might help to recall what righteousness is. Psalm 119:172 defines it succinctly: "My tongue shall speak of Your word, for all Your commandments are righteousness." The apostle John adds to our understanding in I John 3:4: "Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness." Both rectitude and love concisely characterize the same standards, the Ten Commandments, and we are required to labor to perform both.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Four)
Verse 10 says, "We shall be saved," in the future tense. Thus, we now have access to the Father, to the Tree of Life, and to a relationship to build upon which should lead to everlasting life. But God has willed that our development must take place within the world, not the Garden of Eden.
Part of God's solution clears us of guilt of past sins; this is referred to in the Bible as "justification." Justification by faith in Christ's blood is only a partial solution because it neither changes the nature nor the character that is the cause of our needing justification through Christ's blood. It does clear us of indebtedness due to sin, and that in itself is a major blessing—an enormous gift—but by itself, it does not change the behavior that was responsible for us being indebted in the first place. It does open the door to that change, and thus verse 10 says, "We shall be saved by His life." This phrase implies help to enable us to be saved. Help is available to fulfill our part because Christ is alive to assist us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Laodiceanism and Being There Next Year
Two points are noteworthy about Paul's comments. In verse 10, Paul states, "We shall be saved by His life." As wonderful a gift as God's merciful forgiveness is, merely being forgiven through Christ's blood is not sufficient for salvation. Justification must be seen for what it truly is: It is essential, but it is only the beginning of the salvation process. Throughout the process, we are saved by the continuous flow of grace upon grace from our High Priest.
The other important point is that perhaps nothing regarding God's spiritual creation demonstrates God's gracious and generous freeness—His total lack of obligation toward us—as does His justifying of sinners rather than morally meritorious saints.
The Christian doctrine of God justifying by faith rather than by works truly set the religious Jews of the apostle's day on an angry edge. To them, it made no logical sense. They perceived it as simply another invitation to sin because it seems so easy, or perhaps they also saw it as God ignoring their sincere efforts to please Him.
This charge is true—if one perceives justification carnally, isolating it so that it appears to occur completely apart from God's entire purpose for salvation rather than seeing it for what it truly is. Justification by grace through faith is a necessary part of the whole of being created in Christ's image.
Why is it necessary that our justification be by grace through faith? It must be this way because, if we earn justification through our works, it opens the door for human pride, not just to enter our relationship with God, but perhaps even to drive the relationship. If one is justified by works, a person could then honestly claim that God chose him, and his works, because he was good.
This is not good because pride is such a strong influence against God. Remember, Satan's pride rising in him initiated this entire earthly mess. Consider carefully what his pride did to his relationship with God. Justification given because of works alters the positions within the relationship, making God obligated to us as if we had earned a relationship with Him. Pride attempts to put a person on an equal footing with God or even in charge of the relationship, and this ultimately results in us creating ourselves.
It is dangerous to unleash pride in thinking more of ourselves than what is truly good for our character development. We are not the creator but the creation, subject to the designs and purposes of the Master Creator. For our good, then, justification must be received as a freely given, unearned gift.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and God's Grace (Part Two)
"Shall," in verse 9, indicates something that will take place in the future. Justification takes place in the present. When we are justified, salvation is still yet future. We have been justified by the blood of Christ, but salvation shall come. Notice this distinction. Salvation is shown not to be a property of justification, but justification is a necessary step towards salvation (which shall be given afterwards).
Now notice the word "for" at the beginning of verse 10. It is a connector, showing that what follows will further explain the statement he just made in verse 9, that salvation is given afterwards. "We shall be saved by His life" suggests that salvation is given afterwards because Christ lives, not merely because we are justified.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Four)
Romans 6:4 restates the reason for our being admitted into God's presence: Our altered standing before God enables us to walk in newness of life so we can be conformed to the image of His Son.
Walking requires effort, the expending of energy, to arrive at a desired destination. Are any works involved in the salvation process? "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). These works most assuredly do not earn salvation, but at the same time, God requires them. In fact, this verse says we are being created for the very purpose of doing them! Such works are covered within the general term "walk."
Besides requiring effort, walking implies a destination, a goal. When a person walks, he is moving purposefully to accomplish something regardless of whether it is to flip a light switch, shop at a store, get some exercise, or go to work or school. God requires that we "walk in newness of life." It is our God-appointed goal in life and the reason He invites us into His presence. Our lives cannot consist of aimless drifting; we are headed somewhere, even as Israel's goal was the Promised Land.
I Peter 1:13-19 highlights what we must do:
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." And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your sojourning here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.
Christianity is a way involving far more walking than talking. It requires effort, and most scriptures imply that the walking is voluntary. It must be this way because, most of the time when we walk, it is because we have made a voluntary decision to move from one point to another. In God's purpose, it is the only way to make the mind, nature, and character of Christ truly ours.
The last, brief phrase of Romans 6:4 contains a great deal about life's overriding purpose. In a broad sense, it is what life after conversion is all about. It is awakening to the reality of our spiritual slavery and responsibilities through God's calling, followed by a change of mind toward Him and a spiritual death, burial, and resurrection so we might walk in conformity to Christ into God's Kingdom.
God allows the sacrifice of Christ to take the place of the claim He has on us to restore us to fellowship with Him, which is absolutely essential in providing us the strength, motivation, and gifts—whatever it takes—to complete the walk successfully. Mankind has never enjoyed this; it has not had contact with God since He cut humanity off by putting Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden.
This walking in newness of life is how going on to perfection is accomplished (Hebrews 6:1). God alters our standing with Him legally, graciously, and with generosity and kindness so we can fellowship with Him through prayer, Bible study, fasting, meditation, and obedience. God's spiritual creation requires our participation. It cannot be impressed upon us; we must consciously make decisions to take that walk.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Eight): Conclusion (Part One)
God could see—in His wisdom He knew—that man would sin. Because the wages of sin is death, how could God extricate man from this dilemma? How would He continue His purpose?
There is an interesting aspect to this when we consider the word "wages." The apostle uses this term because in his day they did things in much the same way as we do. One does not work for a person for a lifetime and then receive his wages, but rather he works a specified period of time—a week, two weeks, a month—and receives his wages on a regular basis. Today, it is common to receive wages every two weeks.
This should give us a better understanding of this verse. Since a wage is something that we earn and the wages of sin is death, the apostle—and therefore God—is telling us is that we will receive these wages—the penalty of sin—not just at the end of our lives. The penalty of sin is meted out on a regular, just as wages are. In other words, we will be affected by the penalties of sin all the time. It is what we are earning.
God looks at these things in an interesting way. We can begin to see the scope of what God is doing, with Passover opening up a new avenue. Salvation is not something that we receive at the end of our life. Actually, it is something that begins whenever we accept the blood of Jesus Christ. Whenever we begin on the process of salvation, of true freedom, we begin to receive salvation on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. In other words, our liberty, our freedom, is progressive. Like the penalties of sin, freedom or salvation does not come all at once.
It is not that we earn it—please do not misunderstand. It is something given. Grace is a gift of God, and it is not something that happens only once but constantly. God is always giving because it is His nature, His way. He is giving us of His life constantly. Christ says, "I am come that they might have life and have it more abundantly." God wants us to begin to receive His salvation right here and now by living the abundant life. It is a wonderful concept.
We need to expand our thinking in regard to Passover because the solution to God's "predicament" regarding human sin begins immediately upon our acceptance of the blood of Jesus Christ. Salvation is much bigger in scope, involving far more than just the end of the process.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Awesome Cost of Salvation
Justification is clearly an act of God's grace, because what we deserve from what we have earned—from what we have done, the conduct of our lives—is death. There is none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:1). Since justification, then, cannot be claimed as a right because we have sinned, it must be received as a gift. That fact that it is given makes it an act of grace.
It is not our hanging on to Christ (that is, the keeping of the law) that saves us, but rather Christ hanging on to us. That is, it is not what we do, but it is what He does continuously as acts of grace that saves us, because we deserve death. If we can earn salvation through law-keeping, Paul is saying in verse 21, "then Christ died in vain." If we can earn salvation through law-keeping, then Christ's sinless life and agonizing death were not necessary, because we can do it ourselves.
Justification is not vindication or exoneration. Both of those words connote that a person was right all along, but the true facts were hidden from those who were doing the judging. In some cases with men, vindication is possible because people are judged unrighteously. Their judges are not using righteous judgment.
But God never judges unrighteously! He knows all the facts. He knows our heart. He knows everything about us in every situation that we have ever been in, so He cannot vindicate us because we are not clear of guilt. He cannot exonerate us because we are not innocent. Justification is more than that. It is setting us right or calling us righteous though righteousness does not exist in us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Grace Upon Grace
Notice first how this chapter begins: He has made us alive (Ephesians 2:1). Paul makes sure that we understand that it is God who gives what we spiritually possess. As for verse 8, it does not matter whether we believe that the pronoun "it" refers to grace or faith; both are gifts of God.
Grace is God's kindness to us, shown or demonstrated by His revealing Himself to us. It might help to think of this in reference to God revealing Himself to Moses in the burning bush before He sent him to Egypt. If God did not freely purpose on the strength of His own sovereign will to reveal Himself, neither Moses nor we would ever find Him. If a person cannot find God on his own, how could he possibly have faith in Him? Satan has deceived us so well that men have only the foggiest idea of what to look for.
Faith—with God as its object—begins and continues as part of His gift of kindness. The gift includes His calling, the granting of repentance, the sacrifice of Christ for our forgiveness, and His giving of His Spirit. It is a complete package of many individual gifts. The gospel is the medium that provides knowledge of the objects of the faith He gives, that is, what we believe and trust in. Paul, perceiving these gifts as a package, uses "grace" as its label. In verses 9-10, he advances to the logical "next step" in God's purpose.
Our works in no way jump-start the process of justification, sanctification, and glorification. All our works, beginning with repentance and continuing through our period of sanctification, depend directly on the freely given kindness and faith God provides. Our God-ordained good works are the result of our response to the gift of faith that God gives. Works, then, are the external evidence of the unseen, internal faith that motivates them. A person could not do them unless God had given the gift of faith beforehand. Good works follow, they do not precede.
II Corinthians 5:17-18 confirms this: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation." This corroborates that it is God working in the person. His work is termed a "new creation." Since nothing new creates itself, we are the workmanship of another. We are God's workmanship. In sum, because of what God does, we cooperate and produce works that He ordains.
The apostle Paul adds to our understanding in Philippians 2:12-13: "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." He is not saying that we should work in order to obtain salvation. These verses indicate the continuing use of something one already possesses. They suggest carrying something to its logical conclusion, which is for us to live lives worthy of the gospel, doing the works God ordained, as in Ephesians 2:10.
In Romans 9:9-19, Paul, using Jacob and Esau's pre-birth circumstances as a foundation, provides a clear illustration to show that from beginning to end, the whole salvation process depends upon God's involvement. Jacob, representing those called into the church, received God's love in the form of gifts designed to prepare him for the Kingdom of God. From Esau, representing the uncalled, God has simply withheld His love for the time being.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Four)
What a depressing status! If these verses stood alone, these "aliens" and "strangers" would indeed live their lives in vain. Without a future opportunity for salvation, they would truly be lost forever.
Are millions lost because they never heard the name of Christ? What about infants who died? What about the billions enslaved under the dreadful yoke of atheistic communism? They did not choose to be born in a godless society. Are the doors forever shut on those born in a nation dominated by Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, or Islam? Most calling themselves Christian think so.
Could we call God merciful if He consigned people to hopelessness merely because of an accident of birth? Would He be fair to condemn those who never heard? God can do anything He wants. It is, after all, His creation. In verse 13, though, there is a slight crack in the door of hope: "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." Everyone has stood in the Gentile's position of being far off from salvation. We have all had to be brought near by the blood of Jesus Christ. Could the only difference between us and them be a matter of timing?
Imagine the multiple billions who have lived through childhood unloved, uneducated, and unhealthy in body and spirit. They may have endured miserable marriages, reared and lost children to disease, war, and natural disaster. Others may have spent seemingly pointless lives growing old, neglected, and disrespected as fodder for the next disaster.
The heaven and hell doctrines of this world's Christianity may make for interesting reading, but they render the judgments and resurrections of God as superfluous. They diminish the creative power of the great, merciful God in these areas as finished and past, not as ongoing and future.
In contrast, the Last Great Day has a very special meaning to those who understand. It answers perplexing questions about the great masses of humanity who are living or have died without knowledge of God's way or a true understanding of Jesus Christ, the only "name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). In my multiple decades as a minister, I have yet to talk with anyone from another church who knows the fate of these "lost" people.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Final Harvest
It is God who saves! God saved Israel from Egyptian slavery. Israel did not overcome Pharaoh and Egypt by either warfare or by dint of superior intelligence. Jesus Christ is our Savior, and we cannot save ourselves from sin's power. When we accept Him as Savior, it obligates us as His servants to obey Him.
In like manner, when God broke Egypt's power, enabling the Israelites to be free, it obligated them to walk out of Egypt if they wanted their liberty. If the Israelites wanted to save their skins and be totally free of Egypt when God parted the Red Sea, it obligated them to walk the path God made for them between the walls of water. When God said, "I am going to bring you into the land and provide for you along the way," if Israel wanted these things, they were obligated to walk all the way to Canaan. It is very clear that if Israel wanted what God said He would give, then Israel had to also cooperate by working in the form of walking to where God said He would lead or take them. "Walk" is a code word for living.
With this as a background, when Paul says to "work out your own salvation," it cannot possibly mean we are going to save ourselves. Rather, like what confronted the Israelites when God opened the way to their physical salvation from slavery in Egypt, we should be ready to make God's spiritual salvation practical and operational. Paul does not say we must work for salvation, but rather carry our salvation out to its conclusion. He uses "work out" in much the same sense as when a student is told to work out an arithmetic problem—to bring it to its conclusion. For us, the conclusion, the goal, to work toward is Christ-likeness. The salvation here is sanctification, victory over sin unto holiness.
To make it very plain, if we want to be one with Him, we must get moving in the direction He is pointing, and He points toward His standards of conduct and attitude. Each person's walk is not exactly the same because each person's experience and makeup are somewhat different. There is enough similarity among humans, though, to make the Bible always relevant.
One of the beautiful things about this is that each person's walk toward the image of God is exactly right for him. What is more, Philippians 2:13 also says God gives us both the will and power or energy to do it! The New Testament in Modern Speech renders it, "For it is God Himself whose power creates within you both the desire and the power to execute His gracious will." This work of God in us is another aspect of His grace, and without it, we could never be one with Him.
God Himself produces in us both the desire to live righteously and the effective energy to do so. He does not demand what we cannot do (I Corinthians 10:13). We see in Philippians 2:12 our responsibility and in verse 13 help to accomplish it.
We can see this working together with God in simple illustrations from physical life. We may launch a sailboat upon the water, but it takes what God supplies, wind, to make it move. We may plant vegetable seeds, but it is the power of God in nature that makes the plant grow and produce food. We may generate gigawatts of electricity in power plants, but God provides the wind, water, sunlight, coal, oil, or gas to turn the turbines. In each case, we add something to what God already supplied.
Our salvation is something already given because it is God's will, and He is sovereign. We, though, must do something to make it practical by applying ourselves to salvation's demands. Even in this, God enables us to do it!
We will never know where the dividing line is between what God supplies and what we are responsible to do because it is different for each according to God's purpose. This proportion must be different because each person is different, and He is preparing us for different responsibilities within His Family. This is sure, however: Our walk toward salvation will always be difficult enough to be challenging and edifying.
Even here the analogy of Israel in the wilderness comes to our aid. Where did Israel get the energy to walk across the wilderness to the Promised Land? Did it not come from the manna and water God supplied, as well as the vision and hope of the inheritance which He also provided? Still, Israel walked! They had to work, to cooperate.
The verb "work" in Philippians 2:12 is in a tense that indicates continuous working. Just as Israel did not leave Egypt and arrive in the Promised Land in one step, neither are our salvation and oneness with God accomplished at once. It, too, is a process; it is our life's work.
John W. Ritenbaugh
All in All
This passage clearly demonstrates that, just because the term "firstborn" is used, it does not mean the subject was literally born first, as occurs physically to mammals. In terms of a mammal's birth, Exodus 13:12 provides God's initial definition of a firstborn: "That you shall set apart to the LORD all that open the womb [that open the matrix, KJV]." So we must ask: Whose womb was opened so Jesus could be firstborn over creation? Whose womb was opened so Jesus would be the firstborn from the dead? Of course, Jesus did not have to be born again because there was never a time when He was not already and still God.
Colossians 1:15 makes this especially clear. How can the Creator possibly have been born when He is before all things? He existed before all things as God (John 1:1-3). Colossians 1:18 uses the term again, but also answers why the Greeks used the term in this manner. They used the term to indicate preeminence, priority, and first in rank from a beginning. In this case, the beginning is when the things that were created came into existence.
Thus, in verses 15-17, Christ is preeminent over the physical creation by virtue of His being Creator. In verses 18-20, Paul shows Christ as being preeminent in God's plan of redemption because He is the Savior/Redeemer. How could He be born into God's Kingdom when He was never apart from it (Luke 17:20-21)? Jesus indeed was Mary's firstborn, but He was never born again as His spiritual brethren are, as His teaching in John 3 shows. When resurrected, He was not literally born, but was transformed and glorified—changed, as I Corinthians 15:51-54 clearly describes, from being physically dead to the fullness of spiritual life. He was not born into the Kingdom of God as humans are physically born in this life.
When describing spiritual realities, the use of the term "firstborn" changes. Spirit beings are not born; they are created, changed, or transformed, and come into existence. The Bible says nothing of angels, which are spirit beings, being born. Born can, on some occasions, simply mean "to come into existence; to be delivered, to begin." The "birth" of the United States was in 1776. It was a beginning, but it was not born as a baby is. We might say a person is a "born musician" or say a concept or idea was "born." Each simply indicates that a state of prominence began at a particular time.
Romans 8:29 uses "firstborn" in this manner. It is not indicating a literal birth, as in human families, but that Jesus is preeminent over all who follow Him in God's Family by virtue of Him being Savior and Redeemer. In relation to Jesus, the Bible uses "firstborn" in its figurative sense, not its literal one. For example, Hebrews 1:6 reads, "But when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, 'Let all the angels of God worship Him.'" Here, "firstborn" is being used in the same manner as in the Old Testament when God calls Israel and Ephraim "My firstborn." He is establishing priority, uniqueness, and preeminence for His Son over all others. He is not saying He is literally a firstborn.
In Hebrews 12:23, the entire church is named as the "church of the firstborn." This is clearly not indicating a literal birth, but the title is used to give significance to, elevate, and indicate the Christian church's association with Jesus Christ and His priority and preeminence.
If one still desires to believe that "firstborn" may indicate, in some isolated contexts, a literal spiritual birth, then one must ask, "When does the birth take place?" Everything we have seen so far shows that the Bible directly says it takes place at the beginning of the salvation process, not at its end. The end of the process is a glorification through a resurrection. The Bible describes this as a change (I Corinthians 15:51-54) or a transformation (Philippians 3:21; II Corinthians 3:17-18), not in terms of birth.
Jesus Christ was never "born again." He had no reason to be regenerated. He always had a spiritual mind to enable Him to "see" the Kingdom of God, and He was always in the Kingdom of God, so there was no reason for Him to enter it again. Since He never went through, or needed, a spiritual birth, His title of "firstborn from the dead" is not an instruction on how a Christian is spiritually born. He was not born again by a resurrection, and thus the resurrection from the dead is not the model for how we are born again either.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part Three)
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
This is a prayer of Paul's in which he makes a bold request on behalf of that congregation. It contains great encouragement for us. Paul requests their complete sanctification and preservation as holy until they die or God finishes His activities on behalf of the church at Christ's coming.
Sanctification is the part of salvation that deals with our progressive growth in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ—or put another way, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ—or in yet another way, into God's image. God is faithful in carrying out His part in the building of Christian character. God's faithfulness guarantees the progressive perfection of a Christian's life. He is not like men who begin a project, lose interest, run into difficulties, consider it too hard to overcome, or become impatient and quit. He does not begin a work and then get disgusted with it and turn to something else. He does not begin and, finding He lacks the resources to finish, give up. Men do this, but God never stops until He is finished. He does not finish until He is satisfied.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Faithfulness
2 Thessalonians 2:9-12
A major area that separates those who are being saved from those who are perishing is the love of the truth. Truth sanctifies; it sets those who love and use it apart for the rewards of applying it to gain eternal life or better health.
Salvation is a process. Consider this: When God brought Israel out of Egypt, He redeemed them, but the process was not finished. It had only begun and did not end until they entered the Promised Land, a type of God's Kingdom. God intended the journey through the wilderness to prepare them for living in the land. However, a whole generation died in that process because they did not love the truth God gave them throughout the journey. The journey symbolizes the process of being saved.
Salvation is not religious rite, nor is it just a catchy theological term given to make people feel at peace. It is the experience of being saved from what would otherwise destroy us, which takes place between the time of our redemption and actually being spirit beings in the Kingdom of God. God is using His creative powers to get us to respond to truth. It does not matter what area of life or where the truth comes from. Truth is truth, but some truths are more important than others.
Verses 11-12 add more: "And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness." To those who will not yield to a love of truth, Paul warns, God will send a "deluding energy." As they reject the truth and continue in sin, a deceptive force will build and pull them deeper into it like a drug addiction. This parallels Romans 1:28, where Paul says, "God gave them over to a debased [reprobate, KJV] mind." This is what happens to people who leave the church: They continue to move further and further from the truth.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Five)
1 Timothy 2:1
Three times in four brief verses (I Timothy 2:1, 3-4, 6), God states He has planned for the salvation of all. Since He desires to save all men, they must all be given an opportunity for it. It is very obvious from human experience that very few among all mankind have ever heard the gospel or come to the knowledge of the truth.
Verse 6 also says that Christ is a ransom for all, and this will be testified or witnessed of in due time. The way Paul wrote this shows that the testifying is still future. In other words, many had not heard of Christ's ransom for sin, and Paul indicates that he expected many then living and many yet unborn would also die without hearing of it. But it would be witnessed to all in due time because Jesus Christ is the only name under heaven by which men can be saved.
God's plan, humanly speaking, covers a long time. Like Paul, Peter clearly says that God does not desire anyone to perish. Other scriptures indicate that some will, but it is not God's will that they do so.
The critical factor in these verses is repentance. How can a person repent if he does not have knowledge of the truth, if he does not know the purpose God is working out, of what he should repent, why he should repent, or by what means his sins are forgiven? The overwhelming majority of people who have ever lived on earth fit into this category! These things remain untestified to them.
I Corinthians 15:21-23 adds another important revelation to this mystery. "For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ's at His coming."
Simply put, God is proceeding according to a plan. All die, but that same all will also be made alive, resurrected in a certain order according to God's plan. Verse 26 reads, "The last enemy that will be destroyed is death"—it has not yet been destroyed! This means that God's plan is still continuing, and in due time the opportunity for salvation will come to all, even though God must resurrect many to that opportunity. Most churches exclude most of this world from salvation because they are not part of their group. Why do people scoff when we point out that God will give all mankind the chance to conform to His image?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Final Harvest
During the time of the Exodus, the people of Israel heard a message of good news from Moses (Hebrews 4:2). It consisted of redemption from slavery, the Passover, baptism in the Red Sea, and a journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. The good news, then, included the occurrences of and the knowledge about all the steps along the way, all of the benchmarks. The purpose for which all those events occurred was the most important part. What good was it to have the death angel pass over their house, for them to receive the forgiveness of sin and redemption from slavery, if they never made it to the Promised Land? That is Paul's warning. The steps, though vital in themselves, are not as important as the goal.
This warning applies especially to today. What Jesus Christ did in His life, in His death and in His resurrection, is awesome, a wonderful and great gift. It is good news that these things have occurred, but they are not the good news. The good news is the goal, and that has not yet occurred. What Jesus Christ did is exceedingly important to the fulfillment of God's purpose, but it's still possible for us to reject the Son of God even after we have accepted His blood for the forgiveness of our sins, as Hebrews 12 also shows very clearly. So in this analogy, life in, possession of and governance of the Promised Land was the culmination, the good news, the fulfillment—at least physically—of the promises to Abraham.
The message that Jesus Christ brought, the gospel, is about the Kingdom of God, the culmination, the goal, the fulfillment. Certainly it includes the knowledge of and information about those benchmarks along the way, but the Kingdom of God is the goal toward which every Christian is aiming.
These doctrines or principles are very important, as Hebrews 6:1 shows. God will grant us repentance and forgive us through the blood of Jesus Christ. What good news! But it is not the good news. That is the principle: Being granted repentance and having faith in and through Jesus Christ are good news, but the result of those things is the real good news. It is the culmination of the process—"let us go on to perfection"—that is the good news.
What if the gospel concentrates solely on the person of the Messenger and overlooks the message He brought? If it focuses on the greatness of the Messenger, all of the good news about Him, and His importance to the process, His significance actually begins to diminish. If one concentrates on the Messenger, he will believe that salvation comes merely because he believes in the Messenger (see Matthew 7:21). Further development of that human being stops because he has made the wrong choice. That is the problem with concentrating on the Messenger, as important as He is.
The gospel does not specifically concentrate on Christ, yet we do not want to denigrate the major role He plays either. The process pivots around Him, though its ultimate purpose will end when He delivers the Kingdom to the Father (I Corinthians 15:24). The Messenger became the High Priest, and we are saved through His life. Christianity has to go beyond the fact that He was the Messenger. Now He is the High Priest in heaven. And though He is High Priest, we still have choices to make in relation to the Kingdom of God.
That is why Hebrews 6:1 says, "Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection." As we go through the process that the Messenger went through and begin to experience what He accomplished, He is magnified in our eyes, because we try to do what He did and realize how awesome and difficult what He did was. While we try to imitate Him, the process of creation is going on. If we stop trying to imitate Him, He becomes diminished. That is why we have to go on to perfection, to completion, because the process is not complete with just believing in Jesus Christ.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!
The objection people have regarding Hebrews 11:5-7 is that the mention of works and reward in the same breath suggests legalism and working for salvation. Is that so, or is it a misconception on their part? The latter. They misunderstand the salvation process because they do not allow the Bible to interpret itself.
God says in Genesis 15:1, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward." His encouragement applies to us as well as to him. God Himself is the reward of those who seek Him. "Those who seek Him" is limited to those God invites to approach Him and who believe enough to take advantage of the opportunity and thus stir themselves up to draw near. The invitation itself is an aspect of God's grace.
Romans 4:4 makes it clear that earning access to God is impossible because it would put God in man's debt. No, access to Him is the result of freely given grace. The pairing of grace and reward is no more inconsistent than God's almighty sovereignty and man's responsibility being linked, or Jesus being both our Lord and our Servant. There would be no reward if God did not first give grace.
Another pairing we need to consider is found in Colossians 3:23-24: "And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ." Is not salvation a free gift? Yes, but as servants of Christ, we work, and our reward is eternal entrance into God's Kingdom. Add to this the idea found in Isaiah 55:1, that we are to "buy . . . without money." Salvation, then, is both a gift and a reward.
It should be clear that, in terms of salvation, gifts and works are nothing more than opposite sides of the same coin. Both are involved in the same process—salvation—but they are seen from different perspectives.
One thing is certain: There will be no lazy, neglectful people in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 25:26-30). Why? Because God is preparing us for living with Him eternally, so we must be created in the character image of Him and His Son, or we absolutely will not fit in. We would live in absolute, eternal misery. Jesus stresses that diligent work is part of His character when He says in John 5:17, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working." Creators work!
Luke 13:24 adds strength to this point: "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able." The Greek word translated "strive" is actually the source of the English word "agonize." In addition, Jesus urges us in John 6:27 to labor "for the food which endures to everlasting life." God chooses to reward such strenuous efforts, not because they earn us a place in His presence, but because He deems it fitting to recognize and bless them. The Bible shows salvation as a reward, not because people earn it, but because God wants to emphasize the character of those who will be in His Kingdom and encourage others to be like them. The citizens of that Kingdom are workers like the Father and Son.
A second reason why reward and salvation are linked is because salvation, like payment for a person's labor, comes after the job is finished. Among the apostles, nobody worked harder for God than Paul did. At the end of his life, he writes:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. (II Timothy 4:7-8)
Just as wages for work performed are paid after a job is done, God's major blessings are not given completely until our course is finished.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)
Holiness starts in one's relationship with the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Justification through God's merciful act of grace opens the door of access to Him, as well as the door to the Kingdom of God. Justification is entirely an act of God, a legal action on our behalf that we accept by faith because He does not lie. Others do not easily discern our justification, since in most cases it has no outward manifestation.
While sanctification unto holiness begins at the same moment as justification, it is a progressive, creative, time-consuming work of God within us. Unlike justification, sanctification cannot be hidden because it appears in our godly conduct. By it, a witness is made that God dwells in us. Where there is no holiness, there is no witness to glorify God.
So we see that justification and sanctification are two separate matters. They are related - indeed, they cannot be separated - but we should never confuse them. If one partakes in either, he is a partaker of both, but we should not overlook the distinctions between them.
Christians cannot take sanctification for granted. We must pursue it until we are assured that we are sanctified. Our course is clear: We must go to Christ as forgiven sinners, offering our lives to Him by faith, crying out to Him for the grace we need to enable us to overcome all the flaws in our characters.
The apostle Paul writes in Philippians 4:19, "And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." The same apostle adds in Ephesians 4:15-16:
. . . but, speaking the truth in love, [we] may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ - from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
Close communication with Christ is the source of the perception, motivation, and energy to discern flaws and overcome them. It is a biblical principle that whatever God requires, He provides what we need to accomplish it. Thus, we are to draw from this inexhaustible well and be renewed every day in the spirit of our minds (verses 23-24). In John 17:17, on the night before His crucifixion, Jesus asked the Father to sanctify us by His truth. Will God not answer that prayer, especially when we desire to be sanctified to be like His Son? He most certainly will answer it so that our sanctification will continue.
Perhaps a word of caution is in order, and with it an admonishment that we also ask for patience. Growth does not always come quickly. In addition, as we grow in knowledge, at the same time we become more perceptive of our flaws. The more we know, the more flaws we see, and this can become humiliating and discouraging. The humility it produces is good, but the discouragement is not so good if it halts our growth.
Paul faced this, writing of it in Romans 7, but he most certainly did not let it stop him. By the time he finishes his discourse, he declares resoundingly that he knows he will be delivered by Jesus Christ. Sinners we are when we begin, and sinners we find ourselves to be as we continue - we will be sinners to the very end. Salvation is by grace, is it not? Our absolute perfection will not occur until we are changed "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet" (I Corinthians 15:52).
While reaching for God's holiness, we should not let our goals ever be anything but the highest. We should never let Satan convince us that we can be satisfied with what we are right now.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Six)
1 John 3:1-3
The goal is salvation, a concept that needs to be rescued from the small ideas man has assigned to it. Protestant religion has degraded it by talking about it incessantly. But salvation is such a majestic idea! It denotes the comprehensive process of God's purpose by which He is justifying, sanctifying, and transforming His children. John shows us the transformation. God does this by calling us, granting us repentance, forgiving our sins, accepting us as righteous in His sight through Christ, and then progressively changing us through His awesome creative power, by His Spirit, into the image of His Son, until we become like Christ, made like God God, with new bodies in a new world, the new heaven and the new earth. It is deliverance from the degrading, mean lives in which we have been held captive in this world! It is living in the Kingdom of God, its goal!
We must never be guilty of minimizing the awesomeness of such a great salvation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Guard the Truth!
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