What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
At the very beginning of the Book, God tells us what He is doing. His project, His work, began with the formation of man as a physical being in the bodily form of God, and it will not end until mankind is in the nature and character image of God.
To accomplish this, God gave men free moral agency to enable us to choose to follow His way and assist in the development of His image in us, since we cannot be in His image unless we voluntarily choose to do so. Then the character is truly ours, as well as being truly His, because it is inscribed in us as a result of what we have believed and experienced.
God is not merely eternal. He is supreme in every quality of goodness, and in Him absolutely no evil dwells. In the Bible, this goodness is called holiness, which is transcendent purity. It permeates every aspect, every attribute, of God-life. God's character is holy, and it flows out from Him in acts of love, making it impossible for Him to do anything evil. This is the state towards which He is drawing us.
Law must be seen in this context. If we tear law from the context of God's purpose, then we can come up with anything we want to say about law. We can say, "Oh, it is all done away," or "We do not need to do this." However, we cannot tear it away from the purpose of God, and there is a reason for this.
Does God abide by law? The creation screams at us that He does! Everything He creates operates by law, and it does so because it came from His wonderfully orderly and organized mind. It is a reflection of what His mind is like because this is the way He is. He is a law-abiding God.
However, we cannot see Him - not literally, with our eyes. It is here that faith enters the picture: We can see evidence of Him, and we can believe what He says. His law outlines the way that He lives. It is the way of this holy, law-abiding God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 20)
The Devil asserted that by taking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, human eyes would be opened—implying wisdom and enlightenment—to allow a person to know good and evil as God does. Immediately, Satan places the emphasis on knowing, but it is contrasted with living eternally. Satan proposes that mankind should be like God in taking to himself the knowledge—the definition—of what is right and wrong, asserting that this is a good thing! In contrast, the Tree of Life represents a way of living in which the meaning of good and evil already exists, and eternal life involves submitting through the Holy Spirit to that definition and the Sovereign who is its source.
Likewise, the Gnostics are those who know—who pursue mystical knowledge that they believe holds the key to eternal life through advancing beyond the physical and into the spiritual realm. Gnostics believed the key to eternal life was contained in right interpretation—knowledge—of those esoteric sayings.
The book of Revelation expounds on the Tree of Life in two places:
· To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God. (Revelation 2:7)
· Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into [New Jerusalem]. (Revelation 22:14)
The Tree of Life, then, is associated with a way of life—one that requires overcoming (growth against a standard of righteousness) and keeping (doing) God's commandments. The only ones who are allowed to partake of the Tree of Life are those who have changed themselves (with God's help, by His Spirit) to begin living in the same manner as He does. To those who submit to His standard of righteousness, then, He grants life that is both endless and of the same quality that He enjoys.
Satan, though, in addition to casting doubt on what God plainly says, and implying that God is unfair by withholding good things, offers a shortcut. He says, "You do not need to follow God's way, for it is obviously unfair and far too stringent. You can follow your own way. You can take knowledge to yourself of what is good and what is evil. You can be just like God in determining what is right and wrong." Adam and Eve took the bait, and ever since, man has rejected God's standard of righteousness in favor of his own.
This heresy is easily seen in the antinomianism (literally, "against law") of the Gnostics, who may not have been against every law, but were certainly against any law that impinged upon their standard of conduct. Thus the ascetic Gnostics who grieved the Christians in Colossae held to manmade regulations of "do not touch, do not taste, do not handle" (Colossians 2:20-21), while rejecting the command to "rejoice" with food and drink during the God-ordained festivals. Similarly, mainstream Christianity will (rightly) use portions of Leviticus and Deuteronomy to point out God's abhorrence of abortion and homosexuality, but will claim that the same law is "done away" when it comes to the Sabbath and holy days. They have taken to themselves the knowledge of what is good and what is evil, establishing their own standard of righteousness.
A core issue of the Bible is whether we submit to God's governance or try to form a government based on our own perception of what is good or what works. God's way results in eternal life, but it comes with the obligation to submit ourselves to God. It requires keeping all of His commandments and overcoming our human weaknesses that do not rise to that standard. Satan, conversely, seeks to persuade us to do our own thing and to usurp God's prerogative in defining right living. He encourages us to be enlightened, to have our eyes opened, by doubting God and rejecting His way.
David C. Grabbe
Whatever Happened to Gnosticism? Part Three: Satan's Three Heresies
What would it be like to live in a human society in which there was no set standard or rules by which its members were expected to conduct their affairs? Life would be pretty chancy. God was so saddened by this state of affairs that He felt that the only thing He could do was to wipe it out and start over again.
In that kind of society, every excursion outside one's door would be a venture into a societal jungle in which pain, fear, violence, and possibly death lurked at virtually every step. Indeed, if everybody were "a law unto himself," one would not be safe even within his own home because the people there, too, would be living by their own rules. It does not sound as though life would be very fulfilling or enjoyable because only the strongest or the most clever would survive. This kind of life can only be described as a constant, fearful struggle. Community life under these conditions would be impossible because community is possible only when everyone adheres to the same rules. God is creating a Community, a Family, a Kingdom.
Now a second scenario: What would it be like to live in a human society in which there were set standards, but people abided by them only when they felt like it? This might be a definite improvement because people might feel like obeying the rules at least once in a while. There would be more chance for agreement and decidedly less conflict, anxiety, injury, or death.
A third scenario: What would it be like to live in a society in which there were set standards, and people generally agreed with them, and for a variety of reasons, many restrained themselves from breaking them, even when they did not feel like it? However, if a person or community really felt pressure - if one felt that his need or the community's need was great enough - then he or it would break those standards, even to the point of mass murder - war. Again, this is an improvement over both of the other two scenarios, as the chances of peace and stability are increasing.
A fourth scenario: What would it be like to live in society in which people or a community overwhelmingly agree on the standards and, for a variety of reasons, restrain themselves to obey them even when they did not feel like it? This scenario is downright Millennial.
A fifth and final scenario: What would it be like to live in a community where the standards were absolutely engraved in each person's character, and no one has even a thought of transgressing them? Every thought is for the well-being of each individual and the community. It is not difficult to choose which scenario would be the most pleasurable to live in and would produce the most and the best.
As things now are, we live in the third scenario. Which of these five will allow people to concentrate their creativity and energies into producing prosperity in every lawful and edifying field of endeavor - without ever having to be anxious or having their abilities or energies dissipated by conflicts with their fellows? It is easy to see that the fifth scenario fits best.
Of course, the standards are the basic laws of God regulating relationships between men and God and between men and other men. Yet, we are often told that we should obey God because we want to and because we love our fellow man. This is a statement that sounds good at first because it appeals to our vanity about what we think about ourselves and about God. We like to think that we love God and would never harbor any ill feelings toward Him or His rule in our life. We like to think that we do not really do wrong things - we are only misunderstood.
There are no offenders in prison, are there? Everybody in prison is "innocent." It was the fault of that dumb judge, who was prejudiced. Or, the evidence was twisted, causing the inmate to be unfairly convicted. Or, the witnesses lied. Convicts can come up with all kinds of reasons to justify their incarceration.
I Corinthians 3:3 should be considered in this light, because the Corinthian people were converted! They had repented, been baptized, and had received the Spirit of God. Nevertheless, the apostle's assessment, his judgment, of these people was, "For you are still carnal."
These converted people did not love one another very much, nor did they love God very much. They were not obeying God much, as the rest of the epistle plainly shows. The reality is that we do not always love God, and we do not always love those who belong to Him, our brothers in the faith. We do not always feel kindly disposed either toward God or toward our brethren.
People have told me that they are angry with God. What they are really saying is, "I don't deserve all of this trouble. I don't deserve to be treated this way. I'm innocent!" Did Job feel kindly disposed toward God? Job acted carnally from time to time. There is a powerful lesson in the book of Job.
If we "obey God because we love Him," it might sound good, but in reality, we are in trouble because we will frequently wander off the way. We must discipline ourselves to obey Him and love our brethren - even when we do not feel like it. Our nature is so self-centered that God says in Jeremiah 17:9 that it is incurably sick.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 2)
The Hebrew word translated sign means "mark" or "evidence." The Sabbath day is the mark God gave His people to identify them as His own. By it, the folk of Israel would know the Source of their sanctification.
To sanctify is "to set apart for holy service,"or more basically, "to make holy." God's purpose for Israel from the start was to set it apart from other peoples by giving it His laws and His statutes. God has a special relationship with Israel. Speaking through the prophet Amos to "the whole family [i.e., all the tribes] which I brought up from the land of Egypt" (Amos 3:1), God reminds the people that, "you only have I known of all the families of the earth" (verse 2). God revealed His law only to Israel. When He did so, He made it clear that Israel would "be a special treasure to Me above all people, . . . a holy [sanctified, set apart] nation" (Exodus 19:5-6), if the people "obey My voice and keep My covenant" (verse 5). The theme is repeated in Deuteronomy 7:6: "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God, . . . [who] has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth." (See also Deuteronomy 14:2.)
God prefaces the "Holiness Code" of Leviticus 18 and 19 by commanding Israel to be separate from other nations. This meant acting in a way different from that of the Gentiles, not walking "in their ordinances." Leviticus 18:3-4:
According to the doings of the land of Egypt, where you dwelt, you shall not do; and according to the doings of the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you, you shall not do; nor shall you walk in their ordinances. You shall observe My judgments and keep My ordinances. . . .
In Leviticus 19:2, He makes His purpose clear: "You shall be holy [set apart], for I the LORD your God am holy." God's purpose, the intent behind all His laws, is to create a people like Himself (Genesis 1:26), a people sharing and reflecting His most salient attribute: holiness.
Sanctification is also the purpose behind God's often-denigrated physical laws. Consider, for example, the reason why God imposed the dietary law, as stated in Leviticus 11. God does not cite the maintenance of health as a reason to obey the dietary laws; the Scriptures do not specify that obedience of these laws will cause good health or prevent disease (though this is a secondary, albeit unmentioned, benefit). Rather, God concludes His dietary laws with a statement of His holiness and a command for His people to be like Him. Leviticus 11:44-45:
For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. For I am the LORD who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.
Obedience to God's law plays a crucial role in bringing about this sanctification. It is not that a people become sanctified (somehow, by God's grace) and, as a result, start obeying God's law. God's Word does not support the Protestant concept that sanctification imputed by God's grace mysteriously empowers one to obey His commandments. They have it backwards.
Rather, obedience to the law causes sanctification. Law-keeping and sanctification become intrinsically connected: To obey God's law is to be sanctified. By its nature, law-keeping brings about sanctification.
In a national context, God states that obeying His laws creates a people unlike others on the earth, a people set apart from others, a holy nation. National sanctification produces what Balaam saw in Israel: "A people dwelling alone, not reckoning itself among the nations" (Numbers 23:9).
If commandment-keeping separates people from the nations while connecting them to God, disobedience of God's law has exactly the opposite effect. Commandment-breaking separates a people from God, and connects them to the ways of the nations. Individuals who disobey God's law become like the "world," the kosmos of the New Testament (I John 2:15).
Searching for Israel (Part Twelve): The Sign
If God repeats the same thing over and over again, it must be important. This is something God never got through Balaam's thick skull because throughout the entire account, he tries his best to curse Israel, to do more than God instructs, or to speak beyond what God put into his mouth. He keeps having to be restrained.
Why? Balaam wants the pot of gold and the honor! These are what are driving him.
God speaks to him time and again. He appears to him, visibly, as the Angel of the Lord. He speaks to him through a donkey! God changes Balaam's words in his mouth, causing him to speak blessings instead of curses. God puts His Spirit on him, and Balaam prophesies under the inspiration of the Spirit of God—and still Balaam tries to do his own will, not God's.
Balaam never really understood the connection between obedience and blessing, or, obedience and the relationship with God. Even the most easily understood command—"I will put a word in your mouth. Say that word, no more, and no less"—he fails to follow, though it is something a child could do. However, Balaam is being driven by gold, by pride, and who knows what else, so he constantly, consistently refuses to do what God tells him to do.
Balaam wanted to do all these things—to have a relationship with God, to be able to bless and curse, to be a real prophet—but he never wanted to obey. He wanted all the benefits and none of the responsibilities.
Balaam is an illustration of a person who has access to the truth—like a person who reads the Bible all the time—but never obeys it! Such a person is willing to cheat on his income tax, when he knows the eighth commandment says, "You shall not steal." There are "Christian" people who are willing to kill their unborn children, yet know that the sixth commandment says, "You shall not murder." There are "Christians" who lie all the time, knowing all the while that the ninth commandment says, "You shall not bear false witness." These people have access to the truth or have knowledge of the truth, but are never willing to put it into practice because they insist on doing what they want to do.
There are millions of people in the world like this. In fact, one branch of Christianity in particular—called Protestantism—was founded on this formula. One will not find more learned people than Protestant theologians; they know the Bible from cover to cover. Yet, they still keep and preach Sunday! They do more than this. They know—they admit—that God's law is "holy and just and good" (Romans 7:12), but they tell their congregations, "It is done away! We don't have the responsibility of keeping the law. Jesus kept it for us!"
Thus, they emphasize grace and make God's law of no effect because they want all the blessings of being a Christian but none of the responsibility. Just as Balaam did!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)
He covers every aspect of every day. The laws of God have to be considered and committed to memory for life. They have to be practiced, practiced, practiced. In a way, we have to drill, drill, drill, like a soldier in boot camp, so that they become instinctive behaviors. We have to force ourselves, if need be, to yield to them. This is our part in spiritual circumcision because human nature will put up a fight. It does not want to yield.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 7)
The ultimate fulfillment of of the process implicitly mentioned in Jeremiah 31:31-34 will culminate when we are completely composed of spirit, and God's law will be our first nature, not just second nature. But, while we are in an embryonic stage, the process has already begun in us, incrementally, as God gradually displaces our carnality and sin, replacing it with His Holy Spirit, leading to righteous behavior and godliness. Actually, no human being is completely converted, but many people are in various stages of conversion.
Conversion, then, is a life-long process in which we move from a reactive approach to lawkeeping—motivated by rewards and punishments—to a proactive approach—motivated by a deeply placed inner desire to yield and comply to the law's principles, knowing intrinsically from experience that they work for the good and harmony of all. (Proactive is a term author-speaker Steven Covey uses to distinguish internal motivation to do or accomplish something as opposed to external motivation.)
As the process of conversion begins, God must use carrots and sticks to keep us moving in the right direction. The blessings and curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 served as carrots and sticks to encourage righteous and godly behavior in our Israelite forebears. God uses carrots and sticks in the early part of our calling—for instance, the carrot of the Place of Safety and the stick of the Tribulation—and literally drives us into a frantic study of prophecy. Carrots and sticks have motivated our educational system in the forms of gold stars, grades, praise, trophies, extra homework, and detention.
Recently, Dr. Alfie Kohn, in his book, Punished By Rewards, questions the long-term effects of external motivators, such as grades, financial incentives, gold stars, or tokens, to sustain learning behavior. He supplies some surprising evidence that carrots and sticks—reflecting the philosophy, "Do this and you'll get that"— actually become detrimental in the long run, diverting the focus away from the learning outcome onto the reward or punishment. Dr. Kohn, Dr. Jerome Bruner, and a host of other educators suggest that internal motivators, such as satisfying curiosity, imitating role models, and attaining competency, work better to motivate over the long term than do G.P.A.'s, scholarships and grants, and other external incentives.
To illustrate this, one of the supreme tragedies in the music world occurred when the government of Finland supplied composer Jean Sibelius a guaranteed pension and a large mansion in the woods near Jarvenpaa. After this huge reward, an external motivation, not one musical idea—not one note!—emanated from his pen. Likewise, our spiritual growth and maturity will become stunted if our motivation for righteous behavior is externally determined rather than internally determined.
To an individual truly endowed with God's Spirit, the laws cranked out yearly in Washington, DC, our state capitals, and our local city halls should strike us as juvenile and elementary—or as one minister would call it—knee-pants stuff. Consider the carrots and sticks used by lawmakers to control litter: up to $1,000 fine for littering, or a sign reading, "This segment of highway adopted by Yourtown Jaycees."
These examples ignore the heart and core of the problem. Until the law gets from stone-tablet pages of the Scripture, or the statute books of a local, state, or federal assembly, into our hearts and minds—unless the motivation for doing what is right comes from the inside out—we are no more converted than a donkey. On second thought, a donkey at least behaves as it is programmed to act.
David F. Maas
Righteousness from Inside-Out
Jesus is saying, in plain language, that His teaching does not contradict the Old Covenant law, but it is the ultimate fulfillment of its spiritual intent. Even in the smallest matter, the smallest statement—the jot and the tittle—the law must be fulfilled.
Notice where His statement appears. Matthew places it immediately after Jesus' exhortation, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works" (Matthew 5:16). What if our works are good? Are we supposed to hide them? Then comes His statement regarding law. Is there a connection between good works and keeping the law? One would have to be quite obstinate to believe there is no connection between them. It is obvious that He is connecting good works with lawkeeping.
To strengthen the argument, He mentions righteousness in verse 20. What is the Bible's definition of righteousness? Psalm 119:172: "All Your commandments are righteousness." Thus, sandwiched between righteousness and letting one's light shine comes an explanation that He did not come to do away with the law but to fill it to the full, to help us understand its ultimate application—its spiritual intent.
Is it possible to keep the law in its spirit without also keeping it in the letter? It cannot be done. One must first keep it in the letter before learning how to keep its spirit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 14)
The young man's question to Jesus is "How can I have eternal life?" In connecting it to the New Covenant terms in Hebrews 8:10, w can see that the writing of the law on the heart is a two-sided affair. Only those who have 1) made the New Covenant with God, and 2) met the terms within the framework of the time that they live, will be given eternal life. The Boss—Jesus Christ, our Lord and Master, the Messenger of the Covenant, our Savior, the One who preached the gospel, who knows what He is talking about—says, "If you want to have eternal life, keep the law!"
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 10)
We see a very polite, respectful, and eager young man who leaves Christ and goes away sorrowful. Why? The story makes it clear that he is young, and Luke tells us he is a ruler (Luke 18:18), possibly a magistrate or a kind of Justice of the Peace.
In the parallel account in Mark, we are told that the young man came "running" up to Christ and "knelt" before him (Mark 10:17), indicating a sense of urgency and respect. He then shows submissiveness and a willingness to be taught when he addresses Jesus as "Good Teacher." This was not a typical form of address for the Jews at this time. A more respectful greeting may not be found in the entire Bible.
This young man came, not to tempt Christ, but to learn from him. We know that he was not a Sadducee because it is clear that he believed in eternal life and wanted to attain it—an unusual goal in someone of his position and age. A man of wealth will often trust his riches and not be interested in what God has to offer. The young do not often look beyond today, much less to the far reaches of eternity.
This rich young ruler was a very sensible fellow. He knew something must be done to attain this happiness; eternal life is not a game of chance or blind fate. Romans 2:6-7 tells us that we are rewarded for our works, good and bad, and that "eternal life [goes] to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality."
Christ's response to all this is interesting. He first establishes that none are truly good except God, and to Him goes all glory. Then Jesus tells him to "keep the commandments," specifically listing the last six of the Ten Commandments, the ones dealing with human-to-human relationships. The Jews of the time were well-versed in the mechanics of the first four commandments, in terms of the letter of the law, so Christ lists the ones in which they were weakest.
It seems so simple, right? In order to have eternal life, "keep the commandments." How do today's professing Christians, who claim the law has been done away, get around this simple instruction? Other verses, such as John 14:15, "If you love Me, keep My commandments," reinforce this straightforward directive.
The young ruler tells Christ that he has kept the commandments since he was a child. What else should he do? Jesus does not contradict him. In Mark's account, it says He looked at him and "loved him." Possibly, this man was adept at keeping the letter of the law, but he was coming up short in abiding by the spirit of the law. Perhaps Jesus saw that he was absolutely sincere in his efforts to abide by those commandments.
Whatever the case, Christ does not attempt to sermonize on this point. The way the young man phrased his question, "What do I still lack?" smacks a bit of pride or self-righteousness. In effect, he says, "I'm keeping the commandments and have done well in that regard all my life. Show me where I'm coming up short."
Unlike what many of us would do, Christ avoids becoming mired in a dispute about this claim, but gets right to the bottom line: The young man's love of the world. He tells him to sell his possessions, give the money away, and follow Him as a disciple. Yet, the young ruler was unwilling to do this. His treasure was here on earth. His money exerted a stronger tug on his heart than Christ did. Matthew Henry says in his commentary, "When we embrace Christ, we must let go of the world, for we cannot serve God and money."
To the young man's credit, he was not hypocritical. He did not pretend he could do this when he could not. He knew what this meant: Christ's high standards and his own ambitions and desires were incompatible. Being both thoughtful and well-intentioned, he went away "sorrowful."
What did he possess that had such a hold on him as to make him willing to walk away from eternal life? To put it into terms we can relate to: Did he have a fully equipped game room with pinball, billiards, jukebox, and wet bar? Maybe he had the latest and hottest SUV? Perhaps his living room sported a plasma television, where he could kick back and watch all the sports he could handle?
What was holding him back? What did he really trust in? There is nothing spiritually wrong with wealth itself. The Bible is full of examples of godly men who were very wealthy—for instance, great men of God like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Job, and David. The problem is in the love of money.
Because we live in a consumer-driven society, the love of money can hold us back too. Advertisements call to us constantly, informing us of "needs" we did not even know we had. It is difficult to maintain a proper balance while under such an assault. We may not think of it this way, but it could be considered a blessing not to have great wealth because of the additional stress it can put on our spiritual lives.
It is instructive to study what Christ had to say to His disciples after the rich young ruler sadly walked away. Twice Jesus tells us how hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God. The Christian walk is not easy for anyone, but it is particularly hard for the wealthy. In fact, Jesus goes on to say, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
The Rich Young Ruler and the Needle's Eye
Jesus tells him he must do something, not just believe, to gain salvation. By this, He also tells us what works He expects of us, if we would live forever with God.
We must do good works to be blessed with eternal life, and all who have eternal life do such works. Our Savior expects us to become coworkers with Him in our salvation, as well as the salvation of all mankind. Paul writes, "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).
God's great law is His way of life! God chooses to live by the Ten Commandments, and they reveal His excellent character. To enter His Family, we also must live by God's law, which helps us to develop godly character. This is how closely eternal life is linked to keeping the commandments.
Works of Faith (Part 1)
In Jesus' inaugural address, He is associating His work of being man's Benefactor through redemption—the freeing of man from bondage to Satan, the world, and our nature—to the beginning of the fulfillment of God's redemptive function for the Sabbath. In Luke 4:16, He was beginning to magnify the Sabbath law. At the very beginning of His mission on earth, the very first law that He begins to make clear is the Sabbath!
This should remind us of something that happened in the Exodus. What was the first law that the God of the Old Testament revealed to the children of Israel? It was the Sabbath! Does that give any indication that He is preparing to do away with it? Not in the least! In one sense, because of its position, it is the law in the Ten Commandments around which all the others revolve. Yet mankind seems to think of it as being "the least" of the Ten Commandments, but anybody who breaks it consistently is going to lose his liberty.
Until the time of Christ, the Sabbath had not really been used for the purpose that He was beginning to reveal. Christ is magnifying and re-establishing God's original intent for the Sabbath, just as He does in Matthew 5-7 for the other commandments. By identifying Himself with the Sabbath, He is actually affirming His Messiahship.
How, then, did Christ view the Sabbath? Did He actually uphold it? There are some who say that His acts on the Sabbath were intentionally provocative, designed to show that it is no longer binding. So, was He genuinely observing the Sabbath, or deliberately breaking it?
Christ did a lot of things on the Sabbath. It is very evident that, as His ministry progressed towards its end, the things that He did on the Sabbath became more and more bold, open, clear. At the beginning, He "low-keyed" what He did on the Sabbath. Being wise far beyond men, He knew that there would be an explosive reaction to Him. Luke 4 is His announcement of how He would use the Sabbath.
And then— right within the chapter on the very same Sabbath day—His announcement is followed by two healings (Luke 4:31-39) that clearly reveal God's intended use for Sabbath time.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 2)
It is helpful to realize that at its establishment on earth the Kingdom of God will be ruling over unconverted people who have just passed through the most horrific period of tribulation in the history of mankind. These people will need guidance from absolutely trustworthy standards.
No nation, not even the Kingdom of God, can govern human beings without laws. There must be standards of conduct for citizens to follow, or chaos and anarchy will result as each person does what seems right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25). But "God is not the author of confusion but of peace" (I Corinthians 14:33). His Kingdom will be peaceful and orderly because people will be led to submit themselves voluntarily to His rule of law - His commandments.
Unfortunately, many believe that the commandments are done away, having been replaced by love. This can easily lead a person to believe the opposite of what is true regarding the commandments. People have a strong tendency to think of them in terms of restrictive bondage, whereas love is perceived as liberating. The apostle John says, however, that the commandments of God are love and not grievous (I John 5:3).
What does Jesus teach? In Matthew 22:36, He was asked, "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" His reply is instructive:
Jesus said to him, "'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 22:37-40)
Notice that both of the two Great Commandments encompass love. The first four of the Ten Commandments show man how to love God, and the second group of six shows man how to love fellow man. The commandments remove love from being merely an emotion and reveal how to apply love practically. As one commentator stated, "Love is what you do."
It was Jesus, as God of the Old Testament, who gave to ancient Israel God's laws in their codified form from Mount Sinai. When He became a man, what did He teach in reference to these very commandments?
» "If you love Me, keep My commandments." (John 14:15)
» "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him." (John 14:21)
» "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. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father's who sent Me." (John 14:23-24)
The apostle James calls the Ten Commandments "the royal law," meaning it came from a King and is worthy of His Kingdom (James 2:8-12).
God has never done away with His Ten Commandments, and they never shall be done away. They will be lived by all those given eternal life forever. They will also be the basic law of those possessing mortal life when Jesus returns. From God's commandments, all laws governing every aspect of a moral life will be drawn and applied in their spirit. Their standards will be the rule of law against which people's lives will be guided and judged.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Five)
What did Jesus Christ establish to be taught in the churches? What He brought - in what we consider to be the New Testament era - is not at all contradictory or fundamentally different from what the Old Testament teaches. His message is complementary, completing the teaching of the Old Testament, rounding out and finishing God's revelation to mankind.
The word "but" in verse 17 has been inserted by the translators. In those Bibles that use the convention, it is in italics, which shows that it is a word added by the translators to clarify what they believe is the sense. Why did they choose "but"? The translators' fundamental belief is that Jesus came to change what was taught by Moses. However, if they had put together what the rest of the New Testament says, Jesus came and added to and completed what Moses and the other prophets preached. There is a better word to insert there: "and." Thus, "For the law was given through Moses and grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." They are complementary, not contradictory. Perhaps the word "supplementary" would better explain it, though what Jesus brought is both complementary and supplementary.
"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17). Consider a candy jar, which is filled only an inch. That represents what Moses taught, the law. But Jesus filled the rest of the candy jar full! Jesus brought the spirit of the law. He filled to the full the revelation of God.
What Moses taught in the law is the law of the Kingdom of God. It cannot be separated from the gospel of the Kingdom of God that Jesus brought because the Kingdom of God needs law to function. God's Kingdom is a real entity. It is designed to function, and it will only function through law and, of course, grace, as they work together.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Condemnation would have meant the death penalty because "the wages of sin is death." Jesus provides us an example of righteous judgment under the terms of the New Covenant. First, let us consider who He is, so that we can see His authority. He is Immanuel—"God with us." If anybody understood the application and administration of the law of God for the church under the New Covenant, it was Jesus of Nazareth. In addition, He is not only Immanuel, He is also the Head of the church.
Why does He make this judgment? Under the terms of the New Covenant, the church is not a civil entity, meaning that it has no civil authority to carry out the death penalty. But does this mean that the law of God is done away? No. Romans 6:23 still says, "The wages of sin is death." Death for sin is merely delayed under the New Covenant. The sin and the death penalty are still there, but the church is in a peculiar position in relation to law. The law of God is not administered by the church as it was by Israel when they made the Old Covenant with God. Both covenants have the same laws, but different administrations.
Are adultery and lust (two sins involved in this episode) still sins under the New Covenant? Absolutely! So is the breaking of the other eight commandments. But the church, out of necessity, has to administer it differently. Forgiveness of this woman is implied, as Jesus, Immanuel, said that He did not condemn her. Even though it is not stated directly, He forgave her.
But did He say, "Go, and don't be concerned about committing adultery again"? Certainly not! As the Head of the church, He said, "Go, and don't break that law again!" He justified her in relation to this one law, and warned her, "Don't break it." His forgiveness did not do away with the law! It is ridiculous, on its face, to conclude that, when grace clears us and brings us into alignment with God and His laws, that it eliminates the law! Only when there is a clear statement or example in God's Word that a law has been put aside should we make such a determination.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 4)
In verse 1, Paul says that anybody participating even in some of the more easily mastered practices of human nature is putting himself on dangerous spiritual quicksand. Today, in the wake of the breakup of the Worldwide Church of God, a common judgment is to call Herbert Armstrong into account yet say at the end, "But I loved him." Those who do this have overlooked how vulnerable and subject to God's judgment this makes them.
Verse 2 carries Paul's warning a step further by reminding us that God judges according to truth. Those who judge and act as Paul describes in verse 1 have precious little truth. However, this major element gives God the right to judge. He alone knows all the facts and can arrange them all in the light of perfect righteousness.
He reveals in verse 3 the weak position of those judging: They are guilty of committing the same sins, or ones just as bad, as those they are judging! Paul is saying that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones! In fact, their judgment of others may be one of those sins! In verse 4, he counsels them to lay aside their pride and concentrate on making the best use of God's patience by repenting of their sins.
In verse 5, the apostle plays on the word "riches" in the previous verse. Physical wealth is something one normally sets aside and treasures, but those who persist in evil works are "treasuring up" judgment for themselves! Verses 6 through 11 are a classic argument for the doing of good works after justification from the mind and pen of the very man most often accused of saying no works are necessary.
Within the context of the entire book, Paul is saying here that, while a person is justified by grace through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, establishing a relationship with God that because of sin never before existed, good works should result from justification. Good works are the concrete, open, and public expression of the reality of our relationship with God. They are its witness.
Just as surely as day follows night, if our faith truly is in God, the works that follow will be according to God's will. Living by God's will should be the natural consequence of faith in God. Though we are justified by faith, II Corinthians 5:10 spells out that we are judged according to our works. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." Is it not logical, then, for a person, knowing he will be judged according to his works, to want at least some clearly stated absolutes to show him what is expected of him rather than a fuzzy and vague statement about loving one another? Would not such a person want to know more specifically what constitutes love?
In Romans 2:7, Paul is not saying using one's faith will be easy, but that those who have that faith will use it to work. "Patient continuance" presupposes a measure of hardship, and "seek" implies pursuing something not yet attained. Together, they indicate a persistent quest of God's righteousness. In verse 10, the apostle uses the phrase "to everyone who works what is good." He does not define what "good" is at this point, but whatever it is, work is necessary to accomplish it. In verses 11-12, he reiterates that we will be judged, introducing a word that many seem to find so repulsive: law!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Four): Obligation
Why is this term, "law," so repulsive? Law implies authority, and human nature likes no authority over it, even if the law expresses the authority of God and defines love. It is especially interesting that Paul says we will be judged according to what we actually know. Know of what? The law of God. The good works he mentions earlier include the works of keeping the law. Obviously, it is God's will that we live moral lives. Morality must have standards, or there is no such thing as morality. Laws define morality. We will be judged against what we know of the laws of God. Thus, he says in verse 13 that the doers of the law will be justified.
Despite what these verses say, theologians attempt to justify their "no-law" theology by claiming that Paul writes here of the natural man, not converted people. While partially true, it avoids the fact that this epistle was written to a church of God congregation (Romans 1:1-7) and that Paul repeatedly uses the personal pronoun "you"—as in "you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge" (Romans 2:1). This usage, combined with the fact that it is written to a church of God congregation, easily catches the converted in its purview.
In addition, it also avoids the fact that one reason God gives His Holy Spirit is to lead us into all truth (John 16:13). This includes the truth regarding morality, lawkeeping, and good works. As God leads us to greater depths of knowledge and understanding of His truth, it builds in us a more responsible knowledge of God's will. This raises the stakes in judgment because "to whom much is given, from him much more will be required" (Luke 12:48). Growth results in closer scrutiny against a higher standard of morality.
In the broader context of Romans, it becomes clear that each person—Jew or Gentile, converted or unconverted—is judged against what he knows, and God holds him responsible for working to produce obedience at that level. This is similar to what teachers expect of school children. They hold children in the higher grades more responsible for knowing and doing than those in lower grades. Courts use the same general system, holding adults more responsible for their crimes than children. Thus, for the same crime, an adult will receive a sterner punishment.
The called must realize that, because of their calling, the requirements—and thus the judgments—are much stiffer since they know so much more. This is why Paul says in Romans 3:31, "Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law." Faith upholds law or makes it firm because the law points out what righteousness, love, and sin are, and guides us in how faith is to be used.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Four): Obligation
The law he is writing about here is obviously the Ten Commandments. Within this context is the Bible's definition of what God means by circumcision. Circumcision is broadly defined as "when one keeps the law." Uncircumcision is "when one breaks the law." He does not mean an occasional breaking of the law but consistently breaking it as a practice or as a way of life.
It was the shocking disparity between what the Pharisees urged others to do and what they did themselves that ignited Jesus' strong rebukes against them. Here, Paul accuses the typical Jew—not necessarily the Pharisee, the scribe, or the Sadducee—of bringing blasphemy against God by doing the same thing the Pharisees did. They taught and demanded one thing of others and did something else.
The Jews, then, had acquired a bad reputation throughout the Roman Empire by teaching one thing and doing another in the business of life. Thus, Paul says that, spiritually, they were uncircumcised. The average Jew was externally in conformity with the Covenant, but inwardly, as shown by the way that he lived his life—how he conducted his business, his family life—he may just as well have been as uncircumcised as a Gentile! There is a powerful lesson in this for us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 7)
What is behind this argument? Paul is saying, "How do we involve Christ in our sins?" Because we are in Him! To someone who is less mystical, this does not make any sense at all, but this is something that a Christian knows by faith - that he is in Christ, and Christ is in him. We are sharing life together so the Christians can come to know Christ, be in the resurrection, and live with Him and all others who are living His way for all eternity. Does not Christ say to His disciples in John 14:23, "We will come to him [one who keeps His word] and make Our home with him"? This is what Paul is talking about: He is exhorting us to live as They do. Thus, how can we continue in sin, if we are dead to sin?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Resurrection From the Dead
Paul presents this as a condition. One cannot conduct his life any old way he thinks after he repents and believes. He must continue to meet the conditions that God lays down. Of course, God understands - and we all know - that we are not going to meet those conditions perfectly. We are going to sin, but that does not mean that we should not strive to fulfill the responsibility that God gives us: to remain faithful and loyal in keeping His commands. Thus, one must remain faithful and loyal to God, as shown through the way he lives. This is why Peter says that we are to be holy because God is holy (I Peter 1:16). It is a responsibility, an obligation, a condition of our covenant. It is plain that Paul says that we should not sin, which is to break God's law.
Jesus Christ came to save us from our sins, not in our sins. Do we understand what from means? We use this word constantly, every day. We are so familiar with it that we probably never stop to think what it means. From means "a word indicating separation beginning at a certain point." We are being saved from - separation beginning at a certain point - our sins. This indicates we are to come out of sin, the transgression of God's law. It is a qualification we must meet.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 2)
The Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). This means that there will not be contradictions in God's Word. Jesus says that not one jot or tittle would pass from the law (Matthew 5:18). Paul says here, "Do not sin," and sin is the transgression of God's law (I John 3:4). Nonetheless, Protestants say that the law is done away. This raises a contradiction.
If Jesus' death combined with the New Covenant does away with the law, then there is no such thing as sin, and Christ died in vain—especially as far as those who have lived since His death are concerned. Romans 6:1-2 states plainly that Christians are not to sin, that is, break God's laws. Therefore sin—and thus God's law, which tells us what sin is—must still exist.
It cannot be both ways. If they say that the law is done away, then in the biblical context, it is logical to conclude that there can be no sin. It is therefore illogical for them to claim that it is still wrong for a person to murder or to commit adultery because those sins would not exist without the laws that determine they are immoral or illegal acts.
But the true answer lies elsewhere: Their conclusion that the law is done away is wrong!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 29)
Is that not strong, plain language? "Certainly not" is translated as "God forbid," "perish the thought," or "may it never be," in other Bibles. In his epistles, Paul uses this exclamatory expression in relation to sin sixty times! Yet, this world's Christianity has succeeded in communicating to it adherents one of the most devastating of all false doctrines—that the works of keeping God's commandments are not required! They insidiously twist the truth that, though works most assuredly cannot save a person, stopping sin in one's life is absolutely required to provide evidence that one is indeed a Christian, to bring glory to God, and to grow. Jesus Christ died to provide forgiveness of sin. Therefore, if a person persists in sin following his forgiveness, he is trampling "the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified [as] a common thing, and insult[ing] the Spirit of grace" (Hebrews 10:29).
John W. Ritenbaugh
Communication and Leaving Babylon (Part Three)
The walk (verse 4) is sometimes quite difficult, but Paul provides encouragement and hope in Romans 6:5-6. As difficult as our march from slavery might be at times, the glory of the resurrection and the complete putting off of the flesh lies before us.
The word "united" ("planted" in the King James) in verse 5 draws our attention because it is elsewhere translated "grafted" or "engrafted." In John 15, Christ describes Himself as a vine, and we are its branches. In Romans 9, Paul compares converted Israelites to natural branches and Gentiles as unnatural branches grafted into the same vine. Union is achieved with all sharing a part. All are receiving of the same source, and all are striving to produce the same fruit.
But how do we know we are attached to that Vine?
Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 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 2:3-5)
There must be something that proves we are united with the Father and the Son, engrafted as part of Them and in union with Them. That something is the manner in which we conduct our life.
Language identifies people and so does the clothing they wear. A person's name is probably the most common of all identifiers. But the sons of God, those in union with the Father and the Son, are identified by commandment-keeping. It verifies that we are united with Christ. Commandment-keeping is love. Biblical love is an action, not merely a feeling. It may contain a positive feeling, even outright affection and passion for the one or ones who are the recipients of the act of love, but its foundation lies in the act rather than the emotion.
Acts of love without emotion can be entirely sterile. This extreme is not biblical love. At the other extreme are those who emotionally say they love Christ. What they say is probably true - as far as their understanding of love goes. Their declaration of love for Him may be motivated by feeling awe and gratitude springing from a recognition that He is indeed Creator, Savior, and High Priest, and that this awesome Being actually humbly sacrificed His life for them personally. Often, such people will then proceed to break His commandments, proving they do not know what love is.
In that kind of relationship, feelings eventually run dry, and the relationship and therefore the union ends. The love of the Bible is always first moral. This morality verifies we are yielding to Him. John commands us in I John 2:6 to walk as Jesus walked, and Jesus walked morally. The only way we can be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ is to walk as He walked.
This is the reason for our standing with God. We stand before Him as Jesus Christ for the very purpose of living life as He did as closely as possible. We cannot say we do this perfectly because our actions and reactions, our tempers and feelings, our sins of omission and commission betray us, revealing our continual need for the application of Christ's blood to restore our standing to the pristine standard of our Savior, even if for only a short time. Our gratitude to God for His thoughtful foresight and merciful patience is thus renewed in the acknowledgement of our sin.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Eight): Conclusion (Part One)
A much better translation that catches the essence of what Paul says is, ". . . a man is not justified through works of the law except through faith in Jesus Christ," or "but by means of faith in Jesus Christ." Paul is saying that works are of value when joined with faith in Jesus Christ, clearly showing that when works are combined with faith, they have positive value.
Since righteousness comes by faith in Jesus Christ, in reality it comes by the faith of Jesus Christ because it is His righteousness that is imputed to us for the purpose of justification. He achieved that righteousness by perfect lawkeeping through His faith in God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 26)
Paul is continuing his stern rebuke here, and it seems he intends his argument to settle the question ("this only would I learn of you"). His rhetorical question is whether the Galatians received God's Spirit through their personal accomplishments or by hearing and believing. This is in no way a condemnation of "works of the law," as Christ Himself commands that we display "good works" to set the proper example to the world, after which He says in no uncertain terms that He did not come to destroy the law (Matthew 5:16-17). These are the same works that Jesus did (Matthew 11:2) and praised (John 3:21; 8:39; Revelation 2:26). Acts 26:20 shows that there are works involved in repentance, and much of James 2 shows the place that works have within our responsibility. To each of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3, Christ says He knows their works—and they are judged accordingly.
Clearly, there is nothing wrong with following God's law; indeed, the New Testament is filled with verses that show that lawbreakers will not enter the Kingdom of God. The question in this verse is not about whether the law is still in effect, whether following it is still required, or whether there is anything wrong with the set of laws that God codified. Rather, the critical point is what part the law plays within our conversion and sanctification, and consequently, what part God plays in the process as well.
On the one hand, there is the implication here that a person does not receive the Spirit by the works of the law, and on the other hand there is the definite statement in Acts 5:32 that the Spirit is only given to those who obey God—those following His law. As with the apparent disparity between Galatians 2:16 and Romans 2:13, these statements are easily rectified when we separate the means by which something is accomplished from the requirements.
According to Acts 5:32, one of the requirements for a person to receive the Holy Spirit, even in a small measure, is obedience to God (lawkeeping). God will not give a measure of His life-giving Spirit to someone who is rebellious or disobedient to Him! The story of Simon Magus (Acts 8:9-24) illustrates this. Simon had the gospel preached to him, and he "believed" and was baptized. These events seem to fulfill Paul's statement in Galatians 3:2: He heard the gospel, and he believed. Would this not qualify as "the hearing [having the gospel preached] of faith [he believed]"? Should he not have then received the Holy Spirit?
Simon the Sorcerer did not receive the power of the Holy Spirit because he did not fulfill the requirement of Acts 5:32. Simon was not obedient to God—he did not submit himself to God but tried to bribe the apostles to lay hands on him. His heart was not right in the sight of God; his actions and intents were "wickedness"; he was "poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity." This was not someone that God wanted to entrust with a measure of His mind and power! God only gives His Spirit to those who obey Him.
Even though keeping the commandments is a requirement, it does not entitle one to receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a gift (Acts 2:38; 10:45; Hebrews 2:4), something freely given and not earned. This is the point the Galatians were stumbling over: They did not understand, or did not want to believe, that God's forgiveness, justification, sanctification, Holy Spirit, etc. are all things that God is responsible for. These are His prerogatives, and nothing we do can force Him into doing anything! Romans 9:11 shows that it is by God's election that determines who has his mind opened, not the choice (or the works—same verse) of the individual. John 6:44 shows clearly that God chooses who will enter into the covenant relationship, and without God drawing a person to Him, it is impossible for that person to even know God. I Corinthians 1:26-29 also illustrates that God does the "calling," and He purposefully chooses the weak, the foolish, the base things of the world. A large part of the reason is that nobody can boast (glory) that God called them because they were exceptionally righteous or in any way deserved to be called.
The Galatians seem to have rejected the overwhelming part that God and Jesus Christ play in the salvation process. They thought they were righteous enough, on their own, to have been justified, to receive the Holy Spirit, to attain salvation, etc. The reality is that we are God's workmanship, and He is the only one that can bring our salvation to pass (Ephesians 2:10). While we have a responsibility—to yield, submit, obey, overcome, etc.—even if we perfectly fulfill this responsibility, we are still then doing only the bare minimum. Our works are necessary, but they are not the means by which we are saved, nor, as Paul is saying here, are they the means by which we receive the Holy Spirit.
David C. Grabbe
Paul is quoting here from Deuteronomy 27:26, a principle echoed in Jeremiah 11:3.
"Of works," like "of faith" in verses 5 and 7, shows a person's origin—their source or basis of their spiritual life, and what they depend on. This follows the theme that we are justified and glorified (saved) by grace through faith, and not by our own righteousness. So Paul is saying here that those people who have their basis of spirituality in their own works and righteousness, rather than in their Creator, are under a curse.
In this verse, as with much of the rest of his letter to the Galatians, Paul is addressing the problem of justification by works—he is not condemning the law. It is evident from his other writings that Paul is not in any way anti-law (Romans 2:12-16,26; 3:31; 6:12; 7:12,22,25; 8:7; I Corinthians 7:19; I Timothy 1:8-11; II Timothy 2:5; Titus 1:16; 2:11-14; Hebrews 1:8-9; 8:10; 10:26-29), but rather in this epistle he is endeavoring to show the place that law and works should hold in a Christian's life. He is against the misuse or abuse of law. God's law plays a vital part within the sanctification process, because it is during this time in a Christian's life that character is being built, that we are growing, overcoming, etc.—all of which require that a standard of conduct (law) be present.
James explains this further in James 2:10-12:
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.
This shows that our own righteousness could never suffice for the purpose of justification, because we all have sinned. But after we have been justified and entered into the New Covenant, the law is still very much valid for the purpose of sanctification. We are told in James 2:12, as in other places, that we will be judged, and the standard for that judgment will be the law of God.
David C. Grabbe
If we were able to "do" the entire law—in the letter and the spirit—we could then "live" by that means. Paul shows that it does not require faith to keep the law in the letter—anybody can compare an action against a list of dos and don'ts and see if the action is allowed. It requires much more to keep the law in the spirit perfectly. It requires a full measure of God's Spirit working within the person. But simply to abide by a law does not require any faith in a Savior, so if this life were just about strictly adhering to a list of requirements in their letter, Christ would have died in vain.
Romans 8:7 says that the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God—that is, it will not submit itself to God's law. But there is ample evidence that unconverted man can live according to regulations in a Pharisaic manner. Romans 7:14 adds more to the equation by showing that God's law is a spiritual law—there is an intent behind it, as well as the most direct application. This was what Christ was endeavoring to show in Matthew 5:20-48. So for us to be justified before God, we would have to completely fulfill the law—live according to the letter and the spirit. But that is a logical impossibility without means of the Holy Spirit.
This is why justification by faith is a necessity: We need God's Spirit to fulfill this spiritual law, but God will not give His Spirit to someone who does not willingly submit to Him and obey Him. This is why God would not allow Adam and Eve access to the Tree of Life after they had sinned, because He knew that their natures had become corrupt, and He was not willing that a corrupt being be given His Spirit—His power. A paradox results, and the only way out of the deadlock is for God to bring a person into alignment with Him by substituting the perfect life of His Son for ours in a legal action. Once that justification has taken place, then a measure of His Spirit can be given, and the person can begin to keep His law in both the letter and the intent.
David C. Grabbe
These verses confront us with a list of spiritual-sounding words: grace, saved, faith, gift, works. Even those who have been in God's church for many years and who may clearly understand each of these words individually are slowed down in comprehension when faced with such terms presented one after the other.
So, let us take a very brief Greek lesson. Here are the key terms contained in this scripture in English and Greek, the Strong's Concordance reference number, and, to make the meanings clearer, other English terms translated in the New Testament from the same Greek words:
- Grace (#5485): charis (khar'-ece). Also translated as favor, thanks, thank, pleasure.
- Saved (#4982): sozo (sode'-zo). Also translated as make whole, heal, be whole.
- Faith (#4102): pistis. Also translated as assurance, believe, belief, those who believe, fidelity.
- Gift (#1435): doron. Also translated as present, offering.
- Works (#2041): ergon. Also translated as deed, doing, labor.
Ergon is the original Greek for the English word "works." It does not appear to be a very difficult, ambiguous, or confusing term. But what do the many people and churches who claim that works are not required perceive "works" to be?
Opinions vary. One group perceives works to mean the whole law in general. A second group perceives works as specific portions of God's law, which they look upon as being "Jewish" or"Old Covenant," or that they are just not willing to keep and teach. A third group, amazingly enough in their rejection of it, perceives this term as meaning works of charity in general!
Individuals or groups who choose to substitute the word "law" for the word "works" in Ephesians 2:8-9, and who thus say that New Testament Christians do not have to keep God's law, do not appear to mean it totally and literally. Instead, most of them reserve the right to choose which parts of the law they wish to keep ("You shall not kill," "You shall not steal," etc.) and those that they do not wish to keep ("Remember the Sabbath," holy days, tithing, clean and unclean meats, etc.). God has nowhere given authority to His people to be selective in these matters, thus this stance toward the law is inconsistent and even hypocritical.
The church of God has always agreed one hundred percent with those who say that salvation is a gift, and that a Christian cannot earn salvation by charitable works or by obedience to God's law. However, obedience is a condition we must meet before God will give us His free gift of salvation. New Testament evidence is overwhelming on the matter. Here are just a few verses:
» And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit, which God has given to those who obey him. (Acts 5:32)
» He who says, "I know him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (I John 2:4)
» So He said to [the rich young ruler], "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." (Matthew 19:17)
» If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 14:15)
The apostle Paul, in Ephesians 2:8-9, does not say that works are not required at all. The purpose of his statement is to show that works do not save us, but that grace and faith do! In fact, the very next verse, verse 10, shows that God calls members of His church for the very purpose of performing good works: "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).
The apostle's language is very clear. God desires us to walk in good works, and He has prepared our spiritual educational process so that we will learn to do them. Doing good works in the name of Jesus Christ is a major part of the purpose for the life of each true Christian. We cannot truly be Christians without them!
Faith Without Works
Ephesians 5:8 says that converted persons are "light in the Lord" and should "walk as children of light." This light is revealed in all goodness, righteousness, and truth. This is what others should witness in us and be guided by as an example. Each of these three terms covers a different aspect of our witness.
Righteousness conveys legality. Psalm 119:172 defines righteousness as keeping the commandments of God, thus righteousness implies conformity to law. It is a narrower term than either truth or goodness. It indicates uprightness and a manifestation of justice. It can literally mean being right. God uses the illustration of a plumb line in Amos to portray what He means by righteousness. The person who is righteous has been measured against the standard of God's law and found to be in alignment. Therefore, righteousness should be a characteristic of a Christian. He is fair and just in his dealings with others, plays life by the rules and respects others' rights and possessions.
Earlier, in Ephesians 5:6, Paul speaks of deceit, things done in secret, and the hidden things of darkness. "All truth" is their opposite. The character of the life of the Christian is without deceit. Nothing is hidden, underhanded, or dishonest; nothing smacks of hypocrisy or pretense. The life of those walking in the light will be open, aboveboard, and transparent; it has nothing to conceal and never pretends to be something it is not.
New Testament goodness, agathosune, is a versatile and strong word that can be used either of the act or the intention motivating the act. It can be gentle or sharp, but the intention of the good person is always the well-being of the recipients of his goodness. An English word that covers some aspects of the Greek word is "benevolence." This "inclination to do good" seems to be Paul's intent in Ephesians 5:9.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his Darkness and Light, a commentary on Ephesians 4 and 5, writes that this goodness is "indicative of a perfect balance in the various parts of the personality. A good man is a balanced man, a man in whom everything that is noble and excellent works harmoniously together" (p. 402). Thus he can be gentle or sharp, but what he does always has the right balance and is good.
Such a person tries to promote the happiness of all around him. He is not selfish or self-centered, but because he has this balance himself, he desires that others have it too. This is how God is. God looks upon us in our misery, the result of sin, and in His goodness leads us to repentance. Sometimes the path to repentance for us is sharp and painful, but it is always good.
On the more gentle side, God "makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45). Although men are evil, He does this kindness out of His goodness.
In the converted person we see a pale reflection of this goodness. The good man is one who thinks about love, beauty, and truth—not just in the realm of majestic mountains, surging seas, gorgeous flowers, and sunsets, but more specifically in his fellow man. He wants to alleviate suffering and to mitigate wrongs. He consciously looks for ways to benefit others. Because he is not out to gratify himself, His works are the opposite of the self-centered works of darkness. The good person is the benefactor of the weak, helpless, and those in trouble—and sometimes even of the evil.
In the presence of Cornelius and his family, Peter says of Jesus, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him" (Acts 10:38). The Scriptures speak frequently of Jesus' healing all who came to Him without qualification as to who they were. He sharply rebuked those who had the power to do good but did not. Though He at times ate with the "respectable" of the cities and villages, He was known to keep company with publicans and sinners. He flatly states that He did not come for those who were well, but for those who needed a physician (Matthew 9:12-13). As a man Jesus continued to follow the same pattern He established as God above, and in so doing He gave us a perfect example to follow within our contacts and power.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Goodness
"Joy" does not appear in this passage, but Paul's purpose is to instruct us how to produce the sustained sense of well-being that should mark a Christian's life. When a person feels good about life, about who and what he is, what he is doing with his life, and where it is headed, a sense of joy is always present. Paul's instructions are timeless in producing this.
"Walk circumspectly" indicates keeping the commandments. Paul advises us to make the most profitable use of our time, considering the state of this world. He warns us not to be foolish, and always to consider, search for, and focus upon the purpose God is working out. Then in verse 18 he makes an interesting contrast that directly involves producing the joy that should accompany the life of anyone heeding these instructions.
The verse contains a play on words. It is no accident that alcohol is associated with "Spirit." Paul's counsel is not to seek joy in the sensuous, self-centered, worldly ways that produce dissipation or debauchery, but rather to be filled with the Spirit, singing and meditating on God's Word as we give thanks in all circumstances. This formula is guaranteed to produce a sustained sense of well-being because it removes the natural self-seeking from our lives and replaces it with a God-centered way of glorifying Him. This allows joy to be the fruit, the blessing of the Almighty, rather than the direct object of our pursuit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Joy
James highlights the importance of mercy in keeping the spirit of the law. He exhorts us to speak and act as those who are to be judged by "a law of liberty," so that he sets no limit to the range of the law—meaning it covers all aspects of life.
In James 4:11, he warns us against speaking against the law or judging the law, that is, to assume the place of judge instead of "doer of the law." Our efforts should not be in judging someone else and whether or not they are keeping the law. However, we should be looking inwardly to determine whether or not we are doing what is required—not only in the letter of the law but especially in its spirit.
James would not have used such language unless he had a profound conviction of the perfection of the law as a rule of life for the saints redeemed from its condemnation. Thus, we can call it the perfect law of liberty—the royal law. Many Christians do not look at the law of God as being perfect. They pick and choose which parts of the law they will obey, ones they feel most comfortable with, and they ignore the rest. Yet the apostle says in James 2:10 that if we break one, we break them all.
All sin is lawlessness, as I John 3:4 states, and the sum of all lawkeeping is love of God and love of the brethren (Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:8-10), so the summary of the old law is echoed and endorsed. And it is continued—because Christ did not come to destroy the law but to magnify it (Matthew 5:17-18; Isaiah 42:21).
Martin G. Collins
The Law's Purpose and Intent
1 John 3:4
In this seemingly straightforward verse, God defines sin (hamartia) as anomia, rendered "lawlessness" (NKJV, RSV, NIV, REB, NAS) or "the transgression of the law" (KJV). Other translations use the words "evil" (Peshitta), "a breaking of God's law" (Phillips) and "iniquity" (Diaglott). The Greek word anomia literally means "being without law." To get a sense of what John writes, we can express it as, "Whoever does hamartian also does anomian, and hamartia is anomia."
The King James and Phillips versions imply that sin is strictly the breaking of God's law, whereas the other translations consider it more generally. However we may understand it, John certainly implies God's involvement as both Lawgiver and Judge. God will judge each person according to the standards expressed in His law.
In I John 3:4, John argues against the Gnostic idea that the things done in the body are inconsequential because only the spirit counts. Gnostics following this school of thought often fell into licentiousness. Some in John's area of ministry seem to have believed that they could not sin in their flesh. Since their flesh, matter, was ultimately evil anyway, it could not be redeemed and was worthless. Thus, they concluded, anything done in the flesh had no bearing on one's salvation.
They played a semantic game with the words hamartia (sin) and anomia (lawlessness). They considered hamartia to identify the transgressions of moral law, particularly sins of the flesh, such as sexual immorality, gluttony, drunkenness, and stealing. Anomia, however, categorized sins of the spirit, like rebellion, pride, vanity, and greed—the sins that Satan committed. They believed God, the eternal Spirit, would look the other way if one committed hamartia, but committing anomia put one under judgment.
They also made no connection between them; they did not recognize that one could affect the other. Gnostics would not admit that sins of the flesh had their origins in the mind (James 1:14-15) or that such sins could in turn cause their character, their spirit, to degenerate (Jeremiah 7:24). They saw a total and irreconcilable separation between flesh and spirit.
Thus, John tells them hamartia and anomia are the same; they are both sin! It does not matter to God whether the sin is committed in the flesh or in the spirit—to Him it is sin! If God says not to do something, and we do it, it is sin. He has said not to eat pork and shellfish; if we do, it is sin. He has said not to commit sexual immorality; if we do, it is sin. He has said not to hate our brother; if we do, it is sin. He has said to keep the Sabbath; if we do not, it is sin!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Sin Is Spiritual!
1 John 3:4
It is easy for us to think of sin only in terms of I John 3:4. It is, however, a good place to begin. Sin is directly connected to breaking laws. "Law," especially in the Old Testament, frequently means the broader term "instruction." Thus, we have more to consider as sin than just the breaking of a specific law. However, sin is not a complicated concept.
Numerous terms in both Old and New Testaments describe sin, but collectively they all give the same sense: to deviate from a way, path, or law; to fail to live up to a standard. We find two of these words, translated as "trespasses" and "sins," in Ephesians 2:1: "And you He has made alive who were dead in trespasses and sins."
Trespasses, from the Greek paraptoma, means "to go off a path, fall or slip aside." When it is applied to moral and ethical issues it means to deviate from the right way, to wander. Sins, the Greek hamartia, is generally associated with military usage and means to "miss the mark." It indicates failing to make a bull's-eye. In moral and ethical contexts, it means to fail of one's purpose, to go wrong, or to fail to live according to an accepted standard or ideal. Sin is the failure to be what we ought to be and could be.
The Hebrew equivalents of hamartia and paraptoma are chata and asham, respectively. In Hebrew, asham comes closest to meaning the actual breaking of a law; in Greek, it is anomos. Both of these will sometimes be translated "iniquity" or "lawlessness." (See E. W. Bullinger, The Companion Bible, appendices 44 and 128.)
When we understand the terms God inspired to describe sin, we can easily see why sin is so universal. Because the robber, murderer, drunkard, rapist, and child-abuser are so obviously evil, we readily agree that they are sinners. In our hearts we consider ourselves to be respectable citizens since we do none of these things. These terms, though, bring us face to face with the reality of sin—that it is not always obvious. Sin is not confined to external conduct. Sometimes it is buried within one's heart and very cleverly concealed from all but the most discerning.
The ministry has not invented sin; it is part of the territory Christianity covers. Christianity is a way of life from God that reaches into every facet of life. The central idea of sin is failure. We sin when we fail to live up to the standards of this way of life that God established and revealed through His prophets, apostles and Jesus Christ, the Chief Revelator.
As such, sin reaches into marital relationships, childrearing, cleanliness, clothing, hospitality, health, employment—even how we drive our automobiles. It involves itself in the entire gamut of human attitudes such as pride, envy, anger, hatred, greed, jealousy, resentment, depression, and bitterness. In the New Testament, the biblical writers always use hamartia in a moral and ethical sense, whether describing commission, omission, thought, feeling, word, or deed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Sin Is & What Sin Does
1 John 5:3
Romans 3 teaches us that law tells us our duty, that is, what we are obliged to do. It defines right and wrong. Combined with this is the wonderful Personality behind it: We find that the keeping these commands—His law—teaches us God's greatest attribute. The law does two things: It shows negative things and positive things. The negative is what sin—wrongdoing—is. The positive is love—the love of God.
His law is a reflection of His character in words. It points the way toward what we are to become. Answer this simple question: Does God call people to salvation and then throw away the road map? It is ridiculous to think such a thing.
The law has a Personality behind it—in terms of love. The law provides the basic outline, and then, when combined with the examples of God's living and acting in both Testaments, it presents a full picture of love. God's actions and Christ's example amplify and make practical what the law says in words.
One has to begin somewhere, and this the law does in providing us with its letter. Then there is its spirit, which is the magnification of the letter, but it does not do away with the law. The law, then, is not only the guideline to what is right and wrong, but the law is also the guideline—in words—to what love is.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 17)
The structure of this paragraph ties together the doctrine of Balaam, the sins of eating things sacrificed to idols and committing sexual immorality, and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. Christ implies that all three are the same basic heresy under different guises. This antinomian teaching affected the church in Thyatira as well (Revelation 2:20-21).
Moses records Balaam's story in Numbers 22-25, 31. Balak, king of Moab, hires Balaam to curse the Israelites, but every time he tries, Balaam instead blesses them. He then counsels Balak to send Moabite and Midianite women into the camp of Israel to seduce the men and invite them to the sacrifices of their god (Numbers 25:1-2; 31:16). Clearly, Balaam's instruction included getting the Israelites to commit idolatry and sexual immorality.
Interestingly, these two practices arise in the Jerusalem Council in AD 49. Paul and Barnabas, with Peter's help, convince the assembled elders that Gentile converts to Christianity should not be required to be circumcised and keep the law of Moses, Judaism's rigorous "yoke" of picayune laws (Acts 15:10). However, the Council enjoins the Gentiles on four points of typical Gentile religious practice:
For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell. (Acts 15:28-29)
Obviously, the Council's decree does not exempt Gentiles from keeping the Ten Commandments, for it is clear from many New Testament passages that Jesus and the apostles taught them to both Jews and Gentiles (e.g., Matthew 19:17-19; Romans 13:9; etc.). These two issues—idolatry and sexual immorality—became a flashpoint in the conflict between true Christianity and Hellenistic Gnosticism, and a person's stance on them exposed which side he favored. Thus, Nicolaitanism and Balaamism are biblical symbols or representatives of the larger Gnostic, antinomian influence on Christianity.
Is Nicolaitanism passé? Evidently not, for Jesus' admonitions in Revelation 2 indicate that this antinomian influence will remain until His return. Notice His warnings to Pergamos and Thyatira:
Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. . . . But to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, and who have not known the depths of Satan [another allusion to antinomianism], as they call them, I will put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have till I come. (Revelation 2:16, 24-25)
This does not mean that the particular sins of eating meat sacrificed to idols and sexual license will pervade the church until the end, although idolatry and sexual sins will certainly exist in it. He is more concerned about the antinomian spirit, the attitude of lawlessness, that allows these sins to infest the church. When members of the church teach and practice that they are not obliged to keep the laws of God, sin will inevitably break out vigorously. When this occurs, Christians are no longer under grace but under the penalty of the law and the wrath of the Judge (Romans 6:11-23; Hebrews 10:26-31; 12:25).
Jesus, Paul, Peter, Jude, and John warn against the encroachment of antinomianism or lawlessness. In His Olivet Prophecy, Jesus says: "Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold" (Matthew 24:11-12). What will happen to such lawless people? Jesus Himself answers:
Many will say to Me in that day, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?" And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" (Matthew 7:22-23)
Among Paul's end-time prophecies is his prediction of a great apostasy that results from the unrestrained assault of "the mystery of lawlessness" (II Thessalonians 2:1-7). This comes
with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 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. . . . Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught. . . . (II Thessalonians 2:10-12, 15)
Peter and Jude use similar language in their books to counter the antinomian teaching extant in their congregations (II Peter 2:9-10, 12-13, 15, 18-19; 3:17-18; Jude 3-4). John's epistles are likewise full of warnings against antinomian heresies. For instance, notice these passages:
» Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (I John 2:3-4)
» Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. (I John 3:4)
» In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. (I John 3:10)
» By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. (I John 5:2-3)
» This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. . . . Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. . . . If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds. (II John 6, 9-11)
» Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God. (III John 11)
In addition, the gospel of John uses Jesus' own words during His ministry to attack antinomian heresies in the church. This much scriptural attention along with its prophetic implications warrants our taking careful notice.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The mark of the Beast identifies those who are devoted to the Beast. They have given their lives in worship and obedience to him, and have received his mark. The Beast will be the leader of the new world order now forming. And ironically—tragically—members of God's church are now being led back to that world and away from keeping His commandments.
Our responsibility remains clear, however. God's Word identifies the distinctive difference between those who worship Him and those who worship the Beast. Those who worship God keep His commandments. We must do everything in our power to keep from sinking into the same spiritual vortex that has already swallowed so many. Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good! Keep God's Ten Commandments—all of them!
John W. Ritenbaugh
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