What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
When Abraham was called, he was literally living in Babylon on the plain of Shinar in the city of Ur. He did not come from a God-fearing family, and there is no evidence that he was converted at the time of Genesis 12:1. Every indication is that he, too, was a heathen. As we shall see, every called person begins in idolatry.
God had in all likelihood begun to work with him, preparing him for his calling by guiding his thinking to begin to question areas of life he had previously accepted without question. Historical traditions indicate that his family was of a priestly caste, and perhaps he was already questioning the validity of the false gods he served.
Acts 7:2-4 clarifies a few things relating to the early period of his calling:
And [Stephen] said, "Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran, and said to him, 'Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you.' Then he came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran. And from there, when his father was dead, He moved him to this land in which you now dwell."
What is included in God's appearance is not known. Whether it was literal, in a vision, or by dream is not explained anywhere else. The element we need to understand is that, as with us, Abraham did not earn his calling. He had done nothing to earn or deserve God's notice.
Isaiah 51:2 adds a further piece of information worth considering: "Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you; for I called him alone, and blessed him and increased him." While Sarah is at least mentioned, no other family members are included within the scope of this statement. It appears that several members of Abraham's family depended on him, since much of his family left with him, yet God makes clear that Abraham was the only one spiritually called.
To how many of us has a similar thing happened? Why does this happen? Nobody knows! It is unanswerable. God shows mercy to whom He shows mercy. He loves Jacob but loves Esau less by comparison, despite their being twins. He accepts Abel and rejects Cain. He chooses only Noah among millions of others to whom He could have given grace.
This we know: At some time before leaving Babylon, God became a living reality to Abraham to a degree no one else near and dear to him experienced. Even amidst his personal self-seeking and self-pleasing, he was motivated to leave his set routines of life. It must have been similar to what Job experienced when he said, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You" (Job 42:5).
Whether the opening of Abraham's mind was gradual or sudden, God had graciously revealed Himself enough to make him move, and he did so to the extent of leaving his homeland and journeying over 1,200 miles, probably on foot or at best by donkey or cart, to a land known for violent weather, especially for its high temperatures.
Abraham was already 70 years old, yet he severed virtually every relationship that matters to normal human concepts of life and well-being. For a long time, stability became a thing of the past, considering that he never again dwelt in a home with foundations. This may seem an unusually hard and harsh requirement. Nevertheless, he embarked on a journey into an utterly unknown future.
What can we learn from this God-engineered example? Undoubtedly, He was testing Abraham, a process we should expect a measure of in our calling as well. We may never have to leave our homeland and set out on a long journey without knowing where we are headed, but it is highly likely that disruptions will accompany our calling.
A primary instruction God wants us to understand from Abraham's calling is that we must make a complete break from our old lives. We must clearly begin to sever ourselves from the old, "inner" life that was implanted in our character by our living according to the course of this world (Ephesians 2:2).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Six)
Matthew 19:21-24 adds an important truth to help us understand these verses:
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
First, the rich young man was so preoccupied by his material wealth that he really did not hear that Christ was offering him eternal life. Second, anything of this earth that we truly treasure can potentially influence us to so increase our fear of losing it as to cause us to choose not to hear Christ. The treasure does not have to be money. Third, no matter how great the distractive power of what we consider valuable, God stands ready to save us from it. Jesus did not say it was impossible.
No doubt, Solomon wants to help us with this spiritual struggle. He uses money as his main illustration because everybody easily relates to it. However, he does not introduce the subject of money until Ecclesiastes 5:10. Instead, he writes of social injustice within the worldly system we live and function in. Why? Because the system itself is a constant source of distraction through its constant barrage of news reports in which we hear of social injustice. Most often, the poor are its targets.
He cautions us not to be astonished by the vanity of all this injustice, but at the same time, he wants us to be aware of it. He does this in verse 8 by mentioning “a high official watches over a high official, and higher officials are over them.” He seems to be saying that from bottom to top, the entire system is corrupt; every stratum of the culture struggles to make its way by taking advantage of others. Nevertheless, none of this injustice is an excuse for us to involve ourselves in the “everybody's doing it” routine and sin too.
A key to understanding what Solomon is driving at is the word translated “watches.” In Hebrew, the term can be used either positively or negatively. Positively, a person watches to protect or help, and negatively, he may have circumstances under surveillance to gain personal advantage from them. The present context is definitely negative. Solomon is still describing the self-centered attitudes of those “working” the system. Like their political leaders, ordinary citizens also greedily watch to gain the best and most for themselves. Their approach is not to serve and share. Verse 9 confirms that this self-centered attitude goes all the way to the top—to the king. He, too, is served by the corrupt system.
God has deemed it our responsibility to prepare for His Kingdom by overcoming, growing, and being loyal to Him and His way within such a circumstance as Solomon describes in these last few verses. Our hope is promised in Isaiah 9:6-7:
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
The solution to this present evil world is on the horizon, but it will not come until Jesus Christ is here with us on earth. Thus, God has willed that we must deal with the corrupt and unjust system that now is, looking forward in hope to the relief of Christ's return.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Six): Listening
2 Corinthians 5:14-17
Paul describes what happened to Abraham at his calling and must happen to us. Abraham's mind—and therefore his life—was so arrested and redirected by God's revelation of Himself that he responded dramatically, despite the realization that he could no longer live as he had for 70 years. He had to make changes, and some of them would be considerable and costly.
He could no longer live completely for himself. He no longer perceived people as he had all his life. He especially could no longer perceive his new God and Savior as He formerly had. A new man was being created from within, so he had to make a clean and permanent break from his old life. His life now had a new Object toward which he must walk. His life had a new direction, a new relationship, new desires, and new requirements to fulfill.
We must never forget that Abraham was a special case; he is the prototype who set a vivid, overall example for all his spiritual children to follow to some degree. There were bumps along the way; at times, he fell short of the ideal. Yet, on the whole, he did nothing less than set a superb example for all of us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Six)
Hebrews 10:19 begins the verbal bridge that transitions from the doctrinal material to its practical application. This latter section contains arguably the most powerful exhortations in the entire Bible for us to get up and get going. If these Hebrews were not Laodicean as a whole, they were very close to it.
Overall, God is saying through the apostle, "Don't you realize your danger? Being justified and sanctified, you absolutely cannot allow yourselves to continue in your neglectful ways. You have powerful help available through Christ, yet you are drifting away! Don't you realize what you are giving up by your slow but steady drift into apostasy?" He had already warned them as chapter 2 opened that their neglect of their privileges and responsibilities was allowing this great salvation to slip away.
In Hebrews 10:19, He reminds them that they already have access to God, so they should come before Him with eager boldness. This is one of our great privileges. Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden and God's presence, but through Christ, God's regenerated children are now invited into His presence in spirit. Because the way has been prepared for us to do this, we are able to come to know God up close and personal. This is among the greatest of all blessings afforded to everyone who makes the New Covenant.
In other words, He meets with us, not outside the back or front door, but inside the house! And not merely inside the house but inside the second room beyond the veil—the Holy of Holies—where formerly only the High Priest was welcome once a year! The veil separating the rooms in the Temple was torn asunder at Christ's death (Matthew 27:51). Nothing hinders our liberty to go boldly into God's very throne room.
Jesus Christ Himself is "the Way" to the Father (John 14:6). As High Priest, Jesus has dedicated Himself to intercede on behalf of us sinners in our relations with God. In John 17:19, in His prayer the night before His crucifixion, He says, ". . . for their [His disciples'] sakes, I sanctify Myself." He set Himself apart to the shedding of His blood for us and to His position as our High Priest.
The phrase in Hebrews 10:20, "through the veil, that is, His flesh," refers to what He did as a human to make this access to God possible. When He was flesh and blood, He died for us so that we, like Him, could go directly into the Holy of Holies. Spiritually, His death pierced the veil.
John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Power: Our Shield Against Apostasy
Our Creator promises us wisdom—but only under the condition that we do not waver or be double-minded. I have sweat plenty over these verses through the years, having had to battle indecision. Likewise, when I pray, I have problems concentrating. I have battled doubts and fears when I have asked to be anointed.
But is simple mind-wandering or normal doubts the subject of James' reprimand? Or is it something else? Perhaps mind-wandering, indecisiveness, and doubting are more symptomatic than the actual causes of double-mindedness.
The apostle Paul writes that anyone who comes to God must believe that He is and diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). If we are in a conference with a human being, it is rude to tune him out, fall asleep on him, or become distracted. Some of my students have done that to me—giving me an insight on how God must feel when our minds wander when we pray, study, or meditate. Inattention and mind-wandering, although they are related to double-mindedness, do not seem to be what James had in mind.
The anguished father in Mark 9:24, who says, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!" might be accused of being double-minded, but he is not. He desperately wants to believe, and he asks for help. He is not of two opinions.
The Greek word translated "double-minded" in James 1:8, dipsuchos, in its literal sense means "double-souled," like having two independent wills. The words "with no doubting" in verse 6 are translated from the Greek words meedén diakrinómenos, which describes one divided in mind, who wavers between two opinions.
Some may wonder whether the apostle Paul, when he complains, "For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice" (Romans 7:19), was exercising double-mindedness. This state of struggle that goes on in all of us is not the same as double-mindedness. Paul's mind, he goes on to explain, is focused one way, in one direction (verse 22), but inherent in the flesh of every human being is an innate enmity toward God and His law (Romans 7:23; 8:7). Just like Paul, we also fail to keep God's law perfectly because we have human nature in us that is perpetually at war with God's Holy Spirit in us.
All of us have a deep-seated desire to be at one with ourselves. We will not realize this desire until we are totally composed of spirit. Until then, we can expect a spiritual tug of war to go on perpetually. As more of God's Spirit flows through us, renewing our minds and displacing our carnality, we will find it easier to keep our carnal nature in check. All of us, I trust, can point to certain areas in our lives that are now under control—but which at one time were not under control. The spiritual struggle occurring in all of us between our spiritual and carnal natures is not double-mindedness.
Double-mindedness is literally having two separate minds holding contradictory thoughts. Double-mindedness occurs in a church member when he has an implicit or explicit knowledge of God's law, yet deliberately harbors a sin, choosing to conceal it, repress it, or ignore it.
James supports this explanation of double-mindedness in James 4:8: "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts you double-minded." Anything one willingly does or does not do that is contrary to God's law (verse 17) makes one guilty of double-mindedness. Double-mindedness depends on a knowledge of and a willful intent to reject God's law, as the psalmist writes in Psalm 119:113: "I hate the double-minded, but I love your law." On the other side, being synchronized with God's law is equated with singleness of purpose and leads to peace of mind and a feeling of wholeness. The same psalmist writes, "Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble" (Psalm 119:165).
God's law itself is the vehicle of wisdom that the petitioner requests in James 1:5. It would be absurd for someone to ask to be filled with the spirit of the law and simultaneously be determined not to keep it. Sometimes we inadvertently do this when we ask a minister or counselor for advice on a problem—but have already purposed in our minds to do it our own way. Then when the minister tells us something that goes against what we have purposed to do in our inner being, a highly uncomfortable state of dissonance emerges.
Harboring any secret sin puts a tremendous strain on the nervous system. Psychologists have a name for this emotional/psychological turmoil: cognitive dissonance, literally "inharmonious thought."
People who have left the truth often report that they feel more at peace with themselves now than at any time they were in the church. This should not surprise us. When they—anyone, for that matter—tries to submit to God's law with a carnal mind, unbearable cognitive dissonance occurs. The nervous system plunges into a tailspin until it achieves a sense of equilibrium or wholeness. Carnal nature does not feel comfortable in the light of God's law: "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Romans 8:7). The easiest way to find equilibrium is to reject the beliefs that send them into a spiritual dither.
David F. Maas
Spiritual Double Agents
"Proved" ("approved," NKJV) comes from the Greek word dokimos, meaning "stood the test; tested to be trustworthy; of sterling worth, like metal which is cleansed of all alloy." Dokimos or one of its forms describes the successful testing of precious metals and coins, as well as the approval of the tested objects as genuine.
"Crown" is translated from stephanos, which in turn derives from stepho, meaning "to encircle, to twine or wreathe." Stephanos describes the victor's crown, the symbol of triumph in the public games or a contest. It can also be the reward or prize given to honor a person. Though the word can denote a crown of royalty, its more usual sense is the laurel wreath awarded to a victor or a festive garland worn when rejoicing.
In early times, it was a token of public honor for distinguished service. At other times, it symbolized the joy of a wedding or the gladness of a festival, especially at a king's coronation. These early crowns were woven as a garland of oak, ivy, parsley, myrtle, or olive branches. Later, these natural wreaths were imitated in gold.
In James 1:12, the apostle is saying that the man who overcomes trials becomes a man of sterling worth and emerges strong and pure spiritually. But what must we overcome? In Revelation, each of the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor contains the phrase "to him who overcomes." Later, in a summary statement near the end of the book, Christ says, "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son" (Revelation 21:7). It is obvious that overcoming is a prime activity in a Christian's life.
Paul says we are in a warfare against "spiritual wickedness" (Ephesians 6:12, KJV). He also writes that "the carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7) and that "those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (verse 8). John says those who "overcome the wicked one" are strong (I John 2:14), and then he says we are not to love the world or its lusts and pride (verses 15-16).
We have, therefore, three general areas in which to overcome:
1. We must overcome Satan, his demons, and their evil influence.
2. We must overcome this world and its ways.
3. We must overcome our fleshly, carnal, human nature.
The way that Christ taught to overcome is not only to avoid sin, but to do what is good and right. Paul explains this succinctly to the Christians in Rome, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). So we see that the crown of life is a crown of righteousness, and righteousness can be defined simply as "right doing." An overcomer is victorious over sin!
Martin G. Collins
The Crown of Life
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