What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Christ's death on the stake thus becomes the instrument which enables God to give us grace. But do not be misled into thinking that grace is without cost. Nothing could be further from the truth! It could easily be the most expensive gift you will ever receive. Not only did grace cost the life of Jesus of Nazareth, but it also costs us our lives if we are to receive it!
Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? . . . Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. . . . And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:3, 11, 18)
Recall again Peter's words in I Peter 2:24: "Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed." Upon giving us grace, God expects us to give the rest of our lives in obedience to Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
God guides and empowers us in this great pilgrimage by the Holy Spirit, but obedience, following God's commands, is the way we begin to experience and grow in God-life, called "eternal life" in the Scriptures. By obedience we come to know God. It is like walking in His shoes, as it were.
In its biblical usage, the word "know" implies intimacy. From biblical examples, this implication can even mean sexual intimacy. That is really knowing someone closely, especially considering how long a relationship with God exists. When we apply this to our relationship with God, the sexual dimension disappears, and the intimacy becomes a deep and abiding reverence, devotion, and loyalty.
People may think of God as nothing more than an intellectual exercise. They might say "I know God," or believe in a "first cause" or Creator without having any moral compunction. They go to church on Sunday and live the rest of the week just like all their neighbors and coworkers.
People may be emotional, saying God is in them and that they are filled with the "spirit," yet fail to see God in terms of commandments. They see God as something warm and snugly, a grandfatherly figure who rushes to their aid to blow away their problems, but they do not see Him as still purposefully creating.
Unmistakably and without compromise, Jesus, Paul, and John show that the only way that we can show we know God—that He is in us and we love Him—is if we have been regenerated by His Spirit and are obeying Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Love
Sometimes it is difficult to perceive the difference between submission and obedience. There is a difference, and it lies in subtleties that are very apparent to the one who is either obeying or submitting.
Obey simply means "to follow a command"; "to conform"; or "to comply with an order."
Submit, though, means "to yield, or defer out of respect, superior authority, affection, persuasion, or compulsion."
Now we can see that "submit" has a much broader application, and its uses are more definite, specific, and focused than "obedience." Obedience can take place anywhere under any kind of circumstance, but in submission, a person's will is involved, which is very important in regard to the development of character.
Does God want unthinking obedience from us simply because we are complying or conforming to something, or does He want us to think things through and submit because we know fully that it is the right thing to do? Which is better? What if we had a choice between obedience or disobedience to a command, but our disobedience would actually be obedience to God? Would we obey the one who is pressuring us to do something that God says not to do, or would we submit to God in disobedience of the other?
This begins to set up interesting circumstances in a person's life. It is a major reason that the word hupotasso is used rather than the Greek word for obedience, hupakoe—"attentive hearkening." God wants us to know that we are to think matters through and not merely to comply. We are to use our minds and decide to go in a chosen direction because we realize, know, understand, and set our will to submit to the right and good and true.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Submitting (Part 1)
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 Two)
Her sin appears to some to be trifling: She "looked back." What she did may seem to be of little consequence, but it reveals a great deal about her character. She directly disobeyed the clear command of God's messenger given just a few verses before. I Samuel 15:22-23 says that "to obey is better than sacrifice, and . . . rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft." She rebelled.
It is a solemn and a fearful thing for one to die quietly in his bed. But to die suddenly in a moment, in the very act of a sin, by God's direct imposition is dreadful indeed. Jesus warns, "Remember Lot's wife" (Luke 17:32). He did not say, "Remember Korah, Dathan, and Abiram." They also died suddenly. He did not say, "Remember Nadab and Abihu," who were burned by the fire of God. He did not say, "Remember Uzzah," whom God struck dead in a moment. He said, "Remember Lot's wife," for it has particular application to those who are living at the time of the end, who are facing the destruction of the very society, the very nation, in which they live. They will be living amidst the greatest contagion of worldliness that has ever existed on the earth since the time of Noah. Remember Lot's wife.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Four)
Ephesians 6:2 states that the fifth commandment is the first commandment with promise. The second commandment contains a very general promise loosely tied to keeping all the commandments. The promise in the fifth commandment is not general but specifically tied to meeting a specific responsibility—honoring parents.
Notice that the commandment does not say, "Obey your father and your mother." This is because honoring not only includes obedience but also goes beyond it. Honoring suggests adding to, glorifying, embellishing, and decorating its object. Obedience can be given in a resentful manner, but honoring requires admiration, respect, even reverence. This quality must be within one's heart, and it is acquired and built upon through thoughtful consideration, even meditation, on the sacrifices and gifts that the parents give to the child.
Honoring is something that usually does not happen in the child until adulthood, when the child has his own experiences as a parent to draw upon to appreciate his parent's loving labors. This fact shows us that it is not too late to grow in honoring our parents, and that God is aware, noticing and rewarding with the blessing of long life. Obedience to parents as a child gets one started in the right direction and produces its own rewards.
Yet, the honoring of parents greatly increases the appreciation for them. The real rewards lie in the practice of honoring itself, rewards that affect our place in the Kingdom of God because we have transferred giving honor to our physical parents to giving spiritual and moral honor to God, our spiritual Parent.
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 declares this commandment's seriousness to us:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on doorposts of your house and on your gates.
Notice that child-training is directly linked with the first and great commandment. The fifth commandment is aimed directly at parental responsibility. If children grow up not honoring God, the blame largely falls on the parents' shoulders. God intends this vital child-training responsibility to lead children to honoring Him.
That is its goal. It requires consistent and devoted attention. It cannot be accomplished by absent parents. If the parents do not know God, or if their knowledge of Him is shallow, and they are not practicing what they do know, what will they pass on to their children? Worldliness. Both parents must be dedicated and deeply involved in honoring God in their own lives, if their children are going to be prepared to perform the much more rewarding practice of honoring God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment
After reading this, some carelessly assume that, if Israel had just obeyed God, they would have taken over the Promised Land without having to confront the people already there. This is most assuredly untrue. The blessings and cursings establish a biblical principle for God's people:
If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them, then I will give you rain in its season, the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. . . . But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, I will also do this to you. . . . (Leviticus 26:3-4, 14-16)
In a similar way, the promises of Exodus 23 are conditional. The bestowal of blessings depends upon obedience to the covenant. In covenantal matters like this with God, a Christian must expect reciprocity.
Notice this principle spoken by the prophet Azariah in II Chronicles 15:2: "The LORD is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you." Will God bless rebellion by His people? Absolutely not! He answers rebellion by removing His protection.
Consider: Does God make growth and overcoming easy for us, even though He promises salvation? Are there no battles to fight while overcoming? If God completely smoothed the way for us, what would we have to overcome? If He smoothed our way, how would He test our loyalty? Would we be prepared for His Kingdom? Of course, He does not make it easy for us. Each of our paths is designed and tempered to test us on the level of our natural abilities and gifts (I Corinthians 10:13). Therefore, each Christian's way will be difficult; each will have to fight many battles at his or her level.
If God completely smoothed the way, it would create a walk-in-the-park scenario, eliminating the possibility of God's law being written in our hearts. When other biblical information is added to God's promise in Exodus 23, we see that what He guarantees is that He will drive out the people of the land, making it far easier for the Israelites than if He were not involved at all. God is comparing situations with and without His intervention.
In the analogy, the people of the land are symbolic of human nature, which cannot be made subject to God and His law, according to Romans 8:7. Like human nature, the people of the land could not be driven out without God's help. We can conclude that Israel would have been totally unable to accomplish even what they did had not God been with them.
How can we know that Exodus 23 is not an outright promise that Israel would not have go to war at some point in the conquest of the land? Seeing several scriptures together will make this clear. First, notice Deuteronomy 8:1-3. Clearly, God tests us to see where we stand, revealing to us at the same time where our weaknesses lie. Our standing must be revealed to both God and us because His work in us is a cooperative effort with us. Tests are not normally easy; tests are often clarifying experiences, exposing our strengths and weaknesses. They are designed to reveal spiritual and moral progress or lack thereof, and in so doing should motivate growth in areas of weakness and produce confidence in areas of strength.
We can now add I Corinthians 10:11-13 to our understanding:
Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
An admonition is an instructive warning. It is not a "chewing-out" but a sobering, thought-provoking prod. Overall, Paul is encouraging us that God is carefully monitoring the tests we experience so that we do not get in over our heads. The sanctification process requires our cooperation with God, and He does not want to lose us through extreme discouragement.
Though He manages the operations of His creative process, His work definitely does not eliminate our involvement. Knowing that God carefully monitors each of us helps us to understand why the Bible cautions us to be careful in how we evaluate each other. God knows, but we certainly do not know all the factors working in other Christians' tests.
In Exodus 23:22-31, God makes six promises and gives one command to the Israelites regarding their conquest of the Promised Land:
1. I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.
2. I will cut them off.
3. I will send My fear before you, I will cause confusion among all the people to whom you come, and will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.
4. I will send hornets before you.
5. Little by little I will drive them out from before you.
6. I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand.
His one command, in verse 31, is, "You shall drive them out before you."
Consider what these seven statements reveal. The entire context suggests confrontation between God and the people of the land. However, the command, "You shall drive them out before you," should give us pause. There is more to this than a first glance might indicate. The easy assumption that God would remove every impediment upon Israel's entrance into the Promised Land proves false; that is not how it worked out in history. In addition, the Israelites knew for a certainty that they would have to face the people of the land in multiple confrontations.
In addition, they had already experienced a strong indicator of God's will for them regarding warfare when He permitted the Amalekites to attack the rear of Israel's column (see Exodus 17:8-13). That clash was only the first of an intense spate of battles in which the outcome hung in the balance on occasion. They knew that further warfare was a strong possibility.
Exodus 23:32 adds another factor that strongly hints that God would not simply drive the inhabitants from Canaan: "You shall make no covenant with them, nor with their gods." If He were going to drive the Canaanites completely out of the land before the Israelites, why would He need to make this warning? There would have been no people to make a covenant with!
Exodus 34:11-12, 15 repeats this command even more forcefully. If we take Exodus 23 and 34 at face value, the Israelites would have no opportunity to make a covenant with the people of the land because they would never encounter them to be tempted to make a covenant with them.
If the Israelites came into the land and began tearing down altars, would the people of the land have just stood around and let their revered high places be destroyed without resistance? No way! We can compare this to the confrontations many of us faced when we came to believe God, causing us to stop observing Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and Sunday worship and to begin keeping the Sabbath and God's holy days instead. Did our families, friends, and employers give us no resistance to these changes, which severely disturbed these relationships? Did they not defend their lifelong practices?
Because they would have close contact with the land's inhabitants, the Israelites had a choice to make: They could either compromise with the inhabitants regarding their cultures or follow God's commands. The latter choice entailed doing things like destroying altars, which would produce intense confrontations—warfare. The evidence indicates that the Israelites expected that they would have to go to war.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part One)
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)
God Almighty has given man the power to make choices regarding his ultimate destiny. As a free moral agent, man has the awesome responsibility to choose between a hapless, physio-chemical existence with a dead end or a rich and rewarding eternity as a member of God's Family. Though the choice appears easy, the challenging road to the Kingdom of God dismays many because they are unwilling to undergo the rigors of the journey.
God has set before us the choice to obey or disobey, hoping we will choose obedience and giving us reasons and promises that persuade us to that end, but He wants us to make sure that it is our intention, without coercion or brainwashing on His part. It takes a free moral agent, making the right choices, to create the mind of Christ in us. Though He has a good idea how we will choose, God ultimately does not know what we will decide when given the choice. He will do all He can—short of rescinding our freedom to choose—to convince us to choose Him.
David F. Maas
Fasting: Building Spiritual Muscle
1 Samuel 13:6-14
I Samuel 13:1-15 recounts the story of an act of presumption by another well-known figure, containing another valuable lesson for us. Saul arranged with the prophet Samuel to perform sacrifices in an appeal to God to intervene before Israel went into battle with the invading Philistines. Saul's sin was in presumptuously stepping in to perform Samuel's responsibilities when the prophet arrived later than the appointed time. Saul gave Samuel three justifications for his presumption: 1) The people were growing distressed and deserting him; 2) Samuel's late arrival; and 3) the growing threat of the Philistine army (verse 11).
On the surface, it appeared Saul and the Israelites were indeed in a difficult situation, yet Saul's reasons did not justify presuming to disobey what was commanded. He should have waited for Samuel to arrive and perform his responsibility. Saul, a Benjamite, could request a sacrifice be made and provide the animal for it, but he was not authorized by God to perform the sacrificial ceremony. Samuel was merely later than both he and Saul thought he would be.
Saul excused himself further by saying he "felt compelled." The King James Version records that Saul said, "I forced myself." This suggests that he was not ignorant of what he was doing but convinced himself it was more important to make the sacrifice than to obey God's instruction. He was immediately stripped of the opportunity of having his dynasty continue forever (verses 12-13), as God later promised David.
Many circumstances arise in a Christian's life when following God's commands runs counter to prevailing opinion and to our own fears about the threatening conditions we imagine are building around us if we obey God. Strong thoughts are then likely to mount, urging us to turn aside from what He says - "just this once" - to relieve the swelling pressures.
As our own children do not always understand what we tell them to do, we cannot always see why God tells us to do this or that. But can we trust God that His reasons are good? For instance, He tells us to set aside three tithes and to travel to far places to keep His feasts. He commands us to love our enemies and do good to them. He asks us to become like little children and to sacrifice ourselves in service when we would rather give orders. He tells us to submit ourselves to one another in love and to be subject to corrupt and unjust governments. Keeping these instructions is sometimes far easier said than done. Can we see God in the picture even in difficult circumstances and trust Him? In this case, Saul did not.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Presumption and Divine Justice (Part Two)
1 Kings 12:26-27
The man possessed a real fear, but his behavior was motivated by a selfish regard for his life and his position as king and a disregard of the promise that God had made to him. God had already told him, "Obey Me, and I will establish you as king."
Obviously, Jeroboam was not walking by faith because he was more concerned about the people leaving him. Down in Jerusalem was the Temple and the brazen altar where the sacrifices were made—Jerusalem was the central location of the worship of God.
What could he do to keep the people from returning to Jerusalem and shifting their loyalty back to King Rehoboam through religion? Jeroboam was no dummy when it came to political things; he was politically astute, a real man of the world. He was as pragmatic as one can get, a practitioner of situation ethics.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Deception, Idolatry and the Feast of Tabernacles
Theologians have long discussed a general or public revelation that anyone with eyes and a brain could figure out for himself. Zophar, one of Job's counselors, alludes to this empirical revelation.
The American pamphleteer and propagandist, Thomas Paine, wrote a book entitled The Age of Reason, in which for his thesis he attempted to answer Zophar's double-pronged question. To the first part, he answered unequivocally in the affirmative, citing the order and design of the cosmos. Paine, a practicing Deist, points to Psalm 19:1, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork" as affirmation of the general or public revelation.
Romans 1:20 more definitively substantiates the idea of a public or general revelation: "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and [divine nature], so that they are without excuse." Even with such an overwhelming testimony, some hapless fools, having immersed themselves in evil behavior, have deluded themselves into rejecting this general revelation, refusing to see God (Psalm 14:1). Even the public or general revelation cannot penetrate the darkened minds of those whom, because of their addiction to sin, God has given over to a reprobate mind (Romans 1:21).
Thomas Paine responded to Zophar's second question, "Can you find out the limits of the Almighty?" with a resounding, "No." Largely, Paine is right on target. The carnal mind, because of its propensity to sin and lawlessness, is enmity against God (Romans 8:7). Knowledge of God's intent or purpose has always been conditional, linked to obedience to His holy law. He promises to those He has scattered for disobedience:
But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the LORD your God and obey His voice. . . . (Deuteronomy 4:29-30)
Consequently, the answer to Zophar's second question has strings attached. We may see God's intent and purpose for our lives more clearly if 1) we yield to His will, and 2) we actively and tirelessly seek for Him as we would for buried precious minerals.
David F. Maas
Why Does God Keep Secrets?
God's Word is like His other creations. Like air, it too has multi-faceted uses. In fact, it seems as though its uses are inexhaustible. It does not matter whether one lives in the time of Abraham, Moses, David, Ezra, Christ, or now. Its directly stated words or their spirit will apply. God's Word is so infinite and pure that it is always valid, always true, always applicable, and always an inexhaustible source of guidance. Jesus says that God's "word is truth" (John 17:17). Solomon adds, "Every word of God is pure" (Proverbs 30:5), and David writes, "The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times" (Psalm 12:6).
Psalm 119:17-18 states, "Deal bountifully with Your servant, that I may live and keep your word. Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law." The author of this psalm has the right idea. Asking God for guidance into His Word should be our request each day. Understand, however, that it is one thing to deem the Bible a great book because of its reputation—it is another to study the Bible soberly, seeking for instruction in righteousness. This we must do.
Solomon instructs us in Proverbs 2:1 on the necessary attitude toward it: "My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you. . . ." We should treat God's Word like treasure, as something precious. We should not treat it merely as something expensive but personally desired and used as our guide to life. Possessing it in this manner is within reach if we stretch ourselves or make sacrificial effort to have it. It is such a powerful tool that we should approach it as if it is the pearl of great price. Yet, this treasure is not something put in a safe-deposit vault and taken out only to look at on rare occasions. We are to seek it so that it can produce success and beneficial results in us. It is the most useful tool readily available to man to guide him in the most important area of life—his relationships with God and fellow man.
Verses 2-6 add a great deal of understanding about how vigorous and persistent our efforts should be toward possessing the treasure of God's Word. The phrase "incline your ear" (verse 2) pictures a person cocking his head and cupping his ear with his hand while straining to hear—understand—more distinctly. It depicts exerting physical effort, and the word "heart" shows we must apply strenuous mental effort as well. Admittedly, God's Word is not always easy to understand. It is a tool that requires varying levels of skill to use. At times, we must research patiently and diligently in many areas of Scripture to get as comprehensive a picture of its teaching on a given subject as possible.
In verse 3, "cry out" more literally means "invite to come." It is admonishing us to be open-minded as we research its pages. Our heart easily deceives us through lifelong prejudices and biases because we have passively accepted them as true. When God's Word challenges them, we are often moved to defend them. "Lift up your voice" adds greater intensity to "cry out," showing that we should not be passive regarding these biases. We need to search into them sincerely, and if we find them to be wrong, reject them.
By reminding us that the things we consider to be valuable usually have to be laboriously dug for and brought up from the depths, verse 4 urges us to pursue the riches of God's Word seriously.
Verse 5 then introduces an exceedingly interesting and essential principle we need to know for our growth. Proverbs 1:7 informs us, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge," but Proverbs 2:5 adds that the fear of the Lord is also a goal in our search for wisdom. This is important to understanding "knowing God" because the thrust of the Bible reveals that we can only come to know Him by obeying Him, by striving to be morally perfect. The fear of the Lord is a major motivator in producing conformity to Him and His will. It helps us enormously to reverence Him deeply, and if we do, it will result in sincere obedience from the heart. In this context, the Bible essentially equates the fear of the Lord and the knowledge of God.
Verse 6 confirms that God is the source of all ethical authority as well as the blessings that flow from obedience to the knowledge of Him. The preceding verses urge obedience to Him as the principle of life because it results in knowing Him. Therefore, the fear of the Lord, the knowledge of God, understanding, and wisdom are all part of the same spiritual "salad." They are inextricably linked as necessary for those who want to please God and live the abundant life He intends for His children. Though we can properly define them as technically different from one another, in reality, they cannot be separated. The glue that holds them together is obedience to what we already know while we strive to improve all of them together. Verse 9 to the end of the chapter expounds the benefits of our search for this treasure.
In Psalm 119, the author shows how many varied and distinct elements are in fact linked in order to comprise a whole generally called "the law." The same principle holds true of those elements of Proverbs 2:1-6. The psalmist asks God to deal bountifully with him (Psalm 119:17-18), so he can keep—obey—what he learned as he searched out each element. This shows that we need to consider the whole package in Proverbs 2:1-6 because each of these elements draws on the others for support while simultaneously producing fruit toward the others.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part One): Introduction
This is a sobering conclusion. We do not like to think of ourselves as loving death, but consider this in relation to Proverbs 21:16: "A man who wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the dead." A person who wanders and makes no conscious effort to get back on the track—no effort to repent—is drifting with the current. Because he is not really taking advantage of the great gift he has been given in understanding the purpose of God, he loves death.
The Bible consistently shows that those who do not consciously and purposefully direct their lives toward obedience to God in reality love death rather than life. Christ came to give us life. He gave us a way that we are to follow. He expects that we will make the efforts to do so. If we neglect it, can we say that we are really following His way? If we just drift, can we honestly say that we really love His way? The conclusion, from God's point of view, is that those who are just drifting—neglecting—in fact, love death.
We should not feel comfortable with this at all. God intends that we take the admonition and begin to do something with our lives. When this happens, in reality, human nature has deceived the person about his purpose in life. His drifting is evidence of what the person really loves.
In light of this, it is interesting that the words most commonly used both in the Old and New Testaments to indicate sin are defined as "missing the mark." That does not sound as though someone has deliberately aimed in the wrong direction but that they have generally aimed in the right direction but missed the target.
Another word that is also translated as "sin" means "to slip, to fall, or to wander from the path." There is no indication of deliberateness at all, but that either out of weakness or ignorance, somehow or another, a person unconsciously turns aside. Nobody slips and falls on purpose, nor does anybody wander out of the way on purpose because he might become lost.
God understands human nature, that it has a tendency to want to hold itself steady, deceiving a person into thinking that things are okay the way they are.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Examples of Divine Justice
Israel's religion was going nowhere. The people were not righteous, moral, or just in their dealings with one another, so their playing at religion, though sincere, was despicable to God.
In the list of sacrifices in verse 22, the sin offering is not mentioned, suggesting that the Israelites felt they had done no sin that required forgiveness. This shows that they were not in contact with God; they had no relationship with Him. If they had, they would have been aware where they had fallen short, and they could have repented.
Amos includes three other offerings that the Israelites gave but God would not accept. Knowing what they represent gives us insight into how the people were falling short in their spiritual lives.
The burnt offering teaches total devotion to the Creator. It was completely burned up on the altar, typifying the offerer being completely devoted in service to God. This offering corresponds to the first four commandments, which show love and devotion toward God.
Similarly, the grain offering, also called the cereal offering, meal offering, or meat offering, teaches total dedication and service to man. It was offered in conjunction with the burnt offering. The grain offering typifies the last six commandments, which regulate our relationships and love toward our fellow man.
The peace offering represents one's fellowship upward to God and outward to man. It was primarily given in thanks for God's blessing. When this offering was made, God, the priest, the offerer, and his family and friends shared in a common meal and fellowship, as all these parties ate part of the sacrificed animal.
But from God's reaction to their offerings, it is clear that the people of ancient Israel were not devoted to God or to their fellow man. Nor were they in true fellowship with either God or man, and therefore they could not see their sins. They did not see the holiness of God and compare themselves to it. If they had, they would have seen that they needed to make changes in their lives, but in judging themselves solely against other men—an unwise thing to do (II Corinthians 10:12)—they felt no need for repentance.
They did not understand what God really wanted of them. They may have appeased their own consciences with their church attendance, hymn singing, and sacrifices, but they went home and continued to oppress and cheat and lie. True religion is
1) A relationship with God (Matthew 22:37). Without a relationship with Him, we cannot know Him or understand His purpose for us.
2) Submission and obedience to God as our part of the relationship (James 4:7-8). In offering to make the covenant with the children of Israel (Exodus 20-24), He proposed to them. They accepted their obligation—to obey Him—but they were unfaithful in fulfilling it. As the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) and the future Bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7-9), the church must not fail as ancient Israel did.
3) Real love for God's truth (II Thessalonians 2:10). Israel neither loved nor sought God's truth.
4) Moral integrity (I Peter 3:8-12). Living in righteousness and holiness shows love toward God and man.
5) Social responsibility (James 1:27). Israel, as a nation of this world, had a responsibility to ensure that their care of their fellow Israelites was acceptable in God's eyes. The church, a spiritual organism, is not of this world, and as a body, has no responsibility at this time to change society—only ourselves. We must take care of our brethren within the church now, and we will have our chance to help this world in God's Kingdom.
These five points will not "buy" us into the presence of God, but rather they are five proofs that we follow true religion. Remember Jacob's dream. God chooses us and meets us at the foot of the ladder, making a difference in our lives. He gives us a way of life to follow, and we pledge to follow it. Thus, true religion is not a way to God but a way of living from God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)
The giving of the law at Mount Sinai was the climax of a series of events that began at Passover, the moment and the means of the Israelites' redemption. At Passover they killed a lamb and put the blood on their doorposts. When the death angel passed through to slay the firstborn, those who had blood on the doorposts were spared. God was saving, redeeming, buying back His people.
Mount Sinai adds the other half of the equation. Though redemption through the blood of a lamb (Christ) freed them from sin's dominion and death, the giving of the law at Mount Sinai shows that freeing them is not all that God had in mind. Israel came to Mount Sinai after being redeemed, heard the law, and assented to keep it. God gave the law to show the pattern of life, the principles of righteousness, for the redeemed.
On one side of the coin is grace and on the other is law and obedience. They are harmonious; they cannot be separated. They are both vital parts of the process of sanctification leading to salvation. Grace is given upon repentance from sin, but after repentance, what is a Christian to do with his life? Obedience to God and living a life of holiness become his first priorities, and these work to produce character in the image of God (II Corinthians 3:18).
Amos 5:25 reconfirms that the sacrifice, offering, and shedding of blood is a foundational necessity for a relationship with God. "Did you offer Me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel?" The answer is, "Yes." The people were sacrificing, but is that all that they did? He implies that though they were sacrificing, something was missing—obedience to the law.
God told Israel that He would dwell in the Tabernacle, specifically the Holy of Holies, the symbolism of which we need to understand. The most important piece of furniture inside the Holy of Holies was the Mercy Seat, a wooden chest overlaid with gold. Its lid functioned as the seat. Inside the chest, under the seat, were stored the two tablets of stone, symbolizing God sitting on His law, the basis of His judgment.
When one sins, he begins to separate himself from fellowship with God (Isaiah 59:1-2). He is no longer permitted, as it were, to come into the Holy of Holies. What means did God provide to heal the broken relationship, to restore the fellowship?
One might think that the giving of a sin offering would appease God, and He would forgive the sin. However, Hebrews 10:4 is very clear: "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins." Then why did God have the Israelites make these sacrifices? "But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year" (verse 3). As Amos does not mention the sin offering in Amos 5:22, it seems that Israel did not even make the attempt to be reminded of sin.
So how was fellowship restored? On the Day of Atonement, once a year, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies to sprinkle the Mercy Seat with blood. God's intent in this ritual was to show people that their transgressions of His law were covered by the blood. The redeemed were again in fellowship with God.
The blood and the law are essential parts for maintaining the correct relationship with God. The law is permanent and codifies the nature of God in precepts to help us understand Him clearly. Obedience to His law is a perpetual requirement, with blood available to cover any transgression of it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)
These two verses clearly establish the most basic element of why we must worship God: because He commands it! He must command us to worship Him because it is possible to worship others and things besides God. Satan was clearly attempting to get Christ to worship him—a being besides God—and to that Jesus replies, referring to the Father, "Him only you shall serve." Not only does He command us to worship Him, He also forbids us to worship any others. In addition, Jesus' statement shows the inextricable link between the worship and the service of God. It is as if they are synonymous. Worship involves highly regarding and then serving the One worshipped.
By definition, we worship what we choose to give the supreme devotion of our feelings, time, and energies to. God must command us to worship Him because we can choose to give our feelings, time, and energies to things other than God. Therefore, acceptable worship of God involves consciously choosing to worship and serve only Him even in the face of the temptation to give these things to others. Notice how Psalm 45:10-11 shows that we must choose between alternatives that will present themselves from time to time. "Listen, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your own people also, and your father's house; so the King will greatly desire your beauty; because He is your Lord, worship Him."
The first four commandments directly address worship. Worship refers to the supreme honor and veneration given in thought and deed to the Creator. Those four commandments plus the tenth directly influence what we are to do or not do to fulfill the minimum requirements of this duty. If we do not do so, we are guilty of idolatry. No other sin has such a direct and concentrated focus of attention. The basic requirement is that we are to worship Him alone, and to allow any person or thing to usurp that position of lordship over us constitutes gross disobedience. The first and most basic reason why we worship God is that He commands it and forbids the worship of others.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Worship God?
Arthur W. Pink, in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, writes, "Poverty of spirit may be termed the negative side of faith" (p. 17). Similarly, Charles H. Spurgeon, a Protestant preacher of the nineteenth century, comments, "The way to rise in the kingdom is to sink in ourselves" (The Gospel of the Kingdom, p. 21). It is this realization of our utter unworthiness, a sense of spiritual need and destitution, that drives us to seek Christ to lift it. The economically poor gravitate to where they can have their needs met. Recognizing one's spiritual poverty parallels this, motivating us to seek to have that need supplied through a relationship with God. Poor in spirit, therefore, describes a fundamental trait found in every son of God who earnestly seeks Him.
Jesus says in Matthew 11:29, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." This is how to cultivate this God-honoring attitude. We must do this because, while merely feeling lowly before God is insufficient, it nevertheless opens the doors to the awesome beneficence only God can give and indeed yearns to give. He says in Isaiah 66:2: "'For all these things [in creation] My hand has made, and all those things exist,' says the LORD. 'But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.'"
Poor in spirit is one thing, contrition is another, and humility is yet a third quality. They are all related, but they are not specifically the same attitude. To be contrite is to be sorry or remorseful because of guilt, equating to "Blessed are those who mourn" in Matthew 5:4. Humility is more active than either of the other two, involving consciously choosing submission in obedience. It equates more with "Blessed are the meek" in Matthew 5:5. Poverty of spirit, then, precedes contrition, remorse, humility, and meekness because it is a major factor involved in producing them.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Two: Poor in Spirit
These people profess Christ's name. They take it for themselves and do these so-called works, in which they seem to preach, prophesy, do good works like casting out demons, and perform wonders. Yet, what does Jesus say? "I never knew you."
What did they profess? They professed to know God and have a relationship with Him, but He says, "I never knew you, because really you never knew Me." How does He know that? They were practicing lawlessness!
What is lawlessness? Sin! These people lack obedience. They may have the knowledge, but they lack putting this knowledge into godly practice. They believe that they know God's will, but they do not do it. Failing to practice God's will, Jesus says, is sin. Why is failing to practice God's law sin? Because, if we are not doing God's will, we are certainly doing something else!
What is not of God is sin (compare Romans 14:23)!
They have not hit the mark, which is one of the definitions of sin. Obviously, their problems originate in the way they think. If their thoughts were godly, they would behave in a godly manner. However, since they do not behave in a godly manner, their thoughts must not really be godly.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Is God in All Our Thoughts?
In the wise and foolish builders, Christ describes two categories in illustrating the building of a house. Both houses appear equally attractive and substantial, but their comparative stability differs greatly. In their construction, the materials and labor used were similar, and both houses appeared upright, solid, and sound. Many times, seemingly good people who are uncalled seem to build their lives well and wisely in terms of money, material possessions, and friends. All these things seem good to the human mind, but their end can be disastrous without a Rock foundation (James 3:13-17). The elect of God build their houses differently, by daily obedience (Psalm 111:10), service, overcoming, Bible study, and prayer.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Two Builders
What did He give "these twelve [whom] Jesus sent forth"? What is an apostle? It is one sent forth with a message. Thinking about the principle in Romans 10:17, that faith comes by hearing the word of Christ, Jesus gave the same words to those He sent forth! They are the ones who have the message that will produce saving faith!
When we read about fracturing of the church during the first century—in the books of James, I and II Peter, I, II, and III John, and Jude—we find direct and indirect references, sometimes very strong, in which the apostle writes, "Remember what we have taught you." Other messages were coming into the church, and people were falling for them because they were susceptible to them—they were too weak to reject them and to discern the deceit in them. They believed them, and then what was the result? Disobedience. This factor separates those who believe from those who do not. Those who believe will obey God. Those who do not believe will not obey Him because "the carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Romans 8:7).
We find ourselves in a battle, a struggle, between the carnality that remains, which is attracted by false messages, and the truth of God, which is the right message, the proper faith. Paul describes it in Galatians 5:17 as a war going on in us (see also I Peter 2:11). By the power of God's spirit, we have to make the choice as to which one we will submit to.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Wisdom of Men and Faith
Jesus asks the man to do what had seemed impossible a moment before. At His command, the man places himself in full view of the synagogue's audience so that everyone present can witness it, and without even touching him, Jesus immediately heals him. When the man stretches out his hand for all to see, the crowd witnesses positive proof of Christ's power and holiness.
Despite the shame of his withered hand, the man still attends Sabbath services at the synagogue. He places a higher priority on worshipping God than on his personal discomfort. The principle illustrated here is that people should not use physical problems as an excuse for not going to church. A person should attend services when able.
The downside of missing services is that, eventually, spiritual problems with far more serious consequences will develop. No one can do much in service to God if he allows physical problems or handicaps to impede his worship and service of his Creator. In a sense, many of us suffer from withered hands. Sin so paralyzes us that we cannot serve God as we would like. Yet, anyone in God's church can be empowered to do the needed things for our Healer.
The real issue is faith. Jesus fulfills God's intention for the Sabbath day by restoring this man to health and strength. In answering Christ's call to step forward, the man shows what a little faith and obedience can do. This tests his courage and faith as he rises above his human fears. He entirely trusts Christ, and his healing is God's response.
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing a Withered Hand (Part Two)
Jesus expands the first commandment in what is called the great commandment of the law. Among all the things in our lives that we are to devote to God, this leaves very little out! It impacts on every facet of our lives. What can we do that does not involve our very life, emotions, and intellect?
This commandment, therefore, involves the fear, service, obedience, and worship of the great God who is the Creator. The dictionary definition of worship says it involves intense admiration, adoration, honor, and devotion to someone or something. Practically, worship is our response to our god.
If we respect someone greatly, does not our respect cause us to behave differently because of him? If we know he will be in our area, do we not try to spend some time with him or at least see him? Maybe we plan to give him a gift. If we know his habits, do we not try to emulate him, such as copying his manner of dress or his speech? When we are in his company and he suggests we do something, are we not moved to comply?
In Western civilization, people and institutions reach heights of admiration that drive some to do all sorts of unusual things. Teens, mothers, and even grandmothers will swoon over a crooning singer. Fans will practically tear the clothing from a rock star. Boys and men idolize athletic heroes. At political conventions, grown adults will act like mindless fools in behalf of their candidate.
It is this principle that is involved in keeping the first commandment. The respect and response we give to men, things, or the self should be given to God. Do we devote as much time, concern, or effort in admiring God's great abilities as Creator as we do some human performer? God created the potential for the abilities and beauty we may admire in humans. His abilities are far greater!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The First Commandment (1997)
The master never sets a time for his return, indicating he could return at any time. However, we know that his return does not occur before his servants have time to increase their talents. The first and second servants cheerfully relate their success in trading, giving their master his property with double interest. Both are rewarded the same, receiving the praise, "Well done!" Both receive the promise, "I will make you ruler." Both receive glory, "Enter into the joy of your lord." Though these two servants differ in the talents they receive, they are the same in obedience, diligence, and faithfulness to their master, and so receive the same reward.
The master passes a serious judgment on the burier of the talent: condemnation for neglecting his trust. This servant's true character reveals itself in his reply. His flawed view of his master's intentions leads him to excuse his own failure to the point of flagrant disrespect. To his idleness, he adds injustice, so his lord sees him as lazy and wicked (Matthew 25:26).
We must always appreciate all of Christ's gifts. "For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have" (II Corinthians 8:12). The true Christian's attitude is contentment with what he has and making the very best use of it. It is better to have a low position in God's service with faithfulness than a high position with unfaithfulness. Our limitation should be an incentive to spiritual and moral action and persistence. In the end, what God commends and rewards is not brilliance, popularity, or cleverness, but faithfulness and obedience to Him regardless of human recognition or praise.
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Talents (Part Two)
In verse 18, the emphasis is on the word "all." His authority is no longer as it was when He was a man preaching in Galilee and Judea but is once again universal. It is "as it was when He was with the Father" before. He has died and been resurrected, and all authority is once again His. Therefore, His disciples are to understand that wherever they go, everything is subject to His authority. This is a good thing to remember: Everything is subject to Christ's authority.
As they go, they are to make disciples. Teaching and baptizing do not make a person a disciple, though they play a part. Just because a person is baptized does not mean he is converted. Nor does it mean he is a member of the church of God or part of the Family of God. Just because he has been taught the way of God does not mean that he has fully accepted and committed himself to what has been taught.
This is why the emphasis must be on "making disciples." Baptism and obedience to instruction will be a response a person will make who is being made a disciple.
The preaching of the gospel brings a person to faith, repentance, baptism, and seeking further instruction. These are outward responses.
At this point, baptism is very important because it is the outward sign of something exceedingly more important than the fact that one has been "dunked." Baptism is the outward sign of commitment—of coming under the authority of the Father and the Son. Disciples are baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is only when a person comes under or is committed to the authority of the Family of God that he is truly a disciple. This marks the difference between one who is truly a disciple and another who has only been dunked.
Once a person has been truly baptized and has truly committed himself to be under the authority of the Family of God, the issue for the disciple is continued learning as a student and loyalty as a member of the Family—as a new creation to the One he has committed himself to.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Revelation 2-3 and Works
In Luke 4:4, Jesus tells the Devil, in response to the first of his temptations, "It is written: 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.'" This is not some general statement that allows us to choose what we will and will not obey, but a requirement for each of us, to the best of our ability, to follow every word of God in living our lives before Him. To do this takes real faith. God has given us "the way of righteousness," a revelation this world just cannot comprehend, and He is looking for evidence that we not only assent to it but are also living it.
It is the works of obedience that change us, that reflect that we are striving to live as God lives. This is what God counts as proper evidence of our faith. In James 2:17, 20, 26, the apostle informs us that, without works, our faith is dead, and these works are defined as putting into practice the instructions of God in our lives, just as Abraham did on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:2-12).
When God saw Abraham's obedience to His instructions, He said, "Now I know that you fear Me!" As hard as it is for us to measure up to what Abraham did in being willing to sacrifice his only son in obedience to God's command, God should be able to say this about each one of us. Do we have the faith to live by every word of God?
Humbling ourselves in obedience—especially when it hurts—makes a powerful statement to God.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Will Christ Find Faith?
Jesus takes the opportunity of this miracle to call His disciples into a Teacher - student relationship with Him. He figuratively catches Peter in His net before commanding him to "catch men" for the Kingdom of God. Immediately, Peter, Andrew, James, and John leave their boats and nets behind and follow Him. They now understand that Jesus is more than capable of supplying their every need.
We are to apply this lesson in our own lives. When Christ speaks, it is always about obedience to God's way of life. In this case, His teaching affected the disciples' livelihoods. Worship and work form major parts of our lives, too, and in both we must consistently maintain righteousness.
Had Peter failed to obey Christ's command, he would have failed to experience both the miracle and the resulting blessing. No one serves God without being compensated for his service. When we serve, sacrifice, testify, or stand for Him, He will suitably reward our efforts. When God asks us to invest our time, effort, talent, or anything else, we must not resent the opportunity. No one pays dividends on an investment as abundantly as God does - "good measure, pressed down, and running over will be put into your bosom" (Luke 6:38).
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: The Great Catch of Fish
The only limit to the servant's duty is his master's will. There is no point at which we can claim that we have done enough and are entitled to ease. The servant is always a debtor of service; the master is never a debtor of reward. One who idolizes his duty may be satisfied when his duty is accomplished and expect the praise of others, but servants should not expect even thanks.
God promises us rewards, but we do not work for the Master simply to receive compensation. As servants, we serve Him because we are His to command as He wills and because we love Him. He has every right to our service and is under no obligation to thank us for our obedience. The servant does not serve for nothing, but receives consideration for the gift of salvation because of his dedicated obedience and humble service. Nevertheless, it is good for His servants to seek His praises and rewards with the right attitude because God does praise and reward the faithful (Colossians 3:23-24).
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Unprofitable Servants
On the surface, it appears that God will save people on the basis of simply accepting of Jesus Christ as Savior. But now look at verses 31-36.
He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth [the worldly person]. He who comes from heaven [Christ] is above all. And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony [no one believes it]. He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure [Jesus perfectly knew and understood the truth of God and taught it to these people in the power of His Spirit, and they should have believed what He said]. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:31-36)
These are very ominous words. In terms of faith, John's words give this chapter a quite different perspective. Everyone hearing God's Word is confronted with a choice: believe and obey it, or take the chance of dying the eternal death.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Four)
The response of the previously crippled man was immediate obedience. Blessings always come from a rapid, positive response to God's commands. How many people have missed out on blessings because they were too slow to obey? In this case, the sooner the crippled man obeyed, the sooner he realized his healing.
As part of the healing, the helpless man was given the power to obey Christ. The same holds true for any work God gives us to do. We receive the power in mind and body to perform the duty at hand, meaning that, when God is involved, we have no room for excuses for not serving Him (Ecclesiastes 9:10; Hebrews 10:38). The man's complete obedience—following all of Christ's commands—produced the best possible witness and blessing.
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing a Cripple by a Pool (Part Two)
Jesus announces to them that He is leaving. Because they want to be where He is, they want to know the way to get there. When He says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life," He is basically saying that it is through a unique combination of a relationship with Him, which consists of being justified through Him, following His example, and obeying what He commands.
Christianity is a way of life. The disciples ask, "Show us the way." Where was Christ going to be? In the Kingdom of God. How does one get to the Kingdom of God? There is a way! It is not "all roads lead to heaven," but there is one way to get there.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Two)
God gradually unfolds before us what the conditions for conversion are. Layer upon layer of truth, or revelation, is needed to get the fullness of a subject.
Here are the conditions: We have to be called (John 6:44). We have to repent. We have to believe the gospel. We have to believe in Jesus Christ. We have to begin obeying God, because God gives His Spirit to those who obey Him (John 14:15-18; Acts 5:32). We have to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. We also have to have hands laid on us (Acts 8:14-17).
This should help us to understand that the "writing of the law on our hearts" (Hebrews 8:10) is a cooperative effort. It is not something done only by God, but it absolutely requires what God does. It also requires that we do something. When a person does these things, he is meeting the terms of the New Covenant - not all of them yet.
Were there terms like this in the Old Covenant? No. What a difference exists between the two! It is no wonder that the Old Covenant is becoming obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). It is no wonder the Old Covenant could not be kept (Hebrews 8:7). There is such a flaw, a fault, in every one of us (Hebrews 8:8). God knew this when He made the Old Covenant with Israel. Since God is love, He left us an example of how much the New Covenant means to us, so that we could look back on history and understand what awesome gifts have been given to us. By that, He hopes to create within us a deep sense of thanksgiving and of obligation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twelve)
We generally think of this verse only in terms of a state of persecution, but its principle applies all the time. Life is a series of compulsions which lead us to choices. These compulsions come in two varieties: 1) forced, as by a gun to our temple which says, "Do this or else," and 2) unforced, just as each dawn comes regardless, gently persuading us to rise and meet our duties. Each pushes us to choose, and the only real difference in them is their strength.
We are surrounded by various elements that, forced or unforced, exert pressure to compel us to submit to them out of loyalty. Both good and evil are compulsions pressuring us to follow them. Our culture urges us to "go along." Family ties influence us to blend in. Our peers, friends in business, school, or neighborhood buddies, entice us to conform. These compulsions sweep us along, and all too frequently we go right into idolatry to satisfy our desires to be accepted and feel secure. But Peter and the other apostles said, "We ought to obey God rather than men."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The First Commandment (1997)
Peter is saying that those who heed the gospel message of repentance from sin and faith in the sacrifice of Christ will begin to live lives of obedience to God's commandments, and thus He gives them His Spirit. However, some contend that it is not that simple.
One of the objections that has been raised to this understanding of this verse is that it is impossible to obey God before receiving His Spirit. Therefore, it would be impossible to receive God's Spirit if obedience were a requirement.
Acts 2:38 gives two basic requirements for receiving the Holy Spirit: 1) repentance and 2) faith in the sacrifice of Christ. (Baptism is an outward confession of this faith in Christ's sacrifice.) Repentance is a deep and genuine feeling of remorse over having committed sins, bringing about the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. It is accompanied by an urgent desire to make the necessary changes in our life so we avoid committing the same sins again. In other words, true repentance brings about an earnest desire to obey God. In turn, this earnest desire causes us to begin to make changes in our lifestyle to conform to God's commandments.
When John the Baptist preached a message of repentance to prepare the way for Jesus Christ, he demanded that his followers make changes in their lives (Luke 3:8). When John was preaching, the Holy Spirit had not yet been given, but John made it clear that God expected the people to begin changing their lives to demonstrate that their repentance was genuine. Paul preached the exact same message regarding repentance before King Agrippa (Acts 26:20).
A truly repentant person will immediately begin striving to obey God. The changes that the individual makes in his life are the "fruits" that demonstrate that his repentance is genuine. This does not mean that the repentant sinner obeys God perfectly. Even those who have received the Holy Spirit do not obey God perfectly. It means that the individual has turned his life around and is oriented toward obeying God. Upon producing the fruits of repentance and demonstrating faith in the sacrifice of Christ through baptism, God gives him His Holy Spirit. As Peter simply stated, God gives His Holy Spirit to those who obey Him!
Some contend that the obedience mentioned in this scripture is that of obeying God's command to preach the gospel, not obeying God's laws. Proponents of this explanation argue that Peter's statement came about because the authorities called the apostles into account for disobeying their command not to preach about Jesus. This derives from Peter's comment in verse 29, "We ought to obey God rather than men."
There are a number of problems with this interpretation. First, it ignores the clear requirements God lays down for receipt of the Holy Spirit—repentance and faith in the sacrifice of Christ. Nowhere in the Scripture does God require the preaching of the gospel as a prerequisite for receiving His Spirit. Rather, the power of the indwelling Spirit of God inspired and motivated the apostles to preach the gospel after they had received the Spirit (Acts 2:4). Furthermore, this interpretation ignores the overall thrust and context of Peter's statement (Acts 5:30-31).
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Is Obedience Required Before Receiving God's Holy Spirit?
Obedience is submission. In the context of this verse, if one serves sin, then he is sin's slave. Sin is the master. This does not mean making an occasional mistake, falling short of the mark, or wandering from the way. Paul is referring to sin that is dominating the life, that is lived in as a way of life. If a person is in that position, the master—sin—has jurisdiction over his skill, energy, and time.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Passover and I Corinthians 10
The apostle Peter admits that many of the things that his fellow apostle Paul wrote are hard to understand, and because of this, he warns, some people distort Paul's writings to their own destruction (II Peter 3:15-16). This is still happening today. People—some sincerely and some not—are constantly twisting what Paul said in an attempt to show that the law of God is abolished.
A favorite target of the "no-law" advocates is Romans 7:4. In this scripture, Paul writes that a Christian is "dead to the law" and is now "married to another." From these statements, some conclude that God no longer requires a Christian to obey His laws. Unfortunately, those who force such an interpretation on this verse fail to understand the profound truths that the apostle is explaining.
In verse 4, Paul further explains the marriage analogy (Romans 7:2-3) and how this relationship of a woman to her husband bears upon our relationship to the law and Christ. "Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ." Just as the woman in his example cannot be condemned by the law as an adulteress if her first husband dies, so we cannot be condemned by the law because our "old man of sin" has died (Romans 7:1).
In other words, we have become dead in the eyes of the law! At the time of our baptism, the old man of sin was put to death and buried in a watery grave (Romans 6:4). Because Jesus Christ died in our stead, and we have been buried with Him in baptism, the law regards us as having died. Therefore, the penalty for sin (Romans 6:23) has been paid, and the law no longer has power to condemn us to death for our sins.
Paul continues in verse 4, "...that you may be married to another, even to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God." In the analogy of the woman and her husbands, the first husband is the old man of sin to whom we were "married" prior to conversion. After the old man of sin died at baptism, we are now free to marry Christ. Just as He died and was resurrected, so our old man of sin has died, and we have been raised out of the watery grave of baptism a new man, empowered to bear righteous fruit in service to God.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Dead to the Law?
Self-restraint and obedience to God's law is realized in outgoing concern for others that exceeds and rules over our own self-interest. Even lawful acts may on occasion cause other brethren to stumble or be made weak. Self-control provides the ability to resist what may cause pain to others. Thus, we exercise self-control for others, as well as for ourselves.
Martin G. Collins
Under normal circumstances, we understand this perfectly. But what if obedience to human government would lead us to sin? Acts 5:29 clearly delineates our responsibility: "Peter and the other apostles answered and said: 'We ought to obey God rather than men.'" Comparing the principles involved leads us to conclude that we should obey God without qualification. If our obedience to God causes us to commit a crime against the state, our submission to the crime's penalty also constitutes submitting to human government.
God rules supreme over human government on every level, but as with individuals, He gives governments free-moral agency. They are thus free to reap what they sow. They are free to enact laws that are contrary to God. In such a situation, a Christian can find himself on the horns of a dilemma. Do we understand this and love God deeply enough to make the choices necessary to maintain our relationship with Him, despite being placed at a disadvantage?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sixth Commandment (Part 2): War! (1997)
Once we understand God's sovereignty over the nations, it is not difficult to understand where Paul bases his instructions in these verses. Thus we can understand why Moses so quickly and surely considers the actions of Korah and his group as rebellion against God rather than merely against himself (Numbers 16). When Israel rejects Samuel as judge over them because they want a king, God reveals to the prophet that the people are really rejecting the rule of God Himself (I Samuel 8:7). It does not matter whether a Christian considers his nation's government to be unlawful. What matters is whether God permits it. If He permits it, this One, who is aware of even sparrows falling, has allowed it or has directly brought it to pass because of the purpose He is working out. That is all that matters. God is ruling His creation, and this is what we are here to learn and trust.
Jesus lived His entire life under an unlawful civil government. The Roman government ruled over Judea as a result of military conquest. Moreover, at times even the ecclesiastical government was not in the proper hands because corrupt Roman officials discovered that just-as-corrupt Jews were willing to pay bribes to "buy" the high priesthood. But the Scriptures repeatedly show Jesus subject to them, though He called both, especially the ecclesiastical one, into account. Matthew 17:24-27 is a clear example:
When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, "Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?" He said, "Yes." And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, "What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?" Peter said to Him, "From strangers." Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you."
The Temple tax was one-half shekel per year for every Jew over 20. Since Jesus Christ was Lord and Owner of the Temple, He and His "children" should have been free of taxation. Jesus orders Peter to pay it anyway for both of them to avoid a bitter and offensive debate on the merits of His claim. By doing this, Jesus sets the right example looking by faith beyond a legal technicality to the True Ruler, the Father. God likely brought this episode to pass for our instruction.
Perhaps a brief statement of Solomonic wisdom will summarize Christian understanding of God's sovereignty over the governments of men: "There is no wisdom or understanding or counsel against the LORD. The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but deliverance is of the LORD" (Proverbs 21:30-31). His meaning becomes clearer in other translations. The Living Bible renders it, "No one, regardless of how shrewd or well-advised he is, can stand against the Lord. Go ahead and prepare for the conflict, but victory comes from God." The Revised English Bible translates it as, "Face to face with the Lord, wisdom, understanding, counsel avail nothing. A horse may be made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord."
It may seem a remote possibility, even strange, that we would fight against the Lord, yet because human nature remains in us, we do. The apostle Paul complains in Romans 7:14-23 that what he did not want to do he did anyway because a law of enmity against God worked within him. Proverbs 21:30-31 tells us that human wisdom, insight, and counsel must be in conformity with God's will to be successful. God's children must understand His sovereignty over everything and conduct their lives knowing that nothing avails against God and nothing without Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Five
Though all of us should understand obedience to the laws of man, it is good from time to time to ask, "Should we obey the governments of man over us?" Should we obey it if we consider it an "illegal" government?
The apostle Paul had to address this subject two thousand years ago in Romans 13. Albert Barnes in his Barnes' Notes suggests what prompted Paul to write this to the Roman church:
In the seven first verses of this chapter, the apostle discusses the subject of the duty which Christians owe to civil government. . . . There is no doubt that he had express reference to the peculiar situation of the Christians at Rome; but the subject was of so much importance that he gives it a general bearing, and states the great principles on which all Christians are to act. The circumstances which made this discussion proper and important were the following: (1.) The Christian religion was designed to extend throughout the world. . . . Christians professed supreme allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ; he was their lawgiver, their sovereign, their judge. It became, therefore, a question of great importance and difficulty, what kind of allegiance they were to render to earthly magistrates. (2.) The kingdoms of the world were then pagan kingdoms. The laws were made by pagans, and were adapted to the prevalence of heathenism. Those kingdoms had been generally founded in conquest, blood, and oppression. Many of the monarchs were bloodstained warriors; were unprincipled men; and were polluted in private, and oppressive in their public character. Whether Christians were to acknowledge the laws of such kingdoms and of such men, was a serious question. . . . Soon the hands of these magistrates were to be raised against Christians in the fiery scenes of persecution; and the duty and extent of submission to them became a matter of very serious inquiry. ("Romans," p. 284.)
The phrase "let every soul be subject" is a military term implying subordination. It is a willingness to occupy our proper place, to yield to the authority over us. That these governing authorities are "appointed by God" stems from another military term denoting the order or organization found in a military unit. Not only should we be subject, but we should submit in the knowledge that God Himself has had a hand in allowing them to exist!
Paul's conclusion flows naturally from this. Those who resist, or rebel against, man's governments also resist the ordinance of God! What God has ordained we should obey! This means we are to regard man's governments as instituted by God and agreeable to His will. This is a hard pill to swallow for those who consider themselves sovereign!
Paul continues with his instruction with a warning that, if we break the law, we will be punished by the civil government as lawbreakers. Those in authority generally do not punish people for doing good, but they have God-given authority to punish those who do not accept their rule and laws. The apostle says we should be afraid to break man's laws because his government administrators are really "God's ministers"! They are servants of God! Thus, we should be subject, not just for fear of punishment, but also for conscience' sake.
He concludes the section with specific instruction concerning taxes, custom, obedience, and respect. He says, "Pay your taxes and your fines. Obey the laws and respect government officials." Sovereign citizens directly disobey this explicit command of God's Word on each count!
Many who complain about the government over us fail to remember the example of our Savior Jesus Christ. He and His apostles lived under an "illegal" government for years; they were subject to Roman conquerors who levied stiff taxes and brutally oppressed freedoms. But what was Jesus' instruction, specifically regarding taxes?
[The Pharisees asked,] "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, "Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show me the tax money." So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" They said to Him, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:17-21)
Thus, Jesus advises us to pay our taxes, as He also paid them. Matthew 17:24-27 shows that He paid the Temple tax as well.
Some, considering this world to be Babylon, refuse to come under its laws. Though this world is truly Babylon the Great (Revelation 18), these people also forget the examples of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. These men not only lived in literal Babylon, but also served in Nebuchadnezzar's government, giving great honor and loyalty to the king. When Babylon's laws conflicted with God's laws, as in the case of idolatry (Daniel 3), they stood rock solid for God's way, willing to take whatever punishment the civil government gave them. This is the principle we should always follow (Acts 5:29).
God has appointed authority over men to bring order to our society, and in bringing order, He has given each of us an opportunity to learn the lesson of how to submit to government. This is a lesson we all must learn, for even Christ is subject to the Father (I Corinthians 15:23-28)!
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Should We Obey the Laws of Our Government?
Laws are stated and have penalties. Rulers enforce them, but that does not stop people from breaking them—in many cases with impunity—especially if they feel no government representative is watching them. The government's power lies largely in coercion, meaning forcible constraint or restraint, whether moral or physical. In other words, it is government by force.
For instance, most people flagrantly disobey the speed limit on freeways and interstates, especially when they are not crowded, until they spot a patrol car with a trooper or two in it. Suddenly, the speed limit becomes the norm until the trooper is again out of sight. That the law is on the books, prominently displayed and common knowledge are insufficient motivation for many people to obey.
But love toward God, the love of God, can motivate us to do what the law says to do but cannot motivate us to do. We can conclude that Paul claims that if one exercises God's love in paying his debt to man, he will keep the commandments.
We could also conclude that Paul says that if one does not break the commandments, he is acting out of love. This is the weaker of the two. Within this context, then, every phase, every facet of our responsibility to God and man, is covered if we make sure love has its place as the motivation for all we do.
If we really love another person, we cannot possibly injure him. Love would immediately stifle any thought that leads to adultery, murder, theft, or any form of covetousness because love cannot harm. Since love cannot break the laws designed to protect another, it is supreme in providing the right kind of persuasion.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Love
In these verses, Paul injects love into the context of law, showing that it is the sum of all duties. He does not say love ends the need for law but that it fulfills—performs or accomplishes—the law.
Notice love's relationship to law in context with what immediately precedes it. The context is a Christian's response to government. He should submit to and honor human government as God's agents in managing human affairs. A Christian is indebted to the government to pay tribute and taxes. When we pay them, a Christian is no longer financially indebted to the state until it imposes taxes the following year.
Regarding men, we are not to be in debt. He is not saying a Christian should never owe anybody money, but that there is a debt we owe to every person that we should strive to pay every day. This debt is one of love, paid by keeping God's law, and this Paul illustrates by quoting several of the Ten Commandments! Inherent in this debt is that no matter how much we pay on it each day, when we wake up the next day, the debt is restored, and we owe just as much as we did the day before!
This sets up an interesting paradox because we owe everyone more than we can ever hope to pay. The paradox, however, is more apparent than real because this is not what Paul is teaching. He is teaching that love must be the driving force, the motivation, of everything we do. This points out a weakness of law regarding righteousness. Law, of and by itself, provides neither enough nor the right motivation for one to keep it.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Love
Love is the essence of the spirit of God's law. The commandments are prescribed as rules of life. When we love, we have found the true principle of obedience, the true spirit of the holy law. Paul sums it all up in love. And we, having received the love of Christ, living in His love, see the law not as a stern, condemning taskmaster but as an appealing, bright vision of understanding and blessing.
We see the law embodied in Christ, and our imitation of Christ involves obedience to the law, but we fulfill the law, not simply as a standard outside, but as a living principle within. Acting according to the dictates of the way of love, our lives conform to the image of Christ, as we conform to the law. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.
Martin G. Collins
The Law's Purpose and Intent
1 Corinthians 11:29
None of us needs to fall short because we misunderstand and thus neglect the importance of what Jesus did in our behalf.
The Contemporary English Version (CEV)renders this verse, "If you fail to understand that you are the body of the Lord, you will condemn yourselves by the way you eat and drink." The Amplified Bible translates it,"For anyone who eats and drinks without discriminating and recognizing with due appreciation that [it is Christ's] body, eats and drinks a sentence (a verdict of judgment) upon himself."
These translations show two possible understandings of what Paul meant. The CEV contemplates our overall response in how we, knowing we are Christ's body, conduct our daily lives, whereas The Amplified Bible focuses on appreciation of Christ's literal sacrifice while actually taking the bread and wine. Both approaches are correct. In either case, Passover must affect our life in a positive way, or it brings judgment against us.
Along with appreciation and respect, God desires an understanding so deep, strong, and consistent that it motivates us to glorify Him by conforming to His will in daily life. This sense of obligation is not a maudlin sentimentality, but is of such sincere and intense gratitude that it gives us insight into the standard of selflessness Christ exemplified. We must strive to put it into practice in our lives if we are to be like Him and be in our Father's Kingdom.
Put another way, our obligation is to love Them as They loved us—not a resigned attitude of "Okay, I'll do it because I have to" that issues in low-level, letter-of-the-law obedience, but a love that expresses itself in fervent, sacrificial affection, as the woman in Luke 7:36-50 exemplified. This level of love is reasonable to pursue because it drives us far beyond mere superficial conformity. Notice how Romans 12:1-2 draws our attention to this:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Paul proclaims that this sacrificial love will serve to transform us and provide the proof we need to bolster us in following God's will.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Priceless Gift
Even though the law had no power to condemn him to death—he was "dead" to it, as verse 19 says—Paul was still quite active! His life continued to contain a great deal of activity. When Christ was crucified, He then also became "dead to the law" in the sense that it held absolutely no power over Him. The law's power, its threat to a human being, lies in being able to condemn him to death. But once a person has died, as Paul shows in Romans 7, the law no longer has any power over him.
The phrase "I am crucified" shows that it is a continual thing, an ongoing process. Through Christ's intercession, the law's condemning power is held at bay. This is what Christ does in His role as our High Priest. But Paul then clarifies it by saying that he still is very much alive and kicking—he does not simply roll over and relegate all responsibility to God.
He then shows another facet: Once we have made the covenant with God, we have signed ourselves over to Him, and suddenly our lives are not our own anymore. We still have to go through this life, but it is Christ living His life in us that makes us alive spiritually.
Jesus Christ gave up His physical life so that, through His sacrifice, we could be brought into alignment with God; this is what is called "justification." We respond by yielding to the direction that He now gives to us. We are to have faith in Him and the entire process that He is bringing us through—not merely that we are forgiven for our sins, but also that we will be brought to the "measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). It would not be faith if we were resisting Him throughout this life by disobeying Him! It would be a contest of wills: Can God still save me even though I am rebelling? Trusting in God to bring us to a state of completion while refusing to obey Him are mutually exclusive. God simply will not allow someone into His Kingdom who will not willingly submit to living the way God requires (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; 5:10; 5:19-20; 6:33; 7:21; 13:41, 47-50; Acts 28:23; Romans 14:17; I Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:5; II Thessalonians 1:5; II Timothy 4:1; Hebrews 1:8; Psalm 119:172)!
David C. Grabbe
In God's mind, true faith or living faith is virtually synonymous with obedience and works. Faith and obedience are interchangeable, even though they are not specifically the same thing. This is just like the Bible's usage of mind, heart, and spirit—they are not specifically the same thing, yet they are so interconnected that they really cannot be separated.
This verse is a quotation of Genesis 15:6. There is a parallel quotation in Romans 4:1-3:
What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."
This verse in essence says that Abraham was justified because he believed. He was legally righteous before God because of his faith. This becomes the basis for Paul's teaching that justification is by faith and not by works. What Paul does not mention here is that Abraham's justification (Genesis 15:6) occurred 14 years before Abraham was circumcised. Paul's conclusion is that, based on Genesis 15:6, Abraham was justified by faith. The "work" of circumcision did not come for another 14 years! The circumcision did not justify him—the faith did. See the notes at Galatians 2:16.
Paul explains further in verses 21-25:
And being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore "it was accounted to him for righteousness." Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.
Paul shows that we are also justified (cleared of guilt, have our sins wiped away) by belief in the blood of Jesus Christ. What God did for Abraham, He will also do for us. Paul's conclusion then is that justification is by faith.
But like Galatians 2:16, this seemingly sets up a paradox, because faith does not stand alone:
But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. (James 2:20-24)
Paul also points out that there is more to the equation of justification than just faith in Romans 2:13: "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified."
These last two scriptures show that living faith cannot be separated from obedience—from works. Faith and works go together; where there is living faith, there will always be good works. If no works are produced, there is no living faith. What we truly and deeply believe will determine the actions we take in our lives. If we truly believe something, our "works"—what we do in our lives—will always point to that. "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7)—a man lives and acts according to what his core is.
As discussed previously (Galatians 2:16), these verses are in fact complementary, not contradictory. Each of these passages has a different context and purpose, and so we do not get the whole answer from any one of them individually. James' purpose is to show that there are two kinds of faith—living and dead, genuine and professing.
James says that a person's faith is perfected or completed by the kind of works that the faith produces. He shows that it is the kind of faith that Abraham had that made the real difference and brought about justification. Justification is entirely an act on God's part, but the kind of faith that brings about justification is the same kind that also brings about good works. It is not our works that save us, but only those who are "working" in the right way will be saved because their works will be indicative of what they truly believe in. Living faith, which James talks about, cannot be separated from works.
Paul backs this up in his second letter to the Corinthian church:
So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim [work; labor], whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him [our acceptance by Him after being justified is dependent on what we do!]. 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. (II Corinthians 5:6-10)
Paul lived by faith, but he worked (labored) so that he would be acceptable to God. If he did not work, he would not have been acceptable to God even though he professed God, said he believed in Christ, had faith that He could save, etc. His works were an indicator to God of what he had faith in—what he believed.
Paul's faith was the same faith that James was talking about—a living, active faith which produces good things—good works. Dead faith is inactive (toward the things of God). It does not produce anything profitable. It is the particular kind and quality of works that separates the Christian from the world, giving evidence of what a person believes.
David C. Grabbe
The command to honor parents applies to all of us all our lives. But here, as in Colossians 3:20, children should obey their parents in all things "in the Lord."
The apostle is not saying a child must break the Ten Commandments if a parent orders him to so. Children should obey "in the Lord," that is, obey commands that agree with the will of God. Most younger children cannot grasp whether a parental order conforms to God's will. But as they age, they need to understand that they, too, are under the authority of the living Christ.
Though parents have a huge part in starting children off on the right foot regarding this commandment, the greater responsibility for keeping it rests with the child. At some point, children need to realize that their submission to parents is an act of faith in Christ. Their required obedience is not based on any arbitrary power held by parents but on a higher law to which parents are also subject. Parents have a primary responsibility to teach their children to discipline, govern, or control themselves under God's law. Children must learn that they cannot always do what they want when they want, or have what they want when they want it.
Keeping this commandment brings great benefits, as Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6:2, "which is the first commandment with promise." The promise of blessing for keeping it is written right into the commandment! God promises, "That it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth."
This blessing has at least two parts. Obedience to parental admonitions, gained from years of experience living in this difficult and dangerous world, results in the building of knowledge, character, and habits of avoiding recklessness, lawlessness, violence, wrong companionships, and rebellion against authority. These often result in untimely and violent death at a young age. Virtually every year this comes to the fore when statistics show that accidents are our children's number one killer.
The second and ultimate meaning is that, in honoring our spiritual Father, God, we receive spiritual blessings far above long physical life. From the loving relationship between God and his child will arise eternal life, which God will give as a gift to a son who pleases Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment (1997)
It is God who saves! God saved Israel from Egyptian slavery. Israel did not overcome Pharaoh and Egypt by either warfare or by dint of superior intelligence. Jesus Christ is our Savior, and we cannot save ourselves from sin's power. When we accept Him as Savior, it obligates us as His servants to obey Him.
In like manner, when God broke Egypt's power, enabling the Israelites to be free, it obligated them to walk out of Egypt if they wanted their liberty. If the Israelites wanted to save their skins and be totally free of Egypt when God parted the Red Sea, it obligated them to walk the path God made for them between the walls of water. When God said, "I am going to bring you into the land and provide for you along the way," if Israel wanted these things, they were obligated to walk all the way to Canaan. It is very clear that if Israel wanted what God said He would give, then Israel had to also cooperate by working in the form of walking to where God said He would lead or take them. "Walk" is a code word for living.
With this as a background, when Paul says to "work out your own salvation," it cannot possibly mean we are going to save ourselves. Rather, like what confronted the Israelites when God opened the way to their physical salvation from slavery in Egypt, we should be ready to make God's spiritual salvation practical and operational. Paul does not say we must work for salvation, but rather carry our salvation out to its conclusion. He uses "work out" in much the same sense as when a student is told to work out an arithmetic problem—to bring it to its conclusion. For us, the conclusion, the goal, to work toward is Christ-likeness. The salvation here is sanctification, victory over sin unto holiness.
To make it very plain, if we want to be one with Him, we must get moving in the direction He is pointing, and He points toward His standards of conduct and attitude. Each person's walk is not exactly the same because each person's experience and makeup are somewhat different. There is enough similarity among humans, though, to make the Bible always relevant.
One of the beautiful things about this is that each person's walk toward the image of God is exactly right for him. What is more, Philippians 2:13 also says God gives us both the will and power or energy to do it! The New Testament in Modern Speech renders it, "For it is God Himself whose power creates within you both the desire and the power to execute His gracious will." This work of God in us is another aspect of His grace, and without it, we could never be one with Him.
God Himself produces in us both the desire to live righteously and the effective energy to do so. He does not demand what we cannot do (I Corinthians 10:13). We see in Philippians 2:12 our responsibility and in verse 13 help to accomplish it.
We can see this working together with God in simple illustrations from physical life. We may launch a sailboat upon the water, but it takes what God supplies, wind, to make it move. We may plant vegetable seeds, but it is the power of God in nature that makes the plant grow and produce food. We may generate gigawatts of electricity in power plants, but God provides the wind, water, sunlight, coal, oil, or gas to turn the turbines. In each case, we add something to what God already supplied.
Our salvation is something already given because it is God's will, and He is sovereign. We, though, must do something to make it practical by applying ourselves to salvation's demands. Even in this, God enables us to do it!
We will never know where the dividing line is between what God supplies and what we are responsible to do because it is different for each according to God's purpose. This proportion must be different because each person is different, and He is preparing us for different responsibilities within His Family. This is sure, however: Our walk toward salvation will always be difficult enough to be challenging and edifying.
Even here the analogy of Israel in the wilderness comes to our aid. Where did Israel get the energy to walk across the wilderness to the Promised Land? Did it not come from the manna and water God supplied, as well as the vision and hope of the inheritance which He also provided? Still, Israel walked! They had to work, to cooperate.
The verb "work" in Philippians 2:12 is in a tense that indicates continuous working. Just as Israel did not leave Egypt and arrive in the Promised Land in one step, neither are our salvation and oneness with God accomplished at once. It, too, is a process; it is our life's work.
John W. Ritenbaugh
All in All
1 Thessalonians 4:1
When we really mature in our spiritual life, we see more, we know more, we feel more, we do more, and we repent more. It is all in proportion to our closeness to God! We are, in short, growing in grace(as Peter said in II Peter 3:18).
No one who neglects the spiritual big four—Bible study, prayer, meditation, and occasional fasting—can expect to make much progress in sanctification because these are the channels through which spiritual strength flows from God. This is why having access to God through Jesus Christ is so important. These efforts produce faith and then obedience, and fresh supplies of His grace flows.
There are no spiritual gains without pains. Would we expect a crop from a farmer who never even looked at his fields until harvest time? That is ridiculous! The farmer has to get out in his fields and sow the seeds. Does not God say in James 3:18 that "the fruit of righteousness are sown in peace by those who make peace"? The fruits of righteousness have to be sown! That is work.
What are the fruits of righteousness? They are love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, meekness, kindness, faith, self-control—but they have to be sown, fertilized, cultivated, and pruned. We see a process. As those fruits begin to be produced, sanctification cannot be hidden any more than the fruit on a tree can be hidden. We will never attain to holiness without Bible study, prayer, fasting, meditation, and obedience because through them is how spiritual life is sown, cultivated, fertilized, and tended so that fruit is produced.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Nine)
The Israelites would not use their faith; they would not step out. They held back because the bottom line was that they did not really believe it.
Do we believe what we are hearing from the Word of God? If we do not believe it, we will do nothing. We only do what we believe.
Everybody in the world operates by this principle—they do what they believe! But do they believe God? No. We are in God's church because we believe, and because we believe in the right way, we obey God. In Hebrews 3, Paul equates "belief" and "obedience." It makes for an interesting study. Despite being significantly different, the effect of one should be the product of the other.
This is why one can find words like "belief" or "unbelief" in Scripture, and see in the margin that "obedience" or "disobedience" can be an alternate translation. The words can be taken either way.
We do what we believe.The real problem is becoming apparent. The reason the Hebrews were apathetic—the reason they were neglecting their spiritual priorities—was because their belief system had undergone a serious change since the time that they had first heard.
When Satan wants to divide or destroy a church, he often does so through inspiring changes in the doctrines. When the doctrines change, the belief system changes accordingly. And when the belief system changes, those who believe the same basic way will flock together, and those who believe a different way will coalesce into another group.
When a belief changes, a change in conduct must follow. This is what happened to the Israelites in the wilderness. They did not believe God, and they failed. They all died. That whole first generation died as a result of their disbelief.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Hebrews: A Message for Today
Since God names individuals what they are, that, then is what this man is: "King of Righteousness."
Think of it! King of Righteousness.
Jesus Himself said: "There is none good but one, that is, God" (Matthew 19:17). Human self-righteousness is, before God, as filthy rags. None can be righteous but God—or one made righteous by God's power—Christ in a person! And certainly none but One of the God Family—the divine Kingdom of God—would be King of Righteousness. Such an expression, applied to any but God, would be blasphemous. Why?
Righteousness is obedience to God's law. Since God made all laws (James 4:12), He is Supreme Ruler or King. He determines what righteousness is. "All thy commandments are righteousness" (Psalm 119:172). When speaking of one of the points of that law, Jesus placed Himself superior to it. He is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28). No man is Lord or King over God's law. Only God could be! All human beings have sinned and broken that law of righteousness (Romans 3:23).
To continue with Hebrews 7. Note, too, that this man was King of peace. "Salem," from which Jerusalem was named, means "peace." And remember, Jesus is called the Prince of peace! No human being could be King of Peace. Men know not the way of peace. Read Romans 3:10 and 17: "There is none righteous, no, not one. . . . And the way of peace have they not known."
Observe further: Melchizedek was "without mother, without father, without descent," or as the Phillips translation renders it: "He had no father or mother and no family tree." He was not born as human beings are. He was without father and mother. This does not mean that Melchizedek's records of birth were lost. Without such records human priests could not serve (Ezra 2:62). But here Melchizedek had no genealogy. He must not have been an ordinary mortal. He had no descent or pedigree from another, but was self-existent. Notice Paul's own inspired interpretation of this fact: "Having neither beginning of days, nor end of life" (Hebrews 7:3). Therefore He has always existed from eternity! He was not even created, like angels. But He is now eternally self-existing. And that is true only of GOD deity, not humanity!
Yet Melchizedek cannot be God the Father. He was the "priest of that Most High God." Scripture says no man has ever seen the Father (John 1:18, 5:37), but Abraham saw Melchizedek. He cannot be God the Father, but rather, "made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually" (Hebrews 7:3).
And there it is! In the days of Abraham, He was not the Son of God, for He had not yet been born of the virgin Mary but He was made like unto the Son of God in His manifestation to the ancients.
Notice again: Melchizedek, this scripture reveals, abides that is, remains permanently, continually, a priest. God the Father is not the Priest of God, but Christ the Son is! Yet, in the days when the Apostle Paul lived and wrote, shortly after Jesus ascended to heaven as High Priest, the scripture states that even then Melchizedek "abideth"—which means does now abide—"a priest continually." The Moffatt translation states it: "continues to be priest permanently" even while Jesus Christ is High Priest!
And notice that the order of Christ's Priesthood is named after Melchizedek. It is the High Priest's name that is placed upon an order just as Aaron's name was upon the Aaronic priesthood. Thus Melchizedek was then High Priest, in Paul's day, and even now, and He will rule forever! And at the same time Christ was, is today, and shall be forever High Priest!
Are there two High Priests? No! Impossible! The conclusion is inescapable. Contrary to many cherished man-thought-out ideas, Melchizedek and Christ are one and the same! Some people have stumbled on the statement that Melchizedek has no "end of life." They contend that since Christ died, He had an end of life! If that be true then Christ is still dead! But Christ is not dead. He is alive. It was not possible for Christ to be held by death (Acts 2:24). Melchizedek would never have fulfilled His office of High Priest if He had not died for the sins of the people and risen again. It is the function of the High Priest to lead the way to salvation.
Indeed, Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of our salvation (Hebrews 5:9; 12:2). He is "called of God an high priest after the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 5:10).
And no wonder. Melchizedek and Christ are one and the same Person!
Herbert W. Armstrong (1892-1986)
The Mystery of Melchizedek Solved!
Moses was born into a terrible situation. We may think we were born into unfortunate circumstances, but our situations pale in comparison to Moses' start. However, he had one thing going for him humanly: his parents, Amram and Jochebed.
Moses, of course, was unaware of these things, but God supplied the saving grace in the form of Amram and Jochebed. The Exodus account focuses on the part of Jochebed because it was she, undoubtedly, along with Miriam, who actually carried out the casting of Moses on the Nile. Hebrews 11:23, though, uses the term "parents," so that we understand that Amram was also involved—with his faith.
Notice that they were not afraid of the king's command. The Bible does not say what strengthened their faith, but they did a pretty dangerous thing. They put their lives on the line, as well as Moses' life, by putting him out on the water. Did God speak to them in a dream? Did God give them a vision? Did God send an angel? Or did they rely on the promise given to Abraham, knowing that they were coming to the end of an age? We cannot know because God does not say.
Whatever it was, in a way it does not matter. All that matters is that, somehow, they believed it and followed through by doing this thing that, at least on the surface, appears to have been very risky. Were they convicted that what they were doing was right? Certainly! Even the power of Egypt could not turn them aside from their conviction. Even the fear or the threat of losing their lives could not dissuade them. They did not have a preference—they were convicted! They put their lives, and their son's life, on the line because they trusted the word of their God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Conviction and Moses
1 Peter 1:1-2
It is the life that is obedient to God and separated from the world that provides the proof of one's conversion. If the Christian is legally cleared of guilt before God and obedient to Him, he no longer "belongs" to the world; the Bible no longer perceives such a person as being "in the flesh."
Philippians 3:20 offers understanding of another separation from the world: "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." His spiritual separation produces for the Christian a legal transfer of citizenship that he must recognize.
Colossians 1:12-13 confirms this: "Giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love." As a result of these separations, the Christian must live his life as a stranger and pilgrim as if in a foreign land, obeying the laws of his new nation by placing higher priority in his activities as a citizen of the Kingdom of God.
This opens the door to another line of practical thought, conduct, and attitude: "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself the enemy of God" (James 4:4). We normally do whatever we can to avoid our enemies, even to the point of fleeing from them if necessary. This reality should help us to understand why God commands us:
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? . . . Therefore "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you." (II Corinthians 6:14, 17)
It is by means of conduct motivated by the Holy Spirit that we are to come out from among unbelievers and be separate. We cannot—we must not—straddle the fence; we cannot serve two masters. Once we are called, we must serve God, or we will have received God's grace in vain (II Corinthians 6:1).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Seven)
1 Peter 2:5
Between AD 63-67, the apostle Peter was inspired to write to the "elect" who were dispersed throughout Asia Minor—and to us today—that Christians are to offer up spiritual sacrifices and proclaim the praises of God. We are in training now, learning how to be priests of God for His spiritual priesthood, and a primary reason is to offer up spiritual sacrifices. A spiritual sacrifice is an act of giving up and offering to God our time and effort in a way that is pleasing to Him.
What makes a spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God? Is it merely the sacrificing of our time and effort? No, it is more than that. Comparing the sacrifice of Noah to the hypocritical sacrifices of the children of Israel shows that the attitude and righteousness of the offerer is important to God (Genesis 8:20-21; Amos 5:21-27). A spiritual sacrifice must be offered in an attitude of obedience, humility, and reverence.
Martin G. Collins
The Sacrifice of Praise
1 John 5:1-3
God intends the love of Him and the love of man to be inseparable parts of the same experience. John explains this by saying that if we love the Father, we also love the child. If we love the Father who begot the children, we must love the children, otherwise we do not have God's love. In I John 4:20, he amplifies this: "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?"
I John 5:3 is the Bible's basic definition of love. The commandments define, make clear, what the basic elements of love are and what direction our actions should take if we would show love. This means that obedience to God is the proof of love. Obedience is an action that submits to a command of God, a principle revealed in His Word and/or an example of God or the godly.
In a sense, this is where godly love begins in a human being. Obeying God's commands is love because God is love. Because His very nature is love, it is impossible for Him to sin. Thus He gives us commands in love, and they will produce right and good results. Any command of God reflects what He Himself would do were He in the same situation.
Jesus says in John 14:15, "If you love Me, keep My commandments." Keeping the commandments is how one expresses love. He adds in John 15:10, "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love."
A person may have a thought to do good or to refrain from evil. He may have a feeling of compassion, pity, or mercy. One may feel revulsion about doing an evil action. But none of these become love until the thought or feeling motivates one to act. In the biblical sense, love is an action.
Love has yet another aspect, however. We can show love coldly, reluctantly, in "dutiful obedience." We can also show it in joyous, wholehearted enthusiasm or warmhearted, thankful devotion. Which is more attractive to God or man as a witness?
Regardless of the attitude, it is far better to obey than not at all (Matthew 21:28-31). If we cannot get beyond doing what is right, the proper feelings will never be formed. Experience is largely responsible for training attitude and emotion (Psalm 111:10). We will never form proper emotions without first performing the right actions with the right spirit, God's Holy Spirit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Love
1 John 5:3
The commandments tell us how to express the love of God. They tell us what form our efforts are to take to express this love and how it is to be directed towards both God and man. The first four commandments are primarily directed at God, while the last six are directed at man. Therefore, what we see is a channel that our loving conduct is supposed to take. In one sense, this is where the love of God commences in a human being—when he begins keeping the commandments.
A person may have a thought to do good or to refrain from evil. He may have a feeling of compassion or pity or mercy—or a feeling of revulsion to something that is evil. However, it does not become love until the thought or the feeling motivates the person to act. Love is an act.
Then another aspect of love comes into play. This kind of love can be done coldly, reluctantly, or out of dutiful obligation. On the other hand, it can be done in joyous, wholehearted submission, with a great deal of enthusiasm, warm-heartedly, and with thankful devotion, or anywhere in between. Because of this, we have to ask, "Which is more attractive?" Love that is done in warm-hearted enthusiasm or coldly, reluctantly, or dutifully?
It is better to do an act of obedience, regardless of the feeling, than not to do it at all. Nonetheless, if we cannot get beyond the feeling that it is right, the proper feelings will never be formed, because emotions are largely developed by experience. This is important: The right emotions will never be formed without experiencing the right actions with the right spirit—God's Holy Spirit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Love's Emotional Dimension
Gold, clothing, and eye salve represent the three major industries of Laodicea: banking, textiles, and medicines.
Gold, spiritual riches (I Peter 1:7), contrasts with the word "poor," and fire symbolizes trial. God advises them to obtain spiritual riches produced through trials, which the self-sufficient Laodicean avoids by compromising.
"White garments" contrast with their nakedness. Clothing helps us to distinguish people and groups. Because of the differences between men and women's clothing, sexual distinctions can be made. Clothes reveal status: A man in a well-tailored suit falls into a different category than a beggar in rags. Clothing provides a measure of comfort and protection from the elements. It hides shame and deformity. Biblically, God uses it to symbolize righteousness (Revelation 19:8). He instructs the Laodicean to dress himself in the holiness of God to cover his spiritual nakedness, self-righteousness.
Their need of eye salve contrasts with their blindness. Commentators understand it to represent God's Spirit coupled with obedience. The combination of the two gives a Christian the ability to see - to understand spiritual things. "But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God" (I Corinthians 2:10-11). "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments" (Psalms 111:10).
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
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