What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Without the capacity to feel spiritual pain, we would veer hopelessly off course. Guilt is like the raised markers on the road that indicate that we have driven into the next lane or off onto the shoulder. Thankfully, God Almighty has mercifully installed a kind of spiritual gyroscope, or a type of sonar or radar, that provides continuous feedback for our behavior.
Conscience acts as a moral governor, inflicting pain for our good for bad behavior, and infusing us with pleasure and joy for good behavior. Paul writes that even people who are not yet called by God are still equipped with a moral guidance system, which we call the conscience (Romans 2:14-15). With the addition of the Holy Spirit, our conscience should be finely tuned. When David says in Psalm 51:12, "Restore to me the joy of Your salvation," he had obviously suffered acute and intense spiritual pain and greatly desired the comfort of knowing he was back on the right track.
David F. Maas
Guilt: Our Spiritual Pain
This account of Adam's and Eve's reaction to their sin demonstrates that sin destroys innocence.
Were two people ever more innocent at the beginning of their lives than Adam and Eve? Immediately after sinning, though, they felt shame because of their nakedness, and they doubly showed their guilt by hiding from God. Do the truly innocent have any need to hide? Do the innocent need to feel shame?
Sin leaves a tarnish on a person's mind so that he does not look at life in quite the same way anymore. David expresses how this tarnish affected him in Psalm 40:12, "My iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up." Paul later explains, "To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled" (Titus 1:15).
A well-known series of scriptures, beginning in Matthew 18:1, touches on innocence and its destruction. It starts with a question from the disciples: "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Jesus replies that unless we become as little children, we will not be in the Kingdom of Heaven. Is not the beauty of their innocence and the harmless vulnerability of little children a major reason why we find them so adorable? They produce no harm, shame, or guilt. But what happens as they become adults? They become sophisticated, worldly, cosmopolitan, cynical, suspicious, sarcastic, prejudiced, self-centered, cool, uninvolved, and many other negative things. They also seem to lose their zest for life. Sin does that.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Sin Is & What Sin Does
Genesis 3:7-10 illustrates how no one is ever quite the same after sinning with knowledge. Notice Adam and Eve's sin occurs after God had instructed them (Genesis 2:16-17). Nobody had to tell them they had done wrong—they knew! Now they looked at things differently than they had before; a sense of wrong rushed in on them immediately. Just moments before, all had been friendly and joyful. All of nature seemed obedient to their every wish, and life was good. Suddenly, however, they felt guilt and fear, and it seemed as if every creature in the Garden had witnessed their act and condemned them. Feeling exposed, they sought to hide, illustrating that separation from the purity of God began immediately. The virtue of their innocence began to lose its luster.
David writes in Psalm 40:11-13:
Do not withhold Your tender mercies from me, O LORD; let Your lovingkindness and Your truth continually preserve me. For innumerable evils have surrounded me; my iniquities have overtaken me, so that I am not able to look up; they are more than the hairs of my head; therefore my heart fails me. Be pleased, O LORD, to deliver me; O LORD, make haste to help me!
Sin creates a sense of estrangement from God, leaving a tarnishing film on a person's mind. Paul reminds Titus, "To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled" (Titus 1:15). Sin perverts the mind so that one does not look at life in the same way as before. Jeremiah 6:15 describes a sickening end to repeated sin:
"Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed; nor did they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time I punish them, they shall be cast down," says the LORD.
Some children are adorable because we love to see the beauty of their innocence. But what happens on the trip to adulthood? Sin alters the way a person looks at life and the world. With maturity, people become distrustful, sophisticated, competitive, cosmopolitan, cynical, suspicious, sarcastic, prejudiced, self-centered, and uninvolved. It is sin that drives people apart and creates fear.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Seven): Fear of Judgment
This statement could be considered to be a lamentation that things would be different. However, God knew this before He entered into the Old Covenant; He was not surprised that Israel did not keep it. If anything may have grieved Him, perhaps their rebellion was worse than even He expected it would be.
To get a clear picture, one only has to recall the creation of Adam and Eve and the subsequent events in the Garden. God did not create Adam and Eve with an evil heart. Every biblical writer has recognized an innocence in the initial natures of Adam and Eve. They hid themselves from God only after they sinned. "Who told you that you were naked?" God said (Genesis 3:11).
They were confronted with choices and chose the evil way, to sin, and something happened to their minds after they sinned. This is very instructive. Their nature at creation was made impressionable, so that as they made choices, their minds or their dispositions became or conformed to the nature of the choices that they made. A conscience, a perspective, and a character began to be formed.
I Corinthians 2:11 shows that our natural mind is strong in gathering, understanding, and using material knowledge but weak in gathering, understanding, and using spiritual knowledge. In the same manner, babies are not born evil, but they become evil as a result of the influences of life in their environments.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Eleven)
God—not one's human conscience—should be the final arbiter of our actions. However, our loving Creator gifted us with a conscience to aid us in our decision-making and in our response to sin. Just as we are to submit to God's will, we must first subordinate our conscience to His law. In doing so, we significantly increase our chances of engaging in right-minded self-examination, making better decisions, repenting when required, and providing the humble and righteous witness that reflects our desire “to have a conscience without offense toward God and men” (Acts 24:16).
Martin G. Collins
Is Your Conscience a Good Guide?
Human nature is enmity against God, and it rejects God's law (Romans 8:7). The result is continual warfare with God and between men. No one who breaks God's law as a way of life can have peace, at least not the kind of peace God gives. Jesus says in John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you."
The world can produce a level of tranquility from time to time, but it is not the peace of God. When a person sins, it seems as though there is a feeling, a natural fear, that wells up. Even before the sin occurs, one invariably seeks to make sure no one else sees it happen. This does not display a mind at peace. Immediately following a sin, the fear of exposure arises, and the sinner begins justifying, at least to himself, why he has done such a thing. If caught, he justifies himself as Adam and Eve did before God.
In simple terms, God is showing us the consequences of breaking His laws. If one were at peace with God, he would have no need to hide himself. With a clear conscience, he need not lie, justifying and shifting the blame on to others. No one who breaks God's laws can have peace. However, one who loves God's law will not only keep the peace he already has but will add to it as its fruit and reward.
Psalm 119:165 promises another wonderful benefit: Nothing causes those who love God's law to stumble. "To stumble" indicates faltering along the path to the Kingdom of God or even to fall completely away from God. This provides great encouragement and assurance regarding security with God, meaning that we will not be turned aside by the difficulties along the way.
Instead of fear of exposure and a guilty conscience, we will be assured because God's Word says so, as I John 3:18-19 confirms: "My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him." What a confident life we can live by following God's way!
Another New Testament passage, I John 2:8-11, parallels the psalmist's thought:
Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
Consider these verses in relation to the meal offering, representing the devoted keeping of the last six commandments. Hating a brother would be breaking those commandments in relation to him. It might involve murdering him, breaking the marriage bond through adultery, stealing from him, lying to or about him, or lusting after him or his possessions.
Verse 10 parallels Psalm 119:165 exactly when it says, "But he who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him." I John 5:3 defines love: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome." The New Testament strongly affirms that loving one's brother is keeping God's commandments in relation to him, and this provides us strong assurance and stability along the way.
I John 2:11 then shows that the blindness of darkness envelops the eyes of one who hates his brother, that is, breaks God's commandments in relation to him. This blindness produces stumbling and fighting, and thus he has no peace.
It is particularly disturbing if the brother spoken of in these verses also happens to be one's spouse, father, or mother. Old people today stand a high chance of being shunted off into a convalescent or old-age home, if only for the convenience of the adult children. Is that honoring a parent, or is it in some way contemptuous? Are the children unwilling to make sacrifices even for those who brought them into the world? Will this course of action produce peace? Will it produce a sense of well-being in either party?
John says, "He who loves his brother abides in the light" (verse 10), implying that love produces its own illumination. Illumination is what enables a person to see in the dark. Light contrasts to the darkness, blindness, and ignorance of verse 11, which result in stumbling. Illumination indicates understanding and the ability to produce solutions to relationship problems. The difficult part is laying ourselves out in sacrifice to express love. If we fail to do this, we may never see solutions to our relationship problems.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Five): The Peace Offering, Sacrifice, and Love
Fearing God is a choice. Each and every day of our lives, we are faced with many pressures, forces, and influences that compel us to react. We must make a choice: "Shall I go this way, or shall I go that way?" One way represents the fear of God; the other way represents the fear of men, the fear of the loss of pleasure, the fear of the loss of some other physical, social, or cultural "need" that we do not want to lose.
Notice the verbs in this series of verses: "hated," "did not choose," "would have none," "despised"! Is it any wonder that Romans 8:7 says that the carnal mind is enmity against God? We begin to understand that it was the fear of God, given as the gift of God, that drove us to react, drove us in the direction of the very One who holds in His hands the issues of life! God instilled that reaction within us!
There is an antagonism toward wisdom—toward God. Wisdom is not hiding. People have access to common wisdom, which is described as being right out there on the street—out in public. It is in the forest; it is in the city; it is on the job—it is everywhere! We are surrounded by it! This is why God can make the accusation that the Gentiles who do not have the law are a law unto themselves when they do what the law says is right (Romans 2:14). Their own conscience bears them witness that they understand what is right and what is wrong (verse 15)!
Proverbs 1 shows that God (personified as Wisdom) uses just about every device imaginable to awaken people to what is right, so that they will fear evil. We see Wisdom threatening, laughing, and warning, like a dog baring its teeth. If a snarling pit bull braced to attack every time we were about to sin, we would fear, would we not? Our skin would crawl, our hair would stand on end, and we would be almost spitless!
God has not chosen to warn us in that way, but He does warn us through His Word. He also warns us through the fruit of sin, which we see in this world as well as in our own lives. It is almost as if Wisdom is saying, "I told you so, but you would not listen!"
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fear of God
It is helpful to understand that God provides two distinct callings for every person on earth. The first is quite general, and everybody rejects it regardless of how religious he might be. Solomon writes in Proverbs 8:1-4:
Does not wisdom cry out, and understanding lift up her voice? She takes her stand on the top of the high hill, beside the way, where the paths meet. She cries out by the gates, at the entry of the city, at the entrance of the doors: "To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men."
Here, the wisdom of God, personified as a woman, claims that the knowledge of God is readily available to mankind. Proverbs 1:20-26 affirms this:
Wisdom calls aloud outside; she raises her voice in the open squares. She cries out in the chief concourses, at the openings of the gates in the city she speaks her words: "How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge. Turn at my rebuke: surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you. Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded, because you disdained all my counsel and would have none of my rebuke, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes."
Again, God's wisdom is personified, and her testimony is that no one paid attention. All of mankind "disdained all my counsel, and would have none of my rebuke." With this in mind, recall what Paul writes in Romans 1:18-20:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 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.
In other words, no man can stand before God and claim that he turned away from Him because God never provided any understanding of, not only His existence, but also many details of His power and works among men. How is this possible? Apart from the reality of creation, one reason is the ready availability of the Bible. Into how many languages and dialects have men translated it? Nearly everyone on earth can read or hear it in his own tongue!
Romans 2:14-15 presents yet another claim of God that blocks mankind's excuses:
. . . for when the Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thought accusing, or else excusing them. . . .
Deep within everyone, regardless of race or location, is a God-given awareness, a consciousness, not only of His existence, but even of some of the basics of what He requires, things written in God's biblical law. Despite all of this evidence, we universally reject Him. So thorough is mankind's rejection of God that, when He came as a man, we killed Him!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Six)
The same thought is expressed in Genesis 6:5-7, when the Lord repented that He had made man to live on the earth. It never occurred to God that humans could become so wretched that every imagination, every thought that came to mind was only evil continually. The only thing He could think to do to preserve these people for their time of visitation (salvation) would be to wipe them out before their minds became so abominably corrupted, their conscience so defiled, their character so set, their heart, mind, and spirit so evil, that repentance would be impossible. The only thing to do would be to put them to death, to set them apart for a time when they would have an opportunity for salvation, when the kinds of temptations that were in the world at that time would not be present.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part Five)
In Hosea's time, landowners had a system of surveying in which they used stone pillars to mark out the boundaries of their farms. These princes of Judah came out at night—when nobody could see them—and move the pillars so that their properties would get a little bit larger.
We can apply the principle here to real life in relation to sin. The princes of Judah did what we call today "pushing the envelope," pushing the boundaries of what was considered to be safe, right, and within the law. A person will push repeatedly on the edges of what he considers to be acceptable and not sin until the conscience adjusts, and what he formerly would not be caught dead doing—because it would smite his conscience and he would feel terribly guilty—now he can accept as being not so bad
Are we keeping the Sabbath in the same way we kept it twenty years ago? Have we pushed the envelope so that what we would not be caught dead doing twenty years ago we will now do without even thinking about it?
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Is the Work of God Now? (Part Three)
Before Amos gives specific reasons for God's judgment on Israel, he explains His judgment on the surrounding nations in Amos 1:3—2:3. Some may question God's punishment of nations to whom He has not revealed Himself. But God's response is that every human being knows—to one degree or another—what is moral and immoral (Romans 2:14-15). Abimelech, a pagan king of the Philistines, knew that it was wrong to commit sexual immorality (Genesis 26:10). In like manner, God holds these surrounding nations guilty.
Man has learned to silence the voice of his conscience (Romans 1:18), which has led to his sinking into total depravity (verses 20-32). Though God does not hold man accountable for understanding every detail of Him and His way, God does judge him for suppressing the knowledge of Him that he does have.
God does not unfairly accuse anyone. When He judges the Gentile nations as guilty, He does it with good cause. David writes poetically in Psalm 19:1-4 that man has ample evidence in the creation to conclude that a great and awesome Creator God exists. In Lystra, Paul and Barnabas preached that God witnesses to the Gentiles through the many things He provides for them (Acts 14:12-17). Paul writes similarly in Romans 1:19: "What may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them." If he follows his conscience, man should bow down in reverence and awe to his Maker. Instead, mankind has worshipped things that God has made.
God's impartial judgment is important to this book. The nations around Israel in 760 BC had one negative common denominator: They had no revelation of God or His law, no priests or prophets from God. Yet Amos shows them as nations under judgment. Even without special revelation, they had a moral responsibility to God and to one another.
They were accountable to God to be good men, not depraved animals. He does not hold them responsible for their horrible and erroneous religious ideas, but He judges them for what they did or failed to do to other men. No human being can escape the obligation to be humanly moral as God intended, not even the Gentiles. Though God has never dealt directly with them, they know enough of His moral standards to be accountable to God.
If God requires this of men who have no revelation of Him, what does He require of us as Christians? The sobering fact is that we are held accountable for our relationship with both God and man. This underlines our need to listen to Amos.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)
In one way or another, these Gentile nations took vengeance in retaliation for injustices that they believed other nations committed against them. God promises to judge their barbarity, but He does not say when. Many years may pass before He takes action because His overriding goal is repentance and a change in character.
He will execute proper judgment—true justice, and it is our responsibility to have faith in that. Fifty years passed before God avenged the depredating acts of Hazael, king of Syria, against Gilead (Amos 1:3; II Kings 10:32-33). God waited for the right time and place to act. But He did act with a punishment from which He will not turn back (II Kings 13:22-25). When He decides to act, He acts!
When He says that He knows our sitting down and rising up (Psalm 139:2), He is not speaking metaphorically. He is involved with His people. We must learn that sometimes God may not take action within our lifetime, but when He says, "I will repay" (Romans 12:19; Deuteronomy 32:35), He means it!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)
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)
When Jesus gives this beatitude, He does not say, "Blessed are those that have mourned" but "Blessed are those who mourn." He states it as a present and continuous experience. Repentance is not a one-time experience, nor does human nature, "the old man," simply disappear after we receive the new nature. Christianity involves a continuous learning and growing process. We are not instantly created in the image of God by fiat. God has decreed that we must live by faith, and that requires time and experience. We are created in the image of God through the fires of life's sorrows and adversities, as well as its joys. Even of our Savior, Isaiah writes, "He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). Paul adds,
Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. (Hebrews 5:7-8)
The Christian is one whose mind is attuned to God's through an ever-deepening relationship. He has much to mourn over because the sins he commits—both of omission and commission—are a daily sense of grief and will remain so as long as his conscience stays tender. A tender conscience becomes hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. An active and growing relationship with God will lead to an enhanced discovery of human nature's depravity because God will faithfully reveal the massive gulf between His holiness and our corrupt and ever-polluting heart. He will make us conscious of the distance and coldness of our love, the surges of pride and doubt, and the lack of fruit we produce.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Three: Mourning
Those of us in this end-time age may have difficulty comprehending some aspects of the mourning God expects and respects in His children. Our conscience, unless we carefully guard it, can easily adapt itself into accepting its cultural environment. Society's ethics and morals are not constants. There exists a very real pressure for them to decline from God-established standards; what one generation considers immoral or unethical might not be by the next. For instance, what appears on public movie screens over the past thirty to forty years has changed dramatically.
In 1999, the President of the United States went on trial for clearly breaking God's commandments and for crimes for which lesser people are presently serving time. The public, however, gave him high approval ratings, perceived his adulteries and sexual perversions as private affairs, and considered his perjury before a grand jury as deplorable but "no big deal."
Paul warns us in Hebrews 3:12-15:
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: "Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion."
The mourning Jesus desires is the kind that exhibits a softness of heart that is ready for change in a righteous direction, one that knows it has done wrong and is eagerly willing to have it cleansed into holiness. We of this generation face an uphill battle because, through such media as television and movies, we have vicariously experienced the breaking of God's law in unparalleled frequency and in vividly sympathetic ways. On the screen life is cheap, property is meaningless, sexual purity is scoffed at, stealing is fine "if it's necessary," and faithfulness is nerdish and corny. Where is God in it? How much of this world's attitudes have we unwittingly absorbed into our character? Is our conscience still tender? Is mourning over sin—ours and others'—a vital part of our relationship with God?
Godly mourning plays a positive role in producing the changes God desires to produce His image in us. We need to pray with David, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10). He asks God to give him what did not exist before, that his affections and feelings might be made right, and that he might not have the callused attitude that led him to adultery and murder. A plea of this kind is one that God will not deny. If we are truly serious about overcoming and glorifying God, it is well worth the effort.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Three: Mourning
We should recognize that, when Jesus presents meekness in Matthew 5:5 as a highly desirable quality, He prefaces it with "Blessed are the poor in spirit" (verse 3) and "Blessed are those who mourn" (verse 4). He places it within a context that contains qualities that are similar to meekness. Alexander MacLaren writes in his comments on verse 5, "[Meekness] is the conduct and disposition towards God and man which follows from the inward experience described in the two former Beatitudes, which had relation only to ourselves" (Expositions of Holy Scriptures, vol. 6, "St. Matthew," p. 130). In other words, meekness is the active fruit of the other two, but whereas being poor in spirit and mourning are both internal in operation, meekness is both internal and external in its execution in one's life. Though this is not a complete description, it lays a good foundation.
Godly meekness is impossible unless we first learn a just and lowly estimate of ourselves. We must become poor in spirit. We do this by coming before God in deep penitence and with a clear knowledge of the vast difference between ourselves and what He is and what He means us to be. Paul says in Romans 12:3, "For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith." While pride destroys self and others, humility serves and builds.
Mourning springs from a sense of sin, from a tender conscience, from a broken heart. It is a godly sorrow over our rebellion against God and hostility to His will. It is the agonizing realization that it was not just sin in general but our own sins that nailed Christ to the stake. Notice that Matthew 5:4 is in the present tense, meaning that mourning is not confined to our initial repentance—it is a continuous experience. The Christian has much to mourn. If his conscience is kept tender by an ever-deepening discovery of human nature's depravity, his sins—both of omission and commission—are a sense of daily grief. Paul writes in Romans 8:23, "[W]e ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body." He adds in Romans 7:24, "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"
At the same time, this does not mean a Christian lives his life with a hang-dog expression and attitude, or that he lives his life feeling that he is a dirtbag or sleazeball who is still mucking around in a moral septic tank. A Christian is also forgiven, cleansed, and justified by the blood of Jesus Christ. He has access to God the Father, is the apple of His eye and has an awesome hope before him. He has the Holy Spirit in him. He is a child of the great Creator and looks forward to being resurrected and inheriting God's Kingdom. Christ died for him, and this creation exists for his perfection. A Christian has many reasons to feel a sense of exultation for what has been provided for him. An awareness of sin—as long as it is not allowed to become obsessive—will help him continue in a humble frame of mind by keeping pride in check, tempering his judgments, and allowing him to accept the events of life in a spirit that produces great contentment.
These qualities are produced when, with God's help, we rightly measure ourselves against the right standards—God and His law—rather than each other, and discover how much we owe to God's merciful grace. Anyone thus convicted and then forgiven and cleansed by Christ's blood is in the position to produce godly meekness.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Meekness
Paul was a principled man guided by a strong conscience. His entire life displays a devotion to doing what he thought was in accordance with God's will, his conduct reflecting that sincerity. His actions as a Pharisee were governed by many of the same biblical principles extant after his conversion. In a sense, he became a Christian because God persuaded his conscience that it was the right thing for him to do. In other words, when God converted him, He did not change Paul's conscience but his perception of what was right—of what God's will actually was.
The Bible reveals Paul, prior to his conversion, as one who was sincerely wrong. His actions did not reflect the actual will of God, but instead, those of a man determined to do what he sincerely believed was “wise in his own eyes” (Isaiah 5:21). In Acts 26:9, Paul admits, “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.”
We should be wary of such misguided sincerity. Yet, if we strive, like Paul, to avoid hypocrisy and follow our conscience in all matters, God's judgment will take our motivations into account (Proverbs 21:2; Romans 14:22-23; I Timothy 1:13).
Martin G. Collins
Is Your Conscience a Good Guide?
Suneidesis, translated as “conscience” and used 32 times in the New Testament, was introduced to the biblical lexicon by Paul. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia defines it as, “An inner witness that testifies on the rightness or wrongness of one's actions or motives and, on the basis of them, pronounces judgment concerning the worth of the person.” Put simply, it is a person's internal moral sense.
While Paul does not provide a formal definition, what he writes in Romans 2:14-15 comes close:
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them. (English Standard Version)
Conscience can be seen as a gift of God that provides human beings with the capacity for accurate self-examination, particularly when used in the light of God's truth as illustrated by I Corinthians 4:4. We should realize that it is, not a dictator of our beliefs, but a response that reflects our current values (Romans 9:1; II Corinthians 1:12; 4:2; 5:11).
Martin G. Collins
Is Your Conscience a Good Guide?
The subject of government in the Bible is indeed extensive. As we begin, notice that Paul writes that "there is no authority except from God" (verse 1). Though this statement appears in relation to civil authority, God's oversight is broad and deep. Even Satan's authority, as ruler of this world (John 14:30), is assigned by God. Jesus tells Pilate in John 19:11, "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above." Those in the church with a position of authority also receive it from God (I Corinthians 12:18, 28). These are important statements on God's overall sovereignty.
In verse 2, Paul mentions "the ordinance of God." God's ordinance states His will, and He clearly establishes civil government. Therefore, we are responsible for obeying civil authority also, for in doing so we are obeying God. These verses do not imply that we must always obey civil government. Other verses show that we must obey it as long as the civil authority does not contradict God's laws. In verses 3-4, Paul comes close to stating that the civil authority somewhat parallels the Old Testament "avenger of blood."
In verses 5-7, God extends our responsibilities to submit to government as a means to keep our consciences clear, as well as to pay taxes, not only so the state can afford to employ these civil servants of God, but also to submit to community customs regarding them and even to give them honor.
These seven verses show three general reasons why humans must be governed. First, law-abiding citizens must be protected. Paul's life was saved in Acts 21:30-32 when Roman soldiers stepped in to save him from the murderous intent of angry Jews. Second, evildoers must be restrained. Third, the general welfare is promoted by helping to establish peace. In I Timothy 2:1-3, Paul commands us to pray that this function is carried out.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part Four)
In Romans 14, the subject is not clean and unclean foods but eating meat versus vegetarianism (verse 2). Paul admonishes Christians not to pass judgment on others for eating meat or for eating only vegetables (verse 3).
The question that confronted Paul was not that God's people were suggesting that somehow unclean animals had now been made clean, but the belief of some that no meat—even meat that had been created to be eaten with thanksgiving—should be eaten at all. The apostle points out that it would be wrong for the vegetarians to eat meat if they had doubts about it, as it would defile their consciences (verse 23). He concludes, "For whatever is not of faith is sin."
Verse 14 is a proof text used by the world to conclude that all meat is now fine to eat: "I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean." This is another verse that has been poorly translated to conform to preconceived notions.
The problem is with the word "unclean," which does not appear in the Greek text. To mean "unclean," Paul would have used akarthatos, but instead, the text reads koinos, which means "common," "ordinary," "defiled," or "profane (as opposed to holy or consecrated)." Peter uses both "common" and "unclean" to describe meats in Acts 10:14, so there is obviously a difference between the terms.
We know that the Bible defines "unclean" meat in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14, but when is meat considered "common"? The only circumstances in which clean meats are common or defiled are when a clean animal dies naturally or is torn by beasts (Leviticus 22:8) or when the blood has not been properly drained from the meat (Leviticus 17:13-14; 3:17). Such animal flesh was called common because it could be given to strangers or aliens in Old Testament times if they wished to eat it (Deuteronomy 14:21). Similarly, in Acts 15:20, 29, the apostles forbade the Gentiles to eat the meat of a strangled animal or meat that had not been drained of blood.
In the case of Romans 14:14, it is likely that "defiled" would be the best term, as the meat under discussion was probably that offered to idols then sold in the marketplace for public consumption. To paraphrase, then, the verse should read: ". . . there is nothing defiled of itself; but to him who considers anything to be defiled, to him it is defiled."The meat was not defiled in fact, just in the minds of various church members, whom Paul had earlier called "weak" (verse 2). These "weak in the faith" Christians believed that, because the meat had been offered to a pagan idol, it had become spiritually defiled.
Paul explains in I Corinthians 8:4-7 that the demon behind the idol is nothing, for "there is no other God but one" (verse 4). Thus, there is no "spiritual" taint to the meat.
However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse. (verses 7-8)
So we see that in these verses that Paul is not in any manner doing away with God's laws concerning clean and unclean meat. The topic does not even come up! He is discussing meat defiled or profaned due to its association with a pagan idol.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Did God Change the Law of Clean and Unclean Meats?
Paul is dealing with a clash of values within an individual. Sometimes we are conscience stricken, feeling very uneasy about what we have permitted ourselves to do. If there were no difference between what one is permitted to do and what one actually does—causing guilt—we would not need to be concerned about self-doubt or self-condemnation.
But these occasions do arise. This leads to a number of overlapping questions that we need to consider:
- What is the source of what you permit yourself to do?
- Where did your values originate?
- Where did you form your values?
- Are you sure you are right even when you are not conscience stricken?
We should ask these questions of ourselves in areas such as business ethics, education, entertainment, athletics, fashions, diet, child training and marital relations, not just in the obvious areas of morality.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The First Commandment (1997)
Paul is dealing with a clash of values within an individual. Confronting a situation in which two distinctly different moral or ethical alternatives exist can produce puzzlement and fear. Such a situation has the potential to leave a person conscience-stricken after doing what he permits himself to do.
If there were no differences between what a person is permitted to do and what he actually does, there would be no self-doubt or self-condemnation to be concerned about. However, the reality is that differences arise. This often occurs when the individual has learned a value in his past, but he is challenged by a different value in the present. This leads to a number of overlapping questions that we need to consider:
» What is the source of what we permit ourselves to do?
» Where did our values originate?
» Where did we form our values?
» Are we sure we are right even when we are not conscience-stricken? This last question is necessary because people can be absolutely wrong while sincerely thinking that they are right.
We should ask these questions of ourselves in areas such as business ethics, education, entertainment, athletics, fashion, diet, child-training, and marital relations—in other words, the entire framework of life, not just in the obvious areas of morality. Acts 18:25-26 reminds us that Christianity is a way of life, a course of conduct encompassing every aspect of life.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The First Commandment
1 Corinthians 8:9-13
The apostle Paul was fully aware that others studied and imitated his example, so he was very careful about how he appeared to the members of the church. I Corinthians 8:9-13 contains a fine example of his circumspect living.
The overall subject of this passage is meat offered to idols. After sacrificing an animal in the temples, the pagan priests often sold the surplus meat to local merchants, who included it along with other meat at his stall in the marketplace. Some felt that meat was meat, and since there is only one true God, the meat offered to a man-made image was perfectly fine to eat. Others who were new in the faith or more sensitive to issues of spiritual contamination, believed that to eat such meat placed them in fellowship with—and they were thus defiled by—the false god, a demon, to which it had been offered.
Verse 10 shows that some Christians would even eat meat in the pagan temple! The new or sensitive Christian, seeing this—and perhaps having recently rejected that false religion—would suffer a weakening of his conscience or his faith. In an extreme case, he might even return to his paganism and be lost (verse 11)!
Paul, however, provides the correct example in verses 12-13. Notice the apostle's starting point: Such a sin against a brother in Christ is a sin against Christ Himself! It is that serious! However "legal" eating the meat might be under God's law, the more important point is that the effect of one's actions on a brother's character takes precedence. Paul's conclusion, then, is that he would never even give the appearance of sin if it would harm a brother in the faith.
Is this not the love of God in action? God's love manifests itself in thoughts, words, and deeds of care and concern for our brethren (I John 4:7-11, 21-5:1). It should be our motivation in walking circumspectly, setting a right example and never giving even a hint of evil in our way of life. If we do these things, to our amazement we will prove to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world!
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Abstaining From Evil
The context in which these verses appear is important to understanding the production of the fruit of the Spirit. This immediately precedes the listing of the fruit of the Spirit, showing that Paul means that they will be produced through much internal conflict.
This is true because obedience to God's Word is required to produce the Spirit's fruit, and the Christian is being pulled or led in two directions. The one tries to make us satisfy the desires of our old nature, and the other leads us toward producing the fruit of the new. Paul expresses his experience with this in Romans 7:15-19.
For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.
Christians, as Martin Luther stated, "are not stocks and stones." As humans, we are creatures of desires, drives, and emotions. Certainly, as we learn to walk in the Spirit, we increasingly subdue our flesh. But flesh and Spirit remain, and the conflict between them is fierce and unremitting.
We need not become discouraged over this conflict, though, because Paul also gives us a very hopeful solution. In Romans 7:24-25, he exclaims: "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin."
Every Christian striving to produce the fruit of God will experience this combination of lamentation over sinfulness and joyous expression of gratitude over the certainty of deliverance. The unconverted do not feel the agonizing struggle against sin with the same intensity as the converted. The converted have their peace disturbed and can feel wretched in their conscience.
But this has a good side to it as well. We know it is degrading to the divine nature, and it humbles us to know full well that we have succumbed to evil passions. We then realize more fully that the law cannot come to our aid, neither can other men, and our strength has already betrayed us. Therefore, if we really desire to glorify God and produce spiritual fruit, this conflict will drive us to God in heartfelt prayer for the strength only He can give. God's Word and eventually our experience prove that without Christ, we can do nothing!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit
Sometimes we seem to consist of a whole clamorous mob of desires, like week-old kittens, blind of eye with mouths wide open, mewing to be satisfied. It is as if two voices are in us, arguing, "You shall, you shall not. You ought, you ought not." Does not God want us to set a will above these appetites that cannot be bribed, a reason that cannot be deceived, and a conscience that will be true to God and His standards? We must either control ourselves using the courage, power, and love of God's Spirit, or we will fall to pieces.
Adam and Eve established the pattern for mankind in the Garden of Eden. All of us have followed it, and then, conscience-smitten, we rankle under feelings of weakness. They were tempted by the subtle persuasions of Satan and the appeals of their own appetites for forbidden fruit that looked so good. To this they succumbed, and they sinned, bringing upon themselves the death penalty and much more evil besides. What is the use of appealing to men who cannot govern themselves, whose very disease is that they cannot, whose conscience cries out often both before and after they have done wrong, "Who shall deliver me from this body of death?" It is useless to tell a king whose subjects have overthrown him to rule his kingdom. His kingdom is in full revolt, and he has no soldiers behind him. He is a monarch with no power.
A certain Bishop Butler said, "If conscience had power, as it has authority, it would govern the world." Authority without power is nothing but vanity. Conscience has the authority to guide or accuse, but what good is it if the will is so enfeebled that the passions and desires get the bit between their teeth, trample the conscience, and gallop headlong to the inevitable collision with the ditch?
The solution to this lies in our relationship with Christ:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
This is the only thing that will give us complete self-control, and it will not fail.
In Luke 11:13, Jesus makes this wonderful promise of strength to those who trust Him:
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!
Trust Jesus Christ, and ask Him to govern. Ask Him for more of God's Holy Spirit, and He will help you to control yourself. Remember, II Timothy 1:7 says this is a major reason that He gives us His Spirit. He will not fail in what He has promised because the request fits perfectly into God's purpose of creating sons in His image.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Self-Control
God's intention is clear. We are to gain property and possessions by honest work and/or inheritance from those who have the right to give them. We must come into possession of things in a way God approves.
The verb "labor" indicates exertion to the point of exhaustion. In addition, Paul admonishes us not merely to work to satisfy our personal needs and desires, but also to be able to give freely any excess to others in need. The admonition implies distributing the excess personally rather than indirectly through an agency. He adds in Acts 20:35, "I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
Stealing is totally against the grain of God's way of life. Our God is a working, creating God (John 5:17), and we cannot be in His image if we are gaining possessions through stealing. In the spirit of God's law, a person not only steals by taking another's possessions, but also by refusing to work in order to share and give to others in need.
This commandment does not reach its fullest expression until the ninth and tenth are added to it. Stealing frequently has its genesis in a desire to have something one has no money to purchase, or the unwillingness to work patiently until one does. Deception then enters. A person will try to acquire a desired possession in such a way that others will think he procured it honorably. We can stop this sin at any point in the process, but few make any effort to restrain their lust, deceit, and itching fingers.
Robert Kahn was correct in saying, "There are a hundred ways to steal but only one way to be honest." In order not to steal, we must be scrupulously honest. What good is it if we are one-half or three-quarters honest? What if God was honest with us only part of the time? Could we trust Him? Can others really trust us if we are only partially honest? Do we lock our doors because we trust everybody? Thievery creates distrust, fear, and suspicion, destabilizing institutions and communities.
The reason we should refrain from stealing is not just to avoid sinning. This in itself is very good, but scrupulous honesty produces integrity, wholeness. Such integrity enables us to live confidently before God and man. The apostle John writes in I John 3:18-19: "My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him." Personal integrity is a major source of positive, confident living.
A conscience can be either a good or bad guide because it is educated by an individual's experiences. Practicing scrupulous honesty builds character and educates the conscience in the right direction so that it will send the right prompting at the right time. We cannot allow ourselves room to rationalize stealing. We must be scrupulously honest always, or our character will descend on a path of degeneracy.
There are hundreds of ways to steal, and dozens of excuses for stealing, but only one way and one reason and one law of integrity. That way is honor, that reason is a clear conscience, and that law is God's. He says, "You shall not steal." Never. In any way. From any one.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Eighth Commandment (1997)
1 Timothy 4:2
In I Timothy 4:2, Paul speaks of people searing or cauterizing their consciences with a hot iron. Willard Gaylin writes that "the failure to feel guilt is the basic flaw in the psychopath, or antisocial person, who is capable of committing crimes of the vilest sort without remorse or contrition." We could describe the unpardonable sin as the incapacity to feel remorse or a person's determination to override every warning signal of guilt. If people repeatedly violate their consciences, masking their guilt by using escapist "analgesics," the consequences become devastating. Without the stimulus of spiritual pain, they become incapable of changing their behavior.
This seared conscience is the ultimate result of the process Paul describes in Romans 1:28: "And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over [abandoned them, Twentieth Century New Testament] to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting." Though God desires to grant all men repentance (II Peter 3:9), a person can reach a point where it is no longer possible because, in his perversion and wickedness, he has burned his conscience to cinders.
We need to thank God for the capacity to feel both physical and spiritual pain. It provides us with the warning and the motivation to change—to be transformed into the image of our Savior Jesus Christ. In accepting His sacrifice for our sins, we take upon ourselves the responsibility—with God's help—to diagnose and eradicate the sins that cause the spiritual pain in the first place, to bring us into vibrant spiritual health. As the author of Hebrews writes, "Now no chastening [painful discipline] seems to be joyful for the present, but grievous; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:11).
David F. Maas
Guilt: Our Spiritual Pain
"The deceitfulness of sin"! In this context, to be deceitful is to be seductively and enticingly misleading. Sin promises what it cannot deliver. It promises pleasure, contentment, fulfillment—life—but its delivery on these things is fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying. Its deceitfulness is the very reason why it has addictive qualities. It lures us on to try to capture what it can never deliver.
The pleasure is never quite enough to produce the contentment and fulfillment one desires. Thus, people are forced into greater and deeper perversions until it results in death. All along the way, from its inception to death, sin quietly produces hardness of heart. Like a callus that forms over a break in a bone or stiffens a person's joints, sin paralyzes right action.
"Hardness" is translated from skleruno, from which name for the disease multiple sclerosis is derived. In a moral context, it means "impenetrable," "insensitive," "blind," "unteachable." A hardened attitude is not a sudden aberration, but the product of a habitual state of mind that reveals itself in inflexibility of thinking and insensitivity of conscience. Eventually, it makes repentance impossible. The will to do right is completely gone.
The will is the power or faculty by which the mind makes choices and acts to carry them out. An old adage says: "Sow an act and reap a habit; sow a habit and reap a character; sow a character and reap a destiny." At first, against his will, a person engages in some forbidden pleasure out of weakness, curiosity, or sheer carnality. If the practice continues, he sins because he cannot help doing so; he is becoming addicted to it. Once a sin becomes a habit, he considers it to be almost a necessity. When it becomes a necessity, the destiny is produced.
John W. Ritenbaugh
What Sin Is & What Sin Does
The first thing to note in Hebrews 10:26-27 is the word "sin." Paul is not speaking of sin in general but the specific sin of apostasy from the faith that was once known and professed. The apostasy he has in mind is not so much an act but a state brought on by many individual attitudes and sins, reproducing the original, carnal antagonism a person has toward God before conversion.
Some commentaries insist that the Authorized Version is not quite correct in translating the term in verse 26 as "willfully." These argue that the Greek word, hekousios, will not permit this translation. It appears only one other time, in I Peter 5:2, where it is translated as "willingly." The commentators insist that it should be rendered "willingly" in Hebrews 10:26.
The American Heritage College Dictionary supports their conclusion. To do something willfully is to do it purposely or deliberately. The commentators say all sin is done purposely because human nature is set up to do so, even though weakness, ignorance, or deception may be involved as well. To do a thing willingly is to be disposed, inclined, or prepared to do it. Its synonyms are "readily," "eagerly," "compliantly," "ungrudgingly," "voluntarily," and "volitionally." This sense is contained in the context because, by the time a person reaches the apostate stage in his backward slide, where he has forsaken God and His way, he has no resistance to sin.
The sinner is deliberately, even eagerly, determined to abandon Christ, to turn away from God and His way, having completely become an enemy once again. He sins with barely a second thought, if with any thought at all. He sins automatically, as there is none of God's Spirit left to constrain him. His conscience is totally defiled; he has forsaken God.
Who is in danger of committing this sin? All who have made a profession of faith in Christ but are now neglecting their salvation.
The message of Hebrews is that it does not have to be this way. If the person takes heed and stirs himself awake, if he truly seeks to overcome and grow once again, if he returns to being a living sacrifice and seeking to glorify God, if he truly denies himself and takes up his cross, if he keeps God's commandments to live life as a Christian, he will not apostatize.
He may fall back from time to time, but as long as he repents and honestly seeks God when sin occurs in his life, the sin is readily forgiven. I John 1:9 confidently proclaims, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." John 14:23 assures us that as long as we are keeping His Word, we are safe.
Hebrews 12:5-10 explains that God is faithfully working in our behalf, even chastening us if He sees fit, to get us turned around and headed again in the right direction and attitude. He does this faithfully because He does not want to lose us. Christ died for each child of God, thus each child He loves - and He loves them all - represents a substantial investment. Christ did not die in vain for anybody. In Hebrews 13:5, He charges us with the task of putting to work His promise, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
John W. Ritenbaugh
God's Power: Our Shield Against Apostasy
1 John 3:20
This is vitally important to us because we of all people are subject to intense feelings of self-condemnation and guilt from knowing that we are not living up to God's standard. We truly care about what God thinks of us because we know more than most about Him.
Our faith is not to be blind and unthinking but based on truth. Our application of faith in light of this verse necessitates a fascinating balance between two extremes that arise from our more precise knowledge of God's way. Both extremes are wrong. The first extreme is that we live life in constant guilt and fear that God's hammer will fall and smash us to smithereens at any moment due to our imperfections.
The second is a laissez-faire, God-is-very-merciful-and-tolerant, He-understands-my-weaknesses attitude. In this extreme, sins are accepted as part of the normal course of life, and no determined effort is made to overcome them. Some have given in to a particular sin, exclaiming, "God understands my needs." God also understands rebellion.
But whatever happened to Jesus' strong admonition, "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out," or "If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off" (Matthew 5:29-30)? Certainly, He does not mean this literally, but it illustrates the serious determination, vigor, and strength we are to employ in overcoming sin. Those who minimize sin come close to trampling the Son of God underfoot and putting His sacrifice to an open shame (see Hebrews 6:6; 10:29).
How good is the sacrifice of such a person's life? He is guilty of practicing sin. John writes, "Whoever is born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God" (I John 3:9). Later, in Revelation 22:15, he adds, "But outside [the New Jerusalem] are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie." Such people will not be in God's Kingdom.
Their consciences have adjusted in a similar way to the situation in Malachi 1. Sin, a defiled life, is acceptable, and their attitude seems to be that God will just have to be satisfied with children who will not strive to overcome. This is dangerous business indeed because God says only those who overcome will inherit all things (Revelation 21:7). Is God satisfied with such a situation? Does He not desire a better offering from His children for their welfare and His glory? If He is not content, the fellowship is either already broken or is breaking down.
Our concern, however, is for those who are striving to overcome but still failing from time to time—those who know they are not living up to the standard and struggle with a guilty conscience and feel their fellowship with God is cut off because of occasional sin. The majority of us probably fall into this category.
When we commit the occasional sin, are we no longer acceptable to God? Is our fellowship truly cut off? While it is true that sin separates us from Him, do we remain unsatisfied because we feel there is no communion? Once again, God's grace rescues us from what would otherwise be an impossible situation.
The answer to this confounding situation lies in a change of our natures arising from repentance, receipt of God's Holy Spirit, and—perhaps above all—access to God through Jesus Christ. Through these come fellowship and experience with Them throughout the remainder of life and access to God's merciful grace when we fall short. There can be no doubt we are saved by grace through faith. Our depression and extreme self-condemnation reveals a lack of faith in God's willingness to forgive upon repentance. Though works are required of us, we cannot earn our way into the Kingdom through them because they will forever fall short in providing payment for sin.
There is a tension between the two extremes of excessive guilt and feelings of worthlessness in contrast to the casual, careless, irresponsible, "God will just have to take me as I am" disregard of our responsibility to glorify God in all we think, say, and do.
This is why John says, "God is greater than our heart." He is ever willing to accept us as Christ—even though we personally bring Him blemished offerings in our life's experiences—as long as our attitude has not turned to trampling the sacrifice of His Son underfoot and treating it as a common thing.
We will never enter into God's acceptance and fellowship based on any work of offering we sacrifice to Him. The only thing He will accept is the unblemished offering of Christ's life, and because it accompanies or precedes us into His presence, we are accepted, have communion with Him, and are fed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Four): The Peace Offering
Christ admits the truth about them. "I know your works [obedience and service], that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot" (Revelation 3:15). Why does He wish this? Because if they were either cold or hot, they would be useful to Him. Lukewarm Christians send confusing messages. In this state, being useless to Him, He spews them out of His mouth. All the messages to these seven churches highlight works because they are evidence of how Christians conduct their relationships with God. Works reveal the heart. They are a gauge of one's witness and spiritual state.
Metaphorically, what does lukewarmness signify here? To define it to this point, a rough definition might be "that which gives no refreshment, or that which has neither the cleansing properties of hot water nor the refreshing properties of cold." Modern synonyms of the word "lukewarm" give illuminating insights into its use in this letter: lacking ardor, enthusiasm or conviction; moderate; mild; unemotional; halfhearted; hesitant; indecisive; irresolute; uncertain; uncommitted; unresponsive; indifferent; impassive; languid; phlegmatic; apathetic; nonchalant; lackadaisical.
Recall the hallmarks of Babylon: pride, self-glorification, reliance on wealth, satiety, complacency, avoidance of suffering. Although he has the abilities and resources to be a great witness, the Laodicean is complacent, self-satisfied, bored with or indifferent to the real issues of life. For a Christian, the real issues are faith in Christ and our Christian responsibility. And to do the work Christ has called us to, our loyalty and devotion must be to Him, first and foremost!
A problem arises, however, in "spotting" a Laodicean—these qualities do not necessarily show on the outside. Why? Remember Christ describes a spiritual condition. This is a matter of the heart. What does He want to see in him? He wants the Laodicean to get off the fence—to be one way or the other, cold or hot. Conversely, the Laodicean judges that he is balanced, right in the middle. But his concept of balance is skewed. Why will he not move off the middle? He feels he has it good there! If he moves left or right, he fears that he will suffer! Thus, he has no desire to move.
Then what happens? The Laodicean must compromise. This is interesting in light of what the history books record. Ancient Laodicea's main line of defense was conciliation and compromise! Why? Again, the answer lies in the city's inadequate water supply, making it very susceptible to the siege of an invading army. By having its tenuous water supply cut off, the city was at the mercy of its attacker. With no water, it could hold out for only a short while. The Laodicean solution? They became masters of appeasement, accommodation, conciliation, and diplomacy. Peace at any cost! How did they appease? They bought their enemies off! Laodicea used its wealth to conciliate and compromise.
Christ uses the attitude of the surrounding environment to illustrate that those in the church of Laodicea are affected by the attitudes of the world. Without even realizing it, they behave exactly like their unconverted neighbors. They are worldly. Though they are not out on the streets robbing banks, raping, looting, murdering, mugging old grandmothers, or abusing children, in their hearts they have the same general approach to life as Babylon has. Theologically, spiritually, they hold the same values as Babylon, proved by their works. Spiritually, they become very adept in avoiding the sacrifices that might be necessary to overcome and grow in character, wisdom, and understanding. In other words, they are skilled in appeasing Satan and their own consciences.
Christ says He will spew, or vomit, the Laodicean from His mouth! That is how He views this attitude of compromise with principles, ideals, standards, and truth!
Some may expect Laodiceans to be lazy, but on the contrary they are often workaholics. Satan has foisted this false concept of Laodiceanism onto the church. One cannot become "rich and increased with goods" by being lazy! Their problem is a faulty setting of priorities. They are very vigorous people, but they are vigorous in areas that fail miserably to impress their Judge, Christ. Vigorous in conducting business and other carnal affairs, they are lackadaisical in pursuing the beauty of holiness, which is their calling. They are not vigorous or zealous in maintaining their prayer life with God or in studying. They are not energetic in making the sacrifices necessary to love their brethren or in developing their relationships with others. Nor are they enthusiastic about guarding the standards and principles of God. By erring in the setting of priorities, they victimize themselves.
Over the last fifteen years of his life, Herbert Armstrong expressed deep concern about the church becoming Laodicean. Because of the plethora of activities this world offers, he saw that ultimately they distract us, cause us to set wrong priorities, and keep us from putting our time, energy, and vigor into godly things. He often cited Daniel 12:4 as a telltale sign of the last days: "Seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase." Are we busy in this age? Satan is a slick strategist, and he really deceives anyone who allows himself to believe that busyness and prosperity are signs of righteousness.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The World, the Church, and Laodiceanism
This is where today's violence is headed. When people begin killing Christians, they will not feel any sense of wrong in doing so than those who are currently aborting babies. By that time, justifications will have been made, minds will have adjusted, and they will think, "We need to get rid of these people because they are a threat to society. They don't deserve to live."
Do Arabs and Israelis not find justifications for killing one another? Do dictators not find justifications for killing dissidents? The mind, the conscience, adjusts, and when that happens, people feel justified in what they are doing.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Handwriting Is on the Wall (1995)
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