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What the Bible says about Stiff- Necked People
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Luke 5:39

Our responsibility is to step out in faith, trusting Him, yielding to His truths taught to us. We do this by putting it to work in our lives, but it is not always easily done. What we are, what we have become since birth, is deeply entrenched in our character, and our nature does not cede control easily. Notice the example of Israel: "And the LORD said to Moses, 'I have seen this people, and indeed it is a stiff-necked people!'" (Exodus 32:9). "Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people" (Exodus 33:3). "But they did not obey nor incline their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear nor receive instruction" (Jeremiah 17:23).

This theme runs throughout the Bible. When Hebrews 4:1-2 says that the Israelites failed in the wilderness because "the word which they heard . . . [was not] mixed with faith," Paul is referring to this principle. They simply would not yield their mind to admit that He was right. They seized upon their own opinions, observing them rather than what God commanded. Each individual Israelite may not have actually gone through the process of rejecting each command, but simply keeping their habitual attitudes and conduct produced the same end. Their actions and attitudes, then, like the basketball players who never "buy" the coach's system, spoke for them, revealing what they, in their heart of hearts, really believed.

In Luke 5:39, Jesus uses an illustration to help us understand this rejection syndrome. He teaches that man has a natural resistance to the things of God. A wider and equally true application is that we humans almost immediately resist anything different from what we believe at the time. This is both good and bad. The important thing is whether we honestly consider and appraise behaviors and ideas before rejecting them.

Are our minds honest enough that, when hearing God's Word truthfully expounded, we will consciously and promptly take action to change when wrong? The Israelites appear to have had an automatic negative reaction to God's Word. They definitely did not have a childlike, submissive attitude! The Bible records that their conduct never changed, nor did their attitudes. In the game of life, they kept right on doing things as they always had, so they died in the wilderness. They left Egypt, but Egypt never left them.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Eating: How Good It Is! (Part Five)

Acts 7:51-53

An "uncircumcised heart" is one that is closed and impervious to God's attempts to affect it. It resists them, which is why Stephen calls them "stiff-necked." A stiff-necked person is unyielding. His head is set, his jaw is outthrust, his ears are closed, and his teeth are clenched. He says, "I won't do it!" This is the effect of the uncircumcised heart.

"Uncircumcised ears" are those that hear the Word of God imperfectly, usually because they hear only what they want to hear, or they hear with such a strong prejudice that they reject the truth out of hand.Interestingly, if God says something, it is likely that men will reject it, yet if a man says exactly the same thing, a high likelihood exists that the listener's mind will be much more open to what is said. This just shows how physically oriented we are. If we know something is coming from God, human nature always gets its guard up; it is already beginning to say, "No."

"Uncircumcised lips" (see Exodus 6:12, 30) speak the Word of God imperfectly or incorrectly, either because the person is in ignorance or has been deceived.

In regard to an uncircumcised heart, if what hinders a person from yielding to God is cut away—circumcised—the heart becomes open, pliable, and amenable to the Word of God. The effect is that he will submit.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Seven)

Philippians 2:12-13

There is no question that God can save us. Of course He can make us inheritors of "the land" and give us eternal life. All these are beyond question! He has the power to do this, and He has the will to do it. He certainly wants to do it—it is part of His purpose.

Even so, we can stop the process. We can choose not to be sanctified. This is why Paul says, "Work out your own salvation." We learn from the analogy of Israel in the wilderness how the first generation of those who came out chose—they made the choice—to die in the wilderness. It was not God's purpose that they die there. He had the power to get Israel into the land. Indeed, He did it. Yet, their lack of faith, their disbelief, their stiff necks, the fact that they never got rid of the patterns of thinking they had in Egypt, they would not yield, they refused to make the right choices (as Joshua and Caleb did) were the deciding factors in their bodies being scattered all through the wilderness. God had it written down as a lesson for us (see I Corinthians 10:1-11). He is saying, in effect, "Choose life. Don't choose to do what these people did—in lusting, tempting Me, and so forth."

So, who can we possibly blame if we do not make it? Has not God called us? Has He not given us His grace? Has He not given us His Spirit, a new heart, the divine nature, access to Him, the promise that He will never give us any trial that is too great for us? And let us not forget he additional promise in Hebrews 13:5, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." He has given us all the tools, so now the onus is on us.

God is not demanding that we do everything perfectly from day one, but He does want to see evidence that we want to be there! He wants to see that we are making efforts to walk the talk. He wants to see that we are not going backwards. He wants to see us move off dead center and that we begin to grow on a steady, consistent basis—regardless of how fast it is. He wants to see that we are using and applying what He has given to us, and He is willing to add whatever we lack! He will give us the gifts that we need in order to serve Him. If we do what He wants us to do, the changes will take place.

The mainstream Christian approach leaves one with the impression that salvation is complete at the point of justification. But that is completely out of step with Colossians 1:22, where Paul writes, "if you continue in the faith. . . ." Israel had to walk to the Promised Land, and as they walked, God prepared them to inherit the land. In this way, they became sanctified. Sanctification is what gives evidence ofgrowth.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Nine)


 




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