What the Bible says about
Faith and Obedience
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Here we have the Bible's first sermon. This is what Abel heard, believed, and submitted to. The same instruction merely informed Cain.
Adam and Eve were the first sinners to stand before God and be called into account. In this passage are four elements that apply to what Abel believed. The first element is that, in order for a sinner to stand before God, nakedness must be covered. Nakedness, both spiritual and physical, has wide usage as a symbol. At its best, it indicates innocence, child-like simplicity, and vulnerability. At its worst, it indicates humiliation, guilt, shame, and punishment. Adam and Eve were attempting to hide their humiliation, guilt, and shame when they grabbed a few fig leaves to provide covering.
An interesting spiritual lesson comes in understanding an application of the symbolism here. Adam and Eve threw together as a covering whatever was handy at the moment. What they chose to cover themselves with physically was totally inadequate as a spiritual covering. God immediately rejected their effort, which is the main instruction of this vignette.
A secondary teaching is that many carnal people today think it does not matter what they physically wear when they come before God at church services. Oh, yes, it does! These days, people arrive at church to worship wearing all kinds of casual clothing. In fact, many churches invite them to do so, advertising themselves as "casual"! Sometimes this reflects a matter of ignorance; they just do not know any better. At other times, it reveals a serious matter of disrespect for the primary covering—Christ's sacrifice, as we shall see shortly.
It is good to remember the overall principle to appear before God covered with acceptable covering. The symbolic instruction carries through to both physical and spiritual applications, and the person who cares what God thinks will do his best to conform to Him. God covered Adam and Eve with truly fine clothing. That is our example.
The second element Genesis 3 reveals takes us a step further spiritually in regard to the covering: What humans devise in terms of covering spiritual nakedness is, in reality, worthless. The third element clarifies this further: God Himself must supply the only covering that is spiritually adequate.
The fourth element is that the only adequate spiritual covering is by means of death. As in the first element, there are two lines of instruction. The first leads to the necessity of the second, if life is to continue. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). The underlying principle is that we are always to give of our best to the Master. When we fail, the death penalty is imposed. This, then, brings forth a second teaching: In a spiritual sense, the entire human race sinned in Adam and Eve, who represented all mankind at the time. Since the wages of sin is death, and all have subsequently sinned, all of us must receive that wage—or another, an innocent One on whom death has no claim because He never sinned, must substitute for us.
However, we find it clearly spelled out in Romans that there must be a link between us and the Substitute (Romans 4:1-4, 11-12, 16, 19-20, 23-25; 5:1-2).
Faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the link between us and God's forgiveness, which provides the acceptable spiritual covering necessary to be received into God's presence and receive the gift of life.
The second aspect of the fourth element also involves another death—ours. In this case, it is not a literal death but a spiritual one:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? . . . knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him. (Romans 6:1-2, 6-8)
This death is achieved through repentance because one believes he is a sinner in need of God's forgiveness, having broken His law and earned death.
What we have just reviewed must have been taught to Cain and Abel, probably by Adam. How do we know this? Because Hebrews 11:4 tells us that Abel offered by faith, and faith comes by hearing. He heard the divine words given by God to Adam and Eve, which were passed to him, and Abel believed. Cain heard the same words, but did not believe as Abel did.
More proof is recorded following Cain's rejection. God says to him in Genesis 4:7, "If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it." God clearly indicates a choice between right and wrong. Good and evil faced Cain and Abel. The one brother by faith chose what was right in God's eyes, while the other chose what was right in his own eyes. In essence, he chose death.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Three)
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
The apostles wanted more faith so they could meet the challenges of God's demands, but Jesus knew that it was not quantity they needed but quality. They did not need an increase of faith that would bring some reward following its use, but a faith that, although small like a mustard seed, is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). The disciple with this type of living faith is convinced of the fact that God exists (Romans 4:16-22; Hebrews 11:1-3), conscious of his intimate relationship with God (Romans 5:1-2), and concerned about absolute submission to His will (Romans 12:2).
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)
Following Jesus' assurance that his son would live, the nobleman never doubted again. The text gives no indication of an emotional reaction or that he pressed Jesus for instructions; he simply started his return trip to Capernaum. He accepted Jesus' word that his son was healed, and apparently, this knowledge comforted him to the point that he felt little need to rush home. The bud of faith that led him to Christ came to full blossom as he left Jesus.
When the nobleman is met by his servants with the wonderful news that his son had been healed at the exact time Jesus had said he was, the miracle is seen to have had a double effect - the sick boy was healed of his deadly fever, and the father was convicted of his belief in Jesus. In order to have faith, we must believe that Jesus' words are true. Too often, we possess a vague faith, a blurred longing for His promises to be true. In reality, we must cling to what Jesus says like a man gripping a cliff face over a deep chasm.
The conviction of the father and the startling result of Jesus' miracle helped to begin the process of conversion of the nobleman's entire household. Convinced that Jesus was the Christ by personally witnessing this healing, they had the opportunity to grow in their belief to full faith if they continued to seek and believe Him (Colossians 1:21-23).
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing a Nobleman's Son
In verse 1, Paul says that anybody participating even in some of the more easily mastered practices of human nature is putting himself on dangerous spiritual quicksand. Today, in the wake of the breakup of the Worldwide Church of God, a common judgment is to call Herbert Armstrong into account yet say at the end, "But I loved him." Those who do this have overlooked how vulnerable and subject to God's judgment this makes them.
Verse 2 carries Paul's warning a step further by reminding us that God judges according to truth. Those who judge and act as Paul describes in verse 1 have precious little truth. However, this major element gives God the right to judge. He alone knows all the facts and can arrange them all in the light of perfect righteousness.
He reveals in verse 3 the weak position of those judging: They are guilty of committing the same sins, or ones just as bad, as those they are judging! Paul is saying that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones! In fact, their judgment of others may be one of those sins! In verse 4, he counsels them to lay aside their pride and concentrate on making the best use of God's patience by repenting of their sins.
In verse 5, the apostle plays on the word "riches" in the previous verse. Physical wealth is something one normally sets aside and treasures, but those who persist in evil works are "treasuring up" judgment for themselves! Verses 6 through 11 are a classic argument for the doing of good works after justification from the mind and pen of the very man most often accused of saying no works are necessary.
Within the context of the entire book, Paul is saying here that, while a person is justified by grace through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, establishing a relationship with God that because of sin never before existed, good works should result from justification. Good works are the concrete, open, and public expression of the reality of our relationship with God. They are its witness.
Just as surely as day follows night, if our faith truly is in God, the works that follow will be according to God's will. Living by God's will should be the natural consequence of faith in God. Though we are justified by faith, II Corinthians 5:10 spells out that we are judged according to our works. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." Is it not logical, then, for a person, knowing he will be judged according to his works, to want at least some clearly stated absolutes to show him what is expected of him rather than a fuzzy and vague statement about loving one another? Would not such a person want to know more specifically what constitutes love?
In Romans 2:7, Paul is not saying using one's faith will be easy, but that those who have that faith will use it to work. "Patient continuance" presupposes a measure of hardship, and "seek" implies pursuing something not yet attained. Together, they indicate a persistent quest of God's righteousness. In verse 10, the apostle uses the phrase "to everyone who works what is good." He does not define what "good" is at this point, but whatever it is, work is necessary to accomplish it. In verses 11-12, he reiterates that we will be judged, introducing a word that many seem to find so repulsive: law!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Four): Obligation
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
Where do we get the faith that is required for salvation? Ephesians 2:8 answers: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." We cannot work it up—that would be our effort (Isaiah 64:6).
Consider when God first started working with us. One year we were clueless, the next year things were making sense. We read the Bible and understood it, but more importantly, we believed it.
Where did that belief come from? It was, as Ephesians 2:8 says, a gift from God. The real miracle is not that we understood, but rather that we now believed those words we understood. And this happened only because God made it possible.
What was the evidence that we believed those words? We began living by them. Our new works and actions were the evidence of our faith: keeping the Sabbath, tithing, eating habits, etc.
Just like Abraham, our actions showed our desire to begin a right relationship with God motivated by His gift of faith. "Don't you remember that our ancestor Abraham was declared right with God because of what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, he was trusting God so much that he was willing to do whatever God told him to do. His faith was made complete by what he did—by his actions" (James 2:21-22, New Living Translation).
To complete our faith, are we willing to believe and do whatever God tells us? Consider those first experiences as we began to believe. We faced family pressure, work pressure, peer pressure, etc., to obey what we now believed. What evidence did we have to back up our actions? All we had were God's words. Armed with only those words, we willingly faced any opposition to act on what God commands. Just like Abraham, it was our faith in those words that encouraged us to obey and begin our journey, not knowing where we were going (Hebrews 11:8).
At our baptism, could we have predicted all the twists and turns our lives have taken since? Just like Israel's journey after baptism in the Red Sea, God has taken us in a zigzag route across this wilderness we call life. What was our evidence of things not seen? Only the words of God. That was the only evidence we had then, and it is the only sure evidence we have now.
As we deal with our trials, do we remember that first love? Do we remember the challenges we were willing to confront with only the words of God as our evidence? It is no different today. Will we believe God or what we can see? God needs to find out just as He did with Abraham—to "know" we will obey, no matter what, until the end (Matthew 10:22).
To test our faith, God's pattern is to bring us to a point—a brick wall or a Red Sea—that seemingly allows no escape. That is where He can find out what is truly in our hearts—hearts of belief or evil unbelief (Hebrews 3:12). Will we believe Him or our eyes?
Faith—What Is It?
Hebrews 11:5-8 clearly teaches that God chooses to bless with rewards those who by faith choose to cooperate with Him in His spiritual creation. Abel, Enoch, and Noah are proofs of this fact. Thus, three major factors are linked in the spiritual creation process leading to salvation: grace, works, and rewards.
We can watch this unfold in Noah's experience with God. This is of particular importance to us living in the end time because both Jesus and Peter state that the end time would bear a similarity to Noah's day. Peter specifically shows in II Peter 2:5-6 that the Flood is a strong witness against the doctrine of uniformitarianism, the idea that earth's history has passed without variation through the ages:
. . . and [God] did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, one of eight people, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly. . . .
If God is the Savior and Rewarder of those who obey Him, then the opposite must be true: that He is the Punisher of those who despise Him. The Flood and Sodom are witnesses of this truth. Not all things have continued as they always have. The godly lived; the ungodly died. Despite what men say and think, God moved to punish mankind's sins in the days of Noah. That punishment came in the form of the Flood, which wiped out all land-based mammal and bird life except for Noah, his family, and the animals in the ark.
Genesis 6:8 reveals the beginning of Noah's salvation. It began in God's mind. It was absolutely unearned, being an act of God's kindness. This is step one.
Hebrews 11:7 says that Noah believed God's warning. This, combined with God's grace, becomes the foundation for Noah's reaction. Noah's belief is step two.
Next comes the effect of this combination: Internally, Noah "moved with fear." He was motivated—he felt an urge—due to his deep respect for God. The external effect was that he built the ark. This is step three.
The consequences of his foundation of grace and faith plus the impulse to move with fear comprise step four. He and his house were saved from the Flood, the world was condemned by his witness, and he became an heir of the righteousness that is by faith.
Did Noah's works save him? The answer is both yes and no. Consider: If Noah, not believing, had failed to prepare the ark, would he not have perished in the Flood along with everyone else? Certainly. Did his own efforts in building the ark, then, save him from the Deluge? No, they did not, because we have not yet considered all the parts God played in this scenario. He did far more than just warn Noah to build an ark.
Philippians 4:19 promises, "God will supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." This does not at all mean that we can do anything we want to, and that God will take up the slack. It means that God will supply all our needs within the project He has us working on.
Genesis 6:13-16; 7:14-16; 8:1; and other verses show God's oversight, guidance, and providence. Genesis 8:1 is especially important: "Then God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters subsided."
"Remembered" indicates His special attention during the entire project, but it especially focuses on the time following the shutting of the door when those in the ark were helpless before the overwhelming onslaught of water. Huge torrents of water gushed from the earth, as well as fell from the heavens. This must have created huge waves. There is no indication that the ark had mast, sail, rudder, or wheel for navigation. Nevertheless, God was with them from beginning to end, giving them His special attention to preserve them and see His purpose accomplished.
This illustrates God working in them both to will and to do as they cooperated in their human, weak ways. This combination of God's grace and human cooperation produced their salvation.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)
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
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