What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Most people agree that for salvation a Christian needs more than just a theoretical knowledge of God. Over the course of our lives, we increase our knowledge of Him through life's varied experiences. We also come to greater understanding by studying God's Word. In both areas we can be snared by a major problem that traps many religious people in this world: emphasizing one of His attributes at the expense of others.
God is not one dimensional. Though we should study each of His attributes and think on them separately, we should not separate them from the complete personality that God is. Why? It distorts the model we are to imitate and grow into, and it can radically alter our expectations of what He will do. If He does not do what we expect, we are liable to become grieved because God "let us down."
For instance, the Bible emphasizes that God is merciful and full of grace. We should be thankful that He is! But we should not allow that to overshadow the fact that He is also just. If we do, His mercy can become a justification for failure to overcome besetting sins. Neither God's mercy nor justice can be separated from all that He is. Both are harmoniously applied to each situation and person He judges.
The same can be said of His compassion. Some see God as so compassionate that He disregards the causes of horrible problems and circumstances. If God acted in this manner, flaws with painful results would go uncorrected.
Still others construe God's sovereignty so that it greatly diminishes His goodness and portrays Him as rigid and inflexible. This person lives a guilt-ridden, fearful, and discouraged life, thinking that he will never please Him.
Probably the most familiar of God's attributes is found in John's statement in I John 4:8: "God is love." John states a fact, not a definition of God's essential nature. If he had declared that love is what God is, we would be forced to conclude that God is what love is. Literally, if God is love, then literally, love is God, and we are obliged to worship love as the only true God. This would mean God and love are identical. Fortunately, the Bible reveals God is a multidimensional personality. If we eliminate the idea of God's complex personality, denying outright all His attributes save one, the remaining attribute becomes God, a very subtle form of idolatry. This is not the God of our Lord Jesus Christ.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Wholeness of God
God's patience delays His wrath, allowing time for good to occur. We should also note the other qualities patience is combined with here and in Exodus 34:6. In combination with patience, the qualities of grace, mercy, lovingkindness, goodness, and truth allow God to work with people so they can remain alive and eventually transform into His image. If God struck out at people just as short-fused humans frequently do, no one would be alive today. Jonah, in a typically human reaction, wanted God to wipe the sinners of Nineveh, Israel's enemy, off the face of the earth!
Nineveh was undoubtedly just as full of sinners as Israel. But God, bearing patiently with them in their ignorance, sent Jonah to proclaim His warning message to them: Destruction would fall on them in forty days. They, however, believed the message, proclaimed a fast, prayed mightily to God, repented, and turned from their evil ways. Their repentance may not have been Davidic, but under the circumstances God was pleased.
II Peter 3:9 affirms that God still operates in the same manner:
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
Romans 2:3-6 discusses the same theme on a more personal basis, warning us that we should not abuse God's patience by viewing it as inattention, indulgence or mere tolerance. Solomon warns of the same perversity of nature that reveals itself in those lacking faith (Ecclesiastes 8:11-13). Clearly, God's patience is exercised so He can work on the situation and produce repentance. All too frequently, though, His goodness and patience are abused through stubbornness or neglect. Be assured, God is aware, and there comes a time when His patience is exhausted and His judgment falls if the change God expected does not occur.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Patience
No salvation is possible without forgiveness. Our Father cannot forgive our sins on the grounds of justice, and therefore He does so through His tender mercy. He has made Himself our God by giving us grace—undeserved favor. He passes by the transgressions of His people because He delights in mercy. He is so full of pity that He delays to condemn us in our guilt, but looks with loving concern upon us to see how He can turn away His wrath and restore us to favor.
Micah 7:18 adds, "Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy." God is love, and love is kind, but perhaps our approach to His forgiveness has been prosaically legal. The Scriptures reveal that God does kindness with intensity of will and readiness of mind. He forgives with all His heart because He delights in mercy! He says, "I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies." God's nature works to give mercy, not punish; to create beauty, not destroy; to save, not lose.
Can we not see a lesson in this? Are we anywhere near God's image in this? How many of us, fellowshipping among God's people, are hiding resentment and bearing the seeds of bitterness against a brother because of some offense—or carrying a grudge, or filled with envy, or communicating gossip? Are these things acts of kindness? Does a forgiving spirit that delights in mercy enter into acts that destroy a brother's reputation and widen existing divisions?
One other phrase in Luke 1:78 shows the kind and tender nature of our God: "He visited us." God did not merely pity us from a distance, nor did He allow His compassion for us to remain as an unresolved, inactive feeling. David writes in Psalm 8:4, "What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?" But God did just that!
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed he does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like his brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. (Hebrews 2:14-18)
God has not merely pitied us from a distance, but He has entered into life, our life, on our level. The Creator stooped from His high and pure abode as glorious God, and veiled His divinity for an abode of animated clay. He assumed our nature, was tempted in all things like us, took our sicknesses, and bore our infirmities for the express purpose of being a merciful and faithful High Priest. He did not enter into our world and yet maintain a status superior to us. He truly walked in our shoes and still went about doing good.
Christ, Paul adds in Galatians 1:4, "gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father." Who knows how many individual acts of kindness—from the conception of the plan to its fulfillment—are contained within this simple statement?
This is the heart of God's nature. He generously and mercifully gives that others might benefit. Now, because of what He did, this nature is growing in us. By His Spirit He has taken His abode in us to enable us to work out our salvation, and as we yield, our lives are changing, gradually conforming to His image. He dwells in us despite all our provocations, stubbornness, neglect, and rebellions. How often we must disappoint Him, and yet as our High Priest and Intercessor, He stands ever ready to serve us with yet more kindness.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness
1 Corinthians 1:26-29
Nobody will ever come before God and say, "I did it by the strength of my own hands." Though this person may have faith and a strong will, he is certainly not perfect. Many times, when the Israelites' faith broke down, God had to intervene in some way to save them. Whether it is Israel at the Red Sea or Israel out in the wilderness, time and again He had to intervene and spare them, even in times when they showed a measure of faith.
Since man's creation, humans have been exalting themselves against God by choosing to do things their own way. However, there is only one way that works eternally, and every human being will be led to see his weaknesses and know that it is by grace that we are saved. This realization does wonders to a person's feelings about himself, making humility possible. This, in turn, makes it possible for him to yield to God, which makes it possible for him to deal with other human beings, not with a high hand or as a master to a slave, but as a friend—as an understanding brother or sister who has gone through similar experiences and seen their own failures, and who can commiserate, sympathize, show compassion and mercy, encourage, and inspire the one who has failed.
God will work in each person and will do it in such a way that he will come to realize that merely knowing the truth—and even believing the truth and acting on it—are not enough. God must save them by grace.
This is not to say that works are unimportant. They are vital to maintaining and developing a relationship with God. They are important in building character, and in this sense, without works we will have a difficult time being saved. If nothing else, doing good works shows that a relationship exists between a person and God. So works are important to earning rewards, to building character, to providing a witness for God, but they still will not save us of and by themselves because, since we are imperfect, they are also terribly flawed.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part One)
1 Corinthians 6:1-3
In a broad sense, Paul is teaching that we are to learn to deal with situations as God would, and our training ground is here in this life and in the church. We are undergoing extensive hands-on training for the profession of judge, which, as Paul implies, will be among our duties as children of God in His Kingdom. This is no minor matter!
Earlier in my conversion, I clearly left out one of the most important elements needed for making right judgments. Jesus points out which one in His Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7). Had I shown more mercy in those situations, their outcomes would have been far different—and definitely better.
Generally, the merciful are those people who are affected by the suffering of others. They are affected in a manner that causes them, not only to offer encouragement to one who is experiencing a rough spot in his life, but also to work to lessen his suffering.
The New Unger's Bible Dictionary defines mercy as "a form of love determined by the state or condition of its objects. Their state is one of suffering and need, while they may be unworthy or ill-deserving. Mercy is at once the disposition of love respecting such, and the kindly ministry of love for their relief."
A secular dictionary, The Reader's Digest Encyclopedic Dictionary, concurs: Mercy is the "kind, compassionate treatment of an offender, adversary, prisoner in one's power; compassion where severity is expected, or deserved." Among its synonyms are "leniency," "compassion," "forgiveness," "pity," "kindness," "tolerance," "charity," "benevolence," "clemency," and "forbearance."
The primary idea behind mercy is rendering a kindness when harshness or condemnation is expected or even deserved. A merciful person looks beyond the present state of affairs to the potential good that may result from his compassionate handling of the matter. He is willing to forgo the other's punishment, his "just deserts," or his own desire for revenge in an attempt to produce good fruit from a bad situation.
The nature of God is to be merciful to those He calls. We know that He calls the weak, foolish, and base (I Corinthians 1:26-28), those who are undesirable in society's eyes and guilty of sin in His eyes. He extends great mercy to them, redeeming them from the death penalty and setting them on the path toward eternal life in the Kingdom of God. In doing so, He sets us an example to follow!
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Mercy: The Better Option
Most churches believe in divine healing—at least on paper. It seems only the more charismatic congregations, however, announce their belief in God's power to heal. In the twenty-first century, it is far more "reasonable" for mainstream denominations to sing the praises of medical, technical, and scientific advances in health-related areas than to promote the more "primitive" practice of trusting in God. Healing is just too low-tech and passé.
Of course, healing takes faith, which is not a characteristic of the present culture. Faith is on the outs, with doubt, skepticism, and disbelief in the majority. Most people would give the same credence to divine healing as they would shamanism, transcendental meditation, feng shui, astrology, or magic beans. In a word, the typical, secular individual would call healing through faith in God "superstition." At best, they would consider it a sometimes-effective placebo or mind over matter. For, to admit to healing is to admit the existence and intervention of Almighty God.
Christians are by definition followers of Jesus Christ—and how unpopular that is even among those who profess Christianity! Any reader of the gospels cannot help but be struck by the number of accounts of healings done by Jesus during His ministry. He freely healed lepers, the blind, the lame, women with female problems, children with deathly fevers—in fact, just about anyone who asked! He even raised a few people from the dead! Yet, in a way, He really did not heal all these people Himself, but His Father in heaven did these merciful works through Him (John 14:10). Divine healing works the same way today.
Jesus asks in Luke 18:8, "When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" This is obviously part of the problem why more healings do not take place among us, but it is certainly not all of it. Many faithful Christians have died trusting in God to heal them, and whether or not they availed themselves of medical help during their illness does not seem to be all that much of a factor—or whether they chose to follow a "natural" cure or some new, experimental treatment. Something other than human remedies for disease is the factor that decides the life or death of the ailing faithful.
The "missing" dimension in healing is God, of course. Too many of us—in our pain, grief, and confusion—look at divine healing far too simplistically and carnally, and this is understandable under such trying circumstances. We know God desires to heal us, and He promises to do so (see Exodus 15:26; Psalm 103:3; Matthew 8:1-3; James 5:14-15). We know we can claim God's application of the stripes of Jesus Christ for our healing (Isaiah 53:5; I Peter 2:24). However, we often forget that these promises are not unconditional; God is not bound, like some genie in a bottle, to fulfill them automatically once they are claimed.
As a loving and caring Father, He would like to heal us every time, but sometimes it is better that He does not. Three overriding factors—His sovereignty, His love, and His purpose—take precedence, and He considers these when He decides our petitions for healing. The bottom line is that He will do for the sick child of God what is ultimately best for him (Romans 8:28). Period. Sometimes, He decides that physical death is best. He made such a decision concerning His own Son (see Luke 22:41-44)!
We can be thankful that God is not constrained by death; Jesus Christ put that enemy down (I Corinthians 15:50-55; Hebrews 2:14-15). Even so, our emotions and our human points of view frequently do not agree that death is sometimes best. We deeply feel our loss. But faith must do its work here too. We must believe that God's care of His children is absolutely loving and that His promise of eternal life is sure—that death is only temporary rest before a vibrant and abundant life in His Kingdom.
As mature Christians, we must come to understand healing in a more perfect way. We need to come to the conclusion Job does: "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD. . . . Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" (Job 1:21; 2:10). Jesus Himself echoes this attitude in Luke 22:42, "Father, if it is Your will, remove this cup from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done." Finally, God gives us hope, reminding us that our sorrow is not the end of the matter: "Though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies" (Lamentations 3:32).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Some Thoughts on Healing
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