What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
One can almost hear Balaam saying to himself, "Great! God gave me permission! I can go! Load the gold!"
How Balaam replies to the embassy of Balak is one of the main themes of this whole account. In verse 18, he says, "I cannot go beyond the Word of the LORD my God to do less or more." And then in verse 20, God tells him quite specifically, "Only the word which I speak to you, that you shall do."
God is on to him, giving Balaam enough rope to hang himself with - and he just sticks his head right into the noose. The noose is the "if" statement: "If the men call on you, then you may go." The Bible, however, gives no indication whatsoever that the men came to call on him. It says only that Balaam awoke, saddled his donkey, and went with the princes of Moab.
What did Balaam do here? We might call it bending the rules. God gave him conditional permission to do something. And what did Balaam consider it to be? Absolute permission. It is almost as if he failed to hear God say, "If the men come to call on you." All he heard was, "Then you can go."
How many people do that? In our modern way, we have turned it around: "Well, the Bible doesn't say that you can't do this." Others put it as, "There is no 'Thus saith the Lord' about this" - though there may be dozens of verses that say that one should not do it because of this, that, or something else. Or, there may be a whole story about someone who does something, illustrating a principle of a way we should not go. Nevertheless, because Scripture does not specifically say, "You shall not do this," then many people think it is okay to do it.
Consider smoking. No place in the Bible says that a person shall not smoke cigarettes. It does not say anywhere that one should not breathe in the smoke of any kind of flammable substance. However, there are huge principles - love toward God, neighbor, and self; not defiling the temple of God's Spirit; slow suicide - that people totally ignore. This is similar to what Balaam did.
His thinking process may have gone something like this: "God didn't say that I could not go. He gave me a condition, but I'm sure it will be all right this time if I go. If He was willing to give me permission in this case, it must be okay." So, he went. He did not believe God.
Consider I Peter 2 in terms of what Balaam did. What Peter had been telling his readers to do was submit - submit to government; submit to the king; to governors; to anyone in authority - for the Lord's sake, because that is what God wants us to do. He wants us to learn to submit to authority, especially to God's.
For this is the will of God, that by doing good [submitting to government] you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men - as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. (I Peter 2:15-16)
God gave Balaam conditional permission. He made him free to do a certain thing, which was to go with the men, but He put a condition on it: "If they come to you." Well, Balaam used his freedom, his liberty, as a cloak for vice. Balaam's vice was money; he wanted riches. He was going to get his riches by cursing Israel - another vice! Cursing people is not a good thing - certainly, it does not show love for them.
As Christians, we have been given grace, freedom, and God-given gifts to do good. He warns us, "Do not use this freedom to do evil. I have given you, not freedom from the law, but freedom within the law - to do good and not evil."
Yet, how many have used the liberty given to us by Christ as license to sin? "God will forgive us! That's what God does best! So, if we do it just this once, it will be okay!" That is what Balaam did. He received permission from God in one small area, under a certain circumstance, and Balaam interpreted it as freedom to do generally as he pleased.
Does that not sound like mainstream Protestantism? This is why within Protestantism there is an overriding emphasis on grace. Truly, grace is a wonderful thing. God has given us so many freedoms, but there are also law, responsibility, and submission to the will of God, things Balaam totally left out of the picture. He ignored the conditions God placed on his liberty. All he wanted was the freedom. And his taking license came back to bite him severely in the end.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Balaam and the End-Time Church (Part 1)
Is being a disciple of Christ free to us? These verses say that we have to give up everything! That is not cheap! Moreover, He mentions this in the context of things that are normally the most dear to us of all—our flesh-and-blood relatives! There is no greater price a human being can pay than to give up his family, and yes, his own life! That is not cheap! That is not free!
Grace is the most costly thing that has ever been given. It was costly in terms of the life of the very Creator—the God who made everything! And in return, to receive that grace, He demands that we give up our lives. It is not cheap. It is not free.
Then, how can people say it is free? Christ could not have made the cost of our obligation any clearer than He does here. No relationship ties are stronger than blood ties. The saying, "Blood is thicker than water," originated in the Church of England, meaning that blood ties are stronger than the Holy Spirit, symbolized by the water. The English Church recognized that family ties would pull people away from the truth of God. They are that powerful! Grace is not free, not cheap, by any stretch of the imagination!
Jesus then tells us that, in addition, we have to humbly bear any burden that comes upon us as a result of our discipleship, as a result of having received such forgiveness. Sometimes that cost can be very great. His statement is sweeping in terms of its consequences.
Free does not mean "cheap" but that God freely gave it. He was under no constraint. There was no obligation on His part to do what He did. He owes us absolutely nothing for what we have done. Grace is an aspect of His love that has no motive but itself. "God so loved the world that He gave. . ." (John 3:16).
Looking at history, is there anything lovable about mankind? Look at what humanity has done to this earth! Look at what men have done to one another! In the name of "God," men have blown one another to smithereens! If someone did to our property and to our family as we have treated God's property and family, we would have a terribly difficult time extending love. In fact, we might be totally unable to do it! We lack love of that depth. But God freely gives grace, though He is under no obligation whatsoever.
John W. Ritenbaugh
2 Corinthians 6:1
In other words, "Do not receive the grace of God to no purpose." That is what vanity is. It has no purpose, no contact with reality. God is reality, and the Kingdom of God is reality. The law of God is reality because it is truth, and truth, by definition, is reality.
Again, Paul's appeal is, "Do something!" What are we to do? He replies, "Cooperate with God! Truly work with Him to accomplish His will in your life." Jesus says, "Why do you call Me Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say?" He is the One who says in Luke 16:29-31 that, if we want to know how to avoid the Lake of Fire, look to Moses and the prophets. This is why Paul says in II Corinthians 5:20, "Be reconciled to God through the repenting of sin. Quit breaking His law."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Sixteen)
Justification is clearly an act of God's grace, because what we deserve from what we have earned—from what we have done, the conduct of our lives—is death. There is none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10; Psalm 14:1). Since justification, then, cannot be claimed as a right because we have sinned, it must be received as a gift. That fact that it is given makes it an act of grace.
It is not our hanging on to Christ (that is, the keeping of the law) that saves us, but rather Christ hanging on to us. That is, it is not what we do, but it is what He does continuously as acts of grace that saves us, because we deserve death. If we can earn salvation through law-keeping, Paul is saying in verse 21, "then Christ died in vain." If we can earn salvation through law-keeping, then Christ's sinless life and agonizing death were not necessary, because we can do it ourselves.
Justification is not vindication or exoneration. Both of those words connote that a person was right all along, but the true facts were hidden from those who were doing the judging. In some cases with men, vindication is possible because people are judged unrighteously. Their judges are not using righteous judgment.
But God never judges unrighteously! He knows all the facts. He knows our heart. He knows everything about us in every situation that we have ever been in, so He cannot vindicate us because we are not clear of guilt. He cannot exonerate us because we are not innocent. Justification is more than that. It is setting us right or calling us righteous though righteousness does not exist in us.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Grace Upon Grace
1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
Do we lead a quiet life, or are things always in turmoil? Do we live in peace, or is it in constant strife? If we are living in strife and turmoil, what are we doing to contribute to it?
Do we mind our own business, or are we busybodies and meddlers? Do we always want to know what the other person across the fence is doing? Do we always call up somebody for the latest news about what's going on over in this church or with that person and his problem?
Is our "helpfulness" really a guise for poking our nose in where we are not wanted? With some people it is. They serve in order to get the goods on others.
Do we work, or are we lazy? This does not mean just our physical labor for the food we put on our table. It could be spiritual work. It could be our service to one another. Do we work with our own hands, or are people always making allowances for us? Are we living off the goodness of another's heart? Some people think they are owed something. They are victims of circumstance, and so they want everybody to give to them, rather than working for it.
Do we show the same Christian character to our work buddies as we do to the people who sit beside us in church? Paul asks that here in terms of "walk[ing] properly toward those who are outside." Are our lives hypocritical? Do we put on our best character and slip into a chair at church just once each week? Do our acquaintances in the world see Christ in us, or do they see "Joe Six-Pack" who has downed a few too many six packs? Do they see someone who curses a blue streak six days a week, but one day a week, he is the soul of pleasant and wise speech? How do people in the world see us?
Lastly, Paul says, "I urge you that you may lack nothing." He does not mean, "Do we lack a pair of shoes, a new DVD player, or the latest PlayStation game?" What he means is, "Do we lack anything that makes us better Christians, or are we satisfied with ourselves where we stand?" Have we come into the church and accepted God's grace, and then say "Take me as I am, Lord, without one plea"? Or do we know that we lack some quality that would make us better Christians and strive to add it to our characters?
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
It Takes a Church
2 Timothy 2:10-13
The apostle gives this warning directly to God's children. Despite how we may personally relate to Him in how we live, God cannot deny what He truly is. We may be highly variable in our attitude and conduct because we are lackadaisical and tolerate human nature having its way. We may yield to this world's influence on us and backslide into the same careless way of life that dominated us before God called us into His church (Ephesians 2:3). Yet, our God and Savior is constant and faithful to what He is. His character and purpose never change. God loves, and because He does, He also judges. Does not Proverbs 13:24 instruct, "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly"? Our Savior will not overlook this need in us.
Sometimes His discipline can be very stressful (Hebrews 12:11), but that is the cost of following Him where He leads. He will act as He truly is regardless of what we personally think or fail to think or whether we allow Him to be closely or only marginally involved in how we live our lives.
This world's nominal Christianity has so wrongly overemphasized God's grace that it makes salvation assured if we will only accept Jesus Christ. However, it does so without equally teaching that we must meet the responsibilities that God also clearly reveals. We must faithfully walk to the Promised Land. To keep our part of the New Covenant, we must live His way of life to be prepared to live in the Promised Land.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part One)
Noah accomplished a significant witness, persevering for a very long time under horrific conditions. His witness was of sterling quality and worthy of emulation.
These two verses appear quite innocuous. We read them and consider their teaching a matter of course regarding Christian life and salvation. However, for this world's Christianity, they pose a dilemma for those more deeply aware of the intricacies of Christian responsibility.
Calvinist theologian Arthur Pink (1886-1952) says in his exposition of this passage, "The verses which are now to engage our attention are by no means free of difficulty, especially unto those who have sat under a ministry which has failed to preserve the balance between Divine grace and Divine righteousness." Why would he say this? These two verses, almost single-handedly, nearly destroy one of the most treasured teachings of this world's Christianity—the Doctrine of Eternal Security, the "once saved, always saved" or "no works required" doctrine.
Note the end of the quotation: Some ministries have "failed to preserve the balance between Divine grace and Divine righteousness." Preachers who fail to maintain this balance strongly emphasize God's favor while neglecting or ignoring His claims on our lives—our duties and responsibilities to Him—because He owns us! We are His slaves!
To any thinking person, these verses severely undercut those preachers' claims that appear to guarantee grace, that is, to assure salvation. How? Verse 6 clearly states that God rewards those who live by faith, and verse 7 illustrates that, in Noah's case, the reward was that Noah and his house were saved because of what they did.
What did Noah do that was so important to his and his family's salvation? His works produced the ark, the means of escaping death from the Flood. Noah's works were rewarded. Where, then, is grace?
Note that I wrote that these verses "nearly destroy" this concept, not "totally destroy." They do not contain the entire story, but they are very troublesome, to say the least, to those of the no-works stripe. If they do not bother a nominal Christian, he is clearly ignoring what the verses really say, that a person's works play a large part in his salvation. What would have happened to Noah and his family had they convinced themselves that, since God had given Noah grace, no ark needed to be built because God would save them anyway?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)
Jude calls these false ministers "dreamers," but this really is a poor translation. It should properly be: "Likewise also these, as a result of dreaming, defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries." Their new beliefs that they teach to the church are based on dreams, on visions, on foolish imaginations of their hearts, and—who knows?—trips on LSD. The basis for their false teachings is from anywhere but from God.
The apostle is pinpointing specific Gnostic beliefs: debauchery, total freedom from authority, and even insulting angels (the literal understanding of "speaking evil of dignitaries." Dignitaries is literally "glorious ones").
Gnostics believed that a person was free to do whatever he wanted, debauch himself to any extent, and God would forgive it, for He is gracious.
They believed that no one had authority over them, that they were free from law, and that they were free from government because they were spiritual. No one, then, could tell them what to do. They had progressed beyond all need for physical law of any type of authority, court, or physical government.
Lastly, they were so self-willed that they would even reject the authority of angels, believing that they were higher than the angels, forgetting or ignoring that Psalm 8:5 and Hebrews 2:7 say that God has left man for a little while lower than the angels. The Gnostics had already exalted themselves above the angels, so they had no fear of speaking evil of them. This put them in an exalted position, and the ideas that lesser humans have to adhere to are below them and thus comtemptible. Being beyond all law and government, they can do whatever they want, and no one can stop them.
It's no coincidence that one of the hallmarks of apostasy today is a total rejection of government. It is the number one problem in the church. No one wants to be governed. Such modern Gnostics say such pious things as, "Only God governs me," which is a false teaching. They have placed themselves above their station, which is exactly what Korah did, as Jude goes on to mention. Since government tends to point out and punish evil doing, these apostates thing that, if they get rid of government and law, they will be free to do whatever they please without any oversight.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
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