What the Bible says about
Response to God
(From Forerunner Commentary)
David makes an interesting statement here regarding the fear of God. We must learn the fear of the Lord; it is not something we have by nature. We find the evidence of this in the conduct of all who have lived since Adam and Eve. Romans 3:18 is just as true now as it always has been: "There is no fear of God before their eyes." The reason it must be taught becomes obvious once we understand that it arises and grows from one's relationship with God.
The relationship begins with God's calling. Before that, we may have sincerely believed that He exists, but we certainly did not know Him. Respect cannot exist between two parties—especially the quality of respect God desires—when they do not even know each other. Knowing of someone is far different from knowing him. This is certainly true of God, as the world has been flooded with misinformation about Him. Psalm 34:8 supports this: "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!" David exhorts us to experience a relationship with Him, for only then will we know that He is indeed good.
David adds in verses 12-14: "Who is the man who desires life, and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it." He urges us to understand that the fear of the Lord grows as the relationship develops. The relationship develops when we follow through in submission to God in conforming to His way of life. As we do this, we begin to get a taste of what it would be like to spend eternity as His companion in marriage.
The desires to please Him, not to disappoint Him, and to strive to protect the relationship grow from abject self-concern to preserve one's life to reverential awe for His great goodness and zealous desire to preserve and glorify His name within an increasingly intimate relationship. We can see how this would motivate what we do with our life and time. It would drive and guide us in how we did things. If we truly respect someone, we try very hard to give him the best possible quality in all we do for him.
Consider this in light of the dating process and the feelings that bring couples together in marriage. As Christians, we are now in the courtship period preceding marriage to our Savior. Access to and fellowship with Him, coupled with submission within the relationship, feeds a growing respect for Him and His way. By this, we come to know Him, and we are motivated to reciprocate His loving respect and to produce growth and the fruit of God's Spirit.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part One): Fear
David ends this psalm by saying God commands the blessing of eternal life. Because this is a psalm about unity, unity must be something that we do in response to His command. When God commands something to be done, there must be some response to accomplish His word. God says in Isaiah 55:11 that He sends forth His word, and it does not come back to Him empty, unfulfilled, void. This does not mean that hocus-pocus, abracadabra, something gets done. It means a "work" begins and is accomplished, and God receives it back as a completed project. He commands and gives everything needed for the work to be done, and then someone must respond and do it, presenting it back to God as a finished work.
Unity is such a work, commanded by God. We must respond to His charge and give it back to Him as a finished work, or it will never happen! Unity is something we do in response to His command that it be. It is like many other godly works or acts that consist of God and us working together to produce them. Sanctification is one of these godly acts. God does something for us, usually far more than what we have to do or can do, but even what He does is not enough. We, then, must respond to His action and carry it through for it to be accomplished. He does not say, "You are saved!" and it is done. No. We have to respond to His command—His calling—repent, be baptized, continue in His way, overcome, grow, and endure to the end. Only through this whole process are we completely saved.
Unity works the same way. God sends His Spirit—His very nature, and power with whatever gifts we need to fulfill the process—and then we take up the burden of promoting, continuing, and finishing it. Only then will we have unity. A person can pray all he wants for God to unify the church, but if he is doing nothing to build it, it will never happen.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Remember to whom God was speaking—His people, those with whom He had made the Old Covenant. He was not rejecting their sacrifices or the keeping of the holy days. He was angry that they went through the rituals without the humility to submit to His great moral law in their daily lives.
We have the tendency to think of worship as something we do at a designated time and in a certain place, usually once a week. However, religion and worship in the biblical sense involve all of life. Christianity is a way of life (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4). Worship is the reflection of God living in the person no matter what he may be doing. It is his response to God, his interaction with Him. Thus, the Bible covers every aspect of life within its pages. A person truly interacting with God is worshipping God whether at church, work, play, or home. He will strive to glorify God in every situation.
Obviously, the people of Isaiah 1 were not at one with God, though they religiously observed the commanded activities. For a person to be at one with Him, what he does in every area of life must agree with what he professes by his attendance at a worship service.
How can those who treat their fellows with contempt, then take their greed, anger, revenge, and hatred into church fellowship, say they are displaying God's Spirit? These characteristics are divisive! How can they say they worship God?
John W. Ritenbaugh
Separation and At-One-Ment
Looking at this in the light of the larger context, God prophesies judgment—only not just on Assyria but on the whole world. With this thought in mind, chapter two opens with an appeal to God's people to gather together. This is not merely a plea to congregate, which may indeed be implied, but it is not the main thrust of the advice given here. Rather, it is to gather one's thoughts, to meditate, to pull things together in one's mind, to think about their consequences on the nation, on the individual, on one's loved ones. God wants us to consider these things as a first step toward repentance, so he says, "Change direction, turn to righteousness and perhaps you will be hidden during His anger."
"Perhaps" might throw a person into discouragement or doubt, but God is not playing with our emotions. The measure of doubt expressed concerns whether men will repent. We must never forget that God is a God of salvation. He is a God of deliverance. It is His desire to deliver and to protect, and certainly He is never without means to save. Nothing is too hard for Him, if we give Him a chance, which is why it says, "Seek the Lord now, before the destruction comes." This is the warning: "Watch, but don't just stand there passively! Gather your thoughts and think about the implications of this. Where is it leading?" He is appealing to us to respond.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Place of Safety? (Part 3)
Jesus expands the first commandment in what is called the great commandment of the law. Among all the things in our lives that we are to devote to God, this leaves very little out! It impacts on every facet of our lives. What can we do that does not involve our very life, emotions, and intellect?
This commandment, therefore, involves the fear, service, obedience, and worship of the great God who is the Creator. The dictionary definition of worship says it involves intense admiration, adoration, honor, and devotion to someone or something. Practically, worship is our response to our god.
If we respect someone greatly, does not our respect cause us to behave differently because of him? If we know he will be in our area, do we not try to spend some time with him or at least see him? Maybe we plan to give him a gift. If we know his habits, do we not try to emulate him, such as copying his manner of dress or his speech? When we are in his company and he suggests we do something, are we not moved to comply?
In Western civilization, people and institutions reach heights of admiration that drive some to do all sorts of unusual things. Teens, mothers, and even grandmothers will swoon over a crooning singer. Fans will practically tear the clothing from a rock star. Boys and men idolize athletic heroes. At political conventions, grown adults will act like mindless fools in behalf of their candidate.
It is this principle that is involved in keeping the first commandment. The respect and response we give to men, things, or the self should be given to God. Do we devote as much time, concern, or effort in admiring God's great abilities as Creator as we do some human performer? God created the potential for the abilities and beauty we may admire in humans. His abilities are far greater!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The First Commandment (1997)
This verse poses a question that we need to answer correctly to make righteous use of our knowledge of God. A powerful influence works in us to justify why we do not conform to God's way more thoroughly, despite what we know. If we must learn any lesson in all of life, it is that God is God, and His Word is sure. Virtually everything in life on this earth is under the sway of Satan, working through carnal-minded men at enmity against God. The Devil's way is designed to influence men's thinking to believe that man is supreme, while simultaneously giving lip service to God as if they know Him.
What does the Bible reveal about this? Do men not have power, knowledge, and will? Of course! But what happens when they come into conflict with God's will? What happened when man tried to build the Tower of Babel? Or when Pharaoh attempted to keep Israel in slavery in Egypt? Or when Balaam sought to curse Israel? Could the Canaanites thwart Israel's invasion of the land? Did Saul manage to kill David? Could Jonah resist God's command to preach to Nineveh? Could Nebuchadnezzar execute Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? Did Herod succeed in slaying the infant Jesus?
Proverbs 19:21 says, "There are many plans in a man's heart, nevertheless the LORD's counsel—that will stand." Do we consult with God before we launch into pursuing our plans? Many times, we fail to do this because He is so far from our thinking in practical, everyday situations that we do not consider if He has any plans for us as part of His will.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility: Part Eleven
Worship, which is our response to God, is what we give in our devoted service. The worship of God involves the totality of life, therefore it cannot be confined to a particular location. Earlier, Jesus says, "Neither in Samaria, nor in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem." He means that God is not confined to any one place, nor is the worship of Him confined to any one place. Likewise, it cannot be confined to just an hour or two on a particular day because in a biblical sense the worship of God is our response to Him in all of life. So He cannot even be isolated to an hour or two on the Sabbath.
We have to respond to Him in our home: in the way we speak, act towards one another, rear our children, conduct our homemaking practices. Worship has to do with the way we work, with the way we drive our cars, with the way we dress, with the way we use our eyes, ears, nose, mouth—everything! It involves the totality of life, because religion is a way of life. Christianity is a way of life that impacts on every area of our being.
The second commandment deals with how we worship God. The focus of our worship is to be on imitating Him. We are to use no material aids in doing this because no man can capture God in a work of art, a statue, a picture, or a symbol. God wants us to concentrate on what He is and not on what He looks like.
It is not easy for human nature to surrender its dominance over one's life. Human nature's first step backwards—to giving up its dominance over our lives—is usually a grudging willingness to share time and energy with God. Yet, when Jesus is asked, "What is the first and great commandment," He replies that we are to love Him with all of our heart, soul, and mind. Notice, it is not just with part of our lives but everything. The second commandment has to do with how to worship Him, and anything less than what Jesus states in Matthew 22:37 will affect the quality of our worship.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 1)
This is a prophecy. When this was spoken, Jesus had not yet died, so He had not yet been resurrected and glorified. Thus, the Spirit was not yet given either. He shows another condition (in addition to the ones in John 7:37-39) for the giving of the Holy Spirit: "Keep My commandments."
Notice that the Spirit is described as being with and in. This clarifies the matter of coming to Christ. We have to be called and to respond. If we fail to do the latter, even though God's Spirit is "with" us—leading us to Christ—it will never be "in" us unless we respond and meet the conditions.
For the disciples at the time, the Spirit was with them—in Christ, teaching and guiding. However, a time was coming when it would be in them, literally. This did not occur until Pentecost, in Acts 2. So it is with us: The Spirit is with us before conversion, and it is by this means that God brings us to Christ.
If God did not do this miraculous work, the enmity against Him (Romans 8:7)—coupled with our spiritual confusion—would never permit the process of conversion even to start. Our calling is a tremendous act of mercy on God's part; it is a miraclethat we even respond. If it were not for that—for God's mercy in choosing us to be called—we would never make it off the starting block. God has to work a tremendous miracle even to get us to be willing to come to Christ and begin to learn.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 12)
In John 17:3, Jesus describes eternal life as knowing God. "Know" does not indicate a mere casual familiarity, but a very close relationship approaching the intimacy of a sexual one. That is how we must relate to Him.
There are other verses that show that God "knows" us:
» I Corinthians 8:3: "But if anyone loves God, this one is known by Him."
» Galatians 4:9: "But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage?"
» Amos 3:2: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." Though God says this to Israel, it applies even more intimately to the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16).
These verses again show a vital key to understanding our relationship with Him: Our love for Him is merely a response to His initiative.
By way of contrast, compare these to what Jesus says to those who are not called as their disobedience shows, but who masquerade as disciples, even as ministers, as if they really knew the Father and Son:
Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord," shall enter the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?" And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" (Matthew 7:21-23)
Since He never knew them, is this not just another way of saying, "I never loved you"?
We are who we are, the foolish and weak of the world. We believe because God has appointed us to eternal life. We have faith because of His grace, and the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts because the Father loves us. If we understand the Scriptures correctly, God has chosen the most unlikely people upon which to pour out His grace and love and so become holy and without blame before Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Seven
Paul and Barnabas are in Antioch preaching the gospel to an audience of both Jews and Gentiles. After hearing them, the Jews leave the synagogue, but the Gentiles beseech them to return the following Sabbath so they could hear more. That Sabbath virtually the whole city turns out to hear the apostles. The Jews, jealous of the response Paul and Barnabas receive, make things difficult for them by contradicting the truth to the point of blasphemy. However, the Gentiles respond yet the more.
An interesting contrast arises between verse 27, where Paul says those who did not know Christ in Jerusalem put Him to death, and verse 48, where Luke, writing after the fact, relates that those who responded to the gospel in Antioch were appointed to eternal life. This is important in understanding our unique position relative to the rest of humanity and in fine-tuning our relationship with each other and most importantly with God.
Appointed is translated "ordained" in the King James Version. However, almost all modern versions render it "appointed." It also means to set, dispose, incline, devote, designate, institute, resolve, arrange, and even addict. The word never indicates an internal disposition or inclination arising within oneself, but always contains the notion of an ordering, arranging, setting, or appointing from without, that is, from a source other than the individual himself. In this case, Luke implies that the Gentiles who responded to Paul and Barnabas' preaching were inclined or disposed to believe the gospel and embrace eternal life by God through His Holy Spirit. In other words, their faith was not self-generated.
This explains, at least in part, why those in Jerusalem did not know Jesus. If God did not dispose them to know Him, they were operating entirely from their own minds dominated by human nature and very unlikely to recognize Jesus as Lord and Savior. Because God did not incline them to believe, Jesus appeared to them nothing like what He truly was. They most commonly judged Him as a mere man from Nazareth, a religious competitor, and pretender to the throne of David. Though He was popular with the people, they could easily brush Him aside and condemn Him to death for blasphemy.
Commentaries sometimes say verse 48 is controversial because it indicates predestination, but a measure of predestination is clearly involved in our calling! Paul writes in Ephesians 1:5, "[God] predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will." He is equally expressive in Romans 8:29-30:
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
If we believe in justification and glorification, is there not also equal evidence for predestination? This does not mean that every act of a person's life is predestined, but that God predestines some to be summoned to salvation while not calling others. Do not the words "call," "invite," or the even stronger "summon" indicate separating one from several or many?
We can all relate to this simple illustration: If a child is playing outside with some other children, and his parent goes out to call or summon him, though the other children may hear the parent's voice, is not that calling specifically for his child? Does it not separate him from the group? Is not the child's mind disposed or inclined to respond to his parent's call? The other children may hear the call, but they do not respond in the same way because the summons is specific to the particular child.
When a parent calls his child, he does not do it without purpose; he calls the child for a specific reason. As the child responds and separates from the group, the parent begins to reveal to him why he was called: "Go wash your hands—we are going to eat dinner"; "Get ready for bed"; "Run this errand for me"; "Clean up your room"; or "I just wanted to see that you were all right."
In principle, this is similar to God's calling of us except for the purpose. By His Spirit He supernaturally disposes our minds through His summons and begins to separate us from those He is not calling. At the same time, He begins to reveal Himself and His way. He does not call everybody generally, just as the human parent predetermines which child he wants to call. Thus our calling is completely within the will of the sovereign God, who specifically appoints those He desires to understand at this time.
God must predispose us to respond because we are so deceived about what to look for that we would never find Him. In addition, we are so busy doing our own thing, like a child playing around, that we do not even care. Even though He reveals Himself, it still takes us a long time to come to know Him because we carry so many false concepts, and like children, we have short attention spans and are easily distracted.
One reason this is controversial, especially among the more naturally religious, is that human nature does not take pleasure in being humbled. It avoids admitting that salvation is far more an act of God than earned through our intelligence, goodness, wisdom, morality, purity, conviction, commitment to prayer and study, dedication to seeking Him, or love of God. Human nature is so perverse that even in this, in the face of so much biblical evidence, vanity wants to take credit for what it simply does not deserve.
Paul says in Romans 3:27-28: "Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law." He adds in Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." Even the faith that starts us on the road to repentance and justification is God's gift!
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Seven
This verse captures the essence of what a Christian absolutely must have faith in if he wants to conduct his life without falling into the same state of mind that Solomon did as shown in the book of Ecclesiastes. We, too, are subject to our own unstable convictions, opinions, and decisions.
In addition, we are subject to decisions and circumstances that others make and over which we have no control, yet which cause us to descend into a blue funk. We seem to be powerless over people making these decisions, so life seems unfair that such things should happen.
But we Christians cannot lose our perspective! Romans 8:28 is the right perspective for a Christian, a wonderfully encouraging and comforting promise. However, it does not automatically apply to everyone. Two conditions must be met.
First, we must respond to God's grace, to His gift, to His calling, to His gift of Christ, to His gift of the Holy Spirit, to His gift of revealing to us knowledge and understanding of what is happening. We must respond - that is, love God in return.
Second, we must be one of "the called according to His purpose," one of the elect. This does not apply to those who have merely received an invitation from God, because that summons goes out to many more than actually respond to it. Just as in advertising, the call, the invitation, may go out over radio, television, or through the newspaper to millions of people, but few respond as compared to the mass of invitees. The calling of God is similar: The invitation goes out to many, but few become part of the elect (Matthew 22:14).
If we meet these conditions, God is with us, and we can be encouraged and take comfort in that assurance.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and the Feast of Tabernacles (Part 1)
Because God has spoken to us by His Son, and because His Son is so great and so glorious, and because the subject which is addressed is of such infinite importance to us and to our welfare, He says we ought to give the more earnest heed to it.
Earnest is an important word. It means "abundantly," "more exceedingly," "much more frequently," or "more super-abundant" heed. Paul is saying to pay attention intensely to what God is doing in our lives!
We should pray and study with great care and concern lest we should let God's Word slip, which means to "let it [God's Word] run out"—to leak out like a barrel with a cracked plug. The barrel is full, and it very slowly starts to leak.
Another analogy would be to "drift away." Envision a rowboat tied to a pier, but the rope loosens and falls into the water. Someone on hand could reach down, grab the rope, and retie it. But if this simple task is neglected, then the boat, which had been floating right next to the piling, slowly drifts away. Soon it will be ten feet away, then fifty feet, and in time it is on the horizon where the water is rough. Paul instructs us not to let that happen. Do not let it drift away! Pay attention! If we become superficial in our prayer and study, then our once keen vision of God will begin to blur.
If those without God's Spirit who heard God's Word died in the wilderness as punishment for disobeying God, how much greater will be our punishment for drifting away? To us, God says, "Pay attention!" Our chance for salvation is now! If we are not successful, then our hope is lost! Paul advises us to see the scope of what God is doing in our lives. We must constantly remind ourselves of His purpose for our calling. We must pray and study with that purpose at the forefront of our minds.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Don't Take God for Granted
Consider these Israelites. They saw a multitude of miracles performed by God through His servant Moses and on occasion through Aaron. They experienced the water turn to blood and frogs hop all over the place. They experienced the eerie, penetrating darkness that pervaded all of Egypt. They experienced the division between Goshen and Egypt, and they knew God spared them from the remaining plagues.
They knew something was "working" in their lives. They could see it occurring when the flies were all over Egypt except in Goshen. They saw it happen through five other plagues. They experienced it again on Passover night when the firstborn of Egypt were killed, but the firstborn of Israel, shielded by the blood on their doorposts and lintels, were not. Did they not see that?
Did they not spoil the Egyptians? Did they not leave Egypt? Did not God part the Red Sea before their eyes and drown all the Egyptian army in its waters? Did they not eat manna supplied from heaven every day for forty years in the wilderness? Did they not see water flow like a river out of solid rock? Did they not see quail blown toward them so that they had all the meat they could eat?
They saw the glory of God descend on Mount Sinai. They felt the earth shake under their feet. They saw the pillar of fire and cloud. They saw the glory of God rest upon the Tabernacle when it was set up. Nevertheless, every single one of them, except for two men and their families, perished!
Is seeing believing?
The Israelites never really saw God in those works. What they physically saw did not produce the spiritual faith that enables one to see God, because, as these verses explain, the one whose eyes are opened must voluntarily respond. The Israelites never responded positively to God.
The Christian's responsibility is to respond to God's calling through acts of faith. The apostle reminds the Hebrews of the deadly seriousness of their situation. God's calling is not indiscriminately handed out to anyone who might happen to see or read. It is a personal invitation (John 6:44). God has addressed it specifically to us!
These verses also contain a warning: Since Israel did not enter into God's rest, someone else will, because God will fulfill His purpose. The Christian ought not to think that he will automatically enter it in Israel's place.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Do You See God? (Part One)
Here is a person who is going only halfway, hearing God's Word but doing nothing with it. How often do we hear a message, seeing it only as it applies to others, not to ourselves? Such a person may be able to hear the truth but filters it only through his clouded eyes, or worse, never sees how it relates to him at all.
We see these extremes in God's church today. Some people spend endless hours studying and conveying their discoveries to others, yet hypocritically do not follow their own advice or God's. They may even have understanding that could help others, but potential hearers see only the problems that drown out what they may be trying to say. As the saying goes, "Your actions speak so loudly that I can't hear a word you say." God wants well-rounded individuals in His Family, those who understand His way of life and cooperate with the rest of His family—not extremists who may be right in their knowledge but wrong in their overall viewpoint, including proper interaction with others.
Another extreme exists in those who are mere spectators, allowing others to preach at them without doing anything about it or even proving or disproving it for themselves. They take a "nothing ventured, nothing compromised" stance, which, though it may be technically correct, reveals a person who will not venture outside his "comfort zone." It is a stance guaranteed to produce no growth whatsoever, either in doctrine or in personal relationships. All this person sees is his own little world, a perspective that runs contrary to what God purposes for us. He is preparing us to be kings and priests in the world to come, both of which demand an outward, growth-oriented attitude.
Still another extreme behavior occurs in those who believe because they are told to, not because of their own involvement with God and His Word. They see what others tell them to see, not what they should see aided by God's Spirit. While it is good to be submissive, God wants us to seek Him (Deuteronomy 4:29; Isaiah 55:6; Amos 5:4; etc.) and prove all things (I Thessalonians 5:21; I John 4:1). A true Christian must be actively involved in pursuing God's way of life.
All these positions show an inability or lack of desire to see and respond to God's truth as we should. This is true physically. A myopic person cannot see things clearly enough to react properly. For instance, a nearsighted baseball player cannot see a pitch clearly enough to take an effective swing at the ball. A myopic Christian cannot see the truth clearly enough to use it in his life.
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