What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
The word "image" is translated from the Hebrew tselem, and it means "shape, resemblance, figure, shadow." There is nothing abstract in it. This same word appears in Genesis 5:3: "And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image [tselem], and named him Seth."
Adam lived 130 years and begot a son in his likeness, after his shape, after his resemblance, after his figure, after his shadow. Absolutely no one argues anywhere about the meaning of "image" here. There is nothing abstract.
Even as the animals reproduced after their kind, so did Adam and Eve reproduce after their kind. What they reproduced was in the form and shape of Adam and Eve. It was in their image. Only when we apply this to God do people begin to question, all on the assumption that God really does not have any shape. They claim that a human-like appearance is something that He uses only when convenient. However, that is not what the Bible testifies.
If we desire to be accurate with the Scriptures, we must be consistent with the way the Bible's writers used these words. The same word is used of Adam and Eve as is used of God.
God uses this word in Exodus 20:4—right in the second commandment: "You shall not make for yourself a carved image [tselem] . . .." This is the same word as in Genesis 1:26. Does anybody contend that these carved images do not look like eagles, dragons, snakes, or men or women? No, the image, the idol, looks like, resembles, the shape, the form, of what it is being copied from. We also find this word in Leviticus 26:1; Psalm 106:19; and Isaiah 40:18-20; 44:9-17.
The word tselem appears seventeen times in the Old Testament, and even the liberal Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, which goes to great lengths to avoid saying it, admits that concrete form and physical resemblance must be considered for Genesis 1:26-27: "Perhaps we may conclude that, while much of the thought that there is an external resemblance between God and man may be present, Ezekiel, who was a priest, has it" (vol. II, p. 684).
Scripture cannot be broken; it does not contradict itself. The editors of the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible have to admit that tselem carries the meaning of concrete form and physical resemblance. Man looks like God. Continuing the quote: "However cautiously he states it, P [P stands for 'Priestly,' one of the four groups whom critical scholars believe edited the Bible] seems to have reached a measure of abstraction."
The editors of the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible are sneaky. "Well, maybe there is a concrete resemblance, and we know that Ezekiel has it, yet the fellow who wrote Genesis 1, perhaps he reached a measure of abstraction." How hard they find it to give up their assumption!
The same internal consistency happens with the word "likeness," which translates the Hebrew word demooth, meaning, "model, shape, fasten, similitude, and bodily resemblance." Notice Genesis 5:1, 3:
This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created man, He made him in the likeness [demooth] of God. . . . And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness [demooth], after his image, and named him Seth.
If demooth is used for God's creation of man in His image in Genesis 1:26, and then it appears in Genesis 5:1, 3, do we not have to apply the same discernment about what God intends? Demooth also appears in Isaiah 40:18; Ezekiel 1:5, 10, 13, 16, 22, 26, 28; 10:1, 22.
When we study the whole subject, we begin to understand why Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible had to write that Ezekiel showed man in physical resemblance to God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Image and Likeness of God (Part One)
Most people's thinking is limited to what immediately follows, the creation of Adam and Eve. This concentration on them is natural, but it is not the complete story of God's creative purposes. It is only the beginning of God's intention, a first step. His purpose is that we become as fully manifested in His image as He was when He made that pronouncement and remains to this day. The Father and Son are eternal spirit Beings of awesome intellect, character, power, and purpose.
We find another clue to God's intention in Genesis 3:22 after Adam and Eve had eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God says, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever. . . .”
Do we catch the full effect of what God says here? He implies that from the beginning, He has intended that mankind live forever! He means “forever” even as He and the Son live forever. The tree, of course, was only a symbol, and its fruit would not literally impart everlasting life. However, from the very beginning, it was His ultimate purpose that, when His creative efforts are complete, those whom He created would live forever in His image. The creative methods God must employ to ensure that we will live as God lives are the most difficult and time-consuming part of His operation.
Genesis 17:7 provides further evidence as God reaffirms His covenant with Abraham, adding circumcision as the outward sign of the inner intention to be faithful to it: “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.” For them to enjoy everlasting possession of the inheritance, they must also have everlasting life! No matter where we search, except for Christ Himself, no human yet has lived an everlasting life.
We have progressed through only the first seventeen chapters of the first book, and significant clues about what God has been and continues doing stand revealed. Do we believe them?
We often fail to give much consideration to—and thus overlook to our detriment—that this universe is God's creation. It did not arise from nothing. From within Himself, God designed it and gave it shape and life. Equally important, He governs His creation. He has overseen and administered it from the moment it came into existence. He brought it into existence in a massive operation through His Companion, the One the Bible reveals as Jesus Christ, the Word. The problem is not that God has failed to communicate these truths, but that we fail to believe Him or take what He says seriously enough to do something about His revelation.
The Creator God is carrying out what every living thing does, except for the angels, whom He also created through Christ. In His case, He is systematically reproducing Himself. He is expanding into a Family in His image to share what He is and does with others of His eternal kind.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Why Hebrews Was Written (Part Six)
Because God rested after six days of labor, the Sabbath is also our day of rest and a memorial of Creation. He wants us to remember, not only what He did in the physical creation, but also that His spiritual creation continues in us now. When God blessed and sanctified the seventh day, He made it holy, set apart for God's use! Only God can make a day holy, and He does this by putting Himself, through His Spirit, into it.
We are then instructed to "keep" it holy. Various scriptures give examples of things God prohibits on His Sabbath: working, cooking, carrying burdens. God does not make a comprehensive list of "dos and don'ts" for us to follow. Instead, He gives us principles of what is proper and improper Sabbath behavior, and we then must use God's Spirit to decide our actions.
Martin G. Collins
The Fourth Commandment
In verse 15, God clarifies why he gave man powers. At first glance, it only appears to cover what is physical and material, but with God's spiritual revelation and other scriptures, it carries far greater implication.
In the King James Version, the word meaning "tend" or "cultivate" is dress. The Hebrew means "to work at." In 1611, when the King James was translated, the word dress meant "to set in order," but gradually, it was applied to applying decorative details, "to embellish."
Today, when we say that we are going to dress, we include both parts of that definition. We put ourselves in order and embellish how we look.
In modern Bibles, “dress” has been translated "tend" or "cultivate." They have subtle meanings that are slightly different from "dress." Tend means "to pay attention to" or "to serve." For example, “I am going to tend to the dishes.” It means "to apply oneself to the care of" or "to manage the operations of."
Cultivate, which is the best of the three definitions, means "to put through a finishing process," "to foster the growth of," or "to further or encourage." Neither "dress" or "tend" is wrong, but "cultivate" most accurately applies the Hebrew meaning of the original word.
There is the word "keep" as well. We are to "dress and keep." Keep means to "guard," "preserve," "be faithful to," and "maintain."
God has given man powers to carry out the responsibility that has been given into his hands: to have dominion. Man must do the following: Put what has been placed into his hands through a finishing process, watch over it, guard it, protect it, and preserve its beauty.
This was all given to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, a beautiful place. God let them and us know that, as beautiful as the Garden was, it would not stay that way. It was subject to natural law and would degenerate. The Garden would need to be maintained, cultivated, dressed, and kept, requiring a great deal of work. Man was not only to preserve, control, and direct it, but also to strive even to ennoble the Garden of Eden through work.
It begins to become clear that God intends mankind to make more of his environment than he has been given. God has given the powers to do that. We are to understand this not only physically, but more importantly, spiritually.
Here in Genesis, God has shown the fact that a person works, the reason why he works, and the way he works all have a great deal to do with his spiritual development. It is important to note the difference between "salvation" and "development." We are saved by grace. But if there is going to be development from where God begins whenever we first receive His Spirit, then it requires something on our part to enable the fullness of development to take place. That involves work.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Right Use of Power
God does not specifically identify Himself with any other day of the week, and He commands His people to meet with Him on no other day. These truths are so strong that God includes the Sabbath in the ten foundational laws governing morality. How much plainer can it get? In addition, the apostle Paul says this body of laws is spiritual (Romans 7:14). This has universal and eternal ramifications, further enhanced by the fact that Jesus kept it (and we are to follow His example, I John 2:4-6), as did the apostles.
God created the Sabbath because it enhances and protects our relationship with Him. It provides a witness to God, to ourselves and to the world. It keeps us in a proper frame of mind and furnishes us with the right knowledge of our part of the pilgrimage to God's Kingdom.
We live in a grubby, grasping, materially oriented world, where a built-in bias exists toward materialism and the exercise of carnality. If we follow it, we can find it is not hard at all to avoid spiritual things. But keeping the Sabbath almost forces us to think about God, the spiritual side of life and His creation. It presents us with opportunities to consider the WHYS of life, to get ourselves correctly oriented to use our time properly the other six days. Keeping the Sabbath correctly is the kernel, the nucleus, from which grows appropriate worship (our response to God).
Existentialist philosophers tell us that life is absurd. They say that all life is but a prelude to death. The Sabbath celebrates just the opposite! It reminds us that God's creative process is continuing. God is creating us in His image so that physical life is not absurd but a prelude to life on an infinitely higher, spiritual level. As we grow more like Him, we become more sanctified from this world. In experiencing, refreshing, and elevating the mind in the realm of the spirit, we get a foretaste of what is to come.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part One) (1997)
Because God rested after six days of labor, the Sabbath is also our day of rest and a memorial of Creation. We are to remember, not only what God did in the physical creation, but also that His spiritual creation continues in us.
God blessed the seventh day, making it holy. It is holy time, set apart for God's use! Only God can make a day holy, and He does this by putting Himself, through His Spirit, into it. We are then instructed to "keep" it holy.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
This is a somewhat elementary, perhaps even a crude, illustration that clearly pictures why the relationship with God is absolutely necessary. It begins by admitting that we neither created ourselves nor gave ourselves life. David admits someone else made him; he did not arise to life fully formed out of nothing. Like him, we did not determine that we would physically be in God's image. The Creator made that determination. Can we mentally picture God kneeling down in the dirt, placing Adam's every part where He wanted it and determining how every part would function with every other system in his body? Even everyday realities such as these need a functioning Creator to bring them to pass.
The need for a relationship with our Creator is beginning to emerge. II Corinthians 5:17 carries the need of the creative relationship a major step further: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” We are now a new creation, a spiritual creation. A process begun in Eden continues.
When Paul wrote about a “new” creation, he had his choice of two Greek words. One expresses newness in the sense of “renovation.” However, Paul used the second term, which suggests new in the sense of “brand new.” He indicates, then, a person as a new individual with a new family, a new set of values, new motivations, and new possessions. Nothing new in this sense creates itself. Even a new baby in a womb does not make itself. The baby has absolutely no idea what it is in process of becoming.
Are we making ourselves spiritually? As a new creation in Christ Jesus, we are no more making ourselves spiritually than we did physically. However, this creation is far more difficult and important because it requires our mindful and willing cooperation with our Creator.
How clearly and precisely do we foresee where our spiritual Creator is headed? To say it bluntly, without God's calling, which creates the relationship with Him, there is no possibility whatever of knowing anything meaningful about what God is in the process of creating, and therefore no eternal, spiritual salvation would exist. Do we know how to give ourselves everlasting life? Do we know where we will fit into the Creator's finished plan?
Therefore, it is our responsibility always to do whatever is necessary to seek Him and glorify Him, helping to keep the relationship going and knowledge increasing. Without the relationship that He invited us into, there is no possibility of ever accomplishing the end that He is heading toward and yielding to what He desires. It is as though He has opened the gate to allow us back into the Garden of Eden, right into the very source of every good and perfect gift that will enable us to glorify Him by fulfilling our responsibilities to Him. It is as if He says, as He opens the gate, “Now there, let's begin the next step in My overall purpose!”
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Seven): Contentment
Jesus takes the man aside from the crowd to show tender consideration for the feelings of one for whom life was very difficult. Once they are alone, the first thing Jesus does is to put His fingers in the man's ears. They must be healed if the tongue is to work normally, since the man was mute because he could not hear. This symbolic action sends a clear message to the deaf man, helping to awaken his faith and to alert him to the expectation of healing. Since he could not hear encouragement, it had to come from a compassionate touch.
For us, we learn that it is good for us to be alone in God's presence, away from the busy cacophony of a confused world, which is never conducive to spiritual reflection (Ecclesiastes 3:7). In the quiet of God's presence, we can build and improve our personal relationship with Him (Psalm 46:10). Each person needs time alone with the Father to keep a sharp focus on Him. Jesus instructs, "When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly" (Matthew 6:6-7).
The popular belief at that time was that saliva had medicinal properties. This case and the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26; John 9:6) are the only instances where Jesus uses popular medical remedies in healing. However, He did not use His saliva for any medicinal virtue it contained but as a symbol of the spiritual power within Him and emanating from Him. By Christ's touch, the man was shown that the power to heal both his deafness and speech impediment completely came from Jesus. Even with this healing, the man would have to be willing to hear God's words; if not, he would waste his healing and the grace of God (Acts 28:26-28).
The account shows us that Jesus does not consider the deaf-mute as merely another case but as an individual. The man had a special need and a special problem, and with tender consideration, Jesus deals with him in a way that spares his feelings and helps him to understand.
When the healing becomes known, the people declare that He had done all things well (literally "beautifully"), which is also God's verdict on His creation (Genesis 1:31). In the beginning, everything was very good, but mankind's sins have spoiled it ever since. When Jesus came, bringing healing and salvation to the people, He brought the work of spiritual creation, beginning with His church. One day soon, Christ will bring back God's beauty to the whole world.
Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Healing a Deaf-Mute (Part Two)
What, then, is the new birth? It is not the removal of anything from the sinner, nor the changing of anything within or without the sinner's body. It is, instead, the communication of a precious gift to the sinner. It is forgiveness and the imparting of the new nature. When we were born from our mothers, we received from our parents their nature, what Paul calls the "carnal" or "fleshly" nature. When one is born again, he receives from God His nature, as II Peter 1:4 relates, ". . . by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature."
As early as Genesis 1, the Bible shows that a fundamental law of nature is that every living thing brings forth its own kind. What is produced by a vegetable is vegetable; what is born of animal is animal. What is born of sinful man and woman is a sinful child, which Paul designates in Romans 8:8 as being "in the flesh." It cannot be anything else. We may educate and cultivate it all we please, but human nature remains "in the flesh." It may be refined flesh, beautiful flesh, or religious flesh, but it is still "in the flesh."
On the other hand, what is born or brought forth by the impartation of God's Spirit is spirit. To use Paul's term, such a person is "in the Spirit" (Romans 8:9). The child always partakes of the nature of its parents. What is born of man is carnal and sinful; what is born of God is spiritual.
Being born again is the creation of a new man in Christ Jesus. It is the birth of a new spiritual man within the physical. The new birth is the imparting of the mind, the nature, of Jesus Christ. Paul explains in I Corinthians 2:9-16:
But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him." But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.
Every born-again person is automatically and instantaneously a child of God, a member of the Family of God, and being part of that Family, he becomes a citizen of the Kingdom of God. In every case in which God commands or exhorts His children, He does so as to an adult who is fully capable of carrying out what He says. A command may be said to one young in the faith, even one called a "babe" due to his spiritual immaturity, but he is not a spiritual fetus. He is physically an adult with a great deal of experience from which he can draw for decision making, along with his growing knowledge of God.
There is no gestation period, just as there was no gestation period when God created Adam and Eve as the culmination of the physical creation. In Genesis 2:7, God breathed into Adam the breath (ruach, a type of the Holy Spirit) of life, and he immediately became a living soul, not a fetus in a womb. Paul calls us "a new creation" (II Corinthians 5:17). However, the spiritual creation is not fully complete, in the same way as the development of a newly born human child is incomplete. Much growth remains to be done.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Born Again or Begotten? (Part Two)
The issue is the Sabbath. God does not stop working on the Sabbath. However, He is not laboring in a steel mill. He is not bending over an engineering table, working on His automobile, or cutting His lawn. What is God doing? Psalm 74:12 says that God is working salvation in all the world, and that work does not stop on the Sabbath.
Jesus is justifying what He did on the Sabbath by the fact that He was doing the same thing God was. He was expending His energy in God's creation, and therefore it was justifiable for Jesus to work. So, creative acts—creative work—of the kind that God is involved in does not stop just because the Sabbath arrives.
The Sabbath is, therefore, an integral part of the same process of Creation that God began on that seventh day. The physical aspect was finished at the end of the sixth day. But the spiritual aspect began with creation of the Sabbath, and it continues to this day, as Jesus establishes in John 5.
In the physical sequence of events—the first six days—God created an environment for man and life. But God shows through the creation of the Sabbath that the life-producing process is not complete with just the physical environment. The Sabbath plays an important role in producing spiritual life. It is life with a dimension that the physical cannot supply. Thus, the Sabbath is not an afterthought of a tremendous Creation. Rather it is a deliberate memorializing of the most enduring thing that man knows—time.
Timeplays an important role in God's spiritual creation. It is as if God says, "When this day rolls around, look at what I have made, and consider that I am not finished yet. I am reproducing Myself, and you can be part of My spiritual creation." God created the Sabbath by resting from His physical exertions, thus setting us the example that we must also rest from our physical exertions.
He also blessed and sanctified the day. He did this to no other day! Yet people will argue, even with Christ, that we should not keep it as He did. It is very obvious that He kept it. Yet, it is the commandment that men tend most to disregard as though it is nothing.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 1)
The charge does not accuse Him of healing but of breaking Sabbath regulations. In both cases, Jesus repudiates the charge by arguing 1) that the works of salvation are contemplated by the Sabbath commandment (see Deuteronomy 5:15, where redemption is the focus of the keeping of the Sabbath), and 2) that what Jesus did—being contemplated by the Sabbath law—is equivalent to God doing the same thing. It was this that really angered the Jews because they surmised that He not only had "broken the Sabbath" but in their eyes did something far worse: blaspheming God by making Himself equal with God.
It ought to be obvious that Christ did not regard the Sabbath as a time of idleness. He certainly looked at it far differently than the Jews did. He admitted that what He was doing here could be considered as work.
But what kind of work is it? Since He equated Himself with God, what He was saying is that He was doing the work of God. That is His justification. "My Father is working until now," and He did not break the Sabbath!
It is interesting that the word "answered" in verse 17 also appears in verse 19. It is the only place in the New Testament where this particular Greek word is translated "answered." It is a particularly strong word. What it means is that Jesus was heatedly defending Himself. It is showing that He considered their accusation to be "personal," as it were, and He reacts to it very strongly.
What comes out of His mouth is, "My Father has been working till now, and He works on the Sabbath!"
Then Jesus answered and said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do." (John 5:19)
Jesus is saying, "I am imitating what I have seen My Father do. Therefore, I am not breaking the Sabbath because God does this on the Sabbath!"
What we have to figure out is what kind of work does God do on the Sabbath? This is important to understanding the principle of the kind of work that is permitted on the Sabbath. What does God do that Jesus is copying?
God shows that He rested from His work. The kind of work that God is doing on the Sabbath does not involve the work of physically creating something. So we can eliminate that right away. Notice John 1:1-3:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made [past tense] through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
John is referring to the physical Creation. Those works were finished, as it were, from the foundation of the world. Jesus is not referring here to the work of earning a living. The work that God is involved in is something else entirely!
God does His work ceaselessly and effortlessly. Jesus is telling us what kind of work it is: the work of redeeming. It is the work of salvation. It is the work of healing people, particularly their minds.
In John 5:31-36, Jesus Christ says, in essence, "What I am doing proves that I am the Messiah." At that time, He had just healed someone, redeemed him from bondage to an illness, from uselessness. He just gave to him the liberty to have hope. He just delivered someone out of his discouragement. That kind of work is the work of salvation. God "is working salvation" (Psalm 74:12).
Also consider John 6:29: "Jesus answered and said to them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.'" God is working to produce in us faith in Jesus Christ because salvation is by grace through faith. Faith is the foundation from which everything in God's purpose grows. God is working to get us saved. He is able to do it, but we have a part in this salvation in that we have to make choices. The basis of our choices is whether or not we believe in Jesus Christ. If we believe Him, then we will make the right choices. It is essential, then, that our faith be increased.
So, the purpose of the manifestation of the works of God in Christ is to produce faith. If one has faith in God, then what will he do? He will apply God's Word, and that produces liberty in himself and in others. We can now begin to see the part that the Sabbath plays in this. It is essential to increasing our faith.
The work that God is doing is not the work of a physical creation but the work of a spiritual creation. He is creating sons in His image. Christ is Redeemer, Deliverer, Savior—and that is His work! What does He spend His time doing? He spends His time healing, forgiving sin, teaching the way of God, and doing good. That is His part in the work of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fourth Commandment (Part 3)
Sanctification and justification are not the same. They are, however, different processes within the same purpose, and they are definitely related issues. They both begin at the same time: when we are forgiven, justified, and sanctified. Justification has to do with aligning us with the standard of God's law that in turn permits us into God's presence. We will never be any more justified than we are at that moment; justification does not increase as we move through our Christian lives.
Some believe that Jesus Christ lived and died only to provide justification and forgiveness of our sins. However, those who believe this are selling His awesome work short. As wonderful as His work is in providing us with justification, His labors in behalf of our salvation do not end there. Notice that verse 10 says we are "saved by His life." Jesus rose from the dead to continue our salvation as our High Priest. God's work of spiritual creation does not end with justification, for at that point we are far from complete. We are completed and saved because of Christ's labor as our Mediator and High Priest only because He is alive.
Sanctification unto holiness continues the process. Hebrews 2:11 states that Jesus is "He who sanctifies," and those of us who have come under His blood are called "those who are sanctified." Note these verses carefully:
» John 17:19: And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.
» Ephesians 5:25-26: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word.
» Colossians 1:21-22: And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight. . . .
» Titus 2:14: . . . who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
Sanctification has a definite purpose that is different from justification. In one respect, justification—as important as it is—only gets the salvation process started. Sanctification takes a person much farther along the road toward completion. It occurs within the experiences of life generally over the many years of one's relationship with the Father and Son. How long did God work with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and the apostles to prepare them for His Kingdom? By comparison, will our perfection be achieved in just a moment?
Sanctification is the inward spiritual work that Jesus Christ works in us. Notice His promise, made on the eve of His crucifixion, in John 14:18: "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you." Moments later, when asked by Judas, "Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?" (verse 22), Jesus replies, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him" (verse 23). These clear statements show that Jesus would continue His work with them following His resurrection.
As our High Priest, He continues that work in us after our justification. He not only washes us of our sins by means of His blood, but He also labors to separate us from our natural love of sin and the world. He works to instill in us a new principle of life, making us holy in our actions and reactions within the experiences of life. This makes possible a godly witness before men, and at the same time, prepares us for living in the Kingdom of God.
If God's only purpose was to save us, He could end the salvation process with our justification. Certainly, His purpose is to save us, but His goal is to save us with character that is the image of His own.
Notice Hebrews 6:1: "Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God." This verse and those immediately following confirm that, at the time of justification, we are not perfect or complete. Justification is an important beginning, but God intends to complete the process of spiritual maturation that He began with our calling. When sanctification begins, our Christian walk truly begins in earnest.
Sanctification, then, is the outcome of God's calling, faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, justification, and our becoming regenerated by God through receiving His Spirit. This combination begins life in the Spirit, as Paul explains in Romans 8:9: "But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His."
At this point in Christian life, the principles of Christianity must be practically applied to everyday life. At this juncture, it might help to recall what righteousness is. Psalm 119:172 defines it succinctly: "My tongue shall speak of Your word, for all Your commandments are righteousness." The apostle John adds to our understanding in I John 3:4: "Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness." Both rectitude and love concisely characterize the same standards, the Ten Commandments, and we are required to labor to perform both.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Is the Christian Required To Do Works? (Part Four)
What Paul writes here agrees perfectly with Isaiah 64:8 and Job 14:14-15. God has a desire for the work of His hands. He is a Master Potter, and we are the clay. Here, the apostle puts it in New Testament terminology: "We are His workmanship." God is creating us in Christ Jesus. The Creator is still creating. He is molding, fashioning, changing us, transforming us to possess His own noble, righteous, holy, spiritual character. Salvation, then, is actually a process of creating character.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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