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What the Bible says about Dependence Upon God
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Genesis 28:20-22

Abraham and Jacob knew that their substance, their success, and their defense all came from God. They were reliant upon God. This is the lesson that we, too, are learning and practicing as a way of life. The International Bible Encyclopedia, Volume 4, page 862, says, "Jacob's tithe that went to support God's house, as symbolized by the pillar, anticipated a major purpose of the tithe in later Israel, namely, the care of God's house."

The question continues to arise: Were God's laws in effect prior to the Exodus? The world considers the giving of the Ten Commandments'and the laws that followed'the first time God gave His laws to mankind.

Does this mean that God gave no instruction to Adam and Eve? What was God's purpose for mankind, for creating man? It was to reproduce Himself! Can we honestly believe that God would not take the time to instruct the first man and woman He created and placed on the earth for this grand purpose?

How did Abel know to sacrifice? How did he know what animals to sacrifice'unless he received instruction from God? Cain could not have been corrected for giving a wrong offering had he not been instructed as to what a right offering was. God is perfectly fair. How did Abraham or Jacob know to give ten percent? Why did they not give 2 ½ percent or five percent? Why did they not say, "Take whatever you want"? We see that God's laws had already been given to man. God had instructed those with whom He was working.

John O. Reid (1930-2016)
Tithing

Exodus 4:10-16

Moses instructs us regarding our feelings about ourselves. We often claim that we have no talents, just as Moses said, "I am not a man of words." He did not have the gift by nature, and he had not developed it since God began speaking to him. This is the same man about whom Stephen, while defending himself against the Jews, said “was mighty in words and deeds” (Acts 7:22).

There is no contradiction here. Both Moses and Stephen were correct. Moses did not have the gift of speaking. The power in Moses' words was not in himself, but in what God added to his words. God made the impact on the hearer's mind.

It could be speculated that Moses never really overcame this, never becoming eloquent as men would count eloquence. Yet, what he said had awesome power because God was in what he said. Both men were correct. Moses said powerful things because God added to what he said.

This is instructive for us because we are similar. We tend to ask, "Who am I?" or "What can I do?" The answer is that God has called the weak of the world (I Corinthians 1:26-31), and all we have to offer Him is our lives and a willingness to be used. He adds where we lack. He does this so that no man can glory in His presence. God intends this to humble us. We have to recognize that God adds the increase and makes effective what we say and do.

Moses undoubtedly had learning from his upbringing in Egypt that was as good as a person could receive at that time. He had ideas about what a leader should be like, that a hero needed to be a blazing personality who commanded peoples' attention, who was good-looking and had everything going for him.

God does not call many mighty in that regard. God uses the weak, and He will glorify Himself in them. Moses did not yet recognize this principle. This would be God's work, the focus would be on God, and what God supplied would always be sufficient for the task. Learning and keeping our place in God's plan is a very hard lesson for us to learn.

In verse 14, God becomes angry at Moses' resistance and his underlying disbelief. God's promise to be with him did not mean that Moses would suddenly become eloquent and fluent. God knows how to use His creatures, and He will use them to His ends. If a man has great resources, his sufficiency makes God unnecessary, and he becomes puffed up. So through Paul, God makes clear that He purposely calls the weak for His purpose.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophets and Prophecy (Part 1)

Numbers 11:4-5

The Israelites were out in a wilderness area, and they were on the move. They did not have any gardens or stores to run to. There was nothing they could zip in and out of to get what they needed. They were completely dependent upon what God gave them. Even water wells were scarce and far between.

They had their flocks and herds with them, but if they had eaten those things (remember, they numbered over two million people) they would soon have been gone. Additionally, because they were on the move, they could not stop and allow all the animals to reproduce and keep things going. They were between a rock and a hard place, as it were. God had to be the One who supplied their need.

What was God giving them? There would be an occasional rock that Moses would whack, and water would come out, and there was the manna every morning. Everyday, the people had manna pancakes, then for lunch they had manna hamburgers, and for dinner they had manna salad and manna roast. Everything was manna! They ground it up, beat it, boiled it, baked it; they did everything they possibly could to get some kind of variety. But everyday they ate manna.

Would we enjoy eating the same basic thing everyday? Most of us would not. The Israelites did not either, but in this chapter there is a spiritual lesson that God was working out because He knew that, sooner or later, His church would come along and need to learn principles from the lives and experiences of these people.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Passover and I Corinthians 10

Deuteronomy 8:2-3

By means of trials, God seeks to help us see our need and our dependence on Him. We absolutely must learn that life—both physical and spiritual—depends on what God supplies. Our reaction to the trials reveals what is in our heart, that is, what really motivates us. Humiliation proves what is really there. He puts us into distress to make us become aware of our needs. He wants to see whether we will live by faith, depending upon Him to supply those needs. He needs to see whether we will keep His commands, even when a need might be supplied by disobeying them.

Things happen to those of faith so that we might possess qualities of mind, character, and heart that would otherwise not be available to us. We can take these qualities through the grave and into the Kingdom of God. Jesus says in John 15:5, "Without Me you can do nothing." The fruits of God's Spirit can be produced through faith only in cooperation with God in His purpose as we proceed on our pilgrimage.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Preparing for the Feast

Proverbs 3:5-8

These verses contain the first principle upon which all our work and hope depend. In every aspect of life, we must take God into account. We should seek His counsel regarding our home, community, work, and play. This is not an elective but an absolute necessity, so the relationship established through Jesus Christ influences our conduct to the point that it is according to His will. This requires humility, but if we remember that He made us, and we are dependent upon Him for everything, the proper attitude comes easier. If we do not do this, we are foolishly failing to acknowledge the One whose thoughts and ways are higher than heaven is above the earth. All of our ways are in the hand of this Almighty Sovereign; success and safety are of the Lord. We of all people do not want to end up fighting the Almighty when He causes changes in civil government or in the church. They may appear on the surface to be working against us, but who is ruling?

Recall some examples from the Old Testament: Nimrod attempts to build a tower and unite all of mankind under one government, but God sweeps it away by the simple expedient of making communication too difficult. Esau burns with anger against Jacob, but when next they meet, he weeps for joy at seeing his brother. Joseph goes into Egypt a slave and spends time in prison based on a false charge, but as a result of God's blessing, he ends his life reconciled and reunited with his family and second in command of all Egypt. Israel is a slave people in Egypt, the most powerful nation on earth at the time, but God devastates it through supernatural occurrences—Israel is freed without "firing a shot." Balaam is hired to curse Israel, but God compels him to bless. Haman builds a gallows for Mordecai, but is hanged from it himself. Jonah resists God's command to preach to the hated enemy, the Assyrians, but God prepares a great fish just for him!

Understanding this, David writes:

Why do the nations rage, and the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed saying, "Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us." He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the LORD shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure. . . . "You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." (Psalm 2:1-5, 9)

God is infinitely stronger than even the greatest of confederacies, and He will blow away the most extensive and vigorous efforts to overthrow His plans like so much dust. He laughs at man's puny attempts to rule without considering Him, their Creator, in whom they live and move and have their being. Will He who repulsed the attacks of Satan's mighty angelic host be put in fear of more limited men?

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Five

Isaiah 58:3

Fasting puts us in a proper attitude to submit to God. When we deprive ourselves of the necessities of life, we see how dependent we are upon God's providence. This is why in a true, spiritual fast we neither eat nor drink anything for the whole 24 hours of the day (Deuteronomy 9:18; Esther 4:16). God desires such a humble spirit in us so that we can walk in harmony with Him (Micah 6:8; Isaiah 66:2).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Holy Days: Atonement

Isaiah 66:1-2

Humility is what impresses God. Pride gets between us and God, and without realizing it, we actually shut Him out of our lives.

The Bible clearly shows that our spiritual well-being is dependent upon acknowledging, with our lives, our reliance upon the revealed will of God—His Word. Pride results from arrogating to oneself something for which one is indebted and would not even have except for God's benevolence. Who gave Helel (commonly mistranslated as "Lucifer," who became Satan) his beauty? his intelligence? his position of power from which he operated? Pride perverted Helel's thinking into rejecting his dependence, and he elevated himself above God.

Now what do we have that we did not receive? Did we create ourselves? Did we create the great goal in life to be in the Kingdom of God and to be born into His Family? Did we reveal God to ourselves? Did we die on the stake for the forgiveness of our sins? Did the gift of the Holy Spirit come to us through our own agency? Did we lead ourselves to repentance? Who gave us the power to believe in the true God and in His Son Jesus Christ?

It is interesting to reflect on Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Satan comes along and says to them, "You will be as God." What entered into Adam and Eve at that moment? The pride of life. The result? They rejected the revelation of God. They rejected His Word and sinned. Pride subtly elevates a man to the same level as God, which results in him rejecting the very gifts God would give him for his salvation.

So, consciously or subconsciously, the proud man—us (hopefully not as much as it used to be)—is saying that he already knows better, or has the power and ability within himself by nature, thereby subtly turning salvation into something God owes him. It becomes earned.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Seven)

Ezekiel 16:49

God pictures Sodom as proud. What led to the utter destruction of this city in a way that no other has ever been destroyed on earth is arrogance, a false sense of security, spiritual apathy, and disdain. This brings us to a daughter of Sodom—Lot's wife—lingering, dragging her heels along the way. Why did she look back? She had no faith in what the angels said. She had no need of God because she felt secure within herself. Her pride turned her into a pillar of salt because she did not have faith in God.

We badly need humility. Perhaps it is beyond our sense of appreciation to realize how much we need it. It means so much to God that we have a right perspective of ourselves in relation to Him because it establishes a right perspective of other people, of things, and of life itself. All the right values and standards spin off from humility.

We have such a need of humility that God will go to seemingly extreme ends to make sure that we feel our dependence on Him. He will humble us. He will sweep away our money. He will take away our jobs, our health, our possessions. He will do anything necessary in order to make us see our need—that every good gift flows from Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Seven)

Habakkuk 2:4-5

If we look at this in reverse, is it not saying that the proud are going to die? But the just will live by faith. Indeed, the just are humble. The contrast goes unstated, but it is nonetheless there, between the just person and the proud person. The just person submits to God by faith.

This is written in a way that indicates that the proud cannot live by faith. A proud person will live by his desires rather than in faith, humbly submitting to God. His desire is not to submit to God. Why? Because the spiritual qualities that the spirit in man can generate are essentially confined to the things of men: sight, sound, touch, hearing, and smelling—and being "tuned in" to demonic influences (Ephesians 2:2). Man's spirit is earthly; it has fleshly conceptions that never quite grasp the right, that is, godly concept. With all of his intelligence, man never quite puts the Word of God together correctly. He always misses it, and the miss may be as good as a mile. His relationship with God never quite has the proper footing. The proud meet with God more or less as equals, which is not a right basis.

Paul writes in Romans 7:18, "For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells." How can godly faith be generated from something in which is nothing good? How can godly righteousness come from something that has no good in it? How can anything that is godly—that leads to salvation and can be taken through the resurrection into the Kingdom of God—come from a spirit that is not holy?

What do we have that we have not received (I Corinthians 4:7)? What, then, do we have to be proud about? In the humble person is a proper recognition and acceptance of the fact that he is totally dependent on God for everything that can be taken through the resurrection. Does not Jesus say in John 15:5, "For without Me you can do nothing"?

The things of the Spirit of God are concerned with unseen things—things the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands cannot sense. They are heavenly things, spiritual things. We look for a city whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10). Our faith is in promises that have not yet materialized. Faith in these promises can make great demands on us, ones that we would never submit to or ever meet but for the gifts of God's Spirit. God's Spirit gives direction to our lives, motivating us to live by standards that we would never otherwise live by.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Seven)

Matthew 5:3

The word "poor" has a wide variety of meanings and applications in both testaments. The Old Testament uses five different words from the Hebrew language, while the New Testament uses two from Greek. However, these seven are translated into a large number of English words. Besides describing destitution, they appear in contexts indicating oppression, humility, being defenseless, afflicted, in want, needy, weak, thin, low, dependent, and socially inferior.

Of the two Greek words translated "poor" in the New Testament, penes designates the working poor who own little or no property. People in this state possess little in the way of material goods, but they earn what they have through their daily labor. A form of this word, penechros, describes a poor widow who may be receiving a small subsistence from a relative or social agency. Penes is used only once in the entire New Testament (II Corinthians 9:9), and its cognate, penechros, is used only to indicate the poor widow of Luke 21:2.

This, therefore, is not the word used in the beatitude in Matthew 5:3, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Here, "poor" is translated from ptochos, which literally means "to crouch or cower as one helpless." It signifies the beggar, the pauper, one in abject poverty, totally dependent on others for help and destitute of even the necessities of life. In Galatians 4:9, it is translated "beggarly."

At first "poor" simply indicated to be in material need, to be in poverty. Gradually, its usage spread to other areas besides economics to indicate people in weakness, frailty, feebleness, fragility, dependence, subservience, defenselessness, affliction, and distress. The poor were people who recognized their utter helplessness before what life had dealt them. They recognized that nothing within their power solved their weak state, thus they would eagerly reach out to others for assistance in rising out of their situation, as a beggar would.

Eventually, the word took on spiritual overtones because some began to perceive that these afflicted people often had no refuge but God. Thus David, a person we would not consider as defenseless, nonetheless says of himself in a situation where he felt only God could deliver him, "This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles" (Psalm 34:6).

To grasp how Jesus uses "poor" in this beatitude, we must contemplate the mind of a person who finds himself in poverty. One who recognizes his poverty takes the necessary steps to be poor no longer. He may seek advice on how to resolve his dilemma, get or change jobs, curtail spending to only necessary items, pay off his debts, and/or get rid of financially draining liabilities. In other words, he tries to change his circumstances. God wants His children to have this recognition of poverty regarding true spiritual things, and possess the drive to seek their enrichment from Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Two: Poor in Spirit

Matthew 5:3

The Old Testament supplies the background to Jesus' use of "poor." From statements like David's, we realize that when God prophesies regarding Jesus—

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound" (Isaiah 61:1)

—He is not speaking of the economically poor but those who are poor in spiritual qualities or poor in terms of a relationship with Him.

One can be spiritually poor regardless of how much money he possesses. He can be brokenhearted though living in grand houses, driving luxury automobiles, wearing the finest apparel, and circulating in the highest levels of society. Is being captive to sin and Satan or addicted to drugs, fashion, or the vain praise of men restricted by economic boundaries? Neither are godly attributes.

Jesus is not speaking to any clearly demarcated group. Though riches can motivate pride, the economically poor possess pride too. Jesus says the poor are blessed, but neither poverty nor wealth can confer spiritual blessings, though poverty may help to lead a person to humility. Both poverty and wealth can entail great spiritual peril. A poverty-stricken person can become very self-centered because of his desperate need, and a wealthy person can become equally self-centered through his profligacy. Jesus' words cover the whole span of mankind's circumstances because anyone without a right and true relationship with God can fall within His description. "Poor," as Jesus uses it, truly relates to a spiritual quality.

"Poor" does not stand alone; Jesus connects it with "spirit" to clarify His intention. Even as the economically poor are very aware of their need, so also are the poor in spirit. Yet a vast difference lies between this and being financially destitute. Poverty of spirit is a fruit not produced in the natural man, but a work of God's Holy Spirit in the minds of those He has called and is converting, explaining why being poor in spirit can span the whole economic spectrum. It is why an Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, or Joseph of Arimathea, all very wealthy men, can be simultaneously poor in spirit and materially blessed of God.

David referred to himself as a "poor" man, in need of what only God could supply. He perceived himself as destitute of the resources to improve his lot. He saw himself as beyond the help of men, afflicted, crushed, forsaken, desolate, miserable—as helpless spiritually as the poverty stricken are economically. Thus, recognizing his need, he cried out to God, and He heard him.

Another psalm by a thoroughly chastened and humbled David reveals in greater detail his recognition of the spiritual poverty in which he committed his sins. Notice the spiritual things David requested—things only God could supply—to fill his needs in Psalm 51:

Have mercy upon me . . . blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly . . . cleanse me from my sin. . . . Make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop. . . . Make me to hear joy and gladness. . . . Hide Your face from my sins. . . . Create in me a clean heart . . . renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me with Your generous Spirit . . . . Deliver me from bloodguiltiness. . . . Open my lips and my mouth shall show forth Your praise. (verses 1-2, 6-12, 14-15)

To be poor in spirit is to acknowledge honestly and with understanding our spiritual poverty—indeed our spiritual bankruptcy—before God. We are sinners and on the strength of our lives deserve nothing but God's judgment. We have nothing to offer, nothing to plead, nothing with which to buy His favor. But upon profession of our faith coupled with repentance, He allows by His grace the blood of Jesus Christ, shed for the sins of the world, to cover our sins, justifying us and providing us with access into His presence.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Two: Poor in Spirit

Matthew 5:3

Those who possess poverty of spirit are pronounced "blessed." In one sense, they are blessed because they now have a disposition the very opposite of their natural one. This is perhaps a fundamental proof that God has begun working in them by His Spirit to create them in His own image. Poverty of spirit is part of the nature of our Creator, as Jesus affirms in Matthew 11:29.

God makes many promises to those of this disposition:

  • "But I am poor and needy; yet the LORD thinks upon me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God" (Psalm 40:17). If God is thinking on someone, he has the attention of the One with greatest power, wisdom and love in all the universe!
  • "The humble shall see this and be glad; and you who seek God, your hearts shall live. For the LORD hears the poor, and does not despise His prisoners" (Psalm 69:32-33). One can be glad even in difficult circumstances because God hears the poor and He will deliver.
  • "For He will deliver the needy when he cries, the poor also, and him who has no helper. He will spare the poor and needy, and will save the souls of the needy" (Psalm 72:12-13). Beyond deliverance, these verses promise mercy in judgment and perhaps salvation to the poor in spirit. No wonder Jesus calls them blessed!
  • Psalm 107:41 is a psalm of thanksgiving: "Yet He sets the poor on high, far from affliction, and makes their families like a flock." God will make sure that in time the poor in spirit will receive exaltation. Their families, too, receive blessings.
  • Two psalms reveal the eternal destiny of the poor. Psalm 113:7-8 says, "He raises the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the ash heap, that He may seat him with princes—with the princes of His people." Psalm 132:13-17 reads, "For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation: This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless her provision; I will satisfy her poor with bread. I will also clothe her priests with salvation, and her saints shall shout aloud for joy. There will I make the horn of David grow; I will prepare a lamp for My Anointed." In these psalms salvation and glory are definitely promised—the ultimate in blessing!

Truly blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of God! This is an attitude we should fervently seek to pave the way in becoming a whole new man.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Two: Poor in Spirit

Matthew 5:3

We can gauge how important the quality of humility is to our relationship with God by considering the setting of this statement. It appears in the Sermon on the Mount, three whole chapters in which Jesus lays out before His followers the foundational teaching that, if followed, will work to produce a good relationship with God. The foundation of the foundation, we might say, is the Beatitudes, and the very first quality He presents, implying its prime necessity, is poverty of spirit.

Poverty of spirit is the diametric opposite of the haughty, competitive, self-assertive, self-sufficient arrogance of pride that says, "This is the way I see it." Being poor in spirit has absolutely nothing to do with being hard up in one's circumstances—in fact, it has nothing to do with the physical realm. It is a fundamental part of the spiritual realm, of which God and the purity of His attitudes, character, and truths are the central elements.

"Poor in spirit" is poverty as compared to God's qualities. It is poverty in terms of Holy Spirit. It is to be destitute in regard to the fruit and power of God's Holy Spirit of which we all desperately need. This attitude is the product of self-evaluation in which a person, comparing his own spiritual qualities to God's, finds himself utterly impoverished of any virtue of value to eternal life. Not only that, he finds himself utterly unable, powerless, to help himself to become like God.

Thus, a person who is poor of spirit clearly sees and appreciates his dependence on God both physically and spiritually. Humility is a fruit of the realization of his complete dependence. He is nothing in his own eyes and knows that his proper place is face down in the dust before God.

The apostle John writes in I John 5:4-5, "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God." The honest recognition of need, the desire to glorify God, and the practice of overcoming leads a called-out one to live by faith.

Jesus Christ is the One that God has assigned to oversee and empower us. He is the Helper and Advocate (I John 2:1) who goes alongside, enabling us to be created in His image. From Him, we draw spiritual strength, and He gives grace to the humble.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Living by Faith and Humility

Matthew 26:41

Greek scholar Spiros Zodhiates says the Greek word behind weak means "without strength, powerless." "Weak" implies little strength, while "without strength, powerless" suggests no strength. The difference is significant. God has all the strength, and we have none to fight spiritual battles of any kind. Praying always gives us access to the only strength that works—God's.

Pat Higgins
Praying Always (Part Six)

John 16:23-24

Is it true that God has given us a blank check to ask anything of Him just as one might ask a genie in a fairy tale? Some may misunderstand this to be the case, but I John 5:14 qualifies what He will grant: "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us." Real prayer is communion with God, and what is necessary for communion are common thoughts between His mind and ours.

What we need is for Him to fill our minds and hearts with His thoughts. Then His desires will become our desires flowing back to Him in the form of prayer. James 4:3 confirms this: "You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures." If we ask amiss, we are certainly not asking according to His will, and we will not receive.

But does not Jesus say in John 16:23, "[W]hatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you"? He most assuredly does, but we still do not have a carte blanche. To ask God for anything in the name of Jesus Christ, it must be in keeping with what He is. To ask in Christ's name is to ask as though Christ Himself were asking. Therefore, we can only ask for what Christ Himself would ask. It is therefore necessary to set aside our own will and accept God's. Jesus says in John 8:29: "And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him." If we do as Jesus did, we are sure to receive answers as He did. He adds in John 11:41-42: "Father, I thank you that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me."

We must come away with the realization that prayer is not dictating to God, but a humble and heartfelt expression of our attitude of dependency and need. Because of this, the one who truly prays is submissive to God's will, content with Him supplying his need according to the dictates of His sovereign pleasure. The result of this, combined with the infusion of God's attitudes and thoughts as we draw near to Him, will work to create us in His image.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God: Part Nine

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Was there ever a man who was given as many gifts as the apostle Paul? Judging from how much God wrote through him—how much God used his mind, intellect, training, experience, yieldedness, and willingness to work and sacrifice himself on behalf of God and the church—it might have been very easy for him to have been puffed up. He even said himself that nobody worked any harder than he did, writing, "I labored more abundantly than they all" (I Corinthians 15:10).

However, he was not bragging. It is not wrong to take the right kind of pride and to speak the truth about what we really have done. There is nothing wrong with a developed skill and confidence in our ability to do it. If we do not have any confidence, will we ever offer ourselves in service to others? There must also be a proper recognition of where all that power, strength, and everything flows from. It flows from the gifts, from what God has given.

God mercifully allowed Paul to suffer a physical problem to keep him mindful of his dependence on Him. The truly humble are knowledgeable of their dependence, and they cry out to God continually for help, for what God only can supply: His Holy Spirit, His love, His faith, the forgiveness of sin, etc. Theirs is not just a feeling of weakness, because everyone, the converted and the unconverted, experiences weakness.

People with pride experience a feeling of weakness too, but they compensate, not by seeking God's help, but by flaunting what they think others will accept and bring praise to them. As long as a person continues to depend on himself, this world will continue as it is. Nothing will change. This attitude is illustrated in the beginning so simply. Without actually saying the words, Adam and Eve told God in Genesis 3, "We don't need you."

John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part Seven)

1 Timothy 2:3-4

If it is God's will that we be saved and grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ, why is it so hard? If God is working with us, should this not be easy? Our first response to this is very likely, "Well, I guess it's just that I am so evil"; "It must be human nature"; or "I'm so bad God must not be hearing my prayers." Some get so weary with the difficulty that they say, "God will just have to take me as I am."

All these justifications may indeed be factors, but they are not precisely correct because most of us have some besetting sin or sins that we fail miserably to overcome time after time. Why, if it is God's will, do we not overcome them more easily?

The sin need not be easily recognizable by others, as Paul writes to Timothy that "some men's sins are clearly evident" (I Timothy 5:24). It can be a hidden sin, though we are well aware of it, know it is evil, and feel constant guilt and self-condemnation because of our weakness before it.

It can be a sin of omission and not a sin of commission, in which one is directly guilty of bringing loss or pain upon another. Perhaps the failing concerns acts of kindness or mercy that we have frequently and consistently failed to do to relieve another's burden, but we know of it and are convicted of its seriousness.

This is the key to understanding why spiritual growth is so hard. Consider one's original conversion. Why did this even occur? Romans 2:4 says, "Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance." This happened only because God was revealing Himself and making us conscious of factors of life we had never before felt with that force. It moved us to repent and throw ourselves on His mercy. In reality, it was the only option He held open to us because we felt powerless to go in any other direction. Can we overcome death? The key is our awareness of powerlessness as the first essential element to spiritual growth.

In II Corinthians 12:10, Paul makes this point. "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong." In chapter 13:4, he adds emphasis to this by saying, "For though He was crucified in weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you." Just as a prerequisite to conversion is recognizing and acknowledging our utter failure in the face of sin and death, so also is a deep consciousness of our frailty required in the face of overcoming and growth in following God's way and glorifying Him.

Without this overriding sense of dependence, we will never turn to God in the first place. Without this sense of need, we will not continuously turn to Him because our passivity in this will declare that in reality, like the Laodiceans, we think we need nothing and are sufficient unto ourselves. We will be like the confident Peter, who, boasting that unlike others he would never desert Christ, immediately fell flat on his face in spiritual failure. The secret of growth in Christian character largely lies in realizing our powerlessness and acknowledging it before God.

Perhaps John 15:5 will now have more meaning. Jesus says, "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." It does not mean that without Him we could never design an automobile or send a rocket to the moon. It means that we could produce nothing of a true, godly, spiritual nature within the calling of God that truly glorifies Him.

Just in case we think He is saying more than He really means, think about the following commands. Jesus says in Matthew 5:44, "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you." He adds in Matthew 6:31, "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'" If these are challenging, try I Corinthians 15:34: "Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame."

We have a long way to go. It is time to stop playing church—realizing that judgment is now on us—and turn to God with all our heart. He promises that, if we do this, He will hear from heaven and respond. We must constantly keep in mind that God is the Potter with the power to mold and shape as He wills. As the clay, our job is to yield, realizing even the power to submit comes from Him.

To understand this from an even broader perspective, we must consider how mankind has acted in its relationship with God beginning with Adam and Eve. They said, "God, stay out of our lives. We don't need you. We will do this ourselves." Therefore, rather than choosing from the Tree of Life, they chose from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. All mankind has copied this approach down to the Laodiceans, who say they are rich and increased with goods and need nothing. It will continue even to those who will curse and blaspheme God during the final plagues in the Day of the Lord (Revelation 16:21).

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility: Part Eleven


 




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