What the Bible says about
Submitting to God
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Men plan what they are going to do and even take steps to fulfill them. Even so, behind the scenes, God is ruling and over-ruling from heaven above, fulfilling His eternal purpose, not only in spite of, but also by means of, His enemies.
On the plain of Shinar, men had a plan to make the world one under them. Pharaoh had a plan to keep his slaves. Balak had a plan to curse the Israelites. The Canaanites had a plan to prohibit Israel from settling the land. Saul had a plan to kill David. Jonah had a plan to avoid going to Nineveh. Nebuchadnezzar had a plan to throw three men in the fire. Herod had a plan to kill Jesus.
All failed. Who is sovereign, God or man?
II Chronicles 20:6 records a confident statement by King Jehoshaphat of Judah, one that each of us needs to live by:
O LORD God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You?
This describes the God who created us, called us, converted us, brought us into His Family, and is preparing us for His Kingdom. He has assured us that He can save us. It is His will to do so, and who can resist His will? Nobody can, for He will accomplish it through Jesus Christ.
Our part is quite small compared to what Christ does, but it is important. We must willingly accept His sovereignty over us and yield in submission so that we will become like Him. God's promises are sure. There is but one realistic conclusion. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose except what is not in the image of God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part Four)
Notice carefully the comparisons Micah uses to illustrate the value of humility in God's eyes, especially the ascending value of each illustration. Calves for sacrifices are in the plural, indicating more than one sacrifice at a time when even one calf would have been an offering of considerable monetary value. A thousand rams might be what a king would offer. Obviously, so many rams are a very valuable gift, but we should already be asking ourselves, "Is this the right way to impress God?" Ten thousand rivers of olive oil would equal the value of the offerings of many kings of many nations. Does that meet the standard God sets? One's own firstborn is without doubt the most precious gift of all. Yet, again, the implication is that this is not what God wants.
What follows is one of the truly great statements in the entire Bible. Micah names three great acts of love for God and fellow man that pave the way for a good relationship with Him: 1) To be righteous and absolutely fair to all regardless of their status in life. 2) To show kindness freely and willingly to others. 3) To live humbly in conscious fellowship of the greatness and sovereignty of God. These three actions will work to glorify God so that He enables those acting thus to neutralize their pride.
Our service to God should not be given to Him with the primary purpose to "get" things selfishly from Him. Our purpose should always be to honor and glorify Him through what He is doing in our lives. Nevertheless, God is most certainly not against providing us with wonderful gifts as we humbly submit to Him with pure motives.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Living by Faith and Humility
Commentator Albert Barnes explains:
The word "life" in this passage is used evidently in two senses. The meaning may be expressed thus: He that is anxious to save his "temporal" life, or his comfort and security here, shall lose "eternal" life. . . . He that is willing to risk or lose his comfort and "life" here for my sake, shall find "life" everlasting, or shall be saved.
This scripture is one of six similar scriptures scattered through all four gospels (Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24; 17:33; John 12:25).
Jesus attaches a double meaning to the word "life": a lower, physical, and temporal meaning and a higher, spiritual, eternal meaning. Christ warns us that we must make an entire sacrifice of the lower for the higher. For if we do not completely and wholeheartedly surrender the lower for the higher, we will lose both. "When we learn how to die, we learn how to live." Indeed, to learn how to die physically is to learn how to live spiritually (Romans 6:6; II Corinthians 5:17).
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:24-26)
As Christ tells us, if we want to seek Him, we must follow Him and surrender to God everything—our wills, our bodies, and our lives. The self must be denied because our carnal mind is driven by pride and an underlying belief and desire that we must get things for ourselves. We must subsequently live our lives as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), following Christ's example of complete submission to the Father's will. If we are anxious to save, to preserve, our physical lives and/or to put our security in physical things, we will lose our spiritual lives.
Those who seek to gain the world's physical treasures (Matthew 6:19-21) will lose the Father's spiritual treasures. All of the world's physical treasures are not enough to purchase one eternal life, but if we are willing to sacrifice everything—and it takes everything—if we, with complete trust in Him, put everything in our faithful Creator's hands, we will find everlasting life.
As Christ tells us in Matthew 10:39 and its parallel scriptures, if we want to know Him, we must surrender everything to God. He instructs us to follow His giving example of total self-sacrifice in devotion to God's will. He teaches us to deny the self because our carnal mind is driven by the way of get, which always forces us off the right path. Finally, He advises us to sacrifice entirely the lower, physical, temporal life for the higher, spiritual, eternal life. For if we do not completely and wholeheartedly surrender the lower for the higher, we will lose both.
In our daily prayer and self-evaluation, we should ask ourselves, "Is today the day? Have I surrendered everything to God and am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person that God wants me to be?" We must remember that life can end in an instant, but we are to live in the fear of God, not in the fear of death. In order to live, we must first learn to die.
To Live, We Must Die
This event took place in the life of a wealthy man, a person we might think had no poverty of spirit due to his wealth. Surely, none of us would fit into that category! But is that so? Could we, too, be rejecting the Kingdom of God because we have great possessions—possessions in terms of preconceived ideas, confidence in our own judgment, and familiar and traditional beliefs? Do we always seek God's counsel first when these come into question?
How about intellectual pride born of academic distinction in school? Knowledge puffs up (I Corinthians 8:1). How about habits of life that we have no desire to give up and never consider that they may not glorify God? What about the fear of public ridicule because we are too interested in worldly honor and distinction? Are any of these less important barriers to full access to God than the rich young man's trust in his wealth?
The rich young man is a tragic figure not because he was rich. Wealth is neither good nor evil of itself. However, his barrier was that he was enslaved to his wealth. He was not free to give himself to God unreservedly. He had an unrealistic appraisal of himself and his money; both were too important to his sense of well-being. He could have been a multibillionaire in silver and gold, as long as his heart was not set on them. In this attitude, he would have been just as free as the poorest beggar to enter God's Kingdom. Yet, when the opportunity arose, he could not bring himself to submit to God in the flesh.
Godly humility is based on a true appraisal of ourselves in relation to God, and this must be combined with willing submission to Him, the self being a secondary consideration. Before he abhorred himself, Job was not this way, arguing with God and His laws.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Job, Self-Righteousness, and Humility
The "praying always" that Jesus commands in Luke 21:36 affects every part of our Christian lives. It is the tool that God gives us to be in constant contact with Him so that we can truly bring every thought into captivity, under the control of God (II Corinthians 10:5). We are encouraged to make bold use of this tool for our every need (Hebrews 4:16). We need to explore some of the important implications that striving to pray always—praying at all times—has on this life to which God has called us.
In Luke 21:36, Christ also commands us to "watch." The underlying Greek word stresses the need to be alert or on guard. This fits with a major requirement of Christian life, that we examine ourselves. We are to be alert to those things about ourselves that will disqualify us from entering God's Kingdom so that we can change them.
Self-examination is such an important spiritual activity that God includes it as a major part of one of His seven festivals, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. II Corinthians 13:5 exhorts, "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified." Our ongoing efforts to submit to God's laws and standards are evidence that Christ and His faith are in us (James 2:18).
God always gives us choices (Deuteronomy 30:19). Consider the example of Jonah. He could have done exactly what God asked of him, but instead, he rebelled, having to suffer an intense trial to bring him to obedience to God's will. Notice, however, that God's purpose never changed. The only variable was how much pain and suffering Jonah chose to experience before he submitted to God's purpose. Initially, he chose rebellion and trials over submission to God.
Praying Always (Part Five)
The fear needed is not a servile, cringing, and enslaving terror, but a mixture of love, admiration, and respect for what He is. He is a Father who pities His children; a Ruler who looks on the one who is poor and of a contrite heart; a Physician who heals the body, cleanses the spirit, mercifully forgives, and gives sound counsel so that His children can work out their salvation with fear and trembling.
When the fear of God enters a man's evil heart, godly knowledge, understanding, and wisdom can begin to grow. Why? Because in making better choices, the person begins to break his enslavement to his own evil heart, from which comes all the defiling corruption that leads to death, as Jesus shows in Matthew 15:18-20:
But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.
By nature, man is focused on his sense of self-importance, so pride dominates his attitudes and therefore his choices. The corrective is something that will humble, and it begins with him being able to compare himself appropriately with the greatness of God. Man will live either to serve himself or to seek to serve and please God. It will be one or the other because no man can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).
When Moses goes before Pharaoh in Exodus 5:2, he says, "Let my people go." What is Pharaoh's defiant response? "Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go." That was his problem, and it remains a major hurdle for us too. We must come to know the Lord. From this, a simple truth arises: Not knowing God promotes irreverence of God, as Pharaoh clearly shows. Thus, not knowing God promotes disobedience. Knowing God, on the other hand, promotes the fear of God and humility before Him and thus obedience.
Knowing God in His sovereignty works to remove every ground for man to rely on himself and boast. Salvation is of the Lord; it is by His grace through faith. Man wants to think that he is contributing greatly to his redemption and salvation, but John tells us we are born, not of the will of the flesh, but of God (John 1:13). If we understand God's sovereignty, it leads us to praise Him for the glory of what He is: He is our salvation! In addition, we desire salvation for the very purpose of humbling ourselves before Him that we might glorify Him. This means that we can wisely turn only one way: We must choose to submit to His will.
The exercise, the actual use, of humility in daily life is a choice. Each time we submit to God's instruction, we are humbling ourselves before Him. Once we know what God's will is, we must still deal with choosing to use humility by submitting to it. Is that not what God says in Deuteronomy 30:19, that we must choose life rather than death? "I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live." Fully accepting God's sovereignty provides us the proper comparisons so that we can wisely make right choices.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty, Part Three: The Fruits
The carnal mind is the nature in which a person's conduct is based until God acts to convert or transform him; it is man's deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Once an individual is called, and the Father and Son have revealed Themselves and some of Their purpose to him, this verse succinctly describes the major impediment to our submitting to Them. This resisting influence from within each of us is the major barrier to perfect deference and compliance to Them.
Of course, Satan and the world also influence us, but the major impediment to our responsibly submitting is what is already part of our characters even as we are being converted. We quickly revert to carnality when confronted with something that we do not want to do.
What element in our carnality drives our resistance? Solomon states in Ecclesiastes 1:2, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Vanity implies something that is useless and impermanent, like vapor rising from a pot of boiling water, and therefore something of little or no value toward accomplishing God's purpose for mankind. The "all" in Solomon's statement includes us.
Notice this evidence regarding mankind's unconverted state from Psalm 39:5-6, where David writes:
Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my age is as nothing before You; certainly every man at his best state is but vapor. Selah. Surely every man walks about like a shadow; surely they busy themselves in vain; he heaps up riches, and does not know who will gather them.
In Psalm 62:9, he adds, "Surely men of low degree are a vapor, men of high degree are a lie; if they are weighed in the balances, they are altogether lighter than vapor."
These are blunt statements, showing that unless something is done to change the value of what we are in reality, what good reason does God have to work with us?
But there is more from God's Word that paints the picture of our unconverted value and the strength of our natural resistance to Him even more acutely. The aforementioned Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" "Above all things" implies all things considered evil. This by itself is a vivid comparison—and God does not lie—but He goes beyond that by adding that man's heart is not merely wicked but desperately wicked. This means our heart is without care for danger and recklessly, badly, extremely, furiously, impetuously wicked.
Jesus adds force to this word-picture by confirming in Matthew 15:17-20 that the heart is the place from which our evil resistance to God is generated. However, an irony comes into play because the heart is the same place that generates to us in our thoughts the belief that we are really something good! This is quite an effective combination in producing sin. It occurs because our hearts produce self-esteem with the result that our ideas and actions—our very lives—are focused on self-satisfaction. To meet that need, we will sin as a way of life.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and Human Pride
2 Corinthians 5:9-10
These verses state a reality we all face: We are accountable to the Creator for our conduct. We know that standing between us and God is an internally generated pride that, if allowed, will greatly hinder our desire to please Him by submitting.
We must understand that God's calling of us, His granting of repentance to us, and His providing us with His Spirit have given us a valuable power, an "edge." He has not given us an impossible challenge. Receiving the Holy Spirit has given us the wherewithal, the powers, to meet our responsibility to submit voluntarily to Him. What is the solution? In short, it is to exercise humility before the Holy One of Israel. Humility can defuse pride's power.
There is a major difference between pride and humility. Because of exposure to Satan and the world, pride is within us almost from birth. Humility, though, is not part of us from birth. Spiritual humility is most definitely a developed characteristic, derived because of contact with God and our choosing to be humble before Him.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Living By Faith and Human Pride
This is the practical application of "seek[ing] those things which are above" (Colossians 3:1). In effect, Paul is saying that, if we are seeking heavenly things, the resources to overcome these things will be available. They will be part of us because God responds to those who are truly seeking Him.
We must be patient. Our relationship with God is not magic. It takes work. Those of us who have had any of these problems understand that one must hold a tight rein on oneself to keep from doing the things that Paul says to "put off." They are so deeply ingrained within us that they want to break out all by themselves.
This is why Paul writes in Romans 7:15-23, "The things that I do not want to do, I do. The things I do want to do, I do not do." He concludes that two conflicting laws were working within him. There was the law of his mind, which loved God, understood a great deal about Him, and wanted to submit to Him, to sacrifice for His sake and in His name, and to discipline himself. But the law of his flesh—sin that dwelt within him—every once in a while reared its ugly head and broke out.
Thus, we must discipline ourselves. We know that we are to "put off" those things that do not reflect the image of God and to "put on" the characteristics that do. "Putting on" and "taking off" are not always easy. Sometimes, we can readily apply or overcome certain things; they seem to come easily to us. But other character flaws are thorns in the flesh, their barbs stuck deep within us, and they embarrass us from time to time and make us feel guilty. They make us wonder whether we will be acceptable before God. Seeing this, we realize that overcoming them will take a great deal of work—and work requires discipline.
One of the final things that Paul mentions in this passage is love (Colossians 3:14). Love is the crown; it tops off, as it were, all of the other virtues, tying them all together. A true love for God and love for others—not to mention a proper love for ourselves—will motivate us to transform into Christ's image.
The diligent "putting on" and the "taking off" will be the proof of our seeking God and the things which are above. When we understand this, we realize that even the ability to "put on" and to "take off" is a gift from God, as the resources to do this come from Him. God responds to those who make Him the focus of their lives, and this is who we exhibit. The evidence begins to show in the way we live our lives.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twenty-Three)
Israel failed because they did not accept what they heard in faith. Therefore they did not submit in obedience to God. They never came to love Him or to know Him. Those with the greatest faith are the ones who know God best because they are continually working to develop their relationship with Him by talking with Him, letting Him talk to us through study, yielding to Him, and living in conformity to His way.
That is what Enoch did, which is why he stood out. There is something interesting about Enoch that might be noteworthy to us living in the end time. On the heels of the fact that he walked with God, the writer adds that "God took him, and he was not." Could this be an indicator of who will be taken to the Place of Safety? Enoch was taken away from trouble that he should not see the kind of violent death that otherwise would have come upon him. God rescued him from it and placed him in another area, and he lived out his life in peace, dying a normal death.
Is faith important to Passover? It may be that it is the single most important aspect to Passover, because everything else is built upon, founded upon, and anchored to our faith in God and the depth of our relationship with Him. Israel knew that God existed, but that knowledge never carried through into their daily life in living trust. It was "business as usual," even though they were separated from Egypt, and thus it is clear why Israel failed. There is a direct connection between knowing God and submitting to Him, because to know Him is to love Him, and we submit to those we love.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Pre-Passover Look
"Now the just shall live by faith" is both a statement of fact and a command. It is not easy, but at the very least, God has gifted each member of the Body. It requires of us a great deal of focused and disciplined living to live by faith. To do it well, we must fully accept God's sovereignty, not merely as a random fact, but as a reality working in our lives of faith.
Recall that many Israelites failed along the way to the Promised Land because their faith failed at some point during their pilgrimage. But their faith in whom and in what? Of course, it is faith in God, but unlike them, have we fully accepted what He is and what He does? Jesus commands in Luke 14:26 that we must place Him before all else in our lives. What are His qualities and attributes? What is our vision of God's place in our lives?
Besides God's warning about the world, we must often be reminded that the carnal mind is not subject to Him, as indeed it cannot be (Romans 8:7). A major reason the Israelites in the wilderness failed is that it never entered their minds at the beginning of their journey that it would be so difficult.
Our positions as called children of God place us in a position in which we must determine who is regulating affairs on this earth. To whom will we submit our lives, God or Satan? It is not as though there is a struggle between them. The "contest" has already been decided. God won. However, He permits Satan limited leeway to test and try us. Which of these two—between whom we must choose—is supreme? Which will we choose to be sovereign over our lives?
Revelation 12:9 states that Satan has deceived the entire world. He is an accuser and the author of confusion. If we take an overview of conditions on earth, we see turmoil everywhere, providing a clear picture that mankind as a whole has given itself over to Satan. Indeed, in II Corinthians 4:4 the apostle Paul names him as "the god of this age" who has blinded men's minds to the light of the gospel.
However, this is not so with us. By God's mercy, our minds have been opened for the very purpose of freely choosing God as our sovereign and submitting to Him. So then, how much do we truly know about His attributes, character, and judgments as shown in His Word?
For instance, are we aware of what it says in Deuteronomy 28:63?
And it shall be, that just as the LORD rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the LORD will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess.
This is a side of God that is not often taught, yet it is part of the whole of what He is, and we must face it and choose. Judgments are often painful. God says in Deuteronomy 8:3 that He humbled the Israelites and caused them to hunger. Will He for His purposes bring similar judgments on us so that we must choose to accept His chastening and submit to Him as our sovereign?
Why might He rejoice in exercising His judgment against people? It is actually because of His merciful love. Peter reminds us, "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is long suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9). Paul, in I Timothy 2:4, confirms this, saying God "desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." Thus, He can rejoice in punishment because He knows that the punishment will be the means of drawing men to the knowledge of the truth by which they can repent and be saved.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Fully Accepting God's Sovereignty (Part One)
This is vital because we find ourselves living in a culture that is coming apart at the seams because each individual wants to execute his desires. James tells us what happens when individuals begin to do this.
His basic question to the Christian is, "Are we going to submit to God or to our desires for pleasure?" Pleasure here does not mean "fun," as when one goes to an amusement park. James is talking about the desire that normally arises within an individual, who must make the choice of whether or not he is going to follow through and gratify himself by fulfilling that desire. So pleasure here means "that which gratifies."
He is saying to us that, if we seek our desires, then we had better understand that life will be filled with conflict. Why? Because everybody else is doing the same thing. Their desires are likely different from ours, and so our desires runs headlong into their desires, producing arguments, struggle, strife, and war over whose desire is going to be fulfilled. When people do what is right in their own eyes, rather than submit to the central authority, desires will crash into each other, creating conflict. It does not matter whether that central authority is the family, the culture, or God's Word!
This is happening constantly, but God has a solution. It is not easy. The solution is that each son of God bears the responsibility to govern himself, by faith, within the framework of His laws, His principles, His traditions, and the examples that He gives in His Word. We have to submit to these things.
John 8:32 declares that the truth sets us free, but it will never set anyone free unless it is submitted to. Truth is good only as it is used, so a person must submit to it. Inevitably, differences will arise on what things should be done or how they should be done. But God has a way of resolving these problems if we will submit and not succumb to impatience—if we do not force our will and thus force conflict.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Submitting (Part 2)
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