by John W. Ritenbaugh
There is a condition, a major responsibility, that every Christian absolutely must meet after he has become a Christian through belief in Jesus Christ as his Savior. This responsibility is clearly stated in Hebrews 10:35-38:
Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.
No Christian wants God to be displeased in him. Notice that the author draws special attention to receiving reward after one has done the will of God. The will of God requires that one must live by faith, which is needed for one to persevere through the trials of life.
Human nature is driven by pride and is so strongly attracted to the distractions of Satan's world that it is difficult to avoid its pulls even though we are aware of its potentially disastrous spiritual pitfalls. At times, every sense in one's body seems like so much iron or steel drawn to a magnet as it is pulled toward what is "out there" for satisfaction.
But not everything that is available in the world for bodily and/or psychological satisfaction meets the standards that He has set for His children's character development and for His glory. Thus, God warns us in I John 2:15-17:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
God is working out His purpose, and it is essential to our growth—and possibly even to our salvation—that we believe this and keep moving forward in our relationship with Him despite the strong pull of this world's attractions on our minds. Because of our contact with Him, we know God's will and must trust what He says in His Word. Otherwise, the world's allurements may spiritually overwhelm us.
We must overcome the tension created between the pulls of this world and the knowledge of our spiritual relationship with God created through Jesus Christ with firm spiritual evidence from God's Word. The evidence that we gather from our observations of God's creation and the experience that we gain from living prove to us that we should trust God's wisdom and sovereignty over all things. We learn that it is far better for all concerned for us to submit to what God commands than to cave in to the pulls of our flesh.
Isaiah 46:10 clearly states that He declares the end from the beginning. Since God does not lie, His statement establishes that, from before He even began the physical creation, He has been working toward a definite goal. This is not merely a definite overall goal but a definite goal for each person He has called into His Family. God does not operate randomly. Each of us has been purposely made part of this massive, time-consuming project, and each has the overall responsibility to live by faith.
A Difficult Road
Hebrews 10:38—"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.
A Quick Overview of a Solution
Hebrews 11:27 says, "By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible." This principle is what set apart those who made it into the Promised Land from those who failed. It greatly aided them in enduring the trials of their wilderness pilgrimage. Briefly, Moses "saw" the invisible God as if with his bodily eyes. His relationship with God was so intimate that he knew God from his experiences, and as our Savior says in John 17:3, eternal life is to know God.
There is an understanding about our Savior that is vital to our salvation. It is a vital piece of knowledge that, because of human nature's lasting proclivity to resist God, we must never forget. It must be a part of our relationship with Him. Revelation 4:8-11 describes this important reality:
And the four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night saying: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: "You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created."
The One who receives continuous praise and submission from these awesome angelic beings is our Savior and Creator. Without directly saying it, this passage touches on a major issue in this great purpose He is working out: that, unlike Satan and His demons, will we be loyal, faithful, to our Creator God, as He works out and governs His purpose for each of us personally? Or in our impatience will we resist and rebel?
Verse 11 contains the key statement that is vital to our living by faith: He created all things in the first place and all—including us—is created for His purpose to be fulfilled. The King James Version translates this phrase, "For You have created all things, and for Your pleasure they are and were created."
Satan could not accept this. Consider deeply what has resulted! So we need to take this sobering thought down to our level and to our time and examine it in more detail against the issues of our own lives.
Can We Accept Our Roles?
Can we live by faith that He is, that He knows what He is doing with our lives, and that by His merciful act He has included us as part of His good pleasure? Can we accept that He knows exactly where His creative efforts are headed and what it will take to form and shape us into what He pleases? At the same time, we know His goal for us only vaguely, yet we must fully accept whatever He brings to bear on us for His purposes. To some degree, we have already done this at baptism, but let us continue to consider some things that He is capable of because He has revealed them in His Word.
We need to continue to establish where He and we stand in relation to each other in this new creation. Notice Ephesians 1:3-5, 9-10:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will. . . . Having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.
There is nothing complex about this truth. First, it affirms that everything in His creation moves forward on the basis of His pleasure. However, this is sometimes hard to live by. What if it is not our pleasure to move in that direction? It is His will that is involved, and there is a great deal that we do not know about Him and about the end toward which He is taking us. We may find this difficult to deal with, which is why we must come to know Him and fully accept His sovereignty.
Could we possibly know better than He? God says in Isaiah 40:13-14:
Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, or as His counselor has taught Him? With whom did He take counsel, and who instructed Him, and taught Him the path of justice? Who taught Him knowledge and showed Him the way of understanding?
It is this Being whose will we must accept over our lives. I Chronicles 29:10-16 describes this God whom we must come to know and to whom we must submit:
Therefore David blessed the Lord before all the assembly; and David said: "Blessed are You, Lord God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; in Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, we thank you and praise Your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, and of Your own we have given You. For we are aliens and pilgrims before You as were all our fathers; our days on earth are as a shadow, and without hope. O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have prepared to build You a house for Your holy name is from Your hand, and is all Your own."
This is part of King David's final prayer of thanksgiving, a portion of his benediction preceding the building of the Temple, as he had made provision for it so that Solomon could begin construction with everything in order.
The words should be meaningful, coming to us from the heart of one we admire, of whom even God said was a man after His own heart. It schools us in how David felt about God. It touches on His greatness, power, glory, majesty, rulership, headship, and strength. How puny we are by comparison! We are nothing, aliens and pilgrims in a world that gives us no recognition. Compared to His, our days are but a shadow, and despite this, we are able to make an offering to Him because He has given us all we have.
Who is this One to whom we pray, calling Him "Father," "Lord," or "God"? Who is this One whom we refer to as our Creator, Healer, Savior, or Sustainer? Who is the One who is referred to as the Almighty Ruler, Life-giver, and Forgiver of our sins?
He is the sovereign Ruler of all that He has created. The term "sovereignty" first speaks of supremacy of authority, but with the exception of personal evil, God reveals Himself in His Word as supreme in every aspect of life. He is the Most High. To say that God is sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in heaven and earth; none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will. Thus, Psalm 115:3 asserts, "But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases."
Can we accept this? Is this merely a listing of grandiose titles of One who is great in His being but distant and remote in the actual operations of our lives? Do we relate to Him merely as most people in this world do, or is His greatness truly personal to us, as it was to David, because we know Him personally?
Understanding Ephesians 1:11-12 should bring this right into His children's very lives: "In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory." Do we get the significance of the truth that He works all things in our lives too, according to the counsel of His will? This truth does not apply to just the "big" things of His overall purpose but even to us! Do we really perceive our relationship to Him as being one of the Potter to the clay?
As He formed and shaped Adam and Eve, He is forming and shaping us, and it is our responsibility to accept and submit. Do we live our lives as though He truly is omnipotent, omniscient, and individually aware of us? Do we conduct our lives in such a manner that we fully understand that this awesome Being is actively and personally involved in what we do?
By viewing Him as Potter, do we grasp that He has every right to mold the clay into whatever form or state and make whatever use of it as He chooses? He can fashion from the same lump one person to honor and another to dishonor. He can determine our sex, race, ethnicity, level of wealth, or location. He is under no law or rule outside of His own nature and purpose. He is a law unto Himself, under no obligation to give an account of His actions to anybody else. He exercises His power as, where, and when He wills.
He is not merely overseeing our lives but actively participating in them, and He is ultimately responsible for what happens in them just as much as those national and worldwide occurrences that we hear in the news. The sovereignty of the Bible's God is absolute, irresistible, and infinite. Our trust is to be in Him.
God's purpose and plan has been and is being carried out as He purposed, and nobody can turn Him aside. Now His purpose and plan has reached out to include us just as He predestined when He declared the end from the beginning. Have we caught the vision?
Some Things He Has Done
Are we willing to completely turn our lives over to this Being who does not always act in a way that is pleasant to us? God immediately struck Aaron's sons and Uzzah dead, but He has allowed countless others who perhaps did far worse things to live long and seemingly full lives.
God permitted Methuselah to live almost a thousand years. He chose to endow Samson with strength as no other person ever had. Jesus went to the pool of Siloam and chose one man to heal, paying no attention to the others. Why did He allow the Morgans, Carnegies, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and many others to amass incredible wealth, while allowing perhaps billions of people around the world barely to scrape by in miserable poverty?
When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, the city of Jericho and its citizens stood barring their progress. God brought the walls down, and the city's defenses collapsed—the one and only time God did such a thing. Every other city had to be conquered by warfare, risking Israelite lives to take them.
Clearly, He treats and responds to individuals according to the counsel of His own mind, and He answers to no one. He does this even in the lives of His children. The apostle John lived to be around one hundred years old, yet Stephen was stoned to death, Peter crucified, and Paul beheaded.
Considering the witnesses of those great servants, what right do we have to complain about the discomforts He creates for us to endure and grow within? He could rescue everybody in every uncomfortable circumstance, but He does not. Have we fully accepted that He may choose difficult things for us?
There is no absolute promise that any of us will be chosen to be led to a Place of Safety during the coming Tribulation. Can we have faith in One so awesomely powerful, knowing that He may make painful decisions for us to bear personally? Paul writes plainly in Romans 9:18, "He has mercy on whom He wills and whom He wills He hardens." This could have been translated as, "He has mercy on whom He pleases and whom He pleases He hardens."
About his diminishing number of followers as compared to Christ's growing flock, John the Baptist says in John 3:27, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven." In this context, John is either implying the office that he held or the disciples whom he had been given to follow him. He concludes that Jesus must increase and that he must decrease. In either case, he is implying that it is God's sovereignty, His pleasure, deciding the increase and decrease.
God also says, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated" (Romans 9:13). He clearly makes choices that may be personally hurtful, as though He is slighting one or the other. We who have already received His love in many ways must fully understand that there is nothing in our hearts or our characters to attract God's heart—yet He loves us, even though all the descendants of Adam are "by nature children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3).
Amos 3:6 declares soberly, "If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid? If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it?" God says virtually the same thing in Isaiah 45:7: "I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things." These declarations reveal God exercising His sovereignty as He sees fit for the purposes of His will.
Has it sunk in that, ultimately, God is bringing these terrible things to pass on earth, events that are in some measure beginning to touch us? As sovereign over the weather, He brings droughts, famines, storms, and floods. The devastation to life and property is increasing as the effects of sin mount to heaven. Pain is just about the only way humanity will learn to fear God and quit sinning.
He brings wars, earthquakes, forest fires, blizzards, disease epidemics, and plagues of grasshoppers that consume the crops. God is ultimately responsible for the additive-laden food that we consume and the tainted water that we drink. He could stop any of it at any time with the exercise of His sovereignty over all His creation. But to make a powerful witness to all of the effects of sin, He allows them to continue.
Jeremiah is the likely author of Lamentations 2:1-9, writing after reflecting on the devastation of Jerusalem following the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar's Babylonian army. A number of prophets, Jeremiah being the most obvious, had thoroughly warned the Jews for many years. God even raised up a righteous king, Josiah, to provide godly governmental and religious leadership, but it was to no avail because the people were not truly repentant and sincere in any changes they made. The changes were only on the surface, not reaching their hearts, so idolatry—especially—continued to rage unabated. Notice what God revealed through Jeremiah after he witnessed Jerusalem's destruction:
How the Lord has covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in His anger! He cast down from heaven to the earth the beauty of Israel, and did not remember His footstool in the day of His anger. The Lord has swallowed up and has not pitied all the habitations of Jacob. He has thrown down in His wrath the strongholds of the daughter of Judah; He has brought them down to the ground; He has profaned the kingdom and its princes. He has cut off in fierce anger every horn of Israel; He has drawn back His right hand from before the enemy. He has blazed against Jacob like a flaming fire devouring all around. Standing like an enemy, He has bent His bow; with His right hand, like an adversary, He has slain all who were pleasing to His eye; on the tent of the daughter of Zion, He has poured out His fury like fire. The Lord was like an enemy. He has swallowed up Israel, He has swallowed up all her palaces; He has destroyed her strongholds, and has increased mourning and lamentation in the daughter of Zion. He has done violence to His tabernacle, as if it were a garden; He has destroyed His place of assembly; the Lord has caused the appointed feasts and Sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion. In His burning indignation He has spurned the king and the priest. The Lord has spurned His altar, He has abandoned His sanctuary; He has given up the walls of her palaces into the hand of the enemy. They have made a noise in the house of the Lord as on the day of a set feast. The Lord has purposed to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion. He has stretched out a line; He has not withdrawn His hand from destroying; therefore He caused the rampart and wall to lament; they languish together. Her gates have sunk to the ground; He has destroyed and broken her bars. Her king and her princes are among the nations; the Law is no more, and her prophets find no vision from the Lord.
The chapter continues with more of the same, leaving no doubt at all that God was directly responsible for His reaction to their sins. Jerusalem's devastation did not merely happen randomly in the course of history. God was directly involved. He brought on the horrific fear and pain. It was His warnings through the prophets that were ignored because they did not fear the Lord and did not truly believe that they were answerable to Him.
Painful Things Directed More Closely
Paul writes in Titus 1:13-16:
This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth. To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.
He begins by accusing the Cretans, but then he mentions Jewish fables, and the Jews, too, become part of those he is accusing. It may be that the Cretans of whom Paul speaks may have actually been ethnic Jews who had had contact with persecuting Jews from outside Crete.
What is he accusing these people of? Of the very characteristic that much of this article is about, a practice that follows the Israelitish people in every age: believing that God indeed exists but their conduct showing that they do not truly believe Him. He charges them with showing by their behavior that they do not believe that they are truly, personally answerable to the sovereign God. In other words, they do not fear Him. The reality of what God truly is and requires has not affected them enough to make a difference in how they live their lives in actual day-to-day practice.
Since we live within this environment, it brings up a question for us to resolve: How can we live by faith if we do not have sufficient knowledge of the greatness, the closeness, and the awesome grace of God shown in the mercy He has already given? It is this mercy that allows us to begin even the barest of a relationship with Him, build on it, and come to know Him and fear Him.
A recent Barna poll revealed that over 80% of Americans believe God exists, but that belief has little influence on their conduct. Just about anything goes in this nation anymore. The great immorality of the American people reveals that they are not very concerned about being answerable to Him. Considering what has happened in Israel's history, should we not be concerned about what this might lead to in the near future?
II Timothy 2:10-13 reminds us:
Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.
The apostle gives this warning directly to God's children. Despite how we may personally relate to Him in how we live, God cannot deny what He truly is. We may be highly variable in our attitude and conduct because we are lackadaisical and tolerate human nature having its way. We may yield to this world's influence on us and backslide into the same careless way of life that dominated us before God called us into His church (Ephesians 2:3). Yet, our God and Savior is constant and faithful to what He is. His character and purpose never change. God loves, and because He does, He also judges. Does not Proverbs 13:24 instruct, "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly"? Our Savior will not overlook this need in us.
As we have seen from His Word, sometimes His discipline can be very stressful (Hebrews 12:11), but that is the cost of following Him where He leads. He will act as He truly is regardless of what we personally think or fail to think or whether we allow Him to be closely or only marginally involved in how we live our lives.
This world's nominal Christianity has so wrongly overemphasized God's grace that it makes salvation assured if we will only accept Jesus Christ. However, it does so without equally teaching that we must meet the responsibilities that God also clearly reveals. We must faithfully walk to the Promised Land. To keep our part of the New Covenant, we must live His way of life to be prepared to live in the Promised Land.
This article has laid a foundation for what we have committed ourselves to as God's children. Part Two will show what we must do to ensure that the relationship grows ever more intimate. What God has called us to is indescribably glorious, and He has promised to supply our every need. He is above all lovingly faithful to us. With His enabling grace, His purpose for us can be accomplished.