by John W. Ritenbaugh
"War is hell," said General George S. Patton, who ought to know as he fought his way through the biggest of them all. Unfortunately, war is not the only evidence of the virtually unbridgeable gap that separates men from one another. Mankind is also separated by offenses between friends, family feuds, trial separations, divorce, over-the-backyard-fence spats, political battles between rival factions, gang riots over "turf," production-crippling strikes, race riots and civil wars. Man has become so divided that we consider few places in either city or country to be safe any longer.
War, however, remains the nadir of humanity's social efforts—the most obvious, violent and terrifying demonstration of man's inability to solve its relationship problems. Despite the almost universal agreement about the iniquity of war, it remains mankind's worst habit. It is a habit because we resort to it as if it is ingrained in our character as our last resort to settle differences. When all else fails, fight!
November 11, 1994, is the 76th anniversary of the end of World War I, "the war to end all wars." In this it failed, since by 1939 Europe was again plunged into world war. Some were sure this time man would eradicate war, but again he failed. Since World War II ended in August 1945, depending on how one defines war, between 150 and 340 wars have been waged!
According to the United Nations, each month 41,000 people die as a result of war. This means that since World War II, war has taken 24,108,000 lives, sixty percent of which were hapless civilians caught in the belligerents' crossfire.
Tracing war's roots is not difficult. The first war in recorded history took place when Heylel gathered a third of the angels and led them into battle against their Creator (Isaiah 14:12-14; Revelation 12:3-4). When God created man, for a short time there was harmony in nature and with God. But Heylel, now the Serpent, Satan, deceived Adam and Eve into sin, the first step toward being at war with their Creator. Romans 8:7 testifies that "the carnal [natural] mind is enmity [at war] against God" as shown by man's refusal to be subject to God's governance.
It is not comforting to dwell upon man's history because we can see no reason to hope for any positive change. Every generation has gone to war. As man's technological expertise has increased, he has inevitably turned it to producing the means of fighting wars on an ever-greater scale. Man has never failed to use a weapon he has invented. We can now obliterate the "other side" with an efficiency undreamed of even a few score years ago.
In this world men put their hopes for peace in a human leader or an organization of mere men. God warns against this in His Word: "Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man in whom there is no help" (Psalm 146:3). Every new leader, system of government or treaty has been merely a brief interlude before the next conflict because nothing essential to harmony actually changes.
God's Word, though, gives wonderfully encouraging and positive hope. He states through Peter:
Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began (Acts 3:19-21).
Since the foundation of the world, God's purpose has been to bring all things into harmony with Him, giving mankind an exhilarating and refreshing respite from the fearful and depressing heaviness of living in a sin-laden world.
It is evident that not only is rebellion against God continuing, as we see increasing competitiveness and violence in every aspect of life around the world, but it is also intensifying. We are moving swiftly toward the very serious and sobering climax that would destroy mankind unless God intervenes (Matthew 24:21-22).
Reconciliation with God
How will mankind ever be reconciled to God? How will we ever be able to be at peace with each other? The answer is NEVER, as long as things remain as they are. That is why Peter called upon the people to repent. God commands us to allow our minds to change and turn to Him in heartfelt and obedient submission. The Day of Atonement concerns itself with the spiritual, legal and moral aspects of reconciliation with God and its resulting state of at-one-ment with Him and each other.
Isaiah 59:1-2 clearly shows why reconciliation is necessary:
Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.
Iniquity (lawlessness, sin) produces the opposite of reconciliation; it separates and builds barriers.
Furthermore, it is not that God cannot hear—He simply will not answer. It appears He has gone far off, but in actuality the sinner has drifted away.
Apparently, the people had prayed for relief, expecting God to answer. His reply was hardly what they wanted to hear! They wanted harmony imposed without having to change their lifestyles. God's reply shows them to be rebelling against His law from the top of society to the bottom. He tells them that reconciliation is not a one-sided act with God doing everything to make it possible.
Isaiah 1 reveals a situation similar to chapter 59, but He gives the people some pointed advice to follow so there can be reconciliation:
"To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me?" says the LORD. "I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle. I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs or goats. When you come to appear before Me, who has required this from your hand, to trample My courts? Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates. They are a trouble to Me. I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide My eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not hear. Your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes. Cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the oppressor; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow." (verses 11-17)
Remember to whom God was speaking—His people, those with whom He had made the Old Covenant. He was not rejecting their sacrifices or the keeping of the holy days. He was angry that they went through the rituals without the humility to submit to His great moral law in their daily lives.
We have the tendency to think of worship as something we do at a designated time and in a certain place, usually once a week. However, religion and worship in the biblical sense involve all of life. Christianity is a way of life (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 22:4). Worship is the reflection of God living in the person no matter what he may be doing. It is his response to God; his interaction with God. Thus, the Bible covers every aspect of life within its pages. A person truly interacting with God is worshiping God whether at church, work, play or home. He will strive to glorify God in every situation.
Obviously, the people of Isaiah 1 were not at one with God, though they religiously observed the commanded activities. For a person to be at one with Him, what he does in every area of life must agree with what he professes by his attendance at a worship service.
How can those who treat their fellows with contempt, then take their greed, anger, revenge and hatred into church fellowship, say they are displaying God's Spirit? These characteristics are divisive! How can they say they worship God?
The apostle John writes:
If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? (I John 4:20)
Such a person is separated from God and needs reconciliation.
This reflects the situation in Isaiah 1 and 59. Similarly, people can appear to be worshiping God by attending services and then go out on the battlefield and slaughter one another by the thousands. Such people are not at one with God—their conduct is proof they are not.
War exemplifies this because it is so obvious. It is not only the breaking of the sixth commandment in war that separates us from God. The same principle holds true for any commandment. Whether we are ancients or moderns, God's command is the same: "If you want to be one with Me, repent!"
Repentance and Belief
Before there can be at-one-ment, however, there must first be reconciliation. Before reconciliation, there must be repentance. And before repentance, there must be something else—belief! Our belief must be strong enough and with sufficient understanding that it does not just drive us to our knees to save our skin, but also compels us to make the sacrifices necessary to change our conduct.
Luke quotes Jesus as saying, "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3, 5). Repent means "to think differently after." It signifies a change of mind strong enough to produce both regret and change of conduct. Marvin R. Vincent defines it as, "Such a virtuous alteration of the mind and purpose as begets alike virtuous change of life and practice" (Word Studies of the New Testament, vol. 1, p. 23). The only way that we will change our minds is when we allow ourselves to believe something different from what we formerly believed.
In John 6:29 Jesus says, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent." Compare this to John 16:9, where Jesus, in His final charge to His disciples before His crucifixion, said the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin "because they do not believe in Me." Jesus said to the Jews, "Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word" (John 8:43).
The very essence of sin—its essential element—is disbelief in the Word of God, whether read from the Bible, heard from the pulpit or seen in Christ's example. As long as one rejects the truth of God in the person of the Messenger or His message, repentance toward God is not possible!
Notice the appeal of David and Paul, as recorded in Hebrews 3:7-8, 12-13, 19:
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says: "Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness.". . . Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. . . . So we see that [Israel] could not enter in[to God's rest] because of unbelief.
The human heart puts up a deceitfully fierce struggle to avoid believing God's Word (Jeremiah 17:9). It rationalizes and justifies to avoid submitting, and this very factor hinders reconciliation, keeping us from at-one-ment with God and fellow man. Our pride has a very difficult time surrendering what it has developed through years of going the way that seems right (Proverbs 14:12).
The Bible emphasizes that sin must be paid for, and that payment is death (Romans 6:23). Death—the second death in the lake of fire—is the ultimate in separation. This is the death of which Paul speaks.
He tells us in Hebrews 9:22, "And according to the law almost all things are purged with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission [forgiveness, margin]." He also informs us in Romans 5:9-11:
Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
Belief, repentance and Christ's blood reconcile us to God, and we can then consider ourselves legally at one with Him. Salvation is ours as God's gift. But still more must be accomplished. We must also be growing in the image of His character as much as possible before we can truly be at one with Him as Christ is.
II Corinthians 5:14-15 adds this to the picture:
For the love of Christ constrains us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.
Our acceptance of the blood of Christ that reconciles us to God puts us under obligation to live our lives from then on in submission to God's will.
Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (verses 16-17).
If a person truly believes, he will repent, and the consequence is reconciliation with God. Our relationship to Him changes; it is entirely new. Our point of view, our world view, changes. We no longer look at life in the same way. Now we view everything from the perspective of God, His Word and His Kingdom. We no longer look upon people as we did before.
Before our reconciliation we had a superficial view of Christ. Now we view Him as the Eternal Creator, Lord, Savior and High Priest who lives in us by His Spirit and with whom we are now in fellowship. This has a tremendous impact on how we conduct our lives.
We understand that God is creating a new race beginning with Christ, the second Adam. A man in Christ is a new creation, not merely improved or reformed, but remade. Brethren, reconciliation is not just politely ignoring hostilities. It is the total removal of hostilities so there can be a relationship, a fellowship, between God and man that will produce sanctification leading to holiness and complete and total at-one-ment with the great God.
Notice in verse 18 that God is the Reconciler, and Jesus Christ is the Agent of reconciliation. Their labors have resulted in our forgiveness. From this grows our responsibility to carry the same message to others. God has now included us in this process of reconciling the world to Him (verse 19) so that all may become the righteousness of God (verse 21)! What awesome and merciful condescension to all of us who have been His enemies!
Fasting and Reconciliation
John 6:26-27 provides a major reason why we fast on the Day of Atonement. Some of the same people Jesus had fed the day before through a mighty miracle make up the audience in this episode. He tells them that they were seeking God for entirely wrong reasons. They wanted to use God for their own ends—not to serve Him, but to be served by Him. This sounds like modern socialist thinking, the welfare mentality.
What is the basis of your relationship with God? Is it solidly founded on belief—or on what you can get from Him?
Why is disbelief so serious? Refusing to believe God is to be guilty of slandering His righteous character. It assumes He does not know what He is talking about. It assaults His integrity and love. It is quite similar to an immature and inexperienced whippersnapper telling a much older and wiser person who has been "around the block" a few times that he is wrong. Disbelieving God, though, is far more serious because sin is involved in rejecting the loving counsel of the Eternal Creator who does not lie.
Genesis 3 shows with stark simplicity that Adam and Eve did not believe God's Word. They thought they knew better. In the pride of their limited understanding, they declared their independence from God and exercised their free moral agency to sin against His government, bringing on the need for atonement. Mankind, like its parents, simply thinks it knows better.
Only when we do not think so much of ourselves, feel helpless, weak and backed into a corner will we listen with the intensity required to truly believe, repent, submit and become at one. So often God has to resort to stern measures before we will allow our minds to change. He would rather have us submit willingly and change ourselves. Thus, in His wisdom He has ordained fasting as a part of Atonement because it induces a weakness we can physically feel, not just intellectually agree with.
Fasting is a self-imposed trial that should help us both know and feel what we are in comparison to God. Its purpose is not to impress God with how disciplined we are (though it is a good exercise in discipline), but it is to remind us how much we need the things He so freely and generously supplies.
God has life inherent. He is self-sustaining. But when we, even for a relatively short time, are denied the food He supplies, our weakness and dependence quickly become apparent. Food gives us physical strength and satisfaction. If we deny the body the food it needs, we become weak and die.
Food is a type of God's Word in the Scriptures. Likewise, if our spirit is denied this manna from heaven, we become spiritually weak and would eventually die spiritually. If in our pride we reject God's food, even though we may have a form of godliness as shown by performing the formalities of worship, our weakness will become apparent through sin—the strength of God's Word is missing. Remember, His Word is spirit, and it is life (John 6:63).
Fasting can help bring us face to face with what we really are: very mortal beings who need all the help we can get. Because fasting usually intensifies the feelings of self-concern, it reminds us that we are still flesh and how much of our time is consumed caring for ourselves. This is indeed humbling.
Being humble is a choice! Peter brings this out in I Peter 5:6: "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God." James 4:10 agrees: "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord." Even as we can choose to fast, we can choose to allow our minds to change and submit to God to become one with Him. Hardening our hearts, or exercising our pride, is a choice too (cf. Hebrews 3:8, 15).
Brethren, at-one-ment is proceeding! It is occurring on a one-at-a-time basis as individuals come to believe and repent of sin. It is an ongoing process of refinement in each person's life as he continues to repent and grow in holiness.
The means of reconciliation that lead to at-one-ment are the death of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the life of Jesus Christ as He lives as our High Priest. Our part in fighting our pride by choosing to submit to God's Word cannot be left out of the process. We fast to feel and demonstrate our dependence upon God that we might continue to grow into His image.
As we enter into the keeping of the fall holy days, we need to consider deeply that the time is soon coming when "neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isaiah 2:4). Think about what a wonderful effect keeping just that one commandment will have on mankind. But also take time to consider that even as mankind will no longer learn to break the sixth commandment, it will also no longer learn how to commit idolatry, take God's name in vain, break the Sabbath, dishonor parents, commit adultery, steal, lie, or lust!
The time is coming when there will be no cause of disagreement and thus no separation from God. "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all [God's] holy mountain" (Isaiah 11:9). What an awesome future to prepare for!