Thursday, April 17, 2014

Overcoming Sin

The Days of Unleavened Bread represent putting sin out of our lives. They represent repentance and overcoming sin.

God commands putting leavening out of our houses and eating unleavened bread for seven days in Exodus 13:3-10, Leviticus 23:6-8, Numbers 28:17-18, and Deuteronomy 16:1-8. The Israelites understood the meaning of unleavened bread as a reminder that they left Egypt in haste, and that was the meaning for them.

Today, we in the Church of God understand the meaning of unleavened bread as putting sin, represented by leavening, out of our lives and Christ and God's righteousness, represented by unleavened bread, into our lives. We understand this from the New Testament. Christ is represented as the "bread of life" (John 6:26-58). 1 Corinthians mentions being "puffed up" several times, as a form of sin, and this is the same book that refers to leavening as a form of sin, the leaven of malice and wickedness, and unleavened bread as the bread of sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

The command to keep the Days of Unleavened Bread comes from the Old Testament, but its meaning for the Church is explained in the New Testament, especially in the book of 1 Corinthians.

The Days of Unleavened Bread are a time to focus on our responsibility to repent, to overcome sin and put it out of our lives, and to put the righteousness of God into our lives. During this time, we eat unleavened bread every day because this represents the righteousness of God, which we should feed on every day. We avoid eating leavening or leavened products, which mostly are foods that contain yeast, baking soda, or baking powder. We put leavening and leavened products out of our homes before the Days of Unleavened Bread begin, and we keep them out during this time.

This is a time to concentrate on self-examination and overcoming our sins.

How do we overcome?

The first thing is to realize the importance for our salvation of overcoming and putting sin out of our lives.

There is no room in the Bible for thinking we can take a slack attitude towards putting sin out of our lives, thinking that God will accept us into His kingdom even if we do not overcome our sins so let's not worry about it too much.

God is merciful. He understands our human weakness. He will forgive us as we repent and as we forgive others. Mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13).

But there are plenty of warnings that some in the Church can lose their salvation and suffer and be destroyed in the lake of fire because of sin.

"If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:29-30). Christ said this in the context of the spiritual intent of the law. This is the same passage in which He said, if you look at a woman to lust after her you have committed adultery in your heart (verses 27 and 28). Here He is saying you can lose your salvation over this kind of sin.

Notice this passage from Paul: "For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble" (1 Corinthians 8:10-13). Notice that Paul said that a weak brother with a sensitive conscience could lose his salvation ("perish") by giving in to the temptation to eat meat sacrificed to an idol.

The rewards promised in the messages to the seven churches in Revelation are all conditioned on overcoming. "To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God" (Revelation 2:7). "He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death" (Revelation 2:11). "To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it" (Revelation 2:17). "And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations - 'He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels' - as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star" (Revelation 2:26-28). "He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels" (Revelation 3:5). "He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name" (Revelation 3:12). "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne" (Revelation 3:21).

Our attitude should be that we must overcome our sins. God also promises that He will not allow us to be tried more than we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Secondly, we must realize that we must go all out to put sin out of our lives and God's righteousness into our lives. And that means maximum effort, while praying for and trusting in God's help to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We ask for the help and power of God's Holy Spirit to help us overcome, and at the same time we make the maximum effort we can make to put every sinful thought, word, and action out of our lives and resist to the utmost every temptation that comes.

Every so often I hear someone in a sermon or sermonette belittle human effort to overcome sin. One person said we should not try to overcome sin by our own power. Recently I heard someone say that we should not rely on our willpower to overcome sin.

Certainly we should not rely on our own willpower alone. But to say that without also saying that we should certainly use our willpower is misleading. And for someone to say that we should not try to overcome sin by our own power is absolutely wrong.

Do we overcome sin by our power or God's power?


By our power alone, we cannot do it. But if we don't make the effort to do our part, God will not give us the help we need. We have to do our part if we want God to do His part.

We must make the effort. Then God helps us in proportion to our effort and our faith. He gives us the help we need to do for us what we are not able to do for ourselves. But He does not do it for us. And He does not necessarily make it easy for us.

I have used the example before of Samson. When Samson pushed against the pillars of the temple of the Philistines, he first prayed for God's help. He knew he could not do it by his own power alone. But then he pushed with all his might. What does that mean, "all his might"? The words "all his" are in italics in the NKJV and are added to the text to make clear its intended meaning. Without those added words, it would read "he pushed with might". That means he used his strength.  He had limited human power, but he used it.  And he trusted God to supply the rest (Judges 16:28-30).

Was it God by supernatural power that brought down that pagan temple, or was it Samson who did it by the physical strength of his human muscles? If you answer, it was God who did it, you would be partly correct. The truth is, it was both God and Samson working together.

How much sideward pressure, in pounds, applied to the pillars did it take to make them shift and bring down the temple? I do not know the weight of the pillars or the weight they bore - it must have been many tons, many thousands of pounds. Even if I knew the weight, I would not know how much sideways pressure it would take because I am not a mechanical engineer. But just for discussion, suppose it took 10,000 pounds of side pressure on each pillar to bring down the temple. Now suppose Samson had the strength in his human, physical muscles to exert 100 pounds of pressure on each pillar - 200 pounds total. That would mean Samson was able to apply 1% of the pressure needed. Then God only had to supernaturally apply 9,900 pounds of pressure on each temple, or 99% of what was needed. It wasn't all God's doing.

Now, suppose Samson held back. Suppose Samson said, well I need God's help anyway, so I won't make the effort to push as hard as I can. So suppose Samson, "took it easy" and figured, no point in straining myself. Suppose he only pushed with 50 pounds of pressure on each pillar. Fifty pounds plus the 9,900 pounds God would apply would only be 9,950 pounds - not enough to bring down the temple.

Would God have supplied the extra 50 pounds that Samson could have pushed on each pillar but didn't? I doubt it. He would have wanted Samson to use all his strength before He would help him.

Likewise, overcoming sin is a "joint venture", a partnership between us and God. We are required to do all we can, to try as hard as we can. God supplies the rest of the help we need. God does what we are not able to do, but He wants us to do as much as we can.

With "willpower"? Yes, with willpower.

Here is what God commands us: "Jesus said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment" (Matthew 22:37-38). "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5). "Jesus answered him, 'The first of all the commandments is: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." This is the first commandment' " (Mark 12:29-30).

Can you sum up, all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength? Yes. You can sum it up, "all our being". We are to love God with all our being. In other words, we are to love God with everything we have, every talent, every gift, every part of our body, brain, mind, and spirit. Everything, everything that we have, everything that we are. That includes our willpower. We are to love God with all our willpower.

And to love God includes obeying Him, keeping His commandments, and resisting temptation to sin.

Therefore we are to use all the willpower we have to resist temptation to sin.

Suppose we know something is sin, something that tempts us. Do we have enough human willpower to overcome it? Maybe. It depends on the temptation and it depends on the person. Some people have more willpower than others. Even some people in the world, not converted, not knowing the truth, not having God's Spirit, can sometimes resist temptation by willpower alone. Even some atheists can lose weight or stop smoking.

You may have enough willpower to overcome a sin or you may not, but whatever amount of willpower you have, use all of it. Go all out. And ask for God's help to supply the extra power you may need but lack. Trust His promises (1 Corinthians 10:13, 2 Timothy 1:7, Philippians 2:12-13). Believe God. Let the ministry help you with good advice and counsel, especially good teachings from their sermons. Use the tools of prayer, Bible study, fasting, and meditation. Read Church articles on how to overcome sin. Avoid tempting environments when possible. Stay clear of things that tempt you to stumble. If that means giving up TV, then give up TV. If that means giving up a certain circle of friends, then give up those friends. Study the Bible to learn every trick, every technique, every bit of wisdom useful for resisting temptation and avoiding sin.

"And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matthew 11:12).

Remember Jacob wrestling with God. It must have been painful to have his hip dislocated, but he never gave up. In the end, God gave up and gave Jacob the blessing he wanted (Genesis 32:24-31). You can't say that Jacob did not use willpower to endure the pain and not let go of God.

Declare nuclear war against sin, and fight that war with all your might, and keep fighting till the end of your life. Then you will have the victory. The reward will be worth it.

Why does God require we make such maximum effort? Our effort shows where our hearts are. And exercising the effort helps strengthen our faith, our love, and our overall character.

Does making this maximum effort, using all the willpower we have, make us feel self-reliant, as if we do not need God?

That is a danger, but it should not make us feel self-reliant. The fact is, we cannot overcome sin without God's help for several reasons.

You may have enough human willpower to overcome a particular sin or resist a particular temptation. If so, do it. If you do not, use all the willpower you have, try as hard as you can, and God will give you extra help you need. Either way, you can get rid of the sin.

And you may not know, after you overcome the sin, how much God has helped you.

But you can know this, that no matter how much willpower you have, you could never overcome sin without God's help because without God's help you would not even know what sin is!

The world is deceived by Satan. No man is smart enough or powerful enough to escape that deception without God's calling and supernatural help. All the willpower in the world will not open your eyes and mind to God's truth. God has to call you, work with you by the power of His Spirit, to bring you out from Satan's deception and help you understand the truth. And God has to work with your mind after conversion to help you understand the full depth and application of His spiritual law (1 Corinthians 2:9-16, John 14:26).

You cannot fully understand the things of God, God's way of life, and God's spiritual law, without God's help that he gives you by His Holy Spirit. And thus, no matter how much willpower you might have, you still need God's help to overcome sin.

So there is never an excuse to feel self-reliant and independent of God. We all need God's help.

Besides that, if you are naturally gifted with strong willpower, where did that willpower come from? Everything you are and everything you have comes from God. If you have strong willpower, that is a gift. It is a gift that can come from heredity, a favorable environment growing up and good parental upbringing, or both. But it comes from God. It is God who gave you the natural gift when you were born and it was God who gave you good parents who helped you learn good self-discipline and self-control.

So God gets the full credit for our overcoming sin, and we should be grateful to God for every victory. Putting forth our full effort to overcome and resist temptation takes nothing from our gratitude towards God for giving us the help we need and our reliance on Him.

One might say, "I am trying, but I still can't overcome". I would ask, "Are you trying as hard as you can?" One might answer, "I'm trying, I'm really trying!" I might say, "You haven't answered my question. I know you are trying. Maybe you are trying very hard. But are you really trying as hard as you can? Can you say that you could not be trying harder, not even a little bit harder?"

And if one says, "I am trying as hard as I can", I might ask, "How do you know? Do you know your own mind that well?" "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).

I don't say God expects and requires that we reach perfection in this life. But God expects progress, and we should expect and demand progress in ourselves. If we have not made progress over several years in getting sin out of our lives, that may be a good indication we are not making the maximum effort God requires of us.

Love God and keep His commandments with all your being, everything you've got. Use all the willpower you have, whether you have a little or a lot, to resist temptation and overcome sin. Pray to God for His help and trust Him to keep His promises. If your natural willpower is not enough, trust God to give you the extra help you need to overcome, and KEEP TRYING.

If you slip and fall, get up and keep trying.

God may use trials and punishments to humble you and correct you and help you to stop sinning. Submit to those trials and punishments. Don't accuse God or become resentful towards Him. Be humble and trust God even when He is putting you through a trial or punishment. God helps us overcome sin not just by inspiring us by His Spirit to obey Him but also by correcting us with punishments. "You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: 'My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.' If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed" (Hebrews 12:4-13).

Try to be spiritually alert all day, staying close to God in obedience and prayer. Get in the habit of constantly looking for ways to please God, to do His will, to include Him in every decision. If you forget about God, doing your own thing for most of a day, then a temptation comes, it is harder to resist than if you have been thinking of ways to do God's will all day long.

Also, as I point out in my book, Preaching the Gospel, it is important to obey God in everything, 100%, not just 99%. You can't leave some "small" sin that you think is not important unattended to and expect God to help you get rid of your "big" sins. He wants 100% submission.

Suppose you are struggling to overcome a problem with alcohol. Over-drinking is a big sin. So you concentrate on that and ask God's help to overcome. But you have some "little" sin you are not even trying to overcome. Maybe you have been telling someone a very "tiny" lie, just a slight exaggeration. You may figure that is not important. But suppose God won't help you with the "big" sin of alcoholism until you submit to Him in everything, including that little sin in the corner you don't think is important.

If you are submitted in your mind to God 99%, and He helps you overcome a problem, you might think that everything is ok between you and God. But it is not. 99% submission to God is not what God is looking for. So He may withhold the help you need with the big problem until you agree to submit to him in everything, one hundred percent. It may be His way of letting you know, you need to be more submissive in every aspect of His law and His way of life. You may need to examine yourself to see if you are falling short in some aspect of God's law and instruction, something you may have swept under the rug long ago and don't even remember.

We should have examined ourselves before Passover. But self-examination should be a life-long habit all year long. One way to examine ourselves is to go through the ten commandments, slowly, one-by-one, and think of how they apply to us not just in the letter but in the spirit (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:6-21). Also, I find the sermon on the mount a useful passage to use to examine myself (Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7). But of course, we are to live by every word of God, so we should be regularly reading the entire Bible. As we do so, we may uncover sins in our life we have not thought about for a long time. They may seem like small ones, but we should address them immediately.

God does not make overcoming sin easy. But He makes it possible. We have to learn to do our part 100%, then trust God to give us the extra help we need to overcome.

Eternal life is worth it.

Then, as we overcome, all credit goes to God, because our maximum effort is only our reasonable service to the God who made us and offers us such wonderful salvation and eternal life in His kingdom.

Here are links to other posts in this blog related to the subject of the Days of Unleavened Bread, repentance, and overcoming sin:

"Do We Overcome Sin by Our Power or by God's Power?", dated April 20, 2011, link:

"Stay Far from the Edge", dated April 6, 2012, link:

"Repentance", dated April 11, 2012, link:

"We Must Overcome by God's Power AND Our Power", dated March 25, 2013, link:

"How Faith Works with Repentance", dated March 26, 2013, link:

"Building the Wall", dated March 29, 2013, link:

"We Need the Holy Spirit to Overcome Our Sins", dated May 17, 2013, link:

"What Is the Church of God's Greatest Sin?", dated February 27, 2014, link:

"Brian Orchard's Bible Study on Repentance", dated March 16, 2014, link:

"False Repentance Movement in the Church of God", dated March 28, 2014, link:

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:

The Days of Unleavened Bread - Repentance, Chapter 2

How to Obtain More of God's Help in Breaking Bad Habits, Chapter 7

Monday, April 14, 2014

Night to Be Much Observed

"And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years—on that very same day—it came to pass that all the armies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. It is a night of solemn observance to the Lord for bringing them out of the land of Egypt. This is that night of the Lord, a solemn observance for all the children of Israel throughout their generations" (Exodus 12:41-42).

The Church of God observes the "night to be much observed" as a memorial of Israel coming out of Egypt and of our coming out of sin. This is not Passover, but the night following Passover. It is a separate observance from Passover. This year, the night to be much observed is the evening of Monday, April 14, 2014 after sunset. It begins seven days of avoiding leavening and eating unleavened bread.

When Mr. Tkach was making changes in the doctrines of the Church of God after the death of Mr. Armstrong, one of the changes was the idea that Israel came out of Egypt Passover evening. But that is false. They came out of Egypt the following evening. Passover was the beginning of the fourteenth day of the first month. Israel came out of Egypt by night on the fifteenth day of the first month. There would not be enough time on the night of the fourteenth (the beginning of the fourteenth since the night portion of a 24-hour day is the first part of the day - days begin and end at sunset in the Bible) for Israel to keep the Passover and also leave Egypt. The firstborn in Egypt were killed about midnight, and the Israelites were instructed to stay in their homes until morning. They also had to gather and be organized in orderly ranks before leaving Egypt, with their women, young children, elderly, animals, and all their possessions. There were about 600,000 men plus women and children living in the land of Goshen. The land of Goshen was a sizable area, like a large city today. All that took time and could not have all been done just on Passover night (Exodus 12:1-42, 13:18-22.

God does not give specific instructions on how this evening is to be observed, only that it is to be observed. Mr. Armstrong made the judgment, and most of the Church of God follows that judgment today, that we observe it with a special meal enjoyed in families or groups. Most Church of God members typically observe this with a special meal and fellowship with a few families together in someone's home or a group at a restaurant or church gathering. Since this is the beginning of the seven days of unleavened bread, no leaving or leavened products should be eaten (products with yeast, baking soda, or baking powder for example), and unleavened bread should be eaten during this day. Also, since this begins the First Day of Unleavened Bread, this is an annual sabbath. No work, other than meal preparation, should be done after sunset. Conversation should be that which we have on the Sabbath. "If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the Lord has spoke" (Isaiah 58:13-14).

This is an excellent time to have conversation about how we were called and came to know the truth. I find it interesting that brethren in a small congregation can know each other for years, yet not know how each other member came to know the truth and come into the Church of God. This is a good time to get to know each other better and share our experiences in how God worked with us to call us out of this world and into the Church. "Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name. 'They shall be Mine,' says the Lord of hosts, 'on the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him' " (Malachi 3:16-17).

This night represents Israel coming out of the bondage of Egypt. For us, it represents our journey out of the deception of this world and into God's truth. Egypt sometimes represents sin in the Bible, and the night to be much observed represents our journey out of sin. It represents our being freed from the bondage of sin.

The seven days of unleavened bread, which begin with the night to be much observed, represents our repentance and putting sin out of our lives. The night to be much observed specifically is an observance and celebration of our deliverance from the bondage of sin.

The first of the ten commandments, using Egypt as a metaphor for sin for Christians, reminds us of the fact that God has delivered us from the bondage of sin. "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:2-3).

As we have struggled with sin since our conversion, many of us may not feel that we have been very victorious over sin. As we examine our faults, it is easy to feel discouraged. It is easy to feel we are still in bondage to sin because we have not yet completely overcome our sins.

But to be in bondage to sin is to be a slave to sin. We are not slaves to sin. We are soldiers waging war against sin.

There is a difference between a slave and a soldier.

A slave obeys his master. He does not wage war against his master. But a soldier is in a fight. He wages war. He wins some battles and may lose some battles, but losing a battle does not necessarily mean losing the war, and losing a battle does not mean one is a slave.

When we were in this world, before God called us and opened our minds to the truth, we were slaves of sin, of Satan, and this world. We were deceived. We were in bondage to Satan's deceptions. We were so deceived, we did not even know we were deceived, like the world today.

But God has set us free from the bondage of deception. Now our eyes are opened and we can know the truth. We can fight against sin. We are not slaves who must obey sin.

Our warfare is spiritual, and our fight is against Satan and his demons.

"Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints - and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel" (Ephesians 6:10-19).

"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled" (2 Corinthians 10:3-6).

We are no longer slaves of sin, but soldiers waging war against sin. Our minds are the battlefield, and we fight the influence of Satan to put sin out of our lives.

God gave Israel the promised land. But they still had to fight for it. But God gave them the victory. Likewise, God gives us the victory over sin, through the broken body and shed blood of Christ. But God still requires that we fight against sin. We have our part to play, and it is not easy. God makes our final victory over sin possible, but not easy. But we can win.

That is what we remember and celebrate on the night to be much observed.

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:

The Days of Unleavened Bread - Repentance, Chapter 2

Friday, April 11, 2014


The true gospel includes the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins, that He paid the death penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven and receive the gift of eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:1-6, 1 Corinthians 2:1-2, Isaiah 52:1-6).

This is what Passover represents.

Each annual feast or holy day given in the Old Testament represents a step in God's plan for the salvation of mankind and a step in the process of God reproducing Himself through man. This is a major truth that the churches of this world do not have. Even the Church of God Seventh Day did not have this truth when Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong first came among them, nor were they observing all of the commanded feast and holy days. But they observed Passover.

Mr. Armstrong had an open mind and was willing to learn new truth from the Bible and be corrected by the Bible. He followed the Bible more than church tradition. And because his mind was open to new truth, God was able to show him, by opening his mind to understand the Bible, that the annual feasts and holy days should be kept today by the Church. This was new truth for Mr. Armstrong. Neither the traditional, mainstream churches of this world nor the true Church of God had this truth. Had Mr. Armstrong placed greater emphasis on following tradition than following the Bible, he could not have accepted this truth, that the Church should keep the holy days. The Church of God Seventh Day did not accept this truth even when Mr. Armstrong showed it to them. But Mr. Armstrong accepted it and put it into practice. Like Abraham, Mr. Armstrong believed and obeyed God (Romans 4:1-9, Genesis 15:2-6, James 2:23). So Mr. Armstrong kept the annual feasts and holy days in obedience to God, even when others did not.

Then, after years of Mr. Armstrong's faith and obedience in keeping the holy days, God further opened his mind to understand the meaning of the feasts and holy days from the Bible. This illustrates the principle that God helps us understand the Bible as we believe and obey it (Psalm 111:10).

What we understand today about the feasts and holy days and the plan of God has come to us because Mr. Armstrong was faithful to believe the Bible more than church tradition.

But though the Church of God did not understand or observe all seven festivals and holy days of God, they did observe and understand the meaning of Passover.

Passover is the first of seven festivals of God commanded for the Church of God today. It is not a holy day or annual sabbath - we may work on Passover day - but it is a feast day.

At the beginning of the 14th day of the first month, which this year starts at sunset, Sunday, April 13, we observe Passover. We observe it shortly after sunset which starts Passover day. We keep it at the same time ancient Israel kept it, but we use different symbols. Instead of killing and eating a lamb, we take the symbols of unleavened bread and wine. In the Old Testament observance, the lamb represented Christ. In the New Testament observance, the unleavened bread represents the body of Christ and the wine represents His shed blood.

Ancient Israel never understood the full meaning of Passover. They only understood Passover as a rememberance of God passing over the Israelites when He killed all the firstborn of Egypt. But we today understand it as symbolic of the sacrifice of Christ.

Sin is the transgression of the spiritual law of God, which is summarized by the ten commandments (1 John 3:4, James 2:8-11). All mankind, every human being, has violated that spiritual law and thus sinned (Romans 3:23). The penalty for sin is eternal death in the lake of fire (Romans 6:23, Ezekiel 18:4, Ezekiel 18:20). There is no provision in the law for the cancellation of that penalty. We cannot save ourselves from the consequences of our sins by our good deeds. Once we have sinned, there is nothing we can do on our own to escape the death penalty.

But God, in His mercy and love, provided a way for us to be saved.

God gave us His Son to be a sacrifice to pay the penalty for our sins in our place (Isaiah 53:4-11). Jesus Christ, as the Word before He was born as a human being, was the Creator of mankind, and as our creator His life had more value than the lives of all human beings put together. Thus, His sacrifice was sufficient to pay the penalty for all mankind's sins (John 1:1-14).

The Old Testament Passover predicted the sacrifice of Christ. The Passover lamb represented Jesus Christ. When God saw the blood of the lamb, he "passed over" the houses of the Israelites and did not slay their firstborn children. Likewise, when God sees the sacrifice and blood of Christ, He passes over our sins and does not exact the death penalty for our sins upon us. Thus, the requirement of the law, that the death penalty be paid, is satisfied, and thus we can be forgiven and live. We can be given the gift of eternal life.

There are conditions. Before God attributes the sacrifice of Christ as payment for our sins, we must believe and repent. We must believe the gospel and have faith in Christ, and we must repent of our sins and our sinful nature and commit ourselves to willing and loving obedience to God and His spiritual law forever. We must also obey God's command to be baptized (Acts 2:38, Mark 1:14-15, Ephesians 2:8-9).

When we believe, repent, and are baptized, the ministry lays hands on us and God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps us to understand and obey God's Spiritual law (1 Corinthians 2:10-16, 2 Timothy 1:6-7, John 14:26). It is like a down payment for eternal life (2 Corinthians 5:5, Ephesians 1:13-14). God through His Spirit heals our character and makes us like Him. That prepares us for eternal life in God's kingdom.

The receiving of the Holy Spirit makes possible a process of overcoming that lasts the rest of our physical lives.

But all this is made possible only by the sacrifice of Christ.

This was an enormous sacrifice. It involved not only Jesus's death, but a period of intense suffering, both mental and physical. Jesus Christ was tortured to death. But He did this willingly for our sake. He gave up His divine power and eternal life to become a human being. He lived a perfect life, resisting every temptation, and He never sinned. He humbled Himself and died a torturous death without once sinning (Philippians 2:5-8, Hebrews 4:14-16, 1 Peter 2:21-25).

He did this for our sakes, but also to please God the Father (John 15:13-14, Matthew 26:39). In this, He set the perfect example for us.

He was a willing sacrifice. I do not believe for one second that God the Father commanded or forced Christ to be a sacrifice for our sins, but He did it willingly. It was the Father's will, and Christ was willing. All this was decided from Adam's sin and the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).

And it was not just Christ who suffered. The Father suffered too because He loved His Son. Those in the Church who are fathers can understand this. This was a huge sacrifice for both of them.

Moreover, if Jesus Christ sinned even once as a human being, that could have meant the permanent end of His existence. He would have died for His own sin, not ours, and we would not have a way of escape from the death penalty. He had free moral agency, so there was a risk involved (Hebrews 4:15-16). Both the Father and Christ were willing to take that risk.


Was there not some other way for God to accomplish His purpose to reproduce Himself?

Well, for one thing, God did not have to make eternal death the penalty of sin. It is God the Father who gives the law, and God can determine any penalty He chooses for the violation of that law (James 4:12). He could have, from the beginning of the universe, determined that death would not be the penalty for human sin. He could have assigned some other penalty, some penalty that would permit us to pay our own penalty and live. For example, He could have required that the penalty of sin be a certain amount of suffering. Then, once a man or woman has suffered in proportion to their sin, they could be forgiven without the sacrifice of Christ. The Word would never have had to become a human being and suffer and die. Or, God could have decreed that we can make up for our sins by our good deeds. In effect, God could have allowed us to pay the penalty for our own sins and still receive eternal life in the end. He could have made a plan of salvation that allowed us to earn our salvation, if He wanted to.

But it is God's nature to do things the best way possible, not the easiest way. God is a perfectionist. And there were advantages to making death the penalty of sin and giving His Son as a sacrifice so we can be forgiven.

God's purpose is to build His perfect, righteous character in us. That is an essential part of reproducing Himself. And building character in us requires the teaching of lessons. God doesn't force us to learn His way of life, but He reveals it to us and lets us, as free moral agents, choose His way of life. And the sacrifice of Christ helps us understand that way of life better than any other course God could have taken.

God the Father and Jesus Christ did not make the sacrifice they made because there was no other way to give us eternal life. They did it because it was the BEST way to teach us lessons and shape our character for the kind of eternal life they want to give us, a life in God's kingdom that will be overflowing with happiness forever.

Look at the lessons Christ's sacrifice teaches us.

First, it teaches us the importance of God's spiritual law. It shows that God will not compromise with His law, that there are penalties for violating that law, and those penalties MUST be paid. That should teach us to hate sin which inevitably brings penalties on ourselves or others.

It teaches us about what real, self-sacrificial love is about. Christ suffered and died not only to pay for our sins, but to teach us by His example. The lesson is about love. Just as Christ suffered and died for us, so we should be willing to suffer and die for each other (John 13:34, John 15:12-14, John 13:15-17, Romans 8:16-17). And as Christ was willing to suffer and die to please the Father and do the Father's will, so we must be willing to suffer and die to please the Father and do God's will.

There is a lesson about faith here. The sacrifice of Christ is only applied to us after we believe the gospel and repent. We have to believe in God's way of life. We have to believe that God's way of life, of love towards God and neighbor, even a love that requires sacrifice and suffering for the good of the one we love, is the best way of life. We learn to deeply appreciate what God the Father and Jesus Christ have done for us, and as we appreciate their act, we appreciate the way of life that the sacrifice of Christ represents and illustrates. That appreciation should lead us to want to follow the example of Christ, to be like Christ in the way we love God and love others. In other words, we have to have faith in the way of life that God teaches us by that sacrifice. We have to learn to really believe that it is the best way of life.

There are lessons about humility. We see the example of Christ who shared eternal power and glory with God the Father, yet was willing to humble Himself and become a mere man for the purpose of suffering and death (Philippians 2:5-8). We also should be humbled by the fact that God and Christ were willing to do what they did for our sakes, because they love us, and we can do nothing without them to save ourselves. Salvation is a free gift - we do not deserve it and we cannot earn it (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:8-9). That is humbling when we understand it.

In all these lessons, God is teaching us and building in us the best possible character to prepare us for eternal life in His kingdom. He is building the kind of character that will make possible the maximum happiness, glory, and joy in His kingdom forever. He is using the sacrifice of Christ to accomplish this, not because it was the only way to give us eternal life, or the easiest way, but because it is the best way. And by doing this, by choosing the best way over the easy way, God and Christ set an example for us, one more lesson, to show us that we should live the same way. For every choice we must make in this life, we should learn to make the best choice according to God's will, the choice that will please God the most, not the easiest choice. When we learn to make the best choices in life, we are building the character that will prepare us for the maximum happiness in the Kingdom of God.

When we take the Passover symbols of unleavened bread and wine, we are remembering the sacrifice of Christ. But we are also renewing our commitment to God's way of life - the way of life that the sacrifice of Christ represents and teaches. We are telling God and Christ that we appreciate what they did for us. We are telling God that we humbly accept the sacrifice of Christ as payment for our sins and that we cannot pay for our own sins by earning our salvation. We are telling God that we agree with the way of life Christ lived and that we want to live that way of life ourselves.

God teaches His way of life through many instructions and commandments in the Bible. But in Christ, God teaches us also by His perfect example what that way of life looks like. And God has proven that He is willing to live that way of life Himself, even when it is hard. And because God practices what He preaches, we can know that if we learn to live the way of life God teaches and practices we will be learning to live as God lives, and we can be like our Father and our elder brother Jesus Christ as we should be as God's children.

God is reproducing Himself in us, and for that to be completed, we must become like God in character. In the sacrifice of Christ, God demonstrates what that character looks like so we can, as free moral agents, choose to agree with that way of life and make the commitment to live that way forever. All this is so we can have maximum happiness and joy and peace in the eternity to come.

How great is God's love and wisdom!

Here are links to posts in this blog related to this topic:

"What the Sacrifice of Christ Teaches Us", dated April 1, 2012, link:

"Physical and Spiritual Healing", dated April 2, 2012, link:

"Why Did Christ Have to Suffer and Die?", dated March 21, 2013, link:

"Passover Symbols: What Part of the Sacrifice of Christ Makes Possible the Healing of Our Character? / Should You Partake of the Passover?", dated March 23, 2013, link:

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Passover -- the Sacrifice of Christ, Chapter 2

God's Purpose for Mankind, Chapter 2