John Ritenbaugh, examining the socio-cultural milieu before the writing of the Epistle to the Hebrews, explains the difficulties experienced by the new Jewish converts to the Gospel. The powerful testimony of the recently risen Christ, combined with the apostles, who had spent 3 ½ years under His tutelage, were the main factors behind the fast growth of the church to 6,000. The Jewish leadership deemed these converts to be traitors to the of the religious heritage of Judaism. The estrangement these people felt is similar to that experienced by today's people of the true God. Christ told His Apostles not to become fixated about the fulfillment of prophecy, but instead to engage in the work He had given them. God's people today have the same no-nonsense orders Christ gave to His original Disciples, namely to take the Gospel to all nations. God's worldwide institution, the Israel of God, makes a transition to a New Covenant, not 'doing away with the law' but making it applicable to both Jew and Gentile. Repentance and baptism replace circumcision as the spiritual sign of the New Covenant. The Council of Jerusalem indicated that Jesus Christ's words and behavior proved the final word on New Covenant decisions, bringing about a significant change in practice.
Martin Collins, emphasizing that God does not do anything randomly, reveals that even scientists advancing the so-called chaos theory have discovered that disintegration and breakdown (entropy) proceed according to orderly laws. Dr. James Gleick, in his exposition of the Butterfly Effect, observes that even an apparently chaotic event like falling water is governed by predictable laws of physics. Amazingly, some deluded scientists, with all this substantiation of order, continue to advance the evolutionary hypothesis—an untenable position that order can somehow be the product of chaos. God is a God of order and not confusion; all He does follows a specific order—summarized by the adage, a time and a place for everything. One does not laugh and joke at a funeral nor weep uncontrollably at a wedding. Likewise, there is nothing inconsequential or out of place in God's Word, including 1.) the order of Noah's entering and leaving the ark, 2.) the order in which Jacob placed his servants and family in his meeting with Esau, 3.) the order in which Jacob and Moses blessed the tribes of Israel, 4.) the order in which Abraham and Lot separated their families and assets and 5.) the order in which Joshua dispatched the tribes into the Promised land. God made careful distinction between light and darkness, creating boundaries between clean and unclean, profane and holy, insisting that the time He has made holy be kept in a different manner from the rest of the time cycles. The Sabbath serves as the basic time-marker of the week, the year, and the Jubilee. To everything there is a season when the appropriate behavior is expected. God's called-out ones strive to yield to God's timing, realizing that the steps of a good man are ordered by God.
Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that some prophecy buffs have concluded that the end of the world is on the horizon, citing the media's sniping at President Trump, North Korea's hydrogen bomb threats, and the succession of three destructive hurricanes. When analyzing the overblown coverage of the hurricanes, for example, one must factor in the motives of the Weather Channel , including the insidious political motive of fostering a belief in climate change, and the materialistic motive of boosting ratings by playing on people's fears. God's called-out ones should not look to the media when seeking truthful information. What God reveals in His Word is more reliable than the evening news. God's people do a disservice to the cause of truth when they allow the media-hype to trigger a false hope about Christ's imminent return. We have no absolute guarantee that Christ will come in our lifetime; studying numerology or secret biblical codes will not speed up the event. No one, not even Jesus Christ Himself, knows when He will return; the Father alone has this knowledge. Many of the signs of Jesus coming are perennial, such as deception, wars and rumors of wars, famines and natural disasters. To be sure, Christ averred that the both the density and the intensity of world events would increase before the end, but one cannot build a prophetic marker on a series of natural events, many of which have been over-hyped by irresponsible media outlets. When we are commanded to watch and pray, Christ expects the faithful servant to be watching the progress of his spiritual growth, regardless of whether His return is imminent or far off. The recent disasters should be a wake-up call not as a pin on a chart measuring prophetic fulfillment.
Kim Myers maintains that, while many people in the world likes some of God's laws, such as the proscriptions against murder and theft, they like to pick and choose when it comes to the rest, preferring a blend of their own preferences with some of God's laws added in. The penalties that result from breaking God's laws are sure and exacting, as we witness in homes in which adultery or fornication has taken place. Breaking any of God's laws is the height of stupidity. The experiences of those who have once committed to God's ways and then started to compromise have not been pleasant or successful. Young people, unfortunately, seem to be oblivious to painful cause-and-effect relationships. One does not conceal his foolishness in a vacuum, but it is on display for everyone to see. Our nation has felt the incremental effect of God's curses as it systematically replaces tenets of God's Law with foolish laws concocted from human reason. God's called-ones must not follow suit, deciding which of God's laws we keep, and which to discard. We must embrace the full counsel of God, trembling before His every Word. We want to have joy by living by every word that comes from His Mouth.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reviewing Charles Hughes Smith's findings that the entire status quo is a fraud, reiterates that the financial system, the political system, national defense, the healthcare system, higher education, mainstream corporate media, and culture are all hopelessly corrupt. Science fiction writer, Theodore Sturgeon, claims that 90% of everything is pure garbage, prompting economist Gary North to proclaim that we have a responsibility to salvage the 10% that has not yet deteriorated. The vast majority of the current $20 trillion-dollar national debt stems from fraud. Because histories are usually written from the viewpoint of the victors (that is, the cultural survivors), we can never be sure about the extent of fraud and prevarication in historical narratives from previous civilizations. Nothing has changed over time, as is reflected in the contents of the missing 28 pages of the 911 Commission report, suggesting nefarious Saudi involvement in the World Trade Center attack. In this cesspool of prevarication, we have received a life preserver from Jesus Christ, receiving sanctification in His Truth, protecting us from curses. Accepting and living in God's truth has the inexorable effect of separating us from the world. As we continue to feast on the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, we worship God in spirit and truth, a worship which centers around a spiritual relationship with God rather than a physical place. God is not tethered to any geographical place as was believed by the woman at the well and Naaman the military leader; God is omnipresent and omniscient. Eternal life is to know the Father and the Son. God wants a living relationship, like He enjoyed with Abraham, who was the friend of God. We should continually live and think on the same wavelength as God does, maintaining a close relationship with Him as we continue in the sanctification process. The book of John throughout characterizes Jesus as Truth, our standard and model of true living, the vine to which we must cling, faithfu
Richard Ritenbaugh, recalling his underwriter training course at Transamerica Insurance, in which he learned of the hundreds of billions of dollars of fraud which occur annually in auto, health, disability, welfare, and Medicare, asserts that every part of our modern Babylonian culture has been plagued by fraud and cheating, a cancerous system described in Revelation 18, which God Almighty will have to destroy. In contrast to the world's embracing of fraud and deceit, God's called-out ones are obligated to eat the bread of sincerity and truth, not only for the Days of Unleavened Bread, but for our entire lives. As the apostle Paul warned the Corinthian congregation to purge out the leaven of malice and consume the unleavened bread of sincerity (inward activities), he knew that wickedness or truth are the manifestation of these inner activities. Thought precedes behavior; sin (gossip, rape, murder, adultery) begins in the heart. A heart without guile does not allow a poisonous foreign admixture. We must live our lives from a pure motive, unalloyed virtue, having unsullied Christian character with evil purged out. The Word of God is the source of energy to turn our convictions into genuine behavior; we must be, but we must also do, marrying our profession of true faith with pure unalloyed godly conduct. Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well demonstrates the motivating power of doing God's work as ingesting food. Worshiping in spirit and truth involves dedicating our time, and attitude in developing a relationship with God.
Ronny H. Graham: Many years ago, while talking to an acquaintance, the subject of Christmas came up. I told him up front, "I don't celebrate Christmas." He replied ...
Charles Whitaker, examining Christ's statement that the law will not pass away until all has been fulfilled, indicates that the Law of God will change only when the preconditions Christ established in Matthew 5:18 have been met. Paul asks and answers the question, "Why do we need the law in the first place?" in Galatians 3:19-25, revealing it was given as a schoolmaster, teaching us what sin is. When the circumstance of sin ceases, what happens to the law? The concept of sin as a reality will be gone at a certain point in time. Has the law changed so far, and if so, what laws? A change in the priesthood (from Aaronic to Melchizedek) has taken place. Centuries before this event had taken place, God had prepared for it. Certain laws did indeed change. Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, they were forbidden to eat goats, sheep, and cattle away from the altar of sacrifice, even though they could eat wild game anywhere, but after they entered the land they could eat goats, sheep, and cattle anywhere in a non-sacrificial context. Eating blood was still prohibited. In the Millennium, all people will worship God in Jerusalem, but God's called-out ones are invited to worship God in prayer in spirit and truth in His very throne room. This alone we are privileged to do. In changing the rule about the venue for eating goats, sheep, and cattle, God was looking far into the future, realizing the proclivity of mankind to sin, and could envision a time when He would be forced to destroy the altar for centuries. God does not place needless burdens on people.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his exposition on the source of the Church's characteristics, reiterates that Jesus Christ is the architect, suggesting that the created institution or body must take on the characteristics of the builder, following assiduously His Commandments, hallowing the same Sabbath and Holy days that He did, and reflecting His character. Jesus Christ has handpicked those He wanted, gifting them with abilities to carry out their responsibilities, a process that has been underway for 2000 years, leading to a cumulative 144,000 beings, constituting the First-fruits and Bride of Christ, prepared to assist Him in governing. Those whom God has called are created in His image, but they are not yet of the God-kind until they receive a tiny portion of His Holy Spirit, enabling them to resist the carnal human nature with which they have been born. As God's Spirit displaces carnality, we become a new creation in Christ, born from above, developing godly character and displacing human nature. In developing and building character, we must voluntarily choose to obey, but God does virtually everything, giving us the will and power to work with His Holy Spirit. Spiritual birth occurs within the human heart—a total transformation of the human heart by the immaterial power that motivates us to acquire His characteristics. This transformation does not take place all at once but requires a lifetime to remove all the impurities. As the impurities are refined out of our character, the world will begin to hate the new creation being formed in us and will feel compelled to hatefully persecute us. We have no idea what God is doing with us as He begins to shape and mold us, but we need to remember that He owns us. As Adam contributed nothing to his physical creation, we contribute nothing to our spiritual creation except for our willingness to yield to His workmanship. The characteristics of the Church are being (and have always been) formed from on high.
Mike Ford cues in on the narrative about the religious hobbyist, Micah, in Judges 17, who practiced his own self-devised hybrid of religion, amalgamating some orthodox truth with abundant noxious, pagan admixtures, bringing a curse on himself and his community. Heretofore, when strong leadership existed, idolatry was held in check, but by chapter 17, the train (of undefiled worship) begins to go off the track. We cannot take anything from paganism and use it to worship God. Micah was a thief, having stolen the life savings from his mother, but returned it when she cursed the thief. Upon the return of the silver, Micah's mother blessed him profusely and then she had an idol made of the silver. Micah had procured an ephod and presumptuously consecrated his son a priest. Adam Clarke gives him a pass, claiming he was only replicating the temple in Shiloh and was merely worshiping the true God. But the preponderance of the evidence does not support Adam Clarke's faulty assumption that the ephod was connected only to the worship of the true God. Gideon's ephod, for example, became an idol. Some contemporaries of Gideon and Micah liked to dress idols in ephods, attempting to give them religious legitimacy. Micah and his household had abundant teraphim (or household idols like the ones possessed by Laban), negating the pure intentions ascribed to Micah by Adam Clarke. Albert Barnes makes the absurd assumption that the Hebrew people during the time of the Judges were illiterate. Micah certainly knew the laws of God, but he was enamored of the pagan rites, and tried to blend them into the worship of God. When Micah drafted the young, itinerant Levite, a grandson of Moses, he persuaded him to continue in the syncretized pagan rites. These presumptuous actions of Micah were disgusting in the eyes of God; it is dangerous to extrapolate anything from paganism to worship God just because we personally feel good about it.
Martin Collins, reiterating that St. Valentine's Day is a shameless syncretism, an attempt to blend pagan rites with Christian observances, asserts that the practice started as a lewd, sensual festival in Rome. Lupercalia is an archaic rite connected with fertility, honoring Venus, the goddess of sexual love. The Roman Catholic Church, in an effort to attract pagan converts, began to attach 'Christian' significance, claiming that the purification of Mary occurred on February 14th. Saint Valentine of Rome was a priest imprisoned for performing weddings for Christian soldiers who had been forbidden to marry by the government of Rome. Protestants, who did not care for the worship of saints, were nevertheless pleased to blend the trappings of pagan culture with 'Christian' tradition. Sadly, every pagan rite practiced has been adopted and allegedly 'sanctified' by giving it religious significance, despite God's warning in Deuteronomy 12 not to mix the worship of God with pagan customs, lest one participate in demon worship.
David Grabbe, claiming that the command to take up the cross has been sullied, tainted, and moreover smeared by Protestant heretical syrup, insists that the venerating of the cross (explicitly violating the Second Commandment) pre-dated Christianity by several centuries, having served as the monogram for the Babylonian god Tammuz. Early Christianity made no use of the cross until the time of Constantine, who foisted it off as a kind of good luck charm. Alexander Hislop, in his book The Two Babylons, claims that virtually all pagan religions incorporate some form of the cross in their worship. Logically, it seems sick or depraved to exalt an instrument of torture in order to worship. Scriptural references indicate Christ may have been executed on a tree; hence the staros he carried could have been a heavy beam, evidently to be fastened to a tree. In this sense, the cross represents a burden, emphasizing that there is a sacrifice or cost we experience when following Him. Bearing our cross means our time on this earth is virtually finished, that we are willing to give up our lives, emulating the life of our Savior. When we follow His example, we find our family and friends rapidly cool in their affections for us, helping us realize there is a cost to following Him. God's Law is not the burden, but instead the burden is the feeling our carnal nature experiences as being "put upon," but ironically, the more we enthusiastically and wholeheartedly embrace God's way, the deeper the sense of peace we feel for the strength to endure this burden. Paradoxically, if we are willing to lose our life for His sake, mortifying the flesh and crucifying our carnality daily, we will gain a far more abundant life and moreover, life eternal—a precious insight that the foolish, carnal mind regards as rubbish.
Martin Collins, continuing the series on the awakening of guilt in Joseph brothers, focuses on a message by Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who proclaimed that Moses never just said, "Let my people go" The second part of this request was "that they can worship God in the desert." Egypt has long served as a metaphor of sin and bondage. We all have our personal Egypt which could be defined as anything that holds us in bondage or abject servitude. We have to learn to rely on God to get us out of strait and difficult situations, realizing that God may want to develop some backbone and intestinal fortitude in us to mature spiritually, but most importantly to yield to the sovereign God of the Universe, who has our best interests at heart. As Joseph's brothers had to be subjected to three patterns of necessity: (1) nature, (2) the tyranny of man, and (3) circumstances beyond their control, we need to stop trusting in our own savvy and street smarts, but instead turn the controls over to God, realizing that as Joseph's brothers and father matured through these intense gut-wrenching, terrifying trials, we also can escape the most dire circumstances by placing ourselves under God's control.
When Solomon visits the Temple, he comes away from his observations of the worshippers with a sense that too many treat religion far too casually and carelessly, forgetting that they are coming before the great God. As John Ritenbaugh explains, Solomon admonishes his readers to listen to God's Word when they approach Him and to be careful to follow through with what they promised when they made the covenant with Him.
John Ritenbaugh, asking which of God's spiritual gifts is most important, answers that faith seems the most important. Loss of faith is the primary reason people have left the greater Church of God. Rejecting the Sabbath or embracing Christmas requires rejecting fundamental biblical truths. If we do not do what Christ did, we cannot claim to follow Christ. Sadly, many professing 'Christians' believe the law has been done away, including the mandate to keep the Sabbath. Some people dismiss Sabbath-keeping by twisting Paul's pronouncements about fasting in Romans 14:1-9. If we are able to understand, experience, and practice truth, we will be set free. We must continue to build on the truths we already have, enabling us to build and strengthen our faith. If we continue in God's word, then we strengthen ourselves as His disciples.
Martin Collins, citing a Protestant commentator's article about the problem with Christmas, an article which admits pagan origin of this holiday and its contribution to religious confusion, marvels that the author wants to salvage the holiday anyway, even though it totally scuttles the truth. Human nature would rather indulge in pagan lies and idolatry, taking pleasure in unrighteousness, rather than be corrected or guided by truth. Christmas thrives in this syncretistic culture, having adopted the Roman Brumalia-Saturnalia festival, celebrating the birth of the invincible sun. The Roman Catholic Church carefully blended a little truth with a lot of falsehood in order to have the birthday of the Son of God coincide with the birth of the invincible sun. This shameless syncretism does not have God's endorsement. God does not approve of false ministers who try to appropriate God's words to promote their selfish ends, turning peoples' hearts away from Him. Pagan customs cannot be assimilated into the truth, as our forebears learned that worshipping a golden calf does not coincide with worshipping God. Christians need to extricate themselves from the worshiping of Satan. Regarding our beliefs, we must always start with God, not man, and that we regard the Bible, not human reason as our ultimate authority. Christmas seems to thrive on covetousness and the way of get, while God's holy days encourage the way of give.
Ronny Graham, reflecting on the world's holiday of Christmas, suggests that if it really is Christ's birthday, it is strange that everybody else except Christ receives a gift. Christmas does not celebrate Christ's birth, but all of its trappings derive from worldly mythical pagan sources, including Samhain and Old Nick (another name for the Devil). Mistletoe is a poisonous herb, but ironically serves as a counterfeit of the tree of life. The Christmas tree, alternately associated with the tree spirit, the trinity, and the Virgin Mary, totally derives from pagan sources. A cult of Shamanism in northern Europe used the hallucinogenic mushroom as their mystical 'eucharist' celebrating the 'Christmas season' long before Christ was born. Nothing in the symbolism of the season has anything to do with Christ or His birth.
Martin Collins suggests that when we look upon the modern preoccupation with political correctness and the wholesale abandoning of moral principles, we can see parallels with Paul's grieving over his countrymen for having zeal and sincerity, but rejecting their Savior. Today also there is a big disconnect between sincerity and truth, as is seen in the current political scene, in which the current players are calling evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20), infested with doublespeak, in which communism is "communitarianism" and socialism is "government partnership." It is dangerous to judge the value of something on the basis of misplaced 'sincerity,' which is often the opposite of godly sincerity. Godly sincerity must be paired with the truth, but worldly 'sincerity' does not require truth. Ironically, seeking has become more important than finding. Today society does not care about the real outcome just as long as one is 'sincere.' Tragically, sincerity is not a guarantee of truth. A sincere zealot, Paul of Tarsus, had to be rewired according to the truth in order for his sincerity and zeal to be useful. Knowledge and truth must trump zeal and sincerity in all cases. Sincerity cannot sanitize syncretistic religious defilement, namely Christmas and Easter, firmly rooted in paganism, particularly the cult of the sun. No zealous, sincere, carnal human being, equipped with a hopelessly reprobate mind, can decide what God wants, nor has the capability of living by God's standards. Sincerity without truth is worthless, but sincerity with God"s truth is valuable.
Most people consider the second commandment to deal with making or falling down before a pagan idol, but it has far greater scope. John Ritenbaugh shows that it covers all aspects of the way we worship, including setting ourselves up in God's place by becoming enslaved to our own desires.
John Ritenbaugh reflects on a Catholic Priest's answer to a question about why the Sabbath was allegedly changed from Saturday to Sunday. The priest, in his reasoning was 99% wrong. God has determined what and how we worship. The world's religions, in this context, can be considered an outright curse, because they have exchanged the truth of God for the lie. We cannot exchange anything God has given to us for something else, or it becomes idolatry. While the first three commandments focus on what, how, and the quality of our worship, the fourth commandment was provided for mankind as a means of unified instruction to initiate a spiritual creation. God Almighty, not man, created, sanctified and memorialized the seventh day Sabbath from the time of creation, intending that man use this holy time to worship God. The Sabbath is the very crown of the creation week, when God shifted from a physical to a spiritual mode of creation, a time when God commenced reproducing Himself. Mankind cannot make the Sabbath holy, but man can keep the Sabbath holy. If we want to be in God's presence, we must meet at the time God has appointed. The Sabbath must be kept in the manner God has prescribed in order for this day to be properly sanctified. God uses the Sabbath to educate His children in His ways. To use the Sabbath in any other way is an abomination to God. Sabbath breaking and idolatry go hand in hand; the best protection against idolatry is to keep God's Sabbath.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that we keep the Days of Unleavened Bread, not just as a memorial of the Passover and Exodus event, but because of what the Lord did to bring us out of sin (typified by Egypt). What God does sets everything in motion, significantly eclipsing what we are required to do. God continually does battle for us, breaking down the resistance of Satan (typified by Pharaoh). While God compels us to make choices, He is with us all the way, leading us out of our abject slavery to sin into freedom and eternal life. It is God's calling that makes a difference; no one ever volunteers to follow Him. All that God did to get physical Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land served as a type of what God does for us, calling us out of this world into the Kingdom of God. God is sovereign, necessitating that we diligently seek Him in order to be like Him, yielding to His sanctification, getting rid of all our false gods, worshipping Him in spirit and truth. As a branch attached or grafted to a vine, we cannot do anything without Jesus Christ, who alone enables us to produce or bear fruit through God's Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, and Christ's own Spirit dwelling in us. God is exclusively the God of His people and no one else.
How can we evaluate whether our Feast is 'good' or not? Using God's criticism of Israel's feasts in Amos 5, John Ritenbaugh shows that the pilgrimage locations of Bethel, Beersheba, and Gilgal provide instruction about what God wants us to learn from His feasts.
The Bible reveals a definite pattern of God's displeasure with acts of presumption. John Ritenbaugh expounds several of these circumstances, showing that God's justice is always consonant with His righteousness—and that we should be grateful for His mercy, as we are all guilty of this sin.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on Christ's teachings on the Holy Spirit, expanding into its more complex spiritual parameters. Jesus instructs about the function of the Holy Spirit to carry out God's work, including inspiring one to speak the words of God as a witness and to cast out demons and resist the power of Satan. To deliberately attribute these powers to the Devil (to call good evil), willfully denying God's power to save, constitutes blasphemy against God's Spirit—the unpardonable sin. The Spirit sets apart, inspires the preaching of the gospel, provides healing, frees from bondage, and opens the eyes to truth. It plays a major role in enabling one to become born again, motivating, inspiring, and transforming us from lowly, sinful humans to righteous children of God. Our sole means of worship must be in spirit and truth—living in the Spirit—manifesting concrete acts of service and obedience and deploying rivers of living water.
Three brief essays, two by Richard Ritenbaugh and one by David Grabbe, contemplate the contradictions in Christmas, the modern debate over Christmas in an increasingly secular society, and the Christmas season as a time true Christians can make a godly witness.
...Written by Joe Kovacs, "Christmas in America becomes battleground" reveals the pagan origins of this esteemed tradition and demonstrates why increasing numbers of "fundamentalist Christians" are realizing that one cannot "put Christ" back into something in which He never was. ...
Continuing the exploration of Revelation 10-11, Richard Ritenbaugh expounds the bitterness Ezekiel and John experienced from ingesting the little book. God's truth may bring about sadness, astonishment, anger, and bitterness to the one delivering the message. James and John, displaying violent somewhat destructive zeal, serve as the prototypes of the Two Witnesses, who will have developed controlled, purified zeal (Mark 3:14). A major role of the Two Witnesses is to measure the spiritual Temple, evaluating the condition of the church, purifying its worship, and ensuring the people are pure before God.
In these days of psychology and feeling, doctrine is not very popular. But it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of true Christians! This study briefly explores the basic doctrines of God.
What is worship? What should our attitude be in worship? How do we worship God? Our God is seeking people to worship Him in spirit and truth!
John Ritenbaugh explores the reciprocity aspect of the relationship between God and His called out ones. God in His sovereignty personally handpicks individuals with whom He desires to form a relationship. This relationship, like the physical creation, must be dressed, kept, tended, and maintained (Genesis 2:15). As in a human love relationship, ardently seeking God and desiring to conform to His image and mature into His character will cause the relationship to grow incrementally and intensify. Drawing near to God (in reciprocity to His love) is the key to the transference of God's mind to ours.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that the command to eat unleavened Bread outnumbers the command to refrain from eating leavened bread three to one, indicating that if we actively engaged ourselves in studying God's word and doing righteousness, we wouldn't have time or place to participate in unrighteousness. Ingesting God's word and actively applying its principles gives us life-sustaining energy to fulfill our personal commission.The book of James had to be written as a counterbalance to antinomian elements that had crept into the church around 60AD, twisting Paul's writings, teaching that grace nullifies the need for works — a condition which has an eerie parallel today. James emphasizes the works required for sanctification after the justification process has been completed. Doing good, like eating unleavened bread, is proactive, displacing sin by righteousness.
God has given us two valuable tools, which if used in proper proportions, bring about character and spiritual fruit. Used independently, like all polar or dichotomous thinking (going to one ditch or the other), over-emphasis on one has the tendency to distort the process. The law and God's Spirit (not to be considered polar opposites), given on the same calendar date (at Sinai and Jerusalem), must be applied in tandem to get the best results. Richard Ritenbaugh uses analogies from governmental codes and regulations to illustrate what happens when one extreme dominates the other. Over-emphasis on law produces rigidity and loophole hunters, while over-emphasis on spirit produces emotional imbalance, permissiveness, disobedience and lack of structure. Law and Spirit are not opposites, but complementary, and must work together in order to get results.
The fourth commandment is the one that most people think is least important, but in reality it may be one of the most important! John Ritenbaugh explains the Sabbath commandment and its vital teaching.
The first commandment reveals our first priority in every area of life: God. Anything we place ahead of Him becomes an idol!
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Christ's sacrifice was not merely substitutionary, but representative, with Christ giving us a pattern to live our lives- mortifying our flesh and putting out sin. From this pattern, we realize that living righteously does not guarantee a life free from pain. Like Christ our Forerunner, we must learn from the things we suffer, living a life of sacrifice, collectively and individually becoming a temple or body- a habitation of God's Holy Spirit. Like Christ, we are called to be priests, providing an intercessory bridge between mankind and God. Our entire lives, like our Elder brother, must be given as a whole living sacrifice to God, (1) yielding our bodies and minds, controlling our appetites and desires, (2) making sacrifices of praise, (3) making sacrifices of service to others, and if required, (4) the sacrifice of a martyr's death.
Though the holidays of this world in some ways counterfeit God's holy days, it is obvious that they are very different. God's Word shows that we should not be involved in them!
Should Christians celebrate Thanksgiving Day? Are all this world's holidays off limits? John Ritenbaugh shows the proper balance Christians should have in determining their propriety.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that things written in the Old Testament were written entirely for Christians. The operations of both the Old and New Covenants overlap. The differences focus on justification, access to God, and eternal life, but not doing away with the law (especially the Sabbath) which Protestant theologians would have us believe. Modern Christianity, like the mongrelized Samaritan religion, is a syncretized mixture of some biblical truth with unadulterated paganism. To worship God in spirit means to put heart and mind into applying God's law, with a circumcised heart (Philippians 3:3) realizing that the motivating principle behind every one of God's laws is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts through the power of God's Spirit. (Romans 5:1-5)
What does God see in Israel that so affronts Him that He has to swear "by His holiness"? Israel had every opportunity that the Gentiles did not have: His calling, His promises, His Word, His laws. He gave the Israelites these gifts to help them develop into His sons and daughters, but God sees them as diametrically opposite of Himself. Should not God expect to see some of His characteristics in His sons?
John Ritenbaugh insists that the New Covenant was designed by God in order to circumcise the heart, making it possible for God's laws to be permanently written in our hearts and reflected in our behavior (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16). External rites such as circumcision or baptism do not automatically make Christians. If one is circumcised or baptized and then breaks God's laws, he is instantaneously uncircumcised or unbaptized and blasphemes the name of God (Romans 2:24).
John Ritenbaugh stresses that the Sabbath is the major means by which God protects His investment, the spiritual creation of His family. The Sabbath, far from being the least of the commandments, is a special creation, a very specific period of holy time (only God can set apart something as holy) given to all of mankind, reminding us that God does not stop creating, but elevates His attention to spiritual creation, providing us with unified instruction designed to free us from sin, celebrate life, develop a special relationship with Him, providing a major tool for our conversion, sanctification, and ultimate glorification. No other commandment so specifically defines God's purpose. Breaking the Sabbath is tantamount to idolatry.
John Ritenbaugh explains that Stephen ignited the ire of the Hellenistic Jews, a group passionately devoted to the temple, law and land as a defensive reaction to their historical scattering. Stephen rebukes them for their reactionary (almost superstitious) devotion to the past or reverence to a specific temple location, advocating instead a pilgrim mentality, realizing that God is not confined to a fixed location. Stephen points out that historically, God has dealt with His people without land or temple, but instead through a series of deliverers (Joseph, Moses, and ultimately, Jesus Christ), initially unrecognized or rejected by their own people. Stephen suggests that his audience has rejected the Deliverer and has replaced it with an idol (of worshiping the temple) as their forefathers had turned to a golden idol, while rejecting God and His living law.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the reprobate mind God consigned to nonbelievers (a mind incapable of moral judgment) constitutes the basis for the world's dubious standards of morality and idolatry. Discernment of right and wrong comes exclusively from doing the will of God. Idolatry derives from worshiping the work of our own hands or our own mental fabrications (imposing our own will against God's) rather than the true God (to be worshiped only in spirit and truth). Whatever consumes our thoughts and behavior (motivated by lust or covetousness for something forbidden by God's law) has become our god or our idol.
John Ritenbaugh observes that ancient Israel had at the core of its religion (as well as its dominant cultural norm) an obsession to serve or please the self at the expense of justice and truth and the best interests of the socially disadvantaged. Because of Israel's excessive self-seeking and self-serving pride, God threatens to remove His protection, allowing its people to go into captivity. Pride (the catalyst for Laodiceanism) causes people to reject God and to follow idolatrous ways. Israel's leaders should 1) never be content with the way things are, 2) never let care and concern for self take priority over the welfare of others, 3) covet peace with God, but only on His terms, 4) choose things that are more excellent, and 5) embrace morality.
John Ritenbaugh warns the greater Church of God that since we constitute the Israel of God, the book of Amos directly applies to us. The pilgrimages to Gilgal made by the people of ancient Israel were repulsive to God because no permanent change (in terms of justice ' hating evil and loving good or righteous behavior) occurred in their lives as a result of these pilgrimages. In terms of human relationships, instead of God's Commandments and instead of the Golden Rule, Israel zealously practiced self-centered, pragmatic situation ethics- liberally mixed or syncretized with pagan religion. Unlike ceremonial religion, true religion reaches out and touches every aspect of life, making a permanent transformation or change in thought and behavior. Ceremony and sincerity cannot be considered mutually exclusive components of religion. God, totally impartial in His dealings with all people, demands a higher standard of righteous behavior from those who have consciously made a covenant with Him and are acquainted with His Law.
John Ritenbaugh observed that ancient Israel had regarded Bethel (as well as Gilgal and Beer Sheba) as a sacred shrine (a place where Jacob had been transformed —his name changed to Israel) but were not becoming spiritually transformed as a result of pilgrimages to these locations. One example of their residual carnality was the corruption of their court system- a striking parallel to modern Israel. We need to remember that Amos is written to the end-time church, urging that true religion is not a way to God but from God, emphasizing that (1) we must have a real love for God's truth, (2) submit to God as our part of the relationship, (3) be concerned about earning God's approval, (4) have moral integrity, and (5) exercise social responsibility. Amos warned ancient and modern Israel not to exalt symbolism over substance- a condition leading to Jacob's trouble or the Great tribulation. We need to secure our relationship with God (and our quest for holiness-involving action, emotion, and thought), not taking His grace for granted realizing that God will not budge one inch with his law.
John Ritenbaugh warns that we dare not allow a root of bitterness to spring up in us as a result of the trials we go through - those burdens intended by God to strengthen us and perfect us. We are warned not to emulate the example of Esau, whose worldly mindset blunted his ability to distinguish the sacred from the profane, leading him to give up his birthright to satisfy a bodily craving. We have superior promises (of future Eternal life and a place in God's very family as well as current access to God's presence through the work of Jesus Christ). The intense admonitory quality in the twelfth chapter stems from the stark, inescapable reality that God will not budge one inch on sin. Far from being an indulgent lenient parent, God is a consuming fire to those who will not obey. We need to develop the same white-hot hatred for sin as does our Heavenly Father. Finally we are admonished to (1) increase our fellowship with our brethren, (2) practice hospitality, (3) sympathize and empathize with those going through trials, (4) strive for pure and chaste marriages, (5) resist covetousness, and (6) ease the ministry's burden
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the encounter of Jesus with the woman of Samaria, perhaps an exemplification of the entire unconverted world, but also symbolic of a church, initially hardened, self-willed and skeptical when called out of the world, but afterwards zealous and energized when enlightened by the truth. As Jesus revealed Himself to her and exposed the disgusting details of her past, so God does the same thing to us when we are called. As the woman had to be drawn away from false concepts of worship, we must be weaned away from poisonous superstitions and false doctrine polluting our worship of God. Only those who attain the Spirit of God within their inner beings will worship God in spirit and in truth. Spiritual sacrifices include humility, fidelity, and service. As the woman had to be diverted from using the living water for selfish purposes, we must learn to derive satisfaction from serving others, emulating Christ's example of becoming energized by doing the work of God, planting and reaping the spiritual harvest.
Receive Biblical truth in your inbox—spam-free! This daily newsletter provides a starting point for personal study, and gives valuable insight into the verses that make up the Word of God. See what over 145,000 subscribers are already receiving.