James Beaubelle warns us that Protestant theologians have attempted to skew the logical and scriptural meaning of James 2:12-13, creating an artificial antithesis between mercy and law-keeping, asserting that "the law of liberty" does away with God's Law. Paradoxically, being freed from God's Law makes us abject bond-slaves to sin, while keeping His Laws liberates us from the bondage of sin. Consequently, God's Laws, bringing us to a family relationship to Christ, is equivalent to the law of liberty. When compared to nearly all of mankind's laws, which tend to enslave us in sin, God's Laws steer us away from pain and heartache, transforming us into siblings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. When God's laws and statutes are written on our hearts, we are the most liberated beings, in harmony with His character. We thank our Father in Heaven for the godly teachers that He has provided for our instruction now.
David Grabbe points out the cause-effect relationship between sin and "madness, blindness, and confusion of heart." Sin automatically causes blindness, and blindness begets more sin. Romans 1:18-28 explains that individuals enslave themselves to a reprobate mind by following their perverted desires. God gives those hapless individuals up to their choices, as well as to the deadly consequences of their lusts. As they embark on their deadly downward spiral, God takes His hand off from them, allowing them to experience the consequences. As we make the choice to follow any course which is opposed to God's purpose(defined Scripturally as Mammon), our spiritual understanding begins to darken until we become blissfully unaware of danger. The Scriptures plainly show us areas of potential blindness, as with the warning that he who hates is brother is blind (I John 2:1) or with the connection between blindness and lacking faith, self-control, perseverance and other godly character traits (II Peter 1:5-9). God wants us to overcome blindness, but we must make the choice to obey Him and eschew sin before He restores our spiritual visual acuity.
John Ritenbaugh, explaining that an individual's worldview is shaped by his past experiences, family values, and the culture into which he were born, warns us that a person's worldview influences every decision he makes. If we do not give God the prominent position in our worldview, we will make self-destructive choices, as did our original parents, Adam and Eve. Our worldview is volatile, subject to change as we are drawn away by the enticements of Satan, the world, and our powerful carnal nature. If God's people do not nourish God's gift of His Holy Spirit by meditating on His Word and responding to its prompts to morality and character, Satan will come to control our worldview through his tools of mainstream media, pop culture, and humanistic education—all of which are now the basic determinants of the worldview of the godless. God admonishes His called-out ones to nourish and augment the "God factor" in our worldview, lest we be drawn away to spiritual death.
Martin Collins, examining the life of Gideon in Judges 7 and 8, highlights three principles regarding faith: (1) God tests our faith, (2) God encourages our faith, and (3) God honors our faith. To be sure, faith that is untested is not faith at all. God wants to see whether our faith is real or counterfeit. As we exercise our faith, God strengthens it, making it reflex-like. In the endeavor of conquering the Midianites, God clearly demonstrated to Gideon, through His systematically whittling his army from 30,000 to 10,000 to 300, that His providence, and not Gideon's might, would bring the victory. The greater church of God could profit from the knowledge that size, budget, or charismatic leadership has little to do with the impact of the Gospel. Like many of us, Gideon required many assurances from God to realize that He would accompany him in battle. Once Gideon became convinced that God would do what He said He would, his faith and boldness increased exponentially. The stratagem with the pitchers, torches, and the shout, "the sword of the Lord," upended the vastly larger enemy forces which Gideon routed with ease. As God gave Gideon the victory, He also gave Gideon some new tests to his newly acquired leadership, some of which Gideon passed with flying colors, such as his diplomacy with the Ephraimites. He also rightly refused the title of king, reminding Israel that the Lord was their real king. Gideon faltered somewhat in his final years, assuming the lifestyle of royalty, presumptuously fashioning the spoils of victory into an ephod, thereby unwittingly encouraging Israel to return to her idolatrous ways. What the Midianites could not accomplish by swords, Satan accomplished by earrings.
Martin Collins, reminding us that God has designed the human condition to be governed by a series of life-or-death choices, focuses on the life-choices of Gideon as a source of encouragement to us all. Gideon, whom the writer of the Book of Hebrews included in the "Faith Chapter," began his life as a coward, became a conqueror, and ended a compromiser, all the while needing continuous assurances from God to bolster his flagging faith. Gideon wondered 1.) whether God really cared about him, 2.) whether God knew what He was doing, 3.) whether God would take care of him and 4.) whether God would keep His promises. To this anxiety-laden man, God demonstrated His faithfulness and forbearance, in stark contrast to Gideon's continuous tests and childish demands, disturbing traits that some of us also display. We must learn that God always keeps His promises and cares for us so much that He is willing to chasten us to bring us to life-saving repentance. As His workmanship, we receive God's personal attention, guiding us through the baby steps needed as He strengthens our wobbly faith, giving us increasingly more abilities as the scope of our tasks increases. As God answered all four of Gideon's questions in the affirmative, He will do the same for those who are going through faith-testing trials. As God incrementally built Gideon's faith, allowing him to prove it privately before he would take a public stand, God will do the same for us, knowing that our frame is weak and frail, totally helpless without the power of His Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that human carnality keeps humanity separated from God, warns us not to trivialize carnal nature, but consider it a sure generator of death. Yielding to any carnal thought is potentially as dangerous as committing murder and, if not avoided beforehand or repented of afterwards, places us on a trajectory into the Lake of fire. God, having no competitive teacher, forearmed Adam and Eve against Satan's wiles, but they willingly yielded to their own carnal lusts which were in sync with Satan's subtle suggestions. Sinning increasingly hides God's purposes from the sinner. When God calls us, placing His Holy Spirit in us, He gives us a measure of added protection that our original parents did not have, infusing us with a desire and ability to overcome our carnal nature, if we choose to so by obedience to Him. Carnality at its core is self-centeredness, pride, and greed. God's gift of faith—one aspect of His Holy Spirit—bequeaths to us the desire and the power to control and subdue our carnal nature. The daunting mystery that confounded Nicodemus, insight into God's plan and purpose, grows crystal clear if we use God's gifts to soften the hardness of our heart. Most of humanity demonstrates total ignorance of God's purpose and plan. God's called-out ones have the privilege to understand both, but must be willing to swim upstream against a powerful current of unbelievers to whom they will appear as oddballs and fools. God purposed this seemingly untenable condition so He could systematically test the genuineness of our faith. God's mysteries have been in plain sight from the beginning of time, but carnality has obscured them from mankind. Though we carry our carnal nature with us continually, we cannot allow its tentacles to strangle us, separating us from God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reminding us that Americans, whose country was founded on the principle of freedom, are fiercely protective of their rights, narcissistically claiming freedom means to do, go, say, or think whatever they want, often selfishly insisting on material acquisitions (fulfilling freedom from want) which are not rights at all. The common denominator in western culture seems to be self-determination and the freedom to determine one's destiny. God grants His called-out ones self-determination, free moral agency and true freedom under the protective blessing of His Law. Any freedom to choose must be accompanied by a set of standards against which choices are made. The people of the world do not have this freedom because they are held captive by their own lusts, the lures of this world, and the current ruler of this world, Satan. Goethe lamented that none are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free. If freedom is not anchored in God's Law, it is not freedom at all, but abject bondage to sin. True freedom only occurs when one has a relationship with God, the One who did all the heavy lifting in our liberation from sin. Truly converted people incrementally act more like God and less like men. If we sow spiritually, we will reap spiritually; if we sow carnally, we will reap carnally. License is not a synonym for liberty or freedom, but instead equates to bondage to lusts and the captivity to sin. The dark underbelly of freedom alerts us that freedom apart from God's Law and a relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ is bondage to sin and death.
John Ritenbaugh, observing that we make choices every day of our lives, cautions that though a choice be large or small, everything matters. Sadly, we make most choices with very little thought The miscalculation based on the fear of famine prompted Abraham to go to Egypt, though God did not intend for him to take that course. Abraham, at this juncture, having a crisis of faith, did not trust God to take care of his family's physical needs. The episode involving his half-lie to Pharaoh lost Abraham considerable ground. Any self-seeking distrust may cost years of spiritual maturity or character. Even though we may have botched our lives and opportunities, we can, through repentance, like the Prodigal Son, be restored, but we may have to begin from scratch. Why risk this with a careless choice? Abram had to learn that God gives material prosperity to those who are not seeking it. Those who seek riches are destined to fall into a snare. People who seek to be rich are tempted to do all kinds of wrong things to achieve it. Fox-like cunning and wolf-like rapacity and self-centeredness characterize much of the world's business acumen. Abraham reveals his restored faith in his reaction to Lot's presumptuous choice, expressing therein his willingness to yield in a spirit of generosity, expecting God to supply all his needs. The less we strive about our 'rights,' the more our lives will be wrapped in peace. Lot was deceived by his eyes, choosing the watered plains of Jordan, leaving his uncle with the 'less desirable' hill country. Abram gave of himself; Lot took for himself. Abram made his choice by faith; Lot made his choice by sight. Abram became the friend of God; Lot distanced himself from God. Who made the right choice?
David Grabbe reminds us that the Jewish preference for tradition over scriptural substantiation has blinded Israel to truth about Jesus Christ's identity and purpose. As long as tradition does not contradict the word of God, it poses no problem; however, when it goes at cross-purposes with Scripture, problems in understanding arise. In the past, the Church of God has generally taught that Satan is the author of all sin, and that the goat which was allowed to escape on Atonement represents Satan's part in inspiring our sins. It is true that Satan does broadcast attitudes and the whole world is under the influence of his evil mindset. Nevertheless, the choices an individual make are totally his own, even without the additional power of God's Holy Spirit. Satan exerts influence, but the responsibility to choose lies with everyone. We sin when we are drawn away by our own desires. The soul that habitually sins shall die. Whoever has been born of God does not sin as a way of life for His Spirit has, in a sense, reprogrammed him to a different course. Sin entered the world through one man—Adam. The second Adam, Jesus Christ, provided atonement. In his struggle against sin described in Romans 7, Paul did not finger Satan, but blamed sin dwelling in him. The concept of Satan as the azazel goat arises from tradition rather than Scripture, especially from the Book of Enoch, never considered part of the canon.
Mark Schindler, establishing some foundational principles that God does not create chaos and confusion, but has re-established order after Satan's rebellion, points out the danger and folly of presumptuously choosing standards of right and wrong rather than trusting God's judgment. The essential dualities of the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil are also foundational teachings, explaining how mankind got into the predicament it now finds itself. Since the temptation of Eve with the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge , mankind has been plagued with the same temptation throughout history. Throughout the last years of his life, the lesson of the two trees was a hallmark message of Herbert W. Armstrong. This message was not the rumination of a feeble old man, but instead the key to understanding the relationship between us and our Heavenly Father. God is sovereign over His creation all the time—to the smallest detail, having built into His creation abundant failsafe mechanisms mitigating consequences of a possible failure, somewhat analogous to the hold-down bar of a power lawnmower, preventing accidental finger-severing. God, in His sovereignty, has not failed. The free-will He has allowed mankind has led to some tragic consequences or disruptions, but none of these are outside of His control. God's way never requires a fail-safe because God is never wrong. As God's called-out ones, we must trust the sovereignty of our Heavenly Father, surrendering exclusively to His will, as did our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ. If we keep the law of God, provided by the love of God, we will receive the life of God.
David Grabbe, unraveling several apparently contradictory scriptures, exposes a fundamental flaw in western thinking—namely the binary (that is, either-or) thinking that leads us to construct false dilemmas. Perhaps the best example of this is the one delineated by Protestant theologians who conceptualize law and grace at the opposite sides of a continuum. They cannot imagine how God's sovereignty and man's free moral agency can co-exist. God is benevolent, but He is also severe. God is not waiting to smash us, but neither is He indulgent. If we acknowledge God as our sovereign, it stands to reason that we are duty bound to follow what He has said. As we walk in His grace, we begin to develop wisdom as to what is godly behavior and what is not. God's grace never undermines His sovereignty. Our daily walk with God should lead us to make choices resulting in wisdom and discernment.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that there is a malaise of hopelessness, anxiety, and dread permeating this nation like never before, systematically explains: (1) how we arrived at this crisis, (2) why God has ordained that we live in these conditions, (3) how bad choices by the trillions eroded the moral foundation of our culture, and (4) why we need these horrific times to learn the consequences of these foolish decisions in order to ensure that nothing like this happens ever happens again. Modern Israel resembles the Prodigal Son who squandered the inheritance bequeathed to Father Abraham's descendants. The founders of this nation, though they were not true Christians, nevertheless placed many biblical principles in the Constitution, and were for the most part far more moral and God-fearing than the despicable crop of public servants holding office today. Approximately 80 years ago, our leaders began turning their backs on Constitutional principles as well as any respect or reverence for God and His laws. Proverbs 29:18 teaches us that when there is no revelation (from God's communication and guidance) people will run wild, casting off moral restraint, rejecting all of God's counsel, preferring to elevate so-called science, fashioned on the deleterious foolish theory of evolution. Humanism attempts to elevate science over God's Law. Where there is ignorance of God's word, crime and sin run wild. Harvard, an institution founded as a Puritan Theological seminary, is now a hotbed of godless humanism, elevating carnal, perverted human reasoning over God's law. Moral foundations are on the verge of destruction; internal stability is already moribund. We need to place our entire faith in God, not allowing the pervasive negativism of this world's culture to poison us as Job became dispirited by the counsel of his friends. Realizing that none of us are guaranteed passage to a place of safety, we should be willing, if required, to glorify God by martyrdom.
Mark Schindler: As we watch the self-centered insanity growing in a world held captive by the perverted mind of Satan, we perceive that God has filled—and continues to fill—its positions ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the 1953 feature-length motion picture starring Alan Ladd as Shane, an enigmatic gunslinger who rides into a small Wyoming town, in hoping of settling down and escaping his past. Soon, he is forced to take sides in a land war between cattlemen who want an open range and homesteaders, who want to fence in the land to grow crops and feed livestock. In one moving scene, Shane, who has been hired by one of the homesteaders, gives a lengthy soliloquy on integrity to the homesteader's son Joey, who has bonded to him as a role model, , cautioning him that a man can never escape his past, but must carry it with him perpetually. If the past is good, the present can't hurt you, and if the past is bad, it will haunt you. In Wordsworth's words, "The child is the father of the man." If one's life is based on a consistent framework of principles, he will have a harmonious and productive life. Job's righteous character was formed early in life; God did not punish Job for his faulty character, but refined Job, transforming fragile human righteousness into durable godly righteousness. Like Job, we are God's children, given trials to refine our integrity to be just like His.
The common belief among Christians—and other religions have similar depictions of the afterlife—is that one's immortal soul goes either to heaven or hell after death. David Grabbe argues that this ignores the biblical concept of the second death, an event beyond physical death that not only undermines the traditional heaven-hell and immortal soul doctrines, but also highlights God's perfect sense of justice.
John Ritenbaugh, asking the questions "Who are we?" and "Where do we fit in?" examines the process of sanctification, comprising the state we are in because of God's action, a continuous process. The end result is that we will possess absolute holiness in every aspect of our life. Sanctification began beyond our control, and is an honor bestowed on a few out of billions, indicating that we are special to the Giver—an honor so valuable we do not want to lose out, motivating us to keep His laws, statutes, and judgments. Our calling, attended with spiritual gifts, could make us susceptible to the same dangerous pride Satan succumbed to if we do not exercise extreme caution. Satan knew he was gifted, but let his self-centered goals eclipse God's purpose for him. To Satan, God was the bad guy, thwarting his plans. God has placed us all in the body where it has pleased Him. We dare not imitate Satan by not appreciating where God has placed us. In order to benefit from the motivating power of the treasure, we must develop a single-fixed vision or goal, maintaining clear focus as if we were watching the movement of a ball in a team sport. We must exercise care about how we perceive ourselves against the backdrop of the world, constructing a worldview which takes in the preciousness of our calling. Seven truths which should be components of our world view are: (1) The church was planned before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:3-6); (2) The church cannot be randomly joined; one must be called (John 6:44); (3) The Church is the Body of Christ (Ephesians 2:19-21); (4) Through the spirit of adoption, we become members of God's family (Romans 8:14-20); (5) Mankind has an impulse to worship; the correct way must be revealed; (6) The nation of Israel is a worldly institution; the Church is the Israel of God; and (7) God considers the Church as His treasure, giving His personal protection in order not to lose us. Our worldview should be a process of clarifying this treasure.
Ecclesiastes 7:15 contains a saying that does not ring quite true in the Christian ear. In this way, it is a paradox, an inconsistency, something contrary to what is considered normal. John Ritenbaugh establishes the foundation for a comprehensive understanding of Solomon's intent, showing that he is cautioning us to consider carefully how we react to such paradoxes in life.
Charles Whitaker, citing British philosopher Arnold Toynbee's warning that when a civilization responds to a challenge successfully, it survives, and when it does not, it commits suicide, proclaims that because America, over the last several decades, has not responded to the challenge, the die is cast for its destruction. History could be characterized as "a panoply of responses" from forceful, extreme, wimpy, or Band-Aid and non-existent. King David, because of his botched-up, indulgent, child-rearing practices, failing to deal with pride, rebellion, and self-centeredness of his offspring, brought havoc upon the nation of Israel. Responses on the macro or national level must begin on the micro or family level; there cannot be national governance unless there is first successful individual governance. In the 1930's, the comic book and the movie cartoon arrived on the American scene, exploring and traversing the boundaries of decency. Bimbo's Initiation is an example of this low level of decency. Conservative religious circles responded to the deterioration of moral values, forcing the comic book industry to police itself, more with the motivation of protecting their profits than from any twinge of conscience. In 1954, nevertheless, the descent into the cesspool was temporarily averted, at least for a couple of decades, when crime was punished instead of glorified, when policemen were respected instead of vilified, when females were drawn realistically, and sexual perversion was abnormal rather than normal as it is portrayed today by liberal progressive humanists. Since 1971, the comic industry has destroyed its own code, and smut and filth is the new normal. We have no bold Phineases today who are unafraid of political correctness. The die has been cast for morally bankrupt America (and modern Israel as a whole). As God's called-out ones, we must draw close to our God as our nation reaps the harvest of its crop of sin and iniquity.
David Maas, cuing in on Paul's declaration of a debt he owed to Greek and Barbarian, to both the Hebraistic Jewish world view and the Hellenistic world view, observing that God has chosen to canonize the Scripture in both Hebrew and Greek, contends that these major two dominant forces in western culture were meant to be symbiotic partners, like husband and wife, each representing only a partial, incomplete aspect of God's character. As maturing Christians, called to judge in God's coming Kingdom, we are called to lay aside the childlike tendency to over-correct, violently and impulsively moving from one ditch to the other. As the mirisms in Ecclesiastes 3 and the comparison examples in Ecclesiastes 7 were meant to be contraries rather than contradictories, we must metaphorically go beyond the simple on-off switch and canoe paddle, devices that served us well when we were first called. But as we mature, we must adopt the steering wheel and the rheostat mechanism, allowing degrees of brightness and intensity, allowing for variables of time, place, and circumstance, which are different for each of us. The only time a jagged spike is desirable is when the line on the electrocardiogram goes flat and we are compelled to use a defibrillator to shock it into activity. In our trials and our spiritual gifts, one size does not fit all, and our overcoming skills, our ability to judge, and especially our ability to grow spiritually and bear fruit should reflect these variables. Whether we are talking about diabetic blood sugar spikes or the spike of malfunctioning heartbeat on an electro-cardiogram, or most importantly, the metaphorical spikes in our spiritual journey, we must seek God's spiritual pace maker (Hebrews 8:10) a balance mechanism for regulating these dangerous fluctuations.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing on Deuteronomy 30:15-20, maintains that our worldview must include the value of our calling, determining the kinds of choices we make to overcome and pursue our spiritual journey. We alone can determine the value of that calling. The primary responsibility of the church is to continue what Jesus started in His ministry. We have to carry on , doing what the disciples did, walking the walk Jesus had given to them. The church has the responsibility to preach the Gospel to the world and to magnify and sharpen the teachings of Christ to the called-out ones, showing them the Way. Every member of the body of Christ has priestly responsibilities, not hiding our witness under a bushel. We don't hide God's way from others, keeping God's Commandments. We have all been given different, specific responsibilities. Every single one of us has been gifted for the equipping of the saints. Ministry is a synonym for service pertaining to equipping and teaching. We don't want to go beyond the gifts that have been given to us, but must use them with humility,employing them to edify the body. The Church is a teaching institution preaching the Gospel to the World. Each member of the body has been gifted by Christ. Human reaction to one another is deeply wired in our brain, compelling us to "follow the crowd" The human mind has an overpowering compulsion to follow what everybody else does. We need to be thinking people, realizing that everything matters: it is not a walk in the park. Satan in the most influential entity aligned against us, using the world and its systems as his tool. Government and educational institutions have been formed to deceptively use language to create and manipulate attitudes have made us vulnerable to Satanic, worldly influences, twisting and influencing our minds. The state-controlled media (that is, television, radio, and newspapers) are owned by the same groups of sinister, clandestine elite progressives, whose goal is collective manipulation of the sheep-like masses. We are
John Ritenbaugh, defining a worldview as a snapshot of what our mind sees, based upon our presuppositions, determining what we consider important, maintains that a Christian worldview must contain some core concepts, such as the value or importance of our calling into the church, the reality of God, His Laws and doctrines. Our worldview determines how we spend our time all the time. Because of God's calling, we are committed to making major choices, determining our particular niche in the nature of the universe. We must choose whether God or the world will dominate. It has to be a voluntary response to choose God. Nobody can make that choice for us. If we treasure our calling, we will automatically expend effort to protect and increase it. God and mammon are both depicted as slaveholders, demanding unconditional loyalty. The church is not a passing phenomenon but has been in God's mind for over 6,000 years, and we are privileged to be a part of it. Each member is individually selected, intended for a very specific purpose. We became a part of God's focus once Jesus and the apostles laid the foundation of the Church. We have been added to this foundation made possible through the gift of God's Holy Spirit. Our calling is a priceless treasure. God not only owns us; He is going to marry us. As the Israel of God, we have been called into a marriage covenant. The Church has been planned from the beginning, an entity in which we cannot randomly join, metaphorically depicted as the body of Christ, consisting of members adopted as a part of God's family. The Church's identity, the Israel of God must be revealed to us individually. This worldview should be priceless to us.
Bill Onisick, warning us that we are continually in danger of being deceived by our hearts and carnal nature, a nature which distracts us from following God, though we go through the motions, cautions us to not practice hypocrisy before Almighty God. Most have deluded themselves into thinking their ways are pure and acceptable to God, when in reality their hearts are not with God at all, but have been distracted by the flood of Satan's misinformation, subtly instilled through cultural transference, packaging Satan's approaches in food, art, clothing, customs, education, music, movies, sports, philosophy, and entertainment of the world in which we live—the transmission of ideas, meanings, values, and shared norms. Global cultural transference had its origin with Alexander the Great, a student of Aristotle. Alexander aspired to conquer the world by homogenizing the language, culture, and philosophy of the Western world, subjecting it to Greek or Hellenistic thought, squashing local customs and replacing them with the cosmopolitan outlook of the Hellenistic mindset. From Spain to India, the known world became Hellenized, creating a virtual global cosmopolitan city, embracing humanistic rather than Divine orientation, homogenizing art, music, and cuisines of the global community. Ironically, the Hellenistic bent on creating a global community advanced the spread of God's word since the standard Greek language became the medium for transmitting the New Testament and the translated Old Testament throughout the world. The Pharisees exemplify the hypocritical deluded mindset, setting themselves in a spirit of pride above all other people, a mindset of which members of the end-time church are not immune. We are potentially hypocritical and evil as we allow ourselves to become deluded by Satan's flood of misinformation. God is concerned with our thoughts and our beliefs, asking us to concentrate on the weightier matters of the law.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the entire world is under the sway of Satan the devil (I John 5:19, Revelation 12:9, Ephesians 2:1-3), warns us to analyze and evaluate everything that enters our minds from the contaminated, mendacious media sources, media sources primarily promoting a leftist, secular humanist agenda, bent on pumping a deluge of lies into our helpless nervous systems, impacting our belief system, throwing us into a state of utter confusion. Recently, the impact of worldwide media has painted the rocket-firing Hamas as helpless victims and the Israeli's as Nazi exterminators. Ironically, both the Arabs and Jews are Semite peoples, but the collective leftist media wants to foment anti-Semitism in Western Israelitish nations. Satan hates God's chosen people and will do everything he can to destroy both Israel and the Israel of God. In a hateful world, thoroughly dominated with Satan's mindset, where the United Nations (in a vote of 33 to 1) condemned Zionism as equivalent to Nazism, God's called ones have a responsibility to analyze and evaluate everything through the sieve of God's Holy Scriptures, which the world we currently live in abhors with vehemence. We accept most of our opinions, prejudices, and beliefs unconsciously just as we acquire our dialects; we must scrutinize our own beliefs through the standards and principles of God's Holy Scriptures, making sure they are not contaminated and marinated with Satan's diabolical deception. God's people will be known for their fear of lying motivated by their fear of God.
Bill Onisick, asserting that most people are not aware of the motivations that drive their behavior, questions if we are cognizant of our own motivations, and if we are analyzing the activation, persistence, and intensity of them. Psychologists have concluded that fear and pleasure are the primary drivers. Our relationship with God begins in fear, but becomes agape love (displacing our carnal "get" attitude) as we reciprocate His love out to others. As God's called-out ones, we are preparing to become the Bride of Jesus Christ. Agape is the bond of perfection liberating us from a selfish fear to a selfless love, reflecting our Heavenly Father's example of sacrificial giving.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing the Elements of Judgment series by focusing on Deuteronomy 32:1-4, a passage which characterizes all of God's ways as exemplifying justice, challenges us] to emulate the ways of God, demonstrating justice in our lives, thoughts, words, and deeds, preparing to judge in God's Kingdom. God does not operate with the "one size fits all" system; each circumstance we encounter is somewhat unique. Though there are two Great Laws (love toward God and love for our fellow man), not all laws below these are on the same level; none of God's Laws are 'done away.' In every situation, we need to strive to hit the mark, but a distinction must be made between unintentional (done in ignorance) or deliberative. Intentional sins conducted with bravado erode the respect for God, inviting the death penalty, while unintentional sins call for a measure of mercy and sometimes a measure of damage control. Sin does not always occur in a straight-forward manner with everyone fully involved to be able to discern. To whom much has given, much will be required; the ruler is more culpable than the ordinary citizen. Everybody is not equally guilty. Murder and manslaughter is not equivalent. Criminal negligence is not the same as a normal accident; circumstances alter judgments. On the basis of a deliberative sin on the part of King David (taking a military census), Israel lost 70,000 people in one day. God's judgment was always sternest on the High Priest, and then the ruler, and then on the head of the family. Teachers, especially hypocritical teachers who do not practice what they preach, receive a far sterner judgment than their students or disciples. We are all responsible for what we hear and how we act upon it. Judgment is measured against the capacities of knowing the truth and acting upon it. Judging is a difficult process of measuring against the Word of Truth; sin does not operate in a straight-forward manner, but follows serpentine routes requiring much discernment.
John Ritenbaugh, rehearsing one of the major factors which divided the Worldwide Church of God, the denigrating of all aspects of God's law, averring that belief in Christ trumps everything, claims that some major elements of righteous judgment were cavalierly tossed out the window. Such a careless approach led to the rejection of the Sabbath, wholesale embracing of Pagan holidays, discarding tithing, eating unclean meats, circumcision and other, what they considered to be purely ceremonial aspects of the law. Like the days of the Judges, the last days of the WCG demonstrated a dearth of righteous judgment. As with the first century church, God expects us to think wisely within the parameters of His Law, coming into alignment with His Word. Without applying righteous judgment, a person without God's Spirit might be inclined to discard the Sabbath, along with the dietary and sacrificial laws. The New Covenant also requires that we live by every word of God; the Law was not done away. Without God's Law, we cannot judge righteously. One should never carelessly assume that any law of God is done away, but we should also consider that not every law has the same level of seriousness and does not warrant the same level of judgment, as illustrated by the difference between willful sin and sin committed out of weakness. The weightier matters of the law (love and mercy) are more important than other aspects of the law, including faith and sacrifice. We need to develop righteous judgment to keep proportion as we make decisions about applying God's Law.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the recent untimely death of Amanda Allen , focuses on some lyrics of a popular song recorded in 1975 by Matt Monro, titled "Yesterday When I Was Young." Sadly, wisdom is not a trait valued or acquired by youth, but takes second place to strength, beauty, or fun. We get too soon old and too late smart. Everything we do, eat, or think about matters, impacting on our total quality of life. There is still time to seek and dedicate our lives to God for our eternal profit and satisfaction.
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, reiterating that, although Ecclesiastes contains no direct prophecies, it does not present Christ as Savior, it contains no "thus saith the Lord" commands, and it makes no mention of Satan, nevertheless it does deals with quality of life issues for those who have been called, emphasizing responsibility and choice in this perplexing labyrinth of life, continually fearing God and respecting Him. We must hear God with focused attention, following through on purposeful obedience. Life is meaningless to those uncalled under the sun, but not meaningless to those called by God, who focus their lives over the sun. We are implored to be swift to hear and slow to speak when we are in His presence—which is ALL the time. When we forget, we drift into careless hypocrisy and disrespect for God. We must be purposefully selective, riveted on God's Words, but screening out the distractions of the world. Our highest responsibility is to sustain our faith by hearing God's Word, and diligently following through with obedience.
The content of Ecclesiastes 4 is a series of comparisons based in the everyday life of a society—from the gulf between the powerful and those they oppress to the various attitudes that people bring to their daily work. John Ritenbaugh explains that Solomon provides these comparisons to indicate the choices we should make to live better lives in alignment with God, even in an "under the sun" world.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the multiple nuances of the Hebrew words translated into the English word "wisdom," suggests that an acquired skill for living represents the common denominator in all of these definitions. Godly wisdom is only attained with a high degree of training. Carnal wisdom, through the labyrinth of life, has practical value even without a spiritual context, but living by faith requires that we trust and obey God in those areas where we do not have all the facts. Faith is a spiritual work. Wisdom is not hidden and is readily available if we retain God in our thoughts. Wisdom and the fear of the Lord are inextricably bound together. Both wisdom and foolishness produce fruit according to their nature. Wisdom produces life; foolishness produces death. We reap what we sow. If we repent of our sins, and cry out for understanding, we will receive knowledge, discernment, and God's Holy Spirit. Wisdom must be continually sought after. God wants us to use wisdom to change ourselves, humbly replacing our perspective with God's perspective. Only God gives wisdom. God gives wisdom as a component of His grace to His family, far more valuable than gemstones. Godly wisdom, incompatible with pride and arrogance, cannot be mined out of the earth, and it is more valuable than anything so mined, transferable through the Millennium into eternal life. The fear of the Lord is the source of spiritual wisdom.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the book of Ecclesiastes, a document which provides an overview of the consequences of life's frustrating activities, gives us directions for making it through the labyrinth of life. This treatise prepares us with helpful, practical, and profitable approaches, preparing us for the Kingdom of God. Some approaches toward life are worthless while others are more profitable. God has purposely subjected nature and life to vanity and frustration, a curse resulting from Adam's sin. We are all caught in this curse. If we want things to work out properly, we not only have to keep the commandments, but we have to seek God to assimilate His nature within us. Until God Himself is here directing things through Jesus Christ, the problems of this world will not be corrected. Using godly wisdom helps us to deal with our circumstances, but it will not change the world. The work God has given us to do will give us pleasure and a satisfying sense of accomplishment. Work is a major factor in our lives, consisting of physical or mental activity directed toward the accomplishment of something. We must keep in mind that everything we do matters. God has been purposefully and energetically working for all eternity toward a goal, setting a pattern for all of us. We are created and designed to do good works, not to earn salvation, but instead to emulate the way of life lived by our Heavenly Father. Our God is a goal-setter, not only for Himself, but for us. God does the creating; God distributes the gifts; God distributes the responsibilities. The command to tend preceded Adam and Eve's sin; work was not the curse. Ultimately, we will be judged according to our work.
Ecclesiastes is perhaps the most practical, as well as profitable, book in the Old Testament, providing overviews of life-guiding advice, essentially a roadmap through the labyrinth, which constitutes the Christian's life journey. Ecclesiastes could be considered the core of biblical wisdom literature. The teacher's conclusions in Ecclesiastes are deliberately blunt. In the labyrinth journey, we are compelled to live by faith, not having all the facts at our disposal. Ecclesiastes is a practical guide in "right now" applications rather than anticipating the future. God knows where He is taking our lives; we do not have a clear picture where God is taking us. We need to develop a trust to submit to Him in order that He can prepare us for our destiny. Ecclesiastes was given to us to expose the world's false values and philosophies which have the tendency to throw God's people off balance. Thankfully, God does not leave our creation up to us or to chance. Godly wisdom accrues from practical experience (dodging obstacles and cul-de-sacs of the world) stemming from a relationship with God. Ecclesiastes gives practical advice for people living in a corrupt world trying to live a godly life, providing us helpful or useful cautions and warning as to what to avoid. Anything that is vanity is nothing compared to the permanence of God's Kingdom. God intends for His people that life should be profitable. In order to achieve that profitable life, we should be looking over the sun for a converted perspective. God is forcing us to make a choice between His profitable way (fearing Him and keeping His commandments) or the common way of mankind.
Among the Old Testament's books of wisdom, Ecclesiastes stands as one seemingly out of place: full of frustration, blunt, and even a little hopeless. However, since God is its ultimate Author, its themes are realistic and necessary for us to grasp. With this article, John Ritenbaugh begins an extended series on Ecclesiastes and its trove of deep understanding.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Romans 11:33-35, indicates that God is unparalleled in leadership, jurisdiction, and wisdom. We are not individually sovereign over much, but we are commanded to give ourselves over completely to God's sovereignty. If we do this, we will reap unfathomable blessings. We should develop a fear of God, which acts as a magnet to draw us toward Him. We discover that our pride gradually begins to disappear, displaced by humility. Knowledge of God (understanding and wisdom) is progressive; it does not happen all at once. As occurred to Isaiah, Job, and Daniel, we will feel a sense of our total unworthiness in the light of God's splendor when we come to see God. As we develop a relationship with Him, we begin to make better choices, yielding to His correction. Irreverence of God invariably promotes pride; knowing God promotes submission and humility. If we yield to God's sovereignty, we choose life and will develop the ability to make lifesaving, though admittedly difficult, choices. Then, only God's standard will be acceptable to us. Implicit obedience (as is displayed by the writer of Psalm 119:35-48, 132-133) will lead to greater spiritual growth. Murmuring and complaining appear to be an inborn trait of Israelites, as seen in the insatiable drive toward entitlements we witnessed in the recent presidential election. As God's called-out ones, we need to realize that we are in His view at all times, and that He is able to protect us and safeguard us. Consequently, we need to refrain from complaining, realizing that God is justified in everything He does or allows. God is the Potter; we are the clay. God intends that we devote our lives to seeking Him. As we do so, He will produce quality fruit in us.
Bill Onisick: In Part One, we saw that true Christians must learn to control the momentary gap between stimulus and response. We need to recognize its existence and learn to utilize this time properly. ...
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on how people react to impending economic scarcities, observes that moving into the present and living expediency replaces focusing on the future. If we allow expediency to become the dominant factor in our decision-making, we will ignore the future and our responsibilities to follow God's health laws. America's tampering with GMO and hybridization has caused our citizenry to become obese, succumbing to degenerative diseases. Today, we do not face an immediate lack of food. But we definitely face a situation where the only food we can acquire does not function in the way God designed it to function. In fact, many foods today destroy, rather than create, health and well-being. Given the widespread nature of today's food problem, our wisest—and in fact our only effective—choice is to develop a close relationship with God in order to ask Him to cleanse and purify the foods we eat.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Before the political left hijacked the term "choice," its philosophical meaning was "an individual's freedom to determine the moral course of his own life." This is, of course, what theologians and philosophers call "free moral agency" or "free will." ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the recent observation of Independence Day, suggests that this event should furnish us with an opportunity to reflect on the philosophies and ideas of the Founding Fathers, including their beliefs about human nature. The Founding Fathers shared the belief, for the most part, that human nature was depraved, shaped by the Calvinistic Protestant doctrine of total depravity and Augustine's notion of original sin, positing that all humans are affected by depravity, and that even the good things in our nature are tainted by evil. Because the Founders knew that government consisted of power, they placed checks and balances in order to protect the electorate against tyranny, with varying lengths of tenure for members of the three branches. The Founding Fathers realized that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Unfortunately, the checks and balances that the Founding Fathers had instituted have severely eroded; carnal human nature has taken control. The secular progressives mistakenly believe that human nature is perfectible, guided by the parameters of evolution. Conservatives tend to believe that human nature is evil and that the best anyone can do is control it. The Bible takes a rather dim view of carnal human nature; we struggle against it until our death. Satan, in the Garden of Eden, turned the minds of our parents against God and onto serving ourselves. We absorb sinful attitudes from our parents, siblings, and the world. The spirit in man is receptive to Satan's negative spirit. Our flesh is essentially selfish, making us vulnerable to carnality. We are commanded to fight against self, society, and Satan through the power of God's Holy Spirit, submitting ourselves as a sacrifice to God, transformed to God's way of life and image, designed to function this way since creation. God cannot create godly character by fiat. Hence, He has given us free moral agency so we can make choices. This factor—the ability to improve or corrupt nature—is controlle
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the writings of the wisest mortal man who ever lived, admonishes us that we must use our faith to follow what God says, acquiring wisdom and understanding with all the energy and resources we have. There is a vital linkage between wisdom and understanding, but the latter comes only through hard work and experience. We have to participate, using effort in order to profit from the experience God gives us. The nexus of wisdom and understanding is just as valuable as striking gold. In the acquisition of wisdom and understanding, one must dig for it and meditate upon it, seeking counsel, and the attaining of the fruit of practical application-skill in living according to God's Word, making us adept at interpreting and processing life's events, grasping the whole pattern of circumstances. Skill in living is supreme; therefore, though it costs all we have, get skill in living.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Deuteronomy 30:19-20, reminds us that we are called to a lifetime of decisions and judgments. We have problems with judging fellow brethren in different groups of the greater Church of God, of which at least three claim to be the only true church. This intemperate judgment may come back to bite the biter in a painful place. Judgments must always be open to new information; a fellow servant never falls on our judgment or estimation of him. It is terribly difficult at times to recognize the tare or to recognize the true wheat. Christ's judgments are made according to what each person has been given. We need to internalize this practice of judging and evaluating, especially regarding our brother or fellow servant. We cannot possibly know the levels of gifting God has bestowed on the other members of God's family. Just because we understand an aspect of spiritual truth does not mean that God has gifted the other member to comprehend it, or vice versa. God gifts each person as it pleases Him. God provides the hearing ear, understanding, and wisdom, both in the physical and spiritual dimensions. Not everybody has ears to hear in both dimensions. Even the converted do not comprehend the full spectrum of parable-centric teaching, often containing multiple layers of meaning. The secret things belong to God; the revealed things become our property on a need-to-know basis, only when we have developed the ability to use the information responsibly, using the mind of Christ. We have been given spiritual gifts to serve the entire congregation as they are needed.
Unless we are employed in a maritime occupation or have a particular interest in sailboats, we probably do not know a great deal about sailing. Using Paul's analogy in Ephesians 4:14, Gary Montgomery teaches a handy nautical maneuver, discussing how the steady, contrary winds of this world's way of life can be overcome by adjusting our sails to make spiritual headway.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing with his exposé of the world's "original sin" doctrine, asserts that it demonstrates the hopelessly deceitful nature of the human heart. God did not create this vile human nature. God gave Adam and Eve a neutral spirit and free moral agency; our parents presumptuously chose the toxic Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, negatively predisposing their offspring to sin. Human nature is the product of mankind's neutral spirit contaminated with Satan's evil prompts. The apostle Paul realized this prompt or force (another law warring in his members Romans 7:23) ravaging and captivating his mental processes. Everyone is individually responsible for sin. The spirit God initially placed within Adam was very good; Satan contaminated man's heart, but encouraged him to blame God. As God calls us, we are to strive to be holy, or to be like God. Conversely, sin is the departure from God's revealed will (commission or omission). God gives us a new heart and the ability to repent; we must respond to God's efforts to change us. It is a life and death matter. We need to cling intimately to God, earnestly seeking God's forgiveness and guidance to continually make the right choices.
John W. Ritenbaugh: What does Scripture say about free-moral agency? Do we have it, or are we human puppets on a string, dancing to the tune of someone else's will? ...
Praying always and watching—or overcoming—affect every facet of a Christian's life. Pat Higgins relates how deeply examining ourselves for flaws and shortcomings, as we do each year before Passover, helps us to accomplish Christ's Luke 21:36 command.
John Ritenbaugh examines the lives of those who signed the Declaration of Independence, observing that they put their treasure and lives in danger, many dying as traitors and outcasts. All of the signers realized that they were lighting the fuse freeing the colonies from a tyrannical enslaving power. We must also be prepared to put our lives, treasure, and honor on the line, pledging everything we are and everything we have, picking up our cross daily, declaring our independence from carnality, evil and bondage to sin. The stakes are higher for us than for the signers of the Declaration of Independence. True godly patriotism cannot be forced; Christ voluntarily and willingly laid down His life for the flock. Godly patriotism is built and sustained by truth which issues forth in love, requiring a lifetime of spiritual struggle and sacrifice, patterned after the substitutionary sacrifice of our Elder Brother. We must say no to self-centeredness, bearing the pain and shame of this lifestyle Christ has given us, continuing to trust Him in all situations, serving our brethren in His behalf. Paradoxically, laying down our lives in the service of God the Father and Christ the Son, suffering hardship, and struggling with our carnal nature, actually makes us free. Ironically, preparing for spiritual struggle and warfare must take place in an environment of peace.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God is a working God, creating holy, righteous, divine character with the goal of recreating man in His image. From the time of our justification until our glorification in God's Kingdom, it almost seems 'downhill,' with sanctification being a difficult road. Works are not only required during sanctification, but they determine to a great degree the magnitude of our ultimate reward. We are God's creation, created for good works. As the clay, we must allow God to mold us into whatever He wants, cooperating with Him until we are fully in the image of His Son, a brand new spiritual creation. Until then, we are commanded to make life-and-death choices, with the emphatic admonition of choosing life or putting on Christ and putting off the old man. We are begotten children of God, protected within the metaphorical womb of the church, until the spiritual birth at our resurrection. We are also metaphorically a work in progress, as in the construction of parts of a building. Ultimately, all individuals who have ever lived will be judged according to the quality of their works; people will be judged according to what they do after they make the covenant with God. Works are required and rewarded.
Keeping the Sabbath definitely marks a person as different. Perhaps the feeling of being odd that comes from Sabbath observance affects young people most of all. Clyde Finklea recounts the story of a friend's momentous choice regarding his keeping of the Sabbath, a decision he had to make all on his own.
David F. Maas: Have you ever tried to jump across the Mississippi River? I have done this several times. ...
Human history proves that individuals quickly absorb the course of the world, losing their innocence and becoming self-centered and deceived like everybody else. John Ritenbaugh contends that Christians must continue to fight against these anti-God attitudes long after their calling to deepen and strengthen their relationships with God.
Charles Whitaker: The Failure of the American Left and Right—and the Responsibility of God’s People Sociologists often point to the decline of the twin institutions of marriage and the family as the fount of most American cultural ills. ...
Humanity finds itself inhabiting a world that is the place of restraint for untold numbers of malevolent spirits, all of whom hate God and desire to destroy mankind. John Ritenbaugh reiterates that our human nature reflects these spirits' attitudes, and the only way to overcome it is through God's creating a new heart in us by His Spirit.
Members of God's church usually come home from the Feast of Tabernacles with renewed spiritual vigor. Yet, we are painfully aware that some fall away each year. John Ritenbaugh shows that we must actively seek God and His righteousness to ensure that we will be around to enjoy next year's Feast.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the statement of Almighty God in Psalm 50 that He needs absolutely nothing from us, proclaims God's absolute sovereignty and power over everything. Surprisingly, mankind refuses to acknowledge God in their daily dealings. Unfortunately, mankind will marshal their 'brilliance' and 'intelligence' in technology to nearly wipe life off the face of the earth. Young people (and all of us) must make a choice in favor of God's will for us. We have the freedom of choice to set our destiny, and must bear the consequences of our choice. The book of Deuteronomy is perhaps the most important guide to Godly choices. God has urged that we choose life (keeping God's commandments), requiring an act of the will as we are confronted with alternatives. Only those who choose to live life as God lives will live eternally. Life consists of a constant stream of choices, leading to the development (or destruction) of character. Young people must choose: (1) the right set of standards to live by, finishing high school, refraining from premarital sex, and staying faithful to our lifelong partners once we become married. (2) To work to develop a continuous relationship with God- the source of eternal life. (3) To develop a strong relationship with their parents, submitting in respectful humility. (4) Their friends wisely. (5) Carefully choose the occupation they will go into, making proactive preparations, choosing according to our talents, and (6)Have the right relationship with the opposite sex.
David C. Grabbe: The subject of God's sovereignty has sparked endless thoughts, conversations, debates, and commentary. Most professing Christians will at least agree that God is sovereign, but there is a wide range of beliefs with regard to just how involved God is in their lives. ...
John Ritenbaugh cautions that most religious-professing people (including many members of the greater church of God) have not used the Word of God as their standard of morality and conduct, but instead are allowing society and culture to shape their attitudes, tolerating the disgusting incremental escalating perversion of moral standards. Sadly, society is rapidly replicating the dangerous downward spiral extant during the time of Noah, a time in which the intent of every thought was to do evil. People (conditioned or reinforced by the mass media) rely upon their deceitful 'hearts' or 'feelings' rather than the Bible to determine moral standards. The House of Joseph (often claiming to be the last bastion of morality) now leads the world in exporting filth to the rest of mankind. Our only safeguard against moral pollution is to ingest (or assimilate) God's word (spiritual manna- or the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth) every day of our lives.
John Ritenbaugh explores the negative symbolism of wine (as representing intoxication and addiction) in Revelation17 and 18. The entire Babylonian system (highly appealing to carnal human nature) has an enslaving addicting, and inebriating quality, producing a pernicious unfaithfulness and Laodicean temperament. As in Solomon's time, each dramatic increase in technology and knowledge does not bring a corresponding improvement in inherently corrupt human nature or morality. In evaluating the influence or teaching skills of Babylon, we must evaluate (1) the character and conduct of the teacher (2) whether the teaching is true, and (3) the kind of fruit it produces. Poisonous weeds cannot produce good fruit. Babylon's (the Great Whore's) anti-God, anti-revelation, man-devised cultural and educational system(the cosmos) is poisoning the entire world. What was crooked from the very beginning cannot be made straight. In order to attain eternal life, we must consciously reject the Babylonian system and consciously conform to God's will.
The new man is a consistent New Testament figure. Charles Whitaker shows that he is one who is reconciled to God and has chosen to collaborate with God in creating a totally new mind—one just like Christ's!
John Ritenbaugh contends that those who believe in the "once saved always saved" doctrine foolishly fail to see that God has a more extensive and creative plan for mankind than merely saving them. One can fail to bring forth fruits of repentance and thus qualify for the Lake of Fire. By denigrating the role of works in repentance and building character, the proponents of the "no effort, no works, love Jesus only" idea ignore the lessons of Scripture and mock God's plan for mankind, suggesting that He requires nothing productive of His contractual partners. Salvation is not unconditional. If we deliberately choose death (Deuteronomy 30:19), rejecting God's covenant, He is not responsible for our breach of contract.
Directing his comments to teenagers and young people, John Ritenbaugh focuses on the epidemic of Adolescent Invincibility Disorder Syndrome, an affliction in which young people foolishly imagine themselves to be invincible and impervious to harm. Young people in the church must realize that not only is God's law no respecter of persons, but also sanctification can be lost. Young people must aim at self-mastery and self-discipline, developing patience, thinking ahead to the consequences of behavior. God's law proscribes death for a young person who curses his parents, and being cut off from God's divine guidance has just as deadly a consequence. Young people need to cultivate early the habit of remembering God, embracing His law as their code of life.
John Ritenbaugh clarifies that, in terms of salvation, grace and works are mutually exclusive (Ephesians 2:8-10), but good works are the result (or the fruits) of God's creative efforts. Grace frees one; works prove that one has been freed. Grace (or the gift of God) enables us to have a clear enlightened perception of God (I Corinthians 2:7-11) and delivers us from the enormity of our sins (Romans 5:15-17), freeing us and gifting us (Romans 12:3-5; I Corinthians 12:4-11) to do works consistent with God's law. Grace (given only to those who believe) frees us in order to keep the law, not to exempt us from keeping it (Romans 3:21-25).
In this message on the subject of planning and God's sovereignty, John Ritenbaugh stresses that we are obliged to respond to God because He has interfered in our lives, causing us to repent, giving us His Holy Spirit, and limiting our options. We should plan our lives to be in sync with God's planning and purposes for our lives. Even though we have the free moral agency to run counter to God's detailed sovereign purposes, we court disaster if we presumptuously or boastfully plan against these purposes. We ought to plan, exercising living faith in God's sovereign control in everything we do (James 4:15) for the glory of God (I Corinthians 10: 31). Belief in God's sovereignty is of little comfort if we don't also believe in His love and wisdom.
In Job 1, Satan accuses God of hedging Job about on every side, saying that if God would let down the hedge, they could see what Job was really made of. This article explains how important God's hedge about us is.
John Ritenbaugh explores several nuances of the term grace, describing a generous, thoughtful action of God, accompanied by love, which accomplishes His will, equipping us with everything we will need to be transformed into the Bride. Even though we, like Jeremiah, may feel timid and underpowered, God is always out in front, providing us with those resources we need to accomplish His purpose. We need to learn to make choices and be subject to the consequences of these choices. Because God is sovereign, only choices made according to His compassionate purpose (as Jonah had to learn) will succeed or be productive.
Having shown that God is involved in world affairs, John Ritenbaugh concludes by showing that God's hand was definitely involved in the scattering of the church. Our reaction needs to be positive: that, if He felt it needed to be done, we should respond by growing and preparing ourselves for His Kingdom.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Deuteronomy 30:15-20, stresses that the choices we make on the day-to-day basis have long-term spiritual consequences. Only the immature think their behaviors will not catch up with them (Numbers 32:23). If we learn to fear and love God, loyalty, faithfulness and commandment keeping will naturally follow. If we love and fear God, taking God into our consciousness with every behavior, we will instinctively haste and depart from evil. Like a physical marriage, our covenant with God is based upon the driving force of love and respect.
Though fasting deprives the physical body of nutrition and strength, a proper, biblical fast adds conviction and depth to the inner, spiritual man.
One aspect of sovereignty that causes some confusion is predestination. John Ritenbaugh explains how God's sovereignty does not remove a person's free moral agency.
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Peter's Pentecost sermon, suggests that the accompanying signs attracted attention, confirmed God's Word through His servants, and provided symbolic meaning to the unseen effects of the Holy Spirit. Both wind and fire have destructive potential, providing threat or negative reinforcement. The positive reinforcement or motivating power of the Holy Spirit consists of God's Word—or the still small voice, preached through His messengers. If we continue undergoing the sanctifying process and exercising righteous judgment, we will not have to worry about the negative reinforcement (the Day of the Lord). We have the choice of falling under God's wrath or calling out to the Savior for protection, yielding to His Holy Spirit, preparing ourselves for His Kingdom.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that nothing takes place in a vacuum for those who are called; moreover "time and chance" no longer apply in the normal sense. Even when we exercise free moral agency, God engineers circumstances and outcomes so that we are virtually forced to make the right decision. Realizing that all things work together for good to those that love God, we must exercise our responsibility to the whole creation and to the body of Christ by improving our relationship with God regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
In many places in Scripture, God promises to guide us along the godly path. Also within the pages of the Bible—our main source of information about spiritual matters—are the details about the way we are to conduct our lives. Mike Ford shows the steps we should take when faced with trials, problems and decisions.
John Ritenbaugh identifies spirit as the most important element in the whole salvation process. Spirit (ruach in Hebrew, pneuma in Greek) can be defined as that invisible, immaterial, internal activating agent which impels or creates. There are varieties of spirit (generated through advertising, cheerleading, or political rallies) motivating people to "go with the flow," conforming to a sheep-like mob psychology. Satan begets or inspires a spirit or mood (Ephesians 2:2; John 8:44) that captivates all of us before our calling, leading us to follow sinful appetites. God's Spirit is vastly different in that 1) it is holy, 2)provides a tap into infinite knowledge, and 3) provides us an interface with the mind, wisdom, and character of God (I Corinthians 2:9).
In many ways, we have been called to a life of avoiding, enduring and overcoming temptation. Martin Collins explains the process of temptation, sin and their products, destruction and death.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2) is responsible for influencing the Zeitgeist (dominant spirit or mindset of the time)pulling us away from God and His commandments. Our heart at the time of conversion is incurably sick (Jeremiah 17:9) incapable of being repaired, but only replaced. God deliberately places His called-out ones in a position of choosing the temporal allurement of the world or eternal life (Matthew 6:24) Guarding our heart (Proverbs 4:23) and setting it upon spiritual treasures (Matthew 6:19-23) will enhance our spiritual security.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God's called-out ones must perpetually walk a razor's edge with the allurement of the world (leading to death) on one side and the love of God (leading to eternal life) on the other. At birth, human nature is relatively neutral, with a slightly stronger pull to the self. Inspired by the prince and power of the air (Ephesians 2:2-3), the prevailing Zeitgesist(the dominant spirit or mindset of the time) pulls the believer away from the love of God (and immortality) to the world (and death). The element which will tip the scale toward following God (there is no quick fix to conversion) is to displace the love for the world with the love for God(a gift from God flowing from His Holy Spirit - Romans 5:5) and setting our hearts on spiritual treasures (Matthew 6:19-20).
John Ritenbaugh defines the world as the aggregate (total, mass) of things seen and temporal, having a powerful magnetic appeal to the carnal mind (or the spirit in man), including entertainment, fame, academic knowledge, material possessions, etc. Because we find ourselves immersed in this world's system (constituting a virtual Trojan Horse within our minds), we must realize we are walking on a razor's edge with the Kingdom of God on one side, and the world with all its sensual magnetic charms on the other side. Our marching orders are to seek the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33) and to walk by faith rather than by sight (II Corinthians 4:18).
In this powerful conclusion of the sin series, John Ritenbaugh warns that, contrary to the syrupy, unctious Protestant teaching of Christianity as a warm fuzzy feeling- a cakewalk into eternal life, true Christianity is a life and death struggle- spiritual warfare against our flesh (Romans 8:7, Galatians 5:17), the world (1John 2:16-17) and a most formidable intelligent spirit being (I Peter 5:8). Using the abundant military metaphors of Paul and Christ, we must prepare ourselves for rigorous, continuous battle (Ephesians 6:11-17) waging a war against these three enemies, enabling us to eat of the tree of (eternal) life (Revelation 2:7).
Have you ever considered what it will be like right after Christ returns? What will you do, as a king, to help and govern the people placed under you? Believe it or not, you are already developing those skills!
John Ritenbaugh demonstrates the relationship of God's will, predestination, and choice (or free moral agency). Using the analogy of a child summoned by a parent to clean up his room, he points out that the dawdling, complaining, and other acts of disobedience are not predestined nor are they part of God's will. Acts 13:48 and Romans 8:29-30 indicate that predestination (an ordained divine appointment) is part of the conversion process. Considering our calling (I Corinthians 1:26-27) as weak, base, and foolish, we need to develop the proper humble recognition of whom and what we are in relation to the Sovereign, making choices based upon the value we place on God's love and His Revelation to us.
Having knowledge of God's law is not a guarantee of spiritual success or growth. Only those motivated to use the law will experience growth and produce fruit. The fear of God is the first element of motivation, ranging from reverential awe to stark terror. Fearing God leads to a determination not to bring shame on God's name or offending and hurting the relationship between God and us. We have to, like Nehemiah, who in his determination not to offend God, developed self control, refusing to conform to the corrupt practices of the world, unlike the procurator Felix, who cowardly capitulated to the tyranny of the majority.
A common mantra, even among Christians, is "You shouldn't judge." Is this a biblical concept? John Ritenbaugh exposes the fallacy of this belief and explains how righteous judgment should be done.
John Ritenbaugh warns that Satan, through subtle doctrinal changes, has attempted to obliterate one major step in the conversion process, namely the sanctification step. Sanctification is the only step which shows (witnesses) on the outside; its effects cannot be hidden. Sanctification is produced by our choosing to do works pleasing to Almighty God. Works are not meant for our salvation, but for our transformation and growing in the knowledge of God. Without transformation, there is no Kingdom to look forward to (Romans 14:10; II Corinthians 5:10; and Revelation 20:13). As with physical exercise, spiritual exercise also mandates: no pain, no gain.
John Ritenbaugh takes issue with the Protestant assumption that justification does away with the law. Justification does not any more "do away" with the law than it does with the edge of the paper. The argument that law-keeping is now voluntary fails to take into account that law keeping has always been voluntary (Deuteronomy 30:15-20) a matter of free moral agency. In Hebrews 10:34 Paul emphatically insisted that justification was a motivation to keep the law. Justification (not a synonym for salvation) brings us into alignment with God's Law, imputing the righteousness of Christ. Justification provides access to God and the means to bring about our sanctification. Justification in no way does away with the law of God.
Even though Joseph was born into a highly dysfunctional family, he nevertheless had a "high batting average" when it came to making the right moral choices, even when the consequences appeared initially to his own detriment. Joseph stayed the course, doing good even when it became a stumbling block with his associates, trusting in the fairness and righteousness of God. His experiences and their impact on his family reveal that God can use people and bring about their repentance without taking away their free moral agency. As a type of Christ, Joseph serves as a model of making right moral choices despite intense opposition.
John Ritenbaugh summarizes the true nature of God in contradistinction to the Trinitarian error: 1) God is not mere essence; both the Father and the Son have separate, substantive bodies. They are one in mind and purpose, just as we can be one with Them. Scripture indicates 2) He has the same body parts as ours. 3) He is located in one place at one time. 4) He moves about from place to place. 5) He becomes informed the same basic ways we do: evaluating, inspecting, and watching. 6) He limits Himself within the purpose of what He is accomplishing, respecting our free moral agency. 7) Having created us in His form and shape, He desires to develop us into His character image, so we can share life with Him on His level.
Taking issue with those who have embraced the widely held notion that God does not have body parts, John Ritenbaugh asserts that just because spirit is invisible to the present physical receptors, much the same as wind or electromagnetic waves (John 3:8), it is nevertheless real - able to be comprehended by spiritual receptors (II Kings 6:17, I John 3:2). The numerous figures of speech describing God's body parts substantiate that God has shape and form and occupies a specific location. Figures of speech always have legitimate grounds of comparison. The term omnipresent, rather than suggesting some ethereal grotesque omnibody, can be explained by being "in union with His spirit" as in John 14:19-20 in which God the Father, Christ, and the Called out ones are depicted to be "in" one another- one unit as analogous to a marriage union when two become one flesh through sharing combined goals, aspirations and a kindred spiritual presence.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that God has commanded the book of Deuteronomy to be reviewed every seven years, at the time of release. Deuteronomy, the reiteration of God's Law given in preparation for entering the Promised Land contains the testimony written in stone by the finger of God, serving as the basis for both justice and mercy. The Book of the Law (Deuteronomy) was placed along side the Tablets of the Law as a perpetual testimony and a witness. Deuteronomy could be considered the New Testament of the Old Testament, serving as an elaborate commentary on the Ten Commandments. Deuteronomy gives vision (a summary) for critical times (the narrow difficult path ahead involving a multitude of choices), preparing us for living (eternally as God lives) in the Promised Land (Kingdom of God).
John Ritenbaugh asserts that to someone who has been called, there is a unique difference in the understanding and thinking processes not available to most of mankind. Without revelation from Almighty God, the heart becomes calloused and insensitive, having an enmity to the truth of God. Our responsibility is to freely choose to follow the revelation He has given us, overcoming the baggage and the doubtful resistance we have absorbed from the world's cultures. Until God removes the blinders from our eyes, we cannot use our free moral agency to develop the character, resisting the flood of deception spewed out by the deceiver.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that we do not have immortality as a birthright (the lie which Satan told Eve), but that God is the sole source, making our relationship with God and God's judgment the most important focus of our life. One common denominator in all four Gospels is that a parallel exists between our lives and what Christ experienced on the earth. As part of Christ's body (I Corinthians 12:14-15), we all experience together what Christ experienced (crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and glorification- Romans 8:17). The death of self (Romans 8:13 and Galatians 3:5) must absolutely precede the resurrection to life (Romans 6:5).
John Ritenbaugh, using Lot's wife as a sobering example warns us that God does not want us to maintain close associations with the world because it almost inevitably leads to compromise with godly standards, jeopardizing the consistency of the Christian witness to God. Much of ancient Israel's (as well as modern day Israel's) problem stemmed from a false sense of security (pride) apathy (from an abundance of food) and a luxurious life of ease (from spending time in self indulgence). Not many of us will be able to stand before the spiritual onslaughts of the world having the pride-filled, overfed, and unconcerned attitude (Psalm 30:6-7) - an attitude causing Lot's wife to love the world and Lot to linger and procrastinate.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that faithfulness on the part of a human being ultimately rests on his trust in God, and if a person is going to be faithful, its because he believes what God says and he is motivated then to have a genuine commitment to righteousness. Such an iron-clad trust motivated the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11. Faith is to spiritual what eyesight is to physical.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the operation of God's government absolutely depends on each person governing himself, never going beyond the boundaries God has given him. Human nature always wants to break free of those boundaries. Through our entire lives, we need to study diligently to find out what our responsibilities are to God and fellow man, developing godly character. Godly character and human nature will be perpetually at war with one another as long as we are in the flesh. All the experiences we go through are preparing us to be a better judge or king. While we are being judged, though we may exercise righteous judgment, we dare not pass judgment nor justify sin in ourselves. Spiritual maturity comes when we accept responsibility for what we are and have done.
A major distinguishing characteristic of mankind is his free moral agency, presenting him with choices and the right to make decisions. We need free moral agency to be transformed into God's image. The volition to do right has to come from the core of our character or nature. Paradoxically, the way to maximum freedom is to yield to God's way of doing things. Unless one has the Spirit of God, he cannot exercise the necessary internal control to be subject to the government of God. Even though the church is not the government of God (John 18:36; I Corinthians 15:50), we need to respect the ministry as well as lay members, being subject to one another (I Corinthians 11:1). The operation of God's government absolutely depends upon each person governing himself, never going beyond the parameters of the authority God has given him.
The church at large has downplayed the fuller dimension of the fear of God by emphasizing awe, respect, or reverence, while ignoring its other dimensions such as fright, dread, or terror. Consequently, many have inadvertently adopted a soft concept of God, disrespecting and showing contempt for God's authority and power. Mistakenly, we transfer or appropriate our fear to human beings, who cannot revoke the penalty of death hanging over us. When Moses and Isaiah recognized God's presence, they became aware of their own vileness in comparison to God's holiness and power. By legitimately fearing God, we lose our human terror, finding sanctuary in God Almighty. Godly fear is a gift given to us as a result of His calling, compelling submission to His purpose and leading to godly knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Matthew 7:13-14, observes that life consists of a series of choices—often a dilemma of a pleasurable choice on one hand, and a daunting difficult choice on the other. It seems as though God Almighty and Jesus Christ invariably want us to make the more difficult choice, insuring seemingly the maximum spiritual growth and character development. Moses took the difficult way, forsaking the adulation of leadership in Egypt, becoming the leader of a rag-tag group of disgruntled slaves. Our daily choices (small and large) are based upon the same principle. Sometimes our choices are quite costly, putting our careers and opportunities on the line in order to follow God. Some of the choices we make consist of discerning true ministers from false ministers and discerning the fruits of false religion. We need to develop and maintain an intense love for the truth, by faith developing vision and foresight of future consequences. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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