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, providing some startling statistics showing the wastefulness of Americans, who discard nearly a third of the food they produce annually, states that the western world, and America particularly, is clueless as to what real famine is. Truly, voluntary fasting is not a twin of famine, but it provides an opportunity for God's called-out ones to afflict themselves, to forcefully bring their carnal appetites under subjection, creating the milieu of humble, contemplative reflection concerning the Source of physical and spiritual blessings. Fasting and affliction are always in tandem, producing the humble mindset to reciprocate a special relationship with God Almighty. God has historically used famine as one of the tools to get the Israelites' attention when they violated the terms of the Covenant with Him, forsaking His holy law . We should know that all curses are the result of sin, but if we genuinely repent, God will lift the affliction. God knows the difference between sincere and hypocritical repentance. If we do not want famine, then we should fast with the pure motive of restoring our covenant relationship with God. Because Adam and Eve could not discipline themselves to fast from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, their offspring have been cursed with mortality to this day. As we fast, God draws us closer to Him, just as He sustained Moses during his three nearly consecutive forty-day fasts. Fasting demonstrates obedience to God and expresses self-control, mirroring the character of God, who is always in control. We demonstrate the same desire to obey God when we "fast" from unclean meats. If we fast with a double mind, going through the motions but continuing to treat our fellows shabbily, we are not fasting, but simply going hungry. Fasting merely to get something for ourselves leads to disaster, but if we humble ourselves, repenting of our sins, we reap the benefits from a relationship with God.
John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that most professing Christians are aware of the New Covenant, cautions us not to fall prey to the insidious error that much of the Protestant—especially the evangelical—world teaches. The error lies in misconstruing the significance of the New Covenant as a 'free pass into Heaven' without paying attention to the Law which, detractors almost universally claim, has been done away. Protestants ignore the description of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:10-11, where God says He will "hard-wire" His Law into peoples' minds after a thoroughgoing transforming and renewing of those minds during sanctification, demanded as a part of our living sacrifice. Acceptance of the terms of this New Covenant may appear as insurmountable hurdles to the carnal mind. We are required to give up anything (family, esteem from friends and associates, fame, wealth, etc.) which conflicts with our loyalty to Jesus Christ and God the Father. We are obliged to soberly count the cost before we leap, realizing we have formidable enemies (both spiritual and physical) to conquer as well as continuous obstacles to overcome, for which we will need prodigious quantities of God's precious Holy Spirit. Like the apostle Paul, we must be willing to forego any attractions to fame, prestige, or influence if they conflict with God's divine purpose for us, considering these previous desires rubbish. Sanctification is not passive, but it is a rigorously active process in which God requires our full participation, yielding to His molding. We must put God before family, friends, and self. God will not create our spiritual character by fiat; we must be thoroughly involved in the process, keeping and meditating upon His Holy Law, making it our first nature instead of our second nature. We must look before we leap, but we must leap in the right direction and at the right time, setting our minds on things above, walking in the spirit and not in the flesh.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the horrendous prospect of surrendering our control to a driverless vehicle, maintains that Americans treasure their freedom of movement despite the "Nanny State's" insincere protestations about safety as it attempts to camouflage seizing power. The number of actual "on-the-road" situations which can occur is so high that no amount of programming can enable the driverless vehicle to be safe, even when it utilizes artificial intelligence, the fastest computers and the highest level of sensor sophistication and redundancy. The highly resilient and flexible human brain—under the control of a responsible person—remains the best facilitator of safe driving. While politicians desire to control everything, Christianity wants to instill self-control. Paradoxically, when we yield to God's sovereignty, He wants to cede control over to us, teaching us to develop self-control as a habit, enabling us to have dominion over the earth , handling it responsibly. On the night of Passover, Jesus taught the disciples to avoid imitating the narcissistic Gentile leaders who love to lord it over other people, demanding their obedience and service. Our Savior's leadership style emulated the servant, esteeming all others over self. Agape love dispenses with the way of control and selfish ambition. God's way consists of self-discipline and rigorous self-mastery, as exemplified by Jesus Christ, who never relaxed His self-control—even in the prospect of His impending crucifixion. Those who aspire to follow Jesus Christ must emulate His example of rigorous restraint.
We carry an "old friend" around with us wherever we go, one whom we cherish and protect even though it frequently influences us to think, say, and do the wrong things. Referring to our human nature, our carnal or fleshly mind, John Ritenbaugh argues that, deceived or not, our sinful nature drives us to disobey God's laws, just as Adam and Eve transgressed by choosing the way of death. Such choices by all humanity have fashioned this present, evil world.
Richard Ritenbaugh continues his exposé of artistic and spiritual resistance, an analogy derived from Stephen Pressfield's The War of Art, a manual designed to overcome artistic resistance and many forms of self-sabotage. The core of self-sabotage is our carnal human nature, which absolutely abhors any change which leads to self-sacrifice or to growth. Human nature is comfortable with the status quo, accepting the domination of Satan's influence and the world. Human nature is enmity (hatred and hostility) against God and His Holy Law. Human nature has instinctive antipathy to anything good. Most of the biblical luminaries, including Moses, Jonah, David, and Gideon demonstrated resistance to God's prompts, indicating that they initially feared men more than they feared God. When we are called, repent, and are baptized, our sins are washed away, but the baggage from our human nature stays with us. Like Gideon, we are tempted to put God repeatedly to the test, in spite of Christ's warning that an evil generation looks for a sign. When we resist God, we, like Peter, risk inadvertently channeling Satan. To actively overcome resistance, we must: (1) not forget God's laws, but etch them on our heart, (2) practice justice, mercy, and lovingkindness, (3) trust God and have faith in Him, and (4) remain humble, running from evil as we would run from a nest of angry hornets. We must put on the whole armor of God in order to stand.
Martin Collins, citing Dennis Prager's Town Hall article, Is America Still Making Men?, suggests that there is a profound dearth of real masculine leadership today, as young men seem to be protracting their pubescence, preferring to remain boys with no responsibilities than to embrace leadership roles. When boys fail to grow into men, women and all society suffers. The family is languishing for real leadership as well as all levels of government. As Joshua felt fearful at assuming leadership, most men also feel the same trepidation, but God Almighty has placed in their DNA the ability to lead, with a view that they lead their families with a balanced proportion of compassion and firmness. Courage is a gift given by God, augmented and amplified when we embrace His law as a part of us. God charges us to do a specific work (such as to lead one's family), requiring us to delve into the Scripture daily for guidance until we know the mind of God through continued practice of living and following His principles. The successful leader is first and foremost a follower of God and His Holy law. Confidence derives from a close relationship with God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the Walter Mischel Test of self-control, a test in which only 30% of youngsters delayed gratifying their appetites, describes the techniques in which these students delayed gratification. Dr. Mischel, who was able to predict social success of these students on the basis of these earlier tests, determined to probe the mechanism of this self-control, discovering how to convert "hot stimuli" to "cold" (distracting) stimuli. Self-control constitutes the ability to direct or focus our attention so that our decisions will not be directed by wrong thoughts. If we change our thoughts, we can change our behavior. In essence, learning self- control (the last, perhaps most difficult to attain or most important designated fruit of God's Holy Spirit) is equivalent to repentance. Self-control refers to inner power to control impulses, emotions, or desires, exhibiting self-government. Self-control follows knowledge in the list of virtues, indicating we need to act on godly knowledge, practicing it in perpetuity. Holiness makes self-control possible; a holy person is self-controlled. God's Holy Spirit increases self-control exponentially, giving us the power to replace "hot" stimuli with "cold" stimuli. Ice cold stimuli (enforcing extreme restraint) must displace hot stimuli (giving into impulses). Like the apostle Paul, we must practice self-control for others. Like Joseph, we need to practice self-control on a daily basis. When we repent and continue to repent, we exercise self-control. In Luke 4, Jesus Christ exercises incredible self-control, refuting Satan's temptation with Scripture—the mind of God.
John Ritenbaugh observes that although each of God's festivals depicts increasingly larger numbers of people being drawn to God, the counter pulls emanating from sinful carnal human nature war against the prompts of God's Holy Spirit, producing continual conflict. Choosing between these two opposite poles is something we have to contend with daily. If we choose the spiritual pole, moving toward unity with God, we will become unified with others who similarly strive for these same spiritual goals. Without this spiritual contact, we subject ourselves to the second law of thermodynamics: entropy, chaos, and disorganization, but with God's Holy Spirit, we do not have to succumb. According to Lamentations 2, God scattered Judah for their sins. Likewise, God scattered the Worldwide Church of God (possibly using Satan as His agent) mercifully administering painful chastening for our own safety and protection, putting us in venues where we actively have to love and forbear one another. Pride condemned Satan to a fate of using or manipulating rather than serving. This presumptuous self-centered trait belonging to Hillel (later Satan or adversary) creates disunity and ultimate destruction. Unfortunately, several leaders of church groups have adopted these presumptuous competitive traits, arrogantly and disdainfully looking down on other groups within the greater Church of God, completely antithetical to the behavior of John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ. We must follow the example of Abel, humbly doing things on God's terms, rather than the example of Cain, presumptuously doing things on his own terms. Likewise, when we have nothing acceptable to offer to God (Exodus 23:16, Leviticus 22:25, Joshua 5), we cannot presumptuously make an offering.
The story of Esau and his selling his birthright for a bowl of soup is a cautionary tale for Christians today. What it is we really value? What we treasure will ultimately determine our destiny.
In this pre-Passover sermon, Richard Ritenbaugh admonishes us that we must identify our enemy, recognizing the source of evil. As Pogo (the comic strip) discovered, "We have found the enemy, and the enemy is us." (Jeremiah 17:9) If we would clean up the defilement on the inside, stamping out our carnal nature, we would be clean on the outside. We have been called, not merely to suffer, but to return goodness for reviling. The best weapon against the evil of our human nature is to develop the mind of Christ within us to displace our carnal nature.
Though fasting deprives the physical body of nutrition and strength, a proper, biblical fast adds conviction and depth to the inner, spiritual man.
Of all the fruit of the Spirit, God may have left the most difficult for last! Has anyone, other than Jesus Christ, really exhibited self-control? In the end, however, this is the ultimate aim of growing in the character of Almighty God!
John Ritenbaugh insists that we must be aware of our awesome status as a unique, called-out, chosen, royal priesthood—teachers of a way of life and builders of bridges between people and God. Because God owns us, we differ from the rest of the people of this earth. We need to seriously think of what we are now (His chosen people) and also what we have been (children of Satan). As former bond-slaves of satanic human nature, we effortlessly have given ourselves over to excesses and unrestraint. The Old Testament examples were given to show us what God had to do (the tremendous cost in life) to pave the way for our calling, sanctification, and ultimate glorification. Reflecting on the awesome cost of our calling, we must resolve not to go back into the slavery of sin.
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).
John Ritenbaugh reiterates the startling uniqueness of John's message that God could become flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. In order for Christ to be our savior, He had to become subject to the pulls of the flesh in order to empathize with those He would later serve as High Priest and Advocate. Those who would become sons of God (qualifying for roles as kings and priests) must learn to trust or rely on Him, conducting their lives according to His name, conforming to the character that name represents. If we follow the living example of Jesus Christ, using the gifts of God's Holy Spirit, we will find inexhaustible resources for overcoming, serving, and growing in grace and knowledge, conforming to Christ's righteous and genuine character. Those who wrote the Gospels were eyewitnesses to the spectacular events (none of them done in a corner) in the life of Jesus Christ, providing a testimony that we may believe and develop iron-clad faith. Many extra-biblical sources such as Tacitus, Seconius, Justin Martyr, Pliny, and Josephus substantiate, corroborate, and validate the veracity of the biblical accounts of the historicity, identity, and divinity of Jesus.
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