Richard Ritenbaugh reports on a recent Harris Poll's conclusion that the most educated among us tend to disbelieve in the literal existence of Satan, even though 60% of the American people (according to a Barna Poll) claim to be knowledgeable about the Bible—a document chock-full of substantiation for the existence of the diabolical, evil being we call the devil. A recent Barna Poll also revealed that over 60% of Americans profess to be followers of Christ—Someone Who had many face-to-face dealings with the prince and power of the air and the ruler of this earth, including witnessing Satan's expulsion from Heaven and cast down to this earth, a venue created as the angel's original domain. The being who eventually morphed into Satan was created in perfection as a covering cherub who originally was in Eden, a beautiful creature with immense musical skills. This being, called Heylel, became lifted up in overweening pride because of the abundance of his trading, leading him to be excessively competitive, driving him to an insane resentment against God. Heylel attempted a coup against his Creator and was cast to earth as his jail cell, sharing this venue with us, whom he regards as interlopers. His fate, and that of his fellow demons, is to be confined to the bottomless pit, giving this earth a welcome respite.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting that the greater church of God is different from nominal Christianity in that it embraces the 'Jewish' holy days and ignores Christmas, Halloween, and Easter, rejects the concepts of the Trinity, ever-burning hell, the immortal soul, and eternal security, asserts that many are afraid to associate with us because we appear as a weird and heretical cult. Even our concept of original sin is different from 'mainstream' Christianity. While Calvinists have depicted mankind as totally depraved, we believe that mankind is a mixture of good and evil. We have the ability to do some good. Even those without God's Law have some basic standards of human decency. Calvinists, straining at a handful of 'proof-texts,' believe that original sin is transmitted through blood and genes. Our human nature is neutral at birth, but inclined toward sin because we are born into a sinful environment and are driven by Satanic forces; it is not programmed into our genetic make-up. When Adam and Eve were given the death sentence by God, they also received hope that through the offspring of Eve a Savior (who would bring mankind abundant spiritual life) would be born to crush the head of the serpent, which had previously deceived her. God made coverings for Adam and Eve concealing their shame and guilt, prefiguring the covering for sins which would occur later, and adorned them with raiment, prefiguring the garment of righteous salvation. Our sins have put a barrier between us and God; He has provided a means of reconciliation through the blood of Christ. There is no possibility of a relationship with God where sin exists.
As everyone knows, Scripture takes a very dim and stern view of sin because it is failure to live up to God's standard and destroys relationships, especially our relationship with God. After identifying the types and levels of sin, John Ritenbaugh suggests that the fear of God provides us the necessary motivation to overcome our iniquities.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the sheer variety of choices (distractions) available to us today (with their potential accompanying temptations and enervating time-wasting diversions) is extremely stressful because it automatically increases sin and lawlessness, automatically decreasing love, zeal, and affection. Like our society, the recipients of the general epistle of Hebrews were a group of people living in confusing rapidly changing times — experiencing intense economic, cultural, social, and moral upheaval. These "crusty old soldiers" or weary seasoned veterans identified in the book of Hebrews (like the Ephesians and far too many of us) were becoming inured and indifferent to mounting societal sin, allowing their spiritual energy to be sapped by resisting negative societal pressure, draining them or diverting them of their former zeal and devotion to Christ. If we incrementally lose our love, affection, and devotion to Christ, we automatically lose our desire and motivation to overcome, endangering our spiritual welfare as well as our relationship to Christ. God Almighty has mandated that we reignite the spark and rekindle our first love.
Charles Whitaker, focusing upon Paul's assertion in Romans 8:37 that we may become "more than conquerors," coins a new hybrid (English-Greek) word Super-Nikao describing a future state of the complete subjugation of the flesh (accomplished through the help of Christ's sacrifice and the continuous use of God's Holy Spirit). We savor the spoils of victory through the sacrifice of Christ, enabling us to subdue our iniquities and vile carnal nature. God takes the initiative; we take the prize.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that commandment breaking is what has scatterred the greater church of God. We have allowed the self-assured Laodicean mindset (with its ignorance and spiritual blindness) to deter us from overcoming and law keeping. In the parable of the two sons in Matthew 23:27-32, Christ makes it clear that doing the commandments is more important than knowing the commandments. If we want to be like our Savior, then we will live the way He lived, keeping God's commandments — which exemplify the highest form of love (John 14:21)
Many people divide sin into physical and spiritual sins, but the Bible clearly says that all sin is lawlessness! Richard Ritenbaugh explains I John 3:4 in its first-century, Gnostic context.
No one seems to talk much about sin anymore, but it still exists! John Ritenbaugh explains the basics of sin and the great effects it produces on our lives.
John Reid, reflecting upon a Civil War incident in which a young highly principled lieutenant made an impression upon his abusive captain before sacrificing his life for him, focuses upon the topic of agape love. While we were still sinners, Jesus Christ died for us. Love covers sins; God appreciates when we show concern for others, developing the maturity to overlook the slights others have made to us. Love sets an example for others to follow; in some cases inspiring regret in others for the pain they have caused us. Christ has set us a high standard to emulate- characterized and described by Paul in I Corinthians 13. As we love, we become lights to the world. If we truly love, we will have gained the mind of Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that what a person believes is a major driving force of his conduct, determining the outcome of his life. At the time of the end, iniquity is going to be so pervasive and so compelling a force that our only resource for enduring its influence will be our contact and relationship with God. Faith is the foundational building block (II Peter 1:5-8) in this lifelong process. Everything in Christianity flows from the relationship we have with God, a relationship having trust or faith as its foundation or starting point. Walking by faith implies a responsibility to use the spiritual tools God has given us to overcome, grow, and to show our love by keeping His Commandments. God enables us to believe, to live by faith, but He will not do our part of the responsibility for us
John Ritenbaugh insists that if mankind is separated from one another, it is also separated from God. Moreover, atonement with God will occur when mankind loves one another, loving as an action rather than simply a feeling. Contrary to the antinomian position taken by many Protestants, repentance—something that Christ does not do for us alone—is something we must do with the precious free moral agency God has given us. As sin brought a change in perspective and separation to our parents Adam and Eve, repentance, in one sense, brings us back to Eden—to the tree of life (via God's Holy Spirit). Reconciliation is an ongoing process enabling us to draw closer to what God is, having His mind installed in us.
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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