Gary Garrett, taking issue with the common understanding that the Church of God originated in 31AD with the outpouring of God's Holy Spirit, advances the contention that the Church's origin might lie in Abraham's meeting with Melchizedek, who was the pre-incarnate Christ. The honor roll of faith in Hebrews 11, including Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Samson, and David, all living well before 31 AD, but still sanctified through the working of God's Holy Spirit, intimates that the 31 AD dispersal of God's Holy Spirit was in fact merely a continuation of a much older distribution. What makes outpouring of the 31AD unique is the inclusion of Gentiles, a merciful act of God designed to ultimately provoke Israel to jealousy—and hence to repentance. As Jesus Christ assumed His glorified spiritual body, He also re-assumed His original office as the King of Salem and the High Priest to those the Father has called.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the seven "I will" promises given to our forefather Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3 were truly "big deal" foundational promises impacting the lives of multiple billions of lives up to the present day and that Abraham and that Abraham could fathom them only by calculating within his limited nervous system. Abraham calculated, adding things up in order to esteem those things which he learned to be truly important. To Abraham, God's words were a beacon, directing him how to live his life. Abraham believed in the counsel God gave him, redirecting his steps to accommodate this counsel, advice which all God's called-out ones are obliged to follow. Everything hinges on whether we, as our father Abraham, are willing to live by faith. When God read Abraham's mind, He found no skepticism, but found instead trust and faith, qualities we are to emulate. If we do not believe God, we will not submit to Him. We begin with faith, and the works automatically follow. Faith motivates us to keep the law, steering us away from the death penalty which is the automatic curse for disobeying the Law. Before God established the Old Covenant, a sign or guidepost anticipating the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ, Abraham (as well as Abel and others before him, and David and others after him) realized that a promised Seed-an incarnation of God—would eventually emerge as a Savior, making possible the forgiveness of sins for all of Adam's offspring (Abraham's spiritual seed, which included the Gentiles) who would call on Him and follow His guidance and counsel.
Martin Collins, focusing on Habakkuk's stance of assuming the position of a watchman, being willing to accept God's ultimate judgment on his people even when the circumstances seem to contradict revelation, emphasizes that all of God's called-out ones are also watchmen, needing to live continually by faith, discerning, listening to, and responding to God's instructions, not only hearing them, but taking them to heart. Without having faith like Abel, Abraham, Noah. and Enoch, judging by faith rather than outward appearances, we cannot please God. Abel, Enoch, and Noah all believed God and were willing to endure temporal loss for a greater reward. Faith constitutes unshakable belief and confidence in God that He will do everything He has promised. Like the apostle Peter, we must learn that human faith, at its best, is not sufficient; Godly faith cannot be worked up, but is a gift from God which we must constantly put to use. This kind of faith comes by hearing God's Word. God holds His called-out ones to a much higher level of accountability, but He has also provided the necessary tools for overcoming and as well as for producing spiritual fruit. In spite of doubts arising from negative appearances, we need to cling to God's promises, even in the worst of times, realizing that all iniquity will be punished eventually. Like the heroes of faith, all of which had to do something to demonstrate their faith, we must be productive in our faith, understanding that faith without works is stone dead. Faith is not a preference, but rather a commitment. Even faith as little as a mustard seed is an open door to God.
Many Bible students scratch their heads over the timing of Christ's crucifixion, believing that it should have coincided with the Passover events in Exodus 12. David Grabbe explains that the timing of our Savior's death reaches even further back, into the life of Abraham, the father of the faithful, and the covenant God made with him.
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.
David Grabbe, acknowledging the longstanding controversy over when to keep the Passover, asks the question of why Jesus Christ was crucified late on the 14th day instead of at the beginning of the 14th. Not having the correct answer to this has led some to keep the Passover at the incorrect time. The afternoon of the 14th is significant because of God's covenant with Abraham as recorded in Genesis 15, which foreshadowed the release from bondage on the self-same day 430 years later, and the crucifixion of our Savior (an event taking place outside of a Holy Day, and apart from the time of any commanded sacrifice) which occurred once, displacing the multiple sacrifices required in the Old Covenant, which were only types of the Heavenly Original. We keep the Passover on the beginning of the 14th day because Jesus Christ commanded us to do that and set that example. The timing of Christ's sacrifice late on the 14th points back to the covenant God made with Abraham for his spiritual descendants to be justified by faith, be given eternal life, and be part of a holy nation.
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.
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).
Three times, the apostle James states unequivocably, 'Faith without works is dead!' Here's how James' teaching agrees with and complements the teaching of Paul on justification.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the essential core of the human heart is evil, self-centered, responding to Satan's wavelength, placing us into slavery and psychological bondage. Our freedom lies in (1) the conviction of God's Holy Spirit of the reality and hideousness of sin (2) a conviction of righteousness (influencing conduct) and (3) a conviction of judgment and retribution. Real repentance and conviction should dramatically augment prayer, study, meditation, but most importantly application.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that both Jesus and Abraham rose above their emotional pulls by exercising living faith- a faith built on a foundation of incremental acts of obedience. Living faith can never be separated from works, nor can it ever stand independently or inertly as if in a vacuum. James points out that as the body without the spirit is a lifeless corpse (James 2:26), faith without works is equally dead. God's Holy Spirit (given as a part of the New Covenant) provides the primary driving force or the motivation for obedience (good works) which pleases Him, causing us to be regarded as a new creation.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that a spiritual Israelite, following Jacob's example, undergoes a metamorphosis in which his own stubborn, self-centered will is broken so that God's creative work can be completed within him. Abraham, whose very name connotes faithfulness, learned to work through fearful catch-22 dilemmas, walking by faith rather than sight, carefully calculating on the basis of his previous and on-going relationship with God. Likewise, God today, as master teacher, carefully and methodically guides His students to higher levels of understanding and trust. We need to exercise devotion to God (faith, works, and worship) in every area of our life, from marriage, work, or human relationships- coupling iron clad faith with concrete works of obedience.
We live in a world that has little or no idea what true peace is or how it is achieved. John Ritenbaugh shows how we can produce godly peace even in the midst of turmoil and why it is such an important virtue.
Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that the epistle of James stresses both faith and works, emphasizing those factors necessary for growth, enabling us to produce a bountiful harvest of fruit. We are to exercise humility and impartiality, taking particular effort to bring our tongues under control, being cautiously slow to speak, acknowledging God in all our thoughts. We are obligated to do practical works of goodness and kindness to our brethren, being solicitous of their needs, and making intercessory prayer for them. To him who knows to do good but doesn't, it is sin. Eating unleavened bread is equivalent to practicing good works.
In this Unleavened Bread sermon, Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that learning God's way (and unlearning Satan's way) takes a lifetime- spiritually speaking, perhaps the most difficult and arduous task on the entire earth. Over a lifetime, with our cooperation, God fashions us into vessels of honor. The commands to eat unleavened bread outnumber the commands to refrain from eating leavened bread three to one, indicating that the most efficient way of eliminating sin is to do righteousness (eating God's word and applying its principles in our lives) If we do good, we won't have the time to do bad. The epistle of James applies to the Christian after the justification process has begun, indicating that after receiving forgiveness, after receiving God's implanted word, we are obligated to fulfill God's purpose in our lives, yielding to trials, bringing forth the fruits of character by doing (not just hearing) God's word. Paul and James steadfastly agree that faith without works is stone dead.
Protestantism is based on Luther's insistance that Christians are saved by faith alone. But is the really true? Earl Henn explains that the Bible says this of justification, not salvation.
Are you saved already or are you being saved? What is salvation anyway? What part do we play in our own salvation? These are important questions that we must answer from God's Word.
John Ritenbaugh provides a summary of the Covenants, Grace and Law series: 1. Realize the position carnal man comes from: completely under Satan' sway, antagonistic to God's law (Romans 8:7). 2. Always work from clear, unambiguous scriptures (Matthew 5:17-19). 3. Be strengthened by the examples of Christ and His apostles keeping specific laws, including the Sabbath and holy days (I Peter 2:21). 4. Paul explains the means of justification (not salvation but the first step in a process; God imputes righteousness where it does not logically belong). 5. God's overall purpose is to create us in His image, including His righteous character. He is reproducing Himself (Genesis 1:26)! 6. God's purpose for the Old Covenant is as a bridge leading to Christ (Galatians 3:17-24). 7. The way Paul and others use terms important to this doctrine (bondage, circumcision, yoke, law, etc.) should be seen in their correct context.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the Old Covenant in no way annulled the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant, but was added because of Israel's sins, with the intent of pointing to the need of a Savior. Because the primary focus of Galatians is justification rather than sanctification, the Protestant antinomian bias looks quite foolish and stupid. The New Covenant, grafting the Law into the recesses of the heart (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16) in no way does away with any aspect of the law. The deficit in the Old Covenant was in its lack of a means of justification (forgiveness of past sins). The New Covenant, having a means of justification, replaces the pre-figuring symbolic animal sacrifices with the perfect sacrifice of the Messiah. Circumcision of the heart and the receipt of God's Holy Spirit ratifies the New Covenant.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the days, months, and times referred to in Galatians 4:10 do not refer to Jewish Holy Days or the law of God, but to Pagan Gnostic rites connected with the worship of demons. To refer to the liberating law of God as weak and beggarly constitutes rank blasphemy. To use Galatians as an antinomian tract denigrating God's holy and righteous law creates a hypocritical dichotomy- in which Paul, while keeping the law, allegedly urged the people not to keep it. Paul, as a light to the Gentiles, kept the Sabbath and the rest of God's law in the middle of gentile territory (Acts 18:11, 13:44) indicating that neither the Sabbath nor any other aspect of God's law had been done away. The target of Paul's wrath was Gnostic asceticism, which was syncretized with both extra- biblical Judaistic and Pagan elements.
Acts 5:32 says very clearly that God gives His Spirit to those who obey Him, yet some argue that keeping God's law is not necessary. What is the truth? Earl Henn clarifies this contentious point.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that under both the Old and New Covenants, refusal to keep to keep God's Law severs our relationship with Him. Like loving parents who give rules to their children to protect them from danger, our Loving Father has given us His Spiritual Law to protect us and bring us quality life. In the manner of Satan the Devil, who convinced Adam and Eve that God's commands restricted freedom, the misguided proponents of the anti-law bias or mentality have convinced many in our former fellowship that the Sabbath, the Holy Days, tithing, and food laws are harsh and restrictive elements of Old Covenant bondage. New Covenant justification does not do away with God's Laws (nor with human nature or carnality for that matter) but creates the circumstances through which faith is enhanced, producing sanctification and purification, bringing God's purpose (to restore all things) to perfection.
In this Feast of Trumpets sermon, John Ritenbaugh, reflects on Malachi Martin's book, The Final Conclave, which claims that, not only are 60% of the College of Cardinals not firm believers, but that a hard core 27% are functional but prudent agnostics, hedging their bets. Some of us, facing the stress and uncertainties of the time, may also be going through the motions but losing every vestige of faith. The Day of the Lord, like a claw hammer, has both a business end (return of Christ) and a wrecking end (destruction, mayhem, and tribulation). In this stressful time, we had better have our convictions in order, realizing that not only is God preparing a place for us, He is also preparing us to be conformed to the image of His Son.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the intent or purpose of the scripture in Deuteronomy 23:2 prohibiting offspring from illegitimate unions (often carrying psychological baggage and irreversible physical damage) from holding offices of responsibility in physical Israel for ten generations. Acts 14 begins with the people of the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe mistaking Paul for Hermes and Barnabas for Zeus. When Paul convinces the crowds that he and Barnabas were not gods, they were treated with contempt rather than adoration. The church, it seems, has always been forced to live in hostile environments. At the beginning of chapter 15, the question is posed whether a Gentile must undergo circumcision in order to be saved or keep the law in order to become justified. Lawkeeping in the present does not justify past sins, nor is it intended to be a vehicle for salvation. This understanding does not do away with God's law, which must be kept in the spirit. Following the Council of Jerusalem, God now begins His spiritual work through the church, taking His Word out to the nations.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the infinite superiority of Christ's priesthood and one-time sacrifice as contrasted to the repetitive Aaronic sacrifices, which were incapable of remitting sin, purging consciences, or providing access to God. The shadow image of the Old Covenant could not possibly provide the clarity, dimension, or detail of the reality of the New Covenant, which gives participants access to God and eternal life. Christ's sacrifice, a dividing point in history, was vastly superior because 1) His human experience ensures empathy, 2) God called Him to be High Priest, 3) His offering was more than adequate, 4) His offering reached the Holy of Holies, 5) His priesthood was established on God's oath, 6) His offering was absolutely sinless, 7) He lives eternally, 8) He occupies the heavenly sanctuary, 9) He sacrificed once for all, and 10) His sacrifice can cleanse a guilty conscience, provide access to God, and guarantee our inheritance.