The modern church of God, particularly a few of its splinter organizations, have made a big deal out of Revelation's letters to the seven churches. Often highlighted is the "open door" promised in the letter to Philadelphia. David Grabbe provides proof from Isaiah 22 that our understanding of this image should be revised to reflect the insight given in this neglected Old Testament prophecy.
Kim Myers, focusing on the significance of the altar of incense, first mentioned in Exodus 30, asserts that this altar symbolizes the prayers of the saints ascending to Jesus Christ, the High Priest and Intercessor, who serves as our Advocate before God the Father. It was at this altar that Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu died for offering profane fire to God. Incense is a type of Christ's mediation on our behalf, burning perpetually on our behalf, making it possible for us to enter God's Throne Room. As God's called-out ones, we are obligated to pray every day, realizing that God's Holy Spirit will articulate the thoughts, untangling our sometimes hopelessly garbled efforts. God the Father will not accept anything which is unholy, but Jesus Christ continually intercedes, praying for us and protecting us from the Evil One. The golden bowls in Revelation 4:1-8 symbolize the sweet-smelling prayers purified by the intercession of our High Priest through His sacrifice on our behalf. We have much work to do as God's called-out ones, sending up incense symbolically as we pray for each other and for God's purpose to be fulfilled universally.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the reality of God is not a mathematical formula beyond the reach of garden-variety human reason and observation, warns us that God's reality is not the root of the human problem. Rather, the powerful pulls of our carnal nature, innately hostile to God's law, prevents us from believing Him or obeying Him. The deadliest enemy to our spiritual well-being is within us. God calls the weak and base of the world to put the intellectual and strong to shame. To provide a counterweight to the destructive carnal nature, God provided His Holy Spirit—as well as spiritual gifts—in order to enable His called-out ones to put to death their carnal natures, as they refocus their attention to things above, bringing about a life-giving fellowship with the Creator. God does not create character by fiat, but has ordained that His true children exercise their power of choice to build an intimate relationship with Him, a task not impossible, but not easy. God has providentially given us trials to build character, proving beyond a doubt that we believe Him and have a burning desire to be at one with Him. We exercise these spiritual gifts in order to kill our carnal nature, not to win salvation. Unlike the first Adam, who yielded to his carnal lusts, choosing to please himself, we must follow the second Adam, Jesus Christ, who always submitted to the will of the Father. All people are without excuse when it comes accepting God's existence. Refusal to believe or obey God puts blinders of foolishness on the ungodly, preventing them from knowing God. When one observes the consistently law-governed Creation, it is foolish to embrace atheism.
Mark Schindler, reflecting that God's Sabbaths or Holy Days are inestimable blessings which should not be squandered, cautions us of the need to tend and keep these blessings, avoiding the careless use of hallowed time. Relating a true story, Mark recalls a time when, attending a wedding which took place on the Sabbath, he and his wife were inadvertently drawn into non-holy activities when a wedding reception in downtown Chicago unexpectedly became a reviewing stand for a 200-unit nudist bicycle parade. Embarrassing incidents like this could be considered wake-up calls from God that this time should be spent more profitably in spiritual pursuits. In another recollection, Mark, in compiling a video memento of his romance with his wife Nancy, reflects that a loving and faithful wife is a blessing from God. The significance of this blessing was punctuated by the observation that his aging mother, suffering from Alzheimer's disease, excitedly recognized Nancy when she had practically lost memory of everyone else in the family circle. This miraculous observation reiterated the importance of treasuring, tending and keeping the many blessings God has bestowed to us. All the spiritual gifts God has given us should be carefully tended.
Martin Collins, in the first part of his series on Christ's last words to His Disciples—which includes us—after His resurrection, focuses of three comments He made, all recorded in John 20. First, Christ, having achieved victory over sin and death, pronounced a greeting of peace, a peace which can only be achieved by yielding to God unconditionally, a peace which truly passes understanding. Christ then gives the Great Commission of becoming His messengers and His ambassadors, sharing His truth as the occasion arises. Finally, Jesus Christ breathed the Holy Spirit upon His followers as a type of what would occur on Pentecost. As His royal priesthood, we find it impossible to discern the deep things of God without His Holy Spirit, enabling us to discern both physical and spiritual. As members of the called-out Israel of God, we must be involved in proclaiming His message, feeding the flock, following and living His example, assuming the responsibilities, privileges, and blessings of our awesome commission.
David Grabbe, reiterating that the two goats of Leviticus 16 make a composite sacrifice for sin, reminds us that every sacrifice in the Levitical sacrificial system was an unblemished animal. The first goat in Leviticus 16 was to satisfy God's demand for justice with a covering of blood. The second goat symbolizes the removal of sin, expunging its memory from the camp of Israel and from God's mind, transferring it into oblivion, symbolized by an uninhabited wasteland- as far as East is from the West. The live goat was a substitutionary sacrifice for the whole nation. The goat of departure bore the sins of the entire people, carrying the sins out of sight and out of mind. Christ, as a substitutionary sacrifice, bore the sins of all of humanity, carrying them out of sight. Satan, because his sins are numerous, cannot be a substitutionary sacrifice for anyone. The sins have been blotted out, totally erased from the mind of God. Sin is disannulled, neutralized, cast off, and obliterated, removed from consciousness and conscience. Satan has no role in this process.
Gary Garrett, focusing on the mystery of the marriage covenant in Ephesians 5:32 and Genesis 2:20-25, maintains that Adam and Eve originally had a most enviable relationship with the Creator, as well as access to the Tree of Life, if they had chosen it, but distanced themselves from their Creator by yielding to sin. In their original marriage relationship, they would have had access to agape, philia and erotic love simultaneously, but because they sinned, the agape variety of love became attenuated and ultimately dissolved, while the marriage covenant became more of a chore rather than a blessing. In a sense, Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Holy of Holies, into the outside court reserved for the Gentiles. The distancing of the relationship with Almighty God continues to the present, but God has called out individuals to re-enter the Holy of Holies by eating the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Christ has modeled the sanctity of the marriage covenant by sacrificing Himself for His Bride. By partaking of God's Holy Spirit, we can have access to agape love in our relationships, restoring what Adam and Eve lost.
Martin Collins, focusing on the designation of six cities of refuge in Exodus 21:12-13, finds a spiritual parallel outlined in God's annual Holy days, beginning with Christ as a refuge for us in the Passover and our making a refuge for others during the Feast of Tabernacles. The institution of cities of refuge, havens for those who have committed unintentional manslaughter, highlights the great importance God placed on the sanctity of life, especially in beings created in God's image. In the Ancient world, where blood revenge was widely practiced; a large number of people died violently. The cities of refuge prefigure Christ's final refuge from death, protecting us from Satan's murderous intentions. The elders of the city, Levitical priests, trained to counsel individuals in the ways of God, would examine the weapons used in the killing and would investigate the history of prior relationships between the killer and the victim in order to determine whether the verdict of manslaughter or murder be handed down. If the seeker of refuge were exonerated, he was confined to the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest, at which time he could return home. When Christ, our High Priest, died for our sins, we were set free and allowed to reconcile with our Heavenly Father. Besides providing refuge for the twelve tribes of Israel, these cities became a refuge for non-Israelites who had killed another person unintentionally. The cities of refuge did not provide protection for premeditated murderers, unlike the bogus 'sanctuary cities' created by liberal progressives, which protect law-breakers and felons instead of protecting the innocent. The code of law in God's sanctuary cities is universal, not one set of standards for one ethnic group and one for another. Christ is our place of safety; we have refuge in Him at all times. The names of these cities all represent aspects of Christ's character. For example, Kedesh signifies setting apart as holy (Passover) while Golan represents joy and dancing in the Millennium.
Richard Ritenbaugh recounts the bitter feud which took place between two brothers, Adolph Dassler (founder of Adidas® shoes), and Rudolph Dassler (founder of Puma® shoes), stemming from a misunderstanding during a time Adolf took shelter in a bomb-shelter with his brother, who had exclaimed “Here come those dirty bastards back again,” referring to Allied bombers. Adolf mistakenly thought his brother was referring to his family. Sadly, the two brothers went to their graves unreconciled, but the employees buried the hatchet after a friendly soccer game. Similarly, the breach or the separation between us and God the Father has been repaired by the blood of Christ shed for us. We have been predestined to be adopted as full children in God’s family, receiving unmerited favor from God, chosen for His honor. We must remember what we were and how far God has brought us out of that place, pulled out of the muck and brought into His glory. We should find joy in the fellowship of God, thirsting for it. Of all the people on earth, only God’s called-out ones have the right to interact with the God of Heaven.
John Ritenbaugh, clarifying our worldview with respect to the Israel of God (or the Church) in the context of eschatological (that is, end times) events, declares that our vision of our calling as well as our level of responsibility before the imploding of our prior fellowship, may have contained several major flaws. The sporadic mushroom-like ascendancy to numerical and monetary prominence, shortly before the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, was certainly a curious anomaly never occurring before in the history of the Church. God the Father and Jesus Christ clearly blew apart our prior fellowship, frustrating many who would like to see unity at any cost. We are no longer united in a single common work, but the composite splinter groups still constitute God's called-out church. Paradoxically, our collective but separate efforts have accomplished a greater work at a fraction of the cost. The concept of church eras is not Scripturally supportable and indeed has become sadly responsible for the needless pecking-order engaged in by several of our fellow splinter groups. The seven churches of Revelation 2-3 historically all existed simultaneously and indeed, the characteristics of five of them will apparently be extant at the return of Christ. Jesus Christ expected that all of us learn from the seven churches the commendations and warnings, applying them to ourselves individually, allowing us to repent as needed. Jesus Christ built the Church; the architecture should resemble the pattern He personally fashioned, such as 1.) keeping the Sabbaths and Holy Days, 2.) existing as a relatively small flock which will never die out despite continuous, perennial eruptions of apostasy and persecutions, 3.) being empowered with God's Holy Spirit (defined here as the invisible motivating power ultimately transforming us into spirit beings having God's characteristics—our spiritual DNA) which will ultimately configure us into His image as we allow God to shape and guide us. We receive this Holy Spirit before baptism and before
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the life of Ryan Leif, an athlete who had all the advantages, suggested that his stupidity ended up mitigating his advantages and achievements. As he started his rookie year, he fumbled and made many errors, destroying his reputation as a sterling quarterback. His subsequent life went downhill, as he succumbed to controlled substances, leading to burglary and other crimes. He sits in a jail cell in Montana, deemed a failure, down in the gutter. If we do not establish a relationship with God, we will also be failures. Thankfully, in the Great White Throne Judgment, these failures will be turned into successes if those God resurrects establish a relationship with God. Access to God is made possible only through His calling. Everyone alive has sinned; without God's Spirit, it is impossible to access God. The world will be in a debased state until the time of Christ's return, when God's Spirit will be generally available, poured out on all flesh. The Great White Throne judgment will feature a mass physical resurrection, beginning with the House of Israel followed by the rest of humanity. God will convert all of humanity from all time since the Garden of Eden. Psalms 105 and 106, considered teaching Psalms, set the ambience for this time period, expressing the yearning desire to be included in His Kingdom, and declaring God's praises to everyone, exhorting everyone to seek the Lord. We are encouraged to see God at our side through our spiritual wilderness journey, a parallel to the wandering of our forebears on the Sinai. Those in the Great White Throne Judgment will undergo the same process, but will not have Satan and a corrupt world to contend with. They will have to contend with carnal nature. Priests and Levites will be reprogrammed to do their jobs right, distinguishing between the sacred and the profane. God has always been faithful with His part of the Covenant; sometimes our forebears totally forgot His faithful providence. Psalm 106 indicates that Israel's sins eroded th
David C. Grabbe: God is keenly interested in whether His people overcome Satan, including this world, which the Devil has shaped, and our own human nature, which he has corrupted and continues to influence. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that God built His spiritual temple upon the foundation of the prophets and the apostles; both the Old and New Testaments provide a vital part of our underpinning. Jesus Christ is the principal part of the foundation. If our foundation is flawed, our edifice cannot stand. We need to focus on the true essentials of Christianity. The source of Paul's cornerstone metaphor of Ephesians 2:20-22 was the actual stones used to construct the physical Temple). One such stone was 45 feet long and weighted over 600 tons. The stones of the Temple were perfectly cut to fit together with the chief corner stone, the load bearing (and hence, most important) part of the structure, upon which all the other stones must be fitted and measured against. God has laid the Cornerstone (symbolizing Jesus Christ) to provide real salvation. We must be built on the chief Cornerstone-Jesus Chris, the Bread of Life (our Spiritual source of nourishment which we must avidly ingest and digest), the Light of the World (revealing things to us), the Door (the entry way or access point and fellowship to the Father, as well as protection and separation from the world), the Good Shepherd (taking care of us as His sheep, knowing each by name), the Resurrection and the Life (the Eternal Life that He experiences now and will provide to us), the Way, the Truth, and the Life (the means and example of salvation, our point of contact with God), the Vine (the Source of our fruit-bearing potential as an organism in Christ), the King of Kings, and the I AM (the Creator of heaven and earth).
David C. Grabbe: The letter to Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-21), the Parable of the Faithful and Evil Servants (Luke 12:35-40), and the fifth chapter of the Song of Songs all picture Jesus Christ standing behind a door, waiting for His people to respond. ...
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that if we do not know who we are and where we are going, we are destined to undergo continuous stress. If we yield to God's manipulation of our lives, we will handle stress constructively, developing a relationship with Him, bearing spiritual fruit. As our forebears followed the pillar of cloud and fire, we are instructed to follow God's written Word. The goodness of God leads to our repentance and transformation, progressively becoming a peculiar people, a royal nation of priests. Our uniqueness and greatness stems from keeping God's laws, and having them implanted in our hearts. We can make it on our wilderness journey if God is continually with us all the way to the end. God has given us more spiritual understanding than the most sophisticated leaders and educators of the world will ever hope to have. Only those who have been called understand the mystery of God's will. Much of our overcoming involves dissolving prejudices we may have against those God has called into His family. We have been put into an already- designed structure, living stones in a spiritual structure. There is no such thing as an "independent" Christian. Our inheritance will be the whole earth as a sanctified, holy nation, a royal priesthood and a holy priesthood, performing the work of the Lord, offering ourselves as living sacrifices.
David C. Grabbe: The story of Enoch gives the second prerequisite to witnessing faithfully for God: walking with God. ...
Last time, we saw that the lessons of Abel, Enoch, and Noah are sequential—they must be learned and applied in order if a person or organization is to make a faithful witness of God. ...
David C. Grabbe: As the Worldwide Church of God fragmented in the early 1990s, and various smaller organizations were formed to hold fast to the original doctrines, it was common for many of the newly formed churches to continue almost as if nothing had changed. ...
What many religious people do not seem to understand is that justification before God is just the beginning of something far more involved—and that is living by faith. John Ritenbaugh covers the faithful life and work of Noah, illustrating that walking by faith with God is a practical responsibility.
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 suggests that the Bible shows a clear pattern of how people leave the Church. The first step in the pattern is looking back, as in the case of Lot's wife. The second step is to draw back, motivated by self-pity, shrinking back as from something distasteful. Step three consists of actually walking away and looking for something else. Step four consists of arriving at the point of no return, going backward, refusing to hear. In contrast, the book of Hebrews is a compact book laying out clear doctrine and practical exhortation to called-out ones who had started to drift, giving a practical model of being sanctified. Chapter 10 contains a fearful threat of the Lake of Fire for those having committed the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin constitutes sinning willfully and deliberately. To sin willingly means to be disposed to do it as of a second nature. We need to draw near God's throne with boldness, cleaning up our acts, using faith, hope, and love.
The Bible makes it very plain that salvation is by grace, but it is also clear that we are 'created in Christ Jesus for good works' (Ephesians 2:10). Having explained justification, John Ritenbaugh tackles the process of sanctification, showing that the far greater part of God's saving work in us occurs after baptism!
We have been called, not just to believe in Christ, but also to overcome sin, an action that takes a great deal of effort. John Ritenbaugh takes pains to explain God's act of justification and what we are required to do in response.
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.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that when human beings are born, they are a blank slate with a slight inclination toward self-centeredness. But after living in this world, we become incrementally influenced by both evil spiritual influences and worldly influences. The Apostle Paul describes the gravity of these contrary pulls in Romans 7. Our carnal nature—-the sensual fleshly pulls—unfortunately will pursue us right to our very grave. God commands us to come out of Babylon, giving us spiritual tools and resources to do so, including faith, vision, hope, and love. The media through which these will be supplied are the relationships we have with the Father and the Son. Co-existence with sin is absolutely out of question in the life of a Christian; there is no middle ground. In regard to fornication with the world, God says, "save yourself for our marriage." Sin has an addictive quality incrementally hardening our hearts. Knowing God is the key to eternal life. As communication with God increases, communication with the world must decrease. We, like the Apostle Paul, must follow God's directions and do exactly what we are told, submitting and yielding totally to His will. The only thing that Babylon can communicate to us is sin; we must meticulously extricate ourselves from the world, and continue in the process of communicating with God until we are totally conformed to His image. Everything depends upon who we communicate with through prayer, Bible Study, and meditation.
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 reiterates that although Jesus Christ is not the Absolute Deity, He is nevertheless the complement of the Father. Christ clearly distinguished Himself from the Father when He said, "The Father is greater than I," "The Father sent me," and "If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father." Both John the Baptist and Jesus were called "divine," but Jesus Christ had a pre-existence as the God of the Old Testament sent by the Invisible God. As Jesus deferred everything to the Father, we must also do likewise through Jesus Christ by emulating His life and behavior. Both Jesus Christ and the Father are unique in the Universe; the One to whom Jesus deferred is the source of everything and is accountable to no superior, while Christ has the Father over Him.
John Ritenbaugh maintains that the best matrix for salvation (or to come out of Babylon) is to diligently seek God, a connection lost in the Garden of Eden. Christians must rigorously practice their faith, having their senses trained, growing from immaturity to maturity. Sanctifying implies growing into perfection. We cannot seek God by standing still, but must continually pray, study, meditate, and fast, growing daily in grace and knowledge. Our biggest danger at this time is to be lured into spiritual drunkenness by the pagan Babylonian system. Our God is not what we say we worship but whom we serve. We dare not be at ease in Zion, settling on our lees- tolerant of sin and blind to our spiritual state- practical atheism or prudent agnosticism. God teaches us that the uncleanness from this world can be transferred from one person to another, but holiness cannot be transferred from one person to another.
The sin offering is the first of the non-sweet-savor offerings in Leviticus. John Ritenbaugh explains the atonement made through Jesus' perfect offering of Himself for us—and our obligations to Him as a result.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that we dare not limit God's glory to something physical like fire or cloud, but must recognize God's glory as radiating from His character, in which we can also participate through His Holy Spirit. The Shekinah glory today is the Holy Spirit in us, the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this, we must separate ourselves from the world, from the things that would defile us, and from the influences of the evil one.This separation enables God's Spirit to generate growth within us, allowing us to move on to perfection. We must attain permanent experiential righteousness by exercise of His Spirit, obeying and imitating Jesus Christ, by which we are sanctified and transformed into His image. If we claim God as our Father, we need to reflect His character, making a witness that we are indeed His children.
The peace, fellowship, praise, or thank offering was the most commonly given in ancient Israel. John Ritenbaugh explains that it represents God, the priest, and the offerer in satisfying fellowship.
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 emphasizes that Old Testament activities picture New Testament realities, far from done away, but raised or elevated to their spiritual intent. As a parallel to the Aaronic priesthood, the church has been chosen as a royal and holy priesthood (in training) offering up spiritual sacrifices and proclaiming praises of God (I Peter 2:5,9). Paul insists that our sacrifices (reasonable service) should extend to everything we do in life (Romans 12:2), including prayer, study, meditation, as well as sharing goods and experiences (Hebrews 13:15-16).
Father's Day is a time we honor our human fathers, but a time is coming, after the day of the Lord, when our ultimate Father in heaven will be honored for all eternity!
If God is manipulating everything in His sovereignty, why pray? What does prayer teach us? John Ritenbaugh explains why the sovereign God commands us to come before Him in prayer.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that walking worthy demands a balance between doctrine and application or between doctrine and conduct. Unity demands both. It is impossible to make a corporate union of all the splinters of the greater church of God because doctrinal, attitudinal, philosophical, and policy differences have grown increasingly disparate. Unity has to come from the inside out with God raising a leader which people, having their minds opened by God's Spirit, will voluntarily submit to. We can prepare for this unity by submitting to God's doctrines and living in accordance with them. Only when we have willingly gone back to our first love can we again attain family identity and spiritual unity.
John Ritenbaugh explores the reciprocity aspect of the relationship between God and His called out ones. God in His sovereignty personally handpicks individuals with whom He desires to form a relationship. This relationship, like the physical creation, must be dressed, kept, tended, and maintained (Genesis 2:15). As in a human love relationship, ardently seeking God and desiring to conform to His image and mature into His character will cause the relationship to grow incrementally and intensify. Drawing near to God (in reciprocity to His love) is the key to the transference of God's mind to ours.
Faithlessness is the essence of mankind's general character at the end of the age. However, faithfulness is to be a hallmark of a true Christian. How can we become more faithful? How can we be true to the course God has laid out for us?
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 suggests that the practical advice in Hebrews 12-13 fits our current condition like a glove. Like the recipients of this epistle, the greater church of God, having drifted away and given in to sin, we must also lay aside every weight which encumbers, accept God's chastening, receive encouragement from those who have already succeeded (Hebrews 12:1), and energetically get back into the spiritual race. We should allow nothing to deter us from the goal, remembering the consequences if we fail. All of our behaviors — including demonstrating brotherly love and hospitality, exercising empathy, strengthening our marriages, being content with God's blessings, submitting to leadership, avoiding strange doctrines, coming out of this world, praying without ceasing, and being charitable — must be done out of a pure heart.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Christ's sacrifice was not merely substitutionary, but representative, with Christ giving us a pattern to live our lives- mortifying our flesh and putting out sin. From this pattern, we realize that living righteously does not guarantee a life free from pain. Like Christ our Forerunner, we must learn from the things we suffer, living a life of sacrifice, collectively and individually becoming a temple or body- a habitation of God's Holy Spirit. Like Christ, we are called to be priests, providing an intercessory bridge between mankind and God. Our entire lives, like our Elder brother, must be given as a whole living sacrifice to God, (1) yielding our bodies and minds, controlling our appetites and desires, (2) making sacrifices of praise, (3) making sacrifices of service to others, and if required, (4) the sacrifice of a martyr's death.
John Ritenbaugh explains the significance of "the fellowship of His sufferings" and "being conformed to His death" (Philippians 3:10). Christ's death had both a substitutionary and a representative aspect. The former pays for our sins, but the latter provides an example (He is the archegos) that we must emulate or imitate. When we obligate ourselves (something God cannot do for us) to mortify the flesh (Romans 8:13), refusing to feed the hungry beast of our carnal nature and killing the old man, we suffer the ravaging effects of sin. Experiencing suffering for righteousness' sake accelerates our spiritual growth and enables us to know Christ.
John Ritenbaugh again stresses that prayer is not a dictating to a reluctant God, but instead a manifestation of our attitude of dependence and need. Prayer is a tool or means we use to get into harmony with God's will, surrendering to His purpose for us in the presence of the most righteous, unchanging, positive, and uplifting attitudes in the entire universe. We need to draw close to God in humility (James 4:10; I Peter 5:5-7) confessing our shortcomings, inadequacies and needs (while acknowledging God's sovereign greatness) humbly accepting His decision. Humility in prayer produces submission and obedience which ultimately results in glorification and honor.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that prayer is perhaps the most important thing we do in terms of maintaining our salvation. The purpose of prayer is not to overcome God's reluctance, but rather to yield and conform us to His will. The oft quoted slogan 'Prayer changes things' is only true if the prayer conforms to God's will (James 4:13-15). Unlike indulgent tolerant parents, God does not give into the whims of His children, but instead grants petitions which lead to greater spiritual growth and conformity to His image.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the deeply felt sense of obligation we feel knowing that a ransom has been paid to redeem us from the death penalty. While we have been justified through grace by faith, good works are the concrete and public reality of this faith. Because we have been bought with an awesome price, we have no right to pervert our lives, but are obligated to look upon our bodies as sacred holy vessels in His service. In John 15:16 Christ teaches that He has appointed us to bring forth fruit. Christ's special calling produces a sense of gratitude, loyalty, and intimate friendship in which we feel an abhorrence of letting Him down.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the problem with the Old Covenant was with the people, not with the Law, as some have alleged. Paul uses the term "covenant" to describe an agreement made by two consenting parties and "testament" to describe the unilateral, one-sided commitment made by God to improve the promises (eternal life) and the means to keep the commandments (God's Holy Spirit). The New Covenant will be consumated at Christ's return during the marriage of the Lamb when God's Law will have been permanently assimilated into His bride during an engagement (sanctification) process.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon our future responsibilities as a priest in God's Kingdom, asking us if we are really preparing for this role. If we are not practicing being a priest right now,we will not be prepared. During the Millennium, the priest will be required to make a large number of mediating sacrifices on behalf of the people, mediating, reconciling, teaching, judging, and saving the remnant of Israel. The primary function of a priest is to assist people in accessing God- so that there can be unity with God. A priest is a bridge-builder between man and God. The sacrifice that God demands is a total sacrifice of time, energy, and service (in short, ones whole life) to that end. Nothing will prepare us to become a priest more than to commit our entire lives as a total living sacrifice.
The old song speaks of "Amazing Grace" but do we really understand just how amazing it is? John Ritenbaugh fills in some details on this vital topic.
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.
John Ritenbaugh compares prayer to a tool we must learn to use more efficiently or effectively. God's chief work on this earth is to produce holiness in His offspring, transforming our carnal, perverse nature into God's own image. Because we have the tendency to take on the characteristics of those with whom we associate (for bad or good), we need to be keeping company with God continually through prayer, letting His character rub off on us, developing His mind in us as we learn to shape petitions according to His will and judgment.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the emotional dimension of love, reiterating that love doesn't become 'love' until the thought, or the feeling, motivates the person to act. Love is an act. If we don't do what is right, the right feeling will never be formed, because emotions are largely developed by our experiences. The right emotions require God's Holy Spirit. Like a marriage relationship, our relationship with God grows more and more intimate as we give it time and attention, conforming to the other person's preferences in the relationship. We are never going to know God unless we do the same kinds of things with Him, keeping His Commandments, devoting time to prayer, Bible study, and meditation. If we are working on our relationship with God (giving it our time and attention), then God's love for us will be reciprocated back to Him in the form of obedience, totally trusting in Him to shape our lives for His purpose.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that only those who are governable will ever be allowed to govern. No government (not even God's government) will work without each individual submitting in his area of responsibility. Our elder brother, Jesus Christ, qualified to rule because of his feeling of responsibility (1) to God, in submitting to Him, and (2) to man, in using His powers to provide salvation for all mankind. Following in his footsteps, we must realize that leadership requires becoming a slave or servant. (Matthew 20:24-28)
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the smallest unit of government is the individual; God is dealing with each of us on this most basic of all levels of government. It is under the New Covenant that individuals are immersed or installed into His church by the Spirit of God, given only to those who willingly consent to obey Him. In this special handpicked condition, God expects us to learn to govern ourselves. Because the church is a royal priesthood of believers with Christ as the High Priest, there is no religious hierarchy between God and us (Hebrews 10:21-22). In order for us to be transformed from the glory of man to the glory of God, we must have the same kind of access to the Father as Christ did, taking on the awesome responsibility of behaving like the sons of God.
John Ritenbaugh, after going through the history of Israel's incremental rejection of God's authority and putting themselves under the yoke of Satan's political system, asserts that God is establishing a spiritual kingdom from the dynasty of David, having Christ at the head installed beginning with the seventh trump when He will unleash the power of His Kingdom against the kingdoms of the world. Those who hear the good news of the Kingdom of God and respond to it (entering a covenant with God to become a part of it) are in the process of being built into a spiritual house that is also a royal priesthood (2 Peter 2:9). This royal dynasty will govern a holy nation bearing governmental rule over the earth as kings under Christ.
John Ritenbaugh points out that Jesus Christ, through His voluntary humility (giving up all the perks of being God), has given us a model of the mindset that we need to have in order to attain membership in the family of God. Paul, desiring the Philippian congregation to attain spiritual maturity, urges that they (and we) take responsibility for the nuts and bolts process of overcoming or renouncing our carnal selves (working out our own salvation by the practical application of head knowledge) upon ourselves, cooperating with the shaping power of God (giving us the power to will and to do by means of His Spirit), who desires that we learn in the here and now the style of life (in a climate or environment of love as well as fear of soiling the family name of God) we will live for eternity.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the people who were preaching Christ from questionable motives were church members and not Judaizers, as some have assumed. Paul experienced a dilemma wondering if it would be better to suffer martyrdom, finishing his life's calling or remain alive to help the Philippians bear more spiritual fruit. Paul and the Philippians had mutual affection and respect for one another. Paul, after encouraging this congregation, assures them that their spiritual growth depended on their personal relationship with Christ, urging them to stand fast in the unity of the truth, being loyal citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven as Philippi was a loyal colony of Rome. Paul, assuring them that God is with them, providing everything they need to overcome, teaches that individual overcoming in lowliness of mind, putting others ahead of self, leads to the whole body being strengthened.
John Ritenbaugh warns that we dare not allow a root of bitterness to spring up in us as a result of the trials we go through - those burdens intended by God to strengthen us and perfect us. We are warned not to emulate the example of Esau, whose worldly mindset blunted his ability to distinguish the sacred from the profane, leading him to give up his birthright to satisfy a bodily craving. We have superior promises (of future Eternal life and a place in God's very family as well as current access to God's presence through the work of Jesus Christ). The intense admonitory quality in the twelfth chapter stems from the stark, inescapable reality that God will not budge one inch on sin. Far from being an indulgent lenient parent, God is a consuming fire to those who will not obey. We need to develop the same white-hot hatred for sin as does our Heavenly Father. Finally we are admonished to (1) increase our fellowship with our brethren, (2) practice hospitality, (3) sympathize and empathize with those going through trials, (4) strive for pure and chaste marriages, (5) resist covetousness, and (6) ease the ministry's burden
John Ritenbaugh characterizes the spiritual condition of the recipients of the Hebrews epistle as dangerously complacent, drifting into apostasy through neglect rather than from any blatant sin or perversion. Losing their zeal and first love after the manner of the Ephesians, having a complacent disregard for Christ's sacrifice, they were in danger of permanently searing their consciences and losing their vital access to God. The entire eleventh chapter provides examples to bolster their faith and rekindle their first love. The kind of faith described in this chapter is not blind and clueless, but is carefully developed as a result of systematic analysis of available evidence. Abraham, Sarah, and Moses were all motivated to endure by calculating or adding up all the evidence. Likewise God desires and has deliberately planned that we build our faith by the same kind of calculation, analysis, or adding up the evidence.
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.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that everything about the Priesthood of Jesus Christ is superior to that of the Levitical system, which was only intended to serve as a type (a forerunner, shadow, or symbol) of the access to God that Jesus would later fulfill. As splendid as it was, there was neither provision for the forgiveness of sins nor a purging of guilt in the Old Covenant. The real barrier that separates us from or denies access to God is our guilty and defiled conscience, which cannot be cleared by a repetitious sacrifice of animal blood. Only Christ's voluntary sacrifice (done on a totally moral and spiritual plane) can purge our consciences of guilt. We should remember that unless the sacrifice of Christ transforms us (leading us to emulate Christ's sinless life), we have not really repented. The chief difference between the Old and New Covenants is that the letter kills while the Spirit gives life.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates Christ's superior qualifications as High Priest. After the change from the Aaronic to the Melchizedek priesthood, it was also necessary to bring about a major change in the Covenant. The flaw in the Old Covenant was not in the law, but stemmed from the fleshly, deceitful, carnal hearts of mankind. All zealous rededications to the Old Covenant (such as that of Josiah) ultimately failed. In order to fulfill the New Covenant, God has had to perform a heart transplant operation, replacing the deceitful stony heart with a pure undefiled heart (a heart predisposed to keep God's law in both the letter and spirit by means of His Holy Spirit), enabling us to incrementally know God and to absorb His divine nature), an event prophesied by Jeremiah. The Old Covenant made no provision for the forgiveness sin, nor did it contain any means for man's nature to be transformed into God's divine nature.
John Ritenbaugh continues to examine the details of the vine and branch analogy concluding that Jesus presents Himself as the true or genuine Vine, as contrasted to the unfaithful or degenerate vine (ancient Israel). As the church (the Israel of God) is obligated to remain organically attached to Christ (the True Vine), there is no such thing as an "independent Christian." Conversion involves a continuous reciprocal process in which God displays His love to us and we respond reciprocally to Him. Continuing in His Love by giving ourselves back to Him is our part of this mutual reciprocal process. Conforming to God's purpose will inevitably bring friction and persecution from the world and often from our own physical family. Throughout history, five false charges have been made against Christians claiming they were: (1) insurrectionists, (2) cannibals, (3) having flagrant immorality, (4) arsonists or incendiaries, and (5) dividing or separating families. God's Holy Spirit gives us understanding by piecing things together from the scripture, convicting us and allowing us to go through life's experiences through the prism of scriptural truths.
John Ritenbaugh insists that because what we believe automatically determines what we do; it is impossible to separate faith and works. If our source of belief is not grounded in Jesus Christ, we will be held captive to our traditions and our works will be contaminated. If our belief is grounded in Christ (our Spiritual Bread and our High Priest), we will have a relationship with God and access to eternal abundant life, leading to works (fruits of the Holy Spirit) that glorify God. The word "draw" in John 6:44 implies that there is some degree of carnal resistance or reluctance to accept God's calling. If we do not metaphorically eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood, ingesting the Word of God daily, we will die spiritually. The moral and ethical demands of these Words often make them "hard sayings," but yielding to these demands (having an intimate relationship of God- living the way God lives in every aspect of our lives) will incrementally develop the character and the spiritual mind, bringing about eternal abundant life.
Do you realize not one in a hundred knows what salvation is—how to get it—when you will receive it? Don't be too sure you do! Here, once for all, is the truth made so plain you will really understand it!
Receive Biblical truth in your inbox—spam-free! This daily newsletter provides a starting point for personal study, and gives valuable insight into the verses that make up the Word of God. See what over 145,000 subscribers are already receiving.