David C. Grabbe: "Hardness of heart" is used several ways in Scripture, but a person can develop this sinful attitude toward both God and man. ...
Martin Collins, focusing on the resurrection of Lazarus, examines its impact on Martha, Lazarus, Mary, the Disciples, and on us as well. Christ gently reprimanded Martha for focusing on her own goals, feeling unappreciated and neglected when others did not share that goal. After the miracle of her brother's resurrection, she was able to serve, yet without being preoccupied with herself. Lazarus, whom the Scriptures portray as nonassertive, becomes a sterling witness for Christ as he sits at the table with Him, his presence there more eloquent than words. When Mary anointed Jesus with expensive fragrance, she demonstrated her understanding of the costliness of Christ's impending sacrifice, an insight which the disciples would appreciate only later. The Disciples learned—and we must too—that God is sovereign over life and death, and the way to eternal life is accepting Christ's sacrifice and then following the example of His life. Sickness and hardship should not erode our faith in God's ultimately favorable purpose for us. A current trial may serve as a witness for the good of others. Just as the Prophet Hosea had difficulty seeing the outworking of God's plan, so we can experience difficulty finding the resolution of our trails. Praying according to God's will—and conforming our lives to that will—overrides self-doubt. God knows the beginning and ending of the salvation process.
David C. Grabbe: Even though in general God's harvest of His sons and daughters in the resurrection will be a success, we should consider that, individually, it may not be. We do not care to think about it, but we can ...
Martin Collins asserts that miracles and signs from God, while certainly generating awe and fear, seldom lead to righteousness, but more likely to continued rebellion. Jesus points out that only an adulterous generation seeks after miracles and signs. No greater period of miracles took place in history than at the time of the Exodus, including the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, and the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. Yet, the stiff-necked Israelites rebelled against God on ten separate occasions. The longest period of growth and stability in Israel occurred under David's and Solomon's reigns, a period attended by no miracles. Elijah and Elisha performed godly miracles during a massive apostasy. John the Baptist, proclaimed by Jesus as the greatest of men, performed no miracles whatsoever. The miracles and signs Jesus performed were received with awe, but also with much ridicule and scoffing from the religious leaders. Axiomatically, the spiritually weak need miracles; the more spiritually mature one becomes, the fewer signs and wonders he needs to sustain faith. God blessed the Corinthian congregation with spiritual gifts (of discerning prophecy, speaking in tongues, healing, etc.), but the vanity which these gifts produced led to party-spirit and jealousy. In the future, the False Prophet and Beast will lead many astray by miracles and signs, deceiving most of the world. As God's called-out ones, walking humbly with God should displace any desperate need for signs and wonders.
James Beaubelle, focusing on the infamous narrative in Numbers 13-14 of the ten timid and two bold spies, referenced in four other books of the Bible, concludes that it behooves us to carefully consider the offenses preventing many ancient Israelites from entering their rest. That evil generation, despite its daily contact with God, refused to trust Him, but complained every step along the way. There was not a single day of rebellion, but a whole series of aggravating incidents, including complaining about bitter water, griping about the lack of food, , attempting to gather manna on the Sabbath, fashioning the golden calf, and the ten spies' dispiriting the people from entering the Promised land. We have the same carnal nature as our forebears and should learn from their example that complaining equates to lack of faith and that we must be ready to listen to and obey the One Who called us.
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.
Martin Collins, continuing his exposition on the Post-Resurrection Last Words of Christ, focuses on the statements Jesus made to Thomas, the disciple who demanded empirical proof of His resurrection, reminding us, who also did not witness the Resurrection, to particularly heed Christ's comments to him. Jesus admonishes us "do not be unbelieving, but believing," and "Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed" (John 20:27-28). When Jesus invited Thomas to put his hands into the wounds, Thomas not only refrained, but gave the most powerful testimonial ever recorded in scripture. We would be presumptuous to cast aspersions on Thomas, using the world's cliché "Doubting Thomas," as he was a man more brave than most of us would have been confronted with similar circumstances. Nor should we presume to ask of our Lord any more assuring signs and miracles than He has already provided through the systematic testimonials provided by the scriptures. Jesus assures us that the cultivation of the type of faith documented in the Gospel accounts accrues abundant and incredible blessings, including knowledge that by faith, we (1) become children of God, (2) have eternal life, (3) are delivered from judgment, (4) receive spiritual satisfaction now, (5) are equipped with the means for entering the final resurrection, (6) become blessings to others, (7) see the glory of God, (8) abide in darkness no longer, (9) are blessed with a fruitful life, and (10) receive the benefits of Christ's prayers on our behalf.
Clyde Finklea: In Part One, we considered how fear, when combined with unbelief, can turn us aside from following our Savior Jesus Christ and endanger our chance to be included among God's firstfruits. ...
David C. Grabbe: ... Another aspect of reality, then, is that God puts people where He wants them and gives them the responsibilities that He desires them to fulfill. That was true for Israel, just as it is true for the Body of Christ. ...
The last of Jesus' miracles during His human life occurred in the Garden of Gethsemane as He was being arrested by a large contingent of troops. Peter, defending his Lord, drew his sword and lopped an ear from the head of Malchus, the high priest's servant. Martin Collins shows that, while exposing a few of Peter's character flaws, the scene reveals Jesus' love and kindness, even under heavy stress.
Ryan McClure, cautioning us to regard neither the trials of ancient Israel nor our present trials as an oddity, reminds us that God uses trials to test and humble us, but He never impedes our ability to move forward toward His goal of creating us as a family in His image. God never inhibited the ancient Israelites; their own sins inhibited them, just as our own sins inhibit us. God continually protected them, providing a pillar of cloud and fire to guide them, manna to feed them, miraculously preserving their clothing for 40 years. All God required of our forebears was that they keep putting one foot ahead, maintaining their walk with Him; the same dogged persistence is required of the Israel of God. We cannot allow ourselves the 'luxury' of injustice collecting that characterized our forebears, resorting to temper tantrums when trials hit us. God understands our thoughts from far off, and will never leave us without a spiritual escort.
The prophet Elijah set the standard for all the prophets, calling forth God's power to bring about a drought and calling down fire, embarrassing and exterminating the priests of Baal. After warning the people not to halt between two opinions, he fell into a dilemma of either fearing God or fearing man, and ended up fearing Jezebel rather than God, thinking he was alone in his zeal for God. Sadly, some of our fellow splinter groups have succumbed to the Elijah complex, thinking they are the only ones carrying on the work of God, looking down on their brethren as Laodicean or unconverted. We dare not elevate our self-importance over our brethren in different groups. God foretells seven churches, but one body, all contemporaneous when Christ comes again.
Martin Collins, asserting that prolonged inactivity will cause muscle mass to deteriorate, draws some compelling parallels to the equally alarming deterioration of masculine leadership, currently under attack in our culture by liberal progressive humanists and strident radical feminists. Consequently, many of our young men have become namby-pamby or self-centered, unable to provide for a family or contribute something productive to society. Although men have no moral or mental advantages over women, God has commissioned them to actively lead, providing a measure of security and stability to family and society. Man and woman are both fashioned in God's image, each gender having only a portion of the composite picture. Together, they are commissioned to be fruitful and multiply. In the family structure, man was instructed to lead the family and ardently love his spouse, while woman was commissioned to submit to his leadership, as both submitted to God's leadership. In assuming leadership roles, men need to abandon self-centeredness and adopt other-centeredness, being willing to go the extra mile as a living sacrifice. Feminism and cultural Marxism cannot give society the leadership our culture needs; only God's ordained family structure, with a man willing to be a living sacrifice, will fulfill that pressing need.
Mark Schindler, reflecting upon a recent survey by the Barna Group reporting that, while a majority of Americans accept Jesus as a historical personage, beliefs in His divinity and His sinlessness precipitously decline with each successive generation, declares that, if we do not trust in Christ as our salvation, we will encounter Him as a stumbling block, offense, or tripping point. We reinforce our faith in Christ by studying the bedrock of knowledge, God's word, and applying it continually in our lives, loving one another as Christ loved us. As God's called-out ones, we have the mandate to sanctify God, imitating Christ, regarding Him and His Word as precious. In this capacity, we must respect those who bring us the word through preaching and teaching, refraining from bringing them grief by nitpicking at non-essentials, but to patiently seek and apply the spiritual insights in the messages. In the Body of Christ, rancorous debate should not exist. Through simmering rancor and anger, we could easily bring on dishonor, making the Rock of Christ a stumbling block to our brethren.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the apostasy and diaspora of our previous fellowship in the 1990s, observes that those reveling in the new 'freedoms' cannot be persuaded to return to former beliefs because they no longer believe in the sanctified Word of God. Instead, many seek scholarly 'higher' criticism of the Scriptures to provide license to various varieties of sin. Like Thomas Jefferson's redaction of Scripture, modern biblical scholars, much further away (in time and understanding) from the original intent of the Scripture than contemporaries of the apostles, presumptuously pontificate, without accurate knowledge, on the intent of the Scriptures. Consequently, 'biblical' scholars, steeped in post-modernist deconstructionism, pick and choose what they pompously believe to be significant. Today, the main representatives of nominal Christianity (Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant) may believe God exists and may believe in various aspects of His character, such as omnipotence, omniscience, omnipotence, love, and grace; nevertheless, they do not want to do what He says, discarding the Old Testament (and much of the New Testament) and that 'horrible' Jewish Sabbath as well as God's commanded Holy Days. Unlike the majority of nominal Christians who believe in God, the First-fruits (a select group of individuals called and set-part by God), as depicted by the Holy Day of Pentecost, faithfully follow Christ's example, allowing God to knead, pound, shape, and bake them in the intense heat of trials, making them acceptable to God, with the goal of becoming the 144,000, redeemed from the earth who will follow Christ as His collective Bride. As we grow toward that goal, we are commanded by Almighty God to live a life of obedience to His Commandments, walking as Christ walked, practicing righteousness until we get it right, and knowing that faith without works is stone dead.
Martin Collins, alarmed about vacuous emotionalism in religion, producing emotional feelers for Jesus rather than followers of Christ, warns us that we must take the bad with the good, enduring suffering and consolation. "Feeling good" all the time is not our destiny as long as we are mortal human beings. Feelings and emotions may throw our faith off course. Our moods are mercurial and we must control them with daily prayer and Bible study. We could be emotionally manipulated more by what we see than what we hear, as demonstrated by our forefather Jacob, who seemed more inclined to believe bad news than good news, possibly because of the sorrowful events of his hard life, testing his faith on a regular basis. We should not allow our moods and feelings to govern the course of our lives. We must become in control of our feelings, a major fruit of God's Holy Spirit, enabling us to bring every thought into captivity. Husbands should painstakingly shield their spouses from negative feelings and bad news. Jacob had to be moved to believe that Joseph was alive by the testimony of Joseph's brothers and ultimately the carts from Egypt. Jacob, along with Samuel, Abraham, and Saul, was strengthened in faith with an assuring communication with God. Jacob, at 130 years, felt old and reluctant to pull up stakes, moving to a new locale steeped in pagan worship, having both bitter memories and prophetic revelation of future difficulties for his family. God's reassuring words to Jacob can provide strength for us as well, reaffirming our relationship with Him, the loyalty to the covenant, the surety of His promises, and the assurance of our part in His master plan. When we are fearful, we should seek God's guidance and direction before taking another step.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the holiness movement of the 19th century which led to the emergence of Pentecostal and charismatic congregations, persuasions which have engulfed one-fourth of the entirety of Christian denominations and 8% of the world's population, warns that "Pentecostalism," with its emphasis on the emotions, the intuitive, the sensational as being more important than the intellectual, meditative, and reflective, carries some serious dangers to a true believer. When examining the early ministry of the prophet Elijah, it seems that he had succumbed to a kind of emotional, self-centered, charismatic "Pentecostal" mindset, petulantly assuming God would provide a cornucopia of miracles for him. Elijah really felt on top of his game after God consumed his sacrifice in the contest with the prophets of Baal, indicating (to Elijah) that God would intervene at his will and desire. Elijah needed to learn that God was in charge of the relationship, not the other way around. Our forebears on the Sinai were stiff-necked, imposing their will on God, practicing wrong-doing to see if God were watching, acting carelessly (presumptuously), assuming God was duty-bound to take care of them, all the while twisting God's word to suit their plans. Elijah evidently was up-ended by Jezebel's threatening response, and felt a compulsion to run for his life, drifting ultimately into a near-catatonic depression, evidently indifferent to God's intervention and protection. God is more interested in quietness and meekness than in bombastic displays of power.
Bill Onisick, maintains that in one context, evolution is absolutely real—that is, in the transition of one of God's called-out ones from a state of abject fear to a state of transcendental agape love. Every human being fears that he is going to lose something of value and develops a flight or fight protective mechanism to maintain a stable self-image. In our spiritual development, we shed our spirit of fear and take on a spirit of self-control as we ingest God's Spirit and take on a Spirit of Godly wisdom, displacing the fear of death with a craving for Eternal life. The way of get disappears and the way of give leads to godliness.
Among God's many names and titles is one that proclaims His supremacy over all others: "Most High God" or "God Most High." This name is first used when Melchizedek meets Abram after his victory over the kings who had taken Lot and his family captive. David Grabbe traces the usage of this divine name through the Bible, illustrating how it should give us confidence in God's governance over our lives.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on John 17:3, reaffirms that to know God (to know His Character) is to have eternal life. Living by faith is the incremental understanding given to those who are undergoing the sanctification process. Moses lived his entire life knowing and believing that God was there. Conversely, modern Israel (or the American people) live their lives as though God were not there. Because of our collective pride as a nation, we will witness God's turning nations against us, usurping our lofty status, turning us into whimpering children. Though we may believe God exists, we may not personally see His involvement in our lives. We are obligated to establish a personal relationship with God in order to safeguard our salvation. Just believing that God exists is not sufficient for salvation because it provides no motivation to overcome. Currently, we are still on our pilgrimage, having our faith tested continually. Some of the Founding Fathers of this country, practicing Deists, believed in God, but did not believe that God was actively involved in His creation, producing a passive relationship. We are warned not to put off forming a relationship with God; we do not have an unlimited amount of time to do so. Faith in God and in the motivating power in God's Word have to be the driving force in everything we do each day. We need to be faithfully assimilating God's Word incrementally every day until our behavior becomes habitually conditioned by God's Word. We need to hear as well as see, heed and obey as well as merely listen. David, a type of Jesus Christ, has become a symbol of one who has established a close, intimate relationship with God. We must voluntarily sacrifice our time, energy, and devotion to God, showing that we desire the relationship. Jesus Christ, who has purchased us with a price, has been pleading for His Bride to return to Him. We assimilate Jesus Christ when we assimilate His Word.
Knowing God is vital to our salvation and eternal life, and it is not just knowing that He exists. Truly knowing God is a specific and detailed knowledge of His attributes and attitudes. John Ritenbaugh reveals that fully accepting God's sovereignty should drive us to seek Him so that we can come to know Him as completely and personally as possible.
In a world influenced by Satan the Devil, fear is a constant that we must all deal with. We may be confused, though, because we can see two contradictory sides of fear, the good fears and the bad ones. Pat Higgins explains the paradoxes of fear, encouraging us to begin and remain in the proper fear of God.
Most converted Christians realize that God is sovereign, or they at least recognize His sovereignty over all things intellectually. But sometimes the Bible reveals something about God that makes them uncomfortable. John Ritenbaugh asks if we truly accept His sovereignty without reservation despite our lack of complete understanding.
All of the synoptic gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—contain the story of Jesus, after His transfiguration on the mountain, casting the demon out of the young boy who would have seizures and fall into the fire or into water. Martin Collins explains why the disciples could not cast the demon out themselves and why Jesus could and did.
Human beings are fearful folk. All kinds of strange phobias have been documented, and some people are so timid that they jump at their own shadows when caught unaware. Yet, our fears can have far more serious consequences. Pat Higgins shows that the Bible warns that the wrong kind of fear is sinful and could keep a person from entering God's Kingdom.
Living by faith is not easy in this world—not by any stretch of the imagination. Among the spiritual realities that a faithful Christian must understand is God's sense of justice. John Ritenbaugh uses the instantaneous deaths of Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, to illustrate the differences between His sometimes swift and terrifying—but perfect—justice and our own imperfect judgments.
II Corinthians 13:5 instructs us, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves." How do we obey this call to test ourselves, to know whether we are in the faith? ...
The Gospel of Mark (one of the Synoptic Gospels) has some characteristics which distinguish it from the others. Scholars believe that Mark was the first gospel which the other gospel writers lifted from and added things to, focusing on different audiences and different purposes. The text of Mark is the shortest of all the gospels, with the emphasis on action more than narrative or long discourses of the others. The apostle Peter had a kind of paternal relationship with Mark, who perhaps had knowledge of Aramaic, Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. Papius writes that Mark served as Peter's interpreter. Clement of Alexandria states that the early church commissioned Mark to provide a permanent record before memories would grow dim. Mark as the spokesman for Peter, wrote bluntly and forcefully, addressing a Gentile audience, providing them with a primer for new Christians who had little or no knowledge of Jesus Christ, completed probably before the Council of Jerusalem. Mark describes the miraculous transformation of crude 'unwashed' disciples (who nevertheless responded enthusiastically) to develop (under Christ's meticulous tutelage) into mature converted teachers and fishers of men. Mark emphasizes that Jesus hand-picked 12 individuals from the marginally accepted groups of society, an aggregate who would become a brand new family, united by righteous action. Mark demonstrated Jesus' exasperation and frustration with His disciples for their slow comprehension and their rudimentary development of faith and spirituality. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of this gospel, they are ready for marching orders.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the sin residing within us, warns that we will be battling sin for the rest of our lives. We were in bondage, seemingly powerless before the addiction which enslaved us. Satan, the primary slave owner, tries to control us with the residue of his spirit. We need to be in continual contact with the Son to scour the corrosive residue of Satan's spirit. Because of our conversion, we are enabled to listen to and respond to Christ's corrective instruction, which helps us to overcome our contaminated human nature which keeps us in bondage to the world. We are in various stages of our wilderness journey, not knowing for certain where our journey will take us—even though God knows exactly where He is taking us. These twists and turns give us opportunities to develop and strengthen our faith in God. We need to yield to and trust in God's purification and refinement, having the goal of overcoming fixed in our mind. As former slaves to Satan's system, we have had very little opportunity to exercise our God-given freedom to the best advantage. Sometimes, we seem hopelessly inexperienced, and would be in danger of failing were it not for God's Holy Spirit, prompting us like the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud guided our forebears through the uncharted wilderness. We are never alone. We have an advantage over our forebears in that God has made a heart that is capable of accepting and yielding to His commandments, mixed with life-giving faith, prompted through His Holy Spirit. God has called all of us out individually of metaphorical Egypt-a spiritual Egypt of sin, having plans for us as future members of His family.
We have learned that Jesus' command to pray always contains the advice Christians need to strengthen their relationships with God as the return of Christ nears. In concluding his series, Pat Higgins shows how praying always assists us in several other areas of Christian living.
In Luke 21:36, our Savior gives us two essential keys to being accounted worthy and escaping the terrors of the close of the age: watching and praying always. Pat Higgins explains the role of faith in the use of these keys, especially in our prayer life.
With all the military metaphors in the Bible, there can be no doubt that God likens the Christian life to a fight, a war, against the evils and temptations we face daily. In this light, John Ritenbaugh begins to examine Hebrews 11, the Faith Chapter, showing that the patterns revealed in it provide deep instruction for us in our Christian fight.
In performing the miracle of the great catch of fish, Jesus as Creator manifests His divine power over creation, forcing Peter to realize just who his Master was. Martin Collins explores this astounding miracle, extracting important lessons for us today.
Beginning with Acts 3:21, John Ritenbaugh speaks of a future time of refreshing and restitution after things get a whole lot worse, a time when the Beast would attempt to wear out the saints. God has a plan to recreate Himself, bringing mankind into at-one-ness with Him. Peter preached to the called out ones to repent and yield to God through His Holy Spirit. We need to be in awe of the cost of Christ's sacrifice for us, demonstrating reciprocity as we wholeheartedly yield to God. Mankind has separated itself from God, having followed the example of our parents, Adam and Eve. God's solution to mankind's separation was sending a second Adam, Jesus Christ to make reconciliation and justification possible. Believing Christ and His message has the effect of making a repentant person at one with God. Through sanctification, a person in Christ becomes a new creation. Fasting not only emphasizes that we can resist a powerful bodily drive, but shows us plainly our dependence upon God.
David C. Grabbe: Can anything be more paradoxical than professing Christians not following the words of the One they claim as their Savior?
John Ritenbaugh, examining the set of doctrines which constitute "The Faith" identified in II Corinthians 13:5, warns that the greater church of God is not immune to the deterioration of doctrine cautioned by Paul. The doctrine of eternal security and the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, embraced by Evangelical Protestantism as well as our former affiliation, ominously threaten the spiritual welfare of all the splinter groups formerly affiliated with the Worldwide Church of God. When we depart from doctrine, convoluted reasoning and hair splitting must substitute for the simplicity in Christ. Minor deviations from doctrine bring about irreparable disastrous consequences. If we live by sight rather than by faith, we will automatically succumb to our fears (of denying our fleshly gratification or losing the esteem of our family and peers). The antidote to these twin-debilitating fears is the fear of God- a fear that must be learned and cultivated.
John Ritenbaugh cautions that most religious-professing people (including many members of the greater church of God) have not used the Word of God as their standard of morality and conduct, but instead are allowing society and culture to shape their attitudes, tolerating the disgusting incremental escalating perversion of moral standards. Sadly, society is rapidly replicating the dangerous downward spiral extant during the time of Noah, a time in which the intent of every thought was to do evil. People (conditioned or reinforced by the mass media) rely upon their deceitful 'hearts' or 'feelings' rather than the Bible to determine moral standards. The House of Joseph (often claiming to be the last bastion of morality) now leads the world in exporting filth to the rest of mankind. Our only safeguard against moral pollution is to ingest (or assimilate) God's word (spiritual manna- or the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth) every day of our lives.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon an official poll administered by the Vatican, reveals that throughout the so-called Christian world, militant atheism may be decreasing, but religious indifference (or prudent agnosticism) is also increasing at even a more dramatic rate. People in both Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions feel smugly at liberty to reject major biblical doctrines, manufacturing their own private religions in their wake. If we refuse to follow Jesus' example (the Way- the system of doctrines once delivered to the saints), we will automatically lose the precious faith required for salvation. We need to (in Jude's admonition) ardently fight to hang on to the Way entrusted to us by God ' a way hated and vilified by the world. Christians have been increasingly stereotyped, marginalized, vilified, criminalized and persecuted by the political left, academia, and the left-dominated media. God will use persecution and tribulation to both purify and punish.
Focusing upon II Corinthians 13:5, John Ritenbaugh cautions us of the futility of assenting to a code of standards we do not intend to apply. Belief without conduct equals a dead faith leading to death. Works give evidence that we really do believe and have the Holy Spirit in us. What we believe (correctly or incorrectly) will inevitably produce works. According to a survey conducted by Barna, a large segment of professing Christians have rejected major tenets of the Bible (in effect, calling Jesus Christ a liar) fashioning their own subjective, private religions, giving themselves license to sin in selected areas and fostering a tolerance for hideous societal perversions. Rejecting a biblical world-view, unfaithful modern Israel has degenerated into a habitation of demons. As God's called out ones, we are admonished not to conform or follow suit, but to yield to God's purification.
John Ritenbaugh highlights a dangerous flaw in our evaluation of religious truth. If the God of the Bible (who cannot lie and is not a God of confusion) were involved in the religions of the world—mainstream Christianity and Islam - there would be no strife between them. The bitter fruits indicate that the god of both of them is not the God of the Bible, but instead the god of this world, Satan the Devil, who inspires warfare and adversarial relationships. The false teachings of this world's belief systems can adversely erode and destroy the faith in members of the greater church of God. "The Way" is distinct from the world's belief systems, polluted by the tolerant and inclusive attitudes of the liberal far left - a position shockingly embraced by a large segment of evangelical, born-again Christians.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the admonition of Christ that we must take the straight gate or the narrow way (symbols of grave difficulty), indicates that our experience in overcoming and developing character will be fraught with difficulties. Nevertheless, God will provide the power to get through all this difficulty and anguish of spirit if we have true faith. Murmuring and grumbling are clear indications of lack of faith, and are in the same category as murder, idolatry, and fornication. Godliness with contentment is something we have to learn, stemming from absolute confidence in God's providence- beginning with the sacrifice of His Son-to each of us individually. The sacrifice of Jesus was the idea of God the Father.
John Ritenbaugh contends that those who believe in the "once saved always saved" doctrine foolishly fail to see that God has a more extensive and creative plan for mankind than merely saving them. One can fail to bring forth fruits of repentance and thus qualify for the Lake of Fire. By denigrating the role of works in repentance and building character, the proponents of the "no effort, no works, love Jesus only" idea ignore the lessons of Scripture and mock God's plan for mankind, suggesting that He requires nothing productive of His contractual partners. Salvation is not unconditional. If we deliberately choose death (Deuteronomy 30:19), rejecting God's covenant, He is not responsible for our breach of contract.
Conversion, our walk with God, is a lifelong process in which we endeavor to see things as God does. John Ritenbaugh admonishes Christians to understand and act on the fact that God is deeply involved in our lives.
We live in a society where both food and information are readily available. John Ritenbaugh asks, "What is our approach to them? How are we using attitude toward and application of them makes all the difference.
John 6 has always been a difficult chapter to explain. However, within his series on the physical/spiritual parallels in the Bible on eating, John Ritenbaugh shows how clear Jesus' teaching is and what it means to us.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that whether we do or do not make it to the Feast of Tabernacles next year depends on our faithfulness at stirring up the gift of God's spirit within us through consistent prayer, Bible study, and hearing God's word. Distractions brought about by love of the world, neglect of Bible study, neglect of prayer, or neglect of God's word could seriously erode our faith, making us vulnerable to false doctrines and cares of the world.
John Ritenbaugh, noting a parallel between the recipients of the book of Hebrews and our current situation, suggests that the pressure these people encountered was not a bloody persecution, but instead constant psychological pressures (economic, health, persecution on the church, social, family, etc.) coming right after the other in a wave that never seemed to end, causing weariness and unfeeling apathy. The book of Hebrews provides resources to recapture flagging zeal and motivation, focusing again upon the reason for our hope and faith, establishing clearly Christ's credentials and the import of His message, re-igniting the original excitement of their (and our) calling and their (and our) awesome future which they (and we) have put in jeopardy through apathy and neglect. We are admonished to resuscitate and readjust our focus and damaged belief system, reestablishing our access to God through Christ our High Priest, claiming the promises of the New Covenant.
Richard Ritenbaugh warns that being reared in a democratic nation sometimes complicates our relationship with God. The type of liberty we have in this form of government is different from our liberty granted by God, a condition of our slavery to righteousness. God's government is actually a sovereign, benevolent dictatorship. Our entrance into the Kingdom of God requires total submission ' to the spirit, letter, and intent of His law. The scriptures are replete with examples of the consequences of murmuring or rebellion- including exile and scattering. If someone rejects a servant of God, who speaks the truth,he also rejects God the Father and Jesus Christ. Both submission and rebellion are totally voluntary, but the consequences are different. God has both a good and a severe side.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh contends that the book of Jude, a scathing indictment against false teachers, is perhaps the most neglected book in the New Testament. It was designed for the end time, a time of apostasy, when most of these problems would occur. Jude admonishes ministers to protect the flock, warning that brute beasts (false teachers), having wormed themselves into leadership positions in the church, governed by lusts and desire for gain, will attempt to devour the flock with their cunning antinomian, ungodly teaching, twisting the doctrine of grace into licentiousness, encouraging unbelief, rebellion, and immorality. Jude, seeing the coming apostasy, admonishes people to put forth agonizing effort to be grounded in the truth, taking on God's mind.
John Ritenbaugh warns that having anxiety, foreboding and fretting about physical provisions (food, clothing, and shelter) and to be distracted or distressed about the future (Matthew 6:34) demonstrates a gross lack of faith and is totally unworthy of our relationship with God. If our children showed the same lack of trust in us, we would feel hurt and angry. Using the greater to the lesser argument, we should realize that if God has provided us with a body and has called us, He will sustain us if we, taking normal precautions and foresight, commit our lives to His service (Psalm 37:5-6), involving Him in every aspect of our lives through unceasing prayer and obedience.
John Ritenbaugh defines the world as the aggregate (total, mass) of things seen and temporal, having a powerful magnetic appeal to the carnal mind (or the spirit in man), including entertainment, fame, academic knowledge, material possessions, etc. Because we find ourselves immersed in this world's system (constituting a virtual Trojan Horse within our minds), we must realize we are walking on a razor's edge with the Kingdom of God on one side, and the world with all its sensual magnetic charms on the other side. Our marching orders are to seek the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33) and to walk by faith rather than by sight (II Corinthians 4:18).
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that there is a very clear "them and us" demarcation in God's mind regarding which is the true way and which is not. We were formerly children of Satan (John 8:44) until God rescued us from this evil system (Ephesians 2:3), making us at odds with the entire world (I John 5:19). The churches of this world have attempted to appropriate the name of Christ and the grace concept, but then vigorously have thrown out God's law. The acid test indicating God's true church consists of obedience of His laws (John 14:15) including the Sabbath (Exodus 31:16-17), preventing the confusion and shameless compromising (the fruits of disobedience) which characterize the majority of the world's religions.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that salvation is an entire creative process undertaken by God to justify, sanctify, and glorify a called out body of individuals. Ephesians 2:8 uses the perfect tense 'saved,' indicating an action started in the past and continuing on into the present. As with the typology of the Israelites 'saved' from bondage, the process was not completed until a remnant made it to the promised land—with the sobering example of many dying in the wilderness. Likewise, we are warned about the dangers of backsliding and resisting God's will (II Peter 2:20; Hebrews 10:31) rendering the erroneous 'once saved, always saved' assumption a foolish and dangerous misconception. God assumes the burden for our salvation, but we are obligated to yield to His workmanship—made manifest by good works—the effect rather than the cause of salvation.
Christians must live by faith. But what is faith? John Ritenbaugh navigates the misconceptions of this topic, emphasizing just how vital it is!
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the subtle changes made by the Worldwide Church of God have contaminated and corrupted virtually every doctrine we have lived by. Alterations in 'the package' affect the whole of what is produced. Proponents of these doctrines fail to see that God is doing more than merely saving people; He is producing sons in His image. Naively thinking that grace was something unique to the New Covenant and law unique to the Old Covenant, these misguided proponents of the 'do away with the law' mentality fail to see that the difference between the two covenants was in the quality of the the faith. The obligation in both covenants consisted of commandment-keeping. Justification denotes alignment with God's Law- not an excuse to break it.
Throughout the generations, war has been mankind's solution to problems. Is there hope for the future? John Ritenbaugh gives the comforting answer: at-one-ment is possible with God!
John Ritenbaugh asserts that to someone who has been called, there is a unique difference in the understanding and thinking processes not available to most of mankind. Without revelation from Almighty God, the heart becomes calloused and insensitive, having an enmity to the truth of God. Our responsibility is to freely choose to follow the revelation He has given us, overcoming the baggage and the doubtful resistance we have absorbed from the world's cultures. Until God removes the blinders from our eyes, we cannot use our free moral agency to develop the character, resisting the flood of deception spewed out by the god of this world.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that physically emancipating people from slavery does not automatically unshackle their hearts or minds or preparing them for productive responsibility in a free society. Likewise, our emancipation from sin does not automatically remove our acquired spiritual shackles. We must gradually grow out of the slave mentality into liberty and freedom by committing our lives to the truth (John 8:30; Romans 8:6), replacing acquired insecurity and fear with faith and the love of God (I John 4:18). Like our forefather Abraham, we have to gradually or incrementally grow into a model of faithfulness. God's Spirit provides us the mechanism for transforming our enslaved, fearful, carnal minds to liberty (II Corinthians 3:17).
John Ritenbaugh describes the prevailing mindset in human society as one of contention, division and disagreement. The source of division and separation from the source of life is sin that has become practiced as a way of life. Throughout the course of Biblical history, whenever sin appears, confusion, division and separation are the automatic consequences (James 4:1-2). The Day of Atonement pictures the means to bring back unity with God- the covering of our sins with the blood of Christ. Satan, the author of confusion and misinformation, hates this day above all days because he is fingered as the source of sin. Virtually none of the world's spiritually malnourished churches realizes the significance of the Day of Atonement. We are encouraged to humble ourselves before God, resisting pride, the propelling force of sin.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that zealous, sincere, human, religious faith may not be godly, but ironically, because of its fervency, often puts our faith to shame. Our faith has to have as its object a dynamic personal quality with habitual fellowship with God in prayer, meditation, and Bible study. Quality fellowship with our brethren offers frequent opportunities for exhortation and a safeguard against loss of faith. When we fellowship with a small, intimate group, chances for this productive exhortation (Hebrews 10:23-25) greatly increases, increasing our faith. Living faith has its roots in fervently, diligently seeking God and His righteousness with intense desire (like a passinate lover) through habitual prayer.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that it is constant earnest praying which keeps faith alive and makes certain the receiving of every one of the qualities which make us in the image of God. Like Enoch, we must walk with God as a way of life, seeking Him out and talking with Him on a continual basis. A person maturing in faith would always pray in consistency and alignment with God's purpose. We always have to understand that God's purpose comes first, not our request. If we walk with God daily, God will provide us patience and insight into the meaning of our trials, and how they work out His ultimate purpose. In removing mountains, we must focus more on the reality of God than on the mountain.
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, using Lot's wife as a sobering example warns us that God does not want us to maintain close associations with the world because it almost inevitably leads to compromise with godly standards, jeopardizing the consistency of the Christian witness to God. Much of ancient Israel's (as well as modern day Israel's) problem stemmed from a false sense of security (pride) apathy (from an abundance of food) and a luxurious life of ease (from spending time in self indulgence). Not many of us will be able to stand before the spiritual onslaughts of the world having the pride-filled, overfed, and unconcerned attitude (Psalm 30:6-7) - an attitude causing Lot's wife to love the world and Lot to linger and procrastinate.
John Ritenbaugh, in this powerful signature sermon, examines the vital missing spiritual component in believing, emphasizing that seeing doesn't necessarily lead to believing unless an active, productive, and trusting faith is added. The contemporaries of Moses and Jesus Christ experienced a plethora of awesome miracles, but did not believe, comprehend or understand. We see what we want, expect, or become educated to see. True wisdom (spiritual vision) comes from coupling human reason with revelation, reinforced by believing and practicing what God says or commands. Unless we acknowledge God's sovereign authority in our lives, following through with the things we learn from scripture, we, like functional atheists, will not see God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the proclivity of the ancient Israelites to nullify the power of the gospel, refusing to mix it with actual obedience, which stems from faith and belief. What they heard never became a part of their lives; "Egypt" never left the Israelites. We have to exercise care that we do not follow suit, assenting intellectually but hardening our hearts when it comes to making the changes demanded of us. The consequences for us are far graver than the consequences for them. By yielding to God, we begin to experience the kind of life that He experiences. The rest (katapausis) which God experiences (a period of refreshment, prefiguring the Millennial rest) is a rejuvenating, exhilarating peace of God we can experience right now. We need to yield to the correcting powers of His Word, a means of reflecting the contents and intents of the heart.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the suffering we experience in trials stems from a desire of our carnal nature to bail out, giving in to temptation to satisfy the appetites of the flesh. As the trials become more intense, our flesh ravenously demands to be satisfied, making sin look increasingly more attractive. As we stiffen our necks and resist God's will, we automatically lose what we have gained spiritually and become ignorant of His awesome purpose for us. We must emulate our Elder Brother, who learned through suffering (resisting the powerful, deceitful pulls of sin), preparing Himself for His role as High Priest. Giving in hardens our hearts and alienates us from the fellowship with God. Like the original recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, we must soberly reflect upon our calling, unconditionally trusting in God's faithfulness to fulfill His purpose for us.
John Ritenbaugh explains that Jesus' caution to Mary in John 20:17, "Don't touch me," is more accurately translated "Don't cling to me." Either translation does not contradict the First Fruits symbolism. (After all, the Levitical Priests had to "touch" the grain in order to offer it.) Also the charge Jesus gave to the disciples in John 20:23 was not to "forgive sin" but only to discern the fruits of repentance, consistent with the binding and loosing authority of Levitical Priests, applying God's law. Having the "Mind of Christ" gives the New Testament ministry the ability to discern the fruits of repentance. The problem with Thomas was more his tendency to be a loner, having cutting himself from the fellowship of his brothers, than his doubting. Thomas's insistence upon touching refutes the Gnostic's claim that Jesus did not have corporeal substance. Not only does the book of John (written in 96AD) provides a plethora of signs corroborating Jesus Christ's authenticity, but also shows a pattern to actively live as God would live if He were a man, with the effect of building and sustaining faith. The epilogue (chapter 21) seemed to be added to counteract the assumption that John would live until Christ's second coming, as well as confuting the Gnostics' claim that Jesus did not have physical substance. The conclusion describes the disciples' bewildered reaction to their resurrected teacher. In this incident, Jesus formally, by using expressions identifying different levels of love, affirms the intense responsibility and difficulty of the commission given to Peter.
John Ritenbaugh continues to examine the shepherd and door analogies occurring in John 10, depicting the close relationship of Jesus with His flock as the security and stability provided by His protection, as opposed to the approach of the hireling. Christ not only promises us life without end, but He also promises abundant life (eternal life; living life as God lives it) as well as protection from Satan. As Christ is one (in mind and purpose) with God the Father, we must be at one with God and other fellow believers through the medium of godly love, as opposed to the anarchy resulting from seeking our own way. Peace is produced by love; Christians are at unity with God and with each other when love is the driving force in our lives, prompting us to keep His commandments. An individual commissioned by God is God to Whom he is sent. With God's Holy Spirit, God sets His called ones apart, enabling them to live righteously and in unity with one another.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the book of John was unique, designed for individuals predominantly educated in the Greek culture. One commentary organizes this 21-chapter book around nuances of believing, including proposals for, presentations for, reactions of, crystallization of, assurance for, rejection of, and vindication of belief, as well as a dedication of those who believe to the work of God. John, a physical first cousin of Jesus, emphasizes the truth, genuineness, or reality of Jesus as the Logos (a word revealing hidden thought) the manifestation of God in the flesh, emphasizing His pre-existence, His fellowship with God the Father, His divinity, His omniscience,and His creative power. Jesus is portrayed as the fountainhead of everlasting life, demonstrating how to live abundantly as God lives, exercising instinctively the fruits of God's Holy Spirit. As the Light of the world, Jesus Christ reveals our character flaws and illuminates the pathway to quality eternal life, displacing the darkness and ignorance of this world. John focuses upon the multiple ways that Christ bore witness to the scriptures and to the people with whom He came in contact, providing iron - clad evidence that God is reproducing Himself.
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