Martin Collins points out that our Savior has a tender spot for those who are weak in the faith but are doggedly struggling to hold fast to what they believe. People sometimes unfairly brand others who display a one-time weakness, as in the case of "Doubting Thomas," who demanded empirical evidence of Christ's resurrection. We forget that it was Thomas who boldly encouraged his fellow disciples to risk death by returning to Bethany for Lazarus' funeral. We forget that all the disciples who abandoned their Master expressed doubt until they themselves had a higher level of tangible evidence than hearsay. While all the disciples were in a brain fog as to where Christ was going following His impending betrayal and crucifixion, Thomas was not afraid to expose his ignorance. Thomas realized that to follow Christ involved denial of self and a willingness to die. The principle of death and denial is hard for us to apply because many things—fame, fortune, and power—compete to take the place of God's purpose for us. We must learn to say no to anything which goes against God's purpose. When we give up trying to run our own lives, we find the contentment of living the productive life God has prepared for us. Jesus' deliberately delayed His return to Bethany until Lazarus had died so that He could bolster the faith of Martha and His disciples, as well as His called-out ones today. Like Martha, we must allow Christ to transform our basic faith into an absolute trust in God's purpose for us.
Beyond the fact that our Savior Jesus Christ was crucified on a cross of some sort, He used its imagery to instruct His followers: He bids us to take us our cross and follow Him. David Grabbe analyzes what Jesus' command would have meant to those who heard Him, showing that our Savior is asking us to follow His example of sacrifice in our own Christian lives.
David Grabbe, claiming that the command to take up the cross has been sullied, tainted, and moreover smeared by Protestant heretical syrup, insists that the venerating of the cross (explicitly violating the Second Commandment) pre-dated Christianity by several centuries, having served as the monogram for the Babylonian god Tammuz. Early Christianity made no use of the cross until the time of Constantine, who foisted it off as a kind of good luck charm. Alexander Hislop, in his book The Two Babylons, claims that virtually all pagan religions incorporate some form of the cross in their worship. Logically, it seems sick or depraved to exalt an instrument of torture in order to worship. Scriptural references indicate Christ may have been executed on a tree; hence the staros he carried could have been a heavy beam, evidently to be fastened to a tree. In this sense, the cross represents a burden, emphasizing that there is a sacrifice or cost we experience when following Him. Bearing our cross means our time on this earth is virtually finished, that we are willing to give up our lives, emulating the life of our Savior. When we follow His example, we find our family and friends rapidly cool in their affections for us, helping us realize there is a cost to following Him. God's Law is not the burden, but instead the burden is the feeling our carnal nature experiences as being "put upon," but ironically, the more we enthusiastically and wholeheartedly embrace God's way, the deeper the sense of peace we feel for the strength to endure this burden. Paradoxically, if we are willing to lose our life for His sake, mortifying the flesh and crucifying our carnality daily, we will gain a far more abundant life and moreover, life eternal—a precious insight that the foolish, carnal mind regards as rubbish.
Martin Collins, reflecting on an episode in which he was 'baptized' during Vacation Bible School, examines the correct process for baptism, leading to conversion, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, overcoming, and sanctification. Noah's rescue from the flood and the Exodus through the Red Sea are types of baptism. John the Baptizer received his understanding of the ordinance and principle of baptism from his parents, emphasizing repentance, belief, and faith, as well as keeping God's laws, bearing fruits of repentance. When God calls us, there is an irrevocable contract committing ourselves to a lifetime of overcoming, counting the cost, and forsaking all, following the example of our older brother Jesus Christ, becoming living sacrifices, totally relying on God for our strength. In the great commission to the church, Jesus commands, through His Father's direction, baptism into God's Holy Spirit. Baptism symbolizes a burial and resurrection from a grave, or the crucifixion of the old man or carnal self. After a person realizes his ways have been wrong, turning from his own ways, repenting of his sins, wanting to follow Christ, and wanting to become a child of God, he should counsel for baptism.
As he begins concluding his series, John Ritenbaugh writes that the offerings have a great deal to do with our relationship with God. How closely do we identify with Christ? Are we walking in His footsteps? Are we being transformed into His image?
Because Israel experienced a type of baptism in passing through the Red Sea on the last day of Unleavened Bread about 3,500 years ago (Exodus 14:29; I Corinthians 10:1-4), Richard Ritenbaugh rehearses basic scriptures on baptism. The etymology of baptism - from the Greek baptizo (to immerse) from the root bapto (to dip), symbolizing death, burial, redemption, and resurrection (Romans 6:4) - requires the practice of total immersion. Baptism represents the destruction of our carnal selves and a resurrection to a new life. Baptism is not for children because one needs to be mature to understand its meaning and eternal consequences. It is a one-time event, a break-off point involving repentance (Acts 2:38) and commitment to a lifetime of bearing fruit, motivated by the power of God's Holy Spirit.
Many words that begin with "self" describe conditions that we must overcome. Self-surrender, however, is something we need to engage in to overcome our faults.
A key to overcoming our sins is learning when to deny ourselves. Christ plainly declares that those who desire to follow Him must deny themselves.
How do we, as modern Christians, bear our cross as Jesus commands? He meant far more than simply carrying a stake over our shoulders! This article shows how vital denying ourselves and taking up our cross is in following Christ.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on the basic elements of the Kingdom of God, having a (1) king (Psalm 47), (2) a territory (Daniel 2:44, Psalm 103:19) (3) citizenry (I Peter 2:9-10) and (4) a code of law (Revelation 22:14). The term kingdom (Greek basileia), has a past, present and future application. Heaven is its place of origin, from where God has eternally ruled the universe. God's Kingdom exists whenever and wherever one submits (by God's Spirit) to God's sovereignty. At Christ's return, this rule (shared with transformed, called-out, elected saints) will spread throughout the entire universe, enforcing the Ten Commandments (the character of God). Our begettal (a trial membership) in God's Kingdom will become permanent if we yield to God, allowing the mind and character of Christ to be formed in us.
Observing that more controversy exists about the counting of Pentecost than for any of the holy days, John Ritenbaugh suggests the confusion may be a function of the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19). Confusion, separation, and division have been our legacy since the Garden of Eden. The major reason for Christ's ministry was to put an end to the quarreling and division, enabling us to be one with the Father and with each other. Three of God's festivals (Passover, Atonement, and Pentecost) have a direct bearing on the principle of unity. As we individually strive to become unified with God, believing in His authority and His doctrines, we will ultimately become unified, in one accord, with our brethren. It is our individual responsibility, enabled by God's Holy Spirit, to follow those things that were revealed by God through His apostles, keeping God's Commandments, rather than following our own inclinations or private agenda.
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.
Baptism is one of the initial acts that a new Christian must experience during his new life in Christ. This fundamental doctrine places him in the right frame of mind for continuing in God's way.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that we do not have immortality as a birthright (the lie which Satan told Eve), but that God is the sole source, making our relationship with God and God's judgment the most important focus of our life. One common denominator in all four Gospels is that a parallel exists between our lives and what Christ experienced on the earth. As part of Christ's body (I Corinthians 12:14-15), we all experience together what Christ experienced (crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and glorification- Romans 8:17). The death of self (Romans 8:13 and Galatians 3:5) must absolutely precede the resurrection to life (Romans 6:5).
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the seed analogy of Jesus in John 12:24, emphasizes that sacrifice is absolutely necessary (the seed must give up its life) in order for quality fruit to be produced. Using this seed planting analogy, Jesus teaches that, as a seed must be planted, dying to itself in order to bear fruit, we similarly must sacrifice our lives- submitting our wills unconditionally to God's will in order to bear abundant fruit, attaining the abundant life we deeply crave. Conversely, if we try to placate the natural carnal lusts, we will not bear good fruit. After we die to sin in the waters of baptism, we no longer dedicate ourselves to satisfying our carnal drives, but instead to submit to God, who engineers the process of our spiritual growth into a new spiritual creation, children of light, reflecting the characteristics of our spiritual Parent. Keeping God's Commandments leads to spiritual insight and light, but breaking them leads to spiritual blindness and darkness. There is no neutrality in following God's Word. John 13:1-17 provides an unusual insight into the very mind of God, exemplified as a serving "footwashing" attitude, demonstrating servant leadership toward His creation, an attitude and behavior we are obligated to emulate. The essence of love is sacrifice.
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