Mike Ford, focusing on the Roman Catholic practice of eating fish on Friday as a form of penance commemorating Christ's supposed death on 'Good' Friday, observes that the practice continues unabated as it began in the 13th Century though other acts of penance may take its place since Vatican II, except for the 40 days of Lent, when eating fish on Friday is mandatory for devout Roman Catholics. Lent supposedly represents the 40 days Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. Those who observe Lent use this time for penance, repentance, self-examination, fasting, and reflection, clearly an attempt to counterfeit certain aspects of God's Holy Days. This man-made holiday, derived from the Babylonian feast of Tammuz, allegedly pays for our sins and prepares for the "kingdom to come." Ancient Egypt celebrated a 40 day fast in honor of Osiris. Lent, never observed by the early Church, had its debut in 'Christendom" at the Council of Nicaea in 325AD. Deluded or befuddled apologists advocating the observance of a holiday having a Pagan origin contend that if Christ did not specifically warn us not to keep it, we are absolutely free to keep it, totally at variance with Deuteronomy 12:32. Satan dresses his days up with color, emotions, and sex, intending to trap the gullible and unwary. As God's called-out ones, we dare not be conformed with the traditions of this world, practicing counterfeits of God's Holy Days, crafted by Satan.
God's grace is so wonderful and undeserved that, to many of us, it is almost unfathomable. Perhaps we have such a hard time understanding it because we tend to think of it as a "thing" that God dispenses. John Ritenbaugh shows, however, that "grace" is a term that represents God's awesome generosity toward us, His continuously flowing blessings and saving acts.
This world presents us with a disordered array of religions of all kinds—from atheism to animism, ancestor worship, polytheism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and many more besides. Where can we find the true religion, the true church, in all this confusion? John Ritenbaugh reveals that only one religion with its one true church has the answers to salvation and eternal life—the church Christ founded and heads today.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon a vivid dream in which two lions entered the meeting hall, describes the terror he had as they came toward him. The dream reminds us that Satan and his demons are prowling around like ravenous lions, seeking whom they may devour. On the Day of Atonement, we afflict our souls to humble ourselves and abstaining from work. Christ came to this earth to shed His blood in love and self-sacrifice to redeem us and all mankind from our sins. We are to gather together in a holy convocation, symbolizing our unity in God. It is a time of rendering ourselves poor in spirit, preparing ourselves for the Kingdom of God. When we afflict ourselves on the Day of Atonement, we prepare ourselves for the Feast of Tabernacles. We do no work on this day, illustrating that we cannot justify ourselves, but must rely totally on God. Satan is currently paroled, dwelling in the holding facility of this earth, taking every opportunity to deceive and destroy the sons of man in the short time he has left. Satan especially wants to attack those who are faithfully keeping God's laws. We must ardently trust in Christ's atoning sacrifice, practicing what God has taught us, denying ourselves in the process, emulating Jesus Christ. When confronting Satan, we must be sober and self-controlled, vigilant and watchful, resisting Satan at every opportunity, standing firm in the faith, remaining steadfast as a rock. If we resist the Devil, God will draw close to us and Satan will be compelled to flee.
When Satan confronted humanity's first parents, Adam and Eve, he fed them three heresies that he continues to promote to deceive the world today. David Grabbe expounds on these three lies, revealing how Gnosticism incorporated them into its parasitic philosophy and way of life.
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.
The two men who go to the Temple to pray contrast in character, belief, and self-examination. Martin Collins shows that, although this parable involves prayer, it is not as much about how to pray as it is about how to be justified before God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Paul's impressive credentials and pedigree, which Paul considered rubbish, compared to his conversion and God's dramatic intervention in his life. Paul's writings, because of their complexity, have become the target of unscrupulous, antinomian twisting and equivocating by the carnal mind with its natural anti-law bias. By denigrating God's law, the unconverted presumptuously set their own standards. God's holy and righteous law was never designed to justify but only to identify sin and align one with the right standards—guiding one along the path to God's righteous purpose. Everyone who is saved will be a keeper of God's law. Paul used his life to illustrate our indebtedness to God and to caution about the law's limitation (or misapplied function) to justify, a function met only by Christ's sacrifice.
Three times, the apostle James states unequivocably, 'Faith without works is dead!' Here's how James' teaching agrees with and complements the teaching of Paul on justification.
Although some people have mistakenly used the Bible as a cookbook, a marriage manual, a financial planner, or a childrearing book, it was not designed for those purposes. Herbert W. Armstrong referred to the Bible as a jig-saw puzzle or a coded book, seeming like gibberish to most of the world, but with the aid of God's Holy Spirit, God's elect can put all the pieces together, finding all the essentials for salvation. Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that while it does not contain all knowledge, it does contain foundational principles, enabling people imbued with the mind of Christ to function independently in a godly manner- expanding the law beyond the letter into a more spiritual dimension.
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 asserts that the epistle of James stresses both faith and works, emphasizing those factors necessary for growth, enabling us to produce a bountiful harvest of fruit. We are to exercise humility and impartiality, taking particular effort to bring our tongues under control, being cautiously slow to speak, acknowledging God in all our thoughts. We are obligated to do practical works of goodness and kindness to our brethren, being solicitous of their needs, and making intercessory prayer for them. To him who knows to do good but doesn't, it is sin. Eating unleavened bread is equivalent to practicing good works.
In this Unleavened Bread sermon, Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that learning God's way (and unlearning Satan's way) takes a lifetime- spiritually speaking, perhaps the most difficult and arduous task on the entire earth. Over a lifetime, with our cooperation, God fashions us into vessels of honor. The commands to eat unleavened bread outnumber the commands to refrain from eating leavened bread three to one, indicating that the most efficient way of eliminating sin is to do righteousness (eating God's word and applying its principles in our lives) If we do good, we won't have the time to do bad. The epistle of James applies to the Christian after the justification process has begun, indicating that after receiving forgiveness, after receiving God's implanted word, we are obligated to fulfill God's purpose in our lives, yielding to trials, bringing forth the fruits of character by doing (not just hearing) God's word. Paul and James steadfastly agree that faith without works is stone dead.
Galatians 4:9-10 is a favorite target of those who claim Christians no longer need to observe God's holy days. Is that really what Paul said? Earl Henn shows that he meant something entirely different!
John Ritenbaugh provides a summary of the Covenants, Grace and Law series: 1. Realize the position carnal man comes from: completely under Satan' sway, antagonistic to God's law (Romans 8:7). 2. Always work from clear, unambiguous scriptures (Matthew 5:17-19). 3. Be strengthened by the examples of Christ and His apostles keeping specific laws, including the Sabbath and holy days (I Peter 2:21). 4. Paul explains the means of justification (not salvation but the first step in a process; God imputes righteousness where it does not logically belong). 5. God's overall purpose is to create us in His image, including His righteous character. He is reproducing Himself (Genesis 1:26)! 6. God's purpose for the Old Covenant is as a bridge leading to Christ (Galatians 3:17-24). 7. The way Paul and others use terms important to this doctrine (bondage, circumcision, yoke, law, etc.) should be seen in their correct context.
John Ritenbaugh clarifies some difficult terms which Protestant theologians have misapplied, characterizing God's holy law as a "yoke of bondage." If we fail to realize that Paul's focus in the Galatians epistle was justification (rather than the whole salvation process of sanctification and glorification) we could become confused. The Old Covenant had no provision for justification nor did it provide a mechanism to change the heart. The antinomian argument ignores that Christ also puts a yoke of responsibility on New Covenant participants (Matthew 11:29-30). The yoke of bondage Paul referred to was a syncretism of Halakhah- the code of regulations added by the Pharisees- and Gnostic ascetic ritualism, neither a part of God's Law. God's Spirit and law keeping are not contradictory.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Paul's target in Galatians 2:16 was a syncretism of Judaism with strict Pagan ascetic Gnosticism and certainly not God's law. We need to avoid the Protestant ditch of "Christ did it all" leading to no attempt at law keeping or at best an apathetic assent to its value. Paul makes it abundantly clear that Christ did not free us from the death penalty in order to turn us into lawbreakers. Though God did not design the law to justify; without the law telling us of what to repent of, we would have no clue as to which path to take. The secret to successful law keeping is Christ living in us through God's Holy Spirit (Galatians 2:20; Romans 5:5) Christ will empower us, but will not live our lives for us. The marching orders for our pilgrimage derive from God's Word- containing His holy law.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that in Galatians Paul took issue with the Halakhah- the Jewish way of life- not God's word, but a massive collection of human opinion, some fairly accurate, but some way off the mark, placing a yoke or burden upon its followers. Jesus, in Matthew 23, acknowledged the authority of those sitting in Moses seat, but he took great exception as to how they were using their authority, a zealous obsession with the traditions of the fathers, but almost no application of God's Law. Being strict in human tradition does not mean keeping God's laws, but instead an exercise in zeal without knowledge. On the other hand, Galatians 2:16 does not "do away" with God's Law, or make faith and works mutually exclusive (James 2:24). Works must be based upon faith in Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the days, months, and times referred to in Galatians 4:10 do not refer to Jewish Holy Days or the law of God, but to Pagan Gnostic rites connected with the worship of demons. To refer to the liberating law of God as weak and beggarly constitutes rank blasphemy. To use Galatians as an antinomian tract denigrating God's holy and righteous law creates a hypocritical dichotomy- in which Paul, while keeping the law, allegedly urged the people not to keep it. Paul, as a light to the Gentiles, kept the Sabbath and the rest of God's law in the middle of gentile territory (Acts 18:11, 13:44) indicating that neither the Sabbath nor any other aspect of God's law had been done away. The target of Paul's wrath was Gnostic asceticism, which was syncretized with both extra- biblical Judaistic and Pagan elements.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the entire Old Testament was written with the New Testament church in mind. Certain temporary ceremonial sacrifices, washings, and rituals were set aside when the spiritual reality—such as Christ's sacrifice replacing animal sacrifices and God's Holy Spirit and His Word replacing physical washings (Hebrews 9:18; Ephesians 5:26)—added a spiritual dimension. All biblical law, including the ceremonies, comes from God. Paul never taught any Jew to forsake the Law of Moses, the constitution and civil code, but he did rail against Pharisaical additions for the expressed purpose of attaining justification. Even though a change occurred in the administration of existing law, no laws were done away. Instead, they are written in the hearts of the converted (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16).
John Ritenbaugh teaches that God's grace gives us focus on what the Law's true purpose is — namely the basic guide as to what good works are — rules for the journey of life. God's Law outlines a way of life, defining sin, actually categorizing a descending level of gravity or seriousness (from sins which lead to death and those which do not; I John 5:16). Righteousness consists of applying the Law's letter and/or intent. Sin constitutes a failure of applying or living up to the standards of what God defines as proper or right. The conclusion of this sermon begins an exposition of four principles determining whether the law is binding.
Acts 5:32 says very clearly that God gives His Spirit to those who obey Him, yet some argue that keeping God's law is not necessary. What is the truth? Earl Henn clarifies this contentious point.
John Ritenbaugh warns that Satan, through subtle doctrinal changes, has attempted to obliterate one major step in the conversion process, namely the sanctification step. Sanctification is the only step which shows (witnesses) on the outside; its effects cannot be hidden. Sanctification is produced by our choosing to do works pleasing to Almighty God. Works are not meant for our salvation, but for our transformation and growing in the knowledge of God. Without transformation, there is no Kingdom to look forward to (Romans 14:10; II Corinthians 5:10; and Revelation 20:13). As with physical exercise, spiritual exercise also mandates: no pain, no gain.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that forgiveness is only the beginning of the grace process, enabling us to grow or mature into the full stature of Christ. Grace eliminates the possibility of boasting or self-glory because all we have accomplished has been accomplished only because of what He gave. We are to follow the example of our Elder Brother, who although He did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, nevertheless made Himself of no reputation (Philippians 2:6), becoming, as it were, a child. Jesus is not against greatness, but He wants it to be given by God and God is going to give it to those who are in harmony with His law and His way of life. Everybody is to build on the same foundation, using those gifts, which God empowered them. Paul, in I Corinthians 1:29 insists that the very fact you are under grace is what nails you to the floor, that you have got to obey the law.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the intent or purpose of the scripture in Deuteronomy 23:2 prohibiting offspring from illegitimate unions (often carrying psychological baggage and irreversible physical damage) from holding offices of responsibility in physical Israel for ten generations. Acts 14 begins with the people of the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe mistaking Paul for Hermes and Barnabas for Zeus. When Paul convinces the crowds that he and Barnabas were not gods, they were treated with contempt rather than adoration. The church, it seems, has always been forced to live in hostile environments. At the beginning of chapter 15, the question is posed whether a Gentile must undergo circumcision in order to be saved or keep the law in order to become justified. Lawkeeping in the present does not justify past sins, nor is it intended to be a vehicle for salvation. This understanding does not do away with God's law, which must be kept in the spirit. Following the Council of Jerusalem, God now begins His spiritual work through the church, taking His Word out to the nations.
John Ritenbaugh continues to reflect on Stephen's incendiary message to fellow Hellenistic Jews (ostensibly given in hopes of their repentance), chastising them for their perennial rejection of prophets and deliverers, including the greatest Deliverer ever sent (namely Jesus Christ), clinging instead superstitiously to the land, the law, and the temple. Stephen's 'untimely' martyrdom and his compassion on his persecutors, followed by the protest reaction against his brutal murder (all part of God's divine plan) resulted in a rapid spreading of the Gospel. The study then focuses upon the influence of Simon Magus, a noted practitioner of sorcery or magic who became impressed with the power of God's Holy Spirit, presumptuously offering Peter money to purchase this power for selfish purposes to control others rather than to serve them. Peter recognized the hypocritical, deceitful, impure motives of this request and responded appropriately.
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.
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!