John Ritenbaugh, suggesting that most of us resemble the Samaritan woman in our understanding of the value of our calling, maintains that our relationship with God is our sole protection from carnal human nature and the deadly pulls of the world. Whatever consumes our time has the power to either edify or distract us. Faith and works are interchangeable components in our salvation, demonstrating a cause-and-effect relationship. The apostles Paul and James preached the same message, approaching the faith-works coin from different sides. Faith grounded in truth produces works in agreement with truth. Faith without godly works resembles an automobile without an engine. As a minority religion, God's Church appeared on the world scene in the midst of cultural upheaval. Peter's message on Pentecost led not only to exponential growth, but also to vicious persecution. As God stirred the cultural pot then, so He is doing today, on the cusp of Jesus' return. The frightful conditions during the First Century are only typical of the horrific times yet to come. To weather these horrendous conditions, we will need the encouragement of the Epistle of Hebrews.
James Beaubelle acknowledges that we have all asked God to increase our faith, realizing that without faith it is impossible to please Him. From time to time, we exhibit a measure of faithlessness, perhaps because we have viewed faith too narrowly, thinking in terms of what we do rather than what God does through His spiritual gifting to us. Faith supports what we know of God, and if it is genuine, faith is the greatest motivator for good works. God increases our faith according to His working in us. Godly faith cannot stand on intellect alone, because it has spiritual and emotional qualities as well. Four progressive steps will strengthen our Godly faith: (1.) Belief in God's Word, which (2.) leads to obedience to duty, which can only be accomplished by (3.) a relationship with God through the indwelling of His Spirit (the mind of Christ), which in turn (4.) produces a repertoire of experience on which we incrementally build faith.
Ronny Graham, in part two of his message, "Seeing God in Creation," again focuses on Romans 1:18-20, emphasizing that humans can deduce God's presence from His creation. Hebrews 11:3 adds that the Invisible has created the visible. Hebrews 11 shows that Abel, Noah and Abraham displayed their faith by their works. Two theories of creation have tried to jettison God out of the process. The Big Bang Theory posits that some billions of years ago a brief but massive blast catapulted matter from a tiny confined source to the outer regions of the universe, ultimately accounting for the stars. Scientists remain unable to explain the cause of this explosion, simply asking people to have faith in an unproven theory. Darwin's theory of the Origin of the Species, hypothesizing that humans evolved from "lower" animals, cannot account for the present-day coexistence of these lower animals with humans. When we compare these flawed theories to the Biblical account in John 1 and Genesis 1, we have clear explanations for daily, seasonal, and yearly cycles—phenomena the Big Bang and evolutionary theories cannot explain. The unknown energy and the mind behind these cyclical patterns is God. The regularity of these cycles imply a faithful Creator. Sadly, even those scientists who advance "intelligent design" seldom attribute it to God, referring to it as Mother Nature, or some such abstraction. They refuse to acknowledge that God made all things through the Word of His Power. Thankfully, God has given His Faith to those whom He has called, enabling them to believe in Him. If we believe God, we will manifest our faith through obedience.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the seven "I will" promises given to our forefather Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3 were truly "big deal" foundational promises impacting the lives of multiple billions of lives up to the present day and that Abraham and that Abraham could fathom them only by calculating within his limited nervous system. Abraham calculated, adding things up in order to esteem those things which he learned to be truly important. To Abraham, God's words were a beacon, directing him how to live his life. Abraham believed in the counsel God gave him, redirecting his steps to accommodate this counsel, advice which all God's called-out ones are obliged to follow. Everything hinges on whether we, as our father Abraham, are willing to live by faith. When God read Abraham's mind, He found no skepticism, but found instead trust and faith, qualities we are to emulate. If we do not believe God, we will not submit to Him. We begin with faith, and the works automatically follow. Faith motivates us to keep the law, steering us away from the death penalty which is the automatic curse for disobeying the Law. Before God established the Old Covenant, a sign or guidepost anticipating the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ, Abraham (as well as Abel and others before him, and David and others after him) realized that a promised Seed-an incarnation of God—would eventually emerge as a Savior, making possible the forgiveness of sins for all of Adam's offspring (Abraham's spiritual seed, which included the Gentiles) who would call on Him and follow His guidance and counsel.
Martin Collins, focusing on Habakkuk's stance of assuming the position of a watchman, being willing to accept God's ultimate judgment on his people even when the circumstances seem to contradict revelation, emphasizes that all of God's called-out ones are also watchmen, needing to live continually by faith, discerning, listening to, and responding to God's instructions, not only hearing them, but taking them to heart. Without having faith like Abel, Abraham, Noah. and Enoch, judging by faith rather than outward appearances, we cannot please God. Abel, Enoch, and Noah all believed God and were willing to endure temporal loss for a greater reward. Faith constitutes unshakable belief and confidence in God that He will do everything He has promised. Like the apostle Peter, we must learn that human faith, at its best, is not sufficient; Godly faith cannot be worked up, but is a gift from God which we must constantly put to use. This kind of faith comes by hearing God's Word. God holds His called-out ones to a much higher level of accountability, but He has also provided the necessary tools for overcoming and as well as for producing spiritual fruit. In spite of doubts arising from negative appearances, we need to cling to God's promises, even in the worst of times, realizing that all iniquity will be punished eventually. Like the heroes of faith, all of which had to do something to demonstrate their faith, we must be productive in our faith, understanding that faith without works is stone dead. Faith is not a preference, but rather a commitment. Even faith as little as a mustard seed is an open door to God.
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, asking why Christians must endure such horrendous persecution and struggle, asserts that Paul warned in Acts 5 that the church would always be in danger of deception from within and opposition from without. "Opposition from without" in Peter's time came from the evil oppression incited by the Pharisees and Sadducees. Paradoxically, with the beginning of persecution, the Gospel spread exponentially beyond Jerusalem, much to the frustration of the Jewish leaders, consumed by jealousy and fear of losing power. The more the church is persecuted, the more of a witness the church will become. Angelic ministers even the playing field by limiting the threat from unscrupulous and power-hungry religious leaders bent on protecting their turf. Christians can always expect new challenges, and must never be content with standing still, but must be pressing on to spiritual maturity. God allows a great deal of agonizing suffering to His church, but His will is definitely destined to prevail. Christians cannot fully mature without the full counsel of God, embodied in the Old and New Testament, enduring persecution and thorns in the flesh.
Ted Bowling, recollecting a conversation with his late mother about the identity of Philip, the individual who ministered to the Ethiopian eunuch, affirmed that this same Philip was one of the first seven deacons chosen to serve the neglected Grecian widows, providing sorely needed administrative relief. These men were chosen not only for their administrative savvy, but for their good reputation, character, wisdom, fullness of the Holy Spirit, and humility to serve in lowly and thankless positions. Philip served with Stephen, the first New Testament martyr, whose example was evidently instrumental in the calling and conversion of the apostle Paul. With the death of Stephen, Philip stepped in to fill the gap, preaching and serving the needs of the congregation in Samaria, evidently swelling the size of the fellowship with his dynamic preaching, providing Peter with a large number of candidates for baptism. At the peak of this accomplishment, he was removed from this responsibility and sent on another assignment, involving more uncertainty and arduous travel; Philip accepted this charge without complaining or grumbling, being willing to serve in any assigned capacity. When he encountered the Ethiopian eunuch, an official of Queen Candace, he approached the task of helping this single individual to understand with the same alacrity as teaching a multitude, leading to the baptism and conversion of this man. Philip teaches us that we do not have to preach to multitudes in order to be used by God; we never know in what capacity God may use us. As long as we humbly are willing to serve in any capacity, being willing to wash feet, God will find a use for us.
John Ritenbaugh, maintaining that our responsibility is to yield to God's sovereignty, nevertheless suggests that God has, by giving us free will, enabled us to freely sin, but holds us responsible for governing ourselves. The word govern, derived from the Latin noun gubern?tor, indicates a regulating, as in steering a ship with a rudder. The edict to submit to civil authority has a built-in exception when the civil government has explicitly asked us to do something contrary to God's Law. No power exists that is not in some degree permitted by God. All governments have the responsibility to protect the law-abiding, to punish evil doers, and to establish peace. The American government was established in a climate of rebellion against oppression and a desire to be free. The Founding Fathers were educated men, schooled in English Law and the ordinances of the Bible. John Adams warned that this government, based on maximum liberty, would only work for a moral citizenry. Sadly, the current citizenry is more concerned about their own selfish obsessions for entitlements than the welfare of the nation. God's government has also given us maximum liberty, but we have a daunting responsibility to govern ourselves. We have been called by God to do God's will, following in Christ's steps. In order to regulate ourselves, we must have the same kind of vision that Abraham and Moses possessed, leading them to the Promised Land. This vision can only occur if we have Christ within us, producing spiritual fruit. Without Christ, we can do nothing. As the physical Israelites had to eat manna to be sustained, the spiritual Israelites must be sustained on the true bread, the Word of God and the Holy Spirit (the mind of God the Father and Jesus Christ), giving us the ability to keep His commandments.
As Christians, we have a desire to please God, and we want Him to protect and deliver us when the times ahead get tough. John Ritenbaugh illustrates four qualities of character that our full acceptance of God's sovereignty will build and that will prepare us for whatever work God may choose for us in these last days.
Pat Higgins: 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? ...
Matthew 9:27-31 contains the story of two blind men whom Jesus healed. These men are certain that Jesus can heal them, showing their faith, but they do not have enough faith to obey His command not to tell anyone about it. Martin Collins analyzes the healing of these two men, who did not let their handicap keep them from seeking Christ.
It is easy to look around this world and become discouraged by how far from God so many people seem to be. Even chuch members can appear to be distracted by this world. To counter this pessimistic view, John Reid explains the Parable of the Persistent Widow, at the end of which Jesus asks, "When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" The answer is more positive than one may think!
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.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the promise of rest alluded to in Hebrews 4:9, emphasizes the need to endure, persevere, overcoming doubts and unbelief—something many of our forebears (described in Hebrews 3 and 4) did not successfully attain. When we become impatient (largely as a result of superimposing our timetable, plan, or understanding over God's), doubts and lack of faith arise. Like Abraham, we (as Abraham's seed) have been called to a life of rootless, unsettled wandering in a pilgrim state, continually on the move, trusting in God to lead us to our ultimate destination: a spiritual life of permanence. Until this ultimate objective (the ever-expanding promises made by God to Abraham- co-heirs of the earth and ultimately the entire creation) occurs, we experience temporary privation, temptation, and seemingly perpetual rootlessness. Thankfully, if we patiently endure the twists and turns, trusting in God's faithfulness to bring to completion what He has started, there will be a time when we will attain the rest we desperately yearn for.
In this Parable, Jesus emphasizes the kind of faith His disciples need to endure trials and obey His commands. Martin Collins explains that the only way for a Christian to obtain increased faith is to manifest steadfast, persevering obedience grounded in humility with the help of God's Spirit.
Understanding our obligation to Christ leads to a deeply held, personal loyalty to Him. John Ritenbaugh explains that our redemption by means of Christ's sacrifice should make us strive to please Him in every facet of life.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Deuteronomy 30:15-20, stresses that the choices we make on the day-to-day basis have long-term spiritual consequences. Only the immature think their behaviors will not catch up with them (Numbers 32:23). If we learn to fear and love God, loyalty, faithfulness and commandment keeping will naturally follow. If we love and fear God, taking God into our consciousness with every behavior, we will instinctively haste and depart from evil. Like a physical marriage, our covenant with God is based upon the driving force of love and respect.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the processes of developing faith and hope, indicates that the rules for making the calendar, a very complex activity, are not contained in the Bible. To put ones efforts into such a project (especially with limited or elementary knowledge of astronomy or mathematics) constitutes foolish, misguided zeal. Using errant human assumption, some in the greater church of God have concocted no less than nine conflicting calendars. The preservation of the oracles (including the keeping of the calendar) has not been entrusted to the church but to the tribe of Judah (Romans 3:2). Some of the anti-Jewish bias in the would-be calendar makers smacks of anti-Semitism. We need to have faith in God's ability to preserve a working calendar, believing Him unconditionally as Abraham did.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that both Jesus and Abraham rose above their emotional pulls by exercising living faith- a faith built on a foundation of incremental acts of obedience. Living faith can never be separated from works, nor can it ever stand independently or inertly as if in a vacuum. James points out that as the body without the spirit is a lifeless corpse (James 2:26), faith without works is equally dead. God's Holy Spirit (given as a part of the New Covenant) provides the primary driving force or the motivation for obedience (good works) which pleases Him, causing us to be regarded as a new creation.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that a spiritual Israelite, following Jacob's example, undergoes a metamorphosis in which his own stubborn, self-centered will is broken so that God's creative work can be completed within him. Abraham, whose very name connotes faithfulness, learned to work through fearful catch-22 dilemmas, walking by faith rather than sight, carefully calculating on the basis of his previous and on-going relationship with God. Likewise, God today, as master teacher, carefully and methodically guides His students to higher levels of understanding and trust. We need to exercise devotion to God (faith, works, and worship) in every area of our life, from marriage, work, or human relationships- coupling iron clad faith with concrete works of obedience.
What is faith? Is it something we work up or does God give it to us? Do we have the faith to be saved? Do we really trust God?
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.
Christians must live by faith. But what is faith? John Ritenbaugh navigates the misconceptions of this topic, emphasizing just how vital it is!
What does God see in Israel that so affronts Him that He has to swear "by His holiness"? Israel had every opportunity that the Gentiles did not have: His calling, His promises, His Word, His laws. He gave the Israelites these gifts to help them develop into His sons and daughters, but God sees them as diametrically opposite of Himself. Should not God expect to see some of His characteristics in His sons?
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that under both the Old and New Covenants, refusal to keep to keep God's Law severs our relationship with Him. Like loving parents who give rules to their children to protect them from danger, our Loving Father has given us His Spiritual Law to protect us and bring us quality life. In the manner of Satan the Devil, who convinced Adam and Eve that God's commands restricted freedom, the misguided proponents of the anti-law bias or mentality have convinced many in our former fellowship that the Sabbath, the Holy Days, tithing, and food laws are harsh and restrictive elements of Old Covenant bondage. New Covenant justification does not do away with God's Laws (nor with human nature or carnality for that matter) but creates the circumstances through which faith is enhanced, producing sanctification and purification, bringing God's purpose (to restore all things) to perfection.
God has invited us into a love relationship--one in which He has already shown Himself to be absolutely faithful. If we truly love Him, severing our affections with this world, we will meet the demands of becoming holy. God's Holy Spirit enables us to have this love (Romans 5:5), but we must actively use it or lose it. We must seek God as ardently as we would a physical love relationship, spending quality time with Him. If we make no effort to pursue this relationship, it cools. Similarly, unfaithfulness (idolatry) will destroy it. Obedience (expressing our love toward God and proving that we trust Him) will strengthen this relationship, giving us a higher quality, more abundant life and increased blessings.
Conversion is a growing relationship with God, and thus it is a process that, if not worked on, will deteriorate. Like a dating couple, if the partners in this relationship do not spend time with each other and become closer, they will drift apart. Conviction is paramount to this process: We must be absolutely loyal and faithful to God. Our conviction reveals itself in living by faith. The life of Moses is a stunning example of how a "convicted" Christian should live.
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 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 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 understanding comes through sacrifice and that our lives alternate between light (understanding) and darkness (confusion). Abraham's experiences teach us not to try to force God's will by contrivances of the flesh. When any sin or self- will is involved, the fruits of such an endeavor will be bitter and disappointing (as was the incident involving Abraham and Hagar). Abraham's righteousness equated with his acquired humble unflinching trust in God rather than his skill at law keeping. The gift of grace comes only to those who yield to God by faith, establishing a warm working relationship with Him, performing righteousness through the power of His Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that since a nation is, for the most part, a family grown large, respect for the fifth commandment constitutes the basis for all good government. The family provides the venue for someone to learn to be hospitable and to make sacrifices for one another, learning the rudiments of community relations. For the child, parents stand in the place of God in the family structure, as the child's creator, provider, and teacher. Successful parenting involves sacrifice and intense work. The quality of a child's relationship with his parent (as well as the quality of parenting) determines his relationship to the community as well as to God. Compliance to the fifth commandment brings about the built-in, promised blessing of a long quality life. Our obligation to honor and to take responsibility for the care for our parents (as well as those more elderly than we are) never ends.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 did not have a blind naïve faith, but one built incrementally by careful examination of the evidence- adding things up or calculating- from cumulative life experiences. From this acquired faith, these otherwise ordinary people received the inspiration to go against seemingly impossible odds, accomplishing super human goals and objectives. This roll call of the faithful serves as a cheering section for the rest of us who are still enduring our trials, still enduring God's chastening, prone to discouragement and occasionally feeling like giving up. Like the heroes of faith- and most notably our Elder Brother Jesus, we need to look beyond the present, looking at the long term effects of the trials and tests we go though, seeing their value in providing something in us that we would otherwise lack (the peaceable fruit of righteousness) to successfully make it into God's Kingdom. God lovingly chastens and disciplines those He loves.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the episode of the healing of the man blind from birth and the resultant threats imposed upon the man and his family by the Pharisees who accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. The man, healed by Jesus but persecuted and disfellowshipped by the Pharisees, realized God was responsible for the miracle. One can conclude that the closer we get to God, the more likely we will have persecution; but the closer we get to Him, the greater and more real He becomes and the more likely we will serve Him correctly. When Christ opens our eyes and cleanses us from our impurities, our behavior impacts those around us, leading to some bewilderment and persecution, but incrementally toward greater knowledge of God. Seemingly, only a person conscious of his blindness (weakness or lacks) will make an effort to overcome. In chapter ten, the shepherd/sheep analogy demonstrates the importance of the sheep "knowing the Master's voice" in the midst of a community corral having many diverse flocks. The gate or door of the corral (as symbolized by Christ) connotes security, tranquility, and order, protecting the flock from thieves and predators (metaphorically representing false prophets and false doctrine). Christ takes responsibility for caring for His flock (who over the years have become His intimate companions), including laying down His very life.
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