Richard Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that only fools are blind to the marvels of Creation, observes that even empirical science has substantiated the need for six factors to support life: 1) crust, 2.) temperature, 3.) moon, 4.) star with a stable energy source, 5.) core, and 6.) right planetary neighbors. The earth, having all these prerequisites, displays the magnificent design demanding an Intelligent Creator (Romans 1:18). Human nature, without God's Spirit, follows a trajectory into ignorance and stupidity. If people do not believe in God, they will believe in anything, following the darkness of their unregenerate hearts. God has called some individuals now, crafting them as His workmanship, equipped for good works and the opportunity to be in His family. Unlike the Protestant notion that the end of the spiritual creation process is baptism, to be capped off with grace and eternal security, God's true Church teaches that the salvation process has merely begun, with the Sabbath being an integral part of sanctification. The Sabbath, a hallowed time of restorative rest, provides an opportunity for God's called-out sons and daughters to develop a relationship with Him, reflecting on the spiritual as well as the physical creation. Far from being a period of lounging, the Sabbath rest generates spiritual energy and develops a trusting relationship with the Creator. As God's called-out ones, we must not use the hallowed time for our carnal pleasures, but for renewing our relationship with our Creator. Keeping the Sabbath Day holy is a major key to our spiritual growth.
John Ritenbaugh, citing a quotation from Paul Minear that the Bible is "an album of casual photographs of laborers . . . a book by workers, about workers, for workers," reminds us that love for work is a significant part of God's image. In the very beginning, in Genesis 2:2, God is described as ceaselessly working and enjoying His work, unlike the melancholy lament of Louis Armstrong, wishing he could be like "that lucky old sun" with nothing to do except to "roll around heaven all day," with seemingly no responsibilities. As God's called-out ones, we cannot adopt this attitude. Jesus told the Pharisees that His Father has been working continually, setting an example for all of us to develop a passion for creating, something He gave to Adam and Eve in their awesome task of tending and keeping the Garden of Eden, becoming, in effect, co-workers with God. Work has noble divine roots and is part of natural law; man will never become complete without working in cooperation with God. Contrary to popular belief, work did not originate with sin, but became cursed with a kind of resistance after Adam and Eve sinned, subjected to the futility described in Romans 8:19-20. If we view work from an "under the sun" perspective, we will ultimately come to regard it as futile drudgery, but if we view it from an "over the sun" perspective, we will come to see work as a marvelous gift, perhaps even a profound act of worship.
James Beaubelle, insisting that there is nothing passive in the way God deals with His people and His creation, asserts that the God of the Bible was and is actively involved in the lives of His people with the expectation that they become active also. The command to love our God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves cannot be carried out passively. It requires an active response on our part in living a life that strives towards righteousness within a relationship with God to build up a holy character that resembles our Elder Brother Jesus Christ—a character that must be developed over a lifetime preparing for service in God's Kingdom. Our entire history we can consider as the extension of God's compassion and mercy for our father Abraham, freed us from bondage of service to sin (symbolized by Egypt) into a covenant of voluntary service to God. The Egypt we encounter today is manifest in the form of bondage to our own human nature and bondage to the lures of the world. We are liberated from this bondage to participate in voluntary servitude to our God, becoming sons that serve God and do His will. We are given the motivation to serve God by the gift of the Holy Spirit and the attractiveness of the Father and Son, who are hard to resist; we do not want to disappoint them but want to please them. By imitating our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, though we cannot forgive other peoples'sins, but we can have compassion on them, rendering concrete acts of service to them like the Good Samaritan, who in contrast to the cruelty of the robbers and the cold indifference of the religious leaders, ministered to the poor victim's needs and extended his service to him by unselfishly hiring the innkeeper to care for him. As we, motivated by compassion, render service to the hurting and needy, we also serve Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father. Our compassion for the hurts of others must be turned into concrete deeds of service to God and our fellow man.
One of the lessons of Ecclesiastes is that God is intimately involved in the lives and futures of those He has called into His purpose. To this end, He has given His people tremendous gifts that, if properly used, will build their faith and draw them closer to God. John Ritenbaugh encourages us that we matter to God: He wants to see us succeed in life and be prepared for life in His Kingdom.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon II John 5, an epistle which cautions about deceivers who would denigrate the value of work, considers the straining on the point "we cannot earn salvation" a red herring, diverting our attention from the true value of Christian work. God indeed judges the quality and quantity of what we do in our Christian responsibilities. Our calling is a vocation; work or labor is vitally important in our calling. God is our model regarding work, mandating that we produce fruits of righteousness. Christ admonishes that our highest regard should be seeking the Kingdom of God and righteousness. We work for Christ as His slaves. Profit from life is produced by work, requiring sacrifices of time and energy. Christians have been created for the very purpose of doing good works which God has prepared for us. We will be continuing in this work for all eternity. Christian works were never intended to save us; Jesus' works as our Savior and high Priest is what saves us. Doing the works provides practice in God's way of life, engraving in us His character, providing a witness to the world, glorifying God. It takes work to put things in order and prepare for the return of Christ. Three parables in the Olivet prophecy (The Two Servants, Wise and Foolish Virgins, and the Talents) emphasize the necessity of work in the preparation for Christ's return. One's faithfulness in productivity does not transfer to one who has been a slacker. We are all being scrutinized and judged by Almighty God as to what we do, especially as it related to our service to our fellow servants. Whatever we sow, regarding our relationships with one another, we will reap. Sin (of commission or omission) describes the failure to maintain God's standards. The failure to work is sin. Works do not save us, but everyone who is saved works. We will be judged and rewarded according to our works, both the quantity and the quality.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the book of Ecclesiastes, a document which provides an overview of the consequences of life's frustrating activities, gives us directions for making it through the labyrinth of life. This treatise prepares us with helpful, practical, and profitable approaches, preparing us for the Kingdom of God. Some approaches toward life are worthless while others are more profitable. God has purposely subjected nature and life to vanity and frustration, a curse resulting from Adam's sin. We are all caught in this curse. If we want things to work out properly, we not only have to keep the commandments, but we have to seek God to assimilate His nature within us. Until God Himself is here directing things through Jesus Christ, the problems of this world will not be corrected. Using godly wisdom helps us to deal with our circumstances, but it will not change the world. The work God has given us to do will give us pleasure and a satisfying sense of accomplishment. Work is a major factor in our lives, consisting of physical or mental activity directed toward the accomplishment of something. We must keep in mind that everything we do matters. God has been purposefully and energetically working for all eternity toward a goal, setting a pattern for all of us. We are created and designed to do good works, not to earn salvation, but instead to emulate the way of life lived by our Heavenly Father. Our God is a goal-setter, not only for Himself, but for us. God does the creating; God distributes the gifts; God distributes the responsibilities. The command to tend preceded Adam and Eve's sin; work was not the curse. Ultimately, we will be judged according to our work.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God is a working God, creating holy, righteous, divine character with the goal of recreating man in His image. From the time of our justification until our glorification in God's Kingdom, it almost seems 'downhill,' with sanctification being a difficult road. Works are not only required during sanctification, but they determine to a great degree the magnitude of our ultimate reward. We are God's creation, created for good works. As the clay, we must allow God to mold us into whatever He wants, cooperating with Him until we are fully in the image of His Son, a brand new spiritual creation. Until then, we are commanded to make life-and-death choices, with the emphatic admonition of choosing life or putting on Christ and putting off the old man. We are begotten children of God, protected within the metaphorical womb of the church, until the spiritual birth at our resurrection. We are also metaphorically a work in progress, as in the construction of parts of a building. Ultimately, all individuals who have ever lived will be judged according to the quality of their works; people will be judged according to what they do after they make the covenant with God. Works are required and rewarded.
It is a given that works cannot earn us salvation. However, they play many vital roles in our Christian walk toward the Kingdom of God. In this concluding article, John Ritenbaugh gives specific reasons for doing good works, showing their close relationship with holiness.
The Bible makes it very plain that salvation is by grace, but it is also clear that we are 'created in Christ Jesus for good works' (Ephesians 2:10). Having explained justification, John Ritenbaugh tackles the process of sanctification, showing that the far greater part of God's saving work in us occurs after baptism!
The apostle James informs us that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:20). Continuing in his theme of the Christian and works, John Ritenbaugh exposes just how corrupt sin is, and by this we can begin to understand just how holy God is—and just how much we need to change to conform to His glorious image.
Richard Ritenbaugh reflects that, over a period of time, we can become an aficionado, learning to evaluate works of art, distinguishing the works of one artist from another, or perhaps a mediocre from a quality work. Likewise, our spiritual works (as evidenced in the systematic chronological appraisal of the works of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 - including the Ephesus- the "crusty old soldiers" who left their first love, Smyrna - "sheep to the slaughter"-suffering continual tribulation but conquering in the process, Pergamos, "Spiritual Descendants of Lot" - or cultural compromisers, Thyatira- idolatrous worldly Christians "Married to the enemy," Sardis "Dead and Deader," living on past reputation, Philadelphia, the weak but faithful " Little engine that could" , and the self-centered "Good for nothing idle rich" ) also have come under close meticulous scrutiny or appraisal by Almighty God. Contrary to Protestant understanding, our works emphatically do count - showing or demonstrating (not just telling) that we will be obedient.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the truths of God are eternally dependable because the Father and Jesus Christ remain steadfastly dependable. If we trust in His truth rather than ourselves or other men, we will not jeopardize our spirituality. Sadly, the vast majority of Christian-professing churches has been saturated with an "end-time flood" of appealing, pagan doctrines (antinomianism, immortality of soul, Dispensationalism, Dualism, and Docetism) derived largely from Hellenistic Gnosticism. In this confusing environment, truth has become an endangered commodity. Pursuing "inner spirituality" (supposedly "despising the flesh") ironically enables one to become promiscuous and self-indulgent. In contrast, the true Christian is obligated to perform works (derived from God's law) that God has preordained and walk continuously in the Way. Keeping the law, vilified by antinomian, evangelical Christianity) gives structure and guidance to a Christian's life.
John Ritenbaugh focusing upon the topic of camouflage, concealment, or deception, warns that Satan, the grand master of deception, has provided what appear to be plausible alternatives to Christ's sacrifice for salvation. We are saved through a combination of the sinless life of Jesus Christ, His sacrifice, and His intercessory work as our High Priest. Some believable counterfeits, which (in many people's minds) compete for Christ's sacrifice and His intercessory priestly work are: (1) service in behalf of the brethren, (2) making a positive change or "turning over a new leaf," (3) right thinking, (4) denying ourselves (asceticism), and (5) sacrifice (even the supreme sacrifice). Though they are required of us, they do not save us. Salvation is the work of Jesus Christ.
If we are not following the true gospel that Christ proclaimed, we will wind up somewhere other than the Kingdom of God!
In this Feast of Trumpets message, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that salvation is not a one time event, but a continuous process analogous to the birth process—not just immunity from death, but a total dramatic transformation of our nature into a totally new creation. Six major reasons why works are necessary (following the initial justification stage) include: (1) to undertake godly character building and preparation for God's Kingdom; (2) to give evidence of our faith; (3) to witness to the world that God is God; (4) to glorify God; (5) to prepare for a reward; and (6) to exercise living faith toward a covenant partner who has been eternally faithful.
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.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that good works are something that take place after the process of salvation has begun. Good works are the effects of God sending forth His Spirit and deliverance, but the works are not the cause of our deliverance. God's creative effort did not end with the physical creation or our election, but God continues to work, giving His called out ones the motivation and the power to do His will (Philippians 2:13) to the end that we might exemplify His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10)- a new spiritual creation shaped and patterned after God's image, having the ethical and moral character of God.
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.
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.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the doctrinal changes made by the leaders in the Worldwide Church of God were intended to destroy the vision of the purpose God is working out. Ignoring the last portion of Ephesians 2:10, the proponents of the no works, no conditions, no standards, cheap grace mentality have perverted the name of Christianity, adopting the fruit of the world's brand of Christianity, cutting itself off from the law and rule of God. In contrast to this adolescent "obey because we feel like it"- "all roads lead to heaven" mentality is God's package, consisting of a body of laws, a body of beliefs or doctrines, and a way of life, all of which are working to produce a magnificent product- not merely to save us.
Countering the Protestant red-herring argument, "You cannot earn salvation by works," John Ritenbaugh stresses that works certainly are not "done away" but that God expects works from all those He has called. We show our faithfulness and loyalty to God by our works or conduct - what we produce by what we have been given. The works demanded of us consist of continual striving to be faithful to our covenant relationship with God by keeping His commandments (not the traditions of men). As we strive to live by the Spirit instead of by the flesh (Romans 8:5) we will produce the kind of fruit pleasing to God. God forces a converted person to choose between two opposing forces (Romans 8:13), providing us His Spirit as a tool to overcome.