John Ritenbaugh, examining the socio-cultural milieu before the writing of the Epistle to the Hebrews, explains the difficulties experienced by the new Jewish converts to the Gospel. The powerful testimony of the recently risen Christ, combined with the apostles, who had spent 3 ½ years under His tutelage, were the main factors behind the fast growth of the church to 6,000. The Jewish leadership deemed these converts to be traitors to the of the religious heritage of Judaism. The estrangement these people felt is similar to that experienced by today's people of the true God. Christ told His Apostles not to become fixated about the fulfillment of prophecy, but instead to engage in the work He had given them. God's people today have the same no-nonsense orders Christ gave to His original Disciples, namely to take the Gospel to all nations. God's worldwide institution, the Israel of God, makes a transition to a New Covenant, not 'doing away with the law' but making it applicable to both Jew and Gentile. Repentance and baptism replace circumcision as the spiritual sign of the New Covenant. The Council of Jerusalem indicated that Jesus Christ's words and behavior proved the final word on New Covenant decisions, bringing about a significant change in practice.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the popular song, "My Way," (popularized by Frank Sinatra) warns that God's Called-out ones should never emulate the haughty and self-willed attitude this song glorifies. God created us in His image, giving us the wherewithal to expand Eden worldwide. If Adam and Eve had followed God's instructions, they and their posterity would have accomplished this. Instead, the drives of carnal nature proved to be more important to them than obedience to their Creator, an orientation which dashed all hopes they would spread Edenic bliss worldwide. In Psalm 14, we learn that no one has of himself overcome the pulls of carnality to overt evil, rebellion and hostility toward God. Carnal human nature and Godly character are polar opposites, as Paul illustrated in Romans 7, where he bemoans the power of his carnality to compel him to do the opposite of what he knew to be God's will. Carnal pulls are easy to follow because they lead us to "go with the flow" of the world. To walk in the Spirit means swimming against the current, aligning ourselves with God's will by doing three things: (1) Becoming a living sacrifice, committing ourselves to lifelong service to God, (2) actively participating or cooperating in our transformation by adjusting our thoughts to be in sync with His and (3) employing three essential baseline attitudes—humility, clear-headed thinking, and faith. The Apostle James points out that to know what is right and to willfully go against this knowledge is sin. All of us stand guilty under that definition of sin. God wants to see striving in the battle against sin.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the tumultuous time recorded in Acts is analogous to the current factional secularism, where God's Church is operating in the shadow of religious structures claiming to be "faith-based," but in fact denying God's Laws. Like the original audience of the Book of Hebrews, who battled a hostile established main-stream religion [Judaism] and persecution from an equally hostile secular Roman government, God's Church today faces a curtailment of tranquility. Like Paul and Nicodemus, God has pulled His people from pagan traditions practiced by the mainstream religion. As we are individually called by the Father (John 6:44), and the spiritual scales fall out of our eyes, we are just as disoriented and bewildered as the apostle Paul, finding our former friends and family members estranged from us. We learn that counting the cost means putting Christ ahead of friends, family, and especially self. At the time of the writing of the Epistle to the Hebrews, the newly converted Jew to the Way encountered persecution from the established religion and culture similar to what God's called-out ones experience today from established religion, family, secular culture, and government, all militating against God's Truth. Although textual criticism, citing stylistic differences in style between the Book of Hebrews and the identifiable Pauline Epistles, casts doubt on Paul's authorship, compelling internal evidence points to Paul as the actual author of Hebrews.
John Ritenbaugh, observing that Psalm 78 reveals Israel's intermittent fractured-and-restored-relationship with God, emphasizes that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are destined to repeat them. Israel has forgotten her unique position as the only people to whom God has revealed Himself. Sadly, Israel is squandering this treasured opportunity. As God's called-out ones, we must recognize our distinctiveness, thereby ensuring that we do not emulate Israel's unfaithfulness. Just as Jesus Christ personally selected every one of His original apostles, so has He hand-picked us by the will of the Father (John 6:44). There will be no "self-made men" in God's Kingdom, He having empowered us to fulfill a particular role in His masterplan. We assist God by yielding to Him, obediently submitting to His Laws and bearing righteous fruit. The Book of Hebrews emphasizes that Jesus qualified as High Priest, giving vital instruction about living by faith in the New Covenant, which mandates that we keep all His commandments. We must not fall for the dangerous heresy that "since Jesus kept the Commandments, we do not need to keep them." If we refuse to submit to God's Laws, we will not be in His Kingdom. Through obedience, we provide evidence that our love for God is genuine. The offspring of Jacob today are reaping the consequences of disobedience to God's Covenant; These consequences include (1.) hordes of aliens seeking to dominate and destroy the host culture, (2.) secularists persecuting those who believe in God, (3.) a welfare state stealing from the productive and gratify the indolent, and (4.) a Government using 'education' as a control mechanism.
Clyde Finklea, referring to a book by billionaire J. Paul Getty, How To Be Rich, which discusses being a rich person (that is, living as one) rather than becoming a rich person, asks the question, "How can God's People Be Christian?" Christ, at Luke 14:26, wherein He says His people must hate their own family and their own carnal self in order to acquire eternal life, establishes the benchmark. The Prophet Micah, at Micah 6:8, provides a formula for being a Christian: 1.) Doing justly, 2.) Exercising mercy and 3.) Walking humbly. Together, these demand a total commitment (a living sacrifice) on the part of God's called-out ones rather than a token contribution. The Greatest Commandment (the Shema), demanding that we love God with all our heart, mind, and soul—and our neighbor as ourselves, requires that we bring every thought into captivity, submitting to God's purpose for us. We must couple compassion (the motive for serving others) with mercy (the act of serving others), having both the desire and the ability to love our neighbors, emulating the practice of the Good Samaritan. When we walk humbly, there is no room for self-righteousness, but instead we learn to forgive others, realizing that Christ forgave His tormenters. The narrow gate is not an easy one, but it is the only one which leads to eternal life. It behooves God's called-out ones to "be" Christians—living God's way of life. That is far more challenging than becoming Christians.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the description of the New Covenant in Hebrews 8:10, reminds us that, although God never intended the Old Covenant to endure eternally, the spiritual and immutable law (shared by both the old and new covenants) was to last forever. God did not nail His holy Law to the cross, as major Protestant denominations mistakenly declare. Rather, God nailed the penalty for our past sins, paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ, to the cross. The wages of sin is death. When Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law, He not only provided a model as to how His called-out ones are to keep it, He magnified it and raised the standards of compliance, targeting not only behavior, but motive—the whole spiritual process which underlies any sin. To give His called-out ones the ability to reach these higher standards, He gifted them with the Holy Spirit, thereby empowering them to displace carnality with Godly character. God does not create such character by fiat. Rather, it grows steadily with our determination to participate and cooperate with God. The purpose of all of God's covenants with mankind is to create character and stop sin. The New Covenant, as explicated by Hebrews, contains "post graduate" responsibilities far beyond the letter-of-the-law instructions given in Leviticus. Unlike the faulty Protestant assumption that Christ has done all the work of salvation, Christ warns His people that they must soberly count the cost because of the vastly higher standards established in the New Covenant. Christ promises, through the means of His Holy Spirit, the power to do His will, thereby giving His people the necessary tools to achieve membership in the family of God.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that God works in mysterious ways, assures us that, because of God's calling, we have a far clearer understanding of His purposes than those yet uncalled. Powered by the spirit in man, no individual is able to understand God, as witnessed by the consistently antagonistic reaction of the Pharisees and scribes to God's truth, as explained to them by Christ. To those called, the Bible is no mystery, but to the world at large, it seems inscrutable. For His Own reasons, God has chosen not to reveal His plan to those the world considers wise, but, instead, to work with the weaker sort of mankind. God told Cain how to overcome sin when He rejected his offering: Namely, we must wrest the control sin has over us at the formative stage of desire. Timing is crucial. We should never allow sin to escape its incipient stage of desire. Most of 'Christendom' fails to realize that God has called us to do battle with our carnal natures, a cross we bear until He resurrects us as spirit beings. At our baptism, He counsels us to soberly count the cost, asking ourselves if we are willing to give up everything, including our lives, to conform to Christ's image, becoming a new creation in the process. Even with God's initial gift of His Holy Spirit, we cannot form an on-going, growing relationship with God unless He continually strengthens us with additional gifting—more grace.
John Ritenbaugh issues a pointed warning about the tenacious power of our carnal nature: Its desire to satisfy an addictive self-centeredness can eventually overrule the Christian's loyalty to God and His commandments. If parents in God's Church are not willing to train up a child in righteousness, Satan and his demons are more than willing to take over the task. At our baptism, we were somberly counseled to count the cost of God's expectation that we love Him more than family, friends and even our own lives. We tend to fear what an undivided loyalty to God may cost us. Like our parents Adam and Eve, God has forewarned and forearmed us to withstand Satan's wiles, but we dare not underestimate the fierce, unyielding demands of our own carnal nature to reject God's plan for us. As Adam and Eve's progeny, we must learn that good results can never come from evil behavior. God has given us His Holy Spirit to kickstart us, empowering us with faith and love to keep His Commandments and to love Him with all our being and our neighbor as ourselves. We cannot take lightly the caution in Romans 8:5-7 that a carnal focus leads to death, while a spiritual one (that is, developing an incremental, intimate relationship with God) is the sole means to attain Eternal life.
With the giving of the New Covenant to God's called and chosen people, the church, problems arose among both Jewish and Gentile converts. God inspired the writing of the epistle to the Hebrews to answer the difficult questions church members were struggling with during the tumultuous first decades of the church. John Ritenbaugh begins to unravel the reasons early Christians needed the book of Hebrews.
John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that most professing Christians are aware of the New Covenant, cautions us not to fall prey to the insidious error that much of the Protestant—especially the evangelical—world teaches. The error lies in misconstruing the significance of the New Covenant as a 'free pass into Heaven' without paying attention to the Law which, detractors almost universally claim, has been done away. Protestants ignore the description of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:10-11, where God says He will "hard-wire" His Law into peoples' minds after a thoroughgoing transforming and renewing of those minds during sanctification, demanded as a part of our living sacrifice. Acceptance of the terms of this New Covenant may appear as insurmountable hurdles to the carnal mind. We are required to give up anything (family, esteem from friends and associates, fame, wealth, etc.) which conflicts with our loyalty to Jesus Christ and God the Father. We are obliged to soberly count the cost before we leap, realizing we have formidable enemies (both spiritual and physical) to conquer as well as continuous obstacles to overcome, for which we will need prodigious quantities of God's precious Holy Spirit. Like the apostle Paul, we must be willing to forego any attractions to fame, prestige, or influence if they conflict with God's divine purpose for us, considering these previous desires rubbish. Sanctification is not passive, but it is a rigorously active process in which God requires our full participation, yielding to His molding. We must put God before family, friends, and self. God will not create our spiritual character by fiat; we must be thoroughly involved in the process, keeping and meditating upon His Holy Law, making it our first nature instead of our second nature. We must look before we leap, but we must leap in the right direction and at the right time, setting our minds on things above, walking in the spirit and not in the flesh.
John Ritenbaugh, reacting to the mantra of the evangelicals on the conservative right wing of the political spectrum that America was founded as a Christian nation, provides a comprehensive summary disproving this claim. Even though several of the Founding Fathers drew upon the Bible for the laws in the Constitution, they were still reacting to the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation, and not to the religion practiced by Abraham, Moses, and Jesus Christ. The following seven points refute the unsubstantiated claim that America ever was, or continues to be a Christian nation: (1) The Founding Fathers did not accept the covenant with the "I will" promises as had Abraham and Moses. (2) None of the ceremonial trappings in order to take a promised land had occurred. God did not come to Boston as He had on Mount Sinai. (3) No leader of the stature of Moses or Abraham appeared among the Founding Fathers. (4) No existing package of laws came from on high. (5) No single religion was established to which colonists were commanded to adhere. (6) The terms of the covenant were not explained and not agreed upon by those allegedly making the covenant. Those following "The Way" knew exactly what was required of them and how they were to worship God. Much of counterfeit 'mainstream' Christianity has turned grace into license and lewdness. (7) The majority of American citizens, from the time of the founding until today, have not practiced Christianity. America is indeed a physical Israelitish nation, under the same curse as our forbearers in I Samuel 8 who asked for a king to be like every other nation around them. Sadly, the precautions given to the kings and leaders of Israel in Deuteronomy 17:14-20 have been either ignored or rejected, especially during the last 75 years. As had our parents Adam and Eve, our people continue to reject God, preferring to do things their way.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that. despite recent claims from the Evangelical conservatives, America was never established as a Christian nation. God called out Abraham, specifically blessing him, and through him, blessed the nations of the entire earth. The early European settlers of the North American Continent consisted of Israelitish immigrants from Europe—descendants of the immigrants who came from Ur of the Chaldees to the Promised Land millennia earlier. God guided these descendants of Jacob to a virtually empty land. God brought the Israelitish people to certain lands in order to prepare them for the return of Christ. God follows patterns so that His converted children can see His invisible work, including immigration patterns. No one leader among America's Founding Fathers approached the stature of Moses, nor did any feel inclined to implement God's Holy Laws or Covenant. The founders established no single religion to ensure the sanctity of the Sabbath and the Holy Days. If they had established such a religion, it was, and remains, highly fractured. The founders made no covenant between the People of the United States and God. American citizenry never practiced true Christianity, America is still laboring under the curse of I Samuel 8, where Israel asked for a king to be like the nations around them. A human leader seemed more 'real' to them than an invisible God requiring faith to follow. Human governments are nothing but raw force, grasping for control in order to benefit the leaders. Human governments have no faith in God and they do not fear God. Even with the mandates Moses gave to a future king, Israel would always suffer from the rule of a human leader, The faith of physical Israel has been eroded through evil philosophers.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates the emotional state of the American people, especially those who understand the seriousness of the times, averring his conviction that they will never see good times again, but will fall more and more into a permanent condition of hopelessness . God's called-out ones can feel the relentless pressures of the prince of the power of the air as he works to wear out the saints. We cannot afford to lose our focus as the pressures rise, but must be thankful for the heads-up of the Olivet Prophecy, which gives us cautions and signposts on our spiritual journey. We are not guaranteed a pass to a place of safety, but are subject to what God has planned for our life-script and repertoire of experiences. Only one of Christ's disciples escaped martyrdom; we must be willing to do what God has purposed for us, realizing that God will always supply our needs for the situation, even the wherewithal to endure martyrdom. Our Christian journey is not going to be a walk in the park. During these critical times, when judgment is out on God's church, it behooves us to emulate Olympic athletes such as Simone Manuel, who submitted to super-rigorous discipline of muscles and mind in order to qualify to participate in the 2016 Olympic games. Drawing a spiritual analogy, we must decide whether we want to commit to the goal presented by our calling. Our primary goal, as Christ the Revelator presents it to the seven churches of Revelation, is to overcome, to displace our carnality with spiritual behavior. Once we commit. we must be highly disciplined, never losing focus, while at the same time being aware of distractions which could severely retard our overcoming. Faith, hope and love are spiritual gifts which safeguard us from discouragement and depression, giving us a mature perspective which will last eternally.
If we were asked to list the reasons for the recent decline of the United States, we would probably reply that, among others, poor leadership is a primary cause. John Ritenbaugh asks us to consider that God is putting us through exercises to create leaders in His image. His covenants are a primary tool in this process.
John Ritenbaugh, warning us not to complain about our lack of talents or spiritual gifts, assures us that, if we were called because of our talents, we would be able to brag. However, we were called solely for the purpose of fulfilling what God has in mind for us. To that end, God has given diverse gifts to all He has called, intending that we produce abundant spiritual fruit, glorifying God. As Adam did not create himself, we, called as first-fruits of a spiritual creation, have not and are not creating ourselves either. We are being trained to become leaders, but before we can lead, we must be able to carry out responsibilities, conforming to God's leadership, carefully meeting the demands of His covenants (solemn agreements between God and man). Covenants, contracts, and compacts are all designed to draw individuals together, unifying them in agreement to establish a purpose. Of the 70 billion people who have lived on the earth, only a meager fraction have entered into a covenant, the legal foundation for any relationship with God. Keeping any of the covenants involves faith in the Creator, the one who gives life and breath to each living being. All human beings have been given a basic understanding of right and wrong, having been imbued with a conscience (Romans 2:14), but the converted are presently more involved with God, and are expected to conform to a higher standard. In order to become a leader, one must be a good follower, pursuing with a high level of energy, appropriating the character of God. The covenants provide overviews of what we must follow, giving broad principles rather than specific details. The Sovereign God spells out the terms and the penalties, demonstrating patience and long-suffering as we slowly learn the rudiments. The first covenant recorded in Scripture, the Edenic Covenant, establishes the Sabbath, the solemn marriage relationship, and clearly shows God to be the source of all blessings, providing a pattern for all the covenants to follow.
John Ritenbaugh, asserting that the term leadership never explicitly appears in the King James Version of the Bible,while the terms follow and follower are abundantly distributed, concludes that any form of leadership must be preceded by following. God tells us what we are to follow in the Covenants, legal entities, unfortunately, that neither the ministry nor the membership have exhibited much interest in studying. Because of lack of covenant knowledge, Israel (both ancient and modern) have been perennially cursed with a massive breakdown of leadership. The whole body from head to feet is sick, covered with putrefying sores; we are a people laden with iniquity. God places the blame for the lack of leadership on the shepherds: the ministry, the President, Congress, Supreme Court Justices, heads of Corporations, heads of educational institutions, mayors, city council members, and perhaps the most important shepherd of all, the parent. Our first parents Adam and Eve totally botched their child-rearing responsibilities, but our father Abraham provided us a better example of how to lead our families, pointing them to the laws of God. Our citizenry has rejected God's laws and have wallowed in a mire of incessant lies. Consequently, the world is hopelessly lost morally and spiritually. God's called-out ones must separate themselves from this despicable anti-God mindset. We need to qualify to lead by internalizing the contents of the covenants, not only believing God, but doing what He says, realizing that the covenants are not as complicated or complex as Satan has lead his 'ministers' to believe. God's word—the Bible, and especially the book of Deuteronomy—provides the keys to true leadership. The world's 'Christianity' has largely rejected Deuteronomy, especially the binding commandment to keep God's Sabbath forever. For those yet uncalled, God is truly not in their minds; we cannot afford to emulate them.
John Ritenbaugh, suggesting that human nature has to be continually reminded of God's providence even when people are undeserving of the bountiful blessings. Sadly, our forebears often forgot the frequency of God's merciful intervention and declared that it was useless to serve God. Satan loves to manipulate our nervous systems, leading us to believe that injustices are continually perpetrated against us. Human nature loves to feel downtrodden, abandoned, unloved, and taken advantage of, wallowing in self-pity. The Feast of Tabernacles serves as an antidote to incessant injustice collecting. To the ancient Israelites, the harvest testified to God's providence; to the Israel of God, the produce of the fruits of Spirit testifies to God's providence in our spiritual growth. All of the Holy Days are reminders of God's supervision and oversight of His masterplan for the Israel of God. In the context of God's spiritual blessings, it takes some thought and consideration to put a dollar value on something that is priceless. God never said that Christian life would be easy; Jesus Christ warned us to count the cost. God never promised that life would be fair; Jesus, Paul, Peter, and Elijah all suffered unjustly. Facing trials is a part of God's way of life because we are being trained and prepared for something beyond this life, requiring a thorough regimen of necessary proving and testing to know what is in our hearts. God never loses track of anybody. David's decision to grant the spoils of victory against the Amalekites to both the stouthearted and weary fall behinds alike indicated God's care and providence to all. This is the way God looks at each and every person in the Israel of God. Nobody is favored above another regardless of what they have done. Everybody is treated equally. God doesn't deal in favoritism. Every little cell in the Body of Christ is equally important. To whom much is given, more is required.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that wisdom is not the answer to all of life's problems, indicates that it is still a valuable virtue, transforming us for good and a sense of well-being. In the matter of deference to civil authority, we must remember that, as ambassadors and sojourners in a foreign land, we must give governing officials respect, even though they may be the basest scoundrels on earth. God may have not directly appointed them, but He passed on their placement in office. Being subject to these officials does not mean that we can obey human laws which conflict with God's laws. We are to pay deference to governing authorities both for conscience sake and so that their oversight enables us to live in peace, a necessary pre-requisite for spiritual growth. Even the local magistrates, elected locally, have been passed on by the Almighty, similarly to Moses' selection of captains of 100, 50, and 10, which were possibly democratically elected by people who knew them best. Our current judicial system, with its appellate levels, evidently was patterned after this Jethro-like concept. Realizing that God allows for human foolishness and that He has allowed the basest scoundrels to hold the highest offices in the land, we are nevertheless, as painful as it may seem to us, obligated to treat them with respect and dignity, realizing that God has a purpose for all of His appointments. Government has been established so that (1) law abiding citizens can be protected, (2) evil doers can be restrained, and (3) order and tranquility can be established. As bad as government can become, the alternative, anarchy, is unthinkable madness and chaos. At our baptism, we made a covenant with Almighty God, giving Him our lives, and remembering that His purposes take precedence over everything else
Christianity is not for the faint of heart. As we have seen, Jesus urges us to "count the cost" of discipleship to see if we have what it takes, and many of the patriarchs had to choose between God and family ...
We all have stories of people we know or have known who experienced separation from friends and family due to their beliefs. ...
Some years back, I had the opportunity to drive through southern Illinois several times. ...
Bill Onisick, reflecting on grandiose, prideful building projects that have terminated because of cost overruns, cautions us to carefully count the cost of our spiritual building project. We are God's building, God's field, and fellow laborers with God on His project to build us into His image. Have we fully counted the cost to determine what it will take to finish God's building? Our relationship with God is our salvation, and that relationship has to be developed. Have we thought through what will be required of us to become transformed into God's image? Are we regularly feeding on God's word, comparing ourselves to the righteous Plumb line—Jesus Christ? God requires that we fear Him, walk in all His ways, love Him, serve Him with all our hearts, and keep His commandments and statutes, developing humility in our hearts to submit to His will at all times in both the letter and the spirit of the law, performing the weightier matters of the law by doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly in God's ways. We must submit to Almighty God, as well as to one another, surrendering the self. If we are antagonistic toward one another in our fellowship, we will not be completed. We have been called to serve, not to be served, emphasizing the way of give rather than the way of get. This is a way of life contrary to human nature, but must be prompted by God's Holy Spirit, as we esteem others better than ourselves.
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.
Mike Ford, asking us to thoughtfully calculate the cost of our discipleship, warns us about the perils of looking, using the metaphor of plowing a furrow with a plow behind an animal. Looking back is dangerous because we may plow a crooked furrow and get hopelessly off course. Consequently, we must soberly count the cost before we embark on plowing our spiritual furrow: are we willing to give up our job, our family, or even our own life to follow God's plan for us? Can we really say that God's requirements are far too difficult? Sometimes, our family members may turn against us. The survey of Genesis reveals multiple instances of loss, forcing each biblical character to count the cost. Examples include Adam and Eve (losing two sons and a daughter), Noah (losing all but a few members of his family), Abraham (separating from his father, his nephew Lot, from Ishmael, and in his mind losing Isaac), Isaac and Rebecca (losing the companionship of both their sons, Jacob (losing the companionship of Joseph, Joseph (losing his family for an extended period of time. All these were willing to pay a high price in anticipation of something exceedingly greater. Many of us, after our calling, have had to give up the intimacy of our extended and often our immediate family. Our calling has been exceedingly expensive by the death of our Elder Brother, who had to endure a brief separation from God the Father. Our role as kings and priests and members of God's family will enable us to renew relationships with friends and family which have temporarily become estranged but not permanently lost.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: If there is one great principle of Christian living, it is walking in Christ's footsteps. Sounds easy, but putting it into practice is one of the most difficult tasks of a Christian's life. ...
David C. Grabbe: John 15:4-5 in the Phillips translation gives us a great deal to consider: "You can produce nothing unless you go on growing in me. ...
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, focusing upon the metaphorical aspects of work and walking, suggests that these activities play a major role in overcoming and sanctification. We must have a higher regard for Christian works than our everyday job, realizing that work is a wholesome activity toward the production of something. The first picture we see of God is that He is working or creating. If we are going to be in the Kingdom of God, work is important. Adam was never granted a welfare existence. The command to work preceded Adam and Eve's sin. The curse was not defined as "having to work," but the curse of thorns and thistles made work more difficult. Solomon emphasized in Ecclesiastes 2 that we should enjoy and derive pleasure from our work. The way that we work is a visible witness of God before the world. Technically, we do not work for our employer, but for God. We serve as Jesus Christ's bond-slave. We work for Jesus Christ regardless of what our daily tasks are; we must assiduously avoid indolence or laziness, but instead to be profitable servants. Profitability applies just as much to the attaining of skill as attaining money. The body of Jesus Christ has many skilled functions; not everyone has the same function. We can hone our skills in prayer, Bible study, and meditation, systematically involving all of our sense modalities, compiling notes and study references, making our studying time incrementally more valuable. Work does involve sacrifice of time and energy in order to produce value; we give up our entire lives to produce profit. Work is a costly investment of our life producing a profit for God.
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.
We assess costs and values all the time in our daily lives: Is it better to buy used or new? Should we prefer traditional or contemporary? Paper or plastic? John Ritenbaugh employs the same process to God's love for us in giving His Son as the sacrifice for sin. What costs have been paid for our redemption?
John Ritenbaugh, distinguishing the terms freedom and liberty, suggests that Christian liberty is far more restrained than the word freedom would connote. Mainstream Christianity often obscures the major emphasis of God's purpose in our lives, focusing on a genie in a bottle endlessly showering miracles. God deliberately put His chosen people through testing, trails, and deprivation to see what they would do and how they would respond to His laws. Building character and conforming to Christ's image requires suffering, privations, testing, and trials, including the degradation of slavery. We are still suffering under the bondage of sin. Through God's grace, we are provided liberty with specified limits and boundaries. Grace is not the entire story, especially after we leave Egypt. We are to deny worldly lusts, putting out sin, having been obliged to live in godliness, preparing to live in good works. Consequently, grace places limits on our freedom, training us for our future life in the Kingdom of God. Our behavior must be clearly distinguishable from the non-believers in society. We cannot emulate our forebears, who although freed from Egypt, maintained their slave mentality, immersed in their worldly lusts, rebelling before they even commenced through the Red Sea, grumbling about their diet. We must desire the life-giving manna, the Bread of Life, namely the instruction provided through God's Word, producing good conduct and good life, keeping us from the bondage of sin. We need to be continually packing our minds with the Truth of God, fortifying our goal of attaining the Kingdom of God.
In Luke 14:25-33, two parables and an exhortation urge us to forsake all that we have as a mandatory condition to becoming Christ's disciples. One main lesson is emphasized in these scriptures: the nature and influence of true discipleship.
There must be something to prove we are one with Christ, engrafted as part of Him and in union with the Father and the Son. John Ritenbaugh asserts that that something is the manner in which we conduct our life, and we must be living in conformity to the sacrificial life of Jesus Christ.
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.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that sacrifice (as an act and as a way of life) is absolutely necessary for the working out of God's plan. In taking undue attention off the self, sacrifice creates peace, prosperity, cooperation, and most of all, character. As called out royal priests (I Peter 2:5) we need to carry the principle of sacrifice into our lives to maintain the relationship established by the covenant, offering living sacrifices by our reasonable service and overcoming (Romans 12:1-2) , praise (Hebrews 13:15), and perhaps even martyrdom (Philippians 2:17). Sacrifice stifles and kills human nature- which causes intense pain as it cries out for satisfaction. Thankfully, God never requires us to sacrifice anything that will ultimately be good for us.
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.
In this sermon for the Days of Unleavened Bread, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God demands that we have an obligation to dress and keep that which is placed in our care, improving what He has given to us. We dare not stand still, but must make considerable effort to grow (2 Peter 3:17-18). The work of the ministry consists of equipping the body to grow and mature in love and unity (Ephesians 4:16). Christian growth takes work and effort, individually borne by every member of the body, involving rigorous self-examination, drill, self-control, self-discipline, and actively overcoming the things which separate us from God and our brethren. God's grace teaches us to actively displace our worldly desires or cravings with Godly cravings and desires for truth and righteousness (Colossians 3:5; Titus 2:11-14).
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.
John Ritenbaugh insists that because what we believe automatically determines what we do; it is impossible to separate faith and works. If our source of belief is not grounded in Jesus Christ, we will be held captive to our traditions and our works will be contaminated. If our belief is grounded in Christ (our Spiritual Bread and our High Priest), we will have a relationship with God and access to eternal abundant life, leading to works (fruits of the Holy Spirit) that glorify God. The word "draw" in John 6:44 implies that there is some degree of carnal resistance or reluctance to accept God's calling. If we do not metaphorically eat the flesh of Christ and drink His blood, ingesting the Word of God daily, we will die spiritually. The moral and ethical demands of these Words often make them "hard sayings," but yielding to these demands (having an intimate relationship of God- living the way God lives in every aspect of our lives) will incrementally develop the character and the spiritual mind, bringing about eternal abundant life.
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