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, 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.
Charles Whitaker countermands some Protestant commentators' attempts to equivocate the real intent of Hebrews 10:9 by wrongly asserting that Paul therein contends that the Law (or, according to some, the Old Covenant) has been done away. The thrust of this passage, however, is that God has set aside the system of animal sacrifices (which never did atone for sin), allowing the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (which did atone for sin) to displace the previous system. In Hebrews 8 and 9, Paul indeed writes of the Old Covenant (Diatheke), saying it is disappearing (though not yet vanished away (Hebrews 8:13). Hebrews 8:13, referring to the Old Covenant, does not contradict Hebrew 10:9, which refers to a system of animal sacrifices. The unfortunate ambiguity of the King James Version can be cleared up by looking at any number of more modern versions.
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.
Charles Whitaker, reflecting on God's practice of working in patterns, points out that God has wired our minds to think in patterns, such as circles. Gestalt psychologists have demonstrated that, given a set of dots that suggest a circle, our minds are prone to automatically fill in the pattern. Other ubiquitous patterns that God has created take the form of dichotomies, such as day-night, land-sea, male-female and Jew-Gentile. The members of true dichotomies must be mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive. Hence, day and night are mutually exclusive, and there is no other alternative outside of the two genders God created, male and female—attempts of mankind aside. God's dichotomies are firmly fixed in this under-the-sun order of things. While God can manipulate these dichotomies, mankind is unable to alter the parameters established by God's dichotomies. Mankind, however, often attempts to change God's dichotomies, as feminists in the matter of gender. Likewise, the world's false religions have built a dichotomy of faith and works, while the Scriptures clearly show that no such dichotomy exists. We need to be thankful for all God's patterns, and be careful that we don't misuse them.
David Grabbe, observing that a future Millennial temple (described in Ezekiel 40—48) will contain some elements of the Old Covenant, including animal sacrifices and Levitical priests, examines the apparent contradiction concerning the new Melchizedek priesthood described in Hebrews 7:11. In the resurrection of ancient Israel, largely a rebellious, stiff-necked people, the Levites will finally come face-to-face with their iniquity (Ezekiel 44:10-14) and be ashamed of leading the people astray. Christ will commission them to complete what they did not complete before the demise of the temple. David, realizing that God preferred a penitent heart rather than sacrifice, nevertheless had no problem offering a burnt offering and a sin offering, and Paul had no problem offering a sin offering, even though he was under the New Covenant. God's Church to this day keeps rituals, even though the symbol in no way equals the substance they represent. In the Millennium, as we assume our roles as priests and kings, having been called under the New Covenant, we may have residual squeamishness about watching Levitical priests perform animal sacrifices, but we will learn that the Ezekiel vision has a specific niche in God's overall plan for mankind's learning about Christ's sacrifice for all of mankind.
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.
John Ritenbaugh observes that, in every biblical covenant, God gives responsibilities in order to be in alignment with Him. If we fail to meet the responsibilities He has given to us, God will penalize us. Every covenant we find in Scripture outlines promises, responsibilities, and penalties. As members of the Body of Christ, we have been given specific tasks to carry out, placed in that Body where we can be the most productive. God is currently at work producing leadership in an organization which will follow Him, calling people into His family one by one, meticulously crafting it into a perfect organism. God is showing the same precision in His spiritual creation as He did in the physical creation. God did not create the universe and then just walk away, paying less attention to us than the earth (as magnificent as it is). Everything God made works (including our ultimate spiritual creation) perfectly. Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father, upholds and tends His spiritual creation right now. As God used Noah to build an ark (Noah perhaps had no idea as to what an ark was and what rain was), God has also called us to complete a project to which we are totally oblivious. Though we are in much ignorance as to how the end project will emerge, God has provided us tools to finish what He has called us to do. By reviewing God's patterns, we can see that we are part of the same project to which Noah and his family, progenitors of Christ, had been called. The ark, a protective enclosure or place of sanctuary, recurs perennially in Scripture, as the basket, protecting Moses, another Christ figure. Joseph, another Christ figure, was transported in a kind of ark (a coffin) into the Promised Land. The Ark of the Covenant is a protective enclosure, shielding God's treasures. The church metaphorically is an ark, a structure protecting God's called-out ones until the time of resurrection into His family. As Noah could not see God, but still did what He commanded, walking by faith, trusting Him totally, we, as
John Ritenbaugh somewhat modifies his amazement at individuals who made gigantic sacrifices in the fledgling days of the Radio Church of God, concluding that it is in fact God who expends the lion's share of the energy, putting us all through flip flops in our sanctification process. Our yielding to God's will is a relatively minor sacrifice compared to what He does continually on our behalf. In no way are we interfacing with a passive God, but instead with One extremely active in our lives from before the foundation of the world. As the destinies of the major biblical luminaries were predestined, so are all the lives of God's called-out ones. God does the choosing; God does the moving, micro-managing the lives of those He has called as His servants (such as Abraham, Isaac, Moses, etc.), protecting us from the hatred of the Gentiles (emanating from the spirit of Satan), who are jealous of the hedge of protection and prosperity (both resulting from grace) God has given Jacob's descendants, the current custodians of the prosperous western world. God set apart (that is, made holy, sanctified, and metaphorically married) the entire physical nation in order to model His Laws and way of life to the rest of the world. Physical Israel failed in its responsibility, squandering its precious blessing. God destroyed the physical Temple, national Israel's "security blanket," but concomitantly began building, under Christ, another temple, this one made up of called-out believers. (In a supplemental metaphor, these believers represent Christ's Body, wherein the Holy Spirit dwells.) Whether seen as a body or a temple, these called-out believers represent a new institution, an entity distinct from the previously set-apart nation of Israel. This new institution will eventually have a holiness on a vastly highly plane than that of physical Israel, as it will come to possess the very holiness of God Himself. No one can come to this level of rel
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, reminding us that the Church is unique in that it does not believe God's Law has been done away, warns that the governments and culture of the offspring of Jacob suffer from a dearth of leadership, dramatizing the observation of Ralph Waldo Emerson that "an institution is but the lengthened shadow of one man." The book of Isaiah was written in Judah, castigating the people for their lack of leadership, but the book of Ezekiel was written to the House of Israel, long after the Northern Kingdom had gone into captivity, intended for the modern nations of Israel. Individually, we must become leaders in our own families, protecting them from the curse and scourge that is already falling on our nation. We have the solemn obligation to fear God, to refrain from being hypocrites, and to thoroughly repent, allowing ourselves to become pliable clay in God's hands. In this context, we must: (1) establish that the covenants are a gift from God, designed for our freedom, (2) understand that a covenant is a legal agreement between us and the unseen God, (3) understand that the covenant is not cold and legalistic, and (4) understand the Covenant was offered by the True God, who has never failed in His obligations. The New Covenant, promised in Hebrews 8:10 for the entire nation, has commenced as a forerunner in the Israel of God. As Christ's affianced Bride, God's called-out ones must not emulate the example of physical Judah and Israel, who shamelessly committed adultery (which is spiritual pornea—absorbing Pagan idolatrous practice), but must remain chaste in the keeping of the Covenants. Breaking God's covenant is the equivalent of adultery.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Deuteronomy (the Old Covenant in its fullest form) constitutes instruction for the Israel of God, serving as a compass and guide, preparing God's people to enter the Promised Land. None of Deuteronomy is done away. The singular book that was read by Shaphan to Josiah was Deuteronomy; the curses in chapter 28 particularly alarmed the king, leading to a re-affirmation of the Covenant and a major house- cleaning, ridding the land of idolatry. Deuteronomy is a compass, giving guidance of how to submit to God, providing us a God approved world-view. We need to evaluate our spiritual heritage and pass it on to our children, as a kind of rite of spiritual civic citizenship. If one does not have a grasp of the history of his nation, he has no real claim to citizenship. If we are not equipped, by knowing our heritage through the study of history to live in Kingdom of God, we will be terrible citizens, ill-equipped to rule. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants are a major part of our heritage. Our heritage is tied to a higher standard of life than we have come out of. The Bible is primarily a history book containing the exploits of God's family. Deuteronomy has been written to keep us on track, to be reviewed thoroughly every seven years. Deuteronomy is a detailed, renewed covenant document. We are to be doing the same things required of physical Israel, except on a much higher level; we must consequently respond on a higher level. Deuteronomy is a law doctrine which is ruthlessly monotheistic; God will not brook idolatry. In Deuteronomy, the character of God is described explicitly. We are exhorted against hiding our relationship with God by compromising with the world's culture. Our faithfulness to God must reciprocate His faithfulness with us. We are a sanctified people, separated from the world as a treasure of God, who is faithful to us because He loves us. Loving Him is the key to our being faithful to Him. Love motivates willing submission to Him in obedience.
John Ritenbaugh, clarifying our worldview with respect to the Israel of God (or the Church) in the context of eschatological (that is, end times) events, declares that our vision of our calling as well as our level of responsibility before the imploding of our prior fellowship, may have contained several major flaws. The sporadic mushroom-like ascendancy to numerical and monetary prominence, shortly before the death of Herbert W. Armstrong, was certainly a curious anomaly never occurring before in the history of the Church. God the Father and Jesus Christ clearly blew apart our prior fellowship, frustrating many who would like to see unity at any cost. We are no longer united in a single common work, but the composite splinter groups still constitute God's called-out church. Paradoxically, our collective but separate efforts have accomplished a greater work at a fraction of the cost. The concept of church eras is not Scripturally supportable and indeed has become sadly responsible for the needless pecking-order engaged in by several of our fellow splinter groups. The seven churches of Revelation 2-3 historically all existed simultaneously and indeed, the characteristics of five of them will apparently be extant at the return of Christ. Jesus Christ expected that all of us learn from the seven churches the commendations and warnings, applying them to ourselves individually, allowing us to repent as needed. Jesus Christ built the Church; the architecture should resemble the pattern He personally fashioned, such as 1.) keeping the Sabbaths and Holy Days, 2.) existing as a relatively small flock which will never die out despite continuous, perennial eruptions of apostasy and persecutions, 3.) being empowered with God's Holy Spirit (defined here as the invisible motivating power ultimately transforming us into spirit beings having God's characteristics—our spiritual DNA) which will ultimately configure us into His image as we allow God to shape and guide us. We receive this Holy Spirit before baptism and before
John Ritenbaugh, fearing that we may be following suit in the world's religions by focusing on "getting salvation" rather than preparing for service in God's Kingdom, cautions us that we must re-orient our mindset, seeking to grow in the stature of Christ. Many mainstream religions believe that much of the "pesky" rules of the Bible have been 'done away.' We dare not 'do away' anything that is part of God's mind, or we will not be in His image. In judging, one size does not fit all. Some of the Commandments are more important than others, but they are all important. Acts 15 did not give Gentiles exemption from keeping God's Law. The laws of clean and unclean were not done away, but the vision Peter saw was given so that he would not judge Gentiles as common. The "yoke" Peter described in Acts 15:10 was not the Old Covenant laws, but rather Pharisaical regulations which were not a part of the Old Covenant. The Sabbath, Holy Days, and Clean and Unclean laws were not done away; the sacrificial system will be re-instituted for a time in the Millennial setting. We have been commanded to pursue holiness, moral purity, a necessary quality to grow into God's image. The term holy, in every context, does not always mean morally pure, but instead to cut something, or to set apart from the group. The term Greek haggios, however, denotes moral purity, only possible through God's Holy Spirit, enabling us to become partakers of the Heavenly calling, justified by Christ's blood, faithfully keeping the Commandments of God in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Those who have been called now have an advantage over the ancient Israelites, having power to faithfully keep God's Commandments (written indelibly in our hearts), motivated by His Holy Spirit. Holiness encompasses all of what was written in both the old and new covenants.
John Ritenbaugh insists that this particular topic is attached to the Old and New Covenants, solemn agreements which are eternal (God's Word is eternal) and will not pass away, nor will they be 'done away.' Some things may be set aside for a while, but they are there for our purposes for learning how to judge. Some of the aspects which the world's religious claim are 'done away' will at a future time be brought back. We need to learn to judge in a godly manner, putting merciful restraints on our tendency to condemn or jump to conclusions. We need to inculcate the two great commandments: loving God and loving our fellow humans. We need to learn that sin has different levels of consequences. When it comes to judgment, one size does not fit all. Not everything is on the same level. God is going to judge each of us individually. Our ultimate destiny is to share rulership with our High Priest, Jesus Christ, judging righteously in God's Kingdom, rightly dividing the Word of God. God's Laws set the standards upon which righteous conduct is to be judged. It takes a lifetime to prepare to judge in the Kingdom of God. Learning to apply the spiritual dimension of the law is much more difficult than applying the physical dimension. But both of these dimensions are easier to keep than the traditions and regulations of men, inherently heavy burdens. When Gentile converts were admitted into the church, they were instructed to follow Old Covenant laws regarding the strangling of animals, eating of blood, or eating meat offered to idols. Clearly, the Old Covenant was not 'done away.' After Christ's return, some of the aspects of the Old Covenant, currently in abeyance (for example, circumcision and sacrifices), will be re-instituted. There is nothing evil about the Old Covenant; it provides insights on righteous judgment.
Richard Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that the Psalms have been divided into five books, suggests that there is methodology in the organization, reminding us of the number of Divine grace, as well as a number of handy organization emphasizing groups of five, including the summary Psalms (Psalms 146-150), the Pentateuch, the Megilloth, and the Israelite's division of the year into five seasons. The Pentecost season generally corresponds to Book II of the Psalms, the Book of Exodus, and the story of Ruth, typifying counting to Pentecost (the 50th day commemorating the harvest), in which wave loaves baked with leaven (a symbol of corruption) would be offered. Themes of the Pentecost season include leaving the corners of the field un-harvested, the trek of the Israelites to Sinai to receive the Law and the Covenant (a marriage covenant occurring on the same day as Pentecost, depicting another marriage covenant), and the giving of the Holy Spirit on the anniversary of the giving of the Law. Exile, leaving, departing, separation, and redemption are also major themes of this season and Book II of the Psalms. The Book of Exodus also provides instructions for construction of the Tabernacle (prefiguring the church and a future nation of priests). The summary Psalm 147 indicates that God gives His Law and Spirit, building up the Heavenly Jerusalem through the redemption of a remnant (the redeemed outcasts transformed through trail and distress into the Israel of God), the Bride of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that it is necessary to cultivate righteous judgment, reminds us that not every law of God is on the same level of seriousness regarding His purpose and that not all things are equal in the framework of the Law. We should never assume that any of God's Laws have been done away, but in some ways are still binding. Scripture cannot be broken, but it can be modified. All of God's Commandments are righteousness; the same things keep happening over and over again throughout the ages. The practice of demonstrating God's agape love trumps all other spiritual gifts. Even though all unrighteousness is sin, not all sins are on the same level for us. We have to develop discernment to think, sorting the important from the marginally important. God wants us to think; understanding leads to wisdom, and wisdom leads to right choices. The two greatest laws (loving God and loving our neighbor) is one law with two aspects. The other laws are still in force, though not on the same level of importance. No law is 'done away.' The first tabernacle and its sacrificial offerings were symbolic of a greater spiritual reality of actively loving God as well as loving and serving our fellow man, as a living sacrifice, following in Jesus' footsteps. Doing righteousness is an expression of love.
John Ritenbaugh, rehearsing one of the major factors which divided the Worldwide Church of God, the denigrating of all aspects of God's law, averring that belief in Christ trumps everything, claims that some major elements of righteous judgment were cavalierly tossed out the window. Such a careless approach led to the rejection of the Sabbath, wholesale embracing of Pagan holidays, discarding tithing, eating unclean meats, circumcision and other, what they considered to be purely ceremonial aspects of the law. Like the days of the Judges, the last days of the WCG demonstrated a dearth of righteous judgment. As with the first century church, God expects us to think wisely within the parameters of His Law, coming into alignment with His Word. Without applying righteous judgment, a person without God's Spirit might be inclined to discard the Sabbath, along with the dietary and sacrificial laws. The New Covenant also requires that we live by every word of God; the Law was not done away. Without God's Law, we cannot judge righteously. One should never carelessly assume that any law of God is done away, but we should also consider that not every law has the same level of seriousness and does not warrant the same level of judgment, as illustrated by the difference between willful sin and sin committed out of weakness. The weightier matters of the law (love and mercy) are more important than other aspects of the law, including faith and sacrifice. We need to develop righteous judgment to keep proportion as we make decisions about applying God's Law.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on John 17:3, maintains that to have eternal life we have to know God. Eternal life is to live a quality life as God lives, having developed an intimate relationship with God, living by ever-increasing faith. In order to develop this relationship, we must sacrifice time, becoming, in essence, living sacrifices. We must continually ingest spiritual food—the Bread of Life and the Word of God, seeking to be a part of the covenant made with David, containing the sure mercies of David. We must fully accept the sovereignty of God- internalize that sovereignty profoundly. In the Old Covenant there are no provisions for forgiveness of sin, or direct access to God by prayer or by the reception of the Holy Spirit. Faith comes from hearing the Word of God. Without hearing through sermons or reading the Word of God, there can be no faith and no understanding. Jesus Christ is our conduit to the Father. Getting to know God requires effort; it does not happen accidentally. It requires focused studying of God's Word on a continuous, daily basis. Truly, God has all the goodies. It is necessary to cultivate a genuine and healthy fear of God, a fear not natural to carnal man. It can only be developed by an abiding relationship with God, in which we learn both His strength and compassion. By continuous ingesting of His Word (enabling us to digest His precious doctrine), we humbly develop a close relationship with God. As we think in our heart, so we are. We should see God working in our lives and submit to His sovereignty, developing the kind of fear which draws us close to Him in humility. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Knowing God is vital to our salvation and eternal life, and it is not just knowing that He exists. Truly knowing God is a specific and detailed knowledge of His attributes and attitudes. John Ritenbaugh reveals that fully accepting God's sovereignty should drive us to seek Him so that we can come to know Him as completely and personally as possible.
As Christians, we realize that God is not only powerful, but He is also the source of all power. How do we translate this understanding into practical action? John Ritenbaugh explains how we can tap into God's power to avoid slipping into apostasy.
Even the beginning Bible student knows that Israel plays a prominant part in Scripture. Why? Richard Ritenbaugh explores God's stated purposes for choosing and using the children of Israel throughout His Word—and beyond.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that, though adjacent, Passover and the First Day of Unleavened Bread each contain unique lessons and spiritual instructions. Due to careless misreading, Exodus 12:42 has been incorrectly applied to the Passover (observed the night of Nisan 14) instead of the Night to Be Much Observed (observed the night of Nisan 15). Connecting verse 42 to verse 52, the subject refers to the night Israel left Egypt. In verse 22, God forbade the Israelites to leave their houses until morning, and verse 33 shows they left on Nisan 15, as does Deuteronomy 16:1. The term selfsame day (Exodus 12:41) refers to the covenant of circumcision God made with Abraham 430 years before the Exodus (Genesis 15), which occurred on the day after the Passover (Numbers 33:3). God charges us to realize that the day 1) commemorates Israel's liberty from bondage and 2) occurs on the anniversary of the Abrahamic covenant, and 3) that He watches over His people.
Charles Whitaker continues the search for criteria to determine where the people of Israel are today. The covenant God made with Israel at Mount Sinai provides important clues to their whereabouts.
Pentecost is known for its stupendous signs, particularly the display of power in Acts 2. David Grabbe shows that Pentecost teaches us of another, more personal witness: our own display of Christ's way of life in us.
The peace offering teaches many things, but one of its main symbols is fellowship. John Ritenbaugh explains that our communion with the Father and the Son obligates us to pursue peace, follow the example of Christ, and be pure.
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.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Back in February, this column reacted to a statement made on the radio by a local preacher who said that what we do does not matter. ...
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that Old Testament activities picture New Testament realities, far from done away, but raised or elevated to their spiritual intent. As a parallel to the Aaronic priesthood, the church has been chosen as a royal and holy priesthood (in training) offering up spiritual sacrifices and proclaiming praises of God (I Peter 2:5,9). Paul insists that our sacrifices (reasonable service) should extend to everything we do in life (Romans 12:2), including prayer, study, meditation, as well as sharing goods and experiences (Hebrews 13:15-16).
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the New Covenant seals the agreement with the body and blood of Christ, which is consumed inwardly. Partaking of this cup indicates that we are in unity with those in the body—fellow heirs of the world, as Abraham's seed, participating in the death and resurrection of our Savior. We must thoroughly examine ourselves, exercising and strengthening our faith, actively giving love back to God, to avoid taking this solemn event in a careless, irreverent, or nonchalant manner, jeopardizing our relationship with God, our relationship with our brethren, and our Christian liberty.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that God esteems certain spiritual qualities above other spiritual qualities. To elevate a minor regulation above a major regulation is to spiritually lose ones sense of proportion. The attribute of love (I Corinthians 13:13) supercedes (but not negates) all other spiritual gifts or qualities. There are degrees of missing the mark (sin) as well as priorities of spiritual importance. Love, justice, mercy, and fidelity (the weightier matters of the law) God desires more than meticulous, mechanical religiosity. The greatest or the first commandments (loving God with all our hearts and our neighbor as ourselves) precedes all the other ordinances in importance (Matthew 22:37-40).
Many Protestant denominations teach that God's law is done away. Earl Henn proves that II Corinthians 3:7 does not support this.
Some think Galatians 3:19 means that God's law has been done away. Earl Henn explains how certain misunderstandings have led people astray on this verse.
John Ritenbaugh provides a summary of the Covenants, Grace and Law series: 1. Realize the position carnal man comes from: completely under Satan' sway, antagonistic to God's law (Romans 8:7). 2. Always work from clear, unambiguous scriptures (Matthew 5:17-19). 3. Be strengthened by the examples of Christ and His apostles keeping specific laws, including the Sabbath and holy days (I Peter 2:21). 4. Paul explains the means of justification (not salvation but the first step in a process; God imputes righteousness where it does not logically belong). 5. God's overall purpose is to create us in His image, including His righteous character. He is reproducing Himself (Genesis 1:26)! 6. God's purpose for the Old Covenant is as a bridge leading to Christ (Galatians 3:17-24). 7. The way Paul and others use terms important to this doctrine (bondage, circumcision, yoke, law, etc.) should be seen in their correct context.
John Ritenbaugh clarifies some difficult terms which Protestant theologians have misapplied, characterizing God's holy law as a "yoke of bondage." If we fail to realize that Paul's focus in the Galatians epistle was justification (rather than the whole salvation process of sanctification and glorification) we could become confused. The Old Covenant had no provision for justification nor did it provide a mechanism to change the heart. The antinomian argument ignores that Christ also puts a yoke of responsibility on New Covenant participants (Matthew 11:29-30). The yoke of bondage Paul referred to was a syncretism of Halakhah- the code of regulations added by the Pharisees- and Gnostic ascetic ritualism, neither a part of God's Law. God's Spirit and law keeping are not contradictory.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the Old Covenant in no way annulled the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant, but was added because of Israel's sins, with the intent of pointing to the need of a Savior. Because the primary focus of Galatians is justification rather than sanctification, the Protestant antinomian bias looks quite foolish and stupid. The New Covenant, grafting the Law into the recesses of the heart (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16) in no way does away with any aspect of the law. The deficit in the Old Covenant was in its lack of a means of justification (forgiveness of past sins). The New Covenant, having a means of justification, replaces the pre-figuring symbolic animal sacrifices with the perfect sacrifice of the Messiah. Circumcision of the heart and the receipt of God's Holy Spirit ratifies the New Covenant.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Paul's target in Galatians 2:16 was a syncretism of Judaism with strict Pagan ascetic Gnosticism and certainly not God's law. We need to avoid the Protestant ditch of "Christ did it all" leading to no attempt at law keeping or at best an apathetic assent to its value. Paul makes it abundantly clear that Christ did not free us from the death penalty in order to turn us into lawbreakers. Though God did not design the law to justify; without the law telling us of what to repent of, we would have no clue as to which path to take. The secret to successful law keeping is Christ living in us through God's Holy Spirit (Galatians 2:20; Romans 5:5) Christ will empower us, but will not live our lives for us. The marching orders for our pilgrimage derive from God's Word- containing His holy law.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the entire Old Testament was written with the New Testament church in mind. Certain temporary ceremonial sacrifices, washings, and rituals were set aside when the spiritual reality—such as Christ's sacrifice replacing animal sacrifices and God's Holy Spirit and His Word replacing physical washings (Hebrews 9:18; Ephesians 5:26)—added a spiritual dimension. All biblical law, including the ceremonies, comes from God. Paul never taught any Jew to forsake the Law of Moses, the constitution and civil code, but he did rail against Pharisaical additions for the expressed purpose of attaining justification. Even though a change occurred in the administration of existing law, no laws were done away. Instead, they are written in the hearts of the converted (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16).
John Ritenbaugh answers the question "Is there a scripture that states such and such no longer needs to be done?" The Bible is an unfolding revelation, moving from the physical to the spiritual ramifications—revealing an ever-sharper focus on God's purpose. The Law (including the judgments, ordinances, and statutes), far from being done away, has the purpose of showing us our faults and outlining the way of mercy and love. The animal sacrifices and ceremonies were intended to foreshadow a more permanent spiritual reality—subsumed, but not done away. The Old Testament was written with the New Testament Church in mind, written in the context of an earlier culture. We need to see behind the law a presence of a Holy God with whom we seek to share a relationship.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that things written in the Old Testament were written entirely for Christians. The operations of both the Old and New Covenants overlap. The differences focus on justification, access to God, and eternal life, but not doing away with the law (especially the Sabbath) which Protestant theologians would have us believe. Modern Christianity, like the mongrelized Samaritan religion, is a syncretized mixture of some biblical truth with unadulterated paganism. To worship God in spirit means to put heart and mind into applying God's law, with a circumcised heart (Philippians 3:3) realizing that the motivating principle behind every one of God's laws is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts through the power of God's Spirit. (Romans 5:1-5)
We know the holy days typify the steps in God's plan. What happens between Pentecost and Trumpets, the long summer months? John Ritenbaugh expounds on the subject of sanctification.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the Christian's hope constitutes an incremental acquisition of God's glory; that is what the New Covenant is all about. At this point in time, Christ is the only one who has received His inheritance, becoming the first-born of many brethren (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 2:10), having a glorified spiritual body (Revelation 1:13-16). Our hope, as we yield to God, is to be like Him (I John 3:1-3), to become a glorified member of God's family. Christ's sacrifice enabled us to get close to God, establishing a family relationship with Him. As we participate in the New Covenant, we go through the stages of justification, sanctification, and ultimately glorification as part of Christ's body.
John Ritenbaugh uses an analogy of a 1910 automobile as opposed to a modern one. Obsolete doesn't mean, as Protestant understanding would have it, "done away." The fault of the Old Covenant was with the hearts of the people. Christ took it upon Himself, with His death, to amend the fault enabling us to walk in the light, keeping the commandments. Salvation and conversion is a cooperative effort between God and His called-out ones, requiring both a calling and a response (justification and sanctification), a circumcision of the heart, imposing responsibilities on the participants of the covenant. Though the process took a unilateral act of sacrifice on behalf of the Testator to make it work, God demands of us unconditional surrender.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the problem with the Old Covenant was with the people, not with the Law, as some have alleged. Paul uses the term "covenant" to describe an agreement made by two consenting parties and "testament" to describe the unilateral, one-sided commitment made by God to improve the promises (eternal life) and the means to keep the commandments (God's Holy Spirit). The New Covenant will be consumated at Christ's return during the marriage of the Lamb when God's Law will have been permanently assimilated into His bride during an engagement (sanctification) process.
John Ritenbaugh explains that justification is not the end of the salvation process, but merely the doorway to a more involved process of sanctification, symbolized by the long journey through the wilderness toward the promised land, a lengthy purifying process involving Christ's work (of regeneration- making us pure) and our work of applying God's Word to our lives, enabling us to get all the spots and wrinkles out of us. Like the outward signs of a woman's pregnancy, sanctification is the part of the process where we bear fruit, giving visible evidence of God's Holy Spirit working in us.
John Ritenbaugh exposes the deplorable contraditions in the arguments of those who advocate doctrinal change. By their reasoning, they portray God as 'a confused and false minister who lacks the power to instruct his chosen leaders to 'get it right." But that is not the way the Bible portrays Him!
John Ritenbaugh insists that the New Covenant was designed by God in order to circumcise the heart, making it possible for God's laws to be permanently written in our hearts and reflected in our behavior (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16). External rites such as circumcision or baptism do not automatically make Christians. If one is circumcised or baptized and then breaks God's laws, he is instantaneously uncircumcised or unbaptized and blasphemes the name of God (Romans 2:24).
John Ritenbaugh takes issue with the Protestant assumption that justification does away with the law. Justification does not any more "do away" with the law than it does with the edge of the paper. The argument that law-keeping is now voluntary fails to take into account that law keeping has always been voluntary (Deuteronomy 30:15-20) a matter of free moral agency. In Hebrews 10:34 Paul emphatically insisted that justification was a motivation to keep the law. Justification (not a synonym for salvation) brings us into alignment with God's Law, imputing the righteousness of Christ. Justification provides access to God and the means to bring about our sanctification. Justification in no way does away with the law of God.
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.
Moderns sneer at the Bible's food laws, but God gave them for man's good. This study shows they are still in effect for us today!
As Christians, we are followers of Jesus Christ, but many subtle arguments are advanced to prove we really do not have to walk in His footsteps—that He did it all for us. Earl Henn explains that such teachings are ridiculous!
John Ritenbaugh shows that God has set a pattern of separating people from the world, making a covenant with them, and enabling them to be a blessing to others as an example of faithfulness and obedience to the covenant. Because of Israel's unfaithfulness and disobedience, God scattered them among the nations, causing them to forget who they were, and they blended in with the world. Like Nehemiah, our worldview must be shaped by a fear of God, a love and concern for His people, and a hatred for the world's practices that destroy our intimate relationship with God. As God's called-out church (Abraham's spiritual offspring, the Israel of God), we have the sobering responsibility of staying loyal to the New Covenant, keeping the spiritual Temple free from the world's defilement — or lose our spiritual identity as ancient Israel lost its physical identity.
In this sermon devoted to the Night Much to be Observed, John Ritenbaugh asserts that far from being the "pipe dream" of Herbert W. Armstrong as some have disparagingly called it, this event is a commanded part of the beginning of the Days of Unleavened Bread, a time focusing on God's watchful oversight as He delivers us from bondage, continuing His oversight throughout our pilgrimage. Numbers 28:16-17 clearly reveals that the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread occur on two different days. Exodus 12:40 clearly marks this event as a memorial of the covenant with Abraham 430 years prior- again emphasizing God's continuous watchful care.
John Ritenbaugh, after going through the history of Israel's incremental rejection of God's authority and putting themselves under the yoke of Satan's political system, asserts that God is establishing a spiritual kingdom from the dynasty of David, having Christ at the head installed beginning with the seventh trump when He will unleash the power of His Kingdom against the kingdoms of the world. Those who hear the good news of the Kingdom of God and respond to it (entering a covenant with God to become a part of it) are in the process of being built into a spiritual house that is also a royal priesthood (2 Peter 2:9). This royal dynasty will govern a holy nation bearing governmental rule over the earth as kings under Christ.
John Ritenbaugh refutes the erroneous belief that glossolalia (or speaking in tongues) constitutes a sign or condition of having received God's Holy Spirit. The dramatic manifestations in Acts 2 (cloven tongues of fire, rushing wind, and the miracle of speaking and hearing extant languages and dialects) were event specific, and not to be a perennial spectacle in so-called "Tarry meetings." Adherents to the Pentecostal movement try to mimic some of the superficial surface manifestations (noise, commotion, and unintelligible gibberish) rather than follow the teaching given on that day- including repentance, unconditional surrender of our will to God, and keeping His Commandments through the power of His Holy Spirit. Receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit (the power to subdue our carnality and live righteously) is dependent upon repentance and baptism. The ability to speak in tongues, although a legitimate spiritual gift for a very specific purpose, is not the identifying hallmark of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh warns that we dare not allow a root of bitterness to spring up in us as a result of the trials we go through - those burdens intended by God to strengthen us and perfect us. We are warned not to emulate the example of Esau, whose worldly mindset blunted his ability to distinguish the sacred from the profane, leading him to give up his birthright to satisfy a bodily craving. We have superior promises (of future Eternal life and a place in God's very family as well as current access to God's presence through the work of Jesus Christ). The intense admonitory quality in the twelfth chapter stems from the stark, inescapable reality that God will not budge one inch on sin. Far from being an indulgent lenient parent, God is a consuming fire to those who will not obey. We need to develop the same white-hot hatred for sin as does our Heavenly Father. Finally we are admonished to (1) increase our fellowship with our brethren, (2) practice hospitality, (3) sympathize and empathize with those going through trials, (4) strive for pure and chaste marriages, (5) resist covetousness, and (6) ease the ministry's burden
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the infinite superiority of Christ's priesthood and one-time sacrifice as contrasted to the repetitive Aaronic sacrifices, which were incapable of remitting sin, purging consciences, or providing access to God. The shadow image of the Old Covenant could not possibly provide the clarity, dimension, or detail of the reality of the New Covenant, which gives participants access to God and eternal life. Christ's sacrifice, a dividing point in history, was vastly superior because 1) His human experience ensures empathy, 2) God called Him to be High Priest, 3) His offering was more than adequate, 4) His offering reached the Holy of Holies, 5) His priesthood was established on God's oath, 6) His offering was absolutely sinless, 7) He lives eternally, 8) He occupies the heavenly sanctuary, 9) He sacrificed once for all, and 10) His sacrifice can cleanse a guilty conscience, provide access to God, and guarantee our inheritance.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that everything about the Priesthood of Jesus Christ is superior to that of the Levitical system, which was only intended to serve as a type (a forerunner, shadow, or symbol) of the access to God that Jesus would later fulfill. As splendid as it was, there was neither provision for the forgiveness of sins nor a purging of guilt in the Old Covenant. The real barrier that separates us from or denies access to God is our guilty and defiled conscience, which cannot be cleared by a repetitious sacrifice of animal blood. Only Christ's voluntary sacrifice (done on a totally moral and spiritual plane) can purge our consciences of guilt. We should remember that unless the sacrifice of Christ transforms us (leading us to emulate Christ's sinless life), we have not really repented. The chief difference between the Old and New Covenants is that the letter kills while the Spirit gives life.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates Christ's superior qualifications as High Priest. After the change from the Aaronic to the Melchizedek priesthood, it was also necessary to bring about a major change in the Covenant. The flaw in the Old Covenant was not in the law, but stemmed from the fleshly, deceitful, carnal hearts of mankind. All zealous rededications to the Old Covenant (such as that of Josiah) ultimately failed. In order to fulfill the New Covenant, God has had to perform a heart transplant operation, replacing the deceitful stony heart with a pure undefiled heart (a heart predisposed to keep God's law in both the letter and spirit by means of His Holy Spirit), enabling us to incrementally know God and to absorb His divine nature), an event prophesied by Jeremiah. The Old Covenant made no provision for the forgiveness sin, nor did it contain any means for man's nature to be transformed into God's divine nature.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the superiority of Christ and the Melchizedek priesthood, pointing out that in every way it is superior to the Aaronic priesthood because Christ tenure is eternal rather than temporal, guaranteeing both continuity and quality. Hebrews 7 is the only portion of scripture that carefully examines Christ's credentials as High Priest, giving us concrete hope of our salvation. His blameless and undefiled life made Him an appropriate guarantor or co-signer covering our imperfections. After establishing the need for a change of the priesthood, Paul describes the details as to how the new priesthood will administer the New Covenant, amplifying and bringing into stark reality what had been only seen in shadowy outline in the Old Covenant. The New Covenant is established on better promises, not law changes.
John Ritenbaugh delves into the apostles' inability to drive out the demon in Matthew 17 indicates that faith is not a constant factor; it will deteriorate if it not constantly exercised through persistent prayer and fasting. Rather than promoting living faith, modern Protestantism emphasizes escapism and good feelings. Jesus' example of paying the Temple Tax by having Peter work for it (catching a fish) provided a principle for us that we cannot expect a miracle unless we do our part (being willing to work). Matthew 18 delves into the topic of the essence of personal relations, including having (1) an attitude of humility, (2) a sense of duty or responsibility, (3) a sense of self-sacrifice, (4) personal attention and care, (5) knowledge about correcting a person who is wrong, (6) a predisposition to forgive, and a (7) willingness to forgive. In human relationships, cooperation seems to produce greater results than competition. Like children, we must develop humility, dependency upon God and trust. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]