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.
John Ritenbaugh, noting a parallel between the recipients of the book of Hebrews and our current situation, suggests that the pressure these people encountered was not a bloody persecution, but instead constant psychological pressures (economic, health, persecution on the church, social, family, etc.) coming right after the other in a wave that never seemed to end, causing weariness and unfeeling apathy. The book of Hebrews provides resources to recapture flagging zeal and motivation, focusing again upon the reason for our hope and faith, establishing clearly Christ's credentials and the import of His message, re-igniting the original excitement of their (and our) calling and their (and our) awesome future which they (and we) have put in jeopardy through apathy and neglect. We are admonished to resuscitate and readjust our focus and damaged belief system, reestablishing our access to God through Christ our High Priest, claiming the promises of the New Covenant.
John Ritenbaugh, after a thorough analysis of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, concludes that the seven conditions described (all having a common denominator an admonition to hold fast to something once given, but slipping away- namely the faith once delivered - Jude 3) are both sequential and contemporaneous, applying to groups now extant as well as individuals within the groups. All of us have these conditions within us to one degree or another. The scattering of the churches was an act of love by Almighty God to wake us up out of our passive, lethargic, faithless condition. The antidote to this splitting and scattering is to make the feeding of the flock our top priority, in which all the body, not just the ministry, participates to nurture one another, encouraging each other to return to the faith once delivered.
John Ritenbaugh tackles the eternal security doctrine, a teaching that militates against good works, something that God had ordained for all of us. Works demonstrate our faith, our response to God's calling and His freely given grace. Reciprocity is always a part of our relationship with God. Trust is a response to God's tests. Abraham's response to God reciprocated his love back to God. The indictment against the Ephesian church stemmed from their lack of reciprocity (or first love). When our expectations have not been met, it becomes hard for us to maintain our zeal. We need to maintain the intensity to actively hear God's message. If we do not actively exercise our minds, work to maintain our relationship to Christ, and become dead to the world, we will drift away. We cannot allow what Christ is to slip from our minds. Where there is no love for Christ, there is no salvation and no membership in God's family. As in human love or infatuation, if we love another person, we like to think about him/her; likewise, we need to have Christ dwelling in our hearts at all times.
John Ritenbaugh analyzes the five-point warning message given to the scattered Hebrews by Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews does not identify a single flagrant violation of law, but instead delivers a general castigation for incremental, continuous, disrespectful, and forgetful neglect—a failure to esteem what should have been thought precious, their calling and salvation, while esteeming inferior things like wealth or status. Hebrews expounds four other warnings, all designed to wake the church member up and motivate him toward greater devotion to God. Similarly, the modern church of God stands in danger of allowing salvation to slip away from pure neglect. By these warnings, we should know how to turn our lives around so we do not fall short and lose salvation.
John Ritenbaugh characterizes the spiritual condition of the recipients of the Hebrews epistle as dangerously complacent, drifting into apostasy through neglect rather than from any blatant sin or perversion. Losing their zeal and first love after the manner of the Ephesians, having a complacent disregard for Christ's sacrifice, they were in danger of permanently searing their consciences and losing their vital access to God. The entire eleventh chapter provides examples to bolster their faith and rekindle their first love. The kind of faith described in this chapter is not blind and clueless, but is carefully developed as a result of systematic analysis of available evidence. Abraham, Sarah, and Moses were all motivated to endure by calculating or adding up all the evidence. Likewise God desires and has deliberately planned that we build our faith by the same kind of calculation, analysis, or adding up the evidence.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that salvation is an entire creative process undertaken by God to justify, sanctify, and glorify a called out body of individuals. Ephesians 2:8 uses the perfect tense 'saved,' indicating an action started in the past and continuing on into the present. As with the typology of the Israelites 'saved' from bondage, the process was not completed until a remnant made it to the promised land—with the sobering example of many dying in the wilderness. Likewise, we are warned about the dangers of backsliding and resisting God's will (II Peter 2:20; Hebrews 10:31) rendering the erroneous 'once saved, always saved' assumption a foolish and dangerous misconception. God assumes the burden for our salvation, but we are obligated to yield to His workmanship—made manifest by good works—the effect rather than the cause of salvation.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that without continuous maintenance and attention, it is difficult to maintain a spiritual mind in a carnal physical body. We, like Christ, were made a little while lower than angels to be made perfect through suffering. He has blazed a trail, showing us a pattern for qualifying (through intense suffering and resisting temptation) for our ultimate responsibilities as future kings and priests—or bridge-builders, reconnecting man and God. As Christ endured the suffering and temptation successfully, we are exhorted to hold fast, activating the hope to endure to the end.
Kim Myers, seeing a parallel between the church's drift into Laodiceanism and the physical nation of Israel drifting into a similar tolerant attitude toward immorality and lawlessness, as seen by the continuous trashing of the Constitution and the Federal judges' advocating immorality, warns that we cannot not allow ourselves to backslide, allowing pressure from the world's culture to water down God's laws and commandments. Instead, we are admonished to get off the fence and get back to the faith once delivered. If we revert to the old habits that we practiced during our pre-conversion period, God will be compelled to vomit us out. If we become again entangled in the world's pollution after we have been extricated, our latter state will be worse than our first one. As God's called-out ones, we have witnessed many miracles through the years, especially our miraculous calling. It behooves us to move forward as an energized body, assiduously avoiding the Laodicean mindset of self-satisfaction.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the reason for refraining from work or pleasure on the Sabbath is not labor or muscular energy, but the overall motivation for expending this energy. Proper preparation for the Sabbath frees us from customary distractions, allowing our words and fellowship to focus on God's purpose for our lives. The Sabbath is 1) a memorial of creation; 2) a recurring period of God's presence; 3) associated with liberty and redemption; 4) a time in which how it is kept looms more important than merely keeping or observing it; 5) represents a shift in emphasis from communal to individual responsibility, prefiguring the rest of God; 6) a time when not working becomes secondary to fellowship with God; and 7) requires a preparation day to clear away mundane activities, enabling total commitment to God.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the myriad infomercials offering systems and formulae for success, from making money by flipping real estate or improving our golf score, focuses on the winning playbooks of several professional football coaches, drawing the spiritual analogy that we must be willing to be team players, yielding our private ambitions and desires for the good of the team. It is the coach's prerogative to expect that we conform to his playbook. We are obligated to transform or change our game to please our coach. For God's called-out ones, this mandate becomes challenging because the world desperately wants to squeeze us into its mold. It is far easier to conform to the world than to conform to Christ. We must extricate ourselves from the walking dead and yield to God to renew our minds, living in the spirit rather than in the flesh. Four major warning signs caution us that we have come too close to compromising with the world. 1) We discover there is a serious change in our prayer and/or Bible study habits. 2) We find ourselves withdrawing from fellowship with the brethren—tantamount to withdrawing from God. 3) We find ourselves seeking praise from those in the world. 4) We begin to look to the world for solutions to problems. We need to remember that Christ, not our human reason, is the Way.
David C. Grabbe: Before continuing with Judah's next king, Jotham, it is worthwhile to consider another aspect of the previous three kings. ...
It is a wonderful thing that God has called us out of this world and paid the penalty for our sins, but what happens next? After making the covenant with God, how does a person avoid backsliding as so many biblical examples show? John Ritenbaugh answers these questions by explaining what seeking God is really all about.
Contrary to the common idea that the Christian life is one of peace and contentment, John Ritenbaugh explains that it is really a constant, grueling battle against enemy forces such as our own human natures, this evil world, and 'principalities and powers' that do not want to see us inherit the Kingdom of God. Even so, if we are steadfast in the faith, we can prevail.
Richard Ritenbaugh, continuing his series on Christ's letters to the seven Churches of Revelation, reminds us that we should understand them as vital messages to us rather than regard them as prophetic indictments of congregations outside our own. Christ intended that we personally apply the commendations, warnings, and exhortations in each of these letters. All seven letters share a common template: (1) a salutation to an addressee (which we can apply to ourselves), (2) descriptions of Christ walking among the lampstands, (3) an evaluation of the church's works, (4) a verdict on the church's current condition, (5) a command to do something about remedying any deficit, (6) an exhortation to repent, and (7) a description of the reward one will receive for acting on this exhortation. The congregation at cosmopolitan and prosperous Ephesus was at the epicenter of idolatrous Dianna worship; its members battled various pagan heresies continually. Christ commends them for their warrior-like commitment to battle the Nicolaitans (church tyrants), On the other hand, their "hardened soldier" mentality had taken its toll, as, having left their first love, they were in danger of forfeiting their candlestick. These crusty old spiritual warriors had fulfilled their battle missions but had replaced love with an obsession to fight for doctrinal purity. Christ admonishes the Ephesians and to shake off callousness and return to the innocence of their parents Adam and Eve before they yielded to sin. The reward presented to them was the same offered to Adam and Eve—the fruit of the Tree of Life.
Richard Ritenbaugh expresses alarm about the carelessness or sloppiness in attitude, speech and dress emerging in our culture. Unfortunately these careless attitudes are finding their way into the church—with devastating consequences. Carelessness, indicative of not thinking (or refusing to think, derivative of refusing to keep the Commandments), when reinforced or carried on into life can be lethal or irreparable. Undervaluing our way or behavior leads to a careless lifestyle. The book of Deuteronomy is replete with admonitions to be careful, especially with regard to the weightier matters of God's law. We absolutely dare not become complacent (at ease in Zion, so to speak) about our calling or our covenant relationship with God, a condition indicative of Laodicianism or reality narcolepsy, accelerating the Day of Doom or the Great Tribulation.
John Ritenbaugh, using Lot's wife as a sobering example warns us that God does not want us to maintain close associations with the world because it almost inevitably leads to compromise with godly standards, jeopardizing the consistency of the Christian witness to God. Much of ancient Israel's (as well as modern day Israel's) problem stemmed from a false sense of security (pride) apathy (from an abundance of food) and a luxurious life of ease (from spending time in self indulgence). Not many of us will be able to stand before the spiritual onslaughts of the world having the pride-filled, overfed, and unconcerned attitude (Psalm 30:6-7) - an attitude causing Lot's wife to love the world and Lot to linger and procrastinate.
In this admonitory sermon, John Ritenbaugh systematically examines the lives of three kings, included in the genealogies of Kings and Chronicles, but conspicuously absent in Matthew. The common denominator in all three cases (Joash, Amaziah, and Uzziah) was that although they started out ostensibly well, they allowed weak character, pride, inordinate self-esteem, and presumptuousness to turn their hearts away from God (metaphorically transforming from butterflies to worms), refusing to repent, forcing God to blot their names from remembrance. God expects steadfast endurance in His servants (Matthew 10:22) II Chronicles 15:2 reveals the principle that faithfulness and loyalty is a two way street. God's mercy is perfectly balanced by His Justice.
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.
Martin Collins, reflecting on Jerusalem's current reputation for violence, murder, immorality, multi-culturalism, and conflict, looks at the city's history and at its prophesied status as the capital of God's Kingdom. The reputation for the City of Peace derives from Abraham's tithing to the King of Peace, Melchizedek. Mount Moriah was the site of Abraham's aborted sacrifice of Isaac as well as Jesus Christ's sacrifice for our sins. David conquered this territory and made Jerusalem his capital. Paradoxically, Jerusalem has not been a city of peace, but a magnet for conflict, a situation which will not end until Christ returns. Three factors which impressed David about Jerusalem were: (1) its unity, closely compacted together, (2) its role in dispensing godly judgment, and (3) its role in bringing peace through adherence to God's judgment and statutes. These three characteristics have not described the city of Jerusalem over the past millennia but will accurately come to describe the New Jerusalem coming to Mount Zion, a venue where there will be no more sorrow or death—the peaceful city of the Great King.
Martin Collins, examining the life of Gideon in Judges 7 and 8, highlights three principles regarding faith: (1) God tests our faith, (2) God encourages our faith, and (3) God honors our faith. To be sure, faith that is untested is not faith at all. God wants to see whether our faith is real or counterfeit. As we exercise our faith, God strengthens it, making it reflex-like. In the endeavor of conquering the Midianites, God clearly demonstrated to Gideon, through His systematically whittling his army from 30,000 to 10,000 to 300, that His providence, and not Gideon's might, would bring the victory. The greater church of God could profit from the knowledge that size, budget, or charismatic leadership has little to do with the impact of the Gospel. Like many of us, Gideon required many assurances from God to realize that He would accompany him in battle. Once Gideon became convinced that God would do what He said He would, his faith and boldness increased exponentially. The stratagem with the pitchers, torches, and the shout, "the sword of the Lord," upended the vastly larger enemy forces which Gideon routed with ease. As God gave Gideon the victory, He also gave Gideon some new tests to his newly acquired leadership, some of which Gideon passed with flying colors, such as his diplomacy with the Ephraimites. He also rightly refused the title of king, reminding Israel that the Lord was their real king. Gideon faltered somewhat in his final years, assuming the lifestyle of royalty, presumptuously fashioning the spoils of victory into an ephod, thereby unwittingly encouraging Israel to return to her idolatrous ways. What the Midianites could not accomplish by swords, Satan accomplished by earrings.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the reality of God is not a mathematical formula beyond the reach of garden-variety human reason and observation, warns us that God's reality is not the root of the human problem. Rather, the powerful pulls of our carnal nature, innately hostile to God's law, prevents us from believing Him or obeying Him. The deadliest enemy to our spiritual well-being is within us. God calls the weak and base of the world to put the intellectual and strong to shame. To provide a counterweight to the destructive carnal nature, God provided His Holy Spirit—as well as spiritual gifts—in order to enable His called-out ones to put to death their carnal natures, as they refocus their attention to things above, bringing about a life-giving fellowship with the Creator. God does not create character by fiat, but has ordained that His true children exercise their power of choice to build an intimate relationship with Him, a task not impossible, but not easy. God has providentially given us trials to build character, proving beyond a doubt that we believe Him and have a burning desire to be at one with Him. We exercise these spiritual gifts in order to kill our carnal nature, not to win salvation. Unlike the first Adam, who yielded to his carnal lusts, choosing to please himself, we must follow the second Adam, Jesus Christ, who always submitted to the will of the Father. All people are without excuse when it comes accepting God's existence. Refusal to believe or obey God puts blinders of foolishness on the ungodly, preventing them from knowing God. When one observes the consistently law-governed Creation, it is foolish to embrace atheism.
Martin Collins, acknowledging that the conclusion of the Old Testament as we have inherited from the Latin Vulgate does not have an upbeat ending, but instead ends with a threat of a curse, reviews the seven feeble queries made by the priests, questioning God's providence and His faithfulness, asking what good it does to be godly, keeping His commandments. Those who fear the Lord and esteem His name will be kept in God's Book of Remembrance, the Book of Life. Jesus Christ will acknowledge who is in the Book of Life, enabled to enter the Eternal City. David, in Psalm 139, reveals that all the days of his life were recorded in God's book before he was even born. God's moral standards are unchangeable and will not be altered by the wishful thinking of moral relativists. Delay in judgment should not be construed as God's abandonment of judgment. God desires that all people receive salvation, but He is not about to remove our free will by forcing it upon us. The wicked burned up as ashes certainly precludes the notion of universal salvation. As John the Baptist (in the Spirit of Elijah) made preparations for Christ's ministry, imploring people to repent and change, we must prepare for the Passover season through mental acts of praying, studying, and meditating on the Scriptures, especially on those passages in which God addresses us in the first person. We must continually examine ourselves to see if we are indeed walking according to our calling.
Martin Collins, returning to the annoying questions asked by the priests in the book of Malachi as to God's alleged tardiness of justice, declares that their call for justice was unwise, considering that they would be fried to a crisp when they received what they deserved. The same applies to us: we need to be careful when we ask for justice, for our request might very well come back to bite us.. Those relentlessly begging for justice will indeed get what they ask for. Their presumptuous questions are all answered by Malachi, indicting both ancient and modern Judah and Israel. God's coming in judgment will be against those who are critical of His judgments. God, like a refiner of precious metals, will skim off the dross until He can see His face. Before the day of vengeance, a lengthy time of grace will precede, including 400 years from the time of Malachi to Christ's reading from Isaiah about bringing liberty and sight to the blind. Another 2,000 years have been added, and the same national sins, such as defiling God's Sabbath and robbing His tithes and offerings (both given before the Mosaic law), still dog our society today. Even though it is axiomatic, according to surveys conducted by Christianity Today and the Barna Group, that individuals who give 10% or more are generally better off than those who do not, the majority of modern Israel have cursed themselves by withholding tithes and offering, mirroring the days of Malachi and Haggai. All we have belongs to God, yet paradoxically if we give back 10%, we are incredibly blessed. Tithing provides for preaching the Gospel, Feast expenses, and helping the needy. Robbing God of His tithes brings curses on the created order, interpersonal relationships, and the covenental relationship. In the matter of tithing, God (1) calls for obedience to bring all the tithes into the storehouse, (2) issues a challenge to test Him, (3) accompanies His challenge with bountiful promises, and (4) reminds us of the ultimate blessing of being an example to the world.
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