[Editor's note - Audio Quality improves at 5m30s] Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the spring cleaning associated with deleavening, reminds us that God is a God of order, sustaining and upholding all things, and encourages us to clean, maintain, dress and keep, improving what He has given us. As God's creation, He works to make improvements in each of us. Though we are sometimes neglectful, Jesus, as the Author and Finisher of our faith, is never neglectful, but is, with Our Heavenly Father, bringing all His called-out ones to spiritual maturity. The Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread rehearse the plan of God, beginning with our justification through Christ's blood, followed by a life-long sanctification process in which we discard sin, at the same time building Godly character by consuming the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. In western culture, we have applied the command to deleaven (put out sin) and put on righteousness as an individual responsibility. In the Middle Eastern culture, people put the command in a communal light, with the patriarchs of each tribe showing a personal responsibility for their family. In the New Testament, Paul also puts the responsibility on the community, with husbands, wives, children, employers, and employees learning their responsibilities toward one another, indicating that our communal behavior can corrupt (symbolized by the fermentation of leaven) one another or provide a good example for one another. Our sphere of influence radiates far beyond ourselves to the entire community. If each of us individually puts out the leaven of malice and consume the Unleavened Bread of sincerity (free from hypocrisy), we would fulfill our community responsibility to our sphere of influence, cementing our relationships with one another, with Jesus Christ, and God the Father.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that we are all "cut from the same cloth" as our original parents, reminds us that God was aware from the beginning that the free will He gave us in order to develop character, coupled with our carnal nature, made us highly vulnerable to sinning—and highly vulnerable to the natural consequence of sin, death. As it worked out, all God's creation is now under the curse of sin—death. God, before He created Adam and Eve, preternaturally (that is, using forces outside those of the natural world) and meticulously planned the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in order to save humanity from this horrible curse. With the sacrifice of Jesus freely given to justify us initially, plus the on-going gift of the Holy Spirit to sanctify us, we have the ability of overcoming and growing in godly character—growing into the image and likeness of God. Christ, until His very last breath, with clarity of thought, went forth as a willing sacrifice, not as a victim. Christ gave His called-out ones the "blueprint" of the changes needed to transform into His image. Not judging it robbery to be equal with God the Father, He nevertheless emptied Himself of His Divinity, humbly taking on the role of a fleshly bond servant, willing to accept whatever God the Father gave Him to do. On our spiritual trek, we must assimilate the same mindset, loving God with all our heart, and others as ourselves.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that war has personally touched only a fraction of Americans. Not since the aftermath of the 'Civil' War has any part of the nation suffered the ravages of war and the bitterness of defeat. The offspring of Jacob, for the most part, continues to enjoy a period of relative peace and material blessings. The dire events narrated in the Book of Lamentation seem foreign to our scope of experience. For this reason, the events it vividly portrays help us to vicariously imagine the sense of hopelessness and despair experienced by ancient Israel during this historical period. As we approach the coming self-examination prior to Passover, we can apply six significant lessons learned by these people to our personal lives. As human beings we can learn: 1.) Human life is tough, as exemplified in Christ's agonizing sacrifice for us. 2.) Humans are slow to accept blame, but quick at doling it out to others. 3.) Repentance is difficult and rare. Thankfully, we also learn: 4.) God is sovereign, controlling every aspect of Creation. 5.) God is just and is a Deity of Law, giving us precepts that tell us how to live. 6.) God is merciful and faithful, providing a mechanism for our redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, balancing His "severity" with His "goodness."
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.
David C. Grabbe: The spiritual strength required to overcome is a result of eating the Bread of Life continually, and that Bread is available only to those whom He has delivered from spiritual Egypt. But to approach overcoming without that is to imply that we can overcome on our own—thus that we have no need of a Savior after our forgiveness. ...
David Grabbe reminds us that the Days of Unleavened Bread signify far more than the avoidance of leavened bread or putting out leaven, a symbol of malice or hypocrisy, and that our focus needs to be on God's management of the process. Israel did not come out of Egypt on their own power, but was delivered only by God's intervention. We have a part in the process to consume unleavened bread, symbolically living a life of sincerity and truth. As we were released from bondage, we attained a new master and a new lease on life. We have an obligation to feast on this unleavened bread throughout our entire life, ingesting the word and instruction of God, which constitutes our spiritual food. Unless we eat the Bread of Life continually, and unless God's Spirit resides in us, we will die. Unless we are metaphorically attached to the vine, we cannot bear fruit. The spiritual strength we receive is the result of eating the bread of life. Unless we have God's Spirit, we will never completely control our human spirit. God gives us the power to bear spiritual fruits such as patience and self-control.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: We live in a self-indulgent age. Advertisers tell us to pamper ourselves and get all that we can as soon as we can. Politicians promise high-cost "freebies" that only a few years ago required ...
Bill Onisick, reminding us that we are embarking upon another time of self-examination before Passover, claims that the principal cause of goal failure is lack of self-control, the ninth fruit of God's Holy Spirit. Developing self-control or self-discipline resembles developing a new habit or exercising a muscle, a process that takes time and consistency. Bad and good habits are cumulative, and the consequences emerge as life-enhancing or life-threatening. As we make our continuous choices in behavior, we need to make cognitive reappraisal, determining what the accumulative effect of all the incremental steps will lead to, with suffering and death as the final destination. With the help of God's Holy Spirit, we can develop the overcoming skill, using self-control to make firm commitments to the small, yet progressively significant choices along our spiritual journey, bringing every thought into captivity, making righteousness and morality continuous and habitual instead of occasional.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting that all of us have anticipated a magic day, like graduating, getting married, birth of children and grandchildren, or getting a promotion, cautions that we must be prepared to wait for the event to happen, living our lives one day at a time. We get ourselves ready for that special day. In the last eleven chapters of the book of Numbers, our forebears spent considerable time waiting, until the first generation who rebelled had perished. Their descendants had grown into a large group, waiting for their time to enter the Promised Land. Are we experiencing the same sensation, waiting in a holding pattern? God wants us to develop patience as we wait for the Kingdom of God. The last chapters in Numbers describe a hard-to-endure, lengthy holding pattern—not much happened. But significant things did occur during that time. The plodders will be the ones to make it into the Kingdom; God calls us to follow Him as obedient children, teachable and leadable. The second generation of Israelites were more teachable as obedient children, unlike their recalcitrant, rebellious parents. Joshua, a type of Jesus, took over the leadership of the people (as a military leader and a shepherd), bringing the gospel of the Promised Land. The antitype of Joshua, Jesus Christ, brought significant change—elevating the law above the letter to the realm of the spirit, laying bare the contents of the mind or heart. We have been called into the chosen generation, a royal priesthood, with minds transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We are required to bring sacrifices of a broken spirit and contrite heart. God wants us to eradicate every single sin, from secret to blatant. As we are waiting to enter the Promised man, we must learn to judge with revealed wisdom.
David Maas reflects that, after God has forgiven our sins, He has, nevertheless, allowed residual memories of these transgressions to remain in our memory banks, evidently to aid us in the overcoming and sanctification process. Three major purposes God may have for our retaining the trace memories of our former sins are1) We learn to love God's holy law by experiencing the painful consequences and disastrous effects of lawlessness, developing a hatred or abhorrence for sin, in order that we purpose to never again repeat that experience; 2) The sins serve as a thorn in our flesh to keep us humble and far away from pride; and 3) We experience the ache these trace memories bring in order to help others now, or in the Millennium, who suffer from the same weaknesses and vulnerabilities as we have experienced throughout our lives. Whatever Satan has intended for bad, God has purposed for good.
When we do something against the law or even against our own conscience, guilt is triggered, and we suffer, not just a gut-wrenching emotion, but also a descent into a state of culpability, of sin. Martin Collins instructs the guilty on their response to guilt, recommending taking the proper spiritual steps to remove the guilt through Jesus Christ.
David C. Grabbe: Those whom God has called understand the importance of overcoming, but how do we overcome? In Revelation 12:10-11, God describes in advance those who will overcome: ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Vanquish the sins at their point of origin, and our deeds will be clean before God. ...
As everyone knows, Scripture takes a very dim and stern view of sin because it is failure to live up to God's standard and destroys relationships, especially our relationship with God. After identifying the types and levels of sin, John Ritenbaugh suggests that the fear of God provides us the necessary motivation to overcome our iniquities.
Martin Collins, observing how a child fixates on a wound, continually worrying a bandage or a scab, suggests that sometimes Christians do the same thing with past sins or spiritual deficits, making themselves unhappy. Our spiritual trek indeed is a demanding flight of faith. All of us have been tormented by some past wrong, held in the grip of self-condemnation, subject to Satan's perpetual accusations. We cannot experience the joy of salvation while we are obsessing on past sins. While repenting of sins frees us from the grip of both lesser and greater sins, we will feel proportionately greater penalties for some sins than for others. The sin leading to death (the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) occurs when one actively defies God or when one, through apathy or lethargy, refuses to repent. When we are tempted to sin, we need to consider the consequences on our relationship with God. Every sin that has been committed has been committed by someone else at some other time; Christ has given Himself as a sacrifice for all of them. We can rejoice in God's extraordinary forgiveness and mercy.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: There would be no need for conversion without the existence of sin and its destructive effects on humanity. Sin and the anti-God world it has spawned is what Christians must turn from so that they can truly follow God's way of life. ...
During the Passover season, our minds are more forcibly focused on the importance of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to our salvation. ...
Business advisors and self-help books recommend that we set goals and make plans to succeed in our chosen areas of endeavor. Why do we not do this to help us overcome sin? There is a simple, easily remembered formula we can use to organize and prosecute the battle against our faults and weaknesses.
It is a given that works cannot earn us salvation. However, they play many vital roles in our Christian walk toward the Kingdom of God. In this concluding article, John Ritenbaugh gives specific reasons for doing good works, showing their close relationship with holiness.
The Bible makes it very plain that salvation is by grace, but it is also clear that we are 'created in Christ Jesus for good works' (Ephesians 2:10). Having explained justification, John Ritenbaugh tackles the process of sanctification, showing that the far greater part of God's saving work in us occurs after baptism!
We have been called, not just to believe in Christ, but also to overcome sin, an action that takes a great deal of effort. John Ritenbaugh takes pains to explain God's act of justification and what we are required to do in response.
The first six element of motivation were positive, but the last in negative. John Ritenbaugh explains that our fear of being judged negatively by our Judge should spur us to greater obedience and growth toward godliness.
Charles Whitaker, focusing upon Paul's assertion in Romans 8:37 that we may become "more than conquerors," coins a new hybrid (English-Greek) word Super-Nikao describing a future state of the complete subjugation of the flesh (accomplished through the help of Christ's sacrifice and the continuous use of God's Holy Spirit). We savor the spoils of victory through the sacrifice of Christ, enabling us to subdue our iniquities and vile carnal nature. God takes the initiative; we take the prize.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Deuteronomy 30:15-20, stresses that the choices we make on the day-to-day basis have long-term spiritual consequences. Only the immature think their behaviors will not catch up with them (Numbers 32:23). If we learn to fear and love God, loyalty, faithfulness and commandment keeping will naturally follow. If we love and fear God, taking God into our consciousness with every behavior, we will instinctively haste and depart from evil. Like a physical marriage, our covenant with God is based upon the driving force of love and respect.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that we are manufactured goods designed specifically to glorify God. We have been summoned or separated from the rest of the world for the specific purpose of having God reproduced in ourselves — becoming clean and pure, transformed into God's image. As God's royal priesthood, we have a responsibility to draw near to God, keeping His commandments, witnessing to the world that God is God. Chipping away at the living stones, fitting them into their proper places, God works continually shaping and fashioning His new creation (II Corinthians 5:17).
God's sovereignty and free moral agency set up a seeming paradox. John Ritenbaugh shows just how much choice we have under God's sovereign rule.
Of all the fruit of the Spirit, God may have left the most difficult for last! Has anyone, other than Jesus Christ, really exhibited self-control? In the end, however, this is the ultimate aim of growing in the character of Almighty God!
John Ritenbaugh points out that when people do not have the fear of God, they drift away from Him. At the first Pentecost, only a fraction of Christ's total audience (about 120) were left, those who feared God, trembled at His word, and were really committed. After the Spirit of God is imparted, removing the pernicious fear of men and installing the life-sustaining fear of God, the real dramatic growth takes place- the sanctification process- a time we (with a poor and contrite spirit) use the fear of God as the prime motivator (coupled with the love of God) to move us from carnal to spiritual-from profane to holy. The fear of God keeps us from doing stupid things like sinning, enabling God's love to do its work. Knowing the terror of the Lord (as a consuming fire) should always be a part of our thinking. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil. The fear of God draws us toward Him.
John Ritenbaugh insists that we must be aware of our awesome status as a unique, called-out, chosen, royal priesthood—teachers of a way of life and builders of bridges between people and God. Because God owns us, we differ from the rest of the people of this earth. We need to seriously think of what we are now (His chosen people) and also what we have been (children of Satan). As former bond-slaves of satanic human nature, we effortlessly have given ourselves over to excesses and unrestraint. The Old Testament examples were given to show us what God had to do (the tremendous cost in life) to pave the way for our calling, sanctification, and ultimate glorification. Reflecting on the awesome cost of our calling, we must resolve not to go back into the slavery of sin.
John Ritenbaugh explains the significance of "the fellowship of His sufferings" and "being conformed to His death" (Philippians 3:10). Christ's death had both a substitutionary and a representative aspect. The former pays for our sins, but the latter provides an example (He is the archegos) that we must emulate or imitate. When we obligate ourselves (something God cannot do for us) to mortify the flesh (Romans 8:13), refusing to feed the hungry beast of our carnal nature and killing the old man, we suffer the ravaging effects of sin. Experiencing suffering for righteousness' sake accelerates our spiritual growth and enables us to know Christ.
In this powerful conclusion of the sin series, John Ritenbaugh warns that, contrary to the syrupy, unctious Protestant teaching of Christianity as a warm fuzzy feeling- a cakewalk into eternal life, true Christianity is a life and death struggle- spiritual warfare against our flesh (Romans 8:7, Galatians 5:17), the world (1John 2:16-17) and a most formidable intelligent spirit being (I Peter 5:8). Using the abundant military metaphors of Paul and Christ, we must prepare ourselves for rigorous, continuous battle (Ephesians 6:11-17) waging a war against these three enemies, enabling us to eat of the tree of (eternal) life (Revelation 2:7).
John Ritenbaugh explores the role of human nature in the fatal attraction to sin. Though relatively neutral at its inception, human nature is subject to a deadly magnetic pull toward self-centeredness, deceit, and sin (Jeremiah 17:9). By the time God calls us, we are hopelessly ensnared and enslaved by sin. To counteract this deadly pull, we must imitate Christ's standard of active righteousness (going about doing good; Acts 10:38) as opposed to the Pharisee's more passive righteousness (a meticulous, reactive avoidance of evil). The sins of omission (the majority of our sins), neglect, and ignorance have the tendency to dissolve when we practice Christ's standard of active righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh warns that those who emphasize one trait of God at the expense of the others (or one doctrine at the expense of the others) run the risk of distorting the truth, creating a grotesque caricature. Almighty God, having both a good and severe nature, much like a loving parent, will move Heaven and earth, including using a rod of correction, to see that His offspring conform to His will and purpose. We need to adopt the humble, unassuming characteristic of a little child to make sure we yield to His awesome sovereignty.
The Feast of Unleavened Bread immediately follows the Passover. In it we see how hard it is to overcome and rid our lives of sin.
Many people believe that our sins are the focus of Passover—but they are wrong! John Ritenbaugh shows that Christ, the Passover Lamb, should be our focus. How well do you know Him?
John Ritenbaugh suggests that even though sin offers temporal and fleeting pleasure, we must learn to intensely hate sin, regarding this product of Satan as a destroyer of everything God loves and cherishes. We will ultimately be judged on what we have done with what we have been given, living what we know, and intensely striving to emulate God- the essence of love. If we sin, we love neither God nor ourselves. Sin corrosively destroys innocence, ideals, and willpower, replacing these qualities with hardness, slavery, more sin, degeneracy, and ultimately death.
In Galatians 6, verse 16, the apostle Paul refers to the church as "the Israel of God." Why? Why not "the Judah of God," or "the Ephraim of God" or "the Galilee of God?" Why did God not inspire Paul to call the church by Israel's original name, Jacob—"the Jacob of God?" Charles Whitaker explains.
Many put great stock in Alcoholics Anonymous, but is it a godly organization? Does it use the methods God uses? Where should Christians go who have problems with alcohol?
John Ritenbaugh shows that the Days of Unleavened Bread have both a negative and positive aspect. It is not enough to get rid of something negative (get rid of the leavening of sin); if we don't do something positive (eat unleavened bread or do righteousness), we leave ourselves in an extremely vulnerable position (Luke 11:24-28). Nature absolutely abhors a vacuum. We cannot make Christianity work by emphasizing what we can't do. We can't stand still. The best way to avoid or conquer evil is to do righteousness or bear fruit (John 15:16; James 4:17), serving God and mankind. Sins of omission are every bit as devastating as sins of commission. God's emphasis is always on action. The accent is on doing rather than not doing, taking our ordinary day-to-day responsibilities and making them a sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1).
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 affirms that Jesus Christ's sinlessness was not the result of being a programmed automaton, but instead as a result of volition or choice—actively struggling against carnal pulls and temptations, enabling Him to fully empathize and have compassion on those tempted in like manner. He experienced exactly the same kind of temptations and suffering we experience, qualifying Him for the role of High Priest, bridge-builder between man and God, the same role for which members of God's called-out Family are also qualifying. Like our Elder Brother, we must learn righteous judgment by continually exercising our spiritual muscle, practicing making choices, distinguishing right from wrong, but building godly character and spiritual maturity through the enabling power of God's Holy Spirit.
"ALL have sinned," says the Scripture. What is sin, anyway? And how do we stop it?
WHY are we not more successful in living up to God's standard? WHY do we slip and fall occasionally? Here is how YOU can overcome where you are weakest and hardest tempted!