John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the description of the New Covenant in Hebrews 8:10, reminds us that, although God never intended the Old Covenant to endure eternally, the spiritual and immutable law (shared by both the old and new covenants) was to last forever. God did not nail His holy Law to the cross, as major Protestant denominations mistakenly declare. Rather, God nailed the penalty for our past sins, paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ, to the cross. The wages of sin is death. When Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law, He not only provided a model as to how His called-out ones are to keep it, He magnified it and raised the standards of compliance, targeting not only behavior, but motive—the whole spiritual process which underlies any sin. To give His called-out ones the ability to reach these higher standards, He gifted them with the Holy Spirit, thereby empowering them to displace carnality with Godly character. God does not create such character by fiat. Rather, it grows steadily with our determination to participate and cooperate with God. The purpose of all of God's covenants with mankind is to create character and stop sin. The New Covenant, as explicated by Hebrews, contains "post graduate" responsibilities far beyond the letter-of-the-law instructions given in Leviticus. Unlike the faulty Protestant assumption that Christ has done all the work of salvation, Christ warns His people that they must soberly count the cost because of the vastly higher standards established in the New Covenant. Christ promises, through the means of His Holy Spirit, the power to do His will, thereby giving His people the necessary tools to achieve membership in the family of God.
John Ritenbaugh, reacting to the secularist's complaint about God's failure to make clear His purpose, assures us that no one has any excuse for doubting God's existence or His carefully crafted purpose for mankind, whether revealed publicly through His Creation or privately to His people through the Holy Scriptures. Paul rejected the complaints of those Jews who decried God's calling of the gentiles. Similarly, secularists presumptuously skate on thin ice when they demand that God explain His purposes. The biggest obstacle in understanding God's purpose for our lives is our carnal mind (described in Romans 8:5-8) which prefers the phantom of perpetual control over the blessing promised by submitting to God. The Scriptures provide ample evidence as to God's purpose, including the account of the earth's creation and the joint planning of two personalities in the God family. All creatures designed by the Word reproduce after their kind, demonstrating a pattern through which the God family would also reproduce after its kind. God's ultimate purpose for mankind is clearly proclaimed in His Word, indicating that God the Father (in His special love for mankind created in His image) had already, having a foreknowledge of man's behavior, planned the redeeming death of His Son from before the foundation of the world. Christ's death for our sins was already in the blueprints from the foundation of this world's system. As Christ's death was pre-ordained, our calling was also orchestrated from the foundation of the world with the standards of judgment and qualification clear. Paul teaches us that God ardently planned our calling, our access to His Holy Spirit, and our future destiny as members of His family.
David Maas, in this third installment of the W's and H's of Meditation, reiterating the stark contrast between God's holy character and our inherent carnal nature, contends that developing the daily habit of meditation on God's Word (the very spigot of God's Holy Spirit) can displace that deadly carnal nature, replacing it with Godly character—the mind of God. Because character is the product of matured habits and morality is the product of matured manners, we must be content with beginning with small steps. Evidently, God does not execute His greatest works with frenetic bursts of energy, but instead very contemplatively, beginning with small and apparently insignificant steps, such as recruiting the undistinguished to confound the wise. By definition, meditation requires a tardigrade venue of solitude and quietude; hence, meditation's most fruitful time-frames are those moments before falling asleep and the time before the business of the day begins in earnest. If we habitually make God's Word our last thought every day, with the help of God's Spirit collaboration with our ever-active human spirit, we will be able to meditate on the Word of God "day and night." The key to our next day is what we think about before we hit the hay.
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. ...
Martin Collins, maintaining that there never has been , and never will be, another death like Jesus Christ's, reminds us that Our Omniscient God, who cannot sin, knew that we would sin and, therefore, pre-ordained a sacrifice that would satisfy all legal requirements, but would also motivate us to repent of sin and pursue righteousness, building character, living by faith, and exercising moral responsibility. The result? We grow into sharing the exact character of our Savior. The sacrifice of Jesus constitutes the death of an innocent, sinless, worthy victim for the entire human race. When Adam and Eve sinned, their overwhelming guilt and shame forced them to hide, dreading the consequences of their sin. God dealt with the transgression directly, covering their nakedness with the skins of animals—the first-time death literally appeared in Eden. These clothes of animal skins reminded them of the reality of death and symbolized how their redemption would ultimately come, namely through the sacrifice of an innocent victim at Golgotha, satisfying the wrath of God toward sin through propitiation and reconciliation, repairing the broken relationship between all of mankind and the Creator. While Passover is personal in nature, the sacrifice symbolized by the Day of Atonement is universal, pointing to God's reconciliation of the entire world, as Satan is punished by separation. Redemption refers to buying back something that was lost. The necessity for Christ's death stems from God's holiness and absolute intolerance of sin and His obligation to judge righteously. A substitutionary sacrifice is required to propitiate for God's wrath against the sins of mankind. His death brought to a climax a plethora of Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. Christ took on our poverty and lowliness so that we might become His co-heirs as God's children. Like Paul and Peter, we have been called for a pre-ordained purpose, and are obligated to follow His example, looking forward to His coming both as a Savior and a Judge.
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.
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.
The "God of the Old Testament" receives a great deal of criticism from some quarters because, allegedly, He makes statements that contradict New Testament teaching, and He also seems cruel, especially toward non-Israelites. Examining a question that brings both of these criticisms into play, David Grabbe argues that God's command for Israel to execute total war on the Canaanites has a rational—and yes, Christian—explanation.
We all know the titanic struggle Paul describes in Romans 7, where he talks about wanting to do what is right yet doing what is wrong instead. He cries out, “O wretched man that I am! . . .”
David C. Grabbe: God is keenly interested in whether His people overcome Satan, including this world, which the Devil has shaped, and our own human nature, which he has corrupted and continues to influence. ...
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: Before the political left hijacked the term "choice," its philosophical meaning was "an individual's freedom to determine the moral course of his own life." This is, of course, what theologians and philosophers call "free moral agency" or "free will." ...
Despite the many blessings God bestows upon His saints, real Christianity more resembles a running battle against persistent, hostile forces than a leisurely stroll down the path of life. John Ritenbaugh uses the example of ancient Israel in the wilderness to illustrate that God prepares us for spiritual war against the enemies that would keep us from His Kingdom.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, taking issue with the doctrine of eternal security—the idea that a called individual has absolutely no part in the salvation process—points out that passivity and complacency are deadly to spiritual survival. God does not owe us salvation on the basis of Christ's sacrifice. Like ancient Israel, we are called to walk, actively and forcefully putting to death our carnal natures, resisting the temptation to be complacent or timid. In the end time, the struggle becomes exponentially more difficult. Christ warns us not to be caught up in the cares of this world, burdened or overloaded with busyness and distraction. Preparation for future persecution includes being thoroughly convicted of doctrines, being conditioned to stand firm, and resisting the fear of sacrifice and self-denial while replacing it with unconditional submission to God, as sacrificial love is fear's antidote.
John Ritenbaugh, noting that the church generally reflects the problems of society, suggests that while this may be a sad commentary, it nevertheless demonstrates that we definitely are products of a powerful, addictive, and enticing Babylonian system. We are currently living in an axial period between two ages- the Babylonish system coming violently to an end- making way for God's Millennial government. Until we arrive at the Millennial Kingdom, God has promised to provide the resources to meet the challenges and temptations, leaving us no excuse for failure. We dare not tempt God by refusing to make an effort to extract ourselves from the powerful temptations and pulls of Babylon, compromising our morality and principles for self-centered comfort, safety, and pleasure (Laodiceanism)- exalting desire for beauty over righteousness, abusing the earth, our relationships, and our own bodies. The love or desire for beauty must absolutely be coupled with love for righteousness and holiness- with our focus, passion, and ardor upon Almighty God and our relationship with Christ taking central place in our lives, displacing everything else.
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.
Hope conveys the idea of absolute certainty of future good, and that is exactly what the Bible tells us we have upon our calling and acceptance of God's way. John Ritenbaugh shows that, because the Father and Son are alive and active in their creation, our hope is sure!
Most of our Christian lives will be spent going on to perfection. But what is it? How do we do it? This Bible Study will help explain this broad, yet vital subject.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the narrow "pay and pray" mentality experienced by many in our previous fellowship took our attention away from the more important overcoming and growing aspect, preparing for the Kingdom of God. We desperately need to become immersed in a cause, yielding to God's creative power, personally and individually, getting us ready for God's Kingdom. We must guard our time, not allowing busy-ness and involvement with activities of the world to prevent us from forming a deep intimacy with God. Developing this intimacy requires walking by faith, going beyond the superficial academic into an intense, in-depth practical application of actively searching for, yielding to, and obeying God.
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.
The Protestant world presents grace as "free." John Ritenbaugh shows that God expects a great deal of effort from us once we receive it.
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.
When Jesus became mentally exhausted and enervated, he became invigorated and refreshed by seeing God's will completed, regarding it metaphorically as food and nourishment (John 4:34) Similarly we can become energized and motivated by our high calling and summons to do the will of God, seeing how vitally important we are to God's purpose. Modifying the slogan of the United States Marines, John Ritenbaugh characterizes the Saints as "The few, the humbled, the called."
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the Word of God is not ever improved by syncretizing or alloying it with human philosophy, a pattern of reasoning which often begins with a faulty or dangerous premise. The Gnostics criticized by Paul in Colossians 2:16-17 were guilty of bringing in ritualistic ascetic discipline to propitiate demons. While Paul never criticized self-discipline and rigor, he did condemn the practice if it did not emanate from Jesus Christ and if it contaminated the keeping of the Sabbath or Holy Days. God is not merely interested in what we do, but why we do the thing. Some misguided scholars, looking at the "touch not, taste not" phrase, assume that God is not careful about rules. They ignore the context in which Paul condemns an attractive self-disciplining mind control regime or system (Gnosticism) totally cut off from the Headship of Christ.
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 warns that Satan, through subtle doctrinal changes, has attempted to obliterate one major step in the conversion process, namely the sanctification step. Sanctification is the only step which shows (witnesses) on the outside; its effects cannot be hidden. Sanctification is produced by our choosing to do works pleasing to Almighty God. Works are not meant for our salvation, but for our transformation and growing in the knowledge of God. Without transformation, there is no Kingdom to look forward to (Romans 14:10; II Corinthians 5:10; and Revelation 20:13). As with physical exercise, spiritual exercise also mandates: no pain, no gain.
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.
John Ritenbaugh declares that the holy days are reliable, effective, multifaceted teaching tools, emphasizing spaced repetition to reinforce our faulty memories and drive the lesson deep into our thinking. The most effective learning involves drills or exercises, inscribing the lessons on our mind (Deuteronomy 16:3). Memory is enhanced as we continually rehearse a concept until it becomes deeply burned into our character, giving us self-mastery, integrity, and godliness. Like physical leavening, sin has the tendency to puff up and spread, taking effect immediately and irreversibly. We can only be free if we put out sin - false doctrine (I Corinthians 5:6-8) - and eat unleavened bread - or ingest wholesome undefiled teaching and practice righteousness (Titus 2:14).
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).
Countering the Protestant red-herring argument, "You cannot earn salvation by works," John Ritenbaugh stresses that works certainly are not "done away" but that God expects works from all those He has called. We show our faithfulness and loyalty to God by our works or conduct - what we produce by what we have been given. The works demanded of us consist of continual striving to be faithful to our covenant relationship with God by keeping His commandments (not the traditions of men). As we strive to live by the Spirit instead of by the flesh (Romans 8:5) we will produce the kind of fruit pleasing to God. God forces a converted person to choose between two opposing forces (Romans 8:13), providing us His Spirit as a tool to overcome.
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