John Ritenbaugh, suggesting that most of us resemble the Samaritan woman in our understanding of the value of our calling, maintains that our relationship with God is our sole protection from carnal human nature and the deadly pulls of the world. Whatever consumes our time has the power to either edify or distract us. Faith and works are interchangeable components in our salvation, demonstrating a cause-and-effect relationship. The apostles Paul and James preached the same message, approaching the faith-works coin from different sides. Faith grounded in truth produces works in agreement with truth. Faith without godly works resembles an automobile without an engine. As a minority religion, God's Church appeared on the world scene in the midst of cultural upheaval. Peter's message on Pentecost led not only to exponential growth, but also to vicious persecution. As God stirred the cultural pot then, so He is doing today, on the cusp of Jesus' return. The frightful conditions during the First Century are only typical of the horrific times yet to come. To weather these horrendous conditions, we will need the encouragement of the Epistle of Hebrews.
Martin Collins points out that our Savior has a tender spot for those who are weak in the faith but are doggedly struggling to hold fast to what they believe. People sometimes unfairly brand others who display a one-time weakness, as in the case of "Doubting Thomas," who demanded empirical evidence of Christ's resurrection. We forget that it was Thomas who boldly encouraged his fellow disciples to risk death by returning to Bethany for Lazarus' funeral. We forget that all the disciples who abandoned their Master expressed doubt until they themselves had a higher level of tangible evidence than hearsay. While all the disciples were in a brain fog as to where Christ was going following His impending betrayal and crucifixion, Thomas was not afraid to expose his ignorance. Thomas realized that to follow Christ involved denial of self and a willingness to die. The principle of death and denial is hard for us to apply because many things—fame, fortune, and power—compete to take the place of God's purpose for us. We must learn to say no to anything which goes against God's purpose. When we give up trying to run our own lives, we find the contentment of living the productive life God has prepared for us. Jesus' deliberately delayed His return to Bethany until Lazarus had died so that He could bolster the faith of Martha and His disciples, as well as His called-out ones today. Like Martha, we must allow Christ to transform our basic faith into an absolute trust in God's purpose for us.
[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.
David Maas, focusing on Psalm 90:12, an admonition to number our days in order to get a heart of wisdom, launches the fourth installment of the W's and H's of Meditation, reflecting on the stark contrast between God's robust eternity and mankind's fragile mortality. Meditating on the perils of our transitory existence paradoxically leads to a longer, happier life now as well as in the future, as our portion of God's Spirit grows within us, satisfying our craving for something permanent and eternal- namely becoming a member of God's family. The scriptures are replete with metaphors describing the brevity of life, including a shadow, a sigh, a breath, smoke, withering grass, a vapor, a weaver's shuttle, a hand-breath, etc. The antidote to despairing about the brevity of life is to live in day-tight compartments, redeeming the time by yielding to God's Spirit, becoming firmly grafted into the vine (Jesus Christ) in order to enable ample bearing of spiritual fruit, overcoming carnality, building Godly character, and ultimately becoming a member of God's family.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that God does not do things uselessly, and certainly does not need our physical goods, examines the role of the offering and sacrifice rehearsed at each Holy Day. The nouns offering and sacrifice derive from two separate Greek words meaning "to bring forth" and "to kill" respectively. In Romans 12:1, God demands a living sacrifice which constitutes our reasonable service. The offering reminds us that we are to bring something forward to the altar to be sacrificed. We must choose to be killed through our obedience, daily mortifying the old man, who ghoulishly struggles to come back to life. We must be diligent in slaying our carnal nature and diligently loving God by keeping His commandments. The Apostle Paul gives us a success formula in presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice in I Corinthians 9:23-27, where he states that: (1) We must realize the challenges we face are beyond our understanding and natural abilities, (2) We must determine to trust God. (3) We know we are not now perfect, but we must give our all. (4) We must understand that though God is merciful, we dare not squander our calling. (5) We race against ourselves and should allow ourselves no excuses for failure. (6) We must envision the reward, realizing that we will be rewarded on how well we do. (7) We need to know that Christ is with us the entire way. Being a living sacrifice produces successful living.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the horrendous prospect of surrendering our control to a driverless vehicle, maintains that Americans treasure their freedom of movement despite the "Nanny State's" insincere protestations about safety as it attempts to camouflage seizing power. The number of actual "on-the-road" situations which can occur is so high that no amount of programming can enable the driverless vehicle to be safe, even when it utilizes artificial intelligence, the fastest computers and the highest level of sensor sophistication and redundancy. The highly resilient and flexible human brain—under the control of a responsible person—remains the best facilitator of safe driving. While politicians desire to control everything, Christianity wants to instill self-control. Paradoxically, when we yield to God's sovereignty, He wants to cede control over to us, teaching us to develop self-control as a habit, enabling us to have dominion over the earth , handling it responsibly. On the night of Passover, Jesus taught the disciples to avoid imitating the narcissistic Gentile leaders who love to lord it over other people, demanding their obedience and service. Our Savior's leadership style emulated the servant, esteeming all others over self. Agape love dispenses with the way of control and selfish ambition. God's way consists of self-discipline and rigorous self-mastery, as exemplified by Jesus Christ, who never relaxed His self-control—even in the prospect of His impending crucifixion. Those who aspire to follow Jesus Christ must emulate His example of rigorous restraint.
Richard Ritenbaugh, drawing a powerful analogy from a book by Dorthea Brand, focusing upon strategies to defeat writer's block and self-imposed creative sabotage experienced by every major writer, applies these insights to spiritual self-sabotage, namely resistance (which is ground zero of our carnal human nature.) As writers and other artists must employ almost superhuman force to subdue natural resistance to creativity, God's called out ones must use military tactics (the whole armor of God) to mortify the flesh (carnal human nature). Human nature absolutely does not want any kind of change, especially positive changes. Jonah, who would rather have died than fulfill the commission God had given him, demonstrated spiritual resistance. We must soberly reflect that we are culpable in using the same delaying tactics that Jonah used. The antidote to spiritual resistance is certainty and confidence in Christ to conform us into His image—a directed movement toward Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us not to quench or resist the Holy Spirit working in us. As God's called-out ones, we are seasoned with salty trials, making us a benefit to the world. Salt, as the great purifier, makes us unique from the world, but if we let our resistance get the best of us, we will lose our saltiness and our uniqueness. We must maintain humility, the foundational attitude required to overcome resistance, casting our cares upon Christ. This means maintaining vigilance, resisting Satanic and carnal pulls, enduring steadfast in the faith, moving continually forward, remembering that we are not alone. If we endure suffering for a time, God will give us a permanent victory.
Martin Collins, noting that the foundational way of life as outlined by Jesus Christ is not much followed in mainstream Christianity, and observing that the five foolish Virgins also belonged to the visible church, reminds us that we are only Christ's if we have God's Holy Spirit living in us, and we live according to the Spirit's prompts. There is no such thing as a secular Christian. Salvation is an ongoing work of God, obligating us to walk in the Spirit and not according to the flesh. If we walk in the Spirit, we will be not captivated by the lusts of the flesh. From the onset of our calling, we have been charged to bear spiritual fruit, being metaphorical branches of the vine, which is Christ. If we produce the fruit of the Spirit, we will maintain a sound mind, enabling us to acquire a new godly nature and character. We must mortify our past nature, realizing that all sin is abject failure and a fast track to death. As God's called-out ones, we need to reckon ourselves dead to the pulls of carnality. Sadly, we are guilty of sinning against God's Law every day, but if we willfully sin, rejecting the prompts of His Holy Spirit, we are, in effect, committing the unpardonable sin on an installment plan. Only those led by God's Holy Spirit are truly children of God. If we are not led by God's Spirit, we are pathetic slaves of sin. If we abide in Christ's words, we are His disciples. If we grow in the Spirit, allowing our character to be transformed from the inside out, we will be siblings and heirs of Christ, becoming full members of the family of God.
Mark Schindler, reflecting on the 30th anniversary of his baptism, recalls how he joyfully, but perhaps myopically, assumed that he would automatically walk harmoniously and peacefully with the other members of the body of Christ into the Kingdom and eternity of God, without experiencing any impediments or sibling rivalry among our brethren in God’s family. As we are called into God’s Church, we come from divergent backgrounds, cultures, and philosophical viewpoints, potentially divisive and explosive, providing Satan a beachhead to divide and conquer brethren. Many of the things which have happened in our lives have molded and shaped our opinions, opinions that frequently place us at loggerheads with well-meaning people. If we allow the old man to dictate how we make decisions, we will trouble the Household of God and inherit nothing but the wind. Hanging onto the things of this world can do nothing but divide us. Are we willing to give up our intangible assets, such as our opinions, in order to allow Christ to fit us together in His Body? No matter how closely our experiences have meshed, no two people will ever see things 100% alike. All of us have come into God’s church from vastly different backgrounds, but with one major mandate—to love one another as Christ has loved us. Are we willing to jeopardize our spiritual inheritance by hanging onto opinions shaped by this world’s systems? Only by conforming to the example of Christ, fervently loving God the Father and loving our brethren as ourselves, can we edify instead of troubling God’s House. The meek, those who have power, but hold it wisely back, will inherit the Earth. Evildoers will be cut down like weeds, but the righteous will have an eternal inheritance. If our citizenship has been registered in Heaven, we are no longer residents of a fractured and divided nation
Beyond the fact that our Savior Jesus Christ was crucified on a cross of some sort, He used its imagery to instruct His followers: He bids us to take us our cross and follow Him. David Grabbe analyzes what Jesus' command would have meant to those who heard Him, showing that our Savior is asking us to follow His example of sacrifice in our own Christian lives.
Clyde Finklea, reflecting on the medieval classification of the seven deadly sins, observes that all of these sins could be categorized as a facet or aspect of lust. Satan's pride was motivated by lust for power; all sinful things on the earth emerge from lust and pride. Lust could be described as evil or inordinate desire. God designed us to have proper desires, just as His desires are always proper. God has a desire for a family; Jesus Christ experienced the same desires as we do. Evil desires consist of lust for things contrary to God's law, such as fornication, uncleanliness, covetousness, and idolatry. God never tempts anyone, but we are tempted by our own evil desires. Trials are pressures to test us; temptations are pressures to cause us to sin. Our own evil desires hook us and drag us where we really do not want to go; we are seduced into sin. Evil desire led to man's first sin; the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was pleasing to the eyes and contained a (false) promise to make wise. Eating of this tree was the first act of lust resulting in sin and ultimate death. If evil desires are allowed to gestate instead of becoming aborted, sin will result. All sinful acts begin in the mind as desire, including the acts of murder, lying, adultery, and idolatry. As evil desire begins in the mind, overcoming also begins in the mind. We are admonished to flee fornication—not to stick around and contemplate it. We may have to physically remove ourselves from locations or certain acquaintances. When we drive out an evil thought, we must replace it with a godly thought; if we put good thoughts in, it will lead to good thoughts out. To guard against evil thoughts, we need to cultivate the habit of praying continually, guarding against or displacing all evil desire, winning the battle between the flesh and spirit.
David Grabbe, claiming that the command to take up the cross has been sullied, tainted, and moreover smeared by Protestant heretical syrup, insists that the venerating of the cross (explicitly violating the Second Commandment) pre-dated Christianity by several centuries, having served as the monogram for the Babylonian god Tammuz. Early Christianity made no use of the cross until the time of Constantine, who foisted it off as a kind of good luck charm. Alexander Hislop, in his book The Two Babylons, claims that virtually all pagan religions incorporate some form of the cross in their worship. Logically, it seems sick or depraved to exalt an instrument of torture in order to worship. Scriptural references indicate Christ may have been executed on a tree; hence the staros he carried could have been a heavy beam, evidently to be fastened to a tree. In this sense, the cross represents a burden, emphasizing that there is a sacrifice or cost we experience when following Him. Bearing our cross means our time on this earth is virtually finished, that we are willing to give up our lives, emulating the life of our Savior. When we follow His example, we find our family and friends rapidly cool in their affections for us, helping us realize there is a cost to following Him. God's Law is not the burden, but instead the burden is the feeling our carnal nature experiences as being "put upon," but ironically, the more we enthusiastically and wholeheartedly embrace God's way, the deeper the sense of peace we feel for the strength to endure this burden. Paradoxically, if we are willing to lose our life for His sake, mortifying the flesh and crucifying our carnality daily, we will gain a far more abundant life and moreover, life eternal—a precious insight that the foolish, carnal mind regards as rubbish.
Clyde Finklea, reflecting on Joseph Felix's book Lord Have Murphy, a humorous analysis of Murphy's Law, asserts that it is impossible to become perfect without having mercy or compassion. The parable of the good Samaritan provided a exemplary model for developing compassion, beginning with sympathy and culminating in an action or concrete act of goodness. Mercy is an action, not merely a state of mind The command made by Jesus to become perfect includes showing compassion to love our enemies, relieving their miserable conditions. The Laodicean mindset is characterized by a deficit in merciful acts, forgetting the enormous debt their Savior had paid with His life. Whenever we forget Christ's sacrifice for our sins, we resemble the unmerciful servant, who, when he was absolved of a million dollar debt, acted harshly and mercilessly to a fellow servant who owed him a mere twenty dollars. We have received an immense measure of mercy; Christ wants us show compassion to our fellow man. Our marching orders are to walk humbly and to love justice and mercy. Whoever has a large share of the world's possessions, but shuts his charity off when he sees a fellow Christian in need, is blind to his spiritual nakedness.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on the double standards of the proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis, at once insisting that we treat the Bible like every other literary document while insisting the New Testament jump through extra hoops. Looking at the extant number of the ancient texts available to corroborate the authenticity of the Scriptures, more ancient manuscripts of the New Testament have been found than for any other classic text. If every New Testament were destroyed tomorrow, the text could be reconstructed by going to the writings of the church fathers. There are also more corroborating manuscripts of the New Testament in languages other than Greek. The veracity of the Scriptures is something we can take to the bank, in essence our only protection against the torrent of deception we face today, giving us the strength to endure and overcome. God's Word points out profound and necessary truths, prompting us to change our thinking and behavior. As we change, God instills His character in us, allowing us to begin living as He does. As we read God's Word, we must remember that assent is not acceptance. We must accept what God says, obeying and yielding to Him unconditionally, even though human nature stiffens in rebellion at the prospect. We must develop a proper sense of proportion in our relationship to God. We must mortify sin and give ourselves as a living sacrifice. We then must have no doubt that God is capable of giving us whatever we need to finish our course, transforming us into His image.
How many of us go through life with our noses to the grindstone, as it were, always trying to get ahead and never really appreciating what God has given us? Using Mitch Albom's book, Tuesdays With Morrie, Bill Onisick focuses on a major lesson of Christianity: Real life comes as a result of giving our own.
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.
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.
A key to overcoming our sins is learning when to deny ourselves. Christ plainly declares that those who desire to follow Him must deny themselves.
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).
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 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.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that we do not have immortality as a birthright (the lie which Satan told Eve), but that God is the sole source, making our relationship with God and God's judgment the most important focus of our life. One common denominator in all four Gospels is that a parallel exists between our lives and what Christ experienced on the earth. As part of Christ's body (I Corinthians 12:14-15), we all experience together what Christ experienced (crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and glorification- Romans 8:17). The death of self (Romans 8:13 and Galatians 3:5) must absolutely precede the resurrection to life (Romans 6:5).
John Ritenbaugh studies the "Get way" or the "Keep up with the Joneses" (lust or coveting) principle with which advertisers and politicians shamelessly (and successfully) manipulate us. A commentator once remarked, "All public crime would cease if this [Tenth] Commandment were kept." Jesus taught that all outward sin stems from inner inordinate desire. What we desire or lust after automatically becomes our idol. If our imaginations are fed "dirt", our minds will become "dirty." We desperately need to learn to radically "amputate" or "mortify" the self-centered lusts and desires that will inevitably (if followed to completion) lead us to the lake of fire. The Tenth Commandment (like the First) serves as a "control" or "regulator," enabling us to successfully keep all the other commandments. Ardently desiring the Word of God and His Kingdom (realizing that happiness and joy come only from spirituality) serves as the most effective antidote to lust and covetousness.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that, following Abraham's example, a life centered on God is a way of inner peace—an inner strength that keeps life from falling apart. Focusing upon God gets the focus off from ourselves and onto something more enduring, reliable, and permanent than us. If we give ourselves to God (through the New Covenant) in complete surrender, allowing Him to shape character in us, then He will forgive our sins, removing the death penalty, enabling us to live in hope, giving us direct access to Him, providing a relationship with Him, giving us a more abundant, purposeful, meaningful life. The Covenant, initiated by God, must be on God's terms. Obedience is not outward compliance, but must come from the inside out. We should not confuse the sign (circumcision, baptism, putting out leaven, etc.) from the reality it represents.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the special sacrificial extravagance of Mary, having expended a half-year's wages for perfume to anoint Jesus' feet, demonstrating extraordinary godly love and devotion, indicating that there are some areas of life where extravagance and waste are not even relevant. Judas, a man of talent and skill for fiscal management, but whose mind had become defiled through temptation, could not relate to or comprehend this sublime expression of love. The totally selfless sacrifice of Mary paralleled or prefigured the sacrifice Christ was later to make, giving His precious life for mankind. The key to the real abundant life and glorification is to follow our Elder Brother's example of forcing His will into submission to the Father's will, even to the point of death. We must guard against the precarious blinders of tradition and self-interest — blinders that prevented Judas, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the multitudes from comprehending or following the truth. Instead, we are admonished to walk in the light while we have the light, being willing to sacrifice ego and self-interest, unconditionally yielding to the Father's will in order that we may also become glorified members of the God family.
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