David C. Grabbe: As we saw in Part Two, the biblical words translated as “repentance” indicate a thorough moral adjustment of an individual’s thoughts, words, and deeds. While the word itself focuses on the change ...
David C. Grabbe: The gospel accounts show that God gave John the Baptist the responsibility to "prepare the way of the LORD, make His paths straight" (Matthew 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4). When he preached the good news of God's Kingdom ...
Martin Collins, asking us if we have ever wanted to give up from our deluge of trials, reminds us that our predecessors have had similar sentiments. The conversion of the apostle Paul, his subsequent training, and lengthy service was not a walk in the park. His education prior to his conversion was extensive, even including instruction in the fine points of Pharisaic understanding under the feet of Gamaliel, a lead rabbi of the day. Having this background, he naturally found the emerging sect of Christianity deceptive and totally incompatible with Judaism. Wanting to emulate Phineas, he was determined to extirpate this blight before it loomed out of control. Jesus Christ evidently found some use for this intense zeal as He struck him down on the way to Damascus, diametrically reorienting Saul's priorities, forcing him to ask "Who are you?" and "What do you want me to do?" God can call anyone He wants, including a hopelessly stubborn, irascible drudge. Some progressive scholars would like us to believe that Paul faked this conversion for opportunistic purposes, forgetting that Paul had already garnered substantial prestige implementing the militant goals of the Pharisees. It would have taken extraordinary courage or audacity on Paul's part to witness to Damascus where his prior reputation was still known unless his conversion had been indeed completely genuine. Paul's lengthy apprenticeship, involving processing the guilt from Stephen's murder, the suspicions he faced from the people he had formerly persecuted, and his pastoral training in Arabia (lasting approximately three years) trained him thoroughly for the grueling missionary journeys he would later make, providing text and insight for the Epistles, a virtual roadmap for the totality of Christian living demanded of all God's called-out ones.
John Ritenbaugh insists that this particular topic is attached to the Old and New Covenants, solemn agreements which are eternal (God's Word is eternal) and will not pass away, nor will they be 'done away.' Some things may be set aside for a while, but they are there for our purposes for learning how to judge. Some of the aspects which the world's religious claim are 'done away' will at a future time be brought back. We need to learn to judge in a godly manner, putting merciful restraints on our tendency to condemn or jump to conclusions. We need to inculcate the two great commandments: loving God and loving our fellow humans. We need to learn that sin has different levels of consequences. When it comes to judgment, one size does not fit all. Not everything is on the same level. God is going to judge each of us individually. Our ultimate destiny is to share rulership with our High Priest, Jesus Christ, judging righteously in God's Kingdom, rightly dividing the Word of God. God's Laws set the standards upon which righteous conduct is to be judged. It takes a lifetime to prepare to judge in the Kingdom of God. Learning to apply the spiritual dimension of the law is much more difficult than applying the physical dimension. But both of these dimensions are easier to keep than the traditions and regulations of men, inherently heavy burdens. When Gentile converts were admitted into the church, they were instructed to follow Old Covenant laws regarding the strangling of animals, eating of blood, or eating meat offered to idols. Clearly, the Old Covenant was not 'done away.' After Christ's return, some of the aspects of the Old Covenant, currently in abeyance (for example, circumcision and sacrifices), will be re-instituted. There is nothing evil about the Old Covenant; it provides insights on righteous judgment.
David Grabbe, reminding us that a major focus of John the Baptist's ministry was a call to repentance and turning to righteousness, a focus that Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul reinforced and magnified. Curiously, in main-stream Protestantism, repentance has fallen out of favor and has been replaced by cheap 'grace.' The Law allegedly has been done away in the process. Actually repentance is mentioned far more in the New Testament than in the Old Testament, as the New Covenant stresses that Christians have, after they have rejected their sinful past, have been designed for works that are in alignment with God's law. Jesus, in the model prayer asks us to ask for forgiveness of our trespasses on a daily basis and counsels five of the seven churches in Revelation 2 to repent from their sinful ways, radically change course, and turn to God. Repentance transcends remorse, incorporating works of righteousness in sync with God's Law. If the Law were done away, there would be no need of a Savior.
God's grace is so wonderful and undeserved that, to many of us, it is almost unfathomable. Perhaps we have such a hard time understanding it because we tend to think of it as a "thing" that God dispenses. John Ritenbaugh shows, however, that "grace" is a term that represents God's awesome generosity toward us, His continuously flowing blessings and saving acts.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the parable of the faithful and wise servant and the evil servant as well as the wise and foolish virgins, suggests that the Day of Trumpets emphasizes the state of caution and faithfulness required at the turbulent end times. The parables focus upon the relationship which we must have toward our fellow workers, warning us not to fall into a state of spiritual malaise in the midst of increasing stress. As a metaphor, sleep often has negative connotations of insensitivity, lack of alertness or awareness. Because the exact time of Christ's return is not known, we must be continually motivated as though His return were imminent. Those not prepared for the Day of the Lord will be blindsided by its unexpectedness. Christ and Paul realized that God only knows the time of Christ's return and have subsequently warned that we cannot rest on our laurels or fall asleep as in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. We must be making our preparations individually, not cuing in on our brethren, our family, or the world around us. As children of light we must conduct ourselves soberly, making positive use of our time, not allowing it to drift away. Being spiritually asleep or drunk will lead to poverty. We must wake up spiritually, taking off our carnal pajamas (the old carnal man) and clothing ourselves with the armor of God (Christ), redeeming the time and urgently pressing toward sanctification, holiness, and the Kingdom of God. The apostle Paul, afflicted with multiple health problems and considering his past life as worthless refuse, nevertheless, with sterling self-discipline, single-mindedly pressed on toward his spiritual goal, providing us an example for conduct under affliction and pressure. If we follow Paul's advice, we will not be emulating the wicked servant or the foolish virgins; we will be prepared.
What many religious people do not seem to understand is that justification before God is just the beginning of something far more involved—and that is living by faith. John Ritenbaugh covers the faithful life and work of Noah, illustrating that walking by faith with God is a practical responsibility.
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!
Why do so many nominal Christians reject works and obedience to God's law? John Ritenbaugh posits that they do this because they fail to gather God's whole counsel on this subject. In doing so, they miss vital principles that help to bring us into the image of God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Paul's impressive credentials and pedigree, which Paul considered rubbish, compared to his conversion and God's dramatic intervention in his life. Paul's writings, because of their complexity, have become the target of unscrupulous, antinomian twisting and equivocating by the carnal mind with its natural anti-law bias. By denigrating God's law, the unconverted presumptuously set their own standards. God's holy and righteous law was never designed to justify but only to identify sin and align one with the right standards—guiding one along the path to God's righteous purpose. Everyone who is saved will be a keeper of God's law. Paul used his life to illustrate our indebtedness to God and to caution about the law's limitation (or misapplied function) to justify, a function met only by Christ's sacrifice.
Understanding our obligation to Christ leads to a deeply held, personal loyalty to Him. John Ritenbaugh explains that our redemption by means of Christ's sacrifice should make us strive to please Him in every facet of life.
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!
Three times, the apostle James states unequivocably, 'Faith without works is dead!' Here's how James' teaching agrees with and complements the teaching of Paul on justification.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that commandment breaking is what has scatterred the greater church of God. We have allowed the self-assured Laodicean mindset (with its ignorance and spiritual blindness) to deter us from overcoming and law keeping. In the parable of the two sons in Matthew 23:27-32, Christ makes it clear that doing the commandments is more important than knowing the commandments. If we want to be like our Savior, then we will live the way He lived, keeping God's commandments — which exemplify the highest form of love (John 14:21)
John Ritenbaugh, using athletic running metaphors, emphasizes that we, like the Apostle Paul, must discipline ourselves, apply concentrated effort, and run with endurance to attain our reward or office (not to attain salvation, as some anti-nomian teachers have falsely charged). Sanctification is the longest, most difficult, and most grueling part of the conversion process—a time when suffering and sacrifice are demanded of us; a time of continual warfare between our human nature and surrendering to God. We press on because: (1) God expects us to make the effort, and (2) the prize goes to those who do.
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 focuses on the deeply felt sense of obligation we feel knowing that a ransom has been paid to redeem us from the death penalty. While we have been justified through grace by faith, good works are the concrete and public reality of this faith. Because we have been bought with an awesome price, we have no right to pervert our lives, but are obligated to look upon our bodies as sacred holy vessels in His service. In John 15:16 Christ teaches that He has appointed us to bring forth fruit. Christ's special calling produces a sense of gratitude, loyalty, and intimate friendship in which we feel an abhorrence of letting Him down.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the remarkable energizing capacity of hope. In the familiar triumvirate (faith, hope, and love) faith serves as the foundation, love serves as the goal, and hope serves as the great motivator or energizer. Unique among the religions, Christianity, with its expectation of a Messiah and the promise of a resurrection, looks expectantly to the future,embracing hope. Motivated by their calling into the new covenant (1 John 3:1-3) Christians anticipating a magnificent future glorification, are energized by this God-inspired hope to overcome the impossible and rejoice in temporary trials.
John Ritenbaugh provides a summary of the Covenants, Grace and Law series: 1. Realize the position carnal man comes from: completely under Satan' sway, antagonistic to God's law (Romans 8:7). 2. Always work from clear, unambiguous scriptures (Matthew 5:17-19). 3. Be strengthened by the examples of Christ and His apostles keeping specific laws, including the Sabbath and holy days (I Peter 2:21). 4. Paul explains the means of justification (not salvation but the first step in a process; God imputes righteousness where it does not logically belong). 5. God's overall purpose is to create us in His image, including His righteous character. He is reproducing Himself (Genesis 1:26)! 6. God's purpose for the Old Covenant is as a bridge leading to Christ (Galatians 3:17-24). 7. The way Paul and others use terms important to this doctrine (bondage, circumcision, yoke, law, etc.) should be seen in their correct context.
John Ritenbaugh clarifies some difficult terms which Protestant theologians have misapplied, characterizing God's holy law as a "yoke of bondage." If we fail to realize that Paul's focus in the Galatians epistle was justification (rather than the whole salvation process of sanctification and glorification) we could become confused. The Old Covenant had no provision for justification nor did it provide a mechanism to change the heart. The antinomian argument ignores that Christ also puts a yoke of responsibility on New Covenant participants (Matthew 11:29-30). The yoke of bondage Paul referred to was a syncretism of Halakhah- the code of regulations added by the Pharisees- and Gnostic ascetic ritualism, neither a part of God's Law. God's Spirit and law keeping are not contradictory.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Paul's target in Galatians 2:16 was a syncretism of Judaism with strict Pagan ascetic Gnosticism and certainly not God's law. We need to avoid the Protestant ditch of "Christ did it all" leading to no attempt at law keeping or at best an apathetic assent to its value. Paul makes it abundantly clear that Christ did not free us from the death penalty in order to turn us into lawbreakers. Though God did not design the law to justify; without the law telling us of what to repent of, we would have no clue as to which path to take. The secret to successful law keeping is Christ living in us through God's Holy Spirit (Galatians 2:20; Romans 5:5) Christ will empower us, but will not live our lives for us. The marching orders for our pilgrimage derive from God's Word- containing His holy law.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the S.P.S. (Specific Purpose Statement) of the entire Bible is "Let us make man in our image, according our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). To this end God has given us His Law, which serves as a map showing us the way of sanctification and holiness. Because God desires companionship of beings like Himself, He is in the process of reproducing the God-kind. The map showing the way consists of the Old and New Testament, works inextricable as law and grace and letter and spirit. As Paul's writings reveal, the Old Testament is in the New revealed while the New Testament is in the Old concealed. Contemporaries of John and Paul (and some deceivers this very day) have tried to throw out the Old Testament and the Law, replacing it with Gnosticism.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the entire Old Testament was written with the New Testament church in mind. Certain temporary ceremonial sacrifices, washings, and rituals were set aside when the spiritual reality—such as Christ's sacrifice replacing animal sacrifices and God's Holy Spirit and His Word replacing physical washings (Hebrews 9:18; Ephesians 5:26)—added a spiritual dimension. All biblical law, including the ceremonies, comes from God. Paul never taught any Jew to forsake the Law of Moses, the constitution and civil code, but he did rail against Pharisaical additions for the expressed purpose of attaining justification. Even though a change occurred in the administration of existing law, no laws were done away. Instead, they are written in the hearts of the converted (Hebrews 8:10; 10:16).
John Ritenbaugh answers the question "Is there a scripture that states such and such no longer needs to be done?" The Bible is an unfolding revelation, moving from the physical to the spiritual ramifications—revealing an ever-sharper focus on God's purpose. The Law (including the judgments, ordinances, and statutes), far from being done away, has the purpose of showing us our faults and outlining the way of mercy and love. The animal sacrifices and ceremonies were intended to foreshadow a more permanent spiritual reality—subsumed, but not done away. The Old Testament was written with the New Testament Church in mind, written in the context of an earlier culture. We need to see behind the law a presence of a Holy God with whom we seek to share a relationship.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that God's grace gives us focus on what the Law's true purpose is — namely the basic guide as to what good works are — rules for the journey of life. God's Law outlines a way of life, defining sin, actually categorizing a descending level of gravity or seriousness (from sins which lead to death and those which do not; I John 5:16). Righteousness consists of applying the Law's letter and/or intent. Sin constitutes a failure of applying or living up to the standards of what God defines as proper or right. The conclusion of this sermon begins an exposition of four principles determining whether the law is binding.
Acts 5:32 says very clearly that God gives His Spirit to those who obey Him, yet some argue that keeping God's law is not necessary. What is the truth? Earl Henn clarifies this contentious point.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that under both the Old and New Covenants, refusal to keep to keep God's Law severs our relationship with Him. Like loving parents who give rules to their children to protect them from danger, our Loving Father has given us His Spiritual Law to protect us and bring us quality life. In the manner of Satan the Devil, who convinced Adam and Eve that God's commands restricted freedom, the misguided proponents of the anti-law bias or mentality have convinced many in our former fellowship that the Sabbath, the Holy Days, tithing, and food laws are harsh and restrictive elements of Old Covenant bondage. New Covenant justification does not do away with God's Laws (nor with human nature or carnality for that matter) but creates the circumstances through which faith is enhanced, producing sanctification and purification, bringing God's purpose (to restore all things) to perfection.
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).
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.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the Sabbath Command (as well as all of the Ten Commandments) was made for both Jews and Gentiles (all of mankind). Throughout the book of Acts, Gentiles are faithfully keeping the Sabbath along with the Jews. Paul's insistence that a relationship with God could not be established by keeping the law did not lead to the fallacious conclusion that the law (including the Sabbath command) had been done away. Following Paul's tearful and poignant farewell to the Ephesian elders, one finds startling parallels between Paul's final journey to Jerusalem and Christ's final journey to Jerusalem, including their awareness of plots on the part of zealous Jews to kill them, their being handed over to Gentiles for sentencing, their receiving multiple predictions and warnings that they would be apprehended, their demonstrating a resolute determination to do God's will regardless of the consequences and resigning themselves to suffer death. Paul, like Christ, was accused and tried on totally fabricated charges of being antinomian and defiling the temple. As with Christ, the Gentile officials recognized that the charges made against Paul were baseless, but felt coerced by mob influence to carry out the sentence anyway. Paul, through the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit, times his arrival in Jerusalem to coincide with the pilgrim crowds arriving for Pentecost, when his testimony would have the greatest impact. Before his apprehension and imprisonment, Paul delivers the love offering collected from Gentile converts for the Jerusalem church after undergoing a purification rite demonstrating his respect for law and custom.
At the beginning of chapter 18, Paul arrives in Corinth, befriended by Roman expatriates Priscilla and Aquila, devout individuals very important in Paul's ministry, both economically and spiritually. Paul's spirits are additionally revived and energized at receiving good news from Silas and Timothy, leading him to be more aggressive and bold. With this new-found energy, Paul encountered some new persecution but also saw his work bear fruit; he was driven from the synagogue, but paradoxically won over the leader of the synagogue, Crispus, to Christianity. A potential problem and source of persecution is quickly resolved by the new Roman consul, Gallio, who, upon refusing to get involved in what he considers an intramural squabble in the Jewish church, gives Christianity legal status in the Roman empire. At the conclusion of the chapter, we become acquainted with the eloquent new convert Apollos, whose deficit in knowledge and understanding is filled in by Priscilla and Aquila.
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