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.
We carry an "old friend" around with us wherever we go, one whom we cherish and protect even though it frequently influences us to think, say, and do the wrong things. Referring to our human nature, our carnal or fleshly mind, John Ritenbaugh argues that, deceived or not, our sinful nature drives us to disobey God's laws, just as Adam and Eve transgressed by choosing the way of death. Such choices by all humanity have fashioned this present, evil world.
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.
Ted Bowling, reflecting on Paul's heroic struggle against sin described in Romans 7:18-19, enlightens our understanding by examining an old form of punishment designed by the Greeks and Romans, meted out to a convicted murderer, a practice evidently familiar to the apostle Paul. The Greek or Roman judge would order the corpse of the murdered person to be attached permanently, face-to-face with the murderer, allowing the body to decompose until the murderer, overcome by the vile stench, was consumed by infection and would lose his life. Paul likened our old man, our sin-drenched carnal human nature, to that stinking corpse attached to the murderer. Sadly, the longer we are immersed in stench, the more we become deadened to its lethal effects, similar to how the smoker becomes immune to the smell of smoke. If we stay connected to sin, we will succumb to its lethal effects. God hates sin; it is a putrid stench in His nostrils, as it should be in ours. We will always be at war with the carnal man, but we cannot give up, as we reach out for Christ's sacrifice to deliver us from a gruesome death sentence.
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking us what we have that we did not receive, concludes that 100% of what we have received has come from God (and to a degree, other people). Even though we have good looks and a sparkling personality, even though we have attained a certain degree of material success, a certain amount of knowledge, a certain set of skills, we did not accomplish these things alone. We had nothing to do with our calling, redemption, or salvation; God gave us all these things. Ultimately, it all goes back to God. We have nothing to boast about; we are totally obligated to God. We have good reason to be humble and grateful. The Day of Atonement points out how needy and dependent we are. We are to afflict our souls by fasting. Because we are so incredibly frail, 24 hours with no food or drink makes a deep impression upon us, showing our total dependency upon a merciful God to which we are eternally obligated. This humble attitude leads us to subject ourselves to God. On this day, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, we are to do no work at all, forcing us to turn our total attention to God, refraining to speak our own words or think our own thoughts. God's atoning work is unmerited grace, for which we remain eternally grateful. The atoning work is applied universally until all sin is atoned for, and everything is made holy. Psalm 102 reminds us how weak, destitute, and temporary we are as compared with God's sovereignty, eternal power and changelessness. God allows us to go through a trial to bring about a change in us. Thankfully, when God's people renounce their sins and repent, God will show mercy. Death is no impediment to God; He will resurrect us from the grave. Psalm 103 extols God for all His benefits; everything good, both physical and spiritual, comes from God. Foremost among all these benefits, he forgiveness of our sins. God extends these benefits to those who fear and honor Him, keeping His commandments, practicing His way of life.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the reaction of Joseph's brothers on the binding of Simeon and the returning of their money mentioned in Genesis 42, claims this was the first time in their lives these 'raised in the church kids' had ever seriously acknowledged the working of God in their lives. God had softened their hardness of heart while showing grace. The proclivity of the brothers to lie and deceive had not yet been eradicated, but God continued to turn up the pressure in order to bring them to full repentance. As confession and repentance is attained and the guilty conscience is cleansed, the heart becomes other-centered rather than self- centered. In our lives, we also have guilty consciences like Joseph's brothers and self-pity like our father Jacob (or later by Elijah fearing Jezebel), but we can have major breakthroughs in our lives if we acknowledge God in our lives as Jacob did at Bethel and Elisha did by assuring his timid servant at Dothan. Like Elijah, we must remember that, after a significant spiritual victory in our lives, a wicked Jezebel is usually waiting in the wings if we take our eyes off God and focus them on ourselves. Like the example of Elijah, we can lose faith by anxiety and unrelieved stress. Like Elijah and Joseph's brothers, we need to be brought to solitude to set our spiritual house in order, often pointing out the importance of supportive spiritual family. Like Elijah, we must be keenly aware when our nervous energy becomes overtaxed, when we become sensitive to loneliness, and when we look away from God and begin to focus on the around-and-about. God repaired Elijah's nervous system by allowing him to sleep, feeding him with food, providing him with angelic care, allowing him to express his grief, revealing Himself and His ways, telling him good news, and giving Him more to do.
Jesus' born-again teaching has been prone to misunderstanding since Nicodemus first heard it from Christ's own lips almost two thousand years ago. John Ritenbaugh shows that we must understand His instruction entirely from a spiritual perspective. Interpreting Jesus' symbols physically obscures necessary truths about how God sees His children and how we see ourselves.
Idolatry is probably the sin that the Bible most often warns us against. John Ritenbaugh explains the first commandment, showing that we worship the source of our values and standards. God, of course, wants our values and standards to come from Him and Him only, for there is no higher Source in all the universe!
The apostle James informs us that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:20). Continuing in his theme of the Christian and works, John Ritenbaugh exposes just how corrupt sin is, and by this we can begin to understand just how holy God is—and just how much we need to change to conform to His glorious image.
John Ritenbaugh, examining the set of doctrines which constitute "The Faith" identified in II Corinthians 13:5, warns that the greater church of God is not immune to the deterioration of doctrine cautioned by Paul. The doctrine of eternal security and the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, embraced by Evangelical Protestantism as well as our former affiliation, ominously threaten the spiritual welfare of all the splinter groups formerly affiliated with the Worldwide Church of God. When we depart from doctrine, convoluted reasoning and hair splitting must substitute for the simplicity in Christ. Minor deviations from doctrine bring about irreparable disastrous consequences. If we live by sight rather than by faith, we will automatically succumb to our fears (of denying our fleshly gratification or losing the esteem of our family and peers). The antidote to these twin-debilitating fears is the fear of God- a fear that must be learned and cultivated.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God's called-out ones must perpetually walk a razor's edge with the allurement of the world (leading to death) on one side and the love of God (leading to eternal life) on the other. At birth, human nature is relatively neutral, with a slightly stronger pull to the self. Inspired by the prince and power of the air (Ephesians 2:2-3), the prevailing Zeitgesist(the dominant spirit or mindset of the time) pulls the believer away from the love of God (and immortality) to the world (and death). The element which will tip the scale toward following God (there is no quick fix to conversion) is to displace the love for the world with the love for God(a gift from God flowing from His Holy Spirit - Romans 5:5) and setting our hearts on spiritual treasures (Matthew 6:19-20).
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 source or origin of sin. God gave us a nature oriented to the physical, having a heavy pull toward self-centeredness, totally ignorant of moral responsibility, but capable of being enlightened. Because of this blindness and ignorance, our human nature has a predisposition toward sin - leading to a continuous indwelling struggle, something God intended us to endure, enabling us to build character by resisting its powerful pull. Though influenced by Satan and the world, sin is still a personal choice rooted in pride and vanity (originated by Satan). Christ's sacrifice and God's Holy Spirit provide our only defense against its deadly pulls.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that things written in the Old Testament were written entirely for Christians. The operations of both the Old and New Covenants overlap. The differences focus on justification, access to God, and eternal life, but not doing away with the law (especially the Sabbath) which Protestant theologians would have us believe. Modern Christianity, like the mongrelized Samaritan religion, is a syncretized mixture of some biblical truth with unadulterated paganism. To worship God in spirit means to put heart and mind into applying God's law, with a circumcised heart (Philippians 3:3) realizing that the motivating principle behind every one of God's laws is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts through the power of God's Spirit. (Romans 5:1-5)
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.
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