Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the popular song, "My Way," (popularized by Frank Sinatra) warns that God's Called-out ones should never emulate the haughty and self-willed attitude this song glorifies. God created us in His image, giving us the wherewithal to expand Eden worldwide. If Adam and Eve had followed God's instructions, they and their posterity would have accomplished this. Instead, the drives of carnal nature proved to be more important to them than obedience to their Creator, an orientation which dashed all hopes they would spread Edenic bliss worldwide. In Psalm 14, we learn that no one has of himself overcome the pulls of carnality to overt evil, rebellion and hostility toward God. Carnal human nature and Godly character are polar opposites, as Paul illustrated in Romans 7, where he bemoans the power of his carnality to compel him to do the opposite of what he knew to be God's will. Carnal pulls are easy to follow because they lead us to "go with the flow" of the world. To walk in the Spirit means swimming against the current, aligning ourselves with God's will by doing three things: (1) Becoming a living sacrifice, committing ourselves to lifelong service to God, (2) actively participating or cooperating in our transformation by adjusting our thoughts to be in sync with His and (3) employing three essential baseline attitudes—humility, clear-headed thinking, and faith. The Apostle James points out that to know what is right and to willfully go against this knowledge is sin. All of us stand guilty under that definition of sin. God wants to see striving in the battle against sin.
Martin Collins, focusing on Paul's third trial before a secular ruler, following the inconclusive decisions before Felix and Festus, points out that King Agrippa was of a more decisive character. He sought to implement Paul's appeal to Caesar without delay. Speaking to the King, the Apostle stated his pre-conversion experience as a Pharisee, his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, and his post conversion commitment to execute his God-ordained commission. In the process, he refuted the false charges of violating the laws of the Torah, committing heresy and blasphemy, and committing treason against Caesar, the same charges previously levelled against Jesus Christ. Agrippa, an erudite individual with a keen understanding of Jewish customs, listened intently as Paul refuted all the false charges. In the end, he claimed to be "almost persuaded' by Paul's testimony and acknowledged that Paul was innocent. He would have acquitted him if he had not appealed to Caesar. In reality, what appeared to be a series of disappointing judicial set-backs for Paul was actually the outworking of God's strategy to place the Apostle before even higher levels of secular leadership. As God's called-out ones, we must learn to follow in the footsteps of Paul, being willing to trust God when the here-and-now in our experience appears problematic, knowing that God is sovereign over all.
James Beaubelle acknowledges that we have all asked God to increase our faith, realizing that without faith it is impossible to please Him. From time to time, we exhibit a measure of faithlessness, perhaps because we have viewed faith too narrowly, thinking in terms of what we do rather than what God does through His spiritual gifting to us. Faith supports what we know of God, and if it is genuine, faith is the greatest motivator for good works. God increases our faith according to His working in us. Godly faith cannot stand on intellect alone, because it has spiritual and emotional qualities as well. Four progressive steps will strengthen our Godly faith: (1.) Belief in God's Word, which (2.) leads to obedience to duty, which can only be accomplished by (3.) a relationship with God through the indwelling of His Spirit (the mind of Christ), which in turn (4.) produces a repertoire of experience on which we incrementally build faith.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking us whether we have ever been around an individual who energetically serves to a fault, offers an example of a woman in a local congregation who assisted Stanley Rader in meeting his appointments. Stanley Rader, though grateful, found this woman "exhausting." God serves infinitely more than this woman, but in such unobtrusive ways that most of the world takes Him for granted. God supplies our food, clothing, and shelter, as well as sustains our health. Without these blessings we would die. On the spiritual level, God has blessed us with the Sabbath, a period of holy time, when He crafts our spiritual identity, redeeming us from the clutches of our carnality and this evil world. In the Deuteronomy rendition of the Ten Commandments, God reminds us that our forebears were slaves in Egypt, just as we too were slaves in bondage to sin. From that time up to the present, God has been working on His called-out ones incessantly, moving them in incremental steps toward the Kingdom. The Feast of Tabernacles reminds us that we are temporary, transitory pilgrims on our journey to a more permanent, glorious state. The Sabbath commandment, which includes the Holy Days, provides a time for meditation on what God has done to redeem us, fashioning us into members of His family. When we thoughtfully tally up all God has done to redeem us, we are compelled to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, responding to His Commandments, reciprocating the love He shown for us. The Sabbath is a time we reflect on our redemption from a previously hopeless state to the prospect of Eternal life as a member of God's family.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the lyrics of Bob Dylan's war protest song in 1964 "With God on Our Side," analyzes the conundrums Dylan proposes, "If God is on our side, is He as murderous as we are?" "If God is really on our side, what does that do with our perception of God's character?" The clear majority of professing Christians who claim they know God really do not because they have no relationship with Him—and most have rejected the Sabbath. As God's called-out ones, we are required to be doers as well as hearers, walking in His steps. Historically, the Israelitish nations have been talkers, but not doers. When ancient Israel wanted a king to be like the gentile nations, they virtually stripped God of His power, in doing so receiving the curse of a darkened, reprobate, animalistic mind. Humanists are foolish ignoramuses about what really matters in life. The framers of our Constitution were sincere educated men, but they were unconverted. Having experienced the turmoil of the Catholic—Protestant clash in Europe, they did not want any sect dictating religious doctrines or practices. A follower of Christ is mandated to: (1) follow Christ; (2) walk with Christ; (3) imitate Christ; and (4) walk in Christ's steps—doing exactly what Christ does. Consequently, as physical Israel is still reeling from the curse of I Samuel 8 (rejecting God's rule to replace it with a tyrannical Gentile-like government), we need to guard against the multitudinous distractions, realizing that God is sovereign, totally regulating the political and cultural upheaval, shaping it to accomplish His ultimate purpose.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the seven "I will" promises given to our forefather Abraham in Genesis 12:2-3 were truly "big deal" foundational promises impacting the lives of multiple billions of lives up to the present day and that Abraham and that Abraham could fathom them only by calculating within his limited nervous system. Abraham calculated, adding things up in order to esteem those things which he learned to be truly important. To Abraham, God's words were a beacon, directing him how to live his life. Abraham believed in the counsel God gave him, redirecting his steps to accommodate this counsel, advice which all God's called-out ones are obliged to follow. Everything hinges on whether we, as our father Abraham, are willing to live by faith. When God read Abraham's mind, He found no skepticism, but found instead trust and faith, qualities we are to emulate. If we do not believe God, we will not submit to Him. We begin with faith, and the works automatically follow. Faith motivates us to keep the law, steering us away from the death penalty which is the automatic curse for disobeying the Law. Before God established the Old Covenant, a sign or guidepost anticipating the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ, Abraham (as well as Abel and others before him, and David and others after him) realized that a promised Seed-an incarnation of God—would eventually emerge as a Savior, making possible the forgiveness of sins for all of Adam's offspring (Abraham's spiritual seed, which included the Gentiles) who would call on Him and follow His guidance and counsel.
Martin Collins, focusing on Habakkuk's stance of assuming the position of a watchman, being willing to accept God's ultimate judgment on his people even when the circumstances seem to contradict revelation, emphasizes that all of God's called-out ones are also watchmen, needing to live continually by faith, discerning, listening to, and responding to God's instructions, not only hearing them, but taking them to heart. Without having faith like Abel, Abraham, Noah. and Enoch, judging by faith rather than outward appearances, we cannot please God. Abel, Enoch, and Noah all believed God and were willing to endure temporal loss for a greater reward. Faith constitutes unshakable belief and confidence in God that He will do everything He has promised. Like the apostle Peter, we must learn that human faith, at its best, is not sufficient; Godly faith cannot be worked up, but is a gift from God which we must constantly put to use. This kind of faith comes by hearing God's Word. God holds His called-out ones to a much higher level of accountability, but He has also provided the necessary tools for overcoming and as well as for producing spiritual fruit. In spite of doubts arising from negative appearances, we need to cling to God's promises, even in the worst of times, realizing that all iniquity will be punished eventually. Like the heroes of faith, all of which had to do something to demonstrate their faith, we must be productive in our faith, understanding that faith without works is stone dead. Faith is not a preference, but rather a commitment. Even faith as little as a mustard seed is an open door to God.
David C. Grabbe: Despite the Bible’s repeated injunctions to put God's commands into practice, doing God's sayings cannot justify us—only the blood of Christ has that power. ...
David C. Grabbe: In Luke 6:46-49, Jesus begins a passage, asking, "But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say?" He finishes His thought with the metaphor of a man building a house ...
David C. Grabbe: When we were baptized and gave our lives by covenant to God, we committed ourselves to a lifetime of change. This change would be partly internal ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, recalling his underwriter training course at Transamerica Insurance, in which he learned of the hundreds of billions of dollars of fraud which occur annually in auto, health, disability, welfare, and Medicare, asserts that every part of our modern Babylonian culture has been plagued by fraud and cheating, a cancerous system described in Revelation 18, which God Almighty will have to destroy. In contrast to the world's embracing of fraud and deceit, God's called-out ones are obligated to eat the bread of sincerity and truth, not only for the Days of Unleavened Bread, but for our entire lives. As the apostle Paul warned the Corinthian congregation to purge out the leaven of malice and consume the unleavened bread of sincerity (inward activities), he knew that wickedness or truth are the manifestation of these inner activities. Thought precedes behavior; sin (gossip, rape, murder, adultery) begins in the heart. A heart without guile does not allow a poisonous foreign admixture. We must live our lives from a pure motive, unalloyed virtue, having unsullied Christian character with evil purged out. The Word of God is the source of energy to turn our convictions into genuine behavior; we must be, but we must also do, marrying our profession of true faith with pure unalloyed godly conduct. Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well demonstrates the motivating power of doing God's work as ingesting food. Worshiping in spirit and truth involves dedicating our time, and attitude in developing a relationship with God.
David C. Grabbe: In II John 7, the apostle John identifies an antichrist as one who denies that Jesus Christ is presently in His followers. ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: It is almost impossible for a Christian to have a meeting of minds with an atheist on any subject anywhere in the neighborhood of religion. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, indicating that there are many flashpoints between the greater Church of God and nominal Christianity, suggests that perhaps one of the most significant differences concerns the place and purpose of God's Law. The carnal mind hates and despises God's Law. The Protestant doctrine of grace has an antinomian core, thinking that justification is a synonym for sanctification and salvation, ruling out any need for works. The Law was not nailed to the cross; the handwriting of ordinances (the record of our sins) was nailed to the cross. The Law shows us the boundary markers, serving as a protective hedge. Sadly, morality and 'moralism' are looked upon in many sectors of Protestantism as pejorative terms, juxtaposed in a false dichotomy with the gospel. We do not keep the Law to save ourselves, but keeping the Law is a major part of the Gospel, our guide to show us how to live our lives, helping us to stay in unity with the King. Nominal Christianity has rejected God's Law, the Sabbath, and God's Holy Days, all of which provide guidelines for our spiritual journey toward the Kingdom of God, following Jesus Christ with the help of God's Holy Spirit. Eating unleavened bread symbolizes taking in what is good and pure, purging out the old leaven and becoming a new lump—the new man. We have a part to play in forging the new man. The Feast of Unleavened Bread reminds us that God did the vast majority of the work, that God intends that His Law be in our mouths (not done away), and that these days are to be kept annually and in perpetuity. God's Word is available to us, enabling us to ingest it daily, making it part of our hearts and minds, enabling us to edify others and modeling it in our lives. God supplies the Word and the Spirit to put us on the same wavelength as He is on, working from the same playbook. We are being groomed to be the Bride of Christ. Our putting out sin and living righteously was not abolished by His death on the cross. We are called to be holy in all our conduct. We will not be
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that, although Ecclesiastes contains no direct prophecies, it does not present Christ as Savior, it contains no "thus saith the Lord" commands, and it makes no mention of Satan, nevertheless it does deals with quality of life issues for those who have been called, emphasizing responsibility and choice in this perplexing labyrinth of life, continually fearing God and respecting Him. We must hear God with focused attention, following through on purposeful obedience. Life is meaningless to those uncalled under the sun, but not meaningless to those called by God, who focus their lives over the sun. We are implored to be swift to hear and slow to speak when we are in His presence—which is ALL the time. When we forget, we drift into careless hypocrisy and disrespect for God. We must be purposefully selective, riveted on God's Words, but screening out the distractions of the world. Our highest responsibility is to sustain our faith by hearing God's Word, and diligently following through with obedience.
As Christians, we have a desire to please God, and we want Him to protect and deliver us when the times ahead get tough. John Ritenbaugh illustrates four qualities of character that our full acceptance of God's sovereignty will build and that will prepare us for whatever work God may choose for us in these last days.
The Bible is well known as a Book of prophecy, but what is the true purpose of prophecy? Is it merely to enlighten us about the future, so that the "wise" will have an advantage over everyone else when the time comes? Charles Whitaker suggests that God's spiritual purposes for prophecy concern the subjects of warning and keeping.
John Ritenbaugh, distinguishing the terms freedom and liberty, suggests that Christian liberty is far more restrained than the word freedom would connote. Mainstream Christianity often obscures the major emphasis of God's purpose in our lives, focusing on a genie in a bottle endlessly showering miracles. God deliberately put His chosen people through testing, trails, and deprivation to see what they would do and how they would respond to His laws. Building character and conforming to Christ's image requires suffering, privations, testing, and trials, including the degradation of slavery. We are still suffering under the bondage of sin. Through God's grace, we are provided liberty with specified limits and boundaries. Grace is not the entire story, especially after we leave Egypt. We are to deny worldly lusts, putting out sin, having been obliged to live in godliness, preparing to live in good works. Consequently, grace places limits on our freedom, training us for our future life in the Kingdom of God. Our behavior must be clearly distinguishable from the non-believers in society. We cannot emulate our forebears, who although freed from Egypt, maintained their slave mentality, immersed in their worldly lusts, rebelling before they even commenced through the Red Sea, grumbling about their diet. We must desire the life-giving manna, the Bread of Life, namely the instruction provided through God's Word, producing good conduct and good life, keeping us from the bondage of sin. We need to be continually packing our minds with the Truth of God, fortifying our goal of attaining the Kingdom of God.
Jesus, in His prayer recorded in John 17, fervently asks for unity among His Disciples (and by extension-all of us). Almost 20% of this prayer is devoted to the subject of unity, that His disciples would be unified with God the Father and with each other, as Jesus is unified with the Father. If we aren't unified with our Heavenly Father, we can't possibly be at one with (or a functioning member of) the Body of Christ. Each member of Christ's body must choose to function in the role God has ordained to produce unity, emulating our elder Brother always doing those things that please the Father by keeping His Commandments (statutes, judgments, and ordinances), enabling us to become at one with Him. Unity with our Heavenly Father leads to unity in the church or the Body of Christ. Failing to discern the Lord's Body- the church (by refusing to engage in rigorous self-examination) leads to eating and drinking damnation to ourselves. The disunity which Paul described in 1 Corinthians 12 has an antidote in 1 Corinthians 13, namely love in all of its manifestations, resulting in physical and spiritual healing and peace, the ideal environment for the growth of spiritual fruit. If we are separated from God the Father and Jesus Christ, we cannot be unified with the church, as was demonstrated by the devastating destruction and Diaspora of the Worldwide Church of God. The disintegration will never be repaired except as individuals voluntarily submit themselves to the rule of God the Father.
Martin Collins, in reflecting upon God's promises to bless the righteous, asks us to carefully consider the standards upon which we measure blessings. After eliminating obvious reasons for curtailment of blessings, we must be on guard against comparing ourselves with others, a practice that leads to pernicious envy, lust, and coveting, destroying peace, tranquillity, and contentment. Too often prosperity and financial gain militate against godly character and spiritual well-being as it unleashes idolatry and covetousness. To be rich toward God means to seek first the Kingdom of God (tasting and testing God's way of life), living God's way (continually doing His commandments),and continually trusting God regardless of temporary, visible circumstances.
We are what we eat. The same can apply spiritually to what we put into our minds. John Ritenbaugh shows that God wants us to desire His Word with the eagerness of a baby craving milk.
The Feast is always the highlight of our year. But what do we do afterward? How can we sustain the high level of zeal that began at the Feast?
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.
In this Unleavened Bread sermon, Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that learning God's way (and unlearning Satan's way) takes a lifetime- spiritually speaking, perhaps the most difficult and arduous task on the entire earth. Over a lifetime, with our cooperation, God fashions us into vessels of honor. The commands to eat unleavened bread outnumber the commands to refrain from eating leavened bread three to one, indicating that the most efficient way of eliminating sin is to do righteousness (eating God's word and applying its principles in our lives) If we do good, we won't have the time to do bad. The epistle of James applies to the Christian after the justification process has begun, indicating that after receiving forgiveness, after receiving God's implanted word, we are obligated to fulfill God's purpose in our lives, yielding to trials, bringing forth the fruits of character by doing (not just hearing) God's word. Paul and James steadfastly agree that faith without works is stone dead.
John Ritenbaugh stresses the importance of listening over merely hearing, suggesting that only from God's Word can we know who is really regulating the affairs on the earth and which truth to believe. The scriptures, substantiating God's sovereignty, assure us that Israel's history was no accident, the church's succession of Israel was no accident, and our calling into the church was no accident. Even though God's thoughts are not [yet] our thoughts and His judgments unsearchable, we have the assurance that just because scary, inexplicable things happen in our lives, God is still sovereign; we must develop the childlike faith to trust in Him for the solution.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the way to be undefiled (to become sanctified, developing character) is to walk in the Law of the Lord (Psalm 119:1). We must do God's Word or it will never be a part of us. The Colossian Christians (Colossians 2:16-17) were criticized by Gnostic infiltrators for the way they were keeping the holy days. Paul admonishes the embattled Colossians not to let any man judge them for the way they were keeping the holy days. Contrary to some misguided Bible scholars, (1) keeping the Sabbath is not a doctrine of men; (2) what Paul condemns is a philosophy; God's word is not a philosophy. (Paul is concerned about the context in the way this philosophy was impacting on those keeping God's Word.) (3) Paul calls this Gnostic system (not God's holy days) empty, vain deceit, and (4) he names the authors of this Gnostic system and its recipients demons.
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, reflecting upon Jesus' calculation upon the time of arrival at the Feast of Tabernacles, indicates that Jesus carefully took into account many variables to maximize His effectiveness at this event. The myriad opinions of the crowd concerning Jesus were all conditioned from their perspectives and traditions, but hardly ever from God's perspective. Jesus demonstrated that the only way to learn the doctrine of God is by doing it. He also taught us to look for God not only in the extraordinary, but also in the ordinary. Jesus warns the crowd [and us by extension] that the time to seek God is now, while we still have a sense of spiritual need (or hunger) lest we permanently miss out on the opportunity. Cuing in on a water ceremony performed daily at the Feast, Jesus drew a spiritual lesson, dramatizing the need for God's Holy Spirit without measure. Amazingly, throughout these dramatic encounters with the public, Jesus had deliberately chosen a course that would lead to His death rather than to immediate power and adulation.
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