John Ritenbaugh issues a pointed warning about the tenacious power of our carnal nature: Its desire to satisfy an addictive self-centeredness can eventually overrule the Christian's loyalty to God and His commandments. If parents in God's Church are not willing to train up a child in righteousness, Satan and his demons are more than willing to take over the task. At our baptism, we were somberly counseled to count the cost of God's expectation that we love Him more than family, friends and even our own lives. We tend to fear what an undivided loyalty to God may cost us. Like our parents Adam and Eve, God has forewarned and forearmed us to withstand Satan's wiles, but we dare not underestimate the fierce, unyielding demands of our own carnal nature to reject God's plan for us. As Adam and Eve's progeny, we must learn that good results can never come from evil behavior. God has given us His Holy Spirit to kickstart us, empowering us with faith and love to keep His Commandments and to love Him with all our being and our neighbor as ourselves. We cannot take lightly the caution in Romans 8:5-7 that a carnal focus leads to death, while a spiritual one (that is, developing an incremental, intimate relationship with God) is the sole means to attain Eternal life.
Mark Schindler, maintaining that it is indeed a privilege to be in the body of Christ, cautions us to be mindful of our calling, and to remember that we are indeed the weak of the world, still seeing through a glass darkly, having incomplete knowledge as to how God is using us. We do know that the most intelligent and wise of all human beings is no match for God. Having God's spiritual gifts should not incline us to exercise any measure of pride because we have nothing that has not been given to us by God. We should not consider ourselves superior to others because we have been gifted. Satan wants us to fail by allowing our spiritual gifts to make us prideful. The only thing we dare boast about is what God has done. How we handle our opportunity of having these priceless gifts of understanding makes a big difference, especially when we realize that judgment is now out on the Household of God. The apostle Peter serves as a type of all those who have been gifted by God, occasionally needing to be redirected to a humble approach after falling. As we yield to God more, and rely on ourselves less, we mature spiritually, achieving wisdom and understanding. We will always have what we need if we submit to God's wisdom. No matter how many spiritual gifts we have been given, all glory belongs to our Great God.
If we were asked to list the reasons for the recent decline of the United States, we would probably reply that, among others, poor leadership is a primary cause. John Ritenbaugh asks us to consider that God is putting us through exercises to create leaders in His image. His covenants are a primary tool in this process.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that the Church is unique in that it does not believe God's Law has been done away, warns that the governments and culture of the offspring of Jacob suffer from a dearth of leadership, dramatizing the observation of Ralph Waldo Emerson that "an institution is but the lengthened shadow of one man." The book of Isaiah was written in Judah, castigating the people for their lack of leadership, but the book of Ezekiel was written to the House of Israel, long after the Northern Kingdom had gone into captivity, intended for the modern nations of Israel. Individually, we must become leaders in our own families, protecting them from the curse and scourge that is already falling on our nation. We have the solemn obligation to fear God, to refrain from being hypocrites, and to thoroughly repent, allowing ourselves to become pliable clay in God's hands. In this context, we must: (1) establish that the covenants are a gift from God, designed for our freedom, (2) understand that a covenant is a legal agreement between us and the unseen God, (3) understand that the covenant is not cold and legalistic, and (4) understand the Covenant was offered by the True God, who has never failed in His obligations. The New Covenant, promised in Hebrews 8:10 for the entire nation, has commenced as a forerunner in the Israel of God. As Christ's affianced Bride, God's called-out ones must not emulate the example of physical Judah and Israel, who shamelessly committed adultery (which is spiritual pornea—absorbing Pagan idolatrous practice), but must remain chaste in the keeping of the Covenants. Breaking God's covenant is the equivalent of adultery.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Romans 11:33-35, indicates that God is unparalleled in leadership, jurisdiction, and wisdom. We are not individually sovereign over much, but we are commanded to give ourselves over completely to God's sovereignty. If we do this, we will reap unfathomable blessings. We should develop a fear of God, which acts as a magnet to draw us toward Him. We discover that our pride gradually begins to disappear, displaced by humility. Knowledge of God (understanding and wisdom) is progressive; it does not happen all at once. As occurred to Isaiah, Job, and Daniel, we will feel a sense of our total unworthiness in the light of God's splendor when we come to see God. As we develop a relationship with Him, we begin to make better choices, yielding to His correction. Irreverence of God invariably promotes pride; knowing God promotes submission and humility. If we yield to God's sovereignty, we choose life and will develop the ability to make lifesaving, though admittedly difficult, choices. Then, only God's standard will be acceptable to us. Implicit obedience (as is displayed by the writer of Psalm 119:35-48, 132-133) will lead to greater spiritual growth. Murmuring and complaining appear to be an inborn trait of Israelites, as seen in the insatiable drive toward entitlements we witnessed in the recent presidential election. As God's called-out ones, we need to realize that we are in His view at all times, and that He is able to protect us and safeguard us. Consequently, we need to refrain from complaining, realizing that God is justified in everything He does or allows. God is the Potter; we are the clay. God intends that we devote our lives to seeking Him. As we do so, He will produce quality fruit in us.
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.
John Ritenbaugh declares that God has carefully called each individual member, gifting each one differently, but with the ultimate function of edifying the body. We are mandated to live by faith, being given trials of faith in order to chisel our character. We must totally and unreservedly accept God's sovereignty. We must place Jesus Christ above everything else in our life. Seeing God's influence provided the motivation for our forebears to reach the Promised Land. Unlike Satan and his demons, will we be loyal to God as God crafts out our place personally? Jesus Christ is concerned about us and is overseeing every aspect of our lives. Our Savior is a person, not an abstract idea; He is personally involved in our lives. What God is doing with each of us will fit perfectly. Can we live by faith that He is, that He knows what He is doing, shaping our lives according to His purpose? We have our ways of doing things, demanding our comfort, but our Creator may have different ideas. God directs everything in our life according to the counsel of His will. If we are living by faith, we will allow Him to mold us into what He intends. Jesus Christ is personally involved with us, doing what He absolutely pleases. We need to trust Him that He is there and that He knows what is going on in our lives, and that He cares- in the big and the little things in our lives. Do we trust His judgment? Everything He does is according to His pleasure with our welfare at heart, even when we are put through calamity. Jesus Christ blew the Worldwide Church of God apart, scattering it all over the world, in order to ultimately rescue the saints from fatal error. Our goal is to believe Jesus Christ, trusting Him unconditionally, enabling us not to disappoint Him in any way.
Most converted Christians realize that God is sovereign, or they at least recognize His sovereignty over all things intellectually. But sometimes the Bible reveals something about God that makes them uncomfortable. John Ritenbaugh asks if we truly accept His sovereignty without reservation despite our lack of complete understanding.
John Ritenbaugh, affirming that God's Word is a discerner of the innermost thoughts of the heart, assures us that God, in His supreme sovereignty, has an awareness of each and every one of us. In our natural, carnal state, we are full of pride, wearing it almost as an ornament around our neck. Sadly, humility does not come naturally; it must be put on as a garment. Sometimes we grab a counterfeit garment, displaying cringing obsequiousness rather than true humility. There is a huge chasm between pride and humility—the latter a created attribute of character. To humble ourselves is not to put ourselves down like the excessively obedient, groveling Wormtongue in the movie Lord of the Rings. Instead, we need to place our total dependence on Almighty God, deferring to His will, as is demonstrated in the behavior of the repentant tax collector, the prodigal son, Solomon's humble request for wisdom and understanding, and Isaiah's declaration of his unworthiness. Paradoxically, God stoops to us when we humble ourselves. Humility produces honor from God; if we humble ourselves, He will hear us. Because we are spiritually broke, we need Him.
Because we are human—and want to be seen in a good light by others—we try to project an image of ourselves that people will like and respect. John Ritenbaugh explains that, unfortunately, the image we project is often based in pride. The Old Testament story of Job provides us an example of a man whom God forced to see himself as he really was, and his true self-image paved the way to a spectacular leap forward in spiritual growth.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Jesus Christ's prayer for unity in John 17, insists that unity with our brethren is impossible without unity with God first. Adam and Eve severed this unity by yielding to Satan's influence, stimulating their minds with a novel diversion. Sin automatically separates us from God. The key to overcoming rests exclusively in our relationship with God. We are placed in the Body of Christ at His discretion, and are obligated to subject ourselves to His workmanship, keeping Him continually in our thoughts, night and day. We do not produce any fruit unless we are attached to the vine. As members of Christ's body, we must function for the good of the whole body, not competing with other organs or limbs. We must continually see God and function as a son of God. As with our Elder Brother, if we do those things that please our Heavenly Father, He will be there for us. Not responding to God and treating our brethren shabbily, brings harsh judgment upon us. Unity in the Body is brought about by yielding to and using the love of God shed abroad in our hearts, enabling us to love our brother as God has loved us. The more we have in common, the greater will be unity and peace.
Humanity finds itself inhabiting a world that is the place of restraint for untold numbers of malevolent spirits, all of whom hate God and desire to destroy mankind. John Ritenbaugh reiterates that our human nature reflects these spirits' attitudes, and the only way to overcome it is through God's creating a new heart in us by His Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh examines the life and accomplishments of perhaps the most under-appreciated patriarch in scripture. Having lived longer than any of the other noted patriarchs, Isaac's longevity provides a clue about God's favor toward him. The etymology of his given name ("laughter") suggests his optimistic happy disposition, someone not afflicted by fear and doubt. As Abraham serves as a type of God the Father, Isaac serves as a type of Christ. In contrast to sons of great, overshadowing men (who often turn out to be disappointments) Isaac did not bring disgrace to his father's name, but actually brought honor and respect to his father. In the middle of a famine, Isaac also trusted and feared God in the face of apparent dwindling prosperity, in the face of intense peer pressure, refusing to go to the world for his needs. Isaac's source of strength was his fear, respect, and submission to both his physical and Spiritual Father. Isaac was gentle and peace-seeking, avoiding conflict and quarrel (even when his own power and strength exceeded that of his adversaries), resembling the temperament of Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh warns that human nature is hostile to change, even when it is confirmed to be in the wrong. In the matter of godly standards for dress (as in any other aspect of God's teaching), we must adopt the humble, childlike, sincere, unassuming, unpretentious, and teachable attitude, loving God intimately, denying ourselves(ego and self-gratification)- losing ourselves to God's way, becoming separate from the world, and doing all for the glory of God.
John Ritenbaugh admonishes that amidst the erosion of doctrine in truth from the Gentile culture of moral relativism, we must, after the manner of Jeremiah and Nehemiah, build a wall, be a wall, and summon the courage to stand in the gap. We must stay focused in our thinking, girding up the loins of our minds, submitting to the will of God, realizing that in these perilous times we will be hated by the many. Conforming to God will set us apart, sanctify us, separating us from the world, making us a virtual wall. Our determination will determine the strength or the durability of this wall. Building a wall requires standing, holding firm, showing alertness and a readiness for action- even if it requires self-denial and unpleasant dirty work, ultimately aspiring to know God, living as He lives, cleansing ourselves from filth and becoming holy.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that having an objective orientation (other centered approach) rather than a subjective orientation (self-centered apprach) leads to unity and reconciliation. As members of Christ's collective body, we must exercise those self-restraining and self-controlling godly attributes of walking worthy, having lowliness of mind, meekness, patience, and forbearance- all elements of love demonstrating a practical application for guarding the unity of the spirit.In the present scattering, permitted by Almighty God, the group that one fellowships with is less important than the understanding that there is one true church, bound by a spiritual, not a physical unity.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that because of our collective lack of self-discipine and our lack of willingness to guard the truth, we have allowed our theological, philosophical, and attitudinal base to deteriorate under the persuasion of the the world, hopelessly scattering us into myriad fragments and splinters. Liberty without self discipline has produced this chaos. In order to regain the unity we have lost, Paul lists four elements of character we must all exercise: humility, meekness (or lowliness of spirit) patience, and forbearance, counteracting the pernicious pride, vanity, and competitiveness which have driven us apart.
John Ritenbaugh, citing the maxim that 'the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree,' suggests that the nation of Israel and the Israel of God, having the same aggresive, controlling, and contentious spirit as their forefather Jacob, must learn to let God provide blessings rather than, through crafty scheming, grabbing them from others for themselves. As Jacob had to pay with a lame hip, his offspring may have to suffer privation, scattering, having their pride of their power broken, and eventual captivity until they learn that Israel means 'God prevails' and it is God who orders life.
John Ritenbaugh warns that those who emphasize one trait of God at the expense of the others (or one doctrine at the expense of the others) run the risk of distorting the truth, creating a grotesque caricature. Almighty God, having both a good and severe nature, much like a loving parent, will move Heaven and earth, including using a rod of correction, to see that His offspring conform to His will and purpose. We need to adopt the humble, unassuming characteristic of a little child to make sure we yield to His awesome sovereignty.
Richard Ritenbaugh asserts that the epistle of James stresses both faith and works, emphasizing those factors necessary for growth, enabling us to produce a bountiful harvest of fruit. We are to exercise humility and impartiality, taking particular effort to bring our tongues under control, being cautiously slow to speak, acknowledging God in all our thoughts. We are obligated to do practical works of goodness and kindness to our brethren, being solicitous of their needs, and making intercessory prayer for them. To him who knows to do good but doesn't, it is sin. Eating unleavened bread is equivalent to practicing good works.
John Ritenbaugh describes the prevailing mindset in human society as one of contention, division and disagreement. The source of division and separation from the source of life is sin that has become practiced as a way of life. Throughout the course of Biblical history, whenever sin appears, confusion, division and separation are the automatic consequences (James 4:1-2). The Day of Atonement pictures the means to bring back unity with God- the covering of our sins with the blood of Christ. Satan, the author of confusion and misinformation, hates this day above all days because he is fingered as the source of sin. Virtually none of the world's spiritually malnourished churches realizes the significance of the Day of Atonement. We are encouraged to humble ourselves before God, resisting pride, the propelling force of sin.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the consequences of the reorientation of culture from family or group concerns to individual rights, pleasure seeking, or the elusive drive toward equality. If everyone seeks his own gratification at the expense of the general welfare (family, church, society) conflict is inevitable (James 4:1). Because God sanctions all authority (Romans 13:1, I Peter 2:13), the only way a society can work (family, church, civil) is for everyone to submit to one another in the fear of Christ. Biblical submission is the respecting of divinely appointed authority out of respect for Christ. Our model of submission should be after the manner of our Elder Brother (Philippians 2:6-8). Submission is an act of faith in God, and an act of love for all concerned.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Jesus was baptized, not because He had committed any sin, but in order to fulfill God's Commandments of righteousness. Baptism is used symbolically to represent one's total commitment. Perhaps if people knew what was required, there would be fewer baptisms. Every thought, every attitude, every action (the totality of our life) is to be brought into obedience to Him. When Jesus was baptized, He was demonstrating His total commitment to what was laid out before Him. Jesus had to overcome, defeat, displace and disqualify Satan as ruler as part of His commission as Head of the body. As we are joined to the Body, it is part of our commission also. We also wrestle with spiritual wickedness in high places. We are in a war with an enemy we can't feel, see, or touch, an enemy who is trying to take control of our thinking processes. In order to win the battle with Satan, we must counter his deceptive arguments, not with human reasoning, but with the knowledge of God. Satan broadcasts attitudes into our minds, tilting them in certain directions. God uses Satan as an instrument to test for weaknesses, enabling us to be strengthened. In our struggle with Satan, we are admonished to be sober, exercising control over our minds. If a person is under the influence of the world, he is not able to resist Satan. Familiarity and usage of God's word along with yielding to Him and drawing close to Him will help us resist Satan. Jesus resisted Satan with the knowledge of God, resisting appeals to vanity, using power selfishly resisting to lust of the flesh, eyes, and pride of life.
WHY are we not more successful in living up to God's standard? WHY do we slip and fall occasionally? Here is how YOU can overcome where you are weakest and hardest tempted!
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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