Richard Ritenbaugh, observing that pagan fertility rites and sun worship have nothing to do with the resurrection or ascension of Christ, asserts that Christmas, Easter, as well as the concepts of "amazing grace," and "unmerited pardon" are far cries from the Bible's definition of Christianity. Because he sought to avoid the appearance of endorsing the syrupy cheap grace advanced by Protestant thinkers, Herbert W. Armstrong de-emphasized the birth, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. As a result, the Church came to lose some valuable insights about those events. Neither Christmas or Easter appear in the Feasts of the Lord (Leviticus 23), but we find plenty of emphasis on the resurrection and ascension of Christ in the Holy Days. The wave-sheaf offering, for example, appearing between Unleavened Bread and Pentecost and symbolizing the Father's acceptance of Christ as First of the First Fruits, provides the means for our ultimate acceptance as First Fruits as well. Christ's ascension enables Christ to serve before the Father as our High Priest, mediating between man and God. It also facilitates 1.) His gifting the Church for equipping the saints, 2.) His pouring out the Holy Spirit on us, 3.) His aiding us when we are tempted, 4.) His healing us when we are sick, 5.) His guarding us from the evil one and 5) His preparing a place for us in God's Kingdom. Realizing that the apostles wrote frequently about Christ's resurrection and ascension, we must be willing to share their perspective.
Richard Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Exodus 12:1-2, heralding the beginning of the sacred year in the springtime, when the foliage is sprouting and budding, points out that this season corresponds to one of the sacred appointed times of the year, the Days of Unleavened Bread. The Hebrew word used to mark these appointed times, regalim (or feet), connotes walking or a pilgrimage. The Hebrew year contained five paces, steps, or seasons, all corresponding to God's holy times. Patterns of five, grasped conveniently by the five digits of each hand, suggest grace or providence. Groupings of five arrange the seasons, the Torah (Pentateuch), the Megillot (Festival Scrolls), the Five Books of Psalms, and the summary Psalms. These recurring sets of five have common themes and patterns. The Song of Songs takes place in the springtime, awakening romance and love between the Shulamite and her Beloved, parallel to the romance between Christ and the Church. Genesis consists of a book of stories, accounts of the beginning of things, showing the consequences of wise and foolish choices. The Psalms in Book One of the Psalms deal with the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, uttered by David, but lived by Jesus Christ. The themes consist of trust in God, suffering, facing opposition, and persecution, the Messianic themes of redemption, salvation, and kingship, leadership, and rulership, distinctions between the righteous and the wicked, two separate paths with two separate ends, tests and trials leading to hope, growth, and fruit. Psalm 1 is an instructional psalm, delineating two distinctive paths with positive consequences (derived from meditating the things of God) and paths with negative consequences (as a result of rejecting God and His instructions). Jesus Christ is the personification of all that instruction. When God calls us out the world, He transplants us next to His stream of living water, enabling us to bear spiritual fruit and attain eternal life.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the pop song "My Way" composed by Paul Anka, written for and made famous by Frank Sinatra, observes that to the carnal mind, this song represents a triumph of the human will and a declaration of pride, a determination to kneel to no one . Even though we may claim to follow God's way, there is a considerable measure of selfishness in our own pathways, a tendency to be dismissive of other people, and a determination to keep our own counsel. If we do not yield to God, following the narrow way, as exemplified by our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, we have the tendency to develop a hybrid way—following our way with just a few of God's principles attached—as was practiced by Cain (adjusting God's instructions to suit ourselves), Balaam (using the spiritual to satisfy greed), Korah(mixing God's principles with criticizing others), or Jeroboam (counterfeiting God's instructions through false words, creating stumbling blocks before others). By following these hybrid ways, we will put ourselves under a curse. We must instinctively respond, along with Christ, "Not my will, but Your will be done."
Most Christians realize that I Corinthians 13:13 lists faith, hope, and love as the three great Christian virtues, and love, as "the greatest of these," seems to get all the attention. However, through the life of Abraham, John Ritenbaugh illustrates how foundational faith—belief and trust in God—is to love and salvation itself.
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.
John Ritenbaugh highlights a dangerous flaw in our evaluation of religious truth. If the God of the Bible (who cannot lie and is not a God of confusion) were involved in the religions of the world—mainstream Christianity and Islam - there would be no strife between them. The bitter fruits indicate that the god of both of them is not the God of the Bible, but instead the god of this world, Satan the Devil, who inspires warfare and adversarial relationships. The false teachings of this world's belief systems can adversely erode and destroy the faith in members of the greater church of God. "The Way" is distinct from the world's belief systems, polluted by the tolerant and inclusive attitudes of the liberal far left - a position shockingly embraced by a large segment of evangelical, born-again Christians.
John Ritenbaugh, exploring the account of the man infested with a legion of demons, explores the subject of minds divided against themselves, severely hurting and destroying their possessor as well as those around them. In order to one to fulfill his purpose in life, a person needs to be singularly focused on what he wants to accomplish. Divided minds either result in no activity or productivity or, worse yet, devastating and hurtful consequences. Division (especially division within oneself) destroys. In group dynamics (from marriage to larger entities), unity is better than singularity. All of us, to some degree have divided minds- all of us, to some degree, are insane (or un-sane). Israel has a proclivity for fickleness and an insatiable desire for variety, totally at variance with the changelessness and steadfastness of God. God desires that we become at one with Him- conformed to His image- constant in our character- living as God lives- (motivated by thankfulness and desire) rather than being conformed to the world.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the admonition of Christ that we must take the straight gate or the narrow way (symbols of grave difficulty), indicates that our experience in overcoming and developing character will be fraught with difficulties. Nevertheless, God will provide the power to get through all this difficulty and anguish of spirit if we have true faith. Murmuring and grumbling are clear indications of lack of faith, and are in the same category as murder, idolatry, and fornication. Godliness with contentment is something we have to learn, stemming from absolute confidence in God's providence- beginning with the sacrifice of His Son-to each of us individually. The sacrifice of Jesus was the idea of God the Father.
John Ritenbaugh cautions that we may have had a somewhat incomplete understanding of the symbolism of eating unleavened bread, exaggerating the importance of our part in the sanctification process. Egypt is not so much a symbol of sin as it is of the world or the location of our bondage. Leavening represents those elements of the world we are to leave behind- symbolic of every weight which encumbers our spiritual progress. Symbolically we eat unleavened bread because of what God has done- not what we have done. Eating unleavened bread symbolizes following God, displacing sin by doing acts of righteousness. God's total involvement in the whole sanctification process makes it impossible for any flesh to glory in His presence.
In many places in Scripture, God promises to guide us along the godly path. Also within the pages of the Bible—our main source of information about spiritual matters—are the details about the way we are to conduct our lives. Mike Ford shows the steps we should take when faced with trials, problems and decisions.
John Ritenbaugh insists that we must be aware of our awesome status as a unique, called-out, chosen, royal priesthood—teachers of a way of life and builders of bridges between people and God. Because God owns us, we differ from the rest of the people of this earth. We need to seriously think of what we are now (His chosen people) and also what we have been (children of Satan). As former bond-slaves of satanic human nature, we effortlessly have given ourselves over to excesses and unrestraint. The Old Testament examples were given to show us what God had to do (the tremendous cost in life) to pave the way for our calling, sanctification, and ultimate glorification. Reflecting on the awesome cost of our calling, we must resolve not to go back into the slavery of sin.
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 focuses upon two sets of verses (Colossians 2:16-18; Galatians 4:9-10) which Protestant theologians have blasphemously charged that Paul was referring to God's Law, Sabbath, and Holy Days as weak and beggarly elements of the world. In both instances Paul was not referring to keeping the Holy Days at all, but instead an attempt by some in those congregations to syncretize Gnostic asceticism with the keeping of Holy Days, perverting their right use, in addition to bringing in superstitious lucky days, months, and seasons from pagan customs involving demon worship. In both contexts, Paul admonishes these congregations that the object of our faith must be Christ (including keeping His Commandments) rather than demons or human tradition.
John Ritenbaugh takes issue with the Protestant assumption that justification does away with the law. Justification does not any more "do away" with the law than it does with the edge of the paper. The argument that law-keeping is now voluntary fails to take into account that law keeping has always been voluntary (Deuteronomy 30:15-20) a matter of free moral agency. In Hebrews 10:34 Paul emphatically insisted that justification was a motivation to keep the law. Justification (not a synonym for salvation) brings us into alignment with God's Law, imputing the righteousness of Christ. Justification provides access to God and the means to bring about our sanctification. Justification in no way does away with the law of God.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the doctrinal changes made by the leaders in the Worldwide Church of God were intended to destroy the vision of the purpose God is working out. Ignoring the last portion of Ephesians 2:10, the proponents of the no works, no conditions, no standards, cheap grace mentality have perverted the name of Christianity, adopting the fruit of the world's brand of Christianity, cutting itself off from the law and rule of God. In contrast to this adolescent "obey because we feel like it"- "all roads lead to heaven" mentality is God's package, consisting of a body of laws, a body of beliefs or doctrines, and a way of life, all of which are working to produce a magnificent product- not merely to save us.
The road that leads to salvation has ditches on either side: legalism and liberalism. God's way perfectly balances and blends law and grace, producing the "new man" within us.
Of all animals, the sheep is the most dependent on its owner for its well-being. From the viewpoint of the sheep, the extraordinary care of the shepherd comes into sharp focus. If sheep are not provided with fresh, flowing water, they will drink from stagnant puddles, contracting diseases. Likewise, if we attempt to drink from sources other than God's Word, we risk spiritual contamination. Sheep left to self-indulgence become cast down (immobile, unable to get up) and must be turned over—set again on the right paths. Similarly, habit-driven humans, because of our self-indulgent constitutions, can also become immobilized both physically and spiritually. Fortunately, our heavenly Father uses various means to exercise us spiritually to keep us from becoming cast down. To safeguard the health of the sheep, the shepherd must keep the flock moving—in paths of righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh observes that in our modern fast-paced, hectic culture, we commit far too little time to God, depriving ourselves of the Holy Spirit and attenuating the faith required to draw close to God. The Sabbath was made to guarantee this needed time to establish our contact with God. We dare not pollute or profane this day by presumptuously doing our own thing, incrementally neglecting the hearing of sermons, fellowship, prayer, meditation, and Bible study. The Sabbath (a memorial of God's creation and a pre-figuration or promise of a future rest) provides the time for hearing God's word right now and doing good. God's presence has sanctified or set this recurring period of time apart as holy. During this time, we need to develop respect for instruction into God's way that will lead us into eternal life. We need to guard our thoughts, words, and behavior, making sure that we do not pollute this holy time.
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