John Ritenbaugh gives an antidote to the ubiquitous trait of human nature—the proclivity to complain and express impatience with God. The story of the wealthy philanthropist watching the construction of his home shows the importance of point of view. He asked two masons what they were doing. One replied, "I am laying bricks," while the other retorted, "I am constructing a mansion." Our forebears in the Wilderness were the most blessed people on earth, having God's daily presence, but they let their carnality "limit the Holy One of Israel," often railing against Him as the clay metaphorically argues with the potter. This same carnality led the Jews to crucify Christ in total rejection of His teachings. God, in order to continue to work with them, provoked them to jealousy by calling the gentiles into the Israel of God. Paul declares that (1.) God's judgments are unsearchable, (2.) absolutely no one knows the mind of God, and (3.) no one could ever qualify as His counselor. God's highest goal is not salvation, but sanctification into godly character, leading to membership in His family as co-rulers with Christ. As God equipped Adam and Eve to successfully respond to their environment and trials, so He also equipped His called-out ones. Still, they need to conquer carnality, which is corrupted human nature, an entity originally free from sin. God created human nature with a mild pull toward the self for the purpose of self-protection. However, sin (with the prodding of Satan) corrupted the wholesomeness of human nature, distorting it toward self-centeredness and vanity. We must set our minds on spiritual things while resisting the deadly pulls of the flesh.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Ephesians 2:1-3, cautions us that, although God has sanctified us, we share the same spiritual roots as every other human being, namely, carnal nature, which Scripture defines to be at enmity with His law, walking according to the sway of the world and the prince of the power of the air. Satan has taught mankind well the art and craft of war between nations, within families, in politics, in sports—everywhere. The descendants of Jacob have brought military dominance—a warfare culture—to a whole new level in the modern world. As God's called-out ones, we must resist being dragged into partisan battles, the spirit of which, encourages us to hate other individuals to the extent of wanting their destruction. The dynamics of the two-party system is rooted in conflict, with a never -ending pattern of divisive hatred toward " the other side." Chaos has become the order of the day. Christ admonishes His Children against taking sides in political battles, as involvement in sectarian conflicts draws our attention away from our primary objective—overcoming and being sanctified for service in God's Kingdom. Current events are not happening accidently or randomly, but with deliberate planning on the part of Satan. Though we might sympathize with the expressed goals of certain political factions, we should not align ourselves with worldly causes, as they find their roots in Satanic belligerence. The instructions God gave to the kings of Israel in Deuteronomy 17:14-20 (that is, the prohibition of appointing non-Israelites to the office and the injunctions against the king's accumulation of wives, horses and wealth) are practical guidelines to protect Israel (past and present) from returning to Egypt-a type of slavery and sin. Had Israel obeyed God, she would never have needed to develop a military-industrial complex because God promised to care for His covenant-keeping people.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, asserting that God is a Creator who enjoys work and places a high value on it, urges us, those created in God's image, to embrace the work ethic and to diligently inculcate it into our children. God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it. God the Father and Jesus Christ have been working continually (having never gone on a vacation) and desire that the energetic, conscientious, focused pursuit of working and creating become a part of our character and the character of our offspring. Training a child to be industrious helps him to be successful, which in turn promotes a stable family, community, and nation and will transfer eternally into God's Kingdom, netting vast rewards as taught by the Parable of the Talents. Neglecting to train our children to be diligent promotes chaos, disorder, and chronic instability. Our industriousness, and that of our children, should be directed outwardly for the good of others and not turned in selfishly on ourselves.
Richard Ritenbaugh continues his exposé of artistic and spiritual resistance, an analogy derived from Stephen Pressfield's The War of Art, a manual designed to overcome artistic resistance and many forms of self-sabotage. The core of self-sabotage is our carnal human nature, which absolutely abhors any change which leads to self-sacrifice or to growth. Human nature is comfortable with the status quo, accepting the domination of Satan's influence and the world. Human nature is enmity (hatred and hostility) against God and His Holy Law. Human nature has instinctive antipathy to anything good. Most of the biblical luminaries, including Moses, Jonah, David, and Gideon demonstrated resistance to God's prompts, indicating that they initially feared men more than they feared God. When we are called, repent, and are baptized, our sins are washed away, but the baggage from our human nature stays with us. Like Gideon, we are tempted to put God repeatedly to the test, in spite of Christ's warning that an evil generation looks for a sign. When we resist God, we, like Peter, risk inadvertently channeling Satan. To actively overcome resistance, we must: (1) not forget God's laws, but etch them on our heart, (2) practice justice, mercy, and lovingkindness, (3) trust God and have faith in Him, and (4) remain humble, running from evil as we would run from a nest of angry hornets. We must put on the whole armor of God in order to stand.
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.
One of the "big questions" of philosophy asks whether human beings are by nature good or evil, and despite a long history of philosophers and theologians weighing in on the subject, people seem to be evenly split on the answer. Richard Ritenbaugh, going to the Bible for God's answer, finds that Scripture is consistent in its description of man's nature.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the verdict of the macabre case in North Carolina, in which a couple had been collecting welfare benefits for an adopted daughter who had been mysteriously missing for two years, concludes that Judge Thomas Schroeder acted within the principles of biblical law, even though the majority of the citizenry would have liked to see the parents executed. Physical evidence failed to convict these scoundrels of anything more than welfare fraud. Real justice can only be based on the truth, potentially dangerous to the perpetrator or the victim. Though the Old and New Testament are complementary to one another, with the apostles directly quoting from the prophets, establishing Jesus Christ's Messianic identity, the emphasis of justice in the New Testament switches from national to personal in scope, from the nation of Israel to the Israel of God (the Church). The New Testament builds on and amplifies the Old Testament. Jesus magnifies the Law, fusing external motor behavior (or deeds) with internal psychological motivation. All sin begins as thought. Matthew 5: 17-20 encapsulates Christ's change in approach, taking the elementary literalist approach of the Pharisees into the real heart of the matter, focusing on what could and should be done on the Sabbath as opposed to what cannot be done. From the New Testament applications amplifying Old Testament principles, we find legal tenets practiced consistently in Israelitish countries, such as the need for two or three witnesses, protection against mob rule, penalties for frivolous lawsuits and hasty litigation, the principle of recompense and equity, conflict of interest considerations, separation of church and state, penalties against collusion, legitimate use of civil rights, and judicial clearing. While we are still learning the ropes of godly judging, we are commanded to refrain from presumptuously passing or executing judgment until Christ gives us our credentials.
John Ritenbaugh warns about conforming to the world by realizing that Satan fine tunes and customizes his deception. Like he had done with the apostle Peter, Satan also wants to sift us as wheat Thankfully, God will not let us be tempted above what we are able. The apostle Paul warns us to be vigilant about the world, not loving its attitudes, mindsets, and frame of mind. Loving (or setting our hearts upon) the world (as opposed to loving the LORD our God or our neighbor as ourselves) and being attached to the world (governed by the spirit and power of the air) is bad business. Loving the world and loving God the Father cannot transpire side by side; we cannot serve two masters. John is referring to spiritual things that have powerful influences on the fleshly appetites. Sin usually begins in the eye because it triggers desire. Pride disengages us from realizing that we are created beings and did not give ourselves abilities, gifts, materials, and tools we have nothing we did not receive. Pride leads to idolatry, the horrible sin which separated Israel from God. The called of God do not fit anywhere in the world; the church is unique—separate from anything in the world; we march to the beat of a different drummer. It is human nature (which is anti-God) to absorb the ways of the world. To the world, we are the 'enemy.' Our focus should be on treasuring our calling, preparing to become teachers in God's Kingdom.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Just this month, a longtime California politician, State Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), who is charged with gun trafficking and corruption for allegedly accepting bribes, suggested that money for political campaigns should come from state coffers because “money just simply corrupts. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting that the greater church of God is different from nominal Christianity in that it embraces the 'Jewish' holy days and ignores Christmas, Halloween, and Easter, rejects the concepts of the Trinity, ever-burning hell, the immortal soul, and eternal security, asserts that many are afraid to associate with us because we appear as a weird and heretical cult. Even our concept of original sin is different from 'mainstream' Christianity. While Calvinists have depicted mankind as totally depraved, we believe that mankind is a mixture of good and evil. We have the ability to do some good. Even those without God's Law have some basic standards of human decency. Calvinists, straining at a handful of 'proof-texts,' believe that original sin is transmitted through blood and genes. Our human nature is neutral at birth, but inclined toward sin because we are born into a sinful environment and are driven by Satanic forces; it is not programmed into our genetic make-up. When Adam and Eve were given the death sentence by God, they also received hope that through the offspring of Eve a Savior (who would bring mankind abundant spiritual life) would be born to crush the head of the serpent, which had previously deceived her. God made coverings for Adam and Eve concealing their shame and guilt, prefiguring the covering for sins which would occur later, and adorned them with raiment, prefiguring the garment of righteous salvation. Our sins have put a barrier between us and God; He has provided a means of reconciliation through the blood of Christ. There is no possibility of a relationship with God where sin exists.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the recent observation of Independence Day, suggests that this event should furnish us with an opportunity to reflect on the philosophies and ideas of the Founding Fathers, including their beliefs about human nature. The Founding Fathers shared the belief, for the most part, that human nature was depraved, shaped by the Calvinistic Protestant doctrine of total depravity and Augustine's notion of original sin, positing that all humans are affected by depravity, and that even the good things in our nature are tainted by evil. Because the Founders knew that government consisted of power, they placed checks and balances in order to protect the electorate against tyranny, with varying lengths of tenure for members of the three branches. The Founding Fathers realized that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Unfortunately, the checks and balances that the Founding Fathers had instituted have severely eroded; carnal human nature has taken control. The secular progressives mistakenly believe that human nature is perfectible, guided by the parameters of evolution. Conservatives tend to believe that human nature is evil and that the best anyone can do is control it. The Bible takes a rather dim view of carnal human nature; we struggle against it until our death. Satan, in the Garden of Eden, turned the minds of our parents against God and onto serving ourselves. We absorb sinful attitudes from our parents, siblings, and the world. The spirit in man is receptive to Satan's negative spirit. Our flesh is essentially selfish, making us vulnerable to carnality. We are commanded to fight against self, society, and Satan through the power of God's Holy Spirit, submitting ourselves as a sacrifice to God, transformed to God's way of life and image, designed to function this way since creation. God cannot create godly character by fiat. Hence, He has given us free moral agency so we can make choices. This factor—the ability to improve or corrupt nature—is controlle
John Ritenbaugh, continuing with his exposé of the world's "original sin" doctrine, asserts that it demonstrates the hopelessly deceitful nature of the human heart. God did not create this vile human nature. God gave Adam and Eve a neutral spirit and free moral agency; our parents presumptuously chose the toxic Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, negatively predisposing their offspring to sin. Human nature is the product of mankind's neutral spirit contaminated with Satan's evil prompts. The apostle Paul realized this prompt or force (another law warring in his members Romans 7:23) ravaging and captivating his mental processes. Everyone is individually responsible for sin. The spirit God initially placed within Adam was very good; Satan contaminated man's heart, but encouraged him to blame God. As God calls us, we are to strive to be holy, or to be like God. Conversely, sin is the departure from God's revealed will (commission or omission). God gives us a new heart and the ability to repent; we must respond to God's efforts to change us. It is a life and death matter. We need to cling intimately to God, earnestly seeking God's forgiveness and guidance to continually make the right choices.
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.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Vanquish the sins at their point of origin, and our deeds will be clean before God. ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: When we are first born, our nature is essentially neutral, not having been affected one way or the other by outside influences. ...
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.
John W. Ritenbaugh: II Corinthians 13:5 charges us with the responsibility of examining ourselves. This is appropriate at any time during the year, but it is especially helpful as we prepare to take the Passover and renew our covenant with God through Jesus Christ. One very important area to search out concerns self-righteousness because it lies at the root of many other sins. ...
John Ritenbaugh observes that although each of God's festivals depicts increasingly larger numbers of people being drawn to God, the counter pulls emanating from sinful carnal human nature war against the prompts of God's Holy Spirit, producing continual conflict. Choosing between these two opposite poles is something we have to contend with daily. If we choose the spiritual pole, moving toward unity with God, we will become unified with others who similarly strive for these same spiritual goals. Without this spiritual contact, we subject ourselves to the second law of thermodynamics: entropy, chaos, and disorganization, but with God's Holy Spirit, we do not have to succumb. According to Lamentations 2, God scattered Judah for their sins. Likewise, God scattered the Worldwide Church of God (possibly using Satan as His agent) mercifully administering painful chastening for our own safety and protection, putting us in venues where we actively have to love and forbear one another. Pride condemned Satan to a fate of using or manipulating rather than serving. This presumptuous self-centered trait belonging to Hillel (later Satan or adversary) creates disunity and ultimate destruction. Unfortunately, several leaders of church groups have adopted these presumptuous competitive traits, arrogantly and disdainfully looking down on other groups within the greater Church of God, completely antithetical to the behavior of John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ. We must follow the example of Abel, humbly doing things on God's terms, rather than the example of Cain, presumptuously doing things on his own terms. Likewise, when we have nothing acceptable to offer to God (Exodus 23:16, Leviticus 22:25, Joshua 5), we cannot presumptuously make an offering.
Despite the many blessings God bestows upon His saints, real Christianity more resembles a running battle against persistent, hostile forces than a leisurely stroll down the path of life. John Ritenbaugh uses the example of ancient Israel in the wilderness to illustrate that God prepares us for spiritual war against the enemies that would keep us from His Kingdom.
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.
Each year, Christians prepare for Passover by engaging in a thorough, spiritual self-examination. An analysis of the apostle Paul's instruction in II Corinthians 13:5 shows us what we need to look for.
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.
Everything we can know is communicated to us in some form. Usually, we are able to identify the sources of these communications through our senses. Yet, as John Ritenbaugh explains, we are also open to invisible communication from the spirit world—communication designed to conform us to "the course of this world."
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that when human beings are born, they are a blank slate with a slight inclination toward self-centeredness. But after living in this world, we become incrementally influenced by both evil spiritual influences and worldly influences. The Apostle Paul describes the gravity of these contrary pulls in Romans 7. Our carnal nature—-the sensual fleshly pulls—unfortunately will pursue us right to our very grave. God commands us to come out of Babylon, giving us spiritual tools and resources to do so, including faith, vision, hope, and love. The media through which these will be supplied are the relationships we have with the Father and the Son. Co-existence with sin is absolutely out of question in the life of a Christian; there is no middle ground. In regard to fornication with the world, God says, "save yourself for our marriage." Sin has an addictive quality incrementally hardening our hearts. Knowing God is the key to eternal life. As communication with God increases, communication with the world must decrease. We, like the Apostle Paul, must follow God's directions and do exactly what we are told, submitting and yielding totally to His will. The only thing that Babylon can communicate to us is sin; we must meticulously extricate ourselves from the world, and continue in the process of communicating with God until we are totally conformed to His image. Everything depends upon who we communicate with through prayer, Bible Study, and meditation.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that we are highly susceptible to negative attitudes from satanic spirit sources. As God and angels are spirit forces, so Satan and his demons are both invisible and immaterial. Words are the medium through which spiritual concepts become lodged in our cerebral cortex. Percepts become concepts through the means of words. Spirit is power and yet there is nothing material there. When spirits (good or bad) communicate with us, thought transfer takes place. Ahab was influenced by a lying spirit and Peter was influenced directly inspired by Satan the Devil. All of us are influenced by the culture of the world, guided and inspired by the prince of the power of the air. Satan has deceived the whole world—including us.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the Father and the Son are two distinct beings, not co-equal as the trinity doctrine proclaims, but having a superior-subordinate relationship, with the Son deferring to the Father in all things. Likewise, we will be in the same God Family, but in subordinate positions to the Father and the Son. The Son provides the blueprint for us, aggressively submitting to the will of the Father, using the Holy Spirit to bring every thought into captivity. Sometimes we may do right and not receive smooth-going, as demonstrated by the harrowing experiences of the apostles. In imitating Christ, we have to learn to endure hardness, battling a life-and-death struggle with our carnal minds, totally submitting to God by walking perpetually in the Spirit, being transformed from carnal nature to the glorious character and image of God. Our submission to the Father and Christ will never end, just as Christ's submission to the Father will never end.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that in terms of excessive hedonistic venal pursuits, vandalism, and violent crime, Halloween brings out the worst aspects of Satan-inspired carnal nature or the works of the flesh. Our outward works telegraph to others and to God what we believe, what we worship, and what we aspire to become. Apart from God, all human thoughts, desires, and human activities (driven by appetite, cravings, and the drive for satisfaction) are potentially destructive, cutting one off from God and leading to death. After our calling, we have the responsibility to break away from our enslavement to human nature and its author—Satan the Devil, striving to "walk in the Spirit." This implies total warfare against the corrupt deeds of the flesh, crucifying our fleshly works. Esau, driven by his appetites, lived by the flesh and reaped bitter fruit, while Joseph lived by the Spirit and received God's blessing.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: "Government, government everywhere" fairly summarizes last week's essay, and we could add, "not an innocent in sight. ...
Leviticus 4 and 5 contain the instructions for the sin and trespass offerings. John Ritenbaugh explains that sin and human nature affect everyone in society—from king to commoner—but God has covered sin from every angle in the sacrifice of His Son.
John Ritenbaugh focusing upon the topic of camouflage, concealment, or deception, warns that Satan, the grand master of deception, has provided what appear to be plausible alternatives to Christ's sacrifice for salvation. We are saved through a combination of the sinless life of Jesus Christ, His sacrifice, and His intercessory work as our High Priest. Some believable counterfeits, which (in many people's minds) compete for Christ's sacrifice and His intercessory priestly work are: (1) service in behalf of the brethren, (2) making a positive change or "turning over a new leaf," (3) right thinking, (4) denying ourselves (asceticism), and (5) sacrifice (even the supreme sacrifice). Though they are required of us, they do not save us. Salvation is the work of Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the essential core of the human heart is evil, self-centered, responding to Satan's wavelength, placing us into slavery and psychological bondage. Our freedom lies in (1) the conviction of God's Holy Spirit of the reality and hideousness of sin (2) a conviction of righteousness (influencing conduct) and (3) a conviction of judgment and retribution. Real repentance and conviction should dramatically augment prayer, study, meditation, but most importantly application.
In this Pentecost message and the conclusion for the "What Does God Really Want?" series, John Ritenbaugh insists that God's Spirit comes first before anyone is empowered to do anything. God's gifts are in reality tools to do His work. In every situation, God provides the gift before it is actually needed so that when it is needed, everything is prepared for the person to do as he has been commissioned to do. As God had handpicked Bezaleel and Aholiab, He knows exactly whom He wants to do His work and will empower that person with spiritual gifts to carry it out.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that unless the splinters of the greater church of God repair their mangled relationships with the Almighty, recoupling will be impossible. A major contributory factor in the scattering is the deceitful heart of man (Jeremiah 17:9) and carnal nature (Romans 8:7) which attempts to substitute charm and social skills (passing it off as conversion) for sincerity and a contrite heart (Psalm 51:17, Isaiah 66:3). Because God's scrutiny penetrates right through to the inner heart (I Samuel 16:7), it is foolish and pointless to use the same duplicity toward Him as we use to deceive others and sadly, even ourselves.
This world lauds warmakers, but God says that peacemakers are blessed. John Ritenbaugh explains the beatitude in Matthew 5:9.
Purity before God is far more than just being clean. John Ritenbaugh explains that to Jesus being pure in heart touches on the very holiness of God!
John Ritenbaugh takes issue with the popularly held notion that preaching the Gospel to the world as a witness is the sole identifying mark of God's church. There is a vast difference between "preaching the Gospel to the world" and "making disciples"- the major focus in Matthew 28:20. The largest portion of the great commission demands that the lion's share of time, money, or energy ought to be invested in feeding the flock. With the present scattering of the church, engineered by Almighty God (not Satan) in response to our sick, rebellious, and unsound condition, our major obligation at this time should be to heal its wounds and to point it in the direction of repentance, overcoming, and growth. God indeed wants unity, but it has to be on His terms.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes the spiritual dimension of the mark of the beast, warning that because we have been immersed in Satan's system (Ephesians 2:1-2), we already have the mark branded into our minds and behavior (Romans 8:7). Our concern after our calling is to, with the help of God's Holy Spirit, overcome and get rid of that foul spirit's enslaving hold on us. Anger and hostility, driven by self-centered competitive pride constitute Satan's family characteristics, his spiritual mark on us (John 8:44), dividing nations, ethnic groups, families, as well as the greater church of God. Contrasted to the hostile, cunning, predatory nature of adversarial beasts (leopards, lions, serpents, and fire-breathing dragons), our Elder Brother, serving as our example, adopted a lamb-like meekness, making peace right to the death. (I Peter 2:21-23).
Of all the fruit of the Spirit, God may have left the most difficult for last! Has anyone, other than Jesus Christ, really exhibited self-control? In the end, however, this is the ultimate aim of growing in the character of Almighty God!
In this introductory article to a series on the fruit of the Spirit, John Ritenbaugh explains how the Bible approaches fruit symbolically, what it means to bear fruit, and the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
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.
Have you ever considered what it will be like right after Christ returns? What will you do, as a king, to help and govern the people placed under you? Believe it or not, you are already developing those skills!
No act is insignificant because of two "natural" principles: the tendency for increase and what is sown is reaped. John Ritenbaugh shows that in regard to sin and righteousness, these principles play major roles in our lives.
Eternal life, emphasizing a special intimate relationship with God the Father and Christ, is vastly different from immortality, connoting only endless existence. John Ritenbaugh suggests that we have been called to a state of fellowship and a quality of life which has not been made available to the rest of mankind- a fellowship higher than the intimacy of marriage- a God-plane relationship we can experience right now (John 5:24) if we seek His will and keep His commandments, loving the same things and hating the same things God does, constantly overcoming, and fellowshipping with His called-out saints.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that even though sin offers temporal and fleeting pleasure, we must learn to intensely hate sin, regarding this product of Satan as a destroyer of everything God loves and cherishes. We will ultimately be judged on what we have done with what we have been given, living what we know, and intensely striving to emulate God- the essence of love. If we sin, we love neither God nor ourselves. Sin corrosively destroys innocence, ideals, and willpower, replacing these qualities with hardness, slavery, more sin, degeneracy, and ultimately death.
John Ritenbaugh warns that human nature will degenerate as far as it is allowed. It has the tendency to quickly adapt to its environment, "adjusting" effortlessly to immorality and perversion. The conscience'the response of man's moral awareness to the divine revelation concerning himself, his attitudes, and his activities, restraining and permitting behavior (Romans 2:14)'is a function of a person's education, not instinctual. False doctrine causes a person to corrupt his conscience, making him tolerate and accept immorality. The conscience will automatically slide into the gutter (becoming hardened or addicted to sin) if God is not retained in our thoughts (Romans 1:21, Ezekiel 20:23-25). Conversely, if the heart accepts the truth, the conscience will follow suit. After we are converted and transfer our allegiance from the flesh to the spirit, the conscience (with feelings subordinated to rationality) gradually becomes tender, adjusting to God's standards.
The seventh and last of the attitudes within the church, Laodiceanism is the attitude that dominates the era of the end time. It seems more natural to think that this attitude would be the least likely to dominate in such terrible times—that it ought to be obvious that the return of Christ is near. But Christ prophesies that it will occur. In fact, it indicates the power of Babylon! Why does Babylon dominate the church in the end time? Because it dominates the world, and the Christian permits it to dominate him!
In this sermon on the admonitions of I Corinthians 10, John Ritenbaugh warns that, like our forebears, we can lose our salvation if we live a life of divided loyalty even though we have mechanically and physically gone through the ordinances. Like the Old Testament examples, the Corinthians also developed a careless presumption (having its roots in pride), allowing themselves to be drawn to lust, fornicate, tempt God, and murmur. We need to soberly reflect on these examples, finding parallels in our own lives.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the operation of God's government absolutely depends on each person governing himself, never going beyond the boundaries God has given him. Human nature always wants to break free of those boundaries. Through our entire lives, we need to study diligently to find out what our responsibilities are to God and fellow man, developing godly character. Godly character and human nature will be perpetually at war with one another as long as we are in the flesh. All the experiences we go through are preparing us to be a better judge or king. While we are being judged, though we may exercise righteous judgment, we dare not pass judgment nor justify sin in ourselves. Spiritual maturity comes when we accept responsibility for what we are and have done.
Some of us may have been disturbed, maybe angered, because our sense of fairness is disrupted by what God did in the past. We have difficulty with this because we do not understand holiness, justice, sin, and grace. All four of these interact, and it is important that we understand the relationship between them. However, one thing is certain. None of us has ever received the slightest injustice from the hand of God. As we grow in understanding and humility, we begin to see that we have received an overwhelming abundance of grace.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that confusion or lack of peace is the clear fruit of Satan's involvement. It is nearly impossible for righteousness to be produced in an environment of instability and disharmony brought about by selfish ambition, competition, and bitter envy. In confronting our wily adversary, we must maintain constant vigilance, resisting unlawful desires, not allowing Satan to have a bridgehead in our emotions. Satan consistently works on our fear of being denied some form of pleasure. If we stay loyal to God, resisting Satan as Job did, Satan's power over us will be broken. Resistance must begin in the mind and thought processes where demonic influences try to persuade us to entertain ideas exalting ourselves over the truth or knowledge of God.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the spirit in man God has given us is initially good, but capable of being molded, influenced by the spirit of this world, and surcharged with Satan's negative attitudes. Consequently, God makes available His Holy Spirit to discern those things we cannot detect by our five senses. Angels are continually working within our environment, stirring up the human spirit, and making sure God's purposes are being established. By God's Spirit, we can detect the subtle influences of Satan, who concentrates on the lusts of our flesh, broadcasting self-indulgent impulses to those who are tuned in. The only way to block this signal is to tune him out (Galatians 5:19-21), discerning the bitter, sullen fruits of his thinking.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that working out our salvation does not mean working for salvation, but instead making what we believe operational. God, through His Spirit gives us the power both to will and to do. Paul admonishes the Philippians that nothing blemishes or disfigures their witness more than complaining, because like the ancient Israelites, they (and we) are actually calling God into account. Like Paul, we must consider our daily life a living sacrifice to perform whatever God demands of us. God desires that His witness extend from the written word to actual personalities performing and demonstrating His will — examples of living God's word. Without a living personality, the words just don't have the same effect. Paul, by establishing Epaproditus' credentials, punctuates or amplifies the intent of his written message.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the seed analogy of Jesus in John 12:24, emphasizes that sacrifice is absolutely necessary (the seed must give up its life) in order for quality fruit to be produced. Using this seed planting analogy, Jesus teaches that, as a seed must be planted, dying to itself in order to bear fruit, we similarly must sacrifice our lives- submitting our wills unconditionally to God's will in order to bear abundant fruit, attaining the abundant life we deeply crave. Conversely, if we try to placate the natural carnal lusts, we will not bear good fruit. After we die to sin in the waters of baptism, we no longer dedicate ourselves to satisfying our carnal drives, but instead to submit to God, who engineers the process of our spiritual growth into a new spiritual creation, children of light, reflecting the characteristics of our spiritual Parent. Keeping God's Commandments leads to spiritual insight and light, but breaking them leads to spiritual blindness and darkness. There is no neutrality in following God's Word. John 13:1-17 provides an unusual insight into the very mind of God, exemplified as a serving "footwashing" attitude, demonstrating servant leadership toward His creation, an attitude and behavior we are obligated to emulate. The essence of love is sacrifice.
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