John Ritenbaugh, reacting to the secularist's complaint about God's failure to make clear His purpose, assures us that no one has any excuse for doubting God's existence or His carefully crafted purpose for mankind, whether revealed publicly through His Creation or privately to His people through the Holy Scriptures. Paul rejected the complaints of those Jews who decried God's calling of the gentiles. Similarly, secularists presumptuously skate on thin ice when they demand that God explain His purposes. The biggest obstacle in understanding God's purpose for our lives is our carnal mind (described in Romans 8:5-8) which prefers the phantom of perpetual control over the blessing promised by submitting to God. The Scriptures provide ample evidence as to God's purpose, including the account of the earth's creation and the joint planning of two personalities in the God family. All creatures designed by the Word reproduce after their kind, demonstrating a pattern through which the God family would also reproduce after its kind. God's ultimate purpose for mankind is clearly proclaimed in His Word, indicating that God the Father (in His special love for mankind created in His image) had already, having a foreknowledge of man's behavior, planned the redeeming death of His Son from before the foundation of the world. Christ's death for our sins was already in the blueprints from the foundation of this world's system. As Christ's death was pre-ordained, our calling was also orchestrated from the foundation of the world with the standards of judgment and qualification clear. Paul teaches us that God ardently planned our calling, our access to His Holy Spirit, and our future destiny as members of His family.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon I Corinthians 4:6, examines the contexts in which human reason has been misapplied to God's nature. The Catholic Encyclopedia admits that there is scant biblical evidence for a trinity, but that it is "substantiated" by "Christological speculation" only. This fallacious doctrine claims there are three co-equal Beings in the God-Head. Yet, A.E. Knoch in Christ as Deity, drawing more closely on Scripture, affirms that the Father is the source of everything, and the Son is the channel through which He carries out His purpose. By His own words, Christ asserts that the Father is superior to Him (though They are one in purpose and mind). Christ is the only means through which we can receive the knowledge of God, revealing the image, mind, purpose, and character of the invisible, immortal Father. As the Son projects the image of the Father, God wants to fill the entire universe with images that conform to the Son.
John Ritenbaugh explores the different nuances of the verb "know," indicating that to know God requires experience, positive emotional responses, and the involvement with the whole person. Unlike merely "knowing about" (book knowledge), we don't really know something unless we have done it. Knowing God manifests itself in the way one lives, reflecting faithfulness and true obedience.Knowing God is to live as God lives if God were a man, applying instinctively or habitually the myriad principles of His instruction (Torah), merging experientially thinking and doing. Eternal life is to know God, living as God lives.
Having knowledge of God's law is not a guarantee of spiritual success or growth. Only those motivated to use the law will experience growth and produce fruit. The fear of God is the first element of motivation, ranging from reverential awe to stark terror. Fearing God leads to a determination not to bring shame on God's name or offending and hurting the relationship between God and us. We have to, like Nehemiah, who in his determination not to offend God, developed self control, refusing to conform to the corrupt practices of the world, unlike the procurator Felix, who cowardly capitulated to the tyranny of the majority.
Using primarily the story of Joseph, John Ritenbaugh expounds the lessons we can learn and the encouragement we can glean from God's dealings with men during the time of the Feast of Trumpets.
John Ritenbaugh, citing Romans 1:20, reiterates that the invisible things of God are clearly seen through the things that are made. The numerous scriptural references to angelic beings (experiences of Abraham, Lot, and Daniel and the references to Michael, Gabriel, and Satan (the Prince of Persia) indicate that the spiritual entities have tangible substance. The main proof text of the "no parts, no shape or form" teaching (John 4:24), far from teaching that God has no body, indicates that spiritual substance is just as real as natural substance, except that it is a much higher type of matter, governed by higher laws including refined feelings, emotions, and thoughts. We have abundant testimony from the both the special revelation (God's Word) and the general revelation (the Creation) that God and angels are not universal nothingness floating around in nowhere.
Laziness and fear are the greatest challenges to love. When Protestant theologians disparage "works," connecting them to salvation rather than sanctification and growth, they encourage spiritual laziness. If we are lazy, we might still be saved, but we will have built nothing to fulfill God's purpose in us. If we refuse to work hard at character building, the principle of entropy will turn our efforts into a state of disorganization. If we make no effort to overcome, the principle of inertia will keep us going in the same way we have allowed ourselves to drift. An irrational fear of loss prevents the development of agape love within us—we fear that keeping God's commandments will cause us to lose something valuable. Like a musician who practices everyday, by continual effort at commandment keeping, we will soon develop feelings of confidence by knowing what we are doing is right (I John 3:17-19; John 15:9-10).
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the emotional dimension of love, reiterating that love doesn't become 'love' until the thought, or the feeling, motivates the person to act. Love is an act. If we don't do what is right, the right feeling will never be formed, because emotions are largely developed by our experiences. The right emotions require God's Holy Spirit. Like a marriage relationship, our relationship with God grows more and more intimate as we give it time and attention, conforming to the other person's preferences in the relationship. We are never going to know God unless we do the same kinds of things with Him, keeping His Commandments, devoting time to prayer, Bible study, and meditation. If we are working on our relationship with God (giving it our time and attention), then God's love for us will be reciprocated back to Him in the form of obedience, totally trusting in Him to shape our lives for His purpose.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that love is not a feeling, but an action- defined by John as keeping God's commandments (I John 2:3), the only means by which we can possibly know Him, leading to eternal life. While what humans consider love is self-centered and carnal, God's love is essentially others-centered. When God begins the love cycle, by His Spirit, He gives us His love; then it only becomes matured in us as we use it (loving God and loving our neighbor by the keeping of His Commandments). If we don't use it, then it bounces off from us and nothing is accomplished. Using God's love may be compared to learning to skate; the more we use it the stronger it gets. Beginning as a feeling, it doesn't become love until an action is taken.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Jesus' reluctance to go immediately to Lazarus, suggests that He intended to impress upon His close friends, Mary and Martha, the gravity of sin's consequences. The example also forcefully illustrates that Jesus (reflecting God the Father) keeps His own timetable; nobody pushes Him. The issue of fear of death is addressed in this study, with the conclusion that trust in God's ability to resurrect can neutralize this most basic universal debilitating fear, a fear that increases exponentially the older we get. Christ gives us the assurance that death is not the end. Internalizing this assurance opens the way to the abundant life, enabling us to live boldly, conquering, with God's help, the fear of death. Our approach at that point will become God-centered rather than self-centered. The episode of Jesus' weeping emphasizes that God has emotions, revealing anger, compassion, and empathy. The resurrection of Lazarus, the last of the seven signs Jesus performed before His death, proved to be the last straw for the religious leaders, who became motivated to crucify Him.