David Grabbe, claiming that the command to take up the cross has been sullied, tainted, and moreover smeared by Protestant heretical syrup, insists that the venerating of the cross (explicitly violating the Second Commandment) pre-dated Christianity by several centuries, having served as the monogram for the Babylonian god Tammuz. Early Christianity made no use of the cross until the time of Constantine, who foisted it off as a kind of good luck charm. Alexander Hislop, in his book The Two Babylons, claims that virtually all pagan religions incorporate some form of the cross in their worship. Logically, it seems sick or depraved to exalt an instrument of torture in order to worship. Scriptural references indicate Christ may have been executed on a tree; hence the staros he carried could have been a heavy beam, evidently to be fastened to a tree. In this sense, the cross represents a burden, emphasizing that there is a sacrifice or cost we experience when following Him. Bearing our cross means our time on this earth is virtually finished, that we are willing to give up our lives, emulating the life of our Savior. When we follow His example, we find our family and friends rapidly cool in their affections for us, helping us realize there is a cost to following Him. God's Law is not the burden, but instead the burden is the feeling our carnal nature experiences as being "put upon," but ironically, the more we enthusiastically and wholeheartedly embrace God's way, the deeper the sense of peace we feel for the strength to endure this burden. Paradoxically, if we are willing to lose our life for His sake, mortifying the flesh and crucifying our carnality daily, we will gain a far more abundant life and moreover, life eternal—a precious insight that the foolish, carnal mind regards as rubbish.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the metaphorical aspects of work and walking, suggests that these activities play a major role in overcoming and sanctification. We must have a higher regard for Christian works than our everyday job, realizing that work is a wholesome activity toward the production of something. The first picture we see of God is that He is working or creating. If we are going to be in the Kingdom of God, work is important. Adam was never granted a welfare existence. The command to work preceded Adam and Eve's sin. The curse was not defined as "having to work," but the curse of thorns and thistles made work more difficult. Solomon emphasized in Ecclesiastes 2 that we should enjoy and derive pleasure from our work. The way that we work is a visible witness of God before the world. Technically, we do not work for our employer, but for God. We serve as Jesus Christ's bond-slave. We work for Jesus Christ regardless of what our daily tasks are; we must assiduously avoid indolence or laziness, but instead to be profitable servants. Profitability applies just as much to the attaining of skill as attaining money. The body of Jesus Christ has many skilled functions; not everyone has the same function. We can hone our skills in prayer, Bible study, and meditation, systematically involving all of our sense modalities, compiling notes and study references, making our studying time incrementally more valuable. Work does involve sacrifice of time and energy in order to produce value; we give up our entire lives to produce profit. Work is a costly investment of our life producing a profit for God.
If you knew you would live forever, how would you live? John Ritenbaugh explains that, biblically, eternal life is much more than living forever: It is living as God lives!
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 reiterates that God's called-out ones must perpetually walk a razor's edge with the allurement of the world (leading to death) on one side and the love of God (leading to eternal life) on the other. At birth, human nature is relatively neutral, with a slightly stronger pull to the self. Inspired by the prince and power of the air (Ephesians 2:2-3), the prevailing Zeitgesist(the dominant spirit or mindset of the time) pulls the believer away from the love of God (and immortality) to the world (and death). The element which will tip the scale toward following God (there is no quick fix to conversion) is to displace the love for the world with the love for God(a gift from God flowing from His Holy Spirit - Romans 5:5) and setting our hearts on spiritual treasures (Matthew 6:19-20).
We all have hungers, from a desire for certain foods to a yearning for success. What should a Christian hunger for? John Reid explains Matthew 5:6: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
John Ritenbaugh explains the significance of "the fellowship of His sufferings" and "being conformed to His death" (Philippians 3:10). Christ's death had both a substitutionary and a representative aspect. The former pays for our sins, but the latter provides an example (He is the archegos) that we must emulate or imitate. When we obligate ourselves (something God cannot do for us) to mortify the flesh (Romans 8:13), refusing to feed the hungry beast of our carnal nature and killing the old man, we suffer the ravaging effects of sin. Experiencing suffering for righteousness' sake accelerates our spiritual growth and enables us to know Christ.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the Word of God is not ever improved by syncretizing or alloying it with human philosophy, a pattern of reasoning which often begins with a faulty or dangerous premise. The Gnostics criticized by Paul in Colossians 2:16-17 were guilty of bringing in ritualistic ascetic discipline to propitiate demons. While Paul never criticized self-discipline and rigor, he did condemn the practice if it did not emanate from Jesus Christ and if it contaminated the keeping of the Sabbath or Holy Days. God is not merely interested in what we do, but why we do the thing. Some misguided scholars, looking at the "touch not, taste not" phrase, assume that God is not careful about rules. They ignore the context in which Paul condemns an attractive self-disciplining mind control regime or system (Gnosticism) totally cut off from the Headship of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that we do not have immortality as a birthright (the lie which Satan told Eve), but that God is the sole source, making our relationship with God and God's judgment the most important focus of our life. One common denominator in all four Gospels is that a parallel exists between our lives and what Christ experienced on the earth. As part of Christ's body (I Corinthians 12:14-15), we all experience together what Christ experienced (crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and glorification- Romans 8:17). The death of self (Romans 8:13 and Galatians 3:5) must absolutely precede the resurrection to life (Romans 6:5).
In this sermon on overcoming Satan, 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 (James 3:16) In confronting our wily adversary (the source of all this confusion), we must maintain constant vigilance (James 4:7, I Peter 3:5-8), 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 (I John 3:8, 5:18). Resistance must begin in the mind and thought processes (II Corinthians 10:3-5) where demonic influences try to persuade us to entertain ideas exalting ourselves over the truth or knowledge of God.
John Ritenbaugh warns that Satan's modus operandi has always been to use a lie to promote self-satisfaction over obedience to God. Like the Messiah, we must learn that the way to the kingdom is through self-denial rather than self-satisfaction. We are particularly vulnerable to Satan's disinformation when we feel we are not getting what we deserve or are being treated unfairly. In a world we perceive to be unfair, we need to emulate Christ who endured unfair treatment, suffering for righteousness sake all the way to his death, without complaining (I Peter 2:20-21) The major cause for the confusion and division of the Corinthian church (and the greater church of God) was Satan-inspired self-exaltation, finding excuses other than sin not to fellowship. The opposite of love is not so much hate ? but self-centeredness.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on eight conclusions regarding fleeing and the Place of Safety: 1) There will be a geographical separation of the church. 2) We can be worthy to escape the Tribulation. 3) Lukewarm fence-sitters will go into the fire of tribulation for purification. 4) Faithful people are generally assured protection from the hour of trial. 5) The Bible is purposely vague about the specifics of the Place of Safety. 6) Obsessing about the Place of Safety is a sure way to disqualify oneself from it. 7) God calls some faithful, zealous ones for martyrdom during the Tribulation. 8) If we make the Kingdom of God our focus, being faithful day by day, yielding to God's purpose for us, He will faithfully supply all our needs.
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.
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