John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that most professing Christians are aware of the New Covenant, cautions us not to fall prey to the insidious error that much of the Protestant—especially the evangelical—world teaches. The error lies in misconstruing the significance of the New Covenant as a 'free pass into Heaven' without paying attention to the Law which, detractors almost universally claim, has been done away. Protestants ignore the description of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:10-11, where God says He will "hard-wire" His Law into peoples' minds after a thoroughgoing transforming and renewing of those minds during sanctification, demanded as a part of our living sacrifice. Acceptance of the terms of this New Covenant may appear as insurmountable hurdles to the carnal mind. We are required to give up anything (family, esteem from friends and associates, fame, wealth, etc.) which conflicts with our loyalty to Jesus Christ and God the Father. We are obliged to soberly count the cost before we leap, realizing we have formidable enemies (both spiritual and physical) to conquer as well as continuous obstacles to overcome, for which we will need prodigious quantities of God's precious Holy Spirit. Like the apostle Paul, we must be willing to forego any attractions to fame, prestige, or influence if they conflict with God's divine purpose for us, considering these previous desires rubbish. Sanctification is not passive, but it is a rigorously active process in which God requires our full participation, yielding to His molding. We must put God before family, friends, and self. God will not create our spiritual character by fiat; we must be thoroughly involved in the process, keeping and meditating upon His Holy Law, making it our first nature instead of our second nature. We must look before we leap, but we must leap in the right direction and at the right time, setting our minds on things above, walking in the spirit and not in the flesh.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the myriad infomercials offering systems and formulae for success, from making money by flipping real estate or improving our golf score, focuses on the winning playbooks of several professional football coaches, drawing the spiritual analogy that we must be willing to be team players, yielding our private ambitions and desires for the good of the team. It is the coach's prerogative to expect that we conform to his playbook. We are obligated to transform or change our game to please our coach. For God's called-out ones, this mandate becomes challenging because the world desperately wants to squeeze us into its mold. It is far easier to conform to the world than to conform to Christ. We must extricate ourselves from the walking dead and yield to God to renew our minds, living in the spirit rather than in the flesh. Four major warning signs caution us that we have come too close to compromising with the world. 1) We discover there is a serious change in our prayer and/or Bible study habits. 2) We find ourselves withdrawing from fellowship with the brethren—tantamount to withdrawing from God. 3) We find ourselves seeking praise from those in the world. 4) We begin to look to the world for solutions to problems. We need to remember that Christ, not our human reason, is the Way.
In the gospel accounts, the Pharisees receive the lion's share of Christ's correction for their blatant hypocrisy, and they have become a byword for that sin. Martin Collins explores the extent of this sin, which can reach to the point of the unpardonable sin, and suggests how we can overcome it.
The paradox that Solomon mentions in Ecclesiastes 7:15-18 is not in itself a difficult concept. The problem is that Solomon provides little in terms of an answer to the spiritual dangers that can arise from it. John Ritenbaugh reveals that a Christian's peril lies in his possible reactions to the paradox—the most serious of which is an impulsive lurch into super-righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that Christ died to free us from fear of eternal death, reminds us that we nevertheless have the obligation to prepare for our physical death. When Jesus Christ holds the power over fear of death, we are delivered from the bondage of the terror of eternal death. In Ecclesiastes 7, Solomon gives a series of "this is better than that" observations, with the common denominator that wisdom seems to carry more sadness and sorrow than mirth or foolishness, placing a higher value on rebuke than on praise. Even a rebuke from an enemy, which may rouse our anger or resentment, may be valuable for our character development. Both David and our Savior Jesus Christ endured rebuke without retaliating. Retaliation as a response to rebuke is a sure sign of character deficit. Some counsel resembles the useless fuel function of thorns—a quick burst of light, but very little heat. Accepting rebuke often takes more humility than we may have. Rebuke from a wise or righteous person, though painful, is motivated by love and caring concern. The Book of Ecclesiastes was written for converted people, not for the world. Only through a proper perspective of the reality of physical (and eternal) death can a person actually prepare for his ultimate fate. The apostle Paul could not have grown spiritually if he had not received a series of painful rebukes, accompanied by a low quality of life. Paul was able to see the big picture, realizing the end was better than the beginning as long as he was faithful. Because of his faithful endurance of godly rebuke, Paul's reputation following his death transcended anything he experienced in his lifetime.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Last night, my family attended our nephew’s preschool graduation ceremony from a school sponsored by a local church. The five-year-olds were adorable in their blue or red graduation caps and gowns, ...
Jesus' walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee may be the best-known of His astounding miracles. Martin Collins examines both the miracle and the context, showing that this incident and Jesus' calming words to the disciples unmistakably declared to them just who Jesus really was.
The biblical city of Smyrna, whose church received one of Christ's seven letters in Revelation 2 and 3, may be one that Bible students know the least about. In explaining Jesus' message to this church, David Grabbe shows how the city's name helps to reveal the themes that the Head of the church wants us to understand as His return nears.
Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on the Pharisees, analyzes the reasons for their continuous condemnation. Having their origin in the days of Ezra, the Scribes and Pharisees were extremely zealous for the law, separating themselves for this exclusive purpose. Over time, this originally noble purpose devolved into a rigid, exclusivist sect, separating themselves from foreigners, heretics, or base people, manufacturing strict, repressive rules for the Sabbath; supporting and detailing the Temple service; and promoting strict observance of the tithing laws. As the teachers of the people, they held a great deal of power, which soon became corrupt, turning them into arrogant, desiccated legalists, ignoring the redemptive aspects of God's law. Pharisees sought after signs, interminably multiplied regulations concerning ceremonially clean and unclean, and developed elaborate regulations for washings, actually leading to the breaking of God's law.
The meal offering represents another aspect of the perfect offering of Jesus Christ. John Ritenbaugh shows that it symbolizes the perfect fulfillment of the second great commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
John Ritenbaugh points out that when people do not have the fear of God, they drift away from Him. At the first Pentecost, only a fraction of Christ's total audience (about 120) were left, those who feared God, trembled at His word, and were really committed. After the Spirit of God is imparted, removing the pernicious fear of men and installing the life-sustaining fear of God, the real dramatic growth takes place- the sanctification process- a time we (with a poor and contrite spirit) use the fear of God as the prime motivator (coupled with the love of God) to move us from carnal to spiritual-from profane to holy. The fear of God keeps us from doing stupid things like sinning, enabling God's love to do its work. Knowing the terror of the Lord (as a consuming fire) should always be a part of our thinking. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil. The fear of God draws us toward Him.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes, that like Moses, Paul, James, and Joshua, all of us have been called to be faithful stewards of God, endowed with gifts to serve the congregation. Like Moses, we have to develop conviction, a product of a relationship of God, established by being faithful day by day in the little things of life. Never in the history of the Bible has anyone given up more material possessions and power as Moses had to serve God. Nevertheless, it took God 40 years (a time when his preferences gradually became transformed into rock-solid convictions) to bring Moses to the humble position where He could profitably use Moses to be His servant. Like Moses, Abraham and Sarah, we have to learn to synchronize our timetables with God's (Genesis 18:14, Daniel 8:17-19) God sets the schedule.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the persecution of the apostles in the fourth chapter. Peter, inspired by God's Holy Spirit, demonstrated exemplary boldness and courage before the Sadducees (zealous influential movers and shakers of the Jewish community, descendents of the Maccabees), religious leaders who feared losing their power and influence. Peter, John, and the early church had confidence in God's absolute sovereignty, realizing that no human authority could thwart God's power. This powerful conviction gave them confidence to endure their trials, submitting to whatever God had prepared for them, realizing that God uses trials to further His ultimate purpose for them. The last portion of this chapter illustrates the exemplary, voluntary generosity exhibited in the early church.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the healing of the man at Bethesda, cautions that when God removes an infirmity or gives a blessing, He also gives a responsibility to follow through, using the blessing to overcome and glorify God in the process. As Jesus healed this man, He continued to reveal His identity as the prophesied Messiah, reflecting God the Father's proclivity to work ceaselessly on behalf of His creation, extending mercy and relieving burdens, traits we must emulate as God's children. Through total submission to the mind, will, and purpose of God the Father, Jesus (being totally at one in body, mind, and spirit) attained the identity and the power of God. Obedience (submitting to God's will) proves our belief and faith. If we compare ourselves to men, we become self-satisfied or prideful and no change will occur in our lives, but if we compare ourselves to God, we feel painfully discontent, and will fervently desire to yield to God's power to change us, transforming us into His image. Understanding the Bible will never take place until we yield unconditionally to its instruction. As metaphorical lamps ignited by God's Spirit, we must be willing to be consumed in His service.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the episode in Matthew 20, in which Jesus was deep in thought, reflecting on the prophecies leading up to His crucifixion. At this point, His disciples were not converted, but displayed considerable carnality. The mother of two of the disciples asked for places of honor for her sons; none of the disciples had even an inkling of servant leadership. True greatness does not come from dominance but from serving and sacrificing with the attitude of a slave. Love is sacrificial. Willingness to sacrifice self is the secret to success in God's plan for us. If we would sacrifice instead of attempting to dominate one another, our marriages would be successes. Drinking ones cup is emblematic of enduring whatever we must go through, different for every human being. Our cup is to follow Christ in any situation, supreme sacrifice or lifelong commitment, acting how He would act. No one can really count the cost in advance. When the opportunity comes to learn spiritual truths, we must seize the opportunity as aggressively and boldly as the two blind men sought healing, rejecting any inkling of timidity. In our prayers, we must come before the throne of God boldly and then show gratitude for His response. God is not against doing something dramatic once in awhile in order to make an impact. When He made His entry into Jerusalem, it possibly attracted the attention of 2 ½ million people, most of them visitors. Evidently this event had been planned rather than done on the spur of the moment. His arrival prompted the overwhelming response "Hosanna" or "save now." The crowd was selecting the Lamb to be sacrificed. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Matthew 7:13-14, observes that life consists of a series of choices—often a dilemma of a pleasurable choice on one hand, and a daunting difficult choice on the other. It seems as though God Almighty and Jesus Christ invariably want us to make the more difficult choice, insuring seemingly the maximum spiritual growth and character development. Moses took the difficult way, forsaking the adulation of leadership in Egypt, becoming the leader of a rag-tag group of disgruntled slaves. Our daily choices (small and large) are based upon the same principle. Sometimes our choices are quite costly, putting our careers and opportunities on the line in order to follow God. Some of the choices we make consist of discerning true ministers from false ministers and discerning the fruits of false religion. We need to develop and maintain an intense love for the truth, by faith developing vision and foresight of future consequences. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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