Martin Collins points out that our Savior has a tender spot for those who are weak in the faith but are doggedly struggling to hold fast to what they believe. People sometimes unfairly brand others who display a one-time weakness, as in the case of "Doubting Thomas," who demanded empirical evidence of Christ's resurrection. We forget that it was Thomas who boldly encouraged his fellow disciples to risk death by returning to Bethany for Lazarus' funeral. We forget that all the disciples who abandoned their Master expressed doubt until they themselves had a higher level of tangible evidence than hearsay. While all the disciples were in a brain fog as to where Christ was going following His impending betrayal and crucifixion, Thomas was not afraid to expose his ignorance. Thomas realized that to follow Christ involved denial of self and a willingness to die. The principle of death and denial is hard for us to apply because many things—fame, fortune, and power—compete to take the place of God's purpose for us. We must learn to say no to anything which goes against God's purpose. When we give up trying to run our own lives, we find the contentment of living the productive life God has prepared for us. Jesus' deliberately delayed His return to Bethany until Lazarus had died so that He could bolster the faith of Martha and His disciples, as well as His called-out ones today. Like Martha, we must allow Christ to transform our basic faith into an absolute trust in God's purpose for us.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that God works in mysterious ways, assures us that, because of God's calling, we have a far clearer understanding of His purposes than those yet uncalled. Powered by the spirit in man, no individual is able to understand God, as witnessed by the consistently antagonistic reaction of the Pharisees and scribes to God's truth, as explained to them by Christ. To those called, the Bible is no mystery, but to the world at large, it seems inscrutable. For His Own reasons, God has chosen not to reveal His plan to those the world considers wise, but, instead, to work with the weaker sort of mankind. God told Cain how to overcome sin when He rejected his offering: Namely, we must wrest the control sin has over us at the formative stage of desire. Timing is crucial. We should never allow sin to escape its incipient stage of desire. Most of 'Christendom' fails to realize that God has called us to do battle with our carnal natures, a cross we bear until He resurrects us as spirit beings. At our baptism, He counsels us to soberly count the cost, asking ourselves if we are willing to give up everything, including our lives, to conform to Christ's image, becoming a new creation in the process. Even with God's initial gift of His Holy Spirit, we cannot form an on-going, growing relationship with God unless He continually strengthens us with additional gifting—more grace.
Ronny Graham, acknowledging that God has chosen the weak and base things of the world to confound the wise, analyzes the commonalities of heroes who have emerged from common people and who sacrifice their personal concerns for the greater good. We recognize first responders (policemen, firemen, and soldiers) who routinely risk their lives to help others. Irena Sendler, the brave woman who smuggled 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto, Henry Erwin, scalded by a flare he pulled out of the failed bomber hatch, and Arland Williams Jr, who assisted in the saving of the survivors of a downed aircraft but who drowned before rescuers could reach him, all exemplify heroes. The Roman historian Plutarch identified compassion for others as the common link for all acts of heroism. Sympathetic compassion for others motivated Winston Churchill, Joseph, Jephthah, and most significantly, Our Savior Jesus Christ, who sacrificed His life to redeem humanity. We need to emulate our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, making the exercise of sacrificial compassion a daily activity.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that God does not do things uselessly, and certainly does not need our physical goods, examines the role of the offering and sacrifice rehearsed at each Holy Day. The nouns offering and sacrifice derive from two separate Greek words meaning "to bring forth" and "to kill" respectively. In Romans 12:1, God demands a living sacrifice which constitutes our reasonable service. The offering reminds us that we are to bring something forward to the altar to be sacrificed. We must choose to be killed through our obedience, daily mortifying the old man, who ghoulishly struggles to come back to life. We must be diligent in slaying our carnal nature and diligently loving God by keeping His commandments. The Apostle Paul gives us a success formula in presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice in I Corinthians 9:23-27, where he states that: (1) We must realize the challenges we face are beyond our understanding and natural abilities, (2) We must determine to trust God. (3) We know we are not now perfect, but we must give our all. (4) We must understand that though God is merciful, we dare not squander our calling. (5) We race against ourselves and should allow ourselves no excuses for failure. (6) We must envision the reward, realizing that we will be rewarded on how well we do. (7) We need to know that Christ is with us the entire way. Being a living sacrifice produces successful living.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon Deuteronomy 16:16 and Exodus 23:17, the traditional verses calling for an offering, admonishing not to come to Holy Day services empty-handed, reminds us that we are not really giving God anything because He owns everything. The experience of giving an offering is for our benefit. We receive benefits by giving them. There are reasons beyond money to prepare an offering. Offering and sacrifice are not the same, but they are inextricably related. An offering is something we value highly which we want to bring forward to the altar. A sacrifice implies that something is put to death. God intends that we bring ourselves to the altar and then give ourselves as living sacrifices, mortifying the old man, our carnal nature, allowing God to consume our talents and abilities in His service, disciplining our bodies as we run our spiritual race. We must imitate our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ, who brought Himself to the altar, and then climbed onto the altar as a sacrifice. Similarly, when we are symbolically put to death in the waters of baptism, we offer ourselves on the altar as a living sacrifice—our reasonable sacrifice. God is showing us a major pathway to our spiritual goal of membership in His family.
Martin Collins, reviewing the significance of Christ's final post-Resurrection sayings, "Feed My sheep" (appearing thrice) and "Follow me" (appearing twice), emphasizes that these words apply to all of God's called-out ones). We have a mandate to study the Bible comprehensively and responsibly, not becoming self-proclaimed 'experts' in prophecy or esoteric mysteries. When we pray and study, we should be conscious we are meeting with God, allowing us to be sensitive to God's purpose for our lives. Like the apostle Peter, we are admonished not to compare our spiritual lot with that of our brethren, riveting our attention on Christ rather than on ourselves or on our spiritual siblings. God has called individuals with different temperaments (impetuous activists, contemplative thinkers, etc.), giving them a variety of spiritual gifts to work interdependently. If we take our eyes off Christ, we run the risk of bumping into someone else and becoming unprofitable. Following Christ involves self-denial and taking responsibility for what God has crafted in us through the power of Christ living in us through His Holy Spirit. John's Gospel provides a comprehensive witness from Christ's contemporaries. As the recipients of this reliable testimony, we are obligated to add our testimony, feeding God's sheep and following Jesus Christ.
Beyond the fact that our Savior Jesus Christ was crucified on a cross of some sort, He used its imagery to instruct His followers: He bids us to take us our cross and follow Him. David Grabbe analyzes what Jesus' command would have meant to those who heard Him, showing that our Savior is asking us to follow His example of sacrifice in our own Christian lives.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Romans 8:31-39, cautions us that the study of Ecclesiastes, a work composed by a highly gifted man, was intended for those mature in the faith. Even those with God's Spirit find the book to be difficult, and discover that life must be lived soberly, with orientation above the sun, fearing God and keeping His commandments. Along with Solomon, we must realize, amidst all the confusion under the sun, that everything matters, but that wisdom does not yield its fruit easily. Every day mankind is assailed by temptations to do evil, an assault depicted throughout Scripture as the siren call of a prostitute or temptress, symbolizing any overwhelming addiction and predilection to sin. To a Christian, the most dangerous prostitute is the world's philosophy, extremely enticing to the senses, but endangering our relationship to God, as Solomon's wives turned his heart from the Lord. To keep us secure from the temptations of the world, we must embrace our metaphorical sister, Wisdom, keeping us focused on our relationship with God. To be sure, God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able, but sadly man actively chooses to sin, polluting everything he touches. The Roman Catholic Church has taught that original sin has been passed along through sexual intercourse, creating a need for Mary to be 'conceived immaculately'. Sin does not enter us through this means, but is a spiritual matter, originating in the heart and in the mind. Sin enters us from contact with a sinful source, mainly from Satan, the prince and power of the air, and his demonic influence, broadcasting his spirit, attitudes, and thoughts. Collectively, we have been swimming in the influence of Satan's mind. Evil communication invariably corrupts character. Because Satan's spirit permeates everything in this world, we must be alert and on guard against temptations.
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.
David C. Grabbe: John 15:4-5 in the Phillips translation gives us a great deal to consider: "You can produce nothing unless you go on growing in me. ...
Most of the professing Christian world believes that it is the duty of believers to "win people for Christ," a phrase that has been drawn from the apostle Paul's words in II Corinthians 9:19-22. David Grabbe argues that, contrary to majority opinion, this passage proclaims nothing of the sort if seen in the context of the whole counsel of God, particularly that of God's prerogative to call people to Him.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon II John 5, an epistle which cautions about deceivers who would denigrate the value of work, considers the straining on the point "we cannot earn salvation" a red herring, diverting our attention from the true value of Christian work. God indeed judges the quality and quantity of what we do in our Christian responsibilities. Our calling is a vocation; work or labor is vitally important in our calling. God is our model regarding work, mandating that we produce fruits of righteousness. Christ admonishes that our highest regard should be seeking the Kingdom of God and righteousness. We work for Christ as His slaves. Profit from life is produced by work, requiring sacrifices of time and energy. Christians have been created for the very purpose of doing good works which God has prepared for us. We will be continuing in this work for all eternity. Christian works were never intended to save us; Jesus' works as our Savior and high Priest is what saves us. Doing the works provides practice in God's way of life, engraving in us His character, providing a witness to the world, glorifying God. It takes work to put things in order and prepare for the return of Christ. Three parables in the Olivet prophecy (The Two Servants, Wise and Foolish Virgins, and the Talents) emphasize the necessity of work in the preparation for Christ's return. One's faithfulness in productivity does not transfer to one who has been a slacker. We are all being scrutinized and judged by Almighty God as to what we do, especially as it related to our service to our fellow servants. Whatever we sow, regarding our relationships with one another, we will reap. Sin (of commission or omission) describes the failure to maintain God's standards. The failure to work is sin. Works do not save us, but everyone who is saved works. We will be judged and rewarded according to our works, both the quantity and the quality.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon a vivid dream in which two lions entered the meeting hall, describes the terror he had as they came toward him. The dream reminds us that Satan and his demons are prowling around like ravenous lions, seeking whom they may devour. On the Day of Atonement, we afflict our souls to humble ourselves and abstaining from work. Christ came to this earth to shed His blood in love and self-sacrifice to redeem us and all mankind from our sins. We are to gather together in a holy convocation, symbolizing our unity in God. It is a time of rendering ourselves poor in spirit, preparing ourselves for the Kingdom of God. When we afflict ourselves on the Day of Atonement, we prepare ourselves for the Feast of Tabernacles. We do no work on this day, illustrating that we cannot justify ourselves, but must rely totally on God. Satan is currently paroled, dwelling in the holding facility of this earth, taking every opportunity to deceive and destroy the sons of man in the short time he has left. Satan especially wants to attack those who are faithfully keeping God's laws. We must ardently trust in Christ's atoning sacrifice, practicing what God has taught us, denying ourselves in the process, emulating Jesus Christ. When confronting Satan, we must be sober and self-controlled, vigilant and watchful, resisting Satan at every opportunity, standing firm in the faith, remaining steadfast as a rock. If we resist the Devil, God will draw close to us and Satan will be compelled to flee.
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, focusing upon the statement of Almighty God in Psalm 50 that He needs absolutely nothing from us, proclaims God's absolute sovereignty and power over everything. Surprisingly, mankind refuses to acknowledge God in their daily dealings. Unfortunately, mankind will marshal their 'brilliance' and 'intelligence' in technology to nearly wipe life off the face of the earth. Young people (and all of us) must make a choice in favor of God's will for us. We have the freedom of choice to set our destiny, and must bear the consequences of our choice. The book of Deuteronomy is perhaps the most important guide to Godly choices. God has urged that we choose life (keeping God's commandments), requiring an act of the will as we are confronted with alternatives. Only those who choose to live life as God lives will live eternally. Life consists of a constant stream of choices, leading to the development (or destruction) of character. Young people must choose: (1) the right set of standards to live by, finishing high school, refraining from premarital sex, and staying faithful to our lifelong partners once we become married. (2) To work to develop a continuous relationship with God- the source of eternal life. (3) To develop a strong relationship with their parents, submitting in respectful humility. (4) Their friends wisely. (5) Carefully choose the occupation they will go into, making proactive preparations, choosing according to our talents, and (6)Have the right relationship with the opposite sex.
David C. Grabbe: Can anything be more paradoxical than professing Christians not following the words of the One they claim as their Savior?
John Ritenbaugh, examining the set of doctrines which constitute "The Faith" identified in II Corinthians 13:5, warns that the greater church of God is not immune to the deterioration of doctrine cautioned by Paul. The doctrine of eternal security and the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, embraced by Evangelical Protestantism as well as our former affiliation, ominously threaten the spiritual welfare of all the splinter groups formerly affiliated with the Worldwide Church of God. When we depart from doctrine, convoluted reasoning and hair splitting must substitute for the simplicity in Christ. Minor deviations from doctrine bring about irreparable disastrous consequences. If we live by sight rather than by faith, we will automatically succumb to our fears (of denying our fleshly gratification or losing the esteem of our family and peers). The antidote to these twin-debilitating fears is the fear of God- a fear that must be learned and cultivated.
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 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 warns that human nature is hostile to change, even when it is confirmed to be in the wrong. In the matter of godly standards for dress (as in any other aspect of God's teaching), we must adopt the humble, childlike, sincere, unassuming, unpretentious, and teachable attitude, loving God intimately, denying ourselves(ego and self-gratification)- losing ourselves to God's way, becoming separate from the world, and doing all for the glory of 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.
Everyone knows the story of Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew, but what does it mean to us? This article shows that each of us has the potential to do just as Esau did—each of us has a bowl of lentil stew!
A key to overcoming our sins is learning when to deny ourselves. Christ plainly declares that those who desire to follow Him must deny themselves.
Some equate abstinence with religious asceticism. Abstinence, however, has a much broader purview. Martin Collins explains that Christians may need to abstain from more than just sinful actions.
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!
Joy, the second fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22, is more than just happiness. There is a joy that God gives that far exceeds mere human cheerfulness. John Ritenbaugh shows how the Holy Spirit produces it in us.
How do we, as modern Christians, bear our cross as Jesus commands? He meant far more than simply carrying a stake over our shoulders! This article shows how vital denying ourselves and taking up our cross is in following Christ.
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.
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 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 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).
John Ritenbaugh asserts that only a converted person humbles himself before the truth, making a conscientious, unflagging effort to follow the light of evidence, even to the most unwelcome conclusions, resisting desire, passion, and prejudices acquired through our culture. Human nature is hostile to God's truth, but rejecting truth leads to idolatry and a debased mind (Romans 1:28). We have been redeemed from the traditions and philosophies produced by corrupt men, inspired by demons, the patterns of thinking and conduct that are at odds with the truth of God. We have to desperately fight the perverse downward pull of human nature (inspired by the culture into which we are immersed) to ignore the truth.
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 focuses on the Old Testament emphasis on the dwelling in booths and the sacrifices as the context for rejoicing (Leviticus 23:40-44). Even though the Feast is an interlude from our customary activities, it is not a vacation (a cessation from our spiritual sacrifices, duties, or responsibilities). If we do not prioritize properly, (fearing God -Deuteronomy 14:23 and seeking God's Kingdom- Matthew 6:33), the miscellaneous distractions of this world (Mark 4:19) could railroad our most important priority. The booths depict our current lives as pilgrims, people on the move, not living in our own country, wandering single-mindedly toward our destination as our forefather Abraham had earlier set the pattern (Hebrews 11:8), fully determined that the cares of the world would not deter him from his goal.
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.
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.
Through Acts 1-15, God (primarily through the work of Peter, Paul and James) has removed His work out of the Judaistic mold, creating the Israel of God (the church) designed to spread to the Gentiles. Though certain ceremonial and civil aspects of the law were (for a time) suspended, the Law of God was never suspended, especially as it relates to defilement of conscience or disregarding of scruples that could cause permanent spiritual damage or unwittingly place one in communion with demons. We must always conduct ourselves with the long —term spiritual interests of others paramount on our minds, being sensitive to conscience and scruples of others as we exercise our 'rights.'
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the "favorite-son status" of Israel was conditional, based upon accepting the terms of their covenant with God. Unfortunately, both ancient and modern Israel have placed their trust in wealth or material things rather than God. God's anger has been aroused as a result of Israel's physical and spiritual defilement—refusing to become sanctified, separate from the ways of the world. God's holiness sets Him apart from everything else, and like Him, His people must become totally different from the world. Instead, our defilement, stemming from our desire to please the self at the expense of others, separates us from Him! The root of sin or immorality lies in man's desire to live his life in self-centered independence from God. We must enlist God's Spirit to kill our self-centered ego, yielding to God's transforming power.
John Ritenbaugh continues to examine the shepherd and door analogies occurring in John 10, depicting the close relationship of Jesus with His flock as the security and stability provided by His protection, as opposed to the approach of the hireling. Christ not only promises us life without end, but He also promises abundant life (eternal life; living life as God lives it) as well as protection from Satan. As Christ is one (in mind and purpose) with God the Father, we must be at one with God and other fellow believers through the medium of godly love, as opposed to the anarchy resulting from seeking our own way. Peace is produced by love; Christians are at unity with God and with each other when love is the driving force in our lives, prompting us to keep His commandments. An individual commissioned by God is God to Whom he is sent. With God's Holy Spirit, God sets His called ones apart, enabling them to live righteously and in unity with one another.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the episode of the healing of the man blind from birth and the resultant threats imposed upon the man and his family by the Pharisees who accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. The man, healed by Jesus but persecuted and disfellowshipped by the Pharisees, realized God was responsible for the miracle. One can conclude that the closer we get to God, the more likely we will have persecution; but the closer we get to Him, the greater and more real He becomes and the more likely we will serve Him correctly. When Christ opens our eyes and cleanses us from our impurities, our behavior impacts those around us, leading to some bewilderment and persecution, but incrementally toward greater knowledge of God. Seemingly, only a person conscious of his blindness (weakness or lacks) will make an effort to overcome. In chapter ten, the shepherd/sheep analogy demonstrates the importance of the sheep "knowing the Master's voice" in the midst of a community corral having many diverse flocks. The gate or door of the corral (as symbolized by Christ) connotes security, tranquility, and order, protecting the flock from thieves and predators (metaphorically representing false prophets and false doctrine). Christ takes responsibility for caring for His flock (who over the years have become His intimate companions), including laying down His very life.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Matthew 18 describes the essence of personal relationships within the church. Seven basic characteristics are emphasized, including having a childlike humble attitude, setting a proper example, exercising self-denial, individual care, using tact in correcting a person, practicing fellowship and extending forgiveness. What we aim for in life has a profound effect on our attitudes and behavior. Unless we have sharply-etched goals, we are not going to succeed. If the goals are materialistic, we will be caught up in the attitudes of this world inculcating arrogant competition, totally at odds with attaining the Kingdom of God. If the Kingdom of God is not our goal, we won't use spiritual knowledge correctly. We have to learn to implicitly trust God as a child trusts his parents. Growing spiritually is tantamount to growing out of the habit of being offended. Those who are mature should be able to endure the slights and offenses of the spiritually immature, being circumspect not to lead anyone into sin through our careless example. We need to be willing to be willing to exercise self-sacrifice or self-discipline in order to set a proper example to preserve unity. It should be our objective to strengthen the weak as we have the resources to do so, realizing, of course, that there is a limit to what we can do. A root of bitterness should be assiduously avoided. A set of common sense instructions is given to resolve conflict and promote reconciliation, beginning with the offended going to the offender, and as a rare last resort brought to the ministry for judgment or solution. As we pray to God for a solution, we should pray to become victorious in our overcoming, being subject to His purpose and will, willing to forgive those who have offended us, always leaving the door to repentance open to the one who has sinned, forgiving him 70 x7 if necessary.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that disciples of Christ should expect persecution, often from people we normally would feel comfort and protection from, such as members from our own family. The two-edged sword (the Word of God) divides families because receptivity of this word is not a given- especially if one has not yet been called. Many more people ridicule God's Word than keep it. God's called out ones have to love God's Word more than family. Service in the work of God will inevitably bring persecution, but it will also bring reward. Chapter 11 focuses upon the ruminations of John the Baptist, who even though he was close to Christ, may have misunderstood the nature of Christ's true mission. John the Baptist, labeled as "none greater" never performed a miracle. It will take a great deal of expended energy to make it into the Kingdom of God. We cannot afford to be negligent or complacent about our calling, or our willingness to yield to His teachings, letting it dissipate like the ancient Israelites, the people of Bethsaida or Chorazin - or the Laodiceans . We must be teachable and adaptable, willing to take Christ's yoke, not tripped up in intellectual vanity or pride. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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