Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on Paul's declaration that he would become all things to all men, suggests that Paul had the capability of seeing the truths of the Bible from several different cultural paradigms, namely an honor-shame continuum and a power-fear continuum, familiar to Hebrew and Middle-Eastern cultures, and an innocence-guilt continuum, familiar to those of us in the Western world, influenced by an admixture of Judeo-Christian ethic, Roman law, and Greek philosophy. Without a working knowledge of all three cultural paradigms, we have major blind-spots in interpreting and understanding the scriptures, culturally insulated like a fish out of water. Those of us in the Western world, steeped in the guilt-innocent paradigm, have a keen focus on right and wrong and tend to be highly individualistic, abhorring group-think and collectivist behavior. The language of this paradigm includes justice, pardon, works, wrath, mercy, right actions, doing what is right as measured against an abstract law. Those at home with the honor and shame paradigm define right and wrong in terms of group relationships. Whatever behavior brings shame on the group is to be shunned, as exampled by the shame the older brother felt as a result of the actions of "the prodigal son." In this parable, Christ enlightens us about the paradox that suffering shame for the sake of righteousness is in honor. A profoundly ingrained "pecking order" characterizes a power-fear culture, which is by definition fiercely hierarchical, with a strong man at the top. Each person below must either cower or put himself under the power of a protector. The language of Ephesians 1:15-23, combat language describing Satan as the adversary and Christ putting everything under His feet, resonates with individuals living in a power-fear culture. As we read the Bible, we find that God employs a blend of all three cultural paradigms, encouraging us to free ourselves from the bondage of cultural myopia and ethnocentrism in order to get more out the scriptures.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on the words of the covenant which the Lord made with Israel, recorded in Deuteronomy 29, maintains that this covenant still applies to the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) even though the vast majority of modern Israel have rejected this covenant and, consequently, can no longer claim to be God's "chosen people." We dare not go down the same path as our fellow Americans or our fellow descendants of Jacob have followed, remembering the absolute uniqueness of the Church (or Israel of God.) If we follow the dictates of our heart, as has physical Israel, we will not acquire peace, but will instead share in their curses. As long as we mirror God's characteristics, we are the Israel of God. We have been called to qualify to provide leadership under Jesus Christ, leadership which will be tested throughout a lifetime of testing and trial. We learn from our original parents that as soon as we sin, a stark change occurs throughout our nervous system, subjecting us to shame and fear. As part of God's judgment on Satan, a marvelous piece of workmanship who manifested himself in a heretofore beautiful creature, enmity was created between Adam and Eve's offspring and the serpent, a living organism forced to crawl on its belly rather than ambulate on its feet. Universal repulsiveness instantly replaced admiration. Sin turns all beauty into ugliness. Likewise, the creatures of nature expressed wariness of human beings, the same kind of wariness we should have for the fallen archangel, the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of this world. As Adam's offspring, we are forced to contend with a demonic presence in our worldview throughout our entire lives. Thankfully, the prophecy that Adam and Eve's offspring (Jesus Christ) will crush the head of the serpent advances the distinct likelihood that God intends to annihilate defective spirit beings permanently, including Satan and his entire demonic entourage, a prospect which fills them with terror and rage as the end of this age approaches.
Ted Bowling, acknowledging that God has perfect memory, reminds us that God chooses not to remember our sins as long as we don’t repeat them. We, on the other hand are often plagued with the memories of past guilt come for sins we have committed. Guilt is a natural consequence of breaking God’s Law, but it can become a curse and a tool of Satan if we begin to question the forgiveness of God. We must be able to separate genuine guilt, which is the spiritual equivalent of pain, from false guilt when we call into question God’s grace and forgiveness. Satan desires that we become dispirited from a guilt-ridden past. Even though we are equipped to receive spiritual pain, God doesn’t want us to live a life of pain, but instead that the spiritual pain or godly sorrow should lead us to repentance. Satan wants to divide or separate us from God, but Christ has reconciled us the Father and has purged our guilty consciences with His sacrifice. Both Judas and Peter betrayed Jesus; Judas became overwhelmed with worldly sorrow and hanged himself, while Peter, motivated by godly sorrow, repented bitterly and was forgiven. We need to examine ourselves every day, laying out bare our sins and transgressions before God, asking His forgiveness and making sure we have fully repented. God has promised to purge us of our sins and the crippling guilt that accompanies them.
Martin Collins, reiterating that Joseph is a type of Jesus Christ, moves to the climactic point of the narrative in Genesis 45, in which Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. Joseph knew and recognized his brothers before they knew him. God knows our guiltiest secret sins which we think we have effectively hid. All things are open before God the Father and Jesus Christ. Joseph loved his brothers before they loved him, using tough love to bring them to repentance. Like Jesus, Joseph saved his brothers before they realized they were being saved. Actually the brothers thought they were lost. Sin cannot be hidden; we cannot escape its consequences. Like Jesus, Joseph called his brothers when they would have preferred to run from those. Joseph treated them with compassion as a loving brother; Christ calls us in the same manner. As a type of Christ, Joseph was more concerned about God's will than anything else, giving him a stable perspective, seeing God's providence. God prospered Joseph, making him governor of all Egypt. God saved the lives of Joseph's brothers, indicating that He plans well in advance. God saved other lives in the process of saving Joseph's household. God can use our errors to further His ultimate good; God's purpose will be done, and He is sovereign. Joseph, as a type of Christ, had the ability to forgive, in contrast to the anger and vindictiveness of Simeon and Levi, assuring them that he held no bitterness. Forgiveness is love fused to grace.
Martin Collins explores the response of Joseph's brothers to his benevolence to show how we also should respond to God's benevolence and grace. Human nature is inherently selfish, suspicious, and ungrateful. God demonstrates His love to us long before we are properly equipped to reciprocate. Every physical and spiritual gift comes from God. At times, God has to ignite our conscience and disable or de-stabilize our self-confidence in order to get our attention in a similar fashion as he did to Joseph's brothers. If we have residual guilt, we cannot possibly grow spiritually. Like Joseph's brothers, we all have concealed lies, but want others to think we have sterling integrity. If we want forgiveness for our sins, we must jettison our self-righteousness and forsake our buried and secret sins, enabling a transformation with God. Like Joseph's brothers, we must abandon our own efforts to guide the outcome of matters to suit our liking, and turn control over to God, allowing His spiritual radar to penetrate the depths of our hearts. God will always uncover our sins; it is to our advantage to repent early. We should not want to talk about our accomplishments, but what God has chosen to accomplish in our lives. God will deal with us until we relate to Him sincerely and forthrightly, just as Judah learned to do as God soundly destroyed all his props of self-confidence. As Judah, Moses, and Paul emerged to a willingness to give up their lives for their brethren, we too must be willing to sacrifice the ultimate for our fellow man, motivated by the power of God's Holy Spirit. Through His Spirit, we love one another by listening to one another, sharing our experiences with one another, and serving one another.
When we do something against the law or even against our own conscience, guilt is triggered, and we suffer, not just a gut-wrenching emotion, but also a descent into a state of culpability, of sin. Martin Collins instructs the guilty on their response to guilt, recommending taking the proper spiritual steps to remove the guilt through Jesus Christ.
Martin Collins, reflecting that the human conscience can be incrementally conditioned to tolerate sin, decommissioned, and ultimately put to sleep, asserts that God can restore it to usefulness as He did in the lives of Joseph's brothers, by forcing them to go to the location to which they had sold their brother. God sometimes allows the consequences of sin to take effect (i.e. plague, famine, or other form of deprivation) in order to stir the conscience. Anxiety of deprivation drove the prodigal son to repentance and reconciliation with his father. It took Joseph's brothers a harsher measure than physical deprivation, including imprisonment, punitive treatment, and harsh words. God chose the means to force Joseph's brothers into repentance by carefully crafted words and enforced solitude, all designed to refresh their memories and expose their sin. Calamity is sometimes used to bring forgotten transgressions to our minds, driving us to repentance of our secret failings and motives of our hearts. A good conscience (the judgment of the mind concerning right and wrong—an attendant witness of a person's conduct) can only be formed or enlightened by yielding to God and having it cleansed by the blood of Christ.
Many individuals are wracked with guilt over past words and actions that caused great pain to others. While, in our secular age, such guilty people often do not consider their wrongdoing to be sin, it is "missing the mark" of a certain set of standards. Martin Collins explores the subject of guilt, particularly its relation to sin and its long-term effects.
Martin Collins, observing how a child fixates on a wound, continually worrying a bandage or a scab, suggests that sometimes Christians do the same thing with past sins or spiritual deficits, making themselves unhappy. Our spiritual trek indeed is a demanding flight of faith. All of us have been tormented by some past wrong, held in the grip of self-condemnation, subject to Satan's perpetual accusations. We cannot experience the joy of salvation while we are obsessing on past sins. While repenting of sins frees us from the grip of both lesser and greater sins, we will feel proportionately greater penalties for some sins than for others. The sin leading to death (the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) occurs when one actively defies God or when one, through apathy or lethargy, refuses to repent. When we are tempted to sin, we need to consider the consequences on our relationship with God. Every sin that has been committed has been committed by someone else at some other time; Christ has given Himself as a sacrifice for all of them. We can rejoice in God's extraordinary forgiveness and mercy.
The peace, fellowship, praise, or thank offering was the most commonly given in ancient Israel. John Ritenbaugh explains that it represents God, the priest, and the offerer in satisfying fellowship.
Pain is not something we normally consider positive, nor is guilt. However, David Maas argues, guilt is like pain in that it is a spiritual warning signal to change course!
No one seems to talk much about sin anymore, but it still exists! John Ritenbaugh explains the basics of sin and the great effects it produces on our lives.
John Ritenbaugh answers the question "Is there a scripture that states such and such no longer needs to be done?" The Bible is an unfolding revelation, moving from the physical to the spiritual ramifications—revealing an ever-sharper focus on God's purpose. The Law (including the judgments, ordinances, and statutes), far from being done away, has the purpose of showing us our faults and outlining the way of mercy and love. The animal sacrifices and ceremonies were intended to foreshadow a more permanent spiritual reality—subsumed, but not done away. The Old Testament was written with the New Testament Church in mind, written in the context of an earlier culture. We need to see behind the law a presence of a Holy God with whom we seek to share a relationship.
What does God see in Israel that so affronts Him that He has to swear "by His holiness"? Israel had every opportunity that the Gentiles did not have: His calling, His promises, His Word, His laws. He gave the Israelites these gifts to help them develop into His sons and daughters, but God sees them as diametrically opposite of Himself. Should not God expect to see some of His characteristics in His sons?
Jesus Christ, our Savior, commands Christians as His disciples to participate in the annual Passover memorial of His work on our behalf. The service consists of three parts: 1) Mutual footwashing; 2) Drinking of the wine; 3) Eating of the bread.
John Ritenbaugh warns us against blaming our sins on something other than ourselves. God holds us personally responsible for our part in any sin (James 1: 12-16). Joseph's example proves that even the most difficult temptation can be resisted and overcome, though this skill must be developed incrementally. Joseph's early preparation gave him the ability to make the best out of any situation. The conclusion of Joseph's story shows a remarkable metamorphosis in his brothers—from hardness of heart to softness and compassion. Like Christ, Joseph's integrity and steadfastness provided the conditions for his brothers' repentance and eventual reconciliation.
John Ritenbaugh discusses how Christ's redemption of us obligates us to obey and serve Him. We show our gratitude for this priceless gift by doing good in acts of love and service to others.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that God has given us a checkpoint against which we can check ourselves in times of despondency and despair, so whether we doubt, fear, or the self—whether the problems are moderate or deep—we can go back to see whether we are keeping God's commands and working on developing our fellowship with Him. God has created mankind with the need to face challenges—the need to overcome—or we quickly become subject to boredom or "ennui." Our major responsibility is to govern ourselves scrupulously and conscientiously within the framework of God's Laws, overcoming negative impulses by the knowledge and Spirit of God, seeking a total relationship with Him in thought, emotion, and deed, extending to our relations with our brethren. Fellowship with God is the only antidote to overwhelming feelings of despair, doubt, and self-condemnation.
John Ritenbaugh warns the greater Church of God that since we constitute the Israel of God, the book of Amos directly applies to us. The pilgrimages to Gilgal made by the people of ancient Israel were repulsive to God because no permanent change (in terms of justice ' hating evil and loving good or righteous behavior) occurred in their lives as a result of these pilgrimages. In terms of human relationships, instead of God's Commandments and instead of the Golden Rule, Israel zealously practiced self-centered, pragmatic situation ethics- liberally mixed or syncretized with pagan religion. Unlike ceremonial religion, true religion reaches out and touches every aspect of life, making a permanent transformation or change in thought and behavior. Ceremony and sincerity cannot be considered mutually exclusive components of religion. God, totally impartial in His dealings with all people, demands a higher standard of righteous behavior from those who have consciously made a covenant with Him and are acquainted with His Law.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that everything about the Priesthood of Jesus Christ is superior to that of the Levitical system, which was only intended to serve as a type (a forerunner, shadow, or symbol) of the access to God that Jesus would later fulfill. As splendid as it was, there was neither provision for the forgiveness of sins nor a purging of guilt in the Old Covenant. The real barrier that separates us from or denies access to God is our guilty and defiled conscience, which cannot be cleared by a repetitious sacrifice of animal blood. Only Christ's voluntary sacrifice (done on a totally moral and spiritual plane) can purge our consciences of guilt. We should remember that unless the sacrifice of Christ transforms us (leading us to emulate Christ's sinless life), we have not really repented. The chief difference between the Old and New Covenants is that the letter kills while the Spirit gives life.
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