John Ritenbaugh, examining the socio-cultural milieu before the writing of the Epistle to the Hebrews, explains the difficulties experienced by the new Jewish converts to the Gospel. The powerful testimony of the recently risen Christ, combined with the apostles, who had spent 3 ½ years under His tutelage, were the main factors behind the fast growth of the church to 6,000. The Jewish leadership deemed these converts to be traitors to the of the religious heritage of Judaism. The estrangement these people felt is similar to that experienced by today's people of the true God. Christ told His Apostles not to become fixated about the fulfillment of prophecy, but instead to engage in the work He had given them. God's people today have the same no-nonsense orders Christ gave to His original Disciples, namely to take the Gospel to all nations. God's worldwide institution, the Israel of God, makes a transition to a New Covenant, not 'doing away with the law' but making it applicable to both Jew and Gentile. Repentance and baptism replace circumcision as the spiritual sign of the New Covenant. The Council of Jerusalem indicated that Jesus Christ's words and behavior proved the final word on New Covenant decisions, bringing about a significant change in practice.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the proclamations made by self-proclaimed street-corner prophets, "The end is here—prepare to meet your God," reminds us that we all would like to know when Jesus Christ will return. The Day of Trumpets looks forward to this event, one which God's people have desired since God expelled Adam and Eve from Eden. Trumpets serves as the center-point of the Holy Days, a pivotal time when God's rule will replace the misrule of carnal human governments. The blasts of trumpets grab our attention, presaging the dreaded events at the end of the age. Nobody will be able to remain blasé as those events unfold. Thankfully, this time of chaos ushers in a time of order. The three Disciples whom Christ chose to witness His Transfiguration quickly learned from God the Father that they were to listen to Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ as the Word of God is the foundation of all knowledge, carrying more weight than the prophets and apostles. The formula, Kingdom of God "is at hand," can refer to 1.) Christ's presence as the King, 2.) His rule over His subjects, and 3.) a future event which has not yet happened. Only the Father knows the precise time of Christ's return, but the perennial message to all of God's called-out ones is to be eternally vigilant, busy overcoming, to the end that they may see Him in all His power and glory. Meticulously avoiding all distractions, we must be ready for His return, committedly living His way of life.
John Ritenbaugh gives an antidote to the ubiquitous trait of human nature—the proclivity to complain and express impatience with God. The story of the wealthy philanthropist watching the construction of his home shows the importance of point of view. He asked two masons what they were doing. One replied, "I am laying bricks," while the other retorted, "I am constructing a mansion." Our forebears in the Wilderness were the most blessed people on earth, having God's daily presence, but they let their carnality "limit the Holy One of Israel," often railing against Him as the clay metaphorically argues with the potter. This same carnality led the Jews to crucify Christ in total rejection of His teachings. God, in order to continue to work with them, provoked them to jealousy by calling the gentiles into the Israel of God. Paul declares that (1.) God's judgments are unsearchable, (2.) absolutely no one knows the mind of God, and (3.) no one could ever qualify as His counselor. God's highest goal is not salvation, but sanctification into godly character, leading to membership in His family as co-rulers with Christ. As God equipped Adam and Eve to successfully respond to their environment and trials, so He also equipped His called-out ones. Still, they need to conquer carnality, which is corrupted human nature, an entity originally free from sin. God created human nature with a mild pull toward the self for the purpose of self-protection. However, sin (with the prodding of Satan) corrupted the wholesomeness of human nature, distorting it toward self-centeredness and vanity. We must set our minds on spiritual things while resisting the deadly pulls of the flesh.
Mark Schindler, analyzing the philosophical profile of the man who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, Paul Winfield Tibbetts, a focused and dedicated man with lofty standards, reveals that Tibbets, upon his death, had no regrets about the decision to drop the bomb because its detonation saved the lives of millions of Allied soldiers. Surviving residents of Hiroshima, injured and suffering the effects of radiation did not share the same lofty thoughts about the greater good. Wiping the terrorists out completely may seem clear-headed, but our decisions must be based on Micah 4:1-7, envisioning a time when peoples will beat their swords into plowshares. In the day God will gather the outcasts, the resurrected saints will have an opportunity to teach God's ways to humanity. In the meantime, God's called-out ones must extricate themselves from the world's solutions and prepare to take on the tasks of the Millennial rule of Christ, yielding to His specific plan for us. Realizing that the physical creation will burn up, we must soberly commit ourselves to the purpose of our calling.
John Ritenbaugh, endeavoring to build an intensified appreciation for God's Holy Spirit, maintains that our sense of responsibility should also intensify when we realize that our calling was not random. The term "spirit" is associated with wind in both Greek and Hebrew, indicating a power that is invisible but forceful. God gave mankind distinctions no other animal ever received, including being fashioned in His image, enabled to manage the resources of the earth, having communication skills and memory, having the capacity to marry and express love and finally, realizing that sin carries a punishment. God has singled each one of us out individually, calling us, gifting us with capabilities, and preparing us for eternal life as members of His family. The birth Christ described to Nicodemus could be rendered both "from above" (as the wind comes from above) or "again" (referring to a totally new spiritual creation). If we are in Christ, having His mind, we are indeed a new creation. God is creating us and gifting us as we move along. We require the Holy Spirit to aid us in this transformative sanctification process. In this process, God might very well place us in situations we feel are above our head but He will also always supply the tools to accomplish the work He has given us. . Like the apostles Paul and Peter, we could not get by without the gifting of God's Holy Spirit. As we use the prompts and gifting of the Holy Spirit, realizing that God has initiated everything, we (as the early disciples) become elevated from servant to friend to sibling of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh, asserting that God is a Creator who enjoys work and places a high value on it, urges us, those created in God's image, to embrace the work ethic and to diligently inculcate it into our children. God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it. God the Father and Jesus Christ have been working continually (having never gone on a vacation) and desire that the energetic, conscientious, focused pursuit of working and creating become a part of our character and the character of our offspring. Training a child to be industrious helps him to be successful, which in turn promotes a stable family, community, and nation and will transfer eternally into God's Kingdom, netting vast rewards as taught by the Parable of the Talents. Neglecting to train our children to be diligent promotes chaos, disorder, and chronic instability. Our industriousness, and that of our children, should be directed outwardly for the good of others and not turned in selfishly on ourselves.
Even though Christians have been called to follow Christ, their journey to the Kingdom of God is preparation for leadership under Him. John Ritenbaugh explains that the covenants play a key role in this godly preparation. They not only show us what God requires of us in our relationship with Him, but they also instruct us in the minute details of God's way of living and ruling.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Ezekiel 34, in which the self-centered shepherds devour the flocks, reminds us that in addition to religious leaders, shepherds also include governmental, corporate, educational, and family leaders. In the combined history of Judah and Israel, when the leaders abandoned the covenants with God, the citizenry generally followed suit. Today, the prophecy in Isaiah 3:12 has come to pass in full force. Isaiah's prophecy, "children are their oppressors is being fulfilled on several levels, from youthful gang violence and leaders "Childish," immature minds, unable to grasp the true demands of leadership. God desires to create leaders who can show by example rather than tyrannically dominate by brute force. It seems that the vast majority of Israel's leaders have had serious deficits in leadership skills. The only Being who is worthy to rule is Jesus Christ (Revelation 5:12)], who qualified by what He did in the past, totally yielding Himself to the will of God the Father, following Him unconditionally. As God's called-out ones, we are admonished to follow the same course, qualifying to become a kingdom of priests (I Peter 2:9), and co-heirs with Christ as His collective Bride. The Leadership that God desires of us is what we learn following the Lamb, conforming to His example. Without a broad comprehension of God's covenants, we cannot presume to lead. None of us had a trace of leadership skills before our calling; what we accomplish is only due to God's working with us, imprinting His leadership skills in us. Covenants are unifying agents (as long as we pay attention to what God says), revealing not only His purpose, but also His judgments. The vast creation serves as a teaching device, instructing mankind about God's grace. The first covenant is the Edenic, which teaches that (1) God is the Creator, (2) God is orderly, (3) creation mirrors God's perfection, (4) creation is not to be worshiped, and (5) God has tasked mankind with managing His creation.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Deuteronomy (the Old Covenant in its fullest form) constitutes instruction for the Israel of God, serving as a compass and guide, preparing God's people to enter the Promised Land. None of Deuteronomy is done away. The singular book that was read by Shaphan to Josiah was Deuteronomy; the curses in chapter 28 particularly alarmed the king, leading to a re-affirmation of the Covenant and a major house- cleaning, ridding the land of idolatry. Deuteronomy is a compass, giving guidance of how to submit to God, providing us a God approved world-view. We need to evaluate our spiritual heritage and pass it on to our children, as a kind of rite of spiritual civic citizenship. If one does not have a grasp of the history of his nation, he has no real claim to citizenship. If we are not equipped, by knowing our heritage through the study of history to live in Kingdom of God, we will be terrible citizens, ill-equipped to rule. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants are a major part of our heritage. Our heritage is tied to a higher standard of life than we have come out of. The Bible is primarily a history book containing the exploits of God's family. Deuteronomy has been written to keep us on track, to be reviewed thoroughly every seven years. Deuteronomy is a detailed, renewed covenant document. We are to be doing the same things required of physical Israel, except on a much higher level; we must consequently respond on a higher level. Deuteronomy is a law doctrine which is ruthlessly monotheistic; God will not brook idolatry. In Deuteronomy, the character of God is described explicitly. We are exhorted against hiding our relationship with God by compromising with the world's culture. Our faithfulness to God must reciprocate His faithfulness with us. We are a sanctified people, separated from the world as a treasure of God, who is faithful to us because He loves us. Loving Him is the key to our being faithful to Him. Love motivates willing submission to Him in obedience.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting that all of us have anticipated a magic day, like graduating, getting married, birth of children and grandchildren, or getting a promotion, cautions that we must be prepared to wait for the event to happen, living our lives one day at a time. We get ourselves ready for that special day. In the last eleven chapters of the book of Numbers, our forebears spent considerable time waiting, until the first generation who rebelled had perished. Their descendants had grown into a large group, waiting for their time to enter the Promised Land. Are we experiencing the same sensation, waiting in a holding pattern? God wants us to develop patience as we wait for the Kingdom of God. The last chapters in Numbers describe a hard-to-endure, lengthy holding pattern—not much happened. But significant things did occur during that time. The plodders will be the ones to make it into the Kingdom; God calls us to follow Him as obedient children, teachable and leadable. The second generation of Israelites were more teachable as obedient children, unlike their recalcitrant, rebellious parents. Joshua, a type of Jesus, took over the leadership of the people (as a military leader and a shepherd), bringing the gospel of the Promised Land. The antitype of Joshua, Jesus Christ, brought significant change—elevating the law above the letter to the realm of the spirit, laying bare the contents of the mind or heart. We have been called into the chosen generation, a royal priesthood, with minds transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We are required to bring sacrifices of a broken spirit and contrite heart. God wants us to eradicate every single sin, from secret to blatant. As we are waiting to enter the Promised man, we must learn to judge with revealed wisdom.
"Deference" is a word that receives scant support in these days of individual rights and equality. Solomon, however, makes the subject of deference—that is, being properly respectful and submissive to an authority figure—a major part of Ecclesiastes 8. John Ritenbaugh urges Christians always to see God behind those in power over us, which will help in giving proper deference.
David Grabbe, describing several contexts of the term "anti-Christ," points out that one meaning of anti-Christ is those who believe that Jesus Christ is not the Messiah, but a mortal, who may have been a good teacher, but was not a Savior or a literal Son of God. Two-thirds of the Abrahamic religions—Judaism and Islam— fall into this category. The apostle John dealt with a group of false apostles in the early Church who had embraced the Gnostic teaching of Docetism, which considers anything physical impure, thereby precluding Christ's physical presence as having any consequence, but considered only the other part of the dual nature, the spiritual, worthy of worship. The teaching of Docetism led to a passive idea of repentance, causing people to accept Jesus' sacrifice and grace, but reject any attempt at overcoming and living by His laws. Sadly, most professing Christians have accepted this deception, rejecting the idea that God's Holy Spirit lives within us, prompting us to walk in His commandments, enabling spiritual growth into the stature of Jesus Christ. They may claim to follow Him, but they reject His commandments. With God's Spirit in us, prompting spiritual growth, we will mature into the fullness of Christ. Without His Spirit, we will have the spirit of anti-Christ.
In modern parlance, the term "calling" has a synonym that takes this principle even further: "vocation." It means "purpose in life," not in the sense of something that is accomplished at the end of a life, but rather what a person devotes his life to on an ongoing basis. Our calling by God to perfect holiness is our true vocation. ...
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in Romans 11:26, which states that the calling of God is irrevocable and eventually the vast majority of Israel will be saved, suggests that the conversion of the Gentiles is part of God's plan to bring maximum conversion. As God's called-out ones, having been gifted with special spiritual gifts, we must learn to see ourselves and our function as God sees us—as a distinct, unique entity—a holy people, a special treasure above all people on the face of the earth. God loves the church in a way He does not love the world. Among the billions of people, we are separated out, set apart from the aggregate of people, identified as a special people gifted for a special purpose, and called to His marvelous light. God has chosen the weak and base things in order that nobody would glory in the flesh, but God would receive all the glory. We received our calling before the foundation of the world, children of the Promise to Abraham and Isaac, part of the Great Creator's personal selection. We should know and appreciate that we have been called, walking by faith rather than sight. As we walk in humility, God gives us spiritual gifts to accomplish His purpose, preparing us to live by faith. God actively involves Himself in the process, giving us life, education, conversion, faith, gifts, His Word, and the resurrection to come. Very few people, apart from the Church of God, are living their lives by faith, allowing our worldview to change from the perspective of the flesh to the perspective of Christ. The world should be able to marvel at the drastic transformation in our orientation and behavior. God will be holding us responsible for the gifts He has entrusted; we have no excuse to fail.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the unpleasant prospect of overhearing hurtful gossip about us from someone we have trusted, observes that, in all likelihood, our tongue has been just as detrimental against someone who may have trusted us. What goes around comes around; we reap what we sow. Even though the best defense is not to be guilty, we know that because of our toxic self-centeredness there is no infallibility in any of us. As God gives gifts to us, we must, as Solomon did, fine-tune them, realizing that seeking out wisdom is simultaneously a glorious and a burdensome task, requiring labor-intensive exercises which initially seem to yield diminishing returns. God does not instantaneously reveal everything we need to learn or everything we need to experience. We have the responsibility to seek out wisdom, understanding that it is the costliest commodity anywhere, having a price far beyond gold. Wisdom keeps us from sin, folly, and madness. Wisdom and understanding unveils for us the purpose of trials, solving the paradoxes and conundrums that erode our faith. Truly wise judges are humble, demonstrating that they do not know everything; humility will make us more cautious in our judgments about others and ourselves. As we put forth effort to pursue wisdom, the fruit will be holiness. Our goal is beyond salvation; it involves preparation for service in God's Kingdom. The search for wisdom carries with it a downside, the tendency to boast of our accomplishments, even though in our heart of hearts, we realize we have nothing that has not been given. As God's stewards, we must, like Solomon, blend sagacity and practical wisdom together, taking precautions against the allurements of the world, which have the tendency to short-circuit godly wisdom.
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 reminds us to value our calling, observing that, just as Jesus and His disciples were burdened with the doctrines of the scribes and Pharisees, so God's called-out church is encumbered with nominal Christianity, institutions which have militated against the whole counsel of God, even though they claim to get their teachings from the Bible. God places the blame for misleading and scattering Israel on the shepherds (sometimes metaphorically identifying the ministry or religious leaders, but more at governmental, judicial, academic, corporate leaders, and also the leaders of individual families). There is a dangerous leadership deficit in modern Israel, totally antithetical to the responsible leadership of father Abraham. A deceived nominal Christianity, hopelessly detached from God's covenant, has led people astray by lies. Modern Israel, by turning its back on the truth, has blown its opportunity for moral leadership every bit as much as ancient Judah did. Despite the moral failure of our elected leaders, we must maintain leadership in our individual families. The church is a unique institution apart from Israel and Judah, specially prepared by God in the last 2,000 years, having the responsibility of shepherding a distracted, lost, dependent flock abandoned by irresponsible, neglectful, self-serving leaders, teaching it God's Laws. Likewise, our current self-serving political leaders, steeped in godless humanism, are purposely destroying our country and civilization under the direction of Satan, leading to a perpetual civil war (of ideas and beliefs) in our country with no prospect of peace until Christ's Second Coming.
A Yiddish proverb reads, "Man plans, God laughs." A variation on it advises, "If you want to hear God laugh, tell him you have a plan." ...
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the book Final Exit by Derek Humphry, a work exploring the prevalence of suicide and its impact on the survivors, warns us that this is the time to get our ducks in a row, making the most of what we have experienced, establishing our spiritual priorities, and reflecting deeply on why we gave ourselves to God. If we do not, we are subject to committing spiritual suicide, a fate far worse than those taking their lives without ever having God's Holy Spirit. Realizing that God intently hates evil, we may become discouraged reading the Bible, realizing that we do not measure up to even a fraction of God's standards. We need to change our perspective realizing that, as our father Jacob discovered, it is better to become a spiritual pilgrim (facing the myriad challenges confronting us and finding their solutions) than to play the part of an exile (running from pillar to post to escape curses). We must strive to stay on course spiritually to be in God's Kingdom in order to(1.) expand rule of God in individual lives, (2.) to restore peace to the creation, and (3.) to pay the debt we owe our loved ones who have not yet been called. It would be highly ironic—yea, tragic—if our loved ones eventually came into God's Kingdom, and we, through discouragement, had aborted our opportunity.
Ted Bowling, reflecting on the potter and clay analogy, reminds us that the Master Potter continually molds and shapes His people. Finding different kinds of clay in the riverbed, he weathers it to the point it stinks (like our own sins), and then pounds the clay on a hard surface, rolling and mashing it, getting rid of the lumps, smashing, pulling apart. All these actions are analogous to bringing all of our sins to the surface, rebuking us and chastising us in love. The potter then cuts the clay (with a device sharper than any two-edged sword), and pounds it again with a rubber mallet to remove all air bubbles. God has been preparing us from the day we are converted and will continue to work with us until the day we die, making sure that we stand the test of time. To battle temptations of this world is not easy. Being molded means continuous change; God needs to know our reactions from test to test. As the Master Potter, God will apply the water of His Holy Spirit to make us more malleable, enabling Him to turn the lump of clay into a flawless work. Life was designed to be full of tests, trials, and temptations, but the Father, who considers us the apple of His eye, is not far off. Those who overcome evil and endure will inherit all things.
James Beaubelle, insisting that there is nothing passive in the way God deals with His people and His creation, asserts that the God of the Bible was and is actively involved in the lives of His people with the expectation that they become active also. The command to love our God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves cannot be carried out passively. It requires an active response on our part in living a life that strives towards righteousness within a relationship with God to build up a holy character that resembles our Elder Brother Jesus Christ—a character that must be developed over a lifetime preparing for service in God's Kingdom. Our entire history we can consider as the extension of God's compassion and mercy for our father Abraham, freed us from bondage of service to sin (symbolized by Egypt) into a covenant of voluntary service to God. The Egypt we encounter today is manifest in the form of bondage to our own human nature and bondage to the lures of the world. We are liberated from this bondage to participate in voluntary servitude to our God, becoming sons that serve God and do His will. We are given the motivation to serve God by the gift of the Holy Spirit and the attractiveness of the Father and Son, who are hard to resist; we do not want to disappoint them but want to please them. By imitating our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, though we cannot forgive other peoples'sins, but we can have compassion on them, rendering concrete acts of service to them like the Good Samaritan, who in contrast to the cruelty of the robbers and the cold indifference of the religious leaders, ministered to the poor victim's needs and extended his service to him by unselfishly hiring the innkeeper to care for him. As we, motivated by compassion, render service to the hurting and needy, we also serve Jesus Christ and our Heavenly Father. Our compassion for the hurts of others must be turned into concrete deeds of service to God and our fellow man.
Mike Ford, asking us to thoughtfully calculate the cost of our discipleship, warns us about the perils of looking, using the metaphor of plowing a furrow with a plow behind an animal. Looking back is dangerous because we may plow a crooked furrow and get hopelessly off course. Consequently, we must soberly count the cost before we embark on plowing our spiritual furrow: are we willing to give up our job, our family, or even our own life to follow God's plan for us? Can we really say that God's requirements are far too difficult? Sometimes, our family members may turn against us. The survey of Genesis reveals multiple instances of loss, forcing each biblical character to count the cost. Examples include Adam and Eve (losing two sons and a daughter), Noah (losing all but a few members of his family), Abraham (separating from his father, his nephew Lot, from Ishmael, and in his mind losing Isaac), Isaac and Rebecca (losing the companionship of both their sons, Jacob (losing the companionship of Joseph, Joseph (losing his family for an extended period of time. All these were willing to pay a high price in anticipation of something exceedingly greater. Many of us, after our calling, have had to give up the intimacy of our extended and often our immediate family. Our calling has been exceedingly expensive by the death of our Elder Brother, who had to endure a brief separation from God the Father. Our role as kings and priests and members of God's family will enable us to renew relationships with friends and family which have temporarily become estranged but not permanently lost.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the heart is the generator or birthplace of our action, reminds us that we are a treasure in God's eyes, chosen, royal, and special, and we must guard and protect our calling, realizing it is the most precious possession we will ever attain- an opportunity to serve as the chosen retinue of Christ the King, the Bride of Christ, the 144,000 of Revelation 7:4, representing 12,000 from each tribe of Israel. In addition to the 144,000, the Innumerable Multitude consists of glorified spirit beings which have gone through great tribulation or stress, referring more to a perennial condition than a point event because the Greek did not contain the definite article (that is, the) in the original text. We are all currently going through this type of tribulation, which started with Adam and Eve's sinning and will crescendo right up until the end. The Church, or the Israel of God, started by Jesus Christ and the Apostles, is a unique educational institution, teaching the way of God and amplifying His Commandments, in contrast to the churches of this world, which take part in the world's politics as well as its wars and the emerging universality movement, which teaches there are many ways to God and that it is possible to be spiritual without being religious. The only institution that is qualified to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is the one consisting of those specifically called by God, willing to follow His Commandments, and yielding unconditionally to His leadership. Consequently, it is essential to know who we are and how we fit in. The churches of the world don't hold the answer because they have rejected the Sabbath and Holy Days, and do not see themselves as citizens of God's Heavenly Kingdom, seeing no use to follow the footsteps of Christ, imitating His behavior. God's Church separates itself from the world's systems, but maintains its loyalty to God's Heavenly Kingdom, upholding its laws in the spirit and the letter. The Church of God is an educational system preaching
David Grabbe, cuing in on verses in Matthew 24 and Luke 17, referring to the sign of eagles or vultures gathering together in the wake of God's impending judgment, corrects some misapplications of these verses, wherein people believe it refers to the Rapture. These pictures refer to the judgment against sin, providing a banquet for the vultures feasting upon those who have rebelled against God. As God's called-out ones, our biggest concern is not the Great Tribulation or the Beast, but instead it is being unprepared for Christ's return, and hence becoming food for the physical vultures or the symbolic demonic carrion. We dare not push off the time we seek God; we must not be like the foolish virgins who thought they had more time to get ready. Judgment is coming on the world, but it is coming on the church of God right now; let us be sure the vultures do not mistake us for the nearly dead.
In Christ, our earthly citizenships are essentially inconsequential. Paul writes in Philippians 3:19 about the enemies of Christ who "set their minds on earthly things" or "side with earthly things." One area in which we can evaluate how much our heavenly Kingdom means to us is how much we set our minds on earthly kingdoms.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on the double standards of the proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis, at once insisting that we treat the Bible like every other literary document while insisting the New Testament jump through extra hoops. Looking at the extant number of the ancient texts available to corroborate the authenticity of the Scriptures, more ancient manuscripts of the New Testament have been found than for any other classic text. If every New Testament were destroyed tomorrow, the text could be reconstructed by going to the writings of the church fathers. There are also more corroborating manuscripts of the New Testament in languages other than Greek. The veracity of the Scriptures is something we can take to the bank, in essence our only protection against the torrent of deception we face today, giving us the strength to endure and overcome. God's Word points out profound and necessary truths, prompting us to change our thinking and behavior. As we change, God instills His character in us, allowing us to begin living as He does. As we read God's Word, we must remember that assent is not acceptance. We must accept what God says, obeying and yielding to Him unconditionally, even though human nature stiffens in rebellion at the prospect. We must develop a proper sense of proportion in our relationship to God. We must mortify sin and give ourselves as a living sacrifice. We then must have no doubt that God is capable of giving us whatever we need to finish our course, transforming us into His image.
Ecclesiastes is a book of wisdom. The kind of wisdom that it teaches, however, is not of the purely philosophical variety, but is a spiritual sagacity combined with practical skill in living. John Ritenbaugh explains that this kind of godly wisdom, if applied, will protect a Christian as he experiences the trials and tribulations of life in this world.
John Ritenbaugh, stating that Ecclesiastes 3 expresses awesome possibilities for the future, also points out that Ecclesiastes 4 reminds us that there are harsh realities for those living under the sun, making compromise with the world inviting. Many of God's servants, including Elijah and Jeremiah, had their crises of faith, desiring to flee from their responsibilities and commitments. Living in this world can be discouraging and downright difficult because of the presence of evil, but God urges us to contentment, reminding those called out that He has gifted us to withstand the many tests of our faith. Solomon witnessed the hopeless corruption of the legal system of his time. Freedom only works when its constituents behave morally, but will self-destruct as its constituents behave immorally. Solomon observed that undesirable extremes exist in the work ethic continuum, including excessive competition, greed, laziness, sloth, miserliness, and selfishness. The balanced work ethic combines industriousness with contentment, as well as a willingness to share work and the fruits of work with others. Solomon warns that fame, power, and political success are fleeting and fickle, and the demise is quickened by pride. Each political victory carries the seed of its own destruction, producing a harvest of discontent and resentment. We live our entire lives in a world under the sun, forcing us to trust God in an attitude of faith and contentment for the variety of experiences which shape and develop our emerging Godly character.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on I Timothy 1:1, identifies our hope as Jesus Christ because He is alive; we have a living Savior. We are aware that (1) Christ is going to return, (2) Satan will continue to build up his preparations, and (3) pressures of day-to-day life will become increasingly more numerous and difficult. Consequently, we cannot afford to rest on our oars, but must continue to prepare for our future in hope and expectation, looking to Christ to assist us. Like the tortoise in Aesop's fable, we must plod on purposefully and steadily, desiring the spiritual goals God has prepared for us. Like the Psalmist David, we will find times when we are discouraged and overwhelmed. Eric Hoffer, in his book The True Believer, examines the nature of mass movements, including mass movements in religion. God's true church shows distinct variation with other mass movements, in that God has hand-picked every individual. Nevertheless, many of Hoffer's principles apply to members of God's church, including (1) being discontented with our lives (although not economically destitute), (2) believing in a potent doctrine (Gospel), an infallible leader (Jesus Christ), or new technique (God's Holy Spirit) to change ourselves and have an influence on the culture, and (3) having an expectation (hope) of the future, but remaining oblivious to the difficulties involved. Faith must be continually supported with the expectation that we can make it, realizing that Christ is continually with us. This knowledge will become increasingly important as our country and culture continues its steady demise due to Satan's leadership. Our goal should be to move day by day, one step at a time in our journey towards God's Kingdom. Peace will be a characteristic of everyone who trusts in Christ regardless of the tribulations and difficulties around him. We must remember what happened to Christ will happen to us as well. Christ maintains His loyalty to us even though our faith may severely flag. Our hope is in a Being who has never failed us nor a
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.
Ecclesiastes is perhaps the most practical, as well as profitable, book in the Old Testament, providing overviews of life-guiding advice, essentially a roadmap through the labyrinth, which constitutes the Christian's life journey. Ecclesiastes could be considered the core of biblical wisdom literature. The teacher's conclusions in Ecclesiastes are deliberately blunt. In the labyrinth journey, we are compelled to live by faith, not having all the facts at our disposal. Ecclesiastes is a practical guide in "right now" applications rather than anticipating the future. God knows where He is taking our lives; we do not have a clear picture where God is taking us. We need to develop a trust to submit to Him in order that He can prepare us for our destiny. Ecclesiastes was given to us to expose the world's false values and philosophies which have the tendency to throw God's people off balance. Thankfully, God does not leave our creation up to us or to chance. Godly wisdom accrues from practical experience (dodging obstacles and cul-de-sacs of the world) stemming from a relationship with God. Ecclesiastes gives practical advice for people living in a corrupt world trying to live a godly life, providing us helpful or useful cautions and warning as to what to avoid. Anything that is vanity is nothing compared to the permanence of God's Kingdom. God intends for His people that life should be profitable. In order to achieve that profitable life, we should be looking over the sun for a converted perspective. God is forcing us to make a choice between His profitable way (fearing Him and keeping His commandments) or the common way of mankind.
Among the Old Testament's books of wisdom, Ecclesiastes stands as one seemingly out of place: full of frustration, blunt, and even a little hopeless. However, since God is its ultimate Author, its themes are realistic and necessary for us to grasp. With this article, John Ritenbaugh begins an extended series on Ecclesiastes and its trove of deep understanding.
John Ritenbaugh, synthesizing the topics God's sovereignty, Ecclesiastes, and God's will, observes that God does not prevent us from sinning, and furthermore judges sin on a sliding scale of seriousness, based upon intent and premeditation. God has distinguished, for example, murder and manslaughter. The latter offense receives a far less severe penalty. Adam and Eve's transgression has inflicted the death penalty on the whole human race. Thankfully, the Second Adam has provided a means to neutralize this horrible penalty. As all in Adam died, all in Christ shall be made alive. The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us that everything in life matters. God has over-riding purposes that He is working out, purposes that have been worked on since the foundation of the world. God hates sin, but God's purpose permits a person to sin, as well as allowing a person to experience the tragic effects of sin. Not all of God's will is revealed through the pages of the Bible; it is progressively revealed through time on a need-to-know basis. The secret things belong to God, but those things that are revealed (through the passages of the Scriptures) belong to us. God knows the end from the beginning, but He does not give us all the details at once, except as they are necessary for us to process in our journey through life's labyrinth. What will eventually emerge for us is a clear understanding of God's will.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on the movie the King's Speech as an example of a man who is reluctant to step into the role which circumstances thrust upon him. Do we as God's called-out ones find ourselves reluctant heirs to the throne or priesthood? We are all commoners, not yet equipped for rulership. The Parables of the Minas and the Talents indicates that we need to be faithful over what we have been given to do, and if we do, we will be given more responsibility in the future. God chooses the base and the weak because they are more pliable and teachable, more productive soil. We are getting the absolute best training in rulership or leadership in the Church of God finishing school, a virtual university of leadership. Much of our training derives from profiting from our mistakes. Thankfully, we have the ability to go right to the Father to ask for wisdom. If we keep the lines of communication open, through Bible Study and prayer, this wisdom (the hidden wisdom of God) is being inculcated into our character. The Holy Spirit is given to all of us (who are currently all over the map) binding us all together in one body. God desires us to acquiesce and defer to His Wisdom in all things. In this context, we should not be reluctant to take up our thrones or future responsibilities. We will be an essential part of God's blessing on humanity, as an extension of Jesus Christ. God will provide us all the power and know-how we will need.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the analogy or metaphor of wilderness wanderings, focuses on the role of suffering or persecution (pressure) in perfecting the saints. God the Father perfected Jesus Christ (our Elder Brother, High Priest, and Mediator) through suffering. Likewise, God the Father has determined that His called-out ones would also be prepared for the reward and inheritance through the same manner. We need to develop the character to govern ourselves because those who cannot rule themselves are not fit to rule anything. As we put on Jesus Christ, we also are required to put on His suffering. As we are called to suffer like our Elder Brother, we are similarly called to glorification. Glory follows suffering. Christ's suffering was not confined to crucifixion, but also consisted of rejection, snubbing, humiliation, and the duress of persecution. God is still with us when we are suffering, perfecting our character. Suffering comes with the territory of being prepared for the Kingdom of God. The path to glory lies through suffering for righteousness sake; there is no intrinsic value in any other kind of suffering. Since we will be working with Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of God, God the Father will allow us to have parallel experiences as our Elder Brother endured. The ultimate rewards of this temporary suffering are mind-boggling if we doggedly follow our Archegos, Prodromou, Scout, Forerunner, and Trail-blazer, Jesus Christ, who gave us the example of leadership through service. God is equipping and perfecting us to work with Jesus Christ, using the tools of suffering, tests, and trials to build the right kind of godly character.
John Ritenbaugh contends that our pilgrimage began with our calling and ends with our destination in the Kingdom of God as members of His Royal Priesthood. It seems to have been God's choice to call foolish, base, and despised individuals to confound the wise and mighty. Fortunately, God did not abandon our forbears in their weaknesses and shortcomings, nor will He abandon us. We become strengthened spiritually as we come to know God, becoming elevated to members of His family, thinking and behaving just like the Father and the Son. In the meantime, we are aliens living in a foreign country, keeping our citizenship in the Kingdom of God. We are pilgrims, continually on the move to a holy place. We must not follow through on our physical lusts or we will put down roots in this world, becoming worldly. The metaphors Peter uses, such as stone, priesthood, nation, and family, all demand that we fit into a larger unit or entity, fulfilling a particular role or responsibility. Even though we currently have citizenship in God's Kingdom, we are not there yet. We must have the vision of the world tomorrow, as had Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, conducting our lives as though we were already there, making moral and ethical decisions accordingly. We can conduct our lives appropriately because Jesus Christ lives within our minds, allowing us to tap into the reservoirs of His experience. We also share His suffering, realizing that glory follows suffering, if we suffer for righteousness sake. This suffering may involve enduring hardship, deprivation, duress, and outright boredom. Suffering, a kind of refining fire, (for righteousness sake) comes with the territory of qualifying for the Kingdom of God.
John Ritenbaugh indicates that we are being fitted as lively stones into an already formed Kingdom, being conformed to the image of Christ, who has been designated as the Cornerstone. As God's future priests, becoming living sacrifices, we will constitute God's department of health, education, and welfare, serving and helping humanity. The Israel of God becomes God's firstborn, being set aside as a chosen generation to help the High Priest, Jesus Christ. This role as Christ's assistants is what we are being prepared for, a role which will call for rigorous discipline. This rigor will enable us to be totally transformed from the inside out, bringing about a renewal of our minds and a change of character. We are appointed on men's behalf to deal with things pertaining to God. We will become the link between men and God. We will offer sacrifice, largely consisting of intercessory prayer. We have to have compassion, sympathy, and empathy with mankind, realizing the repertoire of our own weaknesses. Like Christ, we must learn from the things we have suffered, making us able to aid those who have been tempted. God has hand-picked or chosen us as forerunners because He loved us; we dare not squander this precious calling of training for the Royal Priesthood. The more we know God, the stronger and more insightful we will get, enabling us to build one another up in Godly love, thinking with the mind of the Father and Jesus Christ, with His Law written in our hearts.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the sin residing within us, warns that we will be battling sin for the rest of our lives. We were in bondage, seemingly powerless before the addiction which enslaved us. Satan, the primary slave owner, tries to control us with the residue of his spirit. We need to be in continual contact with the Son to scour the corrosive residue of Satan's spirit. Because of our conversion, we are enabled to listen to and respond to Christ's corrective instruction, which helps us to overcome our contaminated human nature which keeps us in bondage to the world. We are in various stages of our wilderness journey, not knowing for certain where our journey will take us—even though God knows exactly where He is taking us. These twists and turns give us opportunities to develop and strengthen our faith in God. We need to yield to and trust in God's purification and refinement, having the goal of overcoming fixed in our mind. As former slaves to Satan's system, we have had very little opportunity to exercise our God-given freedom to the best advantage. Sometimes, we seem hopelessly inexperienced, and would be in danger of failing were it not for God's Holy Spirit, prompting us like the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud guided our forebears through the uncharted wilderness. We are never alone. We have an advantage over our forebears in that God has made a heart that is capable of accepting and yielding to His commandments, mixed with life-giving faith, prompted through His Holy Spirit. God has called all of us out individually of metaphorical Egypt-a spiritual Egypt of sin, having plans for us as future members of His family.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing with his exposé of the world's "original sin" doctrine, asserts that it demonstrates the hopelessly deceitful nature of the human heart. God did not create this vile human nature. God gave Adam and Eve a neutral spirit and free moral agency; our parents presumptuously chose the toxic Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, negatively predisposing their offspring to sin. Human nature is the product of mankind's neutral spirit contaminated with Satan's evil prompts. The apostle Paul realized this prompt or force (another law warring in his members Romans 7:23) ravaging and captivating his mental processes. Everyone is individually responsible for sin. The spirit God initially placed within Adam was very good; Satan contaminated man's heart, but encouraged him to blame God. As God calls us, we are to strive to be holy, or to be like God. Conversely, sin is the departure from God's revealed will (commission or omission). God gives us a new heart and the ability to repent; we must respond to God's efforts to change us. It is a life and death matter. We need to cling intimately to God, earnestly seeking God's forgiveness and guidance to continually make the right choices.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: John the Baptist is the first of God's messengers to address repentance in the New Testament. ...
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Romans 14:10-12, suggests that the Days of Unleavened Bread depict a period of intense judgment on the church. As God's called-out ones, we are sojourners and pilgrims on this earth, with our citizenship in heaven. Our pilgrimage to our Promised Land (the Kingdom of God), like our ancient forbears, may not go in a direct straight line, but in many circuitous routes. We are obligated to trust God in spite of all these apparent detours, following His lead, traversing through a spiritual wilderness with no familiar signposts. We walk by faith, not by sight, to the beat of a different drummer, requiring an intense reserve of faith. We could use the book of Numbers and the summary in I Corinthians 10 as a kind of roadmap, pointing out particular pitfalls. As God kept our forbears perpetually on edge, He does the same thing with us, continually leading us and correcting us, promoting our growth in order to save us. We have to be on guard against lusting, distorting the truth, infidelity, cowardice or fearfulness, peer pressure, presumptuous rebellion, rejecting God by rejecting God's representatives, grumbling, murmuring, complaining, and acting impulsively or rashly. Most of the people making the covenant in the wilderness church did not reach the Promised Land.
John W. Ritenbaugh: My last essay addressed the fact that change is always present in every person's life. ...
David C. Grabbe: The story of Job has long been a place of inquiry for those enduring severe trials. ...
John Ritenbaugh affirms that Deuteronomy is the only book commanded to be read at regular intervals. Deuteronomy covers the final 70 days of Moses' tumultuous life. The rulers of Israel were to write a copy of the Law and read it on a daily basis. As members of the Israel of God, kings and priests in waiting, we need to read it continually, learning to rule others by learning to rule ourselves. The book of Deuteronomy is the heart and pulse of the Old Testament, with its words throughout the New Testament (quoted 86 times), excoriating idolatry, providing a foundation of Christian doctrine, exposing human nature, and providing an outline preparing us to enter God's Kingdom. The spiritual concepts in Deuteronomy serve as a template for the ruler's instruction book. Unlike Leviticus, Deuteronomy is not a cold, codified law, but a heart-felt appeal from Almighty God for His children to remain faithful to Him. As God Almighty skillfully engineered a massive number of our forebears, He will similarly engineer the end-time exodus for the Israel of God. Likewise we have a responsibility to remain faithful, instructing our children in God's instruction, insuring the success of God's family operation. We are to fear, love, and serve God, walking in and keeping His Commandments with all our might.
John Ritenbaugh examines the lives of those who signed the Declaration of Independence, observing that they put their treasure and lives in danger, many dying as traitors and outcasts. All of the signers realized that they were lighting the fuse freeing the colonies from a tyrannical enslaving power. We must also be prepared to put our lives, treasure, and honor on the line, pledging everything we are and everything we have, picking up our cross daily, declaring our independence from carnality, evil and bondage to sin. The stakes are higher for us than for the signers of the Declaration of Independence. True godly patriotism cannot be forced; Christ voluntarily and willingly laid down His life for the flock. Godly patriotism is built and sustained by truth which issues forth in love, requiring a lifetime of spiritual struggle and sacrifice, patterned after the substitutionary sacrifice of our Elder Brother. We must say no to self-centeredness, bearing the pain and shame of this lifestyle Christ has given us, continuing to trust Him in all situations, serving our brethren in His behalf. Paradoxically, laying down our lives in the service of God the Father and Christ the Son, suffering hardship, and struggling with our carnal nature, actually makes us free. Ironically, preparing for spiritual struggle and warfare must take place in an environment of peace.
Having a goal is a wonderful thing, but it is worthless without a plan for achieving it. John Ritenbaugh contends that Christians also need to have a conscious plan in seeking God, recommending several essential qualities that must be included in any successful course of action.
Human beings, even those who have been called to be children of God, have an innate fear that God will not always provide for us. John Ritenbaugh contends that this fear originates in doubt about God's power—a doubt that falls to pieces before God's revelation of Himself in the Bible.
It is a given that works cannot earn us salvation. However, they play many vital roles in our Christian walk toward the Kingdom of God. In this concluding article, John Ritenbaugh gives specific reasons for doing good works, showing their close relationship with holiness.
We may not put our hope in a secret rapture, but could we be guilty of the same assumed-infallibility with regard to a place of safety? Is our hope in a telephone call announcing that it is time to flee? Is our trust in being on good terms with the physical organization that is "guaranteed" to be whisked away and protected from every inconvenience? ...
Jesus Christ came to this earth with a message of salvation, which the Bible calls 'the gospel of the Kingdom of God.' John Ritenbaugh, in setting up the final article in the series, describes just what Christ's gospel is and its relationship to Christian works.
The Bible makes it very plain that salvation is by grace, but it is also clear that we are 'created in Christ Jesus for good works' (Ephesians 2:10). Having explained justification, John Ritenbaugh tackles the process of sanctification, showing that the far greater part of God's saving work in us occurs after baptism!
John Ritenbaugh, repeating his caution about uncritically reading certain theological books and commentaries, warns that deception will abound exponentially in the Information Age. The elect are not immune to antinomian deception, including the doctrine of eternal security, the total depravity of man, unconditional love, irresistible grace, and the "once saved always saved" mentality. These pernicious, surreptitious teachings are designed to remove personal guilt and the necessity for personal responsibility or works (anathema to antinomian, "rule-hating," syncretistic, evangelical teaching), casting aside the law of God and substituting personal standards. Without a demonstration of works (prompted and empowered by God's Holy Spirit), it will be impossible for God to judge whether we will actively adhere to His standards, steadfastly walking in the footsteps of Christ. Finally, the amazing history of the rejection of the Sabbath and the embracing of Sunday is explained.
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.
In Luke 14:25-33, two parables and an exhortation urge us to forsake all that we have as a mandatory condition to becoming Christ's disciples. One main lesson is emphasized in these scriptures: the nature and influence of true discipleship.
Richard Ritenbaugh explains the symbolism of the seven golden lamps (Zechariah 4:2; Revelation 1:20) as seven churches empowered by an abundance of oil (a symbol of God's Spirit, Zechariah 4:6), manifested as works or fruit. Zerubbabel, finishing the physical Temple, serves as a type of Christ, who finishes the spiritual one. The seven stars, lamps, and eyes appear to be interchangeable, representing the churches, the messengers of the churches, or the spirit of the churches (Revelation 1:16, 20; 5:6).
Even though a Christian's potential in God's Kingdom is so wonderful, it is still necessary for God to motivate His children to reach it. John Ritenbaugh begins his series on Christian motivation by expounding the fear of God.
In this sobering sermon, John Ritenbaugh warns of the consequences of fellowshipping outside of God's called-out church. People who suppose they are supplementing their spiritual diet with a poisonous blend of heresy and lawlessness risk losing their identity and witness, and ultimately their spiritual life. God has made his covenant with one body, the Israel of God, which yields to His way of life, keeping His Sabbath as a perpetual covenant. Fellowship with organizations which despise or denigrate God's Sabbath is tantamount to spiritual adultery. Bad doctrine inevitably deceives and destroys. Our behavior and practice must inevitably derive or grow out of our core doctrines - that we were called to qualify as members of His Family, something of which the world's religions have no inkling.
John Ritenbaugh assures us that God is involved in the minute details of every converted person's life just as much as He is in the major historical world events. As a new creation of God (II Corinthians 5:17) we receive continuous, meticulous, detailed attention through the creative activity of His grace which never stops. God, as Creator, takes the initiative (as the potter over the clay) for the elect's salvation, enabling us to build the repertoire of habits called character. In this process, bringing certain things together in the lives of the called, both calamitous as well as positive, God fulfills His purpose. Even though we don't at times know where we are headed, we need to develop the faith or trust in God's vision for us.
In this message on recognizing the true gospel, Richard Ritenbaugh stresses that the gospel encompasses far more than the Kingdom of God coming to this earth. It includes the complete revelation of God to man of His plan to reproduce Himself through man. The gospel has explosive power (dunamis, Romans 1:16) both to destroy evil and to construct righteous character, giving us everything we need to live like God. If a gospel does not produce repentance and faith, it is not the true gospel. The aim of the gospel is to always increase our faith, enabling every thought, word, and behavior to be motivated by God.
God calls us 'living stones' in I Peter 2. Bill Keesee illustrates why this description is so apt view of God's work making us His jewels.
John Ritenbaugh addresses the topic of stewardship, suggesting that what we are called to do at this time is to fulfill our job as a steward, entrusted with managing, protecting, preserving, attending, and increasing what has been entrusted to us- namely the fabulous wealth of the mysteries of God and our spiritual inheritance (I Corinthians 4:1). Our responsibilities as stewards include fidelity, trustworthiness, loyalty, reliability, and devotion to duty. In the Parable of the Unjust Steward, rather than commending worldliness, cheating, or scheming, Jesus commends the practical preparations for the future which He desired children of the light to follow.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that having an objective orientation (other centered approach) rather than a subjective orientation (self-centered apprach) leads to unity and reconciliation. As members of Christ's collective body, we must exercise those self-restraining and self-controlling godly attributes of walking worthy, having lowliness of mind, meekness, patience, and forbearance- all elements of love demonstrating a practical application for guarding the unity of the spirit.In the present scattering, permitted by Almighty God, the group that one fellowships with is less important than the understanding that there is one true church, bound by a spiritual, not a physical unity.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that walking worthy demands a balance between doctrine and application or between doctrine and conduct. Unity demands both. It is impossible to make a corporate union of all the splinters of the greater church of God because doctrinal, attitudinal, philosophical, and policy differences have grown increasingly disparate. Unity has to come from the inside out with God raising a leader which people, having their minds opened by God's Spirit, will voluntarily submit to. We can prepare for this unity by submitting to God's doctrines and living in accordance with them. Only when we have willingly gone back to our first love can we again attain family identity and spiritual unity.
John Ritenbaugh takes issue with the popularly held notion that preaching the Gospel to the world as a witness is the sole identifying mark of God's church. There is a vast difference between "preaching the Gospel to the world" and "making disciples"- the major focus in Matthew 28:20. The largest portion of the great commission demands that the lion's share of time, money, or energy ought to be invested in feeding the flock. With the present scattering of the church, engineered by Almighty God (not Satan) in response to our sick, rebellious, and unsound condition, our major obligation at this time should be to heal its wounds and to point it in the direction of repentance, overcoming, and growth. God indeed wants unity, but it has to be on His terms.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that the preaching the gospel to the world, held by some to be the only identifying mark of the church, is at best the beginning of a long, complex process of creating disciples and godly offspring through steady feeding and encouragement to overcome (feeding the flock). God, as a responsible parent, is not one-dimensional in assigning responsibilities to His children, but frequently shifts gears, changing circumstances, giving His begotten children a well-rounded education. God - not Satan or an incompetent ministry - engineered the massive scattering of the church of God to move it away from pernicious and fatal Laodiceanism. We need to adjust to the new situation, realizing that God has engineered these events with the real work of God in mind: making man in His image and reproducing Himself.
Faithlessness is the essence of mankind's general character at the end of the age. However, faithfulness is to be a hallmark of a true Christian. How can we become more faithful? How can we be true to the course God has laid out for us?
John Ritenbaugh, soberly reflecting on the $19 trillion dollar national debt and with 25% of American private citizens two days away from bankruptcy, he warns that the prudent shouldn't continue to live in a fool's paradise, but should make common sense preparations, like the ant, (Proverbs 6:6-8) storing up provisions for at least a season. Prophetic warnings are given to motivate preparation. Both the watchman and the one who hears (Ezekiel 3:17) have a grave responsibility to make prudent economic and spiritual preparations for bad times, tightening belts, helping themselves and others through the tough times.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that the practical advice in Hebrews 12-13 fits our current condition like a glove. Like the recipients of this epistle, the greater church of God, having drifted away and given in to sin, we must also lay aside every weight which encumbers, accept God's chastening, receive encouragement from those who have already succeeded (Hebrews 12:1), and energetically get back into the spiritual race. We should allow nothing to deter us from the goal, remembering the consequences if we fail. All of our behaviors — including demonstrating brotherly love and hospitality, exercising empathy, strengthening our marriages, being content with God's blessings, submitting to leadership, avoiding strange doctrines, coming out of this world, praying without ceasing, and being charitable — must be done out of a pure heart.
John Ritenbaugh, using athletic running metaphors, emphasizes that we, like the Apostle Paul, must discipline ourselves, apply concentrated effort, and run with endurance to attain our reward or office (not to attain salvation, as some anti-nomian teachers have falsely charged). Sanctification is the longest, most difficult, and most grueling part of the conversion process—a time when suffering and sacrifice are demanded of us; a time of continual warfare between our human nature and surrendering to God. We press on because: (1) God expects us to make the effort, and (2) the prize goes to those who do.
Have you ever considered what it will be like right after Christ returns? What will you do, as a king, to help and govern the people placed under you? Believe it or not, you are already developing those skills!
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.
When Jesus became mentally exhausted and enervated, he became invigorated and refreshed by seeing God's will completed, regarding it metaphorically as food and nourishment (John 4:34) Similarly we can become energized and motivated by our high calling and summons to do the will of God, seeing how vitally important we are to God's purpose. Modifying the slogan of the United States Marines, John Ritenbaugh characterizes the Saints as "The few, the humbled, the called."
John Ritenbaugh clarifies some difficult terms which Protestant theologians have misapplied, characterizing God's holy law as a "yoke of bondage." If we fail to realize that Paul's focus in the Galatians epistle was justification (rather than the whole salvation process of sanctification and glorification) we could become confused. The Old Covenant had no provision for justification nor did it provide a mechanism to change the heart. The antinomian argument ignores that Christ also puts a yoke of responsibility on New Covenant participants (Matthew 11:29-30). The yoke of bondage Paul referred to was a syncretism of Halakhah- the code of regulations added by the Pharisees- and Gnostic ascetic ritualism, neither a part of God's Law. God's Spirit and law keeping are not contradictory.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that the S.P.S. (Specific Purpose Statement) of the entire Bible is "Let us make man in our image, according our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). To this end God has given us His Law, which serves as a map showing us the way of sanctification and holiness. Because God desires companionship of beings like Himself, He is in the process of reproducing the God-kind. The map showing the way consists of the Old and New Testament, works inextricable as law and grace and letter and spirit. As Paul's writings reveal, the Old Testament is in the New revealed while the New Testament is in the Old concealed. Contemporaries of John and Paul (and some deceivers this very day) have tried to throw out the Old Testament and the Law, replacing it with Gnosticism.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that the Christian's hope constitutes an incremental acquisition of God's glory; that is what the New Covenant is all about. At this point in time, Christ is the only one who has received His inheritance, becoming the first-born of many brethren (Romans 8:29; Hebrews 2:10), having a glorified spiritual body (Revelation 1:13-16). Our hope, as we yield to God, is to be like Him (I John 3:1-3), to become a glorified member of God's family. Christ's sacrifice enabled us to get close to God, establishing a family relationship with Him. As we participate in the New Covenant, we go through the stages of justification, sanctification, and ultimately glorification as part of Christ's body.
A common mantra, even among Christians, is "You shouldn't judge." Is this a biblical concept? John Ritenbaugh exposes the fallacy of this belief and explains how righteous judgment should be done.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon our future responsibilities as a priest in God's Kingdom, asking us if we are really preparing for this role. If we are not practicing being a priest right now,we will not be prepared. During the Millennium, the priest will be required to make a large number of mediating sacrifices on behalf of the people, mediating, reconciling, teaching, judging, and saving the remnant of Israel. The primary function of a priest is to assist people in accessing God- so that there can be unity with God. A priest is a bridge-builder between man and God. The sacrifice that God demands is a total sacrifice of time, energy, and service (in short, ones whole life) to that end. Nothing will prepare us to become a priest more than to commit our entire lives as a total living sacrifice.
God has invited us into a love relationship--one in which He has already shown Himself to be absolutely faithful. If we truly love Him, severing our affections with this world, we will meet the demands of becoming holy. God's Holy Spirit enables us to have this love (Romans 5:5), but we must actively use it or lose it. We must seek God as ardently as we would a physical love relationship, spending quality time with Him. If we make no effort to pursue this relationship, it cools. Similarly, unfaithfulness (idolatry) will destroy it. Obedience (expressing our love toward God and proving that we trust Him) will strengthen this relationship, giving us a higher quality, more abundant life and increased blessings.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates the dominant themes, including (1) Preparing to receive our inheritance (2) Learning to fear God (3) God's grace and (4) God's faithfulness. We will not be prepared to execute judgment in the Millennium unless we are experientially persuaded of God's faithfulness to His Covenant and of His intolerance of evil. God not only wants us separated from the rest of society, but He demands that we develop within us the same kind of transcendent moral purity with which He is composed, not budging one inch when it comes to sin. Because God has redeemed us, we are His property. As we sacrifice ourselves to Him in love, giving ourselves to Him unconditionally, doing what pleases Him with warmth and affection (as is typified by the marriage covenant- a God-plane relationship), we attain holiness.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that God has commanded the book of Deuteronomy to be reviewed every seven years, at the time of release. Deuteronomy, the reiteration of God's Law given in preparation for entering the Promised Land contains the testimony written in stone by the finger of God, serving as the basis for both justice and mercy. The Book of the Law (Deuteronomy) was placed along side the Tablets of the Law as a perpetual testimony and a witness. Deuteronomy could be considered the New Testament of the Old Testament, serving as an elaborate commentary on the Ten Commandments. Deuteronomy gives vision (a summary) for critical times (the narrow difficult path ahead involving a multitude of choices), preparing us for living (eternally as God lives) in the Promised Land (Kingdom of God).
John Reid identifies four separate ways we are taught: (1.) God's Holy Spirit (John 14:26) imparted to us after our calling (John 6:44) and baptism (2) His Word (II Timothy 2:14-15), (3) through physical observation (Romans 1:20), and (4) through the ministry. The purpose of the ministry is to take members from their point of calling, bringing them to the point where they can be of service to God, edifying them, equipping them for their job of ministering in divine things (Ephesians 4:11-12, I Corinthians 6:2-3), establishing spiritual unity, and bringing them to spiritual maturity or adulthood to the measure of Jesus Christ. The minister serves as a shepherd, teaching not autocratically, but through example (I Peter 5:1-3)
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the reason for refraining from work or pleasure on the Sabbath is not labor or muscular energy, but the overall motivation for expending this energy. Proper preparation for the Sabbath frees us from customary distractions, allowing our words and fellowship to focus on God's purpose for our lives. The Sabbath is 1) a memorial of creation; 2) a recurring period of God's presence; 3) associated with liberty and redemption; 4) a time in which how it is kept looms more important than merely keeping or observing it; 5) represents a shift in emphasis from communal to individual responsibility, prefiguring the rest of God; 6) a time when not working becomes secondary to fellowship with God; and 7) requires a preparation day to clear away mundane activities, enabling total commitment to God.
In October 1993, the church's magazine took the name Forerunner. This article by managing editor Richard Ritenbaugh explains how this name fits the work of the Church of the Great God.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon themes covered in previous sermons and sermonettes, including commitment and our ultimate goal of becoming a member of the God family, explores sanctification as both a state and a process - a time period between justification and glorification during which overcoming, purification, and holiness takes place with the help and aid of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on man's ultimate destiny to have dominion over the entire universe, admonishes that preparation for this awesome responsibility requires faithful stewardship over the things God has entrusted to us (our bodies, families, possessions, etc.)—dressing, keeping, and maintaining those things, overcoming and growing, building character, and making use of the gifts God has given us. Though salvation along with the will and power come from God, the character must come from our effort at overcoming. In the seeming delay of the Bridegroom, we must rouse ourselves from our slumber and diligently prepare for His return.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that we must avoid distractions and keep our lives focused on God and His Holy Word. The prophetic messages in Revelation 2 and 3 are designed for the end times, shortly before the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. All seven churches—with their unique attitudes—will be extant contemporaneously at the end time. If a message ("he who overcomes," "I know your works") is repeated seven times in two chapters, God must want us to understand these concerns. Nothing is more important than repentance and overcoming, producing mature, committed, loyal disciples displaying exemplary conduct and good works, avoiding the distractions of Satan (Ephesians 6:12) and the allurements of this world (I John 2:15).
John Ritenbaugh affirms that it is constant earnest praying which keeps faith alive and makes certain the receiving of every one of the qualities which make us in the image of God. Like Enoch, we must walk with God as a way of life, seeking Him out and talking with Him on a continual basis. A person maturing in faith would always pray in consistency and alignment with God's purpose. We always have to understand that God's purpose comes first, not our request. If we walk with God daily, God will provide us patience and insight into the meaning of our trials, and how they work out His ultimate purpose. In removing mountains, we must focus more on the reality of God than on the mountain.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the necessity to attain fellowship with God, defining fellowship as "joint participation with someone else in things possessed by both." At our calling (John 6:44) we have virtually nothing in common with our Creator. Through the shaping power of God's Holy Spirit, He starts to fill the chasm, which divides us by (1) convicting us of sin, (2) convicting us of righteousness, and (3) convicting us of judgment, aiming our lives at the Kingdom of God and membership in His Family.
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 reveals that the valley-of-shadow imagery symbolizes the fears, frustrations, trials, and tests needed to produce character, quality fruit, and an intimate trust in the shepherd. His rod, an extension of his will and strength, serves not only against predators, but also prevents members of the flock from butting heads. It also helps him to identify and to judge. The staff, symbolic of God's Spirit, represents gentle guidance. The prepared table depicts a plateau or a mesa that the shepherd has made safe and secure for grazing. Christ, our Shepherd, has prepared the way for us, safeguarding us from predators and removing our fear of starvation and death. The oil, also symbolic of the Holy Spirit, refers to protective salve that prevents maddening or deadly insect infestation. Goodness and mercy refer to the agape love that we desperately need to acquire and use so we can leave behind a blessing. The house depicts contentment in the Family of God.
John Ritenbaugh warns that benign neglect of the Sabbath covenant can incrementally lead us into idolatry, as it apparently led Solomon into idolatry. We are admonished to respect or treat this holy time as different from the other days of the week, forsaking our mundane concerns, but allowing God to perform intense spiritual work, redeeming us from spiritual bondage, increasing our faith, and working out salvation in us. The Sabbath provides us the necessary time to systematically inculcate God's Word into our inner beings, fellowshipping with God and other called-out brethren. We need to carefully prepare for the Sabbath, making careful use of this precious preparation time for future service in His Kingdom. The Sabbath typifies the time of full redemption of Salvation and the establishment of His Kingdom on this earth- a millennial rest for this creation.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the suffering we experience in trials stems from a desire of our carnal nature to bail out, giving in to temptation to satisfy the appetites of the flesh. As the trials become more intense, our flesh ravenously demands to be satisfied, making sin look increasingly more attractive. As we stiffen our necks and resist God's will, we automatically lose what we have gained spiritually and become ignorant of His awesome purpose for us. We must emulate our Elder Brother, who learned through suffering (resisting the powerful, deceitful pulls of sin), preparing Himself for His role as High Priest. Giving in hardens our hearts and alienates us from the fellowship with God. Like the original recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, we must soberly reflect upon our calling, unconditionally trusting in God's faithfulness to fulfill His purpose for us.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that without continuous maintenance and attention, it is difficult to maintain a spiritual mind in a carnal physical body. We, like Christ, were made a little while lower than angels to be made perfect through suffering. He has blazed a trail, showing us a pattern for qualifying (through intense suffering and resisting temptation) for our ultimate responsibilities as future kings and priests—or bridge-builders, reconnecting man and God. As Christ endured the suffering and temptation successfully, we are exhorted to hold fast, activating the hope to endure to the end.
John Ritenbaugh picks up with the account of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem shortly before His crucifixion, an event which fulfilled prophecies and significantly dramatized Jesus Christ's messiahship. The crowds welcoming Jesus, while looking for a political or military hero, were actually choosing the sacrificial Paschal Lamb of God on the 10th day of Nisan. Jesus was actually throwing down the gauntlet, laying claim to His role as Messiah. The religious authorities were terrified of losing their power base. Jesus cleansed the temple of opportunistic usurious moneychangers in the courtyard of the Gentiles, an extremely crowded public place. God's Church should never be involved with fleecing the membership in any way. Additionally, God's name should never be associated with junk. After driving out the money changers, Jesus healed the blind and the lame and befriended the children who were engaged in praising Him. The truth is often clearer to the simple and innocent than to the sophisticated intellectuals. Because the fig tree was emblematic of peace and prosperity, and because it was generally prolific in yielding, Jesus cursing the fig tree carried an implied caution against lack of spiritual productivity. If a fig tree does have full leaves, it should also have full fruit; if not, the growth cycle is out of sync or degenerate. The fig tree in the New Testament (Luke 13:6) represents you and me; we are required to bear fruit. God judges by what a person produces; if we don't produce, we are useless. Uselessness invites disaster. Profession without practice is condemned. Jesus taught the disciples that prayer is power and extremely profitable in clearing up mountainous problems. Prayer should be used by us to find the ability to do. God will only do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. God wants us to be problem solvers, proved by trials, tests, and experiences He gives us. Prayer should give us the ability to accept our cup- our circumstances. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incompl
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