Clyde Finklea, referring to a book by billionaire J. Paul Getty, How To Be Rich, which discusses being a rich person (that is, living as one) rather than becoming a rich person, asks the question, "How can God's People Be Christian?" Christ, at Luke 14:26, wherein He says His people must hate their own family and their own carnal self in order to acquire eternal life, establishes the benchmark. The Prophet Micah, at Micah 6:8, provides a formula for being a Christian: 1.) Doing justly, 2.) Exercising mercy and 3.) Walking humbly. Together, these demand a total commitment (a living sacrifice) on the part of God's called-out ones rather than a token contribution. The Greatest Commandment (the Shema), demanding that we love God with all our heart, mind, and soul—and our neighbor as ourselves, requires that we bring every thought into captivity, submitting to God's purpose for us. We must couple compassion (the motive for serving others) with mercy (the act of serving others), having both the desire and the ability to love our neighbors, emulating the practice of the Good Samaritan. When we walk humbly, there is no room for self-righteousness, but instead we learn to forgive others, realizing that Christ forgave His tormenters. The narrow gate is not an easy one, but it is the only one which leads to eternal life. It behooves God's called-out ones to "be" Christians—living God's way of life. That is far more challenging than becoming Christians.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the description of the New Covenant in Hebrews 8:10, reminds us that, although God never intended the Old Covenant to endure eternally, the spiritual and immutable law (shared by both the old and new covenants) was to last forever. God did not nail His holy Law to the cross, as major Protestant denominations mistakenly declare. Rather, God nailed the penalty for our past sins, paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ, to the cross. The wages of sin is death. When Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law, He not only provided a model as to how His called-out ones are to keep it, He magnified it and raised the standards of compliance, targeting not only behavior, but motive—the whole spiritual process which underlies any sin. To give His called-out ones the ability to reach these higher standards, He gifted them with the Holy Spirit, thereby empowering them to displace carnality with Godly character. God does not create such character by fiat. Rather, it grows steadily with our determination to participate and cooperate with God. The purpose of all of God's covenants with mankind is to create character and stop sin. The New Covenant, as explicated by Hebrews, contains "post graduate" responsibilities far beyond the letter-of-the-law instructions given in Leviticus. Unlike the faulty Protestant assumption that Christ has done all the work of salvation, Christ warns His people that they must soberly count the cost because of the vastly higher standards established in the New Covenant. Christ promises, through the means of His Holy Spirit, the power to do His will, thereby giving His people the necessary tools to achieve membership in the family of God.
John Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that most professing Christians are aware of the New Covenant, cautions us not to fall prey to the insidious error that much of the Protestant—especially the evangelical—world teaches. The error lies in misconstruing the significance of the New Covenant as a 'free pass into Heaven' without paying attention to the Law which, detractors almost universally claim, has been done away. Protestants ignore the description of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:10-11, where God says He will "hard-wire" His Law into peoples' minds after a thoroughgoing transforming and renewing of those minds during sanctification, demanded as a part of our living sacrifice. Acceptance of the terms of this New Covenant may appear as insurmountable hurdles to the carnal mind. We are required to give up anything (family, esteem from friends and associates, fame, wealth, etc.) which conflicts with our loyalty to Jesus Christ and God the Father. We are obliged to soberly count the cost before we leap, realizing we have formidable enemies (both spiritual and physical) to conquer as well as continuous obstacles to overcome, for which we will need prodigious quantities of God's precious Holy Spirit. Like the apostle Paul, we must be willing to forego any attractions to fame, prestige, or influence if they conflict with God's divine purpose for us, considering these previous desires rubbish. Sanctification is not passive, but it is a rigorously active process in which God requires our full participation, yielding to His molding. We must put God before family, friends, and self. God will not create our spiritual character by fiat; we must be thoroughly involved in the process, keeping and meditating upon His Holy Law, making it our first nature instead of our second nature. We must look before we leap, but we must leap in the right direction and at the right time, setting our minds on things above, walking in the spirit and not in the flesh.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Genesis 6:5, prior to the Flood, in which mankind's thoughts and intents were evil continually, warns us that a parallel time is on the horizon for those living today. Like our ancient ancestors, we share a habitation with Satan and his demons, evil beings who have been preparing for our demise for thousands of years. The hideous perversions (such as homosexuality and infanticide) did not arrive on the scene instantaneously, but the demonic world has been working to make them the cultural norm for thousands of years. Demons have fostered to the point of fury the ancient conflict between Ishmael and Isaac, and Jacob and Esau. These spirit beings chose to become demons into order to stop God's purpose. They have succeeded to erase all discussion of God out of the public schools by spreading the humanist agenda previously introduced into the universities by anti-God philosophers such as Marx, Darwin, and Nietzsche. John Dewey promulgated this 'progressive' doctrine into the public schools, where it has spread like leavening, fostering a whole generation of individuals lacking any knowledge of God at all. As God's called-out ones, we have entered (through baptism) the same Covenant God made with our forebears before they entered the Promised Land God has not removed the demonic influence which plagued our forebears, deeming it necessary for our spiritual growth. However, God has given us gifts our forebears never received, such as His Holy Spirit, thereby enabling us to advance in the face of massive enemy fire. We are marching to the beat of a different drummer from the rest of the world.
John Ritenbaugh, asserting that the term leadership never explicitly appears in the King James Version of the Bible,while the terms follow and follower are abundantly distributed, concludes that any form of leadership must be preceded by following. God tells us what we are to follow in the Covenants, legal entities, unfortunately, that neither the ministry nor the membership have exhibited much interest in studying. Because of lack of covenant knowledge, Israel (both ancient and modern) have been perennially cursed with a massive breakdown of leadership. The whole body from head to feet is sick, covered with putrefying sores; we are a people laden with iniquity. God places the blame for the lack of leadership on the shepherds: the ministry, the President, Congress, Supreme Court Justices, heads of Corporations, heads of educational institutions, mayors, city council members, and perhaps the most important shepherd of all, the parent. Our first parents Adam and Eve totally botched their child-rearing responsibilities, but our father Abraham provided us a better example of how to lead our families, pointing them to the laws of God. Our citizenry has rejected God's laws and have wallowed in a mire of incessant lies. Consequently, the world is hopelessly lost morally and spiritually. God's called-out ones must separate themselves from this despicable anti-God mindset. We need to qualify to lead by internalizing the contents of the covenants, not only believing God, but doing what He says, realizing that the covenants are not as complicated or complex as Satan has lead his 'ministers' to believe. God's word—the Bible, and especially the book of Deuteronomy—provides the keys to true leadership. The world's 'Christianity' has largely rejected Deuteronomy, especially the binding commandment to keep God's Sabbath forever. For those yet uncalled, God is truly not in their minds; we cannot afford to emulate them.
Christianity is not for the faint of heart. As we have seen, Jesus urges us to "count the cost" of discipleship to see if we have what it takes, and many of the patriarchs had to choose between God and family ...
Some years back, I had the opportunity to drive through southern Illinois several times. ...
Bill Onisick, reflecting on grandiose, prideful building projects that have terminated because of cost overruns, cautions us to carefully count the cost of our spiritual building project. We are God's building, God's field, and fellow laborers with God on His project to build us into His image. Have we fully counted the cost to determine what it will take to finish God's building? Our relationship with God is our salvation, and that relationship has to be developed. Have we thought through what will be required of us to become transformed into God's image? Are we regularly feeding on God's word, comparing ourselves to the righteous Plumb line—Jesus Christ? God requires that we fear Him, walk in all His ways, love Him, serve Him with all our hearts, and keep His commandments and statutes, developing humility in our hearts to submit to His will at all times in both the letter and the spirit of the law, performing the weightier matters of the law by doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly in God's ways. We must submit to Almighty God, as well as to one another, surrendering the self. If we are antagonistic toward one another in our fellowship, we will not be completed. We have been called to serve, not to be served, emphasizing the way of give rather than the way of get. This is a way of life contrary to human nature, but must be prompted by God's Holy Spirit, as we esteem others better than ourselves.
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.
David Grabbe, assessing the impact of struggles, pressures, and tribulations of our spiritual journey, reveals that Christ's followers will have to endure afflictions and fiery trials as He prepares them for His Kingdom. Some detractors have tried to preach that "godliness is a means of gain," implying that if we were better people, we would never enter into tribulation. That assumption is not true. God uses both blessings and tribulations to shape His people. Our peace comes from God's grace, not a life of ease and smooth sailing. Those who have peace with God will also have hardship. The rigors God puts us through are not to crush us, but to shape us, transforming us from carnal to spiritual—the new man we are putting on. True spiritual gain is walking through the anguish in victory. As long as God is involved in our life, we are already experiencing the love of God. We do not have to be dismayed about the transformative pressures from the mortar and pestle of our lives.
We assess costs and values all the time in our daily lives: Is it better to buy used or new? Should we prefer traditional or contemporary? Paper or plastic? John Ritenbaugh employs the same process to God's love for us in giving His Son as the sacrifice for sin. What costs have been paid for our redemption?
John Ritenbaugh claims that the harshest criticism we receive is for our position opposing the doctrine of eternal security, having the audacity to suggest that works are required for salvation. I Timothy 1:8 indicates that the Law is good only if we use it lawfully. Philippians 2:12 indicates that work is required. Romans 13:11 indicates that salvation is not yet a done deal. Satan, having a perennial pattern to his deceptiveness, first proposes this deadly eternal security doctrine in the Garden of Eden, assuring Adam and Eve that they need not fear death (evidently because they had immortal souls). To one having God's Holy Spirit, committing sin is more dangerous because there is far more on the line. The Firstfruits will not get a free pass into God's kingdom. As the past history of creation unfolded, God demanded that choices indicating willingness to obey be made within the family of angels. When human beings were created, they had to pass a similar test, making life and death choices whether to obey or not to obey God's Government. We have a reciprocal responsibility in the wake of Christ's sacrifice to love God and keep His Commandments, living by every word of God. The God of the Bible is a working God never running out of useful and exciting projects, overseeing His works and creating dynasties, progressively working salvation in the midst of the earth, providing us an example and a mandate to participate in His endless creative work.
Martin Collins, reflecting on an episode in which he was 'baptized' during Vacation Bible School, examines the correct process for baptism, leading to conversion, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, overcoming, and sanctification. Noah's rescue from the flood and the Exodus through the Red Sea are types of baptism. John the Baptizer received his understanding of the ordinance and principle of baptism from his parents, emphasizing repentance, belief, and faith, as well as keeping God's laws, bearing fruits of repentance. When God calls us, there is an irrevocable contract committing ourselves to a lifetime of overcoming, counting the cost, and forsaking all, following the example of our older brother Jesus Christ, becoming living sacrifices, totally relying on God for our strength. In the great commission to the church, Jesus commands, through His Father's direction, baptism into God's Holy Spirit. Baptism symbolizes a burial and resurrection from a grave, or the crucifixion of the old man or carnal self. After a person realizes his ways have been wrong, turning from his own ways, repenting of his sins, wanting to follow Christ, and wanting to become a child of God, he should counsel for baptism.
John Ritenbaugh, examining the set of doctrines which constitute "The Faith" identified in II Corinthians 13:5, warns that the greater church of God is not immune to the deterioration of doctrine cautioned by Paul. The doctrine of eternal security and the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, embraced by Evangelical Protestantism as well as our former affiliation, ominously threaten the spiritual welfare of all the splinter groups formerly affiliated with the Worldwide Church of God. When we depart from doctrine, convoluted reasoning and hair splitting must substitute for the simplicity in Christ. Minor deviations from doctrine bring about irreparable disastrous consequences. If we live by sight rather than by faith, we will automatically succumb to our fears (of denying our fleshly gratification or losing the esteem of our family and peers). The antidote to these twin-debilitating fears is the fear of God- a fear that must be learned and cultivated.
Many of us like sneak previews of movies or books. Some of us even fast-forward or read ahead to catch a glimpse of the ending of a story. David Maas compares this natural curiosity to God's practice of showing us in His Word how life's experiences can turn out.
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.
There must be something to prove we are one with Christ, engrafted as part of Him and in union with the Father and the Son. John Ritenbaugh asserts that that something is the manner in which we conduct our life, and we must be living in conformity to the sacrificial life of Jesus Christ.
John Ritenbaugh contends that those who believe in the "once saved always saved" doctrine foolishly fail to see that God has a more extensive and creative plan for mankind than merely saving them. One can fail to bring forth fruits of repentance and thus qualify for the Lake of Fire. By denigrating the role of works in repentance and building character, the proponents of the "no effort, no works, love Jesus only" idea ignore the lessons of Scripture and mock God's plan for mankind, suggesting that He requires nothing productive of His contractual partners. Salvation is not unconditional. If we deliberately choose death (Deuteronomy 30:19), rejecting God's covenant, He is not responsible for our breach of contract.
John Ritenbaugh explores several nuances of the term grace, describing a generous, thoughtful action of God, accompanied by love, which accomplishes His will, equipping us with everything we will need to be transformed into the Bride. Even though we, like Jeremiah, may feel timid and underpowered, God is always out in front, providing us with those resources we need to accomplish His purpose. We need to learn to make choices and be subject to the consequences of these choices. Because God is sovereign, only choices made according to His compassionate purpose (as Jonah had to learn) will succeed or be productive.
John Ritenbaugh admonishes the greater church of God that we make a conscious effort to feed the flock (devoting more effort, time, energy, and money than for preaching the Gospel as a witness for the world) until we get ourselves straightened out first. To preach to the world and ignore a disintegrating flock is like a husband and wife paying attention to people and things outside the home while the family is falling apart. We need to examine the causes for our split and our gravely deteriorating faith. Our emphasis must be on feeding the flock, restoring the faith once delivered, rebuilding the broken walls and repairing the breaches.
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.
In this powerful conclusion of the sin series, John Ritenbaugh warns that, contrary to the syrupy, unctious Protestant teaching of Christianity as a warm fuzzy feeling- a cakewalk into eternal life, true Christianity is a life and death struggle- spiritual warfare against our flesh (Romans 8:7, Galatians 5:17), the world (1John 2:16-17) and a most formidable intelligent spirit being (I Peter 5:8). Using the abundant military metaphors of Paul and Christ, we must prepare ourselves for rigorous, continuous battle (Ephesians 6:11-17) waging a war against these three enemies, enabling us to eat of the tree of (eternal) life (Revelation 2:7).
Baptism is one of the initial acts that a new Christian must experience during his new life in Christ. This fundamental doctrine places him in the right frame of mind for continuing in God's way.
In this sermon for the Days of Unleavened Bread, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God demands that we have an obligation to dress and keep that which is placed in our care, improving what He has given to us. We dare not stand still, but must make considerable effort to grow (2 Peter 3:17-18). The work of the ministry consists of equipping the body to grow and mature in love and unity (Ephesians 4:16). Christian growth takes work and effort, individually borne by every member of the body, involving rigorous self-examination, drill, self-control, self-discipline, and actively overcoming the things which separate us from God and our brethren. God's grace teaches us to actively displace our worldly desires or cravings with Godly cravings and desires for truth and righteousness (Colossians 3:5; Titus 2:11-14).
John Ritenbaugh discusses the depth of our beliefs, showing the difference between our preferences and our convictions. He looks at both legal and spiritual ramifications of this subject.
John Ritenbaugh, using examples of Abraham and Moses, indicates that faith, far from being blind, is based on analyzing, calculating, and comparing, adding up from evidence in God's Word, our own experience, and our calling by God's Holy Spirit. When our minds are opened by God, we become instantaneously double-minded, able to see both spiritually through faith and carnally through our senses. Like Abraham and Moses, we must make a choice to turn our back on carnal pleasures and embrace the yet unseen spiritual alternative, overcoming our doubts and fears, rather than emulate Lot, who having a knowledge of the truth, nevertheless, carnally speaking wanted to have his cake and eat it too. One of the reasons God may have decided to work His purpose by faith was that it seems the best way of discovering a person's character.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that faithfulness on the part of a human being ultimately rests on his trust in God, and if a person is going to be faithful, its because he believes what God says and he is motivated then to have a genuine commitment to righteousness. Such an iron-clad trust motivated the great cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11. Faith is to spiritual what eyesight is to physical.
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.