John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that we are all "cut from the same cloth" as our original parents, reminds us that God was aware from the beginning that the free will He gave us in order to develop character, coupled with our carnal nature, made us highly vulnerable to sinning—and highly vulnerable to the natural consequence of sin, death. As it worked out, all God's creation is now under the curse of sin—death. God, before He created Adam and Eve, preternaturally (that is, using forces outside those of the natural world) and meticulously planned the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in order to save humanity from this horrible curse. With the sacrifice of Jesus freely given to justify us initially, plus the on-going gift of the Holy Spirit to sanctify us, we have the ability of overcoming and growing in godly character—growing into the image and likeness of God. Christ, until His very last breath, with clarity of thought, went forth as a willing sacrifice, not as a victim. Christ gave His called-out ones the "blueprint" of the changes needed to transform into His image. Not judging it robbery to be equal with God the Father, He nevertheless emptied Himself of His Divinity, humbly taking on the role of a fleshly bond servant, willing to accept whatever God the Father gave Him to do. On our spiritual trek, we must assimilate the same mindset, loving God with all our heart, and others as ourselves.
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, differentiating Pentecost from the other High Holy Days, suggests that its uniqueness consists of the extra-special gift to God's called-out ones, namely the precious additive of God's Holy Spirit, enabling us to perform the tasks God has prepared, giving us the power to overcome, build character, and attain membership in His family. Without God's Holy Spirit, our carnal nature is hostile to all His purposes. In the context of physical death, there is no difference between the spirit of man and the spirit of an animal. But, with the sealing of God's Holy Spirit is the promise of becoming His offspring and serving productively in His family. The spirit in man separates mankind from animals, giving man the ability to plan, analyze, create art, music and literature, developing technology that makes our heads spin. Without God's Holy Spirit, mankind has never been able to live at peace. When we yield to God's Holy Spirit, we receive the power to do the things God has prepared His firstfruits to accomplish, adding exponentially to the capabilities and the achievements of the spirit in man.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that (1) not all flesh is the same, nor is all spirit the same either. God's Holy Spirit is the only variety of Spirit guaranteed eternal life; the other forms of spirit, including angelic beings like Satan the devil, are subject to extinction. (2) God did not make a colossal mistake by creating a being He could not destroy. (3) The "wages of sin is death" constitutes a universal law, applying just as much to angels as to human beings. (4) If sin were allowed anywhere in the New Heaven and the New Earth, in any form, that new creation would not be of the purity that God has promised in His Word. In the several encounters Jesus has with demons, they expressed fear of impending torture or death. Ezekiel 28 reveals that Satan's fate will be ashes in the Lake of Fire; it would be inconsistent with God's compassionate character for Him to inflict pain on a being eternally. God's called-out ones have received an earnest payment of God's Holy Spirit, which carries immortality and abundant life. We are being formed into new creatures, not just spiritual retreads on our carnal nature, equipped and designed to live in the Heavenly Jerusalem of the New Heavens and New Earth, the very offspring of Almighty God.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the symbolism of the two goats on this solemn holy day—the sacrificial goat (representing Jesus Christ's sacrifice for our sins) was slain, while the Azazel goat (which we have assumed to be Satan), with the sins of the entire nation pronounced on its head, was led into the wilderness to die a natural death—suggests that some aspects of our previous understanding may have been wrong. Not one human being, from our parents, Adam and Eve, to ourselves, can escape the responsibility of his own sins; Satan did not make us do anything, unless we willingly cooperated with his temptations. We cannot blame anyone else, including our physical parents, for our shortcomings. Because the Azazel goat in the ceremony was allowed to escape, we concluded that Satan (as well as the demonic spirits who followed him) would not die, but would be driven into a perpetual abode of restraint, symbolized by the term "outer darkness." Angels were created to serve as ministering spirits, assisting the Creator well before mankind came on the scene. To be sure, we have no scriptural evidence that an angel has died, but we cannot assume that angels are immortal and share the same kind of spirit God Almighty has. Though angelic beings are currently superior to human beings in intelligence and volition, we cannot assume they are indestructible. Speculation among the splinters of the greater church of God ranges from the thesis that Satan and his demons will live forever in a remote location to its antithesis that Satan and his demons will be utterly annihilated. We need to process four troublesome assumptions: (1) that all spirit is ever living and impossible to destroy, (2) that God was guilty of lack of judgment in creating something He could not take apart, (3) that angels are not subject to the same principles of judgment with which God judges men, and (4) that the new heavens and earth will not be of the purity God promised.
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating the warning of the apostle Paul that evil company corrupts good habits, warns us that the desire to sin is highly contagious and is a deadly, communicable disease. Because the world we inhabit swims in sin, we have the obligation to become a thinking people, voluntarily choosing God's purpose for ourselves rather than Satan's shameless appeal to self-centeredness, as demonstrated with Satan's enticement of mother Eve. Like mother Eve, we also contend against spiritual principalities for which we need the whole armor of guard and to be guided by God's Holy Spirit to defeat our deadly, carnal nature. The best defense a newborn, minimally contaminated by Satanic nature, has against the influence of sin are parents who ardently love God and His commandments. Solomon had to learn that wisdom, in its purest human form, does not give us complete understanding into the ultimate purposes of God, but wisdom, accompanied with unconditional faith in God, will actually brighten an individual's countenance, as was seen in the example of Daniel and his friends; godly wisdom has the power to change a person's appearance and brings about personal transformation. In a difficult situation, especially when dealing with tyrannical human governments, trusting God is the ultimate wisdom.
Calling Ecclesiastes 7 "the most significant Old Testament chapter I have studied," John Ritenbaugh summarizes the many lessons Solomon teaches in its twenty-nine verses. Along with its central paradox, the chapter emphasizes the importance of an individual's lifelong search for wisdom, closing with an admonition that mankind has brought his problems on himself.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that Ecclesiastes 7 contains some of the most significant concepts applicable to the Christian religion, identifies them as follows: (1) A good name or reputation (based on trust, responsibility, or dependability) is better than gold and silver. (2) We should prepare for our eventual death, faithfully carrying out our God-given responsibilities. (3) Sorrow is better than laughter because we learn more from difficult times than we do from good times. (4) The heart of the wise disciplines itself to make use of difficult times. (5) We should not regret correction from someone who has gone through what we are going through. (6) We should not let impatience get the better of us, realizing that anger rests in the bosom of fools. (7) We should not look back, regretting our commitment, but continue to plow ahead as the best defense. (8) We should not lose sight of God, realizing that even in the bleakest trial, a better day is coming. Some trials are more difficult than others, but we should use them to diligently search for wisdom. Solomon felt he was only partially successful in finding answers to the paradox of life: why life is so difficult and why we have the problems we do. We cannot control life, but we can control our reactions to it. Solomon exercised a lifetime of hard work trying to find answers, but fell short because some things are discoverable only through God's revelation. Some things which were not yet revealed to Solomon are now being revealed to us. God is not responsible for the bad things which happen on earth or in our lives, but as we yield to the siren song of sin emanating from Satan and his demons, promising 'control' over our destiny, we bring destruction on ourselves. We must know that the desire to sin can be resisted as long as we resist evil and evil companions. We must deliberately choose to follow God's purpose for us to eternal life.
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Romans 8:31-39, cautions us that the study of Ecclesiastes, a work composed by a highly gifted man, was intended for those mature in the faith. Even those with God's Spirit find the book to be difficult, and discover that life must be lived soberly, with orientation above the sun, fearing God and keeping His commandments. Along with Solomon, we must realize, amidst all the confusion under the sun, that everything matters, but that wisdom does not yield its fruit easily. Every day mankind is assailed by temptations to do evil, an assault depicted throughout Scripture as the siren call of a prostitute or temptress, symbolizing any overwhelming addiction and predilection to sin. To a Christian, the most dangerous prostitute is the world's philosophy, extremely enticing to the senses, but endangering our relationship to God, as Solomon's wives turned his heart from the Lord. To keep us secure from the temptations of the world, we must embrace our metaphorical sister, Wisdom, keeping us focused on our relationship with God. To be sure, God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able, but sadly man actively chooses to sin, polluting everything he touches. The Roman Catholic Church has taught that original sin has been passed along through sexual intercourse, creating a need for Mary to be 'conceived immaculately'. Sin does not enter us through this means, but is a spiritual matter, originating in the heart and in the mind. Sin enters us from contact with a sinful source, mainly from Satan, the prince and power of the air, and his demonic influence, broadcasting his spirit, attitudes, and thoughts. Collectively, we have been swimming in the influence of Satan's mind. Evil communication invariably corrupts character. Because Satan's spirit permeates everything in this world, we must be alert and on guard against temptations.
Martin Collins, reminding us that the Days of Unleavened Bread dramatize the difficulty of our perpetual lifelong struggle to extricate ourselves from the bondage of sin, points out that the despicable institution of human slavery has been perpetually with us, and is still practiced today around the world, whether we speak of sex slaves, sweat shops, or cultural caste systems. Consequently, there are 30 million people living in slavery around the world, with 14 million slaves living in India, and an estimated 60,000 slaves in the United States today. In theApostle Paul's time, 60 million slaves lived in the Roman Empire, with strict laws enforced in order to discourage revolt. Runaway slaves were branded with an "F-U-G" on their forehead, becoming the etymology of the word "fugitive." Although Paul was powerless to attack the system of slavery, he tried to neutralize its evil within the church, advocating that slave owners relinquish the owner-property relationship to a brother-brother relationship. Paul appealed to Philemon to develop this kind of relationship after his slave Onesimus ran away, stealing his money, running to Rome to assist Paul during his imprisonment. Paul wrote a humble, brotherly, diplomatic letter to his old friend Philemon, offering to pay a substitutionary debt for Onesimus if he would treat him as if he were Paul himself. Apparently, Philemon obliged, and the once lowly slave Onesimus evidently became a profitable bishop in his later life, paying back Paul's and Philemon's trust, demonstrating generosity and Christian hospitality. We learn from Onesimus that the Christian is not to run away from his past, but instead to rise above it, making overcoming more of a conquest than an escape. Like Paul's assumption of Onesimus' debt, Christ took our sins on His account and put His righteousness on our account. As an heir with Christ, our bondage is only temporary until we are resurrected as family members of the God Family.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the Walter Mischel Test of self-control, a test in which only 30% of youngsters delayed gratifying their appetites, describes the techniques in which these students delayed gratification. Dr. Mischel, who was able to predict social success of these students on the basis of these earlier tests, determined to probe the mechanism of this self-control, discovering how to convert "hot stimuli" to "cold" (distracting) stimuli. Self-control constitutes the ability to direct or focus our attention so that our decisions will not be directed by wrong thoughts. If we change our thoughts, we can change our behavior. In essence, learning self- control (the last, perhaps most difficult to attain or most important designated fruit of God's Holy Spirit) is equivalent to repentance. Self-control refers to inner power to control impulses, emotions, or desires, exhibiting self-government. Self-control follows knowledge in the list of virtues, indicating we need to act on godly knowledge, practicing it in perpetuity. Holiness makes self-control possible; a holy person is self-controlled. God's Holy Spirit increases self-control exponentially, giving us the power to replace "hot" stimuli with "cold" stimuli. Ice cold stimuli (enforcing extreme restraint) must displace hot stimuli (giving into impulses). Like the apostle Paul, we must practice self-control for others. Like Joseph, we need to practice self-control on a daily basis. When we repent and continue to repent, we exercise self-control. In Luke 4, Jesus Christ exercises incredible self-control, refuting Satan's temptation with Scripture—the mind of God.
The spiritual paradox that Solomon relates in Ecclesiastes 7:15 is followed by a warning of danger about a Christian's reaction to it. John Ritenbaugh assures us that confounding trials are not punishments from God for unrighteousness but tests of faith in which He is intimately involved to prepare us for the world to come.
Many times in our lives, we undergo periods of extreme pressure and stress. Circumstances occur that seem completely out of our control. We can become frustrated and feel that the whole world is coming down on us. ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Luke 4 contains Satan’s temptation of Christ, and it is instructive to see what Jesus did in the face of evil. ...
In this message, John Ritenbaugh, using the parable of Luke 11:24-28, admonishes that being cleaned up (or purged of leaven) is only the beginning of the growth process. To be made clean only prepares us for producing fruit. God's concern is for us to mature spiritually. If we stand still (resting on the laurels of our justification), the dark forces are going to pull us backwards. Uselessness invites disaster. We have to get away from the negative fixation of not doing and begin concentrating on doing. The consequences of not bearing fruit are graphically described in John 15:6. God's purpose, once we are cleaned, is to produce growth in us.
"ALL have sinned," says the Scripture. What is sin, anyway? And how do we stop it?
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