Martin Collins, concluding his series "God's Perseverance with the Saints," focuses on Christ's desire that all His disciples have unity and love. The unity He appeals for is not organizational unity, but unity within the divine nature, exampled in the unity between the Father and the Son. This unity operationally defines a family rather than a corporate unity, with a common Christian experience binding those He has called into an interdependent relationship where everyone serves each other with God-provided spiritual gifts. Christ, through His life-sacrifice while we were yet enslaved to sin, provides the model of love for us. We need to bring our highly flawed love to the infinitely-perfected level of agape love demonstrated by our Elder Brother. We must love our brethren even in their flawed state because God requires them to love us in our flawed state. We demonstrate this agape love when we 1) listen to one another, 2) share with one another, and 3) serve one another. Jesus set the standard for this kind of service as He washed the feet of His disciples the night Judas betrayed Him. If the world cannot see this perfected love demonstrated in us, we are seriously missing the mark.
Richard Ritenbaugh, acknowledging that only fools are blind to the marvels of Creation, observes that even empirical science has substantiated the need for six factors to support life: 1) crust, 2.) temperature, 3.) moon, 4.) star with a stable energy source, 5.) core, and 6.) right planetary neighbors. The earth, having all these prerequisites, displays the magnificent design demanding an Intelligent Creator (Romans 1:18). Human nature, without God's Spirit, follows a trajectory into ignorance and stupidity. If people do not believe in God, they will believe in anything, following the darkness of their unregenerate hearts. God has called some individuals now, crafting them as His workmanship, equipped for good works and the opportunity to be in His family. Unlike the Protestant notion that the end of the spiritual creation process is baptism, to be capped off with grace and eternal security, God's true Church teaches that the salvation process has merely begun, with the Sabbath being an integral part of sanctification. The Sabbath, a hallowed time of restorative rest, provides an opportunity for God's called-out sons and daughters to develop a relationship with Him, reflecting on the spiritual as well as the physical creation. Far from being a period of lounging, the Sabbath rest generates spiritual energy and develops a trusting relationship with the Creator. As God's called-out ones, we must not use the hallowed time for our carnal pleasures, but for renewing our relationship with our Creator. Keeping the Sabbath Day holy is a major key to our spiritual growth.
Mark Schindler, focusing on the seventh day, the last great day of Jesus' final Feast of Tabernacles, admonishes us to look beyond the significance of our own calling, realizing that the sacrifice of Christ was intended for all men with the hope that they also would be added ultimately to the family of God. We need to allow our Heavenly Father to infuse us with big-picture thinking, realizing that God's work is much greater than our calling, but is in fact a work enabling all of mankind to have access to God the Father. God has purposely given us, as God's called ones, the position of "trainees" as a part of the First Fruits to expedite this marvelous project. The seventh day Sabbath has always served as God's signature, a key to understanding redemption and healing. The seventh day of the Feast of Tabernacles contained a traditional water ceremony, which Jesus greatly magnified, prophesying that whoever drinks of the living water (symbolic of God's Holy Spirit) will manifest rivers of living water flowing from them. . Understanding the pattern of seven, the signature of God, gives us a deeper appreciation for the God we serve, enabling us to realize that the Great God has been working to complete His plan down to the tiniest detail. From the creation of the Sabbath and the annual Holy days, including the seven Sabbaths we count to Pentecost, we see how God is working to bring all mankind into His family in systematic stages, beginning with the First Fruits and ending with a great harvest of the rest of mankind in the White Throne Period, after which God will be all-in-all. The number seven is a kind of divine motif, God's signature, a signpost for His called-out ones to build faith, whether we consider the land Sabbath, counting seven Sabbaths to Pentecost,or the 49 years followed by the Jubilee, which typifies the eighth day, contemplating a grand expansion of the family of God.
James Beaubelle reminds us that the creation process did not stop on the sixth day. Rather, the spiritual process of God's making offspring in His image has gone on continually from the foundation of the world. God has individually selected His people to become a part of the process of sanctification and transformation into God's family. Some of us may occasionally experience doubt whether we can complete the course set before us; sadly, sowing the seed of doubt can undermine our resolve. Doubt is a destroyer of faith. Sometimes we have doubts about what is and what is not our duty to God. Sometimes we have doubts about the gray areas within the doctrines and commandments. To have doubt is normal, but we must not stay in doubt. Thankfully, doubt can be an effective tool to drive us to seek God and His counsel, where there are plenty of resources to stabilize us from wavering between two opinions. If we remain in doubt, our faith will begin to erode. Five things we can do to dispel doubt include: 1) loving God with all our strength and might, 2) studying and meditating upon God's Word, 3) praying for wisdom and insight, 4) seeking counsel from others in the faith, and 5) giving earnest heed to the things we have heard, building steadfast faith in Almighty God.
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.
Martin Collins, focusing upon the poetic prayer-song at the end of Habakkuk 3, concludes that this passage is one of the most inspiring parts of God's Word. The moving prayer-song, asking God to revive His work in the midst of years, and to temper judgment with mercy, provides a model of an effective prayer. Though the prophet began his dialogue with God with distressful angst and bitter complaints, expressing incredulity that God would allow a vile nation to be His corrective instrument, the prayer-song of Chapter 3 demonstrates that the prophet has calmly acquiesced to God's righteous judgment, remembering His sterling record of faithfulness, humbly asking God to remember to have mercy.Our time is like that of Habakkuk , when horrendous and pandemic sin invite God's wrath. We may initially find the means God uses to correct our people horrifying and discouraging, but when we place His actions in context with His overall plan and purpose for mankind, we will find peace in God's absolute sovereignty, justice, and compassion. Humility and repentance are absolute prerequisites for answered prayer. After repentance, adoration and reflection on God's attributes and on the history of His providence should make up the contents of our prayers. Finally, our specific petitions should be exclusively within the context of God's will, remembering that God's work of fashioning a new creation takes precedence over our petty concerns; like Habakkuk, we need to subordinate our work to God's overall plan, asking God for renewal in the midst of bad times, remembering that strong faith is not incompatible with fleshly weakness. Knowledge of God, as recorded in His Word, (that is , bearing in mind His promises, previous interventions, and characteristic providence) gives us fortitude in horrific times, enabling us to know that God will save His people and stand by His promises. As Habakkuk lived up to the etymology of his name habaq, meaning to embrace or cling, we must cling tenaciously to God as we enter the disastrous times
Charles Whitaker, focusing on the image of James and John mending their nets, asserts that, just as God maintains what He has framed, keeping it in good repair after He had repaired the damage Satan and his demons brought on the physical creation, not only restoring but adding value to make it better, so we, as God's workmanship, cooperate with our Heavenly Father to maintain and repair damage inflicted on what has been entrusted to us as we make our spiritual journey, not only repairing what has become damaged, but actually improving and enhancing its quality. God improved the physical creation by adding mankind and the Sabbath. When auto enthusiasts restore old automobiles, they add custom features such as better steering wheels, souped-up carburetors, or better radios, improving the value of the vehicle. God's initial command to Adam and Eve was to dress and keep the Garden of Eden. For our task of restoration and maintaining, God has given us spiritual gifts that enable us to accomplish our part of the task, equipping and strengthening us for the arduous sanctification process that God began before the foundation of the earth. God has laid the foundation before the foundation of the earth, and will maintain, repair, and mend until the project is completed, promising to remain with us from start to finish. Our responsibility is to run the race with our whole might, knowing that God has provided us everything we need to win, and has promised to never give up on us as long as we maintain our part of the covenant He has made with us.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the episode of God's rescuing of Noah and his family from the devastating flood, marvels about the perennial biblical patterns that never change, serving as an unambiguous teaching device. That rescue indicates God has never saved anybody by works. Everything, the physical and spiritual creation, begins with God, including the establishment of a family line from Seth to Noah to Abraham to Moses to David to Christ. Paradoxically God writes comparatively little about the first, and perhaps the greatest hero of faith, the father of all mankind after the rest of the world disappears, save for the evaluation that he did according to all God commanded him. What Noah built became the means of salvation of his family. Genesis 8-9 could be considered an overview of the entire plan of salvation. The time preceding the great flood parallels the time we are living through right now. The narrative demonstrates that clearing out an entire population of troublemakers did not solve the endemic and recurring problem of the deceptive, evil human heart. Only God's calling to each of us individually, followed by repentance and a rigorous conversion/sanctification process, will safeguard us from the fiery holocaust which will envelope this entire world. As God demonstrated grace by motivating Noah to build an ark to transport his family to safety, God has similarly provided a protective ark for His called-out ones today, namely His Church. Just as Noah's family had to help build the ark, we have been placed in the church with specific spiritual gifts, just as Noah had received, to help build up and edify the body or our place in the ark. Are we going to help build the ark or watch others build it? As Noah never forgot the Source of grace, we also should never forget that everything depends on God's generosity. We must emulate father Noah's humility, rejecting Satan's puffed up pride, remembering that just as God gifted Noah, He will also gift us for the specific task we have to do.
Martin Collins, acknowledging that because we still have human nature, selfishness dominates our prayer, in contrast to Christ, who devoted 5 petitions on His own behalf and 21 petitions on behalf of His disciples entrusted to Him by the Father to help Him bring glory to God. Jesus revealed the Father to the disciples, including the instructions to regard the Father as a loving parent. The disciples preserved this relationship in their prayers and in their relationship with one another as siblings with Christ. God has planned our way, doing the lion's share of the work, continually keeping us on track if we maintain a teachable attitude. If we observe Christ's words, there must be a demonstrable difference in our behavior and a commitment to obey His teachings in order to bear good spiritual fruit, adopting a lifestyle which the people of this world hate. Christ prays for us as He did for His original disciples because we too have been called by the Father and entrusted to Him. Christ values us because the Father values us.We glorify Christ when we obey Him, carrying His example of holiness to the world through our behavior and actions. As Christ intercedes in prayer for us, we must intercede in prayer for our brethren, realizing we are all in this together.
John Ritenbaugh reflecting on the curse imposed upon Satan and the enmity created between the serpent's seed and Eve, asserts that, paradoxically, this curse could be considered a blessing for those called of God, providing a practical means by which God creates character in those whom He called out before the foundation of the world. This understanding runs counter to the faulty dispensationalist theory which assumes that God, as a somewhat absent-minded tinker, must continually adjust His method of giving salvation (moving away from works to grace), making it easier and more inclusive. Dispensationalism assumes too much randomness or chance in God's plan, overlooking the intense purpose and planning of God's mind, having pre-planned or pre-destined all of us individually before the foundation of the world. Christ has full control of the church. Everything of consequence, including the development of our character, is engineered by Him; we did not find God by ourselves, but were chosen. The mystery of His plan, hidden from the world, has been revealed to the saints. The God who designed complex cells, molecules, and atoms certainly has the savvy to design a viable plan of salvation. God has had the same plan from the beginning of the world, having chosen us as the weak of the world so that no flesh could glory. The called-out church was not a passing fancy of God, but an entity which has been on His mind from the very beginning. Nothing happens randomly; God is in total control; the death of a sparrow (a rather insignificant and drab creature) does not occur without His full attention. We, like the sparrow, are undistinguished and drab by the world's standards, but given a glimpse of the mystery that God is reproducing Himself, bringing us altogether into one family in His Eternal Kingdom, at which time mother Eve's seed, from the line of Seth to the present, will be glorified.
John Ritenbaugh, citing Romans 1:18-20, asserts that, even though the existence of the Everlasting Deity can easily be accessed by reason and observation, Satan, having worked feverishly through philosophers and educators in the western world, to where Jacob's children had migrated, employing the distorted 'luminaries' (such as Rousseau, Nietzsche, and Marx), succeeded in deceiving and dumbing-down the overwhelming majority of the citizenry in the world to accept immorality as the norm and righteousness or morality as the aberration. Philosophers and educators have been Satan's chief tools in recent history. God has allowed Satan to do his work, realizing that all humans, including Adam and Eve, Job, Abraham and his offspring, desperately required testing, adjustment, and character-shaping. God does things in patterns; the kind of rigor our original parents Adam and Eve were subjected to as well as all the subsequent biblical luminaries, is the same kind of rigor. His current work—- the Israel of God, the called-out Church—is subjected to. We are now the chief focus of God's work on this earth.
David C. Grabbe: As the book of Hebrews ends, the author—likely Paul—pens this benediction: "Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, ..."
David C. Grabbe: Time-lapse cinematography—such as a five-minute video clip composed of 100,000 slightly different pictures—is a useful way of understanding how each moment of our lives relates to the overall progression. So even though a present "snapshot" of our lives looks dismal, it cannot reveal what happens next. ...
John Ritenbaugh, cuing in on three scriptures, Psalm 11:3-5, Luke 12:7, and Philippians 4:19, reflects on a frightening earthquake in 1971, in which he realized that he was in no way in control of the alarming situation, a relentless shaking that threatened to destroy the entire foundation. This earthquake has grounds of comparison to the devastating earthquake which destroyed the very foundation of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), sending the frightened members scrambling for safety. In the demise of our previous fellowship, we are to realize that, as God has His eye on the sparrow, the most timid of all birds, He has had His eye on us through this entire process of scattering, intending that the tests we have endured and weathered have been intended to bring about the best fruit possible. The breaking apart of the WCG has produced many splinter groups which collectively carry on a far greater work than Herbert W. Armstrong ever was able to do, and at a fraction of the cost. The intriguing story of the development of fledging Church of the Great God, a small insignificant splinter group, which has grown to be a major resource site for all the other scattered churches, is just a part of the entire picture. We are admonished to get our attention away from the activities of human beings and onto the activities of God as He neutralizes and destroys Satan's plans and the human surrogates in government, religion, and education who are currently carrying out his plans. The WCG was destroyed because it abandoned its covenant with God, committing spiritual adultery (in point of fact, idolatry) by bringing in poisonous doctrines from the world's religions, denigrating God's Holy Laws, which are a reciprocal expression of love between God and His people. Regardless of the magnitude of the aftershocks of the demise of WCG, God has not abandoned His church and His plans are right on schedule. As God watches over the sparrow, He can protect His people in the midst of any upheaval.
Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that the two principle themes of Book One of the Psalms are the Torah, or the instruction of God, and the Messiah, or God's Anointed, set apart for a particular purpose—His Son whom He has sent to rule and judge the world. The Messiah is the perfect model of all that instruction. We need to absorb God's instruction and develop a personal relationship with the Son, understanding His character and personality. We have to know the word of God—His instruction—and the Word of God—Jesus Christ. Part of Psalm 19 is a precursor to Psalm 119, honoring the Law, while the opening portion focuses on the creative power of the Son. The creation, as we witness with the naked eye, shows design, order, and precision, enabling mankind to calculate years, seasons, and times, allowing us an insight into the mind of Almighty God. The Creator is infinitely greater than the whole galaxy and the whole universe. Man foolishly worships things that God created, but ignores the Creator. The Law of the Lord has been given to us personally by Yahweh (Jesus Christ), to guard us against making mistakes and presumptuous sins. The words He gives us in His written Word makes the creation more real. Jesus Christ cleanses us by the washing of water by the Word. The third prominent theme in Book One of the Psalms is trust and faith in God. We must live by faith, especially now when harassment and hatred is leveled at Christianity. David, in the midst of Absalom's rebellion, expressed confidence that God still heard him in the midst of what appears to be temporary disaster. David knew that God was his shield and would ultimately deliver the victory to him. Psalm 37 is an instructive psalm, counseling us not to be agitated or unduly concerned about the wicked, reminding us that God will cut off the wicked and will give us salvation. Nothing good will ever come of envious, burning wrath. If we trust in the Lord, doing something positive, He will give us the desires of our heart.
Richard Ritenbaugh, continuing his survey of the themes of Psalms Book IV, and the Summary Psalm 149, points out that the clear focus of these psalms is on the work of the glorified saints (that is, the 144,000) in performing the duties of the Bride of Christ, serving as mediating priests under Christ. Psalm 92 is sung in a regular weekly cycle on the Sabbath in synagogue services. Psalm 94 is sung on Wednesday, perhaps signifying the beginning of Jesus' ministry in the midst of the week, while Psalm 93 is sung on the preparation day of the Sabbath. The Sabbath command in Exodus 20 refers to a specific segment of time hallowed by God- (the seventh day) Sabbath, not "a" Sabbath, chosen by man to be kept whenever he feels a need to crash. The Sabbath is to be kept by ceasing to do our physical work (signified by the Greek word transliterated as katapausin) as opposed to merely rest (signified by the Greek word transliterated as anapausin).Almighty God, who never ceases working, completed all His physical creation in six days, commencing the Spiritual creation on the seventh dayWe are commanded to cease all of our physical activities on the Sabbathéthat is, to put aside those activities pertaining to our job, our hobbies, and our own pleasures, switching our focus to developing our spiritual skills and gifts. The seventh day cycle commences at the very beginning of Genesis (2:1-3) and is an important, recurring cycle we are obligated to program into our nervous systems as God's called-out ones. We rest as God does, ceasing or pausing from the physical as we focus instead on spiritual goals; we stop doing our things; we start doing God's things. As glorified saints, we will be flourishing as a verdant tree, producing spiritual fruit. The Sabbath Psalm 92 has an upbeat, jubilant ambience and reflects our gratitude at being chosen (despite our unworthiness) to be joined with Christ in a kind of marriage relationship, preparing to assist Him in reconciling all Israel to God.
David Grabbe, pointing out that not all of God's servants are given the same marching orders (planting, watering, etc) maintains that planting seed (preaching the Gospel to the world) is only the beginning of the phase. Our function is not and has never been adding members to the Body of Christ; God alone determines who the first fruits are. The Church has always sequentially planted seeds, watered, and then cultivated the first fruits, making them ready for harvest, tasks always occurring under God's supervision. The Church of the Great God, pastured by John Ritenbaugh, has undertaken to continue to cultivate the ground planted and watered by Herbert W. Armstrong, edifying and bringing its members closer to the stature of Christ. While feeding the flock is the highest priority, CGG has not hidden from the world as many misinformed critics in the other splinter groups have implied. The CGG has become a resource center serving many of the other groups also following the Way, with the Forerunner going out to 63,000 subscribers, the Berean Bible Study, going out to 113,000 subscribers per day, and 3 million e-mails processed every month. Judging the quality of our work by purely physical standards (i.e. the number of television stations one has acquired or the number of co-workers one has attained) is not a measure of spiritual growth, and to equate it with spiritual growth in rank Laodiceanism. Spiritual growth is determined by quality of our relationship with God.
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.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the book of Ecclesiastes, a document which provides an overview of the consequences of life's frustrating activities, gives us directions for making it through the labyrinth of life. This treatise prepares us with helpful, practical, and profitable approaches, preparing us for the Kingdom of God. Some approaches toward life are worthless while others are more profitable. God has purposely subjected nature and life to vanity and frustration, a curse resulting from Adam's sin. We are all caught in this curse. If we want things to work out properly, we not only have to keep the commandments, but we have to seek God to assimilate His nature within us. Until God Himself is here directing things through Jesus Christ, the problems of this world will not be corrected. Using godly wisdom helps us to deal with our circumstances, but it will not change the world. The work God has given us to do will give us pleasure and a satisfying sense of accomplishment. Work is a major factor in our lives, consisting of physical or mental activity directed toward the accomplishment of something. We must keep in mind that everything we do matters. God has been purposefully and energetically working for all eternity toward a goal, setting a pattern for all of us. We are created and designed to do good works, not to earn salvation, but instead to emulate the way of life lived by our Heavenly Father. Our God is a goal-setter, not only for Himself, but for us. God does the creating; God distributes the gifts; God distributes the responsibilities. The command to tend preceded Adam and Eve's sin; work was not the curse. Ultimately, we will be judged according to our work.
Most long-time members of the church of God have Matthew 24:14 indeliably etched on their memories: "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world. . . ." David Grabbe contends that many have failed to understand this verse as a prophecy, and have instead loaded it with meanings that the plain words do not contain. We should be encouraged that, by it, God guarantees that He will finish His work!
Many prophecy watchers have made their guesses about who the Two Witness of Revelation 11 are, but not all of their ideas have solid, biblical foundations. Charles Whitaker tackles a common view among interpreters, explaining that Scripture precludes it on very solid grounds.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that we keep the Days of Unleavened Bread, not just as a memorial of the Passover and Exodus event, but because of what the Lord did to bring us out of sin (typified by Egypt). What God does sets everything in motion, significantly eclipsing what we are required to do. God continually does battle for us, breaking down the resistance of Satan (typified by Pharaoh). While God compels us to make choices, He is with us all the way, leading us out of our abject slavery to sin into freedom and eternal life. It is God's calling that makes a difference; no one ever volunteers to follow Him. All that God did to get physical Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land served as a type of what God does for us, calling us out of this world into the Kingdom of God. God is sovereign, necessitating that we diligently seek Him in order to be like Him, yielding to His sanctification, getting rid of all our false gods, worshipping Him in spirit and truth. As a branch attached or grafted to a vine, we cannot do anything without Jesus Christ, who alone enables us to produce or bear fruit through God's Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, and Christ's own Spirit dwelling in us. God is exclusively the God of His people and no one else.
Unlike God, "who inhabits eternity" (Isaiah 57:15), we mortals have a limited existence. Because of our finite time, we tend to view things through the lens of immediacy. ...
Men discovered long ago that religion can be big business. ...
In this keynote address of the 2007 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Abraham's pattern of life, answers the question, 'Why is the Church of the Great God doing what it is doing at this time?' Abraham and Sarah's life of faith is the pattern that God's called-out ones are obligated to follow. Interestingly, though Abram, a highly educated man and a scientist, was exceedingly rich, he never owned a home or put down roots, living as an alien or a sojourner in his own land, having considered something else (a better country, a city whose Builder and Maker is God) more important. Like Abraham and Sarah, we are also sojourners, seeking a transcendent goal of a future kingdom. We keep the Feast of Tabernacles to learn to fear God in the same way Abraham feared God, trusting God to take care of all our needs. As He had with Abraham, God is closely analyzing scrutinizing the motives and intents of our minds, judging and evaluating our behaviors, thoughts, and affairs. God is always watching us, often painfully tweaking our behaviors, with the ultimate objective of saving us. Like Abraham, we must realize that our sovereign God rules, having a predetermined purpose and plan for everybody. The scattering of the greater church of God was God-ordained, providing a test for godliness and love. The myopic isolating demonstrated by some splinter groups is an abomination and an affront to God's sovereignty. We must see God in the midst of these events.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that God is a working God, creating holy, righteous, divine character with the goal of recreating man in His image. From the time of our justification until our glorification in God's Kingdom, it almost seems 'downhill,' with sanctification being a difficult road. Works are not only required during sanctification, but they determine to a great degree the magnitude of our ultimate reward. We are God's creation, created for good works. As the clay, we must allow God to mold us into whatever He wants, cooperating with Him until we are fully in the image of His Son, a brand new spiritual creation. Until then, we are commanded to make life-and-death choices, with the emphatic admonition of choosing life or putting on Christ and putting off the old man. We are begotten children of God, protected within the metaphorical womb of the church, until the spiritual birth at our resurrection. We are also metaphorically a work in progress, as in the construction of parts of a building. Ultimately, all individuals who have ever lived will be judged according to the quality of their works; people will be judged according to what they do after they make the covenant with God. Works are required and rewarded.
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.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on Christ's teachings on the Holy Spirit, expanding into its more complex spiritual parameters. Jesus instructs about the function of the Holy Spirit to carry out God's work, including inspiring one to speak the words of God as a witness and to cast out demons and resist the power of Satan. To deliberately attribute these powers to the Devil (to call good evil), willfully denying God's power to save, constitutes blasphemy against God's Spirit—the unpardonable sin. The Spirit sets apart, inspires the preaching of the gospel, provides healing, frees from bondage, and opens the eyes to truth. It plays a major role in enabling one to become born again, motivating, inspiring, and transforming us from lowly, sinful humans to righteous children of God. Our sole means of worship must be in spirit and truth—living in the Spirit—manifesting concrete acts of service and obedience and deploying rivers of living water.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that when God created Adam, He prepared only a foundation for mankind's eventual spiritual creation undertaken by the Second Adam. Spiritual creation requires much intense pressure and continual testing to determine character. Jesus went through this process first to provide us an example. We are to be brought through this same assaying process to bring us to the express image or the full stature of Christ. In terms of building character, God does the creating, assaying, testing, and proving; we do the yielding and walking in the pathway He has set for us. When we yield, God gives us the will and the power (engraving His Law in our hearts) to develop into the image or character He has determined for us.
We may not realize it, but our Christian lives are constantly under construction. It is this point of view that will make it easier for us to deal with both spiritual setbacks and progress.
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.
John Ritenbaugh shares the significance of Herbert W. Armstrong's role in the church. Increasingly, some fail to realize Herbert Armstrong's stabilizing role in God's church. The scattering we have experienced since his death has been a blessing from God, revealing our collective, pitiable spiritual deficits. God deliberately engineered the scattering to save us from our precarious spiritual condition. Like the virgins in the Parable of the Ten Virgins, we have all slumbered. In the meantime, God has been working on His spiritual creation, fashioning us in His image. At this juncture, we are not being scattered because of persecution, but because of punishment brought about by our wholesale lack of obedience, requiring loving, firm corrective action. We are not victims of Satan, but bear much of the responsibility for this dismantling from our failure to discern false doctrine. The division of Israel and Judah (between Jeroboam and Rehoboam), occurring because of disobedience, was engineered by Almighty God, and was designed as a lesson for us. If we sin, God will scatter us. He who scatters the church will re-gather it in His good time. Herbert Armstrong, while not perfect, not infallible, and not sinless, nevertheless served as the custodian of the precious truths of God - occupying the role of God's servant and messenger. To reject the message from God's messenger is to reject God. We need to collectively repent and go back to the first works and the faith once delivered to the saints.
God is working to build a relationship with us, dispensing gifts for overcoming and working out His greater purpose. God's Spirit is 1) an immaterial, invisible force which motivates, impels, and compels; 2) whenever referring to a person clearly identifies the Father and the Son; 3) when not referring to a person is the essence of God's mind; and 4) can be communicated to our minds. We receive more of this Spirit as we respond to His calling, drawing near to His presence and reversing Adam and Eve's fatal errors of 1) being convinced that their way was better than God's, 2) developing pride, and 3) trying to justify themselves. Reversing these three steps brings nearness to God and spiritual growth.
John Ritenbaugh again warns about the debilitating faith destroying consequences of anxious care and foreboding. If we "put on" (assume the disposition and the way of life of) Christ, we will through continuous practice learn the processes which produce spiritual success. Two major antidotes to foreboding and anxiety include (1) the argument from the greater to the lesser. If God has already taken care of the major responsibilities (i.e. giving us life and a calling), He can also be trusted for providing sustenance, and (2) meditating upon God's works around us (Romans 1:20) will provide an insight into the meticulous care He places on the most minute aspects of His creation. Meditating on these things strengthens our faith and trust in the one who supplies all our needs.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that salvation is an entire creative process undertaken by God to justify, sanctify, and glorify a called out body of individuals. Ephesians 2:8 uses the perfect tense 'saved,' indicating an action started in the past and continuing on into the present. As with the typology of the Israelites 'saved' from bondage, the process was not completed until a remnant made it to the promised land—with the sobering example of many dying in the wilderness. Likewise, we are warned about the dangers of backsliding and resisting God's will (II Peter 2:20; Hebrews 10:31) rendering the erroneous 'once saved, always saved' assumption a foolish and dangerous misconception. God assumes the burden for our salvation, but we are obligated to yield to His workmanship—made manifest by good works—the effect rather than the cause of salvation.
Most are not aware that in the Gospels, questions about the Sabbath center on how to keep it, not whether it should be kept. John Ritenbaugh explains how Jesus approached the Sabbath as an example to us.
A Statement of Purpose and Beliefs of the Church of the Great God
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the easiest part of God's work is the preaching the Gospel to the world- a task mechanically carried out as the church deteriorated from within. Much more demanding is the feeding of the flock, producing the kind of faith and trust to transform formerly carnal individuals into glorified members of His family. The work of the church varies from time to time, with different functions performed as different needs arise. God determines when, where, and the direction He wants His work to go. At this time, God has purposed to "blow the church apart" for our own spiritual safety. Our current focus should be upon the factors that caused the deterioration within the body, determining to respond to God, fixing the problems (the cracked foundations of faith emanating from a counterfeit gospel) that led to our implosion and scattering.
John Ritenbaugh provides the rationale of this phase of the church's work- what and why the Church of the Great God is doing what it is doing. In this time of scattering, God is testing our loyalty to Him, correcting deficiencies that will keep us out of His Kingdom. Despite the untested Protestant assumption that "the work" of God is preaching the Gospel to the world, nowhere does the combination of words "preaching the gospel to the world is the work of God" appear in the Bible. Though it is part of the work, it is only a small part. The hardest part of God's work is the feeding of the flock the full counsel of God, to get the called-out ones ready to enter the God-family (in His Spiritual image)-especially considering the cesspool of heresy and apostasy from which we have been rescued. God engineered the scattering for our own good, enabling experiences to restore faith and attain the full stature of Christ.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that the receiving of God's Holy Spirit is not so much for our use as it is for God's use that He might carry out His creative effort in our lives. Metaphorically, the Holy Spirit can be compared to the water which the potter uses to bring the clay to the right consistency. God's Spirit brings about a transformation- turning something from a state of destruction into a state of purity. God desires to give us His Spirit and gifts in abundance, but on the condition that our motives for wanting them are unselfish. God uses His Spirit: (1) as a bridgehead through which He works His spiritual creation,(2) to empower the church, and (3) to empower us to yield to Him.
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 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.
The story of building the Tabernacle serves as an encouraging example for us today as we colaborate with God in building His church. God will provide what we need to finish the job to His specifications!
A hockey puck changes direction almost constantly, and a hockey player has to move with it. Charles Whitaker uses this analogy to explain how we must follow God when He changes the focus of His work.
Sometimes, we get down because we think that all our labors for God have gone unnoticed. Elijah did, and his story points out a major lesson we all would do well to heed today.
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.
Countering the Protestant red-herring argument, "You cannot earn salvation by works," John Ritenbaugh stresses that works certainly are not "done away" but that God expects works from all those He has called. We show our faithfulness and loyalty to God by our works or conduct - what we produce by what we have been given. The works demanded of us consist of continual striving to be faithful to our covenant relationship with God by keeping His commandments (not the traditions of men). As we strive to live by the Spirit instead of by the flesh (Romans 8:5) we will produce the kind of fruit pleasing to God. God forces a converted person to choose between two opposing forces (Romans 8:13), providing us His Spirit as a tool to overcome.
John Ritenbaugh compares prayer to a tool we must learn to use more efficiently or effectively. God's chief work on this earth is to produce holiness in His offspring, transforming our carnal, perverse nature into God's own image. Because we have the tendency to take on the characteristics of those with whom we associate (for bad or good), we need to be keeping company with God continually through prayer, letting His character rub off on us, developing His mind in us as we learn to shape petitions according to His will and judgment.
John Ritenbaugh points out that Jesus Christ, through His voluntary humility (giving up all the perks of being God), has given us a model of the mindset that we need to have in order to attain membership in the family of God. Paul, desiring the Philippian congregation to attain spiritual maturity, urges that they (and we) take responsibility for the nuts and bolts process of overcoming or renouncing our carnal selves (working out our own salvation by the practical application of head knowledge) upon ourselves, cooperating with the shaping power of God (giving us the power to will and to do by means of His Spirit), who desires that we learn in the here and now the style of life (in a climate or environment of love as well as fear of soiling the family name of God) we will live for eternity.
John Ritenbaugh observes that in our modern fast-paced, hectic culture, we commit far too little time to God, depriving ourselves of the Holy Spirit and attenuating the faith required to draw close to God. The Sabbath was made to guarantee this needed time to establish our contact with God. We dare not pollute or profane this day by presumptuously doing our own thing, incrementally neglecting the hearing of sermons, fellowship, prayer, meditation, and Bible study. The Sabbath (a memorial of God's creation and a pre-figuration or promise of a future rest) provides the time for hearing God's word right now and doing good. God's presence has sanctified or set this recurring period of time apart as holy. During this time, we need to develop respect for instruction into God's way that will lead us into eternal life. We need to guard our thoughts, words, and behavior, making sure that we do not pollute this holy time.
John Ritenbaugh again emphasizes the burden-relieving, liberating and redemptive aspect of the Sabbath, suggesting that the seemingly provocative healings that Jesus performed on the Sabbath stood in stark contrast to the oppressive bondage of the Pharisees' elaborate regulations.The ministry of Christ was a manifestation of the redemptive work of the Father. Some work ordinarily profane is permissible for priests in the temple in order to minister to the spiritual needs of the people. The many physical healings Christ performed served as a type of a future spiritual healing. The work required on the Sabbath is to prepare for the Kingdom of God, fellowshipping with our brethren, doing charitable works of service to those in need, and relieving their burdens.
John Ritenbaugh maintains that our historical and theological roots are advanced in a polished, literary, chronological narrative, perhaps designed as a trial document authored by Luke. It defends the apostle Paul and the early church, with a larger purpose of 1) augmenting or increasing the faith of the saints, setting a pattern for all future generations of the church, demonstrating its continuity with the acts of God in the Old Testament; 2) proclaiming the church's mission and message; 3) showing progress despite seemingly overwhelming opposition; 4) tracing the expansion of the gospel to the Gentiles; and 5) revealing the life and organization of the church, emphasizing the role of the Holy Spirit in the church's formation, growth, and empowerment. Peter's sermon 1) explains the scriptural and prophetic significance of the Pentecost miracle, 2) proclaims the identity, death, and resurrection of Jesus, 3) and calls for repentance, a major condition for receiving God's Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the healing of the man at Bethesda, cautions that when God removes an infirmity or gives a blessing, He also gives a responsibility to follow through, using the blessing to overcome and glorify God in the process. As Jesus healed this man, He continued to reveal His identity as the prophesied Messiah, reflecting God the Father's proclivity to work ceaselessly on behalf of His creation, extending mercy and relieving burdens, traits we must emulate as God's children. Through total submission to the mind, will, and purpose of God the Father, Jesus (being totally at one in body, mind, and spirit) attained the identity and the power of God. Obedience (submitting to God's will) proves our belief and faith. If we compare ourselves to men, we become self-satisfied or prideful and no change will occur in our lives, but if we compare ourselves to God, we feel painfully discontent, and will fervently desire to yield to God's power to change us, transforming us into His image. Understanding the Bible will never take place until we yield unconditionally to its instruction. As metaphorical lamps ignited by God's Spirit, we must be willing to be consumed in His service.
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