Martin Collins, focusing on Paul's third trial before a secular ruler, following the inconclusive decisions before Felix and Festus, points out that King Agrippa was of a more decisive character. He sought to implement Paul's appeal to Caesar without delay. Speaking to the King, the Apostle stated his pre-conversion experience as a Pharisee, his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, and his post conversion commitment to execute his God-ordained commission. In the process, he refuted the false charges of violating the laws of the Torah, committing heresy and blasphemy, and committing treason against Caesar, the same charges previously levelled against Jesus Christ. Agrippa, an erudite individual with a keen understanding of Jewish customs, listened intently as Paul refuted all the false charges. In the end, he claimed to be "almost persuaded' by Paul's testimony and acknowledged that Paul was innocent. He would have acquitted him if he had not appealed to Caesar. In reality, what appeared to be a series of disappointing judicial set-backs for Paul was actually the outworking of God's strategy to place the Apostle before even higher levels of secular leadership. As God's called-out ones, we must learn to follow in the footsteps of Paul, being willing to trust God when the here-and-now in our experience appears problematic, knowing that God is sovereign over all.
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.
Martin Collins, reflecting on an article by Dave Berry, who suggests that the Post-Truth, fake news norm has created a milieu where people appear to be hallucinating, warns God's called-out ones against feeling the same kind of frustration as the rest of society as we become immersed in negative and false news. If we accept our Elder Brother Jesus Christ's invitation to be protected by His name, becoming an Ambassador of the Sovereign of the universe, we can rise above the swamp of negativism and evil which threatens to envelop us. Because our citizenship is in heaven, we are members of God's family, metaphorically a component of God's Temple and a constituent of the Kingdom of God. In the current world, we are sojourners, pilgrims, aliens, and ambassadors, living among, yet separate from, the peoples of this present world. Our loyalty must be to the family to which we are called—the blood of Christ's sacrifice being thicker than water. We cannot be half-hearted Christians, attempting to take the narrow and broad way simultaneously. If we are not sure we are really committed to our calling, we should consider: (1.) Do we feel that we are an outsider when we are with our brethren? (2.) Do we feel more comfortable in "wordly" social contexts? (3.) Do we understand the argot of the Church family or does it seem foreign to us? (4.) Do we understand the subjects discussed and feel prepared to take part in the discussion or does everything seem like its in secret code? (5.) Are we in on the mysteries of the fellowship, or do we feel clueless? (6.) Do we feel comfortable with the laws of our fellowship or do they seem a burden? (7.) Do we have a spiritual birth certificate—God's Holy Spirit—that we carefully guard? If we are led by God's Spirit, having the spirit of adoption, we are the children of God and ambassadors of Jesus Christ.
Martin Collins, noting that the foundational way of life as outlined by Jesus Christ is not much followed in mainstream Christianity, and observing that the five foolish Virgins also belonged to the visible church, reminds us that we are only Christ's if we have God's Holy Spirit living in us, and we live according to the Spirit's prompts. There is no such thing as a secular Christian. Salvation is an ongoing work of God, obligating us to walk in the Spirit and not according to the flesh. If we walk in the Spirit, we will be not captivated by the lusts of the flesh. From the onset of our calling, we have been charged to bear spiritual fruit, being metaphorical branches of the vine, which is Christ. If we produce the fruit of the Spirit, we will maintain a sound mind, enabling us to acquire a new godly nature and character. We must mortify our past nature, realizing that all sin is abject failure and a fast track to death. As God's called-out ones, we need to reckon ourselves dead to the pulls of carnality. Sadly, we are guilty of sinning against God's Law every day, but if we willfully sin, rejecting the prompts of His Holy Spirit, we are, in effect, committing the unpardonable sin on an installment plan. Only those led by God's Holy Spirit are truly children of God. If we are not led by God's Spirit, we are pathetic slaves of sin. If we abide in Christ's words, we are His disciples. If we grow in the Spirit, allowing our character to be transformed from the inside out, we will be siblings and heirs of Christ, becoming full members of the family of God.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: We live in a self-indulgent age. Advertisers tell us to pamper ourselves and get all that we can as soon as we can. Politicians promise high-cost "freebies" that only a few years ago required ...
Mark Schindler, acknowledging that movies and books contain unforgettable aphorisms to ponder or live by, focuses on a memorable line from the movie A League of Their Own, a movie about a struggling women's baseball team, when the coach tells a disheartened player, "It's supposed to be hard; if it weren't hard everybody would be doing it; the hard makes it great." This powerful aphorism should be inculcated by everyone called-out to follow the unique, rigorous, tribulation-laden path blazed by Jesus Christ. We live in a world in which everyone is under the harsh bondage of sin. We have been given the privilege of living God's way now, making the arduous struggle against the world's depraved system a great, memorable experience, enabling us to master some things which most in the world cannot yet do. The hard things God wants us to do are preferable to the harsh bondage to sin the world is now under. The hardness makes us hardy enough to be included in the first harvest. As Satan deceived Mother Eve that to choose for ourselves is better than following God, the rest of the world continues to follow that deception. We find it most difficult to live exclusively in the way God has chosen for us. The world's ways are the easiest roads to take; carnal human nature is enmity against God. Satan has been given the power to deceive the world to this day. Those who have been called to the truth will be on a collision course with the world. But it is the hard way that makes our lives great, to be in harmony with the Father and the Son. When David heard the devastating news about the attack of the Edomite's, he nevertheless trusted that God would give his armies the ultimate victory, rallying the people around the Lord's banner. In our battles against the world, faith must conquer fear. Soldiers have died to defend the flag; we must be prepared to die to defend godly standards. As Moses built an altar proclaiming Jehovah Nissi (God is our banner). We must also proclaim our steadfast loyalty to God in a patently hostile world.
Richard Ritenbaugh, cuing in on Exodus 12:1-2, heralding the beginning of the sacred year in the springtime, when the foliage is sprouting and budding, points out that this season corresponds to one of the sacred appointed times of the year, the Days of Unleavened Bread. The Hebrew word used to mark these appointed times, regalim (or feet), connotes walking or a pilgrimage. The Hebrew year contained five paces, steps, or seasons, all corresponding to God's holy times. Patterns of five, grasped conveniently by the five digits of each hand, suggest grace or providence. Groupings of five arrange the seasons, the Torah (Pentateuch), the Megillot (Festival Scrolls), the Five Books of Psalms, and the summary Psalms. These recurring sets of five have common themes and patterns. The Song of Songs takes place in the springtime, awakening romance and love between the Shulamite and her Beloved, parallel to the romance between Christ and the Church. Genesis consists of a book of stories, accounts of the beginning of things, showing the consequences of wise and foolish choices. The Psalms in Book One of the Psalms deal with the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, uttered by David, but lived by Jesus Christ. The themes consist of trust in God, suffering, facing opposition, and persecution, the Messianic themes of redemption, salvation, and kingship, leadership, and rulership, distinctions between the righteous and the wicked, two separate paths with two separate ends, tests and trials leading to hope, growth, and fruit. Psalm 1 is an instructional psalm, delineating two distinctive paths with positive consequences (derived from meditating the things of God) and paths with negative consequences (as a result of rejecting God and His instructions). Jesus Christ is the personification of all that instruction. When God calls us out the world, He transplants us next to His stream of living water, enabling us to bear spiritual fruit and attain eternal life.
Martin Collins, initially focusing on the commission of God's prophets as God's watchmen and messengers, switches his emphasis to the false prophets, those promoting the broad way, giving people what they want to hear. In the Roman Catholic Church, every month of the year was at one time a birth month of Christ. Finally, the Pagan date for the rebirth of the sun, or Saturnalia, was selected to resolve the hopelessly confused issue. Prophets, who falsely speak in God's name, prophesying lies, are particularly odious to God Almighty, causing people to go into captivity. The false prophets lead people away from God's way of life, causing them to forget His name, replacing God's truth with human tradition, telling people what they want to hear. Penalties were severe in Deuteronomy 13:1-5, proscribing the death penalty for falsehood. Christ warned against false prophets in the Sermon on the Mount and the Olivet prophecy, both from outside and inside the church, promising liberty by preaching against the Law of God. Even though the false prophets and teachers are subtle, they are easy to identify if one examines the fruit. The law of biogenesis demonstrates that good fruit cannot come from a bad tree. Even though they may be persuasive and gentle, promising liberty, they deliver depression and discouragement, and like wolves, desire to tear the flock to shreds.
Contrary to the common idea that the Christian life is one of peace and contentment, John Ritenbaugh explains that it is really a constant, grueling battle against enemy forces such as our own human natures, this evil world, and 'principalities and powers' that do not want to see us inherit the Kingdom of God. Even so, if we are steadfast in the faith, we can prevail.
John Ritenbaugh, taking issue with the doctrine of eternal security—the idea that a called individual has absolutely no part in the salvation process—points out that passivity and complacency are deadly to spiritual survival. God does not owe us salvation on the basis of Christ's sacrifice. Like ancient Israel, we are called to walk, actively and forcefully putting to death our carnal natures, resisting the temptation to be complacent or timid. In the end time, the struggle becomes exponentially more difficult. Christ warns us not to be caught up in the cares of this world, burdened or overloaded with busyness and distraction. Preparation for future persecution includes being thoroughly convicted of doctrines, being conditioned to stand firm, and resisting the fear of sacrifice and self-denial while replacing it with unconditional submission to God, as sacrificial love is fear's antidote.
Martin Collins asserts that presumptuous self-justification is one of mankind's most deceptive or blinding sins. Glibly stating, "God will understand," we practice a dangerous and foolish form of situation ethics. God pays close attention to the small or insignificant things we may overlook or excuse in ourselves, sins we commit in weakness. God's patience does not constitute approval of our sin. God's truth penetrates and exposes our secret sins. Nothing can be concealed from Almighty God. The reverence and fear of God leads to hating evil and obeying God in both public and private contexts. Regarding our presumptuous thoughts and behaviors, God will certainly understand (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that God has commanded the book of Deuteronomy to be reviewed every seven years, at the time of release. Deuteronomy, the reiteration of God's Law given in preparation for entering the Promised Land contains the testimony written in stone by the finger of God, serving as the basis for both justice and mercy. The Book of the Law (Deuteronomy) was placed along side the Tablets of the Law as a perpetual testimony and a witness. Deuteronomy could be considered the New Testament of the Old Testament, serving as an elaborate commentary on the Ten Commandments. Deuteronomy gives vision (a summary) for critical times (the narrow difficult path ahead involving a multitude of choices), preparing us for living (eternally as God lives) in the Promised Land (Kingdom of God).
The road that leads to salvation has ditches on either side: legalism and liberalism. God's way perfectly balances and blends law and grace, producing the "new man" within us.
Laziness and fear are the greatest challenges to love. When Protestant theologians disparage "works," connecting them to salvation rather than sanctification and growth, they encourage spiritual laziness. If we are lazy, we might still be saved, but we will have built nothing to fulfill God's purpose in us. If we refuse to work hard at character building, the principle of entropy will turn our efforts into a state of disorganization. If we make no effort to overcome, the principle of inertia will keep us going in the same way we have allowed ourselves to drift. An irrational fear of loss prevents the development of agape love within us—we fear that keeping God's commandments will cause us to lose something valuable. Like a musician who practices everyday, by continual effort at commandment keeping, we will soon develop feelings of confidence by knowing what we are doing is right (I John 3:17-19; John 15:9-10).
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the operation of God's government absolutely depends on each person governing himself, never going beyond the boundaries God has given him. Human nature always wants to break free of those boundaries. Through our entire lives, we need to study diligently to find out what our responsibilities are to God and fellow man, developing godly character. Godly character and human nature will be perpetually at war with one another as long as we are in the flesh. All the experiences we go through are preparing us to be a better judge or king. While we are being judged, though we may exercise righteous judgment, we dare not pass judgment nor justify sin in ourselves. Spiritual maturity comes when we accept responsibility for what we are and have done.
Satan and his demons regard us as invaders of their first estate, and have consequently have engaged us in a fierce spiritual battle to destroy our relationship with God and His purpose for us to be born into His Family. We fight our battle in the mind, in the subtle thought processes (II Corinthians 10:5). We need to be aware of Satan's modus operandi, including the stratagem of disinformation (subtle, plausible lies) spread through false ministers (wolves in sheep's clothing; Matthew 7:15), teaching the smooth, broad way to destruction, encouraging spiritual fornication and eventual enslavement to sin. The apostle John encourages us to test the spirits (I John 4:1-3), making sure that belief and practice are carefully aligned.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Matthew 7:15-20, observes that false teaching tends to produce four different ways of life: (1) Getting people concentrating on externals (rituals and regulations); (2) Concentrating on negativism (no cards or movies); (3) Concentrating on liberalism (sinning that grace may abound); and (4) Divorcing life from reality (going off to a monastery and practicing a form of asceticism). Over the years, these practices have only produced disunity. In order to build sound doctrine, we are obligated to build on the foundation Christ's teaching (the Rock, the spiritual drink, or living words), taking the straight and narrow course rather than the accumulated wisdom of this world. We need to look by faith ahead into the future, listening very carefully (to the truth of God's Word) discerning the spiritual intent, immediately putting this understanding into practice (assimilating it as a part of ourselves) by our reasonable sacrifice- giving ourselves as living sacrifices- building iron clad faith in the process, insuring our spiritual (as well as physical) success. Whatever we build upon will be tested by intense purifying trials. Everyone has trials and temptations, but God will not test us (those God has called out- those who daily nourish themselves on His word) beyond what we can handle, enabling us (through the power of His Holy Spirit) to overcome them, developing extraordinary spiritual stability- like the stable tree in Psalm 1. Like our Elder Brother, we need to assimilate this nourishing word so much that it would become second nature (actually first nature) to us. Unfortunately, the Pharisees with whom Jesus confronted could not assimilate this precious word because it clashed with their traditions and reasoning. Hopefully our own traditions and preconceptions will not allow us to assimilate His Word. If we reject God's truth, we will fall into deception and our hearts will be hardened like Pharaoh's. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Matthew 7:13-14, observes that life consists of a series of choices—often a dilemma of a pleasurable choice on one hand, and a daunting difficult choice on the other. It seems as though God Almighty and Jesus Christ invariably want us to make the more difficult choice, insuring seemingly the maximum spiritual growth and character development. Moses took the difficult way, forsaking the adulation of leadership in Egypt, becoming the leader of a rag-tag group of disgruntled slaves. Our daily choices (small and large) are based upon the same principle. Sometimes our choices are quite costly, putting our careers and opportunities on the line in order to follow God. Some of the choices we make consist of discerning true ministers from false ministers and discerning the fruits of false religion. We need to develop and maintain an intense love for the truth, by faith developing vision and foresight of future consequences. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
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