John Ritenbaugh indicates that we are being fitted as lively stones into an already formed Kingdom, being conformed to the image of Christ, who has been designated as the Cornerstone. As God's future priests, becoming living sacrifices, we will constitute God's department of health, education, and welfare, serving and helping humanity. The Israel of God becomes God's firstborn, being set aside as a chosen generation to help the High Priest, Jesus Christ. This role as Christ's assistants is what we are being prepared for, a role which will call for rigorous discipline. This rigor will enable us to be totally transformed from the inside out, bringing about a renewal of our minds and a change of character. We are appointed on men's behalf to deal with things pertaining to God. We will become the link between men and God. We will offer sacrifice, largely consisting of intercessory prayer. We have to have compassion, sympathy, and empathy with mankind, realizing the repertoire of our own weaknesses. Like Christ, we must learn from the things we have suffered, making us able to aid those who have been tempted. God has hand-picked or chosen us as forerunners because He loved us; we dare not squander this precious calling of training for the Royal Priesthood. The more we know God, the stronger and more insightful we will get, enabling us to build one another up in Godly love, thinking with the mind of the Father and Jesus Christ, with His Law written in our hearts.
John Ritenbaugh 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.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the promise of rest alluded to in Hebrews 4:9, emphasizes the need to endure, persevere, overcoming doubts and unbelief—something many of our forebears (described in Hebrews 3 and 4) did not successfully attain. When we become impatient (largely as a result of superimposing our timetable, plan, or understanding over God's), doubts and lack of faith arise. Like Abraham, we (as Abraham's seed) have been called to a life of rootless, unsettled wandering in a pilgrim state, continually on the move, trusting in God to lead us to our ultimate destination: a spiritual life of permanence. Until this ultimate objective (the ever-expanding promises made by God to Abraham- co-heirs of the earth and ultimately the entire creation) occurs, we experience temporary privation, temptation, and seemingly perpetual rootlessness. Thankfully, if we patiently endure the twists and turns, trusting in God's faithfulness to bring to completion what He has started, there will be a time when we will attain the rest we desperately yearn for.
John Ritenbaugh, repeating his caution about uncritically reading certain theological books and commentaries, warns that deception will abound exponentially in the Information Age. The elect are not immune to antinomian deception, including the doctrine of eternal security, the total depravity of man, unconditional love, irresistible grace, and the "once saved always saved" mentality. These pernicious, surreptitious teachings are designed to remove personal guilt and the necessity for personal responsibility or works (anathema to antinomian, "rule-hating," syncretistic, evangelical teaching), casting aside the law of God and substituting personal standards. Without a demonstration of works (prompted and empowered by God's Holy Spirit), it will be impossible for God to judge whether we will actively adhere to His standards, steadfastly walking in the footsteps of Christ. Finally, the amazing history of the rejection of the Sabbath and the embracing of Sunday is explained.
John Ritenbaugh, exploring the invasion of the early apostolic church by Gnostics(interlopers who savagely denigrated the "enslavement to Yahweh, His Law, and the Jewish Sabbath," replacing it with 'enlightened' Greek philosophy- the immortality of the soul, eternal security, irresistible grace, and predestination) traces its development within mainstream 'Christianity.' An early source of Gnostic thought into mainstream 'Christianity' was Augustine, originally saturated in Manichean religion, later transferring Gnostic thought into the Catholic Church. The Protestant reformers Luther and Calvin, both heavily influenced by Augustine, taught the doctrines of eternal security, irresistible grace, and predestination. Modern evangelical leaders, continuing in this Gnostic tradition, promulgate "once saved always saved" and "unconditional love" — tolerating the most hideous abominable sins - allowing 'Christ's blood' to give license to this lawless behavior.
John Ritenbaugh warns that human nature is hostile to change, even when it is confirmed to be in the wrong. In the matter of godly standards for dress (as in any other aspect of God's teaching), we must adopt the humble, childlike, sincere, unassuming, unpretentious, and teachable attitude, loving God intimately, denying ourselves(ego and self-gratification)- losing ourselves to God's way, becoming separate from the world, and doing all for the glory of God.
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.
How sure is your word? One's word is not worth a whole lot these days in the world, but in the church what we say and promise should be good as gold! John Reid writes that God listens to what we promise—so we had better perform it!
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that the practical advice in Hebrews 12-13 fits our current condition like a glove. Like the recipients of this epistle, the greater church of God, having drifted away and given in to sin, we must also lay aside every weight which encumbers, accept God's chastening, receive encouragement from those who have already succeeded (Hebrews 12:1), and energetically get back into the spiritual race. We should allow nothing to deter us from the goal, remembering the consequences if we fail. All of our behaviors — including demonstrating brotherly love and hospitality, exercising empathy, strengthening our marriages, being content with God's blessings, submitting to leadership, avoiding strange doctrines, coming out of this world, praying without ceasing, and being charitable — must be done out of a pure heart.
Richard Ritenbaugh presents an encouraging conclusion to his series on Matthew 13 by describing Christ's work on behalf of the church (Hidden Treasure, Pearl of Great Price, Dragnet) and the work of the ministry (Householder). The church constitutes His treasure, hidden in the world, purchased and redeemed with Christ's blood. The Pearl of Great Price depicts a rich merchant (Christ), the only one who had the means to redeem His church. The Dragnet symbolizes the scope of God's calling while the separation process indicates God's high standards of selection, indicating a time of righteous and impartial judgment. The Householder parable shows the responsibility of the ministry to be authoritative interpreters of scripture, using what they have learned and experienced to instruct the people.
John Ritenbaugh suggests that even though sin offers temporal and fleeting pleasure, we must learn to intensely hate sin, regarding this product of Satan as a destroyer of everything God loves and cherishes. We will ultimately be judged on what we have done with what we have been given, living what we know, and intensely striving to emulate God- the essence of love. If we sin, we love neither God nor ourselves. Sin corrosively destroys innocence, ideals, and willpower, replacing these qualities with hardness, slavery, more sin, degeneracy, and ultimately death.
Time—it marches relentlessly on, and we have only so much of it. Yet we waste a lot of it on foolish pursuits, procrastination and distractions. John Ritenbaugh explains how getting control of our time puts us in the driver's seat in our pursuit of God's Kingdom!
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the doctrinal changes made by the leaders in the Worldwide Church of God were intended to destroy the vision of the purpose God is working out. Ignoring the last portion of Ephesians 2:10, the proponents of the no works, no conditions, no standards, cheap grace mentality have perverted the name of Christianity, adopting the fruit of the world's brand of Christianity, cutting itself off from the law and rule of God. In contrast to this adolescent "obey because we feel like it"- "all roads lead to heaven" mentality is God's package, consisting of a body of laws, a body of beliefs or doctrines, and a way of life, all of which are working to produce a magnificent product- not merely to save us.
John Ritenbaugh examines the serious and devastating ramifications of the doctrinal changes made by the misguided leaders of the Worldwide Church of God. This pernicious incremental package of changes totally destroyed the vision of God's true purpose for mankind—a marvelous plan of reproducing Himself, creating a God Family (Romans 8:29)—and replaced it with the nebulous Protestant goal of going to heaven or the Catholic concept of a "beatific vision." Predictably, when the vision was changed, then the law (intended to guide that vision), of necessity, had to be thrown out.
John Ritenbaugh describes the process through which God perfects His image in us, linking three sub-themes: 1) God's disciplining, 2) our listening, and 3) God's watchful care. Obedience to God's Word strengthens us, enabling us to receive our spiritual heritage. Remembering the lamentable condition of our slavery to sin and God's deliverance and involvement in our lives helps us to exercise obedience, keeping us growing toward perfection. Paradoxically, humble dependency upon God strengthens us, while prideful self-sufficiency weakens us. No matter what situation, God carefully watches over us like an eagle (Deuteronomy 32:11), ready to come to our aid and supply us with what we need.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that we must avoid distractions and keep our lives focused on God and His Holy Word. The prophetic messages in Revelation 2 and 3 are designed for the end times, shortly before the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord. All seven churches—with their unique attitudes—will be extant contemporaneously at the end time. If a message ("he who overcomes," "I know your works") is repeated seven times in two chapters, God must want us to understand these concerns. Nothing is more important than repentance and overcoming, producing mature, committed, loyal disciples displaying exemplary conduct and good works, avoiding the distractions of Satan (Ephesians 6:12) and the allurements of this world (I John 2:15).
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