John Ritenbaugh issues a pointed warning about the tenacious power of our carnal nature: Its desire to satisfy an addictive self-centeredness can eventually overrule the Christian's loyalty to God and His commandments. If parents in God's Church are not willing to train up a child in righteousness, Satan and his demons are more than willing to take over the task. At our baptism, we were somberly counseled to count the cost of God's expectation that we love Him more than family, friends and even our own lives. We tend to fear what an undivided loyalty to God may cost us. Like our parents Adam and Eve, God has forewarned and forearmed us to withstand Satan's wiles, but we dare not underestimate the fierce, unyielding demands of our own carnal nature to reject God's plan for us. As Adam and Eve's progeny, we must learn that good results can never come from evil behavior. God has given us His Holy Spirit to kickstart us, empowering us with faith and love to keep His Commandments and to love Him with all our being and our neighbor as ourselves. We cannot take lightly the caution in Romans 8:5-7 that a carnal focus leads to death, while a spiritual one (that is, developing an incremental, intimate relationship with God) is the sole means to attain Eternal life.
David Grabbe reminds us that the Jewish preference for tradition over scriptural substantiation has blinded Israel to truth about Jesus Christ's identity and purpose. As long as tradition does not contradict the word of God, it poses no problem; however, when it goes at cross-purposes with Scripture, problems in understanding arise. In the past, the Church of God has generally taught that Satan is the author of all sin, and that the goat which was allowed to escape on Atonement represents Satan's part in inspiring our sins. It is true that, as the god of this world, Satan does broadcast attitudes and the whole world is under the influence of his evil mindset. Nevertheless, the choices an individual make are totally his own, even without the additional power of God's Holy Spirit. Satan exerts influence, but the responsibility to choose lies with everyone. We sin when we are drawn away by our own desires. The soul that habitually sins shall die. Whoever has been born of God does not sin as a way of life for His Spirit has, in a sense, reprogrammed him to a different course. Sin entered the world through one man—Adam. The second Adam, Jesus Christ, provided atonement. In his struggle against sin described in Romans 7, Paul did not finger Satan, but blamed sin dwelling in him. The concept of Satan as the Azazel goat arises from tradition rather than Scripture, especially from the Book of Enoch, never considered part of the canon.
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, warning that, as culture deteriorates, the church will be 'exposed' as the enemy, encourages us to make sure that the foundations of what we believe are secure. Consequently, we need to take notice of the law of first mention in Genesis to pick up the pattern of God's dealing with His creation. The great worldwide Flood has to be looked at through God's perspective, a merciful intervention preventing humankind from becoming hopelessly conditioned by Satanic orientation, to the point of no return. At the time of the Flood, all of mankind's thoughts were continuously evil. We are reaching that point again. Sin in exponentially compounding and every intent of the heart is evil continually, contaminating the outer behavior, fashioning millions and millions of beings in Satan's image. With the Flood, God rescued these hapless beings from becoming irretrievably depraved. There will be no more floods to wipe out the entire population of the earth, but the future cleansing and purging will be by unquenchable fire, when all evil will be dissolved to make way for new heavens and a new earth. The first use of the word grace in Scripture is in context with the rescuing of Noah, a preacher of righteousness from the line of Seth, including Lamech and Methuselah (whose name means "when he is gone, then he will come"). None of the line of preachers of righteousness (all converted people) perished in the flood. After Methuselah had died, Noah, the tenth in the line of the preachers of righteousness, whose name means comfort, provided physical deliverance for mankind, enabling it to survive the flood. When we realize that everything God has done from the creation of the earth (with its habitable environment and its resources) to the present time is a demonstration of His grace, we realize that salvation is His ultimate gift. As Noah's family was saved from the destruction of water, those living in the post-flood epoch, when they receive and answer God's calling, can escape the horrible holocaust (that is
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that godly leadership is lacking in Israelitish countries, maintains that grace is the single most important gift God gives us, and without this gift we would still be a part of this world—a world which has become equally as sinful as the times of Noah, when every thought of man was evil. From the time of the creation to the Flood was 1650 years, roughly about the same timespan as from the fall of the Roman Empire (classically taken to be 476 AD) until today. In both epochs, the population of mankind exploded, making it possible to develop the God-given resources placed at its disposal. God gave human beings long lives and brilliant minds to take advantage of the earth's resources. When we consider that in the last 150 years, mankind has advanced from travel on horsebacks to rocket ships, we can only speculate as to how advanced the world's technology was at the time of the Flood. God, who is not coldly mechanical in what He does, moved with calculated mercy, executing the destruction mankind brought on itself, snuffing out the reprobate minds before they self-destructed, rendering later rehabilitation impossible. As creatures with carnal minds, we realize, along with the apostle Paul, that we are in a continual life-and-death battle with sin. The only way out of this predicament is to keep God in our hearts rather than carnality. The previous course correction for sin involved water; the future course correction will involve fire. We are again in the societal context in which seemingly every thought of mankind is evil, driven by carnality and raw lust. As God sanctified our father Noah, saving him from the flood waters, we must trust God to sanctify us, protecting us from the holocaust of fire which will burn this earth to a cinder, in preparation for a new earth and heavens. As father Noah, sometimes identified as the Roman god Janus, who could see before and after the Flood, so we, living at the conclusion of this age, have a similar vantage point. God wants to see how we wil
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.
John Ritenbaugh, synthesizing the topics God's sovereignty, Ecclesiastes, and God's will, observes that God does not prevent us from sinning, and furthermore judges sin on a sliding scale of seriousness, based upon intent and premeditation. God has distinguished, for example, murder and manslaughter. The latter offense receives a far less severe penalty. Adam and Eve's transgression has inflicted the death penalty on the whole human race. Thankfully, the Second Adam has provided a means to neutralize this horrible penalty. As all in Adam died, all in Christ shall be made alive. The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us that everything in life matters. God has over-riding purposes that He is working out, purposes that have been worked on since the foundation of the world. God hates sin, but God's purpose permits a person to sin, as well as allowing a person to experience the tragic effects of sin. Not all of God's will is revealed through the pages of the Bible; it is progressively revealed through time on a need-to-know basis. The secret things belong to God, but those things that are revealed (through the passages of the Scriptures) belong to us. God knows the end from the beginning, but He does not give us all the details at once, except as they are necessary for us to process in our journey through life's labyrinth. What will eventually emerge for us is a clear understanding of God's will.
For being such a religious book, the Bible contains an unusual number of references to harlotry! John Ritenbaugh uses this information to provide understanding of the motivations of Babylon the Great, the Great Harlot of Revelation 17 and 18.
In this sermon on the significance of the Day of Atonement, Richard Ritenbaugh teaches that on this day we do no work because most of the work of atonement is done by God Almighty. We fast, afflicting our souls, reminding us how much we depend upon God both physically and spiritually, enabling us to lighten our loads and other people's loads. Fasting puts us in a proper humble and contrite frame of mind, allowing God to respond to us, freeing us from our burdens and guiding us into His Kingdom and His family.
Observing that more controversy exists about the counting of Pentecost than for any of the holy days, John Ritenbaugh suggests the confusion may be a function of the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19). Confusion, separation, and division have been our legacy since the Garden of Eden. The major reason for Christ's ministry was to put an end to the quarreling and division, enabling us to be one with the Father and with each other. Three of God's festivals (Passover, Atonement, and Pentecost) have a direct bearing on the principle of unity. As we individually strive to become unified with God, believing in His authority and His doctrines, we will ultimately become unified, in one accord, with our brethren. It is our individual responsibility, enabled by God's Holy Spirit, to follow those things that were revealed by God through His apostles, keeping God's Commandments, rather than following our own inclinations or private agenda.
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