John Ritenbaugh, reflecting that we are all "cut from the same cloth" as our original parents, reminds us that God was aware from the beginning that the free will He gave us in order to develop character, coupled with our carnal nature, made us highly vulnerable to sinning—and highly vulnerable to the natural consequence of sin, death. As it worked out, all God's creation is now under the curse of sin—death. God, before He created Adam and Eve, preternaturally (that is, using forces outside those of the natural world) and meticulously planned the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in order to save humanity from this horrible curse. With the sacrifice of Jesus freely given to justify us initially, plus the on-going gift of the Holy Spirit to sanctify us, we have the ability of overcoming and growing in godly character—growing into the image and likeness of God. Christ, until His very last breath, with clarity of thought, went forth as a willing sacrifice, not as a victim. Christ gave His called-out ones the "blueprint" of the changes needed to transform into His image. Not judging it robbery to be equal with God the Father, He nevertheless emptied Himself of His Divinity, humbly taking on the role of a fleshly bond servant, willing to accept whatever God the Father gave Him to do. On our spiritual trek, we must assimilate the same mindset, loving God with all our heart, and others as ourselves.
Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that war has personally touched only a fraction of Americans. Not since the aftermath of the 'Civil' War has any part of the nation suffered the ravages of war and the bitterness of defeat. The offspring of Jacob, for the most part, continues to enjoy a period of relative peace and material blessings. The dire events narrated in the Book of Lamentation seem foreign to our scope of experience. For this reason, the events it vividly portrays help us to vicariously imagine the sense of hopelessness and despair experienced by ancient Israel during this historical period. As we approach the coming self-examination prior to Passover, we can apply six significant lessons learned by these people to our personal lives. As human beings we can learn: 1.) Human life is tough, as exemplified in Christ's agonizing sacrifice for us. 2.) Humans are slow to accept blame, but quick at doling it out to others. 3.) Repentance is difficult and rare. Thankfully, we also learn: 4.) God is sovereign, controlling every aspect of Creation. 5.) God is just and is a Deity of Law, giving us precepts that tell us how to live. 6.) God is merciful and faithful, providing a mechanism for our redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, balancing His "severity" with His "goodness."
John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that God works in mysterious ways, assures us that, because of God's calling, we have a far clearer understanding of His purposes than those yet uncalled. Powered by the spirit in man, no individual is able to understand God, as witnessed by the consistently antagonistic reaction of the Pharisees and scribes to God's truth, as explained to them by Christ. To those called, the Bible is no mystery, but to the world at large, it seems inscrutable. For His Own reasons, God has chosen not to reveal His plan to those the world considers wise, but, instead, to work with the weaker sort of mankind. God told Cain how to overcome sin when He rejected his offering: Namely, we must wrest the control sin has over us at the formative stage of desire. Timing is crucial. We should never allow sin to escape its incipient stage of desire. Most of 'Christendom' fails to realize that God has called us to do battle with our carnal natures, a cross we bear until He resurrects us as spirit beings. At our baptism, He counsels us to soberly count the cost, asking ourselves if we are willing to give up everything, including our lives, to conform to Christ's image, becoming a new creation in the process. Even with God's initial gift of His Holy Spirit, we cannot form an on-going, growing relationship with God unless He continually strengthens us with additional gifting—more grace.
John Ritenbaugh maintains that the quality of leadership makes a difference in the morality and well-being of a nation. That insight explains why the quality of family leadership trickles up to civic and governmental leadership. Noah, while not a warrior or king, was nevertheless a stellar model of parental leadership, teaching by example (rather than authoritarian bluster) obedience to, and faith in, God. This blue-collar worker doggedly assembled a boat during persistent ridicule from his sophisticated, 'progressive' neighbors. God placed Noah in the same league with Job and Daniel in terms of character, decidedly elite company. Although not the most charismatic figure in the Bible, Noah demonstrated steadfast faith as God bounced him and his family around like ping-pong balls in a dramatic, terrifying ark ride. Noah, the first man with whom He made a covenant, was also the first man to personally witness God's judgment, as he came to realize there was no dickering games with God. The purpose of God's covenants has never altered from the beginning (Adamic or Edenic covenants); mankind's responsibility toward these covenants has never altered from the beginning. Salvation has never been a matter of works, but always a matter of grace, which should promote good works rather than license to commit more sin. The covenant God made with Noah reaffirmed the Adamic and Edenic covenants (sealed with the sign of the rainbow) and therefore applies to every human being and to all creatures.
John Ritenbaugh begins by reiterating the six principle points of the universal Edenic Covenant: (1) establishing God as Creator, (2) presenting awesome gifts (such as our planet earth and our lives, (3) presenting us with our task of taking care of the earth, (4) establishing the marriage relationships through our original parents, (5) establishing the definition of sin and warning of its ultimate results, and (6) sanctifying the seventh day as the Sabbath for special instruction from God. He then delves into the horrendous consequences of sin, through the literal and figurative application of the term "nakedness," implying loss of innocence as well as the condition of shame and guilt. All figurative references to uncovering nakedness connect to idolatrous adultery or impurity of sins and transgression, including that of Adam and Eve, who fell from a state of intimate contact with God to profound estrangement between themselves, their Creator and virtually all of creation. The mark of sin, impossible to conceal, acquired by Adam and Eve, is a mark also borne by all their progeny, generating guilt and fear part of our mental repertoire, making us fearful of being exposed for what we really are. It is impossible to escape God's scrutiny. All of the sufferings of the present time had their origin in the Garden of Eden when our parents, greatly gifted by God in that they had a personal relationship with the Creator, sinned, seemingly in secret. But, their sin did not take place in a vacuum, no more than our sins do. They radiate out as ripples on water or spores of yeast in the leavening process. All Eve did was to take a bite of food, but the world has never been the same since that event. No one gets away with sin; the consequences reverberate endlessly. All of us will eventually be compelled to give an account of our behavior to our Creator. We will be able to blame only ourselves for our sins. We will not be able to blame our genetic make-up or our environment or Satan for our mistakes.
John Ritenbaugh, referring to Jimmy Carter's decision to leave the Southern Baptist Church based on its teaching that Eve was responsible for original sin, asks if we really believe God. The erroneous understanding cited that women are inferior to men is nowhere stated in the Bible. When God presented Eve to Adam in the Garden of Eden, Adam immediately recognized that she was the perfect complement to him. God gave man authority, not superiority. Satan attacked Adam and Eve together, but when he detected that Eve desired to eat of the tree, he attacked the woman first. Both Adam and Eve caved in to Satan's subtle strategy. The failure to do righteousness in the time of need is sin. Adam obeyed Eve rather than God and therefore violated the First and Second Commandments. He knew Eve was wrong, and yet he remained quiet.
The common belief among Christians—and other religions have similar depictions of the afterlife—is that one's immortal soul goes either to heaven or hell after death. David Grabbe argues that this ignores the biblical concept of the second death, an event beyond physical death that not only undermines the traditional heaven-hell and immortal soul doctrines, but also highlights God's perfect sense of justice.
The quality of human life on this earth has in large part been determined by the character of its leaders. In the Bible we have a record of both good and bad leaders, and it provides a repetitive principle that "as go the leadership, so goes the nation." John Ritenbaugh begins a new series that links leadership to the various scriptural covenants and their success or lack thereof.
John Ritenbaugh, reminding us that the Church is unique in that it does not believe God's Law has been done away, warns that the governments and culture of the offspring of Jacob suffer from a dearth of leadership, dramatizing the observation of Ralph Waldo Emerson that "an institution is but the lengthened shadow of one man." The book of Isaiah was written in Judah, castigating the people for their lack of leadership, but the book of Ezekiel was written to the House of Israel, long after the Northern Kingdom had gone into captivity, intended for the modern nations of Israel. Individually, we must become leaders in our own families, protecting them from the curse and scourge that is already falling on our nation. We have the solemn obligation to fear God, to refrain from being hypocrites, and to thoroughly repent, allowing ourselves to become pliable clay in God's hands. In this context, we must: (1) establish that the covenants are a gift from God, designed for our freedom, (2) understand that a covenant is a legal agreement between us and the unseen God, (3) understand that the covenant is not cold and legalistic, and (4) understand the Covenant was offered by the True God, who has never failed in His obligations. The New Covenant, promised in Hebrews 8:10 for the entire nation, has commenced as a forerunner in the Israel of God. As Christ's affianced Bride, God's called-out ones must not emulate the example of physical Judah and Israel, who shamelessly committed adultery (which is spiritual pornea—absorbing Pagan idolatrous practice), but must remain chaste in the keeping of the Covenants. Breaking God's covenant is the equivalent of adultery.
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting that the greater church of God is different from nominal Christianity in that it embraces the 'Jewish' holy days and ignores Christmas, Halloween, and Easter, rejects the concepts of the Trinity, ever-burning hell, the immortal soul, and eternal security, asserts that many are afraid to associate with us because we appear as a weird and heretical cult. Even our concept of original sin is different from 'mainstream' Christianity. While Calvinists have depicted mankind as totally depraved, we believe that mankind is a mixture of good and evil. We have the ability to do some good. Even those without God's Law have some basic standards of human decency. Calvinists, straining at a handful of 'proof-texts,' believe that original sin is transmitted through blood and genes. Our human nature is neutral at birth, but inclined toward sin because we are born into a sinful environment and are driven by Satanic forces; it is not programmed into our genetic make-up. When Adam and Eve were given the death sentence by God, they also received hope that through the offspring of Eve a Savior (who would bring mankind abundant spiritual life) would be born to crush the head of the serpent, which had previously deceived her. God made coverings for Adam and Eve concealing their shame and guilt, prefiguring the covering for sins which would occur later, and adorned them with raiment, prefiguring the garment of righteous salvation. Our sins have put a barrier between us and God; He has provided a means of reconciliation through the blood of Christ. There is no possibility of a relationship with God where sin exists.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the movie The Sound of Music, reports that the screenplay distorted the real events depicting the Von Trapp family. It seems that the god of this world has taken every art form, distorting, and twisting the underlying truth. Every Christian has to endure a similar fate, bearing a cross of resisting falsehood, slander, and deception. We carry around in our own hearts the components that threaten to defile us. We must endure this destructive carnal nature and the wiles of the devil, until we enter the Kingdom of God. The world's churches blame God for infecting human nature with original sin; this lie was concocted by Satan, even though God, through His sovereignty, has certainly allowed Satan some latitude. Adam's sin was presumptuous and deliberate, and has directly infected all of his offspring. The second Adam, Jesus Christ, rectified this fatal error of our first parent. Though we inherited the proclivity to sin from Adam, he did not "make us sin;" we are individually responsible for our own sins and for the consequences of our sins—death. Everyone is equipped with a rudimentary conscience having a clear grasp of the essential law. Human nature is the adaptation of Satan's nature by the neutral nature—the spirit in man given by God as standard operating equipment. Our objective is to battle or deflect this carnal nature by means of God's Holy Spirit.
In the conclusion to this series, Richard Ritenbaugh explains the extent of God's curse on Adam—and thus mankind—in the Garden of Eden. He is promised great toil and suffering throughout his life, but just as in all things God does, a silver lining appears amidst the woe!
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.
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