John Ritenbaugh, examining the socio-cultural milieu before the writing of the Epistle to the Hebrews, explains the difficulties experienced by the new Jewish converts to the Gospel. The powerful testimony of the recently risen Christ, combined with the apostles, who had spent 3 ½ years under His tutelage, were the main factors behind the fast growth of the church to 6,000. The Jewish leadership deemed these converts to be traitors to the of the religious heritage of Judaism. The estrangement these people felt is similar to that experienced by today's people of the true God. Christ told His Apostles not to become fixated about the fulfillment of prophecy, but instead to engage in the work He had given them. God's people today have the same no-nonsense orders Christ gave to His original Disciples, namely to take the Gospel to all nations. God's worldwide institution, the Israel of God, makes a transition to a New Covenant, not 'doing away with the law' but making it applicable to both Jew and Gentile. Repentance and baptism replace circumcision as the spiritual sign of the New Covenant. The Council of Jerusalem indicated that Jesus Christ's words and behavior proved the final word on New Covenant decisions, bringing about a significant change in practice.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the description of the New Covenant in Hebrews 8:10, reminds us that, although God never intended the Old Covenant to endure eternally, the spiritual and immutable law (shared by both the old and new covenants) was to last forever. God did not nail His holy Law to the cross, as major Protestant denominations mistakenly declare. Rather, God nailed the penalty for our past sins, paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ, to the cross. The wages of sin is death. When Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law, He not only provided a model as to how His called-out ones are to keep it, He magnified it and raised the standards of compliance, targeting not only behavior, but motive—the whole spiritual process which underlies any sin. To give His called-out ones the ability to reach these higher standards, He gifted them with the Holy Spirit, thereby empowering them to displace carnality with Godly character. God does not create such character by fiat. Rather, it grows steadily with our determination to participate and cooperate with God. The purpose of all of God's covenants with mankind is to create character and stop sin. The New Covenant, as explicated by Hebrews, contains "post graduate" responsibilities far beyond the letter-of-the-law instructions given in Leviticus. Unlike the faulty Protestant assumption that Christ has done all the work of salvation, Christ warns His people that they must soberly count the cost because of the vastly higher standards established in the New Covenant. Christ promises, through the means of His Holy Spirit, the power to do His will, thereby giving His people the necessary tools to achieve membership in the family of God.
John Ritenbaugh observes that, in every biblical covenant, God gives responsibilities in order to be in alignment with Him. If we fail to meet the responsibilities He has given to us, God will penalize us. Every covenant we find in Scripture outlines promises, responsibilities, and penalties. As members of the Body of Christ, we have been given specific tasks to carry out, placed in that Body where we can be the most productive. God is currently at work producing leadership in an organization which will follow Him, calling people into His family one by one, meticulously crafting it into a perfect organism. God is showing the same precision in His spiritual creation as He did in the physical creation. God did not create the universe and then just walk away, paying less attention to us than the earth (as magnificent as it is). Everything God made works (including our ultimate spiritual creation) perfectly. Jesus Christ, seated at the right hand of the Father, upholds and tends His spiritual creation right now. As God used Noah to build an ark (Noah perhaps had no idea as to what an ark was and what rain was), God has also called us to complete a project to which we are totally oblivious. Though we are in much ignorance as to how the end project will emerge, God has provided us tools to finish what He has called us to do. By reviewing God's patterns, we can see that we are part of the same project to which Noah and his family, progenitors of Christ, had been called. The ark, a protective enclosure or place of sanctuary, recurs perennially in Scripture, as the basket, protecting Moses, another Christ figure. Joseph, another Christ figure, was transported in a kind of ark (a coffin) into the Promised Land. The Ark of the Covenant is a protective enclosure, shielding God's treasures. The church metaphorically is an ark, a structure protecting God's called-out ones until the time of resurrection into His family. As Noah could not see God, but still did what He commanded, walking by faith, trusting Him totally, we, as
John Ritenbaugh, warning us not to complain about our lack of talents or spiritual gifts, assures us that, if we were called because of our talents, we would be able to brag. However, we were called solely for the purpose of fulfilling what God has in mind for us. To that end, God has given diverse gifts to all He has called, intending that we produce abundant spiritual fruit, glorifying God. As Adam did not create himself, we, called as first-fruits of a spiritual creation, have not and are not creating ourselves either. We are being trained to become leaders, but before we can lead, we must be able to carry out responsibilities, conforming to God's leadership, carefully meeting the demands of His covenants (solemn agreements between God and man). Covenants, contracts, and compacts are all designed to draw individuals together, unifying them in agreement to establish a purpose. Of the 70 billion people who have lived on the earth, only a meager fraction have entered into a covenant, the legal foundation for any relationship with God. Keeping any of the covenants involves faith in the Creator, the one who gives life and breath to each living being. All human beings have been given a basic understanding of right and wrong, having been imbued with a conscience (Romans 2:14), but the converted are presently more involved with God, and are expected to conform to a higher standard. In order to become a leader, one must be a good follower, pursuing with a high level of energy, appropriating the character of God. The covenants provide overviews of what we must follow, giving broad principles rather than specific details. The Sovereign God spells out the terms and the penalties, demonstrating patience and long-suffering as we slowly learn the rudiments. The first covenant recorded in Scripture, the Edenic Covenant, establishes the Sabbath, the solemn marriage relationship, and clearly shows God to be the source of all blessings, providing a pattern for all the covenants to follow.
John Ritenbaugh contends that those who believe in the "once saved always saved" doctrine foolishly fail to see that God has a more extensive and creative plan for mankind than merely saving them. One can fail to bring forth fruits of repentance and thus qualify for the Lake of Fire. By denigrating the role of works in repentance and building character, the proponents of the "no effort, no works, love Jesus only" idea ignore the lessons of Scripture and mock God's plan for mankind, suggesting that He requires nothing productive of His contractual partners. Salvation is not unconditional. If we deliberately choose death (Deuteronomy 30:19), rejecting God's covenant, He is not responsible for our breach of contract.
John Ritenbaugh uses an analogy of a 1910 automobile as opposed to a modern one. Obsolete doesn't mean, as Protestant understanding would have it, "done away." The fault of the Old Covenant was with the hearts of the people. Christ took it upon Himself, with His death, to amend the fault enabling us to walk in the light, keeping the commandments. Salvation and conversion is a cooperative effort between God and His called-out ones, requiring both a calling and a response (justification and sanctification), a circumcision of the heart, imposing responsibilities on the participants of the covenant. Though the process took a unilateral act of sacrifice on behalf of the Testator to make it work, God demands of us unconditional surrender.
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