With the giving of the New Covenant to God's called and chosen people, the church, problems arose among both Jewish and Gentile converts. God inspired the writing of the epistle to the Hebrews to answer the difficult questions church members were struggling with during the tumultuous first decades of the church. John Ritenbaugh begins to unravel the reasons early Christians needed the book of Hebrews.
Christians living at the time of the end would do well to consider the character and behavior of Noah, a paragon of virtue and devotion to God. John Ritenbaugh explains that God and Noah worked side by side to deliver the small remnant of humanity through the waters of the Flood, God supplying the sanctification and grace and Noah obeying in faith. This is the kind of relationship God desires with us.
John Ritenbaugh, endeavoring to build an intensified appreciation for God's Holy Spirit, maintains that our sense of responsibility should also intensify when we realize that our calling was not random. The term "spirit" is associated with wind in both Greek and Hebrew, indicating a power that is invisible but forceful. God gave mankind distinctions no other animal ever received, including being fashioned in His image, enabled to manage the resources of the earth, having communication skills and memory, having the capacity to marry and express love and finally, realizing that sin carries a punishment. God has singled each one of us out individually, calling us, gifting us with capabilities, and preparing us for eternal life as members of His family. The birth Christ described to Nicodemus could be rendered both "from above" (as the wind comes from above) or "again" (referring to a totally new spiritual creation). If we are in Christ, having His mind, we are indeed a new creation. God is creating us and gifting us as we move along. We require the Holy Spirit to aid us in this transformative sanctification process. In this process, God might very well place us in situations we feel are above our head but He will also always supply the tools to accomplish the work He has given us. . Like the apostles Paul and Peter, we could not get by without the gifting of God's Holy Spirit. As we use the prompts and gifting of the Holy Spirit, realizing that God has initiated everything, we (as the early disciples) become elevated from servant to friend to sibling of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reminding us that Americans, whose country was founded on the principle of freedom, are fiercely protective of their rights, narcissistically claiming freedom means to do, go, say, or think whatever they want, often selfishly insisting on material acquisitions (fulfilling freedom from want) which are not rights at all. The common denominator in western culture seems to be self-determination and the freedom to determine one's destiny. God grants His called-out ones self-determination, free moral agency and true freedom under the protective blessing of His Law. Any freedom to choose must be accompanied by a set of standards against which choices are made. The people of the world do not have this freedom because they are held captive by their own lusts, the lures of this world, and the current ruler of this world, Satan. Goethe lamented that none are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free. If freedom is not anchored in God's Law, it is not freedom at all, but abject bondage to sin. True freedom only occurs when one has a relationship with God, the One who did all the heavy lifting in our liberation from sin. Truly converted people incrementally act more like God and less like men. If we sow spiritually, we will reap spiritually; if we sow carnally, we will reap carnally. License is not a synonym for liberty or freedom, but instead equates to bondage to lusts and the captivity to sin. The dark underbelly of freedom alerts us that freedom apart from God's Law and a relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ is bondage to sin and death.
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.
What is faith? Is it something we work up or does God give it to us? Do we have the faith to be saved? Do we really trust God?
John Ritenbaugh teaches that, following Abraham's example, a life centered on God is a way of inner peace—an inner strength that keeps life from falling apart. Focusing upon God gets the focus off from ourselves and onto something more enduring, reliable, and permanent than us. If we give ourselves to God (through the New Covenant) in complete surrender, allowing Him to shape character in us, then He will forgive our sins, removing the death penalty, enabling us to live in hope, giving us direct access to Him, providing a relationship with Him, giving us a more abundant, purposeful, meaningful life. The Covenant, initiated by God, must be on God's terms. Obedience is not outward compliance, but must come from the inside out. We should not confuse the sign (circumcision, baptism, putting out leaven, etc.) from the reality it represents.
John Ritenbaugh points out that Amos severely chides Israel for exalting symbolism over substance, superstitiously trusting in locations where significant historical events occurred: Bethel- the location of Jacob's pillar stone and Jacob's conversion; Gilgal- the location where the manna ceased and the Israelites partook of the produce of the land; and Beersheeba —the location from where Jacob journeyed to become reunited with his family. Consequently, Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheeba became associated with hope, possession, and fellowship. Amos seems to suggest, "it's not where you are, but what you are — or what you become." Instead of superstitiously regarding these locations like the shrines of Lourdes or Fatima, God's called out ones need to make permanent internal transformations in their lives. Likewise, going to a particular site for the Feast of Tabernacles is worthless if our lives are not permanently transformed by a close relationship with God, motivating us to keep His laws, and reflect His characteristics.
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