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, engagin in a futile exercise of estimating the total value of the creation, and a Creator, worth infinitely more than all the phenomena we can possibly see or comprehend, ponders how such a Creator would divest Himself of all His power, becoming flesh and blood like us, laying down His life. Nothing in existence has the relative worth of the Being Who has called us. When we consider the value of our calling, we must look at Paul's warning about discerning the Body of Christ more soberly, maintaining our loyalty to the body of believers, future fellow-heirs Christ has called. We are admonished to keep, not create, the unity of the Spirit. Whatever we do to the 'least' in Christ's body, we do to Christ. In our culture of rugged individualism, we need to learn that what we do and say can have a positive or negative effect on others at different levels of spiritual maturity. Some things that we know to be entirely lawful may not be expedient or edifying. We must be ready to set our own interests aside for the good of the whole, practicing the same values as our Heavenly Father and Elder Brother, Jesus Christ.
Richard Ritenbaugh continues his exposé of artistic and spiritual resistance, an analogy derived from Stephen Pressfield's The War of Art, a manual designed to overcome artistic resistance and many forms of self-sabotage. The core of self-sabotage is our carnal human nature, which absolutely abhors any change which leads to self-sacrifice or to growth. Human nature is comfortable with the status quo, accepting the domination of Satan's influence and the world. Human nature is enmity (hatred and hostility) against God and His Holy Law. Human nature has instinctive antipathy to anything good. Most of the biblical luminaries, including Moses, Jonah, David, and Gideon demonstrated resistance to God's prompts, indicating that they initially feared men more than they feared God. When we are called, repent, and are baptized, our sins are washed away, but the baggage from our human nature stays with us. Like Gideon, we are tempted to put God repeatedly to the test, in spite of Christ's warning that an evil generation looks for a sign. When we resist God, we, like Peter, risk inadvertently channeling Satan. To actively overcome resistance, we must: (1) not forget God's laws, but etch them on our heart, (2) practice justice, mercy, and lovingkindness, (3) trust God and have faith in Him, and (4) remain humble, running from evil as we would run from a nest of angry hornets. We must put on the whole armor of God in order to stand.
Even though Christians have been called to follow Christ, their journey to the Kingdom of God is preparation for leadership under Him. John Ritenbaugh explains that the covenants play a key role in this godly preparation. They not only show us what God requires of us in our relationship with Him, but they also instruct us in the minute details of God's way of living and ruling.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reiterating that the book of Chronicles, written around 420 BC, after Israel had returned from captivity, was not intended to be so much as a historical record as a sermon, drawing lessons from the historical record, showing what happens when the nation and its kings conform to God's covenants and what happens when the nation and its kings depart from God's covenants. We can trust God's reaction to be consistent. The majority of leaders in Judah and Israel proved wicked, bringing enslavement and death to their subjects. A handful were fairly good kings, such as Jehoshaphat and Asa. The tenure of Asa started off well, with his judgments faithfully executed on behalf of the good and right, but as he continued his reign, his faults began to emerge as well. Asa initially banished cultic prostitutes, homosexuals, idols, and high places, even having the courage to displace his powerful grandmother Maachah for erecting an obscene image of the goddess Ashera, an idol which Asa boldly destroyed. Asa's reforms gave Judah a ten year respite, time which he wisely used to fortify his country, building up garrisons and protective walls. Sadly, Asa left a few things undone, losing a lot of steam in his later years, trying to play it safe. Idolatry was so engrained in Judah and Israel that Asa felt a sense of weariness in well-doing. Similarly, if we leave things undone in our personal revival, our secret sins morph into idols. Paul warns us to flee from all forms of idolatry. The things that our forebears experienced apply to us. When the million man army of Zerah the Ethiopian outnumbered Asa's forces two to one, Asa relied on God and prevailed. Later, on the prophet Azariah's counsel, Asa led his people to rededicate the Covenant of the Lord, making an oath of death if they disobeyed. Sadly, Asa in his later years made a treaty with Syria against Israel, leading to a period of perpetual war and a premature death by his own curse. We must learn to be steadfast all our days.
Martin Collins, asking us to ponder God's promise to support and save us in our trials, reminds us of the biblical examples of deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Nebuchadnezzar evidently did not like the end of Daniel's interpretation of his dream, desiring that more, or perhaps all, of the image should have been gold. Nebuchadnezzar's jealousy or the jealousy of his cohorts evidently led to the conspiracy against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When the commands of a secular state conflicts with God's commands, we face the same dilemma as was faced by these three brave Jewish men. Even though rulers have been appointed by God, their disregard for God does not give us license to follow suit or rationalize ourselves into dangerous compromises. Like Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel who realized that God is sovereign, thoroughly knew the Scriptures, and were willing to die for their convictions, we must exercise our spiritual convictions rather than our preferences. Do we require other people to stand before we take a stand? Are our beliefs non-negotiable? Must we be assured of victory before we stand? Do we live what we claim to believe? Do others see that we live these beliefs consistently? Do others see our faith in action? Are we prepared to say that going against these convictions constitutes sin? God stands with His believers in their trials. Nebuchadnezzar's refusal to acknowledge God's sovereignty led to insanity, madness, and psychotic behavior. The Most High rules and has the last word; all sins will be eventually judged. America's pride will be destroyed because its leaders have arrogated to themselves that which only applies to God. This behavior makes them beast-like. When man turns away from God, God gives them up to a base, perverted, degenerate, and reprobate mind with wicked, obsessive desires, far, far worse than any natural beast. If we humble ourselves, not arrogating God's glory, He has promised to exalt us.
John Ritenbaugh declares that God has carefully called each individual member, gifting each one differently, but with the ultimate function of edifying the body. We are mandated to live by faith, being given trials of faith in order to chisel our character. We must totally and unreservedly accept God's sovereignty. We must place Jesus Christ above everything else in our life. Seeing God's influence provided the motivation for our forebears to reach the Promised Land. Unlike Satan and his demons, will we be loyal to God as God crafts out our place personally? Jesus Christ is concerned about us and is overseeing every aspect of our lives. Our Savior is a person, not an abstract idea; He is personally involved in our lives. What God is doing with each of us will fit perfectly. Can we live by faith that He is, that He knows what He is doing, shaping our lives according to His purpose? We have our ways of doing things, demanding our comfort, but our Creator may have different ideas. God directs everything in our life according to the counsel of His will. If we are living by faith, we will allow Him to mold us into what He intends. Jesus Christ is personally involved with us, doing what He absolutely pleases. We need to trust Him that He is there and that He knows what is going on in our lives, and that He cares- in the big and the little things in our lives. Do we trust His judgment? Everything He does is according to His pleasure with our welfare at heart, even when we are put through calamity. Jesus Christ blew the Worldwide Church of God apart, scattering it all over the world, in order to ultimately rescue the saints from fatal error. Our goal is to believe Jesus Christ, trusting Him unconditionally, enabling us not to disappoint Him in any way.
Jesus, in His prayer recorded in John 17, fervently asks for unity among His Disciples (and by extension-all of us). Almost 20% of this prayer is devoted to the subject of unity, that His disciples would be unified with God the Father and with each other, as Jesus is unified with the Father. If we aren't unified with our Heavenly Father, we can't possibly be at one with (or a functioning member of) the Body of Christ. Each member of Christ's body must choose to function in the role God has ordained to produce unity, emulating our elder Brother always doing those things that please the Father by keeping His Commandments (statutes, judgments, and ordinances), enabling us to become at one with Him. Unity with our Heavenly Father leads to unity in the church or the Body of Christ. Failing to discern the Lord's Body- the church (by refusing to engage in rigorous self-examination) leads to eating and drinking damnation to ourselves. The disunity which Paul described in 1 Corinthians 12 has an antidote in 1 Corinthians 13, namely love in all of its manifestations, resulting in physical and spiritual healing and peace, the ideal environment for the growth of spiritual fruit. If we are separated from God the Father and Jesus Christ, we cannot be unified with the church, as was demonstrated by the devastating destruction and Diaspora of the Worldwide Church of God. The disintegration will never be repaired except as individuals voluntarily submit themselves to the rule of God the Father.
John Ritenbaugh claims that the harshest criticism we receive is for our position opposing the doctrine of eternal security, having the audacity to suggest that works are required for salvation. I Timothy 1:8 indicates that the Law is good only if we use it lawfully. Philippians 2:12 indicates that work is required. Romans 13:11 indicates that salvation is not yet a done deal. Satan, having a perennial pattern to his deceptiveness, first proposes this deadly eternal security doctrine in the Garden of Eden, assuring Adam and Eve that they need not fear death (evidently because they had immortal souls). To one having God's Holy Spirit, committing sin is more dangerous because there is far more on the line. The Firstfruits will not get a free pass into God's kingdom. As the past history of creation unfolded, God demanded that choices indicating willingness to obey be made within the family of angels. When human beings were created, they had to pass a similar test, making life and death choices whether to obey or not to obey God's Government. We have a reciprocal responsibility in the wake of Christ's sacrifice to love God and keep His Commandments, living by every word of God. The God of the Bible is a working God never running out of useful and exciting projects, overseeing His works and creating dynasties, progressively working salvation in the midst of the earth, providing us an example and a mandate to participate in His endless creative work.
Having a goal is a wonderful thing, but it is worthless without a plan for achieving it. John Ritenbaugh contends that Christians also need to have a conscious plan in seeking God, recommending several essential qualities that must be included in any successful course of action.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on I John 4:17, marvels at the depth of love God the Father has for us as unique, special components of His creation, loving each of us as much as He loved Christ. The Father and the Son have worked cooperatively, harmoniously submitting to one another, in the planning and creation of this vast awesome universe- right down to the last tiny, minute detail. Our faith should have progressed far beyond the rudimentary question of whether God exists to the more mature iron-clad trust that God loves us, and would not put us through anything He didn't consider necessary for our spiritual growth and development. God freely gave us His Son, His calling, His Spirit (giving us the enduring love as well as the will and power to do His will), and trials to shape and fashion our character. For God's called out children, there is no such thing as time and chance. The events which seen random to us are totally purposeful to God, having artfully designed them for our ultimate good.
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, focusing upon Deuteronomy 30:15-20, stresses that the choices we make on the day-to-day basis have long-term spiritual consequences. Only the immature think their behaviors will not catch up with them (Numbers 32:23). If we learn to fear and love God, loyalty, faithfulness and commandment keeping will naturally follow. If we love and fear God, taking God into our consciousness with every behavior, we will instinctively haste and depart from evil. Like a physical marriage, our covenant with God is based upon the driving force of love and respect.
John Ritenbaugh warns that we must not become contaminated or spiritually defiled by absorbing the ways and customs of this world. The Sabbath is not a mere ceremonial observance, but identifies God's people as different, and consequently a perpetual irritant to the world. We cannot cozy up to the world's customs, becoming spiritually defiled. We have to constantly battle human nature which metaphorically acts as a magnet attracting defilement. God's purpose can only be worked out if there is a great deal of separation between us and the world (II Corinthians 6:4-17).
Once we accept God's sovereignty, it begins to produce certain virtues in us. John Ritenbaugh explains four of these byproducts of total submission to God.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that having an objective orientation (other centered approach) rather than a subjective orientation (self-centered apprach) leads to unity and reconciliation. As members of Christ's collective body, we must exercise those self-restraining and self-controlling godly attributes of walking worthy, having lowliness of mind, meekness, patience, and forbearance- all elements of love demonstrating a practical application for guarding the unity of the spirit.In the present scattering, permitted by Almighty God, the group that one fellowships with is less important than the understanding that there is one true church, bound by a spiritual, not a physical unity.
Pertinent scriptures and comments on the seventh fruit of the Spirit, faithfulness.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the emotional dimension of love, reiterating that love doesn't become 'love' until the thought, or the feeling, motivates the person to act. Love is an act. If we don't do what is right, the right feeling will never be formed, because emotions are largely developed by our experiences. The right emotions require God's Holy Spirit. Like a marriage relationship, our relationship with God grows more and more intimate as we give it time and attention, conforming to the other person's preferences in the relationship. We are never going to know God unless we do the same kinds of things with Him, keeping His Commandments, devoting time to prayer, Bible study, and meditation. If we are working on our relationship with God (giving it our time and attention), then God's love for us will be reciprocated back to Him in the form of obedience, totally trusting in Him to shape our lives for His purpose.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that mankind does not have (nor ever had) the prerogative to determine standards of righteousness, including whether war is justified. God clearly demonstrated that He was willing to fight Israel's battles for them. Neither ancient Israel nor modern Israel has been authorized to wage war. God's purpose (as well as His promises to our patriarchs) will stand regardless of whether Israel presumptuously chooses to go to war or not. Many biblical examples illustrate that when the leader put his faith in God and submitted himself to God's rule, God supernaturally protected His people. As Jesus lived as a human, He modeled for us a life of restraint and non-violence. Ambassadors of a foreign power do not become involved in another nations politics or wars. When the Kingdom of God becomes a kingdom of this earth, Jesus Christ (along with His resurrected saints) will permanently put an end to all rebellion and conflict.