John Ritenbaugh avers that the Book of Hebrews is "must" reading for all members of God's church who ardently seek the key for personal spiritual growth through a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ—the most important Being Who has ever lived on this earth, far above angels, apostles, prophets, and the Old Testament priesthood. As Christ is the vine and we are the branches, we can grow only if we obey and follow Him, allowing Him to prune us and correct us, realizing that we cannot bear fruit if we do not abide in Him. The theme of the Book is the superiority of Christ over everything. Christ's unique sinless perfection qualifies Him to purge our sins and initiate a sanctification process. Christ became as one of us to model the process of overcoming temptation and attaining godly character. Coming to earth as a baby, He started human life on the same level as all other humans, yet was exclusively able to overcome sin and carnal nature. Because the Book of Hebrews contains no salutation, we understand its audience to be the entirety of God's family. The Book shows contrasts and similarities between the New and Old Covenants and contains highly pointed warnings against Apostasy and fruitlessness. The Church is now on trial. This epistle issues an appear to be faithful, strong and steadfast as we seek to enhance the relationship with our Savior, High Priest and Tutor, seated in the most elevated position next to God the Father.
Mark Schindler, reiterating that we have been created in the image of God, and that those called by God are to have the His mind, reminds us that the seed-bearing herbs and trees indicate that God desires a continual process of regeneration and productivity in all aspects of His creation. Because seedbearing designates fruit that is good for food, it is possible that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was not seedbearing, reflecting Satan's mindset of selfishness and cynicism, imputing ulterior motives to God. In the Parable of the Talents, the productive servants gave a return on God's investment, but the lazy, selfish, and wicked servant, imputing sinister motives on God, was rejected and his talent given over to the productive servants. As Satan is condemned for his cynical finger-pointing attitude, those unproductive servants who follow in his footsteps, inculcating the way of get rather than the way of give, will be rejected. God does not care what we give as long as we have His mind as we give.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on God's creation of plants (Genesis 1:11-13), observes that God demonstrates His practicality and efficiency by establishing the genotype within the seed capable of infinite reproduction. God also gave humans the means to master time efficiently. God's called out-ones, metaphorized as soil, should strive to bear spiritual fruit efficiently and productively. Material well-being is not so reliable a measure of Spiritual fruitfulness as is the use to which we put God's gifts and talents in the service of others. Our greatest gift is our calling, obligating us to stabilize our treasure in the right direction, overcoming our carnal nature, and nurturing the gift of God's Holy Spirit through a regimen of prayer, Bible study, meditation, and fasting, producing a bumper crop of the fruits of the Spirit. As Christ demonstrates to the rich young ruler, for a person to have a prosperous life, one must lead a life of faith, yielding to God's goal that one be a well-rounded person in His image.
John Ritenbaugh submits that the Book of Hebrews is crucial for understanding that our relationship to Christ as our Savior, High Priest, and King is the key to salvation. As our High Priest, Jesus has qualified to intercede on behalf of those the Father has called, preparing them to be at one with God the Father, to the end that we will be all-in-all under God's dominion when we are all transformed into His image. In His current role as High Priest, He is metaphorically filling out His body; As He is the head, we are individual parts in His body. In another metaphor, Christ the Bridegroom loves us as His Bride, cleansing us with His word to be at one with Him, as husband and become one flesh. The Father has granted Jesus Christ all authority over His Creation and given Him all the tools necessary to sanctify His called-out ones. In Hebrews, we learn that nothing is so important as developing an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. God calls and works with His people as individuals. The Book of Hebrews establishes (1) the superiority of Christ—indicating He is the communicator with whom we should establish a relationship, (2) the superiority of the New Covenant, and (3) the superiority of Christ's Church. The lesson to the disciples who experienced the Transfiguration, and the lesson to us now, is that we should listen to Christ, to the end that He will show us the way to the Father and prepare us for our ultimate transformation into members of God's family.
John Ritenbaugh, suggesting that most of us resemble the Samaritan woman in our understanding of the value of our calling, maintains that our relationship with God is our sole protection from carnal human nature and the deadly pulls of the world. Whatever consumes our time has the power to either edify or distract us. Faith and works are interchangeable components in our salvation, demonstrating a cause-and-effect relationship. The apostles Paul and James preached the same message, approaching the faith-works coin from different sides. Faith grounded in truth produces works in agreement with truth. Faith without godly works resembles an automobile without an engine. As a minority religion, God's Church appeared on the world scene in the midst of cultural upheaval. Peter's message on Pentecost led not only to exponential growth, but also to vicious persecution. As God stirred the cultural pot then, so He is doing today, on the cusp of Jesus' return. The frightful conditions during the First Century are only typical of the horrific times yet to come. To weather these horrendous conditions, we will need the encouragement of the Epistle of Hebrews.
Martin Collins, focusing on the resurrection of Lazarus, examines its impact on Martha, Lazarus, Mary, the Disciples, and on us as well. Christ gently reprimanded Martha for focusing on her own goals, feeling unappreciated and neglected when others did not share that goal. After the miracle of her brother's resurrection, she was able to serve, yet without being preoccupied with herself. Lazarus, whom the Scriptures portray as nonassertive, becomes a sterling witness for Christ as he sits at the table with Him, his presence there more eloquent than words. When Mary anointed Jesus with expensive fragrance, she demonstrated her understanding of the costliness of Christ's impending sacrifice, an insight which the disciples would appreciate only later. The Disciples learned—and we must too—that God is sovereign over life and death, and the way to eternal life is accepting Christ's sacrifice and then following the example of His life. Sickness and hardship should not erode our faith in God's ultimately favorable purpose for us. A current trial may serve as a witness for the good of others. Just as the Prophet Hosea had difficulty seeing the outworking of God's plan, so we can experience difficulty finding the resolution of our trails. Praying according to God's will—and conforming our lives to that will—overrides self-doubt. God knows the beginning and ending of the salvation process.
Ted Bowling recalls his early days in a Pentecostal Church where the key doctrine, deriving from a misapplication of Acts 2:4 and Acts 2:38, led the members to believe that glossolalia (speaking in 'tongues') was the unmistakable sign that God has accepted us. The miracle of Pentecost was not the speaking incomprehensible gibberish, but it was that a multitude of foreigners heard the Gospel in their own language. It was a miracle of hearing combined with a speaking of existing languages. In one bogus 'Pentecostal' service, a young man prayed out and cried for evidence of God's Holy Spirit (supposedly evidenced by the glossolalia) only to be denied this supposed gift, leaving him feeling that God had rejected him. God's Holy Spirit is a gift; we cannot and should not try to 'work it up.' When hands are laid on us at baptism, we do not feel a zap of electricity going through our nervous systems. The changes we receive are not external but internal, marked by inward growth in Godly character, leading to a mirror-like image of Jesus Christ.
David Maas, focusing on Psalm 90:12, an admonition to number our days in order to get a heart of wisdom, launches the fourth installment of the W's and H's of Meditation, reflecting on the stark contrast between God's robust eternity and mankind's fragile mortality. Meditating on the perils of our transitory existence paradoxically leads to a longer, happier life now as well as in the future, as our portion of God's Spirit grows within us, satisfying our craving for something permanent and eternal- namely becoming a member of God's family. The scriptures are replete with metaphors describing the brevity of life, including a shadow, a sigh, a breath, smoke, withering grass, a vapor, a weaver's shuttle, a hand-breath, etc. The antidote to despairing about the brevity of life is to live in day-tight compartments, redeeming the time by yielding to God's Spirit, becoming firmly grafted into the vine (Jesus Christ) in order to enable ample bearing of spiritual fruit, overcoming carnality, building Godly character, and ultimately becoming a member of God's family.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the practice of "defriending" (or "unfriending") on Facebook, contrasts this practice with Christ's love for His called-out ones, a friending with the condition that godly fruit is born. When Paul challenged the Roman congregation to produce godly fruit, he was not looking for new converts, but evidence of the spiritual fruit of God's character. Jesus Christ became like us so that we could become like Him. The fruit Jesus asked His disciples to bear is designed to glorify the Father, to demonstrate love by obedience to His Commandments, and to increase the believer's joy, a by-product of sincere obedience. God admonishes us to not only bear fruit, but to bear more fruit through pruning. God is looking for a great deal of fruit as we yield to Him in order to exceed our self-imposed limitations, as well as for enduring fruit, in contrast to futile worldly projects which are subject to decay. As we bear godly fruit, the quality of our friendship with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and our brethren will increase exponentially as we make activities like intercessory prayer, sacrifice, hospitality, and charity a perpetual part of our spiritual repertoire.
David C. Grabbe: In Part Two, we began to consider the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree: "He also spoke this parable: "A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none...."
David C. Grabbe: In Part One, we began to dig into the biblical metaphor of producing fruit and the importance of the root to that process. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh contends that the substitutes for religion, such as money, power, fame, success, false religion, etc., cannot answer real life questions (e.g., Why am I here? Is there life after death? Is there a God?). Most of the world's inhabitants end their lives in despair, chaos, and stress, with no hope at the end of life's journey. People want false immortality, being remembered in politics, charity, science, or art, with a name chiseled on a piece of granite. The entire world is still laboring under Adam's curse, leading lives of quiet desperation, resignation, and despair. When God calls us, it is a light out of the darkness, rescuing us from bondage to sin and transferring us to servants of righteousness, the most satisfying job description ever created. Christ called us to bear fruit; our fruit is evidence that we serve Him. We must live in such a way that we please God, remaining free from sin, producing fruit, and offering our reasonable service. Though the American mindset does not feel inclined to serve, outgoing service to others yields the maximum joy and fulfillment one can possibly attain. Jesus Christ was God the Father's servant; Abraham, Jacob, and Moses were all servants of Christ. The angels who watch over us do so in a spirit of satisfaction and fulfillment. We should approach our God-given responsibilities by realizing that there is no higher calling than that of a servant.
David C. Grabbe: Jesus Christ declares that among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11; Luke 7:28). John was the forerunner of the Messiah ...
David C. Grabbe: The spiritual strength required to overcome is a result of eating the Bread of Life continually, and that Bread is available only to those whom He has delivered from spiritual Egypt. But to approach overcoming without that is to imply that we can overcome on our own—thus that we have no need of a Savior after our forgiveness. ...
David Maas, anticipating the forthcoming Passover, and the stern warning from the apostle Paul that we thoroughly examine ourselves, cautions us to be very careful how we undertake this self-examination. We must realize that (1) taking the Passover in an unworthy manner can result in serious physical or spiritual hazards, (2) trying to use our own resources without a dialogue with our Creator is a hopeless exercise in futility, (3) substituting normal remorse or worldly sorrow instead of conviction from God's Holy Spirit will bring about a downward spiral to despair and death, and (4) conducting a superficial, general self-examination will yield less than optimal fruit. Rather, self-examination should be specific, referencing personal failings God has exposed. It should also focus on a sober and realistic comparison between our personal, fledgling fruit and the maximally mature fruit demonstrated by our Savior Jesus Christ. Tares and noxious weeds exist both in the Church and our own divided (that is, carnal versus and spiritual) minds. As we are mandated to put out the leaven, we are also obligated to pull out by the roots the poisonous weeds which threaten to strangle our access to God's Holy Spirit.
Martin Collins, observing that, in the first five books in the Bible, there are no statements of "Thank you," nevertheless reminds us that the thank offerings in Leviticus 21:29 indicate that thanksgiving has a singularly profound meaning. King David was prolific in his expressions of gratitude to God, as was the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians. We should be thankful to God for His Holy Spirit, freedom of worship, spiritual blessings, fellowship, as well as God's promise that He will finish what He has started and that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Before the foundation of the world, God has already pre-destined specific calling and sanctification for individuals; God will keep on whittling away at our carnality until He has accomplished what He has purposed. The purpose of grace is to motivate good works, not to do away with them. Our first and foremost reaction to receiving God's Grace should be an outflow of love for our brethren, including the ones we have not met. Drawing an analogy from electrical theory, all good works depend on God's love, which is the pressure behind good works. Good works depend on a channel in which the amperage can be high. Our lives must not be filled with resistors which selfishly collect the flow or condensers which pirate this power for private use. The law of God multiplied by a life free of resistance equals good works. Our life must be freed from obstructions and imperfections, reflecting the fruits of the spirit as we are attached to the Vine, just as a faucet must be connected to a pipeline to produce water. Happiness is found only in the truth of God.
Ted Bowling, drawing a spiritual analogy from the growth of a pineapple, observes that it takes a long time from planting to harvest—approximately three years for the plant to mature. At first, all that matures is the foliage. The majority of the growth or maturation takes place from within. The same holds true for our calling and conversion. After our baptism and the laying on of hands, we do not see the effects immediately: no different feeling, no sudden display of self-control; spiritual maturity takes a long time. God determines the pace of growth. To spiritually mature, we must, like the pineapple, remain attached to the powerful stalk which bears us up and nourishes us. As the pineapple is subject to weather changes, we endure a series of trials and tests, but never more than we can handle and always for our ultimate good. We can access the throne of Almighty God at any time for the needed strength to overcome; God has promised to never abandon us. At the end of the growth process, we (and all our brethren) will resemble our Elder Brother Jesus Christ, just as the plants in the pineapple field resemble each other.
Bill Onisick, asserting that getting grape vines to bear fruit is difficult, suggests that the production of succulent grapes is at least a two-year project, in which pruning dead wood and lateral vines that produce much foliage, but little fruit, and exposing buds to sufficient sun (by thinning the canopy) are essential. Two-year-old canes, having been 90% pruned in the dormant season, normally produce seven buds apiece. Jacob referred to his son Joseph a fruitful vine, not restrained by walls. Jesus Christ is metaphorically the Vine and His Father is the Vinedresser; we are the branches, subject to trimming and pruning in order that we bear abundant spiritual fruit with much agape love. We will glorify our Heavenly Father if we produce much fruit, but we cannot bear fruit if we become detached from the vine. God planted the vine to be in His image. The best fertilizer for the vine is the shadow of the vine dresser. The bond that unites the whole of God's Kingdom and Family is His Holy Spirit.
Clyde Finklea revisits the interpretation of John 15:2 , which reads in most translations, "every branch that does not bear fruit, He takes way." This is assumed by many to mean "get rid of." Dr. Bruce Wilkinson, in his book, The Secrets of the Vine, explains that "takes away" should be more properly rendered "take up," deriving from the tendency of new grape vines to bend down and become covered with dirt. Vineyard owners in northern California explained to Wilkinson that a branch is too valuable to simply discard, but would be washed off and lifted up, tied to a trellis to enable exposure to sunlight. If a vinedresser lifts up a vine, securing it to a trellis or pole, it is because it is fruitless. Once it begins to bear fruit, it is then pruned for the purpose of bearing more fruit. As God's called out ones, we need to be able to distinguish between punishment for wrong-doing and pruning for greater growth, something which Job's 'friends' had to learn the hard way. As products of God's workmanship, we endure His discipline, producing quality fruit to glorify Him.
Richard Ritenbaugh, examining Thomas Seeley's analysis of the swarm instinct of bee cultures, and sociologists' attempt to link that wired-in animal instinct to human behavior (opting usually for collective groupthink), suggests that there is a balanced approach to applying community behavior to Christian living, especially when we apply Paul's body analogies in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12 God's admonition that we learn from the ant does not teach us to yield to a hierarchical system but, rather, to unselfishly participate in a community, the final goal being its edification. Swarm behavior, flock behavior, and herd behavior, according to Tom Seeley is more democratic than authoritarian (as assumed in previous models). In the Body of Christ, we similarly work as an interdependent body of believers, serving one another, laboring for a common goal, as is rehearsed annually through God's appointed feasts and Holy days, all of which have unique qualities and lessons. On Pentecost, the priests baked loaves with leavening, representing those set apart before Christ's earthly ministry and those set apart after His ministry. We are obligated to be team players, looking after the needs of the entire body. Our rugged individualism must be tempered with the knowledge that we are part of a larger, interdependent body. Though God called us all individually, we need to think of ourselves as a part of the community, being just as protective of the flock as is our Elder Brother. Whether we are branches of a vine, God's field, God's building, God's flock, or the very bride of Christ, the common denominator is that God has designed us to serve one another. If we, as servants and fellow family members, all do our part, God will give the increase. There ought not be schisms in the Body; we will be living together eternally.
Martin Collins, noting that the foundational way of life as outlined by Jesus Christ is not much followed in mainstream Christianity, and observing that the five foolish Virgins also belonged to the visible church, reminds us that we are only Christ's if we have God's Holy Spirit living in us, and we live according to the Spirit's prompts. There is no such thing as a secular Christian. Salvation is an ongoing work of God, obligating us to walk in the Spirit and not according to the flesh. If we walk in the Spirit, we will be not captivated by the lusts of the flesh. From the onset of our calling, we have been charged to bear spiritual fruit, being metaphorical branches of the vine, which is Christ. If we produce the fruit of the Spirit, we will maintain a sound mind, enabling us to acquire a new godly nature and character. We must mortify our past nature, realizing that all sin is abject failure and a fast track to death. As God's called-out ones, we need to reckon ourselves dead to the pulls of carnality. Sadly, we are guilty of sinning against God's Law every day, but if we willfully sin, rejecting the prompts of His Holy Spirit, we are, in effect, committing the unpardonable sin on an installment plan. Only those led by God's Holy Spirit are truly children of God. If we are not led by God's Spirit, we are pathetic slaves of sin. If we abide in Christ's words, we are His disciples. If we grow in the Spirit, allowing our character to be transformed from the inside out, we will be siblings and heirs of Christ, becoming full members of the family of God.
David Grabbe reminds us that the Days of Unleavened Bread signify far more than the avoidance of leavened bread or putting out leaven, a symbol of malice or hypocrisy, and that our focus needs to be on God's management of the process. Israel did not come out of Egypt on their own power, but was delivered only by God's intervention. We have a part in the process to consume unleavened bread, symbolically living a life of sincerity and truth. As we were released from bondage, we attained a new master and a new lease on life. We have an obligation to feast on this unleavened bread throughout our entire life, ingesting the word and instruction of God, which constitutes our spiritual food. Unless we eat the Bread of Life continually, and unless God's Spirit resides in us, we will die. Unless we are metaphorically attached to the vine, we cannot bear fruit. The spiritual strength we receive is the result of eating the bread of life. Unless we have God's Spirit, we will never completely control our human spirit. God gives us the power to bear spiritual fruits such as patience and self-control.
The subjects of God's calling and predestination can be confusing at times, especially the idea that many are called but few are chosen. Why does God not just choose everyone? John Reid explores the Parable of the Wedding Feast to discover some answers to these vital questions.
David Grabbe, focusing on Christ's warning about false prophets in His Sermon on the Mount, cautions us that every belief will produce something, either pointing us toward or away from God. The false prophet conceals something deadly, which will eventually yield poisonous or toxic spiritual fruit. If the belief derives from God's Holy Spirit, we reap love, joy, and peace. As Paul chastised the Corinthians for their divisiveness, each clinging to his hero or champion teacher, he also intimated that a fifth teacher seemed to be influencing them, a teacher syncretizing God's doctrines with the 'wisdom' of the age, using contemporary, philosophy, sociology, or psychology to adulterate the purity of doctrine with Gnosticism. evolution, or something far worse, all deriving their power from the prince and power of the air, the current ruler of the earth. All of these deadly admixtures will produce a bumper crop of bad fruit. As the human body is able to adjust to changes in the environment, our nervous system adjusts to darkness, stench, pollution, profanity, and every form of evil. What was once repulsive may now seem normal or tolerable. The media has corrupted the integrity of our consciences. The wisdom of this age literally saps spiritual growth. When our prior fellowship, after the new regime took over, imbibed of fallacious doctrines, our fellowship harvested an abundant crop of poisoned, contaminated fruit.
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.
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, cuing in on three scriptures, Psalm 11:3-5, Luke 12:7, and Philippians 4:19, reflects on a frightening earthquake in 1971, in which he realized that he was in no way in control of the alarming situation, a relentless shaking that threatened to destroy the entire foundation. This earthquake has grounds of comparison to the devastating earthquake which destroyed the very foundation of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), sending the frightened members scrambling for safety. In the demise of our previous fellowship, we are to realize that, as God has His eye on the sparrow, the most timid of all birds, He has had His eye on us through this entire process of scattering, intending that the tests we have endured and weathered have been intended to bring about the best fruit possible. The breaking apart of the WCG has produced many splinter groups which collectively carry on a far greater work than Herbert W. Armstrong ever was able to do, and at a fraction of the cost. The intriguing story of the development of fledging Church of the Great God, a small insignificant splinter group, which has grown to be a major resource site for all the other scattered churches, is just a part of the entire picture. We are admonished to get our attention away from the activities of human beings and onto the activities of God as He neutralizes and destroys Satan's plans and the human surrogates in government, religion, and education who are currently carrying out his plans. The WCG was destroyed because it abandoned its covenant with God, committing spiritual adultery (in point of fact, idolatry) by bringing in poisonous doctrines from the world's religions, denigrating God's Holy Laws, which are a reciprocal expression of love between God and His people. Regardless of the magnitude of the aftershocks of the demise of WCG, God has not abandoned His church and His plans are right on schedule. As God watches over the sparrow, He can protect His people in the midst of any upheaval.
Richard Ritenbaugh, asking us whether we trust the current Federal government, points out that, according to recent polls, confidence in government has eroded to an all-time historical low, with only 13% of the citizenry believing government does right most of the time, 10% believing government never does anything right, while the vast majority, 75%, feel the government gets it right only part of the time. The Federal government has become a total disaster, with the rogue, criminal executive orders, systematically removing our freedoms, coming from the executive branch, destroying constitutional checks and balances. When we compare the mercurial instability of man's government to God, we witness a stark contrast. God does not change, His benefits are beyond measure, and compared to the confiscatory tribute demanded by government, God commands only a fractional proportion. God forgives our sins, gives us a Savior, gives us a down-payment on eternal life, provides food, and heals our diseases, all without a price tag. Like David running from Saul in the Judean wilderness, we find it far more profitable to trust in God rather than princes, knowing that God will never allow us to endure more than we can handle, and will provide a way of escape. David reminds us in the acrostic Psalm 37 that we should not be concerned about the wicked, whose destiny is to perish, and that the righteous are infinitely better off. We are warned not to nurse burning, vindictive anger, realizing that the temporary 'success' of the wicked will eventually turn into a bitter harvest. Instead of wasting our energy in resentment, we need to put our emotion into positively doing good, cultivating our faith, and committing our ways to the Lord, putting our loyalty to the covenant in sync with God's. In our commitment to God, we must relinquish control, allowing God to take the lead. God delights when we allow Him to guide us, inscribing His laws on our hearts.
Richard Ritenbaugh, commenting on the dry and hard clay in South Carolina, a real challenge to cultivate, identifies some grounds of comparison Christ cites between ourselves and clay (soil). In the Parable of the Sower, Christ describes 1.0) hard, impenetrable soil of the wayside, vulnerable to birds, symbolizing the devil and his demons, snatching the seed away, 2.) shallow stony soil, offering little or no anchorage for the seed,3.) thorny, choked soil, symbolizing the cares and lures of the world, and 4.) good soil, providing a fertile venue for growth. In each case, the quality of the reaction of the soil is highlighted. God freely supplies the rain and the sunshine to all varieties of soil, just as He makes His Word freely available, but the soil, symbolizing us, has to respond to the implantation of the seed, an invitation to have a relationship with God. Whether we are metaphorized as soil or building materials, we have an obligation to respond to God with deep respect and yieldedness, trembling at His Word.
Richard Ritenbaugh, challenging the Protestant assumption that "getting our lives straight" (morality) distracts from the Gospel message of grace, suggests that this emphasis on "hyper-grace" is wrong-headed, denying any need for repentance and overcoming, and totally at odds with the teachings of Christ. The Gospel of the Kingdom emphasizes the plan of God, requiring that we become cleansed from our past sins, living a life of righteousness, preparing for the Kingdom of God—the endgame of God's plan, which is the creation of sons and daughters formed in His image and character. As our character is changed through the sanctification process, we can be turned into Spirit beings. Protestants have an extremely truncated concept of the gospel, denying the sanctification process of salvation and the resurrection. In order to destroy sin, it is necessary to get rid of all sin. God the Father and Jesus Christ want to get rid of all sin—a major part of God's plan. Repenting requires glomming onto God's Law and relinquishing our carnal control over to God's Holy Spirit. God has never finished His Work. In our Christian life, we have lots of rough edges which have to be smoothed before we can rule and reign. The hyper-grace gospel denies any responsibility for our behavior, revealing it to be a throwback to antinomian Gnosticism. Like He did for our forebears, God performed acts of grace to free us, but we have to walk away from sin, repenting of our sin and overcoming our vile human nature in the sanctification process, growing spiritually. The whole Bible is about putting on morality. God's people are to be involved in their sanctification— from consecration, separation, and the rigorous purification process, removing the dross, a process which takes place over a lifetime. The only proper response to grace is obedience to God, walking in His commandments to please Him, fulfilling His will. God called us to be Holy, exercising His Holy Spirit to make moral choices, cleansing ourselves
David C. Grabbe: John 15:4-5 in the Phillips translation gives us a great deal to consider: "You can produce nothing unless you go on growing in me. ...
David C. Grabbe: The New Testament in Modern English, commonly known as the "Phillips Translation," contains a salient rendering of John 15:1-8: "I am the real vine, my Father is the vine-dresser. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the difficulties in translation from Greek and Hebrew to English, as well as comprehending spiritual truths with a fleshly mind, maintains that it is only through God's Holy Spirit we can comprehend those truths at all. Even with God's Holy Spirit, we have difficulty. Our minds are too finite, earthbound, and dumb to comprehend what God is trying to get across to us. We are not equipped to comprehend the width, length, and breadth of the knowledge of God. Few of us are truly wise, knowing as we do only the rudiments of what is contained in the Bible. All of us are stumped on different biblical concepts. The concept of joy may provide difficulty, as it has a broad range of meaning from spiritual to physical extremes. Even certain unsavory elements in society may bring people joy. Godly joy (New Testament) is on a higher plane than happiness and pleasure, what C. S. Lewis would describe as an "unsatisfied desire to be in total union with God." Joy comes from anticipating the future with Godly hope. The fruits of the Spirit mortify and transcend the works of the flesh through the power of God's Holy Spirit. Without God's Spirit, the fruits of the Spirit (including joy) are unattainable. Godly joy buoys people in the midst of grave trials, providing hope for a future eternal reward, depending on the absolute faithfulness of God. A Christian (who by definition has Christ's mind in him) can express joy because he sees God, as well as precious things God has not even revealed to angels. If God is in us, we have all the power we will need, giving us exceeding joy, a positive perception of reality generating hope, ultimately seeing beyond any event to our incredible, inexpressible, eternal reward. Joy constitutes the pure elation of spirit that revels in knowing God, knowing that His eternal plan will culminate in our ultimate salvation.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Like its physical counterpart, spiritual growth happens slowly and incrementally. We should not expect a newly baptized Christian to be able to produce self-control as easily and to the same degree as one who has been in the church of God for several decades. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh reminds us that God built His spiritual temple upon the foundation of the prophets and the apostles; both the Old and New Testaments provide a vital part of our underpinning. Jesus Christ is the principal part of the foundation. If our foundation is flawed, our edifice cannot stand. We need to focus on the true essentials of Christianity. The source of Paul's cornerstone metaphor of Ephesians 2:20-22 was the actual stones used to construct the physical Temple). One such stone was 45 feet long and weighted over 600 tons. The stones of the Temple were perfectly cut to fit together with the chief corner stone, the load bearing (and hence, most important) part of the structure, upon which all the other stones must be fitted and measured against. God has laid the Cornerstone (symbolizing Jesus Christ) to provide real salvation. We must be built on the chief Cornerstone-Jesus Chris, the Bread of Life (our Spiritual source of nourishment which we must avidly ingest and digest), the Light of the World (revealing things to us), the Door (the entry way or access point and fellowship to the Father, as well as protection and separation from the world), the Good Shepherd (taking care of us as His sheep, knowing each by name), the Resurrection and the Life (the Eternal Life that He experiences now and will provide to us), the Way, the Truth, and the Life (the means and example of salvation, our point of contact with God), the Vine (the Source of our fruit-bearing potential as an organism in Christ), the King of Kings, and the I AM (the Creator of heaven and earth).
John Ritenbaugh, maintaining that our responsibility is to yield to God's sovereignty, nevertheless suggests that God has, by giving us free will, enabled us to freely sin, but holds us responsible for governing ourselves. The word govern, derived from the Latin noun gubern?tor, indicates a regulating, as in steering a ship with a rudder. The edict to submit to civil authority has a built-in exception when the civil government has explicitly asked us to do something contrary to God's Law. No power exists that is not in some degree permitted by God. All governments have the responsibility to protect the law-abiding, to punish evil doers, and to establish peace. The American government was established in a climate of rebellion against oppression and a desire to be free. The Founding Fathers were educated men, schooled in English Law and the ordinances of the Bible. John Adams warned that this government, based on maximum liberty, would only work for a moral citizenry. Sadly, the current citizenry is more concerned about their own selfish obsessions for entitlements than the welfare of the nation. God's government has also given us maximum liberty, but we have a daunting responsibility to govern ourselves. We have been called by God to do God's will, following in Christ's steps. In order to regulate ourselves, we must have the same kind of vision that Abraham and Moses possessed, leading them to the Promised Land. This vision can only occur if we have Christ within us, producing spiritual fruit. Without Christ, we can do nothing. As the physical Israelites had to eat manna to be sustained, the spiritual Israelites must be sustained on the true bread, the Word of God and the Holy Spirit (the mind of God the Father and Jesus Christ), giving us the ability to keep His commandments.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Romans 11:33-35, indicates that God is unparalleled in leadership, jurisdiction, and wisdom. We are not individually sovereign over much, but we are commanded to give ourselves over completely to God's sovereignty. If we do this, we will reap unfathomable blessings. We should develop a fear of God, which acts as a magnet to draw us toward Him. We discover that our pride gradually begins to disappear, displaced by humility. Knowledge of God (understanding and wisdom) is progressive; it does not happen all at once. As occurred to Isaiah, Job, and Daniel, we will feel a sense of our total unworthiness in the light of God's splendor when we come to see God. As we develop a relationship with Him, we begin to make better choices, yielding to His correction. Irreverence of God invariably promotes pride; knowing God promotes submission and humility. If we yield to God's sovereignty, we choose life and will develop the ability to make lifesaving, though admittedly difficult, choices. Then, only God's standard will be acceptable to us. Implicit obedience (as is displayed by the writer of Psalm 119:35-48, 132-133) will lead to greater spiritual growth. Murmuring and complaining appear to be an inborn trait of Israelites, as seen in the insatiable drive toward entitlements we witnessed in the recent presidential election. As God's called-out ones, we need to realize that we are in His view at all times, and that He is able to protect us and safeguard us. Consequently, we need to refrain from complaining, realizing that God is justified in everything He does or allows. God is the Potter; we are the clay. God intends that we devote our lives to seeking Him. As we do so, He will produce quality fruit in us.
Government may very well be the most important subject in all the Bible because it contains the vital knowledge of how Christians are to govern themselves under the sovereignty of God. John Ritenbaugh concludes his series on our full acceptance of God's sovereignty by highlighting how Christ helps us to follow God's will as He did.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on Deuteronomy 28:63, suggests there is a context in which God rejoices in cursing or judgment. God's rejoicing does not always have to be attending to good or positive events, but sometimes in painful judgments. God can take satisfaction that He is doing the right thing. In the early days of the Radio Church of God, people seemed to exercise extraordinary diligence and resourcefulness in keeping the Sabbath and Holy Days, with virtually none of the perks we have today. A well-planned Feast can be a downer if we do not participate in serving or fellowship. If we do not give of ourselves, we will receive nothing in return. The Feast is not intended to be "one big blast," but a time of spiritual growth, which may take some helpful course correction. Their result, ultimately will be rejoicing. When we keep God's Holy Days just to please our materialistic appetites, we will be keeping the Feast in an unworthy manner, and are flirting with God's harsh judgment. Rejoicing is a choice; we have the power over our attitudes. If we seek God's direction, God will reciprocate by directing our paths. It is our obligation to make sacrifices during the Feast of Tabernacles, an event which requires more sacrifice than any other time of the year. Sacrificing and rejoicing are linked, although today the emphasis should be more on the spiritual rather than the physical aspect. We are expected to bring our harvest of spiritual fruits, also known as good works, bearing one another's burdens, uplifting one another. The Feast of Tabernacles is not expected to be problem- or trouble-free, nor will the Millennium be trouble-free, but it will be the most opportune time to produce the fruits of God's Holy Spirit, a time to rebuild the ruined and desolate places. When we begin to act like God, we will know that He is the Lord. The very fact that He has commanded us to rejoice means that it does not come naturally. Let us give of ourselves in service.
Jesus' cursing of the fig tree just days before His crucifixion has puzzled and even disturbed Bible readers for centuries, as it just does not seem to be something our Savior would do. However, Dan Elmore resolves this seeming contradiction by framing Christ's actions as a pointed object lesson that we would do well to take to heart.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: We have learned that conversion is primarily a process, a transformation of a Christian's nature from human and carnal to godly and spiritual. ...
John Ritenbaugh asserts that we keep the Days of Unleavened Bread, not just as a memorial of the Passover and Exodus event, but because of what the Lord did to bring us out of sin (typified by Egypt). What God does sets everything in motion, significantly eclipsing what we are required to do. God continually does battle for us, breaking down the resistance of Satan (typified by Pharaoh). While God compels us to make choices, He is with us all the way, leading us out of our abject slavery to sin into freedom and eternal life. It is God's calling that makes a difference; no one ever volunteers to follow Him. All that God did to get physical Israel out of Egypt into the Promised Land served as a type of what God does for us, calling us out of this world into the Kingdom of God. God is sovereign, necessitating that we diligently seek Him in order to be like Him, yielding to His sanctification, getting rid of all our false gods, worshipping Him in spirit and truth. As a branch attached or grafted to a vine, we cannot do anything without Jesus Christ, who alone enables us to produce or bear fruit through God's Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, and Christ's own Spirit dwelling in us. God is exclusively the God of His people and no one else.
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.
Clyde Finklea: During His Passover instructions to His disciples in the upper room, Jesus uses an illustration to explain how God works with us to produce fruit in our lives...
The Bible makes it very plain that salvation is by grace, but it is also clear that we are 'created in Christ Jesus for good works' (Ephesians 2:10). Having explained justification, John Ritenbaugh tackles the process of sanctification, showing that the far greater part of God's saving work in us occurs after baptism!
Richard Ritenbaugh continues the theme of the difficulty we have in this age to distinguish truth from error. Satan's biggest targets for disinformation are God's called-out ones. As the apostles turned the world upside down by the Gospel, Satan's implanted tares immediately began to spread disinformation—so much so that the 'Christian' church of the second century bore little resemblance to the church Christ founded. Who, then, are His true disciples? They may be identified by: 1) being led by God's Spirit dwelling within, causing them to yield to God's will; 2) behaving in love toward friend and foe; 3) abiding perpetually in God's Word (not merely agreeing with, but actually living the teaching, coming to know the truth by practical experience; and 4) bearing much spiritual fruit.
John Reid, urging all of us to become worthy representatives of God's way of life, maintains that we as Christians have the obligation or responsibility to provide a light or shining example in a world that generally hates God's way. Like physical salt, we need to serve as a moral disinfectant and preservative. Like physical light, everything we do must illuminate or reflect God's will and purpose, imitating and magnifying His character. Taking on the family name of God requires that we must live as God lives (both privately and publicly), in thought, word, and deed. Faithfulness without compromise is what God requires from each of us. We represent God or teach God's way far more by our conduct or behavior (submitting as an obedient slave to the will of God) than what we say. Our example should be God's epistle to mankind.
In His discussion of the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree, Jesus does not attribute tragedy or accident directly to any person's sins as the Jews did—instead, He affirms the sinfulness of everyone. The more important factor is will we repent to avoid spiritual death?
John Ritenbaugh asserts that when God created Adam, He prepared only a foundation for mankind's eventual spiritual creation undertaken by the Second Adam. Spiritual creation requires much intense pressure and continual testing to determine character. Jesus went through this process first to provide us an example. We are to be brought through this same assaying process to bring us to the express image or the full stature of Christ. In terms of building character, God does the creating, assaying, testing, and proving; we do the yielding and walking in the pathway He has set for us. When we yield, God gives us the will and the power (engraving His Law in our hearts) to develop into the image or character He has determined for us.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that after justification, for grace to be made dominant, its influence must extend beyond justification, into the sanctification stage where the believer must yield himself to righteousness, keeping God's commandments making himself a slave of righteousness. God's grace is manifested by His giving gifts, carrying us forward, making it possible to be transformed into the image of His Son. Our responsibility is to walk where God leads us, realizing that He is the one always out in front doing the creating, putting forth energy to make something happen—the change of our heart. Only those yielding themselves to the New Covenant will receive this transformation—a miraculous new creation, patterned after Christ's spiritual image. In the whole sanctification process, it is God working in us to will and to do.
Even though a Christian's potential in God's Kingdom is so wonderful, it is still necessary for God to motivate His children to reach it. John Ritenbaugh begins his series on Christian motivation by expounding the fear of God.
Are we "once-saved, always-saved"? Once God grants us His grace, are we assured eternal life? Richard Ritenbaugh exposes the fallacies of this Protestant doctrine of "eternal security."
Richard Ritenbaugh, addressing our current scattered state as a form of exile, asserts that exile has been a form of punishment God has used from the very beginning, with our original parents through the patriarchs, through the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, right up to the present time. God exiles to punish for sin, separating individuals and groups from Him in order to spur repentance. There is something to exile that God finds very good. God has scattered the greater church of God (keeping the bad figs from contaminating the salvageable ones) because He loves us and wants us to begin rebuilding as much as lies within us, getting our relationships right with God and our fellow exiled brethren, bearing fruit and seeking peace.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that neglecting to feed the flock has been detrimental to preaching the gospel to the world. Because of this unwitting neglect, many members succumbed to the "lost in the crowd" syndrome, feeling insignificant, meaningless, and useless. The vine and branches analogy (John 15:1-6) and the body analogy (Romans 12:4-5; I Corinthians 12:12-17) indicates that we are all responsible for one another, with no one having an insignificant role. We draw upon God's Holy Spirit, not for ourselves only, but for the well-being of the entire body. Putting first things first,the condition of the body or temple is dependent upon the spiritual condition and well-being of the individual members of the body.
The Branch is a well-known Old Testament prophetic figure, identified as the Messiah by most people. Yet, is there more to it than that? Why is the Branch not mentioned in the New Testament? What does it mean to us?
A Bible study on love, one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
What is the Holy Spirit? What does it do? Who has it? How does it work? What does it produce?
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes that works are not the cause of salvation, but instead are the effect of God's creative efforts at bringing us into His image—a new creation. We are created in Christ Jesus, given a tiny spark of His nature from which to draw spiritual nourishment and receive our power to act. In this context, works are nothing more than our puny efforts to respond to God's love by voluntarily living like God does. The perfect tense of the verb 'saved' in Ephesians 2:8 (denoting an action started in the past and continuing in the present) does not guarantee that we will always remain in that state, but only if we continue to yield to God's shaping power, mortifying our human nature, and conforming to His image.
No act is insignificant because of two "natural" principles: the tendency for increase and what is sown is reaped. John Ritenbaugh shows that in regard to sin and righteousness, these principles play major roles in our lives.
Eternal life, emphasizing a special intimate relationship with God the Father and Christ, is vastly different from immortality, connoting only endless existence. John Ritenbaugh suggests that we have been called to a state of fellowship and a quality of life which has not been made available to the rest of mankind- a fellowship higher than the intimacy of marriage- a God-plane relationship we can experience right now (John 5:24) if we seek His will and keep His commandments, loving the same things and hating the same things God does, constantly overcoming, and fellowshipping with His called-out saints.
Having knowledge of God's law is not a guarantee of spiritual success or growth. Only those motivated to use the law will experience growth and produce fruit. The fear of God is the first element of motivation, ranging from reverential awe to stark terror. Fearing God leads to a determination not to bring shame on God's name or offending and hurting the relationship between God and us. We have to, like Nehemiah, who in his determination not to offend God, developed self control, refusing to conform to the corrupt practices of the world, unlike the procurator Felix, who cowardly capitulated to the tyranny of the majority.
John Ritenbaugh explains that justification is not the end of the salvation process, but merely the doorway to a more involved process of sanctification, symbolized by the long journey through the wilderness toward the promised land, a lengthy purifying process involving Christ's work (of regeneration- making us pure) and our work of applying God's Word to our lives, enabling us to get all the spots and wrinkles out of us. Like the outward signs of a woman's pregnancy, sanctification is the part of the process where we bear fruit, giving visible evidence of God's Holy Spirit working in us.
John Ritenbaugh shows that the Days of Unleavened Bread have both a negative and positive aspect. It is not enough to get rid of something negative (get rid of the leavening of sin); if we don't do something positive (eat unleavened bread or do righteousness), we leave ourselves in an extremely vulnerable position (Luke 11:24-28). Nature absolutely abhors a vacuum. We cannot make Christianity work by emphasizing what we can't do. We can't stand still. The best way to avoid or conquer evil is to do righteousness or bear fruit (John 15:16; James 4:17), serving God and mankind. Sins of omission are every bit as devastating as sins of commission. God's emphasis is always on action. The accent is on doing rather than not doing, taking our ordinary day-to-day responsibilities and making them a sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1).
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that we do not have immortality as a birthright (the lie which Satan told Eve), but that God is the sole source, making our relationship with God and God's judgment the most important focus of our life. One common denominator in all four Gospels is that a parallel exists between our lives and what Christ experienced on the earth. As part of Christ's body (I Corinthians 12:14-15), we all experience together what Christ experienced (crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and glorification- Romans 8:17). The death of self (Romans 8:13 and Galatians 3:5) must absolutely precede the resurrection to life (Romans 6:5).
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the book of Mark, emphasizing the symbolism of the ox, whose enduring servitude and sacrifice produces a great deal in the way of growth. Downplaying or understating kingly authority or lordship (the hallmark of Matthew) Mark concentrates on the uncomplaining and sacrificing traits of a servant. Jesus sets a pattern for us by serving without thought of authority, power, position, status, fame, or gain, but as a patient, enduring, faithful servant, practicing good will and providing a role model of pure religion (James 1:27) for us to emulate.
John Ritenbaugh emphasizes, that like Moses, Paul, James, and Joshua, all of us have been called to be faithful stewards of God, endowed with gifts to serve the congregation. Like Moses, we have to develop conviction, a product of a relationship of God, established by being faithful day by day in the little things of life. Never in the history of the Bible has anyone given up more material possessions and power as Moses had to serve God. Nevertheless, it took God 40 years (a time when his preferences gradually became transformed into rock-solid convictions) to bring Moses to the humble position where He could profitably use Moses to be His servant. Like Moses, Abraham and Sarah, we have to learn to synchronize our timetables with God's (Genesis 18:14, Daniel 8:17-19) God sets the schedule.
John Ritenbaugh compares prayer to a tool we must learn to use more efficiently or effectively. God's chief work on this earth is to produce holiness in His offspring, transforming our carnal, perverse nature into God's own image. Because we have the tendency to take on the characteristics of those with whom we associate (for bad or good), we need to be keeping company with God continually through prayer, letting His character rub off on us, developing His mind in us as we learn to shape petitions according to His will and judgment.
In this message, John Ritenbaugh, using the parable of Luke 11:24-28, admonishes that being cleaned up (or purged of leaven) is only the beginning of the growth process. To be made clean only prepares us for producing fruit. God's concern is for us to mature spiritually. If we stand still (resting on the laurels of our justification), the dark forces are going to pull us backwards. Uselessness invites disaster. We have to get away from the negative fixation of not doing and begin concentrating on doing. The consequences of not bearing fruit are graphically described in John 15:6. God's purpose, once we are cleaned, is to produce growth in us.
In this keynote address of the 1992 Feast of Tabernacles, John Ritenbaugh reflects on what it will take to produce the abundant fall harvest depicted by the Feast of Tabernacles. Unlike the pristine virgin forests and prairies encountered by Lewis and Clark, the remnants of Israel before the Millennium will encounter devastation and ruin. The restoration will not come about by magic, but people will learn incrementally and systematically by putting God into their lives through the outpouring of God's Holy Spirit, replacing their stony hearts with pliable hearts of flesh. In order for the fruit of the land or the fruit of the spirit to be produced, the hearts are going to have to change. We must fill our lives with peace, repenting, changing our attitude, and voluntarily yielding to God before we can produce the fruits of righteousness. The true worship of God is to imitate God to the best of our ability in every circumstance, showing love by our reasonable sacrifice.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that the valley-of-shadow imagery symbolizes the fears, frustrations, trials, and tests needed to produce character, quality fruit, and an intimate trust in the shepherd. His rod, an extension of his will and strength, serves not only against predators, but also prevents members of the flock from butting heads. It also helps him to identify and to judge. The staff, symbolic of God's Spirit, represents gentle guidance. The prepared table depicts a plateau or a mesa that the shepherd has made safe and secure for grazing. Christ, our Shepherd, has prepared the way for us, safeguarding us from predators and removing our fear of starvation and death. The oil, also symbolic of the Holy Spirit, refers to protective salve that prevents maddening or deadly insect infestation. Goodness and mercy refer to the agape love that we desperately need to acquire and use so we can leave behind a blessing. The house depicts contentment in the Family of God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon Paul's motivation for his letter to the Philippians, both appealing for unity and offering encouragement, reminding them that their relationship with one another was through Christ. Unity could only be maintained if they prayed for one another, exercising reasoning, discerning, and discriminating agape love. Paul encourages the Philippians, assuring them that his own incarceration (apparently engineered by God) had turned out for the best, enabling him, exuding his cheerful personality, to provide one—on-one testimony to a succession of guards, enabling God's witness to get to the upper echelons of the praetorian guard, greatly extending or amplifying the witness. Regardless of the precariousness of his ostensibly grave circumstances, Paul, with deep conviction, expected spiritual deliverance.
John Ritenbaugh warns us that whether we like it or not, we internalize our values (good and bad) in our children, teaching largely by example. If we do not take seriously the responsibility for rearing our children, somebody else will. Sadly, the evil influence emanating from Satan (the spirit of the power of the air), permeate the standards and behavior of the world, attempting to imprint its unacceptable behavior onto our offspring, squeezing them into its mold. If we imprint on our offspring an example inspired by God's Holy Spirit, our offspring will be inoculated against the evil influences of this world. Four factors which impact our child rearing are: (1) our relationship with God (remaining metaphorically attached to the vine through God's Holy Spirit), (2) our relationship with our spouse (continually expressing the example of affection and solemn respect for the marriage covenant), (3) our attitudes toward children and child-rearing (too many of which are sadly influenced by the world), and (4) our practice of child-rearing techniques. We get first crack at training Gods.
John Ritenbaugh continues to examine the details of the vine and branch analogy concluding that Jesus presents Himself as the true or genuine Vine, as contrasted to the unfaithful or degenerate vine (ancient Israel). As the church (the Israel of God) is obligated to remain organically attached to Christ (the True Vine), there is no such thing as an "independent Christian." Conversion involves a continuous reciprocal process in which God displays His love to us and we respond reciprocally to Him. Continuing in His Love by giving ourselves back to Him is our part of this mutual reciprocal process. Conforming to God's purpose will inevitably bring friction and persecution from the world and often from our own physical family. Throughout history, five false charges have been made against Christians claiming they were: (1) insurrectionists, (2) cannibals, (3) having flagrant immorality, (4) arsonists or incendiaries, and (5) dividing or separating families. God's Holy Spirit gives us understanding by piecing things together from the scripture, convicting us and allowing us to go through life's experiences through the prism of scriptural truths.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Philip's request to "show us the Father," suggests that Jesus has provided the way of knowing how God would lead His life in the flesh. Jesus is the way, the embodiment of the truth, and the mirror image of the Father. As a human born into an ordinary family, Jesus experienced all the responsibilities, struggles, frustrations, temptations, and pains that we do. We have an Elder Brother who has been on the front lines, providing us a model to live our lives. Jesus taught us that love is a moral act rather than a feeling, based upon pleasing God by fulfilling His Commandments. Love and obedience are inseparable. Jesus encouraged His disciples by promising to send the Holy Spirit to help them (and us) to cope with the rigorous demands of living the Christian life, making us sensitive to God and educating us to the purposes of God. As we continue to obey, yielding to His purpose, we enter a closer relationship with God, until eventually, having attained the mind of God, loving and personifying truth, we become like the Father and the Son.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the seed analogy of Jesus in John 12:24, emphasizes that sacrifice is absolutely necessary (the seed must give up its life) in order for quality fruit to be produced. Using this seed planting analogy, Jesus teaches that, as a seed must be planted, dying to itself in order to bear fruit, we similarly must sacrifice our lives- submitting our wills unconditionally to God's will in order to bear abundant fruit, attaining the abundant life we deeply crave. Conversely, if we try to placate the natural carnal lusts, we will not bear good fruit. After we die to sin in the waters of baptism, we no longer dedicate ourselves to satisfying our carnal drives, but instead to submit to God, who engineers the process of our spiritual growth into a new spiritual creation, children of light, reflecting the characteristics of our spiritual Parent. Keeping God's Commandments leads to spiritual insight and light, but breaking them leads to spiritual blindness and darkness. There is no neutrality in following God's Word. John 13:1-17 provides an unusual insight into the very mind of God, exemplified as a serving "footwashing" attitude, demonstrating servant leadership toward His creation, an attitude and behavior we are obligated to emulate. The essence of love is sacrifice.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that chapter 21 describes Jesus Christ's public announcement of His Messiah-ship, when the crowds would select Him to be the Paschal sacrificial Lamb of God. After overturning the money changer's tables and cursing the fig tree, Jesus relates a parable about a man (symbolizing God) who planted a vineyard (symbolizing Israel and Judah), turning it over to some husbandmen (symbolizing the religious leaders who were responsible for the education of the nation), who later proved to be unfaithful, beating the owners servants (symbolizing the prophets) and killing the owner's son (symbolizing Jesus Christ). The responsibility for tending the vineyard was removed from those wicked husbandmen (symbolizing the priests and Pharisees) and given to new servants who would tend it faithfully, bringing about quality fruit replacing physical Israel with the Israel of God- or the Church. If the Church fails in its responsibility, God will take it away again and give it to someone who will bring forth fruit. When God gives us a responsibility, He gives us all the tools we need to carry it out as well as the freedom to decide how best to do it. God wants to see how we do with what we have been given. As future kings, we must learn how to solve problems. We are going to be accountable for the outcome. Jesus Christ as the cornerstone of the Kingdom of God will either be a sanctuary or a stumbling block or grinding stone to those leaders, peoples, or nations He encounters. We cannot allow the cares of the world to run interference with our calling. Spiritual goals, including nurturing our spouses and families, have to come first. Prayer and Bible study must be regarded as our lifeblood in establishing a relationship with God. Walking by faith (rather than walking by sight) will help us establish the right priorities. Our betrothal to Christ at this time does not have a specific date for the actual marriage; we must be prepared at all times. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh picks up with the account of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem shortly before His crucifixion, an event which fulfilled prophecies and significantly dramatized Jesus Christ's messiahship. The crowds welcoming Jesus, while looking for a political or military hero, were actually choosing the sacrificial Paschal Lamb of God on the 10th day of Nisan. Jesus was actually throwing down the gauntlet, laying claim to His role as Messiah. The religious authorities were terrified of losing their power base. Jesus cleansed the temple of opportunistic usurious moneychangers in the courtyard of the Gentiles, an extremely crowded public place. God's Church should never be involved with fleecing the membership in any way. Additionally, God's name should never be associated with junk. After driving out the money changers, Jesus healed the blind and the lame and befriended the children who were engaged in praising Him. The truth is often clearer to the simple and innocent than to the sophisticated intellectuals. Because the fig tree was emblematic of peace and prosperity, and because it was generally prolific in yielding, Jesus cursing the fig tree carried an implied caution against lack of spiritual productivity. If a fig tree does have full leaves, it should also have full fruit; if not, the growth cycle is out of sync or degenerate. The fig tree in the New Testament (Luke 13:6) represents you and me; we are required to bear fruit. God judges by what a person produces; if we don't produce, we are useless. Uselessness invites disaster. Profession without practice is condemned. Jesus taught the disciples that prayer is power and extremely profitable in clearing up mountainous problems. Prayer should be used by us to find the ability to do. God will only do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. God wants us to be problem solvers, proved by trials, tests, and experiences He gives us. Prayer should give us the ability to accept our cup- our circumstances. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incompl
Can a Christian commit a sin, and still be a Christian? Or would this be "the unpardonable sin"? Or would it prove he never was a Christian? Thousands worry, because they do not understand what IS the sin that shall never be forgiven.