David Grabbe, unraveling several apparently contradictory scriptures, exposes a fundamental flaw in western thinking—namely the binary (that is, either-or) thinking that leads us to construct false dilemmas. Perhaps the best example of this is the one delineated by Protestant theologians who conceptualize law and grace at the opposite sides of a continuum. They cannot imagine how God's sovereignty and man's free moral agency can co-exist. God is benevolent, but He is also severe. God is not waiting to smash us, but neither is He indulgent. If we acknowledge God as our sovereign, it stands to reason that we are duty bound to follow what He has said. As we walk in His grace, we begin to develop wisdom as to what is godly behavior and what is not. God's grace never undermines His sovereignty. Our daily walk with God should lead us to make choices resulting in wisdom and discernment.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon II John 5, an epistle which cautions about deceivers who would denigrate the value of work, considers the straining on the point "we cannot earn salvation" a red herring, diverting our attention from the true value of Christian work. God indeed judges the quality and quantity of what we do in our Christian responsibilities. Our calling is a vocation; work or labor is vitally important in our calling. God is our model regarding work, mandating that we produce fruits of righteousness. Christ admonishes that our highest regard should be seeking the Kingdom of God and righteousness. We work for Christ as His slaves. Profit from life is produced by work, requiring sacrifices of time and energy. Christians have been created for the very purpose of doing good works which God has prepared for us. We will be continuing in this work for all eternity. Christian works were never intended to save us; Jesus' works as our Savior and high Priest is what saves us. Doing the works provides practice in God's way of life, engraving in us His character, providing a witness to the world, glorifying God. It takes work to put things in order and prepare for the return of Christ. Three parables in the Olivet prophecy (The Two Servants, Wise and Foolish Virgins, and the Talents) emphasize the necessity of work in the preparation for Christ's return. One's faithfulness in productivity does not transfer to one who has been a slacker. We are all being scrutinized and judged by Almighty God as to what we do, especially as it related to our service to our fellow servants. Whatever we sow, regarding our relationships with one another, we will reap. Sin (of commission or omission) describes the failure to maintain God's standards. The failure to work is sin. Works do not save us, but everyone who is saved works. We will be judged and rewarded according to our works, both the quantity and the quality.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the metaphorical aspects of work and walking, suggests that these activities play a major role in overcoming and sanctification. We must have a higher regard for Christian works than our everyday job, realizing that work is a wholesome activity toward the production of something. The first picture we see of God is that He is working or creating. If we are going to be in the Kingdom of God, work is important. Adam was never granted a welfare existence. The command to work preceded Adam and Eve's sin. The curse was not defined as "having to work," but the curse of thorns and thistles made work more difficult. Solomon emphasized in Ecclesiastes 2 that we should enjoy and derive pleasure from our work. The way that we work is a visible witness of God before the world. Technically, we do not work for our employer, but for God. We serve as Jesus Christ's bond-slave. We work for Jesus Christ regardless of what our daily tasks are; we must assiduously avoid indolence or laziness, but instead to be profitable servants. Profitability applies just as much to the attaining of skill as attaining money. The body of Jesus Christ has many skilled functions; not everyone has the same function. We can hone our skills in prayer, Bible study, and meditation, systematically involving all of our sense modalities, compiling notes and study references, making our studying time incrementally more valuable. Work does involve sacrifice of time and energy in order to produce value; we give up our entire lives to produce profit. Work is a costly investment of our life producing a profit for God.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the book of Ecclesiastes, a document which provides an overview of the consequences of life's frustrating activities, gives us directions for making it through the labyrinth of life. This treatise prepares us with helpful, practical, and profitable approaches, preparing us for the Kingdom of God. Some approaches toward life are worthless while others are more profitable. God has purposely subjected nature and life to vanity and frustration, a curse resulting from Adam's sin. We are all caught in this curse. If we want things to work out properly, we not only have to keep the commandments, but we have to seek God to assimilate His nature within us. Until God Himself is here directing things through Jesus Christ, the problems of this world will not be corrected. Using godly wisdom helps us to deal with our circumstances, but it will not change the world. The work God has given us to do will give us pleasure and a satisfying sense of accomplishment. Work is a major factor in our lives, consisting of physical or mental activity directed toward the accomplishment of something. We must keep in mind that everything we do matters. God has been purposefully and energetically working for all eternity toward a goal, setting a pattern for all of us. We are created and designed to do good works, not to earn salvation, but instead to emulate the way of life lived by our Heavenly Father. Our God is a goal-setter, not only for Himself, but for us. God does the creating; God distributes the gifts; God distributes the responsibilities. The command to tend preceded Adam and Eve's sin; work was not the curse. Ultimately, we will be judged according to our work.
John Ritenbaugh, distinguishing the terms freedom and liberty, suggests that Christian liberty is far more restrained than the word freedom would connote. Mainstream Christianity often obscures the major emphasis of God's purpose in our lives, focusing on a genie in a bottle endlessly showering miracles. God deliberately put His chosen people through testing, trails, and deprivation to see what they would do and how they would respond to His laws. Building character and conforming to Christ's image requires suffering, privations, testing, and trials, including the degradation of slavery. We are still suffering under the bondage of sin. Through God's grace, we are provided liberty with specified limits and boundaries. Grace is not the entire story, especially after we leave Egypt. We are to deny worldly lusts, putting out sin, having been obliged to live in godliness, preparing to live in good works. Consequently, grace places limits on our freedom, training us for our future life in the Kingdom of God. Our behavior must be clearly distinguishable from the non-believers in society. We cannot emulate our forebears, who although freed from Egypt, maintained their slave mentality, immersed in their worldly lusts, rebelling before they even commenced through the Red Sea, grumbling about their diet. We must desire the life-giving manna, the Bread of Life, namely the instruction provided through God's Word, producing good conduct and good life, keeping us from the bondage of sin. We need to be continually packing our minds with the Truth of God, fortifying our goal of attaining the Kingdom of God.
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!
Focusing upon II Corinthians 13:5, John Ritenbaugh cautions us of the futility of assenting to a code of standards we do not intend to apply. Belief without conduct equals a dead faith leading to death. Works give evidence that we really do believe and have the Holy Spirit in us. What we believe (correctly or incorrectly) will inevitably produce works. According to a survey conducted by Barna, a large segment of professing Christians have rejected major tenets of the Bible (in effect, calling Jesus Christ a liar) fashioning their own subjective, private religions, giving themselves license to sin in selected areas and fostering a tolerance for hideous societal perversions. Rejecting a biblical world-view, unfaithful modern Israel has degenerated into a habitation of demons. As God's called out ones, we are admonished not to conform or follow suit, but to yield to God's purification.
Hope conveys the idea of absolute certainty of future good, and that is exactly what the Bible tells us we have upon our calling and acceptance of God's way. John Ritenbaugh shows that, because the Father and Son are alive and active in their creation, our hope is sure!
In this Feast of Trumpets message, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that salvation is not a one time event, but a continuous process analogous to the birth process—not just immunity from death, but a total dramatic transformation of our nature into a totally new creation. Six major reasons why works are necessary (following the initial justification stage) include: (1) to undertake godly character building and preparation for God's Kingdom; (2) to give evidence of our faith; (3) to witness to the world that God is God; (4) to glorify God; (5) to prepare for a reward; and (6) to exercise living faith toward a covenant partner who has been eternally faithful.
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.
John Ritenbaugh stresses that good works are something that take place after the process of salvation has begun. Good works are the effects of God sending forth His Spirit and deliverance, but the works are not the cause of our deliverance. God's creative effort did not end with the physical creation or our election, but God continues to work, giving His called out ones the motivation and the power to do His will (Philippians 2:13) to the end that we might exemplify His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10)- a new spiritual creation shaped and patterned after God's image, having the ethical and moral character of God.
John Ritenbaugh focuses on the remarkable energizing capacity of hope. In the familiar triumvirate (faith, hope, and love) faith serves as the foundation, love serves as the goal, and hope serves as the great motivator or energizer. Unique among the religions, Christianity, with its expectation of a Messiah and the promise of a resurrection, looks expectantly to the future,embracing hope. Motivated by their calling into the new covenant (1 John 3:1-3) Christians anticipating a magnificent future glorification, are energized by this God-inspired hope to overcome the impossible and rejoice in temporary trials.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that Paul's target in Galatians 2:16 was a syncretism of Judaism with strict Pagan ascetic Gnosticism and certainly not God's law. We need to avoid the Protestant ditch of "Christ did it all" leading to no attempt at law keeping or at best an apathetic assent to its value. Paul makes it abundantly clear that Christ did not free us from the death penalty in order to turn us into lawbreakers. Though God did not design the law to justify; without the law telling us of what to repent of, we would have no clue as to which path to take. The secret to successful law keeping is Christ living in us through God's Holy Spirit (Galatians 2:20; Romans 5:5) Christ will empower us, but will not live our lives for us. The marching orders for our pilgrimage derive from God's Word- containing His holy law.
John Ritenbaugh reminds us that under both the Old and New Covenants, refusal to keep to keep God's Law severs our relationship with Him. Like loving parents who give rules to their children to protect them from danger, our Loving Father has given us His Spiritual Law to protect us and bring us quality life. In the manner of Satan the Devil, who convinced Adam and Eve that God's commands restricted freedom, the misguided proponents of the anti-law bias or mentality have convinced many in our former fellowship that the Sabbath, the Holy Days, tithing, and food laws are harsh and restrictive elements of Old Covenant bondage. New Covenant justification does not do away with God's Laws (nor with human nature or carnality for that matter) but creates the circumstances through which faith is enhanced, producing sanctification and purification, bringing God's purpose (to restore all things) to perfection.