John Ritenbaugh, reiterating that God works in mysterious ways, assures us that, because of God's calling, we have a far clearer understanding of His purposes than those yet uncalled. Powered by the spirit in man, no individual is able to understand God, as witnessed by the consistently antagonistic reaction of the Pharisees and scribes to God's truth, as explained to them by Christ. To those called, the Bible is no mystery, but to the world at large, it seems inscrutable. For His Own reasons, God has chosen not to reveal His plan to those the world considers wise, but, instead, to work with the weaker sort of mankind. God told Cain how to overcome sin when He rejected his offering: Namely, we must wrest the control sin has over us at the formative stage of desire. Timing is crucial. We should never allow sin to escape its incipient stage of desire. Most of 'Christendom' fails to realize that God has called us to do battle with our carnal natures, a cross we bear until He resurrects us as spirit beings. At our baptism, He counsels us to soberly count the cost, asking ourselves if we are willing to give up everything, including our lives, to conform to Christ's image, becoming a new creation in the process. Even with God's initial gift of His Holy Spirit, we cannot form an on-going, growing relationship with God unless He continually strengthens us with additional gifting—more grace.
Martin Collins, focusing on Habakkuk's stance of assuming the position of a watchman, being willing to accept God's ultimate judgment on his people even when the circumstances seem to contradict revelation, emphasizes that all of God's called-out ones are also watchmen, needing to live continually by faith, discerning, listening to, and responding to God's instructions, not only hearing them, but taking them to heart. Without having faith like Abel, Abraham, Noah. and Enoch, judging by faith rather than outward appearances, we cannot please God. Abel, Enoch, and Noah all believed God and were willing to endure temporal loss for a greater reward. Faith constitutes unshakable belief and confidence in God that He will do everything He has promised. Like the apostle Peter, we must learn that human faith, at its best, is not sufficient; Godly faith cannot be worked up, but is a gift from God which we must constantly put to use. This kind of faith comes by hearing God's Word. God holds His called-out ones to a much higher level of accountability, but He has also provided the necessary tools for overcoming and as well as for producing spiritual fruit. In spite of doubts arising from negative appearances, we need to cling to God's promises, even in the worst of times, realizing that all iniquity will be punished eventually. Like the heroes of faith, all of which had to do something to demonstrate their faith, we must be productive in our faith, understanding that faith without works is stone dead. Faith is not a preference, but rather a commitment. Even faith as little as a mustard seed is an open door to God.
Ronny Graham, drawing some comparisons from the example of the town crier who provided the sole means of news and communication for the relatively illiterate society of Medieval Britain, reminds us that hearing is also a large part of our Christian lives. The Old and New Testaments are replete with admonitions to hear, such as “if anyone has ears to hear, let him hear,” and “faith comes from hearing, and hearing from the Word of Christ.” In the Parable of the Sower, a major contributory factor in producing good seed is hearing the Word of God. As we hear instructions from sermons, we ought to be applying those principles to our lives immediately. We are responsible for what we choose to hear; consequently, we must take heed what we hear.
When Solomon visits the Temple, he comes away from his observations of the worshippers with a sense that too many treat religion far too casually and carelessly, forgetting that they are coming before the great God. As John Ritenbaugh explains, Solomon admonishes his readers to listen to God's Word when they approach Him and to be careful to follow through with what they promised when they made the covenant with Him.
In Part One, we saw how important listening is in God’s Word and therefore how vital it is for Christians to establish an attitude and habit of hearing. ...
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on John 17:3, maintains that to have eternal life we have to know God. Eternal life is to live a quality life as God lives, having developed an intimate relationship with God, living by ever-increasing faith. In order to develop this relationship, we must sacrifice time, becoming, in essence, living sacrifices. We must continually ingest spiritual food—the Bread of Life and the Word of God, seeking to be a part of the covenant made with David, containing the sure mercies of David. We must fully accept the sovereignty of God- internalize that sovereignty profoundly. In the Old Covenant there are no provisions for forgiveness of sin, or direct access to God by prayer or by the reception of the Holy Spirit. Faith comes from hearing the Word of God. Without hearing through sermons or reading the Word of God, there can be no faith and no understanding. Jesus Christ is our conduit to the Father. Getting to know God requires effort; it does not happen accidentally. It requires focused studying of God's Word on a continuous, daily basis. Truly, God has all the goodies. It is necessary to cultivate a genuine and healthy fear of God, a fear not natural to carnal man. It can only be developed by an abiding relationship with God, in which we learn both His strength and compassion. By continuous ingesting of His Word (enabling us to digest His precious doctrine), we humbly develop a close relationship with God. As we think in our heart, so we are. We should see God working in our lives and submit to His sovereignty, developing the kind of fear which draws us close to Him in humility. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
Knowing God is vital to our salvation and eternal life, and it is not just knowing that He exists. Truly knowing God is a specific and detailed knowledge of His attributes and attitudes. John Ritenbaugh reveals that fully accepting God's sovereignty should drive us to seek Him so that we can come to know Him as completely and personally as possible.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Last week, we considered the period of the count to Pentecost as representing the years of our conversion as Christians, and we focused on the work that was required of the Israelites to grow and harvest the grain used in the offering of the wave loaves. ...
The gospels provide many accounts of Jesus healing the sick, and it seems that there are almost as many methods that He used to heal them, from speaking a word to touching them to smearing clay on their eyes. Martin Collins considers Christ's method of healing a deaf-mute man, extracting spiritual lessons applicable to us today.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the sin residing within us, warns that we will be battling sin for the rest of our lives. We were in bondage, seemingly powerless before the addiction which enslaved us. Satan, the primary slave owner, tries to control us with the residue of his spirit. We need to be in continual contact with the Son to scour the corrosive residue of Satan's spirit. Because of our conversion, we are enabled to listen to and respond to Christ's corrective instruction, which helps us to overcome our contaminated human nature which keeps us in bondage to the world. We are in various stages of our wilderness journey, not knowing for certain where our journey will take us—even though God knows exactly where He is taking us. These twists and turns give us opportunities to develop and strengthen our faith in God. We need to yield to and trust in God's purification and refinement, having the goal of overcoming fixed in our mind. As former slaves to Satan's system, we have had very little opportunity to exercise our God-given freedom to the best advantage. Sometimes, we seem hopelessly inexperienced, and would be in danger of failing were it not for God's Holy Spirit, prompting us like the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud guided our forebears through the uncharted wilderness. We are never alone. We have an advantage over our forebears in that God has made a heart that is capable of accepting and yielding to His commandments, mixed with life-giving faith, prompted through His Holy Spirit. God has called all of us out individually of metaphorical Egypt-a spiritual Egypt of sin, having plans for us as future members of His family.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Numbers 9 contains another incident in which the command to be still plays a noteworthy part. ...
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: I Samuel 12 is instructive on the subject of finding a still, quiet place in a hectic world. ...
Far more than on any other hero of faith in Hebrews 11, the apostle Paul concentrates on Abraham as the father of the faithful, the Bible's premier example of a human being's walk with God. John Ritenbaugh illustrates how Abraham's faithfulness to God sets a clear pattern for us to follow.
John Ritenbaugh cautions that most religious-professing people (including many members of the greater church of God) have not used the Word of God as their standard of morality and conduct, but instead are allowing society and culture to shape their attitudes, tolerating the disgusting incremental escalating perversion of moral standards. Sadly, society is rapidly replicating the dangerous downward spiral extant during the time of Noah, a time in which the intent of every thought was to do evil. People (conditioned or reinforced by the mass media) rely upon their deceitful 'hearts' or 'feelings' rather than the Bible to determine moral standards. The House of Joseph (often claiming to be the last bastion of morality) now leads the world in exporting filth to the rest of mankind. Our only safeguard against moral pollution is to ingest (or assimilate) God's word (spiritual manna- or the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth) every day of our lives.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the technological and linguistic changes that have occurred in the short span of one century, marvels at the drastic decrease of our attention span and the corresponding degradation of language. The dramatic shift in orientation from words to pictures has weakened thought and the transmission of ideas, "dumbing down" our culture toward drabness, unaesthetic plainness, and imprecision. Because virtually everything we know about God comes through words, this denigration of language (the vehicle transmitting spiritual truths, metaphorical bread or food) could prove highly detrimental to our spiritual welfare. Spiritually, relying exclusively on images leads to shallowness of thought at best and idolatry at its worst. The Word of God, however, provides depth and nourishment leading to salvation and eternal life. Through God's Spirit, we need to learn how to process the Word of God effectively and efficiently.
It is true that we cannot physically "see" the invisible God, but that does not mean that we cannot recognize His involvement in our lives. John Ritenbaugh helps us to realize just how much God wants to be part of our lives.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that humility is not an obsequious demonstration of low self esteem, but instead it is a proper estimate of our relationship to God, which is a choice to act and behave as a servant or slave. If we would follow Christ's example of humility, we would have automatic unity. We need to have both the inclination and the follow-through act of humility and lowliness of mind. We have to cultivate the same attitude as our Elder Brother as He esteemed others above Himself. Faith, praise, gratitude, thanksgiving, and humility all work together at building character. Perseverance in prayer and faithfulness causes our faith to increase and rescues us from pernicious worldliness.
Our physical bodies, like the walled cities of ancient times, has a defense system to keep out invaders. Spiritually, how well do we maintain our defenses against error and contamination? John Ritenbaugh urges us to listen diligently to God's Word for true nourishment.
John 6 has always been a difficult chapter to explain. However, within his series on the physical/spiritual parallels in the Bible on eating, John Ritenbaugh shows how clear Jesus' teaching is and what it means to us.
We are what we eat. The same can apply spiritually to what we put into our minds. John Ritenbaugh shows that God wants us to desire His Word with the eagerness of a baby craving milk.
God has often used micro metaphors to illustrate macro events. For example, in Isaiah 1:4-6, God compares the whole nation of Israel to a sick patient with an incurable disease, signalling impending captivity. The church has been alternately compared to a bride, vine, virgin, woman, mother, and body. Extrapolating from these metaphors, the condition of the greater church of God resembles a patient languishing from a deadly disease like cancer. This condition has resulted from a diet of spiritual junk food (the philosophies and traditions of the world) and abstinence from the life-sustaining bread of life (John 6:63). The words we "eat" create a faith that forms the walls of our belief system?a kind of spiritual immune system, protecting it from disease. Good health, then, is not merely a matter of diet, but an entire interactive process of prayer, study, obedience, and conformity to God's purpose for our lives.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the voice, perhaps more than the fingerprints, makes an individual unique, articulating the depths of emotion. The voice of God, whether expressed through thunder, events of His providence, handiwork of creation, or the preaching of His truth by His ministers, has a unique quality about it, a ring of authenticity, making it recognizable to His called out ones as a shepherd's voice is to the flock. The Apostle Paul affirms that faith comes from hearing the voice of God- spoken through a duly ordained messenger of God. God alone designates the messenger who bears His message.
God's sovereignty is one of the most important issues a Christian must consider. Is God supreme in all things? Have we acknowledged that He has total authority over us in particular?
The law says a matter is established out of the mouth of two or three witnesses. Charles Whitaker contends this can also be two different trips or appearances by the same person. The second coming of Christ will be a second witness, and the same kinds of people will either accept or reject Him. Into which of these groups do you fit?
John Ritenbaugh stresses the importance of listening over merely hearing, suggesting that only from God's Word can we know who is really regulating the affairs on the earth and which truth to believe. The scriptures, substantiating God's sovereignty, assure us that Israel's history was no accident, the church's succession of Israel was no accident, and our calling into the church was no accident. Even though God's thoughts are not [yet] our thoughts and His judgments unsearchable, we have the assurance that just because scary, inexplicable things happen in our lives, God is still sovereign; we must develop the childlike faith to trust in Him for the solution.
John Ritenbaugh, citing a rather sobering reflective article by Vaclav Havel, observes that although we enjoy the benefits of scientific progress, we understand ourselves less and less; everything is seemingly possible, but nothing is certain. Without the spirit of God, mankind becomes guided by another spirit leading to dreadful destructive sinister consequences- made increasingly more menacing by increased technological capabilities. A person having only the spirit of man is absolutely held in bondage to it. It is impossible for mankind, without God's Spirit (Deuteronomy 5:29) to responsibly use the powers and abilities God has given to him. By yielding to God and using the power of His spirit, we can experience a foretaste of the times of refreshing and restitution which will eventually be made available to the entire creation (Acts 3:19)
John Ritenbaugh, using examples of Abraham and Moses, indicates that faith, far from being blind, is based on analyzing, calculating, and comparing, adding up from evidence in God's Word, our own experience, and our calling by God's Holy Spirit. When our minds are opened by God, we become instantaneously double-minded, able to see both spiritually through faith and carnally through our senses. Like Abraham and Moses, we must make a choice to turn our back on carnal pleasures and embrace the yet unseen spiritual alternative, overcoming our doubts and fears, rather than emulate Lot, who having a knowledge of the truth, nevertheless, carnally speaking wanted to have his cake and eat it too. One of the reasons God may have decided to work His purpose by faith was that it seems the best way of discovering a person's character.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that only a converted person humbles himself before the truth, making a conscientious, unflagging effort to follow the light of evidence, even to the most unwelcome conclusions, resisting desire, passion, and prejudices acquired through our culture. Human nature is hostile to God's truth, but rejecting truth leads to idolatry and a debased mind (Romans 1:28). We have been redeemed from the traditions and philosophies produced by corrupt men, inspired by demons, the patterns of thinking and conduct that are at odds with the truth of God. We have to desperately fight the perverse downward pull of human nature (inspired by the culture into which we are immersed) to ignore the truth.
John Ritenbaugh asserts that nothing is more important than the truth or the seeking after the truth. If we are going to be searching for truth, we should not be seeking it in the philosophies of men (a syncretic system of beliefs having its source in Babylon, a combination of human reason aided by demonic spirits and astrological prognostication - the weak and beggarly elements referred to by the apostle Paul in Galatians 4:9) but rather in the fullness of truth found in Christ with God's revelation as the final arbiter. There must be a continuous searching for more truth with the seeking of the kingdom of God as the highest priority to the end that we grow to full spiritual maturity.
John Ritenbaugh observes that in our modern fast-paced, hectic culture, we commit far too little time to God, depriving ourselves of the Holy Spirit and attenuating the faith required to draw close to God. The Sabbath was made to guarantee this needed time to establish our contact with God. We dare not pollute or profane this day by presumptuously doing our own thing, incrementally neglecting the hearing of sermons, fellowship, prayer, meditation, and Bible study. The Sabbath (a memorial of God's creation and a pre-figuration or promise of a future rest) provides the time for hearing God's word right now and doing good. God's presence has sanctified or set this recurring period of time apart as holy. During this time, we need to develop respect for instruction into God's way that will lead us into eternal life. We need to guard our thoughts, words, and behavior, making sure that we do not pollute this holy time.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the spiritual bondage (slavery to sin) Jesus referred to in John 8:34, warns against habitual sin- or sinning as a "way of life"- under the power, control, or influence of sin (graphically described by Paul in Romans 7:7-24.) As long as we are slaves of sin (following the dictates of our own lustful desires), we have no free moral agency. God liberates us from sin in order that we might be free to obey Him. Jesus warns the Pharisees that because righteousness and character cannot be transferred from one person to another, they cannot trust in their pedigree (as physical descendants of Abraham). Without the implanted Spirit of God, we have absolutely no capacity to receive or appreciate spiritual truth or to hear God's Word, allowing it to convict us, making an impact on our lives. The study concludes in John 9 with an examination into the healing of the man blind from birth, occurring near the Pool of Siloam.
John Ritenbaugh insists that the ability to do miracles does not identify a speaker as a representative of God, especially if the signs entice one to depart from the Word of God. Jesus warns that if we ask God for protection from demonic influence, we cannot sit back passively; Satan always counterattacks. Evil must be displaced with good. Jesus encourages us to develop spiritual family relationships within the Church of God coupled with common experiences to reinforce godly behavior. Generally, we cannot expect this kind of special reinforcement from our blood relatives or physical friends. The parable of the sower reflects the various levels of receptivity and conversion among people who are exposed to the Word of God. Matthew 13:22-23 seems to be aimed at the ministry, providing encouragement to keep plugging away despite some un-germinated seed. Like a farmer, the minister must learn patience before results are realized. We must use and develop what God has given or it will dissipate. The study concludes with an exposition of the tares (Darnel) and wheat parable, indicating that Satan has planted false brethren that are hard to distinguish from the real. God is the only one fit to judge.[NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh characterizes chapter 12 as the "rise of the opposition," outlining the rising suspicions on the part of the Jews, the prejudiced blindness and the active investigation, countermanded by Jesus response, making claims to His authority, His courageous defiance, and His bold attack. In the first several verses, it is clear the disciples were not stealing corn (Deuteronomy 23:25) nor were they breaking the Sabbath as David had not broken the Sabbath when he ate the showbread on the Sabbath when he was fleeing from Saul, nor do the heavy priestly duties (normally work forbidden by lay members) violate the Sabbath. Human need takes precedence over human custom. Jesus didn't break the Sabbath, but he did break extra-legal fanatical human custom applied to the Sabbath apart from God's Law- those foolish prohibitions proscribing healing and alleviating human misery. Interestingly, Jesus did these miracles in a courageous, but nevertheless a discreet manner, asking his clients not to publicize these events, but nevertheless, as a humble servant [not yet a conquering hero- nor certainly a brawling instigator of incendiary riots], demonstrating humane application of the Sabbath law to the Jews and the Gentiles, having universal application. His motives were misconstrued by the opposition, accusing Him of using demonic powers. Christ warns us that following His way of life will bring persecution. Our spiritual gifts and skills (discerning skills to distinguish good from evil) we must continually use so they don't degenerate. When we cannot make this distinction any longer, we have, in essence committed the unpardonable sin- candidates for the Lake of Fire. The well-spring of good (as well as evil) stems from the heart, producing the fruit of good (or evil) works and good (or evil) words. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
John Ritenbaugh, focusing on Matthew 7:15-20, observes that false teaching tends to produce four different ways of life: (1) Getting people concentrating on externals (rituals and regulations); (2) Concentrating on negativism (no cards or movies); (3) Concentrating on liberalism (sinning that grace may abound); and (4) Divorcing life from reality (going off to a monastery and practicing a form of asceticism). Over the years, these practices have only produced disunity. In order to build sound doctrine, we are obligated to build on the foundation Christ's teaching (the Rock, the spiritual drink, or living words), taking the straight and narrow course rather than the accumulated wisdom of this world. We need to look by faith ahead into the future, listening very carefully (to the truth of God's Word) discerning the spiritual intent, immediately putting this understanding into practice (assimilating it as a part of ourselves) by our reasonable sacrifice- giving ourselves as living sacrifices- building iron clad faith in the process, insuring our spiritual (as well as physical) success. Whatever we build upon will be tested by intense purifying trials. Everyone has trials and temptations, but God will not test us (those God has called out- those who daily nourish themselves on His word) beyond what we can handle, enabling us (through the power of His Holy Spirit) to overcome them, developing extraordinary spiritual stability- like the stable tree in Psalm 1. Like our Elder Brother, we need to assimilate this nourishing word so much that it would become second nature (actually first nature) to us. Unfortunately, the Pharisees with whom Jesus confronted could not assimilate this precious word because it clashed with their traditions and reasoning. Hopefully our own traditions and preconceptions will not allow us to assimilate His Word. If we reject God's truth, we will fall into deception and our hearts will be hardened like Pharaoh's. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]