Richard T. Ritenbaugh: Perhaps the most critical question in every nation and every era is "Who is the true God?" In his final book, Mystery of the Ages, Herbert W. Armstrong titled the chapter explaining the first mystery ...
Ronny H. Graham: In Part One, we briefly examined what holiness is—"morally and spiritually excellent or perfect, to be revered; belonging to, devoted to, or empowered by God" (The Reader's Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder)—and found that ...
Martin Collins, maintaining that there never has been , and never will be, another death like Jesus Christ's, reminds us that Our Omniscient God, who cannot sin, knew that we would sin and, therefore, pre-ordained a sacrifice that would satisfy all legal requirements, but would also motivate us to repent of sin and pursue righteousness, building character, living by faith, and exercising moral responsibility. The result? We grow into sharing the exact character of our Savior. The sacrifice of Jesus constitutes the death of an innocent, sinless, worthy victim for the entire human race. When Adam and Eve sinned, their overwhelming guilt and shame forced them to hide, dreading the consequences of their sin. God dealt with the transgression directly, covering their nakedness with the skins of animals—the first-time death literally appeared in Eden. These clothes of animal skins reminded them of the reality of death and symbolized how their redemption would ultimately come, namely through the sacrifice of an innocent victim at Golgotha, satisfying the wrath of God toward sin through propitiation and reconciliation, repairing the broken relationship between all of mankind and the Creator. While Passover is personal in nature, the sacrifice symbolized by the Day of Atonement is universal, pointing to God's reconciliation of the entire world, as Satan is punished by separation. Redemption refers to buying back something that was lost. The necessity for Christ's death stems from God's holiness and absolute intolerance of sin and His obligation to judge righteously. A substitutionary sacrifice is required to propitiate for God's wrath against the sins of mankind. His death brought to a climax a plethora of Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. Christ took on our poverty and lowliness so that we might become His co-heirs as God's children. Like Paul and Peter, we have been called for a pre-ordained purpose, and are obligated to follow His example, looking forward to His coming both as a Savior and a Judge.
Martin Collins, focusing on the Prophet Habakkuk, whose name means "one who embraces" or "one who clings," suggests that a major theme of the Book of Habakkuk is the importance of clinging to God regardless of the vicissitudes of life. Habakkuk's prophecy seems to be up-to-date when describing God's called out ones today, who are compelled to cling to God as evil change agents threaten to destroy our civilization. Habakkuk evidently lived following the times of Josiah's massive reforms, a time of spiritual decay following the bright times of Josiah, a transitional time something like we are experiencing today, a time the law is powerless and justice no longer prevails. We should never be tripped up when we see bad things happen to good people or vice versa, realizing that history is indeed following God's timetable. God's timing is perfect. We should never doubt the justice of God, remembering that terrible events cannot separate us from the love of God. When we feel overwhelmed, we need to (1) stop and think, refraining from rash speaking, (2) calmly restate basic principles, (3) put events in their right context, and (4) return to God for further clarification. Habakkuk followed this formula as he reflected upon every attribute of God, realizing that God had been continually faithful to His people and that the impending invasion of the Babylonians was not the last event in God's plan, but only a tool in bringing about God's ultimate purpose. Like Habakkuk, we must detach ourselves from the problem at hand, return to the ramparts and seek God's counsel, staying in the watchtower, seeking God in prayer and study until God gives us the answer, remembering that the just shall live by faith.
John Ritenbaugh, suggesting that much of Protestantism shares more of an approach to Deism (that is, God establishes His laws and then abandons His creation to their machinations) than to Theism (that is, God maintains watchful control on His Creation), takes issue with the Dispensationalist views of John Darby and Cyrus Scofield, both of whom believed that God, like an absent-minded inventor, continually changed His approach, in the process dumbing down the process for salvation. In reality, God has had the same plan from the beginning, creating godly seed in His image, having His inner character. From the beginning, God has set certain individuals apart, putting them through an intensive sanctifying process, purifying, cleaning, and perfecting their character until they reflect His image like a mirror. From the line of Seth, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God has called individuals who demonstrated blamelessness in their dealings, providing them grace, giving them tools to perform tasks He ordained for them, continually proving their faithfulness. Sanctification requires that we clean up our act, from our physical lives to our spiritual lives, having clean and wholesome thoughts as we wear clean garments. As we, the descendants of Seth, Noah, and Abraham, progress in the sanctifying (sanitizing and cleaning) process, we can expect antagonism and enmity from the seed of Satan, that is, the descendants of Cain, those who, under Satan, move and shake to this present evil generation), those who hate and reject God's Law and His covenants.
Martin Collins, acknowledging that because we still have human nature, selfishness dominates our prayer, in contrast to Christ, who devoted 5 petitions on His own behalf and 21 petitions on behalf of His disciples entrusted to Him by the Father to help Him bring glory to God. Jesus revealed the Father to the disciples, including the instructions to regard the Father as a loving parent. The disciples preserved this relationship in their prayers and in their relationship with one another as siblings with Christ. God has planned our way, doing the lion's share of the work, continually keeping us on track if we maintain a teachable attitude. If we observe Christ's words, there must be a demonstrable difference in our behavior and a commitment to obey His teachings in order to bear good spiritual fruit, adopting a lifestyle which the people of this world hate. Christ prays for us as He did for His original disciples because we too have been called by the Father and entrusted to Him. Christ values us because the Father values us.We glorify Christ when we obey Him, carrying His example of holiness to the world through our behavior and actions. As Christ intercedes in prayer for us, we must intercede in prayer for our brethren, realizing we are all in this together.
John Ritenbaugh, continuing his comparison of the timid, insignificant sparrow with the virtually unnoticed, timid Church, reiterates that God has complete oversight over the awesome plan of creating offspring in His image. Consequently, we should not fear Satan, his demons, or the world, but we should fear and respect the One who has complete involvement in our lives. The calling of God the Father, compelling us to conform to the image of Christ, is in fact, a calling to participate in the ministry of reconciliation, reuniting mankind with God the Father through Jesus Christ. God's called-out ones, selected and predestinated before the foundation of the world, continue to submit to His instructions, while other professing 'Christians' throw out whole portions of His Law, including the Sabbath, a major tenant in both the Old and New Covenants, created, like light, water, air, and food, as a benefit and blessing to mankind. As God called out the Jew and the Greek, He began with the least significant of all people (including us) that no flesh should glory in His sight. Whatever gifts or assignments God has given us are to be used boldly for God's glory, not our own. We are undergoing sanctification, set apart for a special purpose of being refined into His likeness, a process which takes a lifetime, honing skills of endurance and resisting sin. Currently, the scattering of the church has furnished us a measure of protection, but Satan is doubling down on his plans for persecution, and we will (with God's Spirit dwelling in us) resist his pulls as did our Elder Brother before us. The battle lines have already been drawn between the seed of Satan and the seed of Eve, with the separation of the line of Seth from the line of Cain. At least in part, God instituted marriage to reproduce, something angels cannot do (Luke 20:36). Though the sons of God have a natural fear of Satan, God has, in a sense, provided Satan to us for resistance, in order to develop godly character, becoming like Him, becoming one, as husband and
Richard Ritenbaugh, citing Charles Hughes Smith's pronouncement that the entire status quo is a fraud, emphasizes that the entire western society seems to be invested in corruption and fraud, even as society as a whole is plunging off a precipitous cliff. Gary Sturgeon insists that 90% of everything is garbage, with only 10% possibly salvageable, but Satan has a grip on the entire cosmos and has the capability of damaging everything unless God miraculously intervenes. God's called out ones have been given the priceless gift of God's Word of sincerity and truth which has the power to sanctify (set apart and make holy). We must guard it as a life preserver, never letting it out of our sight. God the Father and Jesus Christ intended to leave us in the middle of all this fraud, providing a protective hedge against the worst Satan can do, sanctifying us with His truth in order that we rise above the deceit and fraud, learning to exercise godly discernment. In this worldly environment, we appear strange, odd, and even alien to society. In the Festival of Unleavened Bread, we recognize that God had to do something extraordinary ("flexing His muscles") to free our ancestors and us from the ruler of this world, redeeming us to be His people. God literally had to pull us out of our worldly prison, a way of life leading to certain death. As a symbol, unleavened bread emphasizes that the ancient Israelites had to leave in haste, totally unprepared for the trek ahead of them, and that they were totally dependent upon God for everything. God fed them manna (something unworldly and a type of the Bread of Life) to them for 40 years to test them, whether they would walk in His Torah. Abundant life comes to those who live by every word of God, ingesting it continuously. Unleavened Bread symbolizes Christ's body, His Words of sincerity and truth, and most importantly His Spirit, our portal to an eternal relationship with God, transforming us into what God is.
Mark Schindler, recaptures the drama of the Continental Congress, occurring after the Revolutionary War, a time of runaway inflation, when colonies treated each other more as enemy countries rather than united commonwealths, when George Washington expressed despair that everything the colonies had fought for seemed to have been in vain. The despair and gloom suddenly dissipated when Benjamin Franklin urged his colleagues to actively seek dependence on Divine Providence. Following this affirmation of following Divine Providence, 28 Principles of Liberties based upon the acknowledgement of Divine Providence were drafted, making the new American experiment in governing the envy of the Western world, bringing peace and tranquility to the United States. We as God's called-out ones have the responsibility to become positive examples to the rest of the world by growing in holiness, separating ourselves from impurity, becoming a holy people. Holiness moves beyond the scope of godliness (a reverential attitude), demanding that one applies energy to living as God lives, seeking a meaningful relationship with God and conforming to His expectations. Living as God commands us to live will bring the wrath of the world on us, but what the whole world is groaning and yearning for we have the privilege of practicing right now. We must be guarding the trust of holiness God has given us, realizing that judgment is on the Israel of God right now. Treating our responsibility lightly or with contempt risks committing the unpardonable sin. Abraham Lincoln said America will never fall to an outside enemy, but will perish from within as we suffer moral rot. The same is true for God's called-out ones; the only one who can violate the trust demanded by our Covenant with God is we ourselves. We have the sobering responsibility of guarding the trust of holiness God has placed in us.
Kim Myers, focusing on Jude 3-4, which cautions us to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, warns that there are many false teachers who would attempt to turn the grace of God into lasciviousness. Most of us in this fellowship were brought in under the tutelage of Herbert W. Armstrong, instructed in the proper keeping of the Holy Days, clean and unclean meats, divorce and remarriage, and dating outside the faith. After the breakup of our previous fellowship, some of the splinter groups have experimented with sacred names, new moons, and interactive studies rather than sermons, and adopting a very casual form of dress, not even appropriate for a swap meet. The Sabbath is a holy convocation called by God; we are to respond to God's invitation with respect rather than sloppiness. We are to cease from our worldly concerns on the Sabbath and devote extra time to study, prayer, and getting to know our Heavenly Father, calling the Sabbath a delight. Compromising with little things leads to compromising with big things and could take us right out of the Way. God has given us all the tools we need. He gave us His Son, His Holy Spirit, and our calling. We need to reciprocate by keeping the faith once delivered from the Saints.
Every Christian understands what the Holy Spirit is, right? Wrong! Even long-time theologians admit in their commentaries that, in the end, the Spirit is an incomprehensible mystery to them. David Grabbe lays out some of the reasons for their confusion, showing that, if they would only believe the Bible, they could learn the truth about God's Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh, affirming that God's Word is a discerner of the innermost thoughts of the heart, assures us that God, in His supreme sovereignty, has an awareness of each and every one of us. In our natural, carnal state, we are full of pride, wearing it almost as an ornament around our neck. Sadly, humility does not come naturally; it must be put on as a garment. Sometimes we grab a counterfeit garment, displaying cringing obsequiousness rather than true humility. There is a huge chasm between pride and humility—the latter a created attribute of character. To humble ourselves is not to put ourselves down like the excessively obedient, groveling Wormtongue in the movie Lord of the Rings. Instead, we need to place our total dependence on Almighty God, deferring to His will, as is demonstrated in the behavior of the repentant tax collector, the prodigal son, Solomon's humble request for wisdom and understanding, and Isaiah's declaration of his unworthiness. Paradoxically, God stoops to us when we humble ourselves. Humility produces honor from God; if we humble ourselves, He will hear us. Because we are spiritually broke, we need Him.
The serious Christian looks on this ever-declining world—a world that reflects the rebellious, anti-God attitudes of Satan the Devil—and wonders how anyone can truly live by faith. Some may even begin to doubt that God is in control of events here on earth. John Ritenbaugh, however, contends that God's sovereignty over His creation is complete, and the course of world events are moving according to His will.
Martin Collins, reflecting on the phenomena of rogue waves (unpredictable destructive waves that reach up to 100 feet), suggests that many lives have been lost at sea because of them. Sea imagery and maritime metaphors are used throughout scripture to depict chaos, destruction, turbulence, and disorder. In contrast to the tumultuous waves, the sea of glass in front of God's throne is tranquil and serene, as well as awe-inspiring. Before we can stand before God on this sea of glass, we are required to be totally cleansed and consecrated. Solomon had a bronze sea constructed (holding 17,000 gallons of water) to symbolize the sea of glass before God's throne, used for the cleansing of the priests in the temple. The imagery of the turbulent worldly sea (from where the Beast emerges) stands in stark contrast with the imagery of the sea of glass like crystal before God's throne, depicted in Revelation 4, a throne surrounded by an emerald rainbow. God's throne will be the focal point for all future periods of judgment and installation into His family. Even when it is seen in vision, the throne room of God itself makes stalwart individuals weak as gelatin because of the awe and splendor of the surroundings.
The apostle James informs us that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:20). Continuing in his theme of the Christian and works, John Ritenbaugh exposes just how corrupt sin is, and by this we can begin to understand just how holy God is—and just how much we need to change to conform to His glorious image.
In discussing the Holy Spirit and the Trinity, John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the Holy Spirit is never venerated as a separate being (Revelation 22:1-3, John 10:30, John 17:3). Spirit (ruach-Hebrew or pneuma-Greek), something never seen, is manifested or personified in many diverse ways such as truth, adoption, anger, courage, grace, faith, (states of mind or emotion, character, or personality) etc. In every instance it is preceded by the words "spirit of." Spirit applies to an invisible force or power within man or beast or angelic being making them unique. Our hope of glory is the "indwelling of Christ" and is used interchangeably with "Spirit of God" and "Spirit of Truth." Jesus promised a spirit of power from on high made available for His disciples (as diverse spiritual gifts) to witness of Him. The Holy Spirit, as a force or power dwelling in us, enables us to keep God's law and to receive our new nature. Pneuma and ruach represent that invisible power applied in many diverse ways manifesting in us the power of God making it possible to have an intimate family relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ, perfectly unified in purpose and composition, analogous to the relationship of husband and wife—at one in a family relationship. Ruach Ha Kodesh or Pneuma Hagion (Christ in us) provides the metaphoric glue to make this cleavage possible - making our God-family relationship manifest.
The Bible reveals a definite pattern of God's displeasure with acts of presumption. John Ritenbaugh expounds several of these circumstances, showing that God's justice is always consonant with His righteousness—and that we should be grateful for His mercy, as we are all guilty of this sin.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon Dr. Hoeh's observation in 1987 that the church generally reflects the problems of society, suggests that while this may be a sad commentary, it nevertheless demonstrates, not surprisingly, that we definitely are products of a powerful addictive, and enticing Babylonian system. We are currently living in an axial period between two ages- the Babylonic system coming violently to an end- making way for God's Millennial government. Until we arrive at the Millennial Kingdom, God has promised to provide the resources to meet the challenges and temptations ' leaving us no excuse for failure. We dare not tempt God by refusing to make an effort to extract ourselves from the powerful temptations and pulls of Babylon, compromising our morality and principles for self-centered comfort, safety, and pleasure (Laodiceanism)- exalting desire for beauty over righteousness, abusing the earth, our relationships, and our own bodies. The love or desire for beauty must absolutely be coupled with love for righteousness and holiness- with our focus, passion, and ardor upon Almighty God and our relationship with Christ taking central place in our lives, displacing everything else.
John Ritenbaugh admonishes that we must continually upgrade our decorum and formality in our approach to God, striving to emulate Him in all that we do. Our culture (paralleling the second law of thermo-dynamics) has seriously degenerated in decorum and standards, pulling everyone down into casual, slovenly and disrespectful behavior. Morally and socially, we must resist the ever-present antagonism toward law, rules, and decorum, choosing instead to submit ourselves to God's standards of order enabling the whole body to be organized, training to become a holy priesthood before God. We must exercise temperance concerning food and drink, dress and demeanor. The non-negotiable rules or instructions given for the organization and administration of the tabernacle were clear, unambiguous and served to enforce strict decorum and formality. What is practiced on the outside reinforces what is on the inside.
John Ritenbaugh cautions that placing our hope in the wrong thing can jeopardize our relationship with God. We must remember that God alone is the source from whom all blessings flow, and that we need to reciprocate those gifts back to God,fearing and standing in awe of Him, honoring Him, and conforming to His standards. We must always look for the spirit and intent of what God commands rather than look for a specific "thus saith the Lord" clause. The liberal mindset looks for loopholes or strategies for circumventing God's commands, but the Godly mindset fears transgressing the intent and spirit of the law. Formality and decorum (in terms of dress and behavior) are part of godly standards and sanctity.
Richard Ritenbaugh suggests that both the time element and the significance of the Great White Throne has been lost on most of the Catholic and Protestant world because they refuse to keep God's Holy Days. Far from being the dreadful Dies Irae, not only does judgment proceed from the throne of God, but also salvation and eternal life. There is a good, perfect balance of His severity and goodness, something a perfect judge should have. Because of His perfect holiness and righteousness, every individual will receive a "fair shake."
Many of us believe and attend church services without really answering this most fundamental of questions. John Ritenbaugh gives three reasons for worshipping our great and almighty God.
John Ritenbaugh, using illustrations from the God's creation, observes that comparing the grandeur and intricacy of God's creation with man's most magnificent accomplishments gives us both a sense of humility at our own puniness and a sense of awe for God's handiwork. God is the source of all of the splendor and greatness of the universe. God has called us to be in His image, to be holy (having transcendent purity) as He is holy, having fellowship with the Father and the Son. Transcendent purity cannot coexist with sin. If we want to be like God, we need to (using God's Holy Spirit) work on purifying ourselves, purging out sin and uncleanness, reflecting our relationship with God in every aspect our behavior. Sanctification is a process, with each person's walk as difficult as it needs to be for God's transforming glorifying purpose for him or her to be fulfilled.
John Ritenbaugh contends that in this time of scattering, our faith in God has been put on trial. Our highest good is to know God (far beyond mere theoretical knowledge) and to live a life that reflects His righteousness, love, and justice. The better we know Him (experientially know), the better off we are. If we don't know God, we can't trust Him. A confused person, having no conviction or faith, cannot worship God.As bearers of His name, we must aspire to Holiness (transcendent and powerful purity). Only God is truly holy. God can put us into a state of holiness by sanctifying us (setting apart for a special purpose) to His use. By using God's Holy Spirit to yield to Him, humbly obeying Him, forming a relationship with Him, we become perfected in Holiness. Perfecting Holiness is the process by which we are transformed from the glory of man to the glory of God.
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?
John Ritenbaugh teaches that we must have established some relationship with God before we can rightly fear Him. Fear, faith hope and love serve as the four cornerstones upon which the whole superstructure of Christianity rests. A holy fear of the Lord is the key to unlocking the treasuries of salvation, wisdom and knowledge. Paradoxically the fear of God, because it unlocks knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual growth, should draw us toward God. Conversely, if we do not respect God, reciprocally God will not respect us. In order to reverence God, we must know Him. Christianity is experiential; we must live it to understand it. Our concept of God (and our fear of God) needs to come from observing His creation and absorbing His revealed word rather than the precepts of men.
What does God see in Israel that so affronts Him that He has to swear "by His holiness"? Israel had every opportunity that the Gentiles did not have: His calling, His promises, His Word, His laws. He gave the Israelites these gifts to help them develop into His sons and daughters, but God sees them as diametrically opposite of Himself. Should not God expect to see some of His characteristics in His sons?
John Ritenbaugh reiterates the dominant themes, including (1) Preparing to receive our inheritance (2) Learning to fear God (3) God's grace and (4) God's faithfulness. We will not be prepared to execute judgment in the Millennium unless we are experientially persuaded of God's faithfulness to His Covenant and of His intolerance of evil. God not only wants us separated from the rest of society, but He demands that we develop within us the same kind of transcendent moral purity with which He is composed, not budging one inch when it comes to sin. Because God has redeemed us, we are His property. As we sacrifice ourselves to Him in love, giving ourselves to Him unconditionally, doing what pleases Him with warmth and affection (as is typified by the marriage covenant- a God-plane relationship), we attain holiness.
Countering the Protestant red-herring argument, "You cannot earn salvation by works," John Ritenbaugh stresses that works certainly are not "done away" but that God expects works from all those He has called. We show our faithfulness and loyalty to God by our works or conduct - what we produce by what we have been given. The works demanded of us consist of continual striving to be faithful to our covenant relationship with God by keeping His commandments (not the traditions of men). As we strive to live by the Spirit instead of by the flesh (Romans 8:5) we will produce the kind of fruit pleasing to God. God forces a converted person to choose between two opposing forces (Romans 8:13), providing us His Spirit as a tool to overcome.
John Ritenbaugh insists that God must be considered in a class apart. Incomparable, and unapproachable in the sense that there is nobody anywhere that even comes close to being like Him (Exodus 15:11). Our responsibility as the Israel of God is to reveal to the people of Israel (primarily) the holiness of God and the direction of life God requires of them for being chosen. Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God. In contrast, low views of God will destroy those who hold them because these idolatrous thoughts are unworthy of Him. Holy things are cut apart from the rest, consecrated, sanctified, and transcendentally separate. God wants to transform us into that very image.
John Ritenbaugh reveals that taking God's name in vain is far more serious than swearing or profanity. To appropriate the name of God means to represent His attributes, character and nature. God's names are the signposts or revelators of His nature and descriptors of His activities. The glory of God was revealed through Christ by what He said and did- His entire repertoire of behavior. Our daily behavior, likewise, must imitate Christ just as Christ's behavior revealed God the Father. Behaving in a Godly manner enables us to know God and live a quality life. The third commandment has to do with the quality of our personal witness to everything the name we bear implies. Profaning or blaspheming God's name implies living in a manner inconsistent with God's name.
John Ritenbaugh warns that presumptuous sins carry far greater penalties than those committed out of weakness. No sacrifice can be made for sins done deliberately. A person who sins presumptuously deliberately sets his will to do what he knows is wrong. Nadab and Abihu, Ananias and Sapphira, and Uzzah, all totally aware of the penalties for what they were contemplating, arrogantly rebelled against God's clear and unambiguous instructions. We need to realize that it is impossible for God to act unjustly, and soberly reflect on God's mercy and grace as a prod to repent.
The church at large has downplayed the fuller dimension of the fear of God by emphasizing awe, respect, or reverence, while ignoring its other dimensions such as fright, dread, or terror. Consequently, many have inadvertently adopted a soft concept of God, disrespecting and showing contempt for God's authority and power. Mistakenly, we transfer or appropriate our fear to human beings, who cannot revoke the penalty of death hanging over us. When Moses and Isaiah recognized God's presence, they became aware of their own vileness in comparison to God's holiness and power. By legitimately fearing God, we lose our human terror, finding sanctuary in God Almighty. Godly fear is a gift given to us as a result of His calling, compelling submission to His purpose and leading to godly knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the fifth commandment provides a bridge, connecting our relationships with God and the relationships with our fellow human beings. It is the pre-eminent commandment of the second set of commandments- serving as a twin center pillar with the Sabbath commandment. The honor and deferential respect accorded to Almighty God should transfer to our physical parents and ultimately to other authority figures in society. Because the family structure provides the basic building block or template for all government, including the Government of God, if the family is undermined, society and government is likewise undermined. Because parents stand in the place of God, parents (because they are the formulators of the child's character) must live a life worthy of reverence as well as taking a timely, active, " hands —on" approach to the child's education and upbringing. God demands that parents produce Godly seed.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the people to whom Amos addresses have the mistaken assumption that because they have made the covenant with God that they complacently bask in a kind of divine favoritism—God's country, God's people, God's church. God's holy and spiritual law, describing and defining His standard of holiness, His character, nature, or essence, serves as the template into which our character needs to be formed or molded. The combination of the redeeming and the law-giving aspects of God's nature determines the plumb line against which all of us are judged. Jacob's descendents, embracing false religion (after the idolatrous, syncretistic manner of Jeroboam I) have severely placed a strain upon God's patience. As members of the Israel of God, we must assiduously measure up to God's plumb line, insisting upon positive moral purity in all our thoughts and behaviors, avoiding sin by doing good—a course that will put us totally out of sync with the rest of society—a society ripe in sin and immorality, begging for harsh correction.
John Ritenbaugh warns that the pride of Jacob (or his offspring) coupled with the incredible ability to make tremendous technological advances, blinds Israel to its devastating moral deficit. Amos begins with a description or cataloging of the sins of Israel's enemies, followed by a harsh indictment of its own sins and a roar of wrath (or justice), followed by the encirclement by its enemies and its ultimate fall. Thankfully, after punishing His people, God will redeem them and faithfully fulfill His covenant with them. God, in His sovereignty, will do what He must to bring Abraham's seed to repentance and salvation, including allowing crisis, hardship, humiliation, and calamity. As the Israel of God, we dare not complacently take our special covenant-relationship for granted, realizing that His plumbline (a combination of grace and law) will measure us, testing our spirituality while showing absolutely no favoritism or partiality. We need to see ourselves from God's perspective.
John Ritenbaugh, expanding on God's swearing by His Holiness, adds that when God looks upon people who call themselves by His name, He expects to see certain family characteristics- exemplified by holiness, purity, and morality. Amos indicated that God could not identify these characteristics in people appropriating His name. God's called out ones are obligated to avoid defilement from any source whatsoever, taking special care not to mix God's truth with worldly tradition and rank paganism, forming a syncretistic religion. Amos, using the unflattering image of cows of Bashan, censures the women of Israel (normally the safeguard for the family morality) for abandoning morality, living exclusively for pleasure, materialism, and self-centeredness (often at the expense of the poor and needy), while practicing devoutly a form of syncretistic religion. God, through His prophets, warns that God (with a motive of love) will chasten His people with increasing severity until they repent and begin to reflect His characteristics.
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the "favorite-son status" of Israel was conditional, based upon accepting the terms of their covenant with God. Unfortunately, both ancient and modern Israel have placed their trust in wealth or material things rather than God. God's anger has been aroused as a result of Israel's physical and spiritual defilement—refusing to become sanctified, separate from the ways of the world. God's holiness sets Him apart from everything else, and like Him, His people must become totally different from the world. Instead, our defilement, stemming from our desire to please the self at the expense of others, separates us from Him! The root of sin or immorality lies in man's desire to live his life in self-centered independence from God. We must enlist God's Spirit to kill our self-centered ego, yielding to God's transforming power.
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