Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
The Book of Acts
Lesson 11. Arrest in Jerusalem
One can easily imagine how it must have felt for Paul to be among his own brethren when they repeatedly refused to understand the good news he was trying to give to them. What a frustrating situation! No matter how he changed the way he approached his presentation of the truth, it slammed up against the brick wall of preconceived opinions (Acts 13:42-45; 14:2; 19; 15:1, 2; 17:5, 6; 32; etc.). Then along comes a trusted confidant who advised him to "just compromise a little, no one will think it matters in the long view." How often are we tempted to compromise truth for the sake of convenience or political correctness? We see it taking place all around us in the church today.
Because of pride and the stubbornness of preconceived opinions, compromise and its resulting confusion have plagued God's church from the beginning, and will continue until finally a faithful few will wake up, wipe the fog from their spiritual glasses and repent of their Laodicea blindness.
"Because of a failure to appreciate the 1888 message, far back in the 1890s there was a tendency to confuse Quaker author Hannah Whitall Smith's The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life with true righteousness by faith, (cf. General Conference Bulletin, 1893, pp. 358, 359). ... Through the decades there have been prominent examples of this confusion over Roman Catholic concepts of piety and the 'interior life.'" 
Most of us have heard the adage: "a drop of arsenic will poison the whole cup of tea." Several events in our history have contributed their drops of arsenic to our collective thinking. The "drop of arsenic" that the Jewish Christians were attempting to add was that circumcision, or any "works of the law" had merit.
"It is a grave mistake on the part of those who are children of God to seek to bridge the gulf that separates the children of light from the children of darkness by yielding principle, by compromising the truth." 
Even though the early church, under the power of the Holy Spirit's work on their hearts, in its first "general conference" session in Jerusalem, had come to a consensus on the issue of the "how" of salvation—through faith alone (see Acts 15:20-29), it remained a major point of dissension between the Jewish and Gentile believers. The Jewish followers of Jesus had been admonished to not put the burden of circumcision (or any "works") upon the Gentile converts.
Ancient Egyptians, Ethiopians, Syrians, and Phoenicians all practiced circumcision. Why did God command Abraham to circumcise the males in his household? The purpose of God was not to mimic the pagans, but to put a spiritual purpose on a common practice. God's intent was to forever remind Abraham and his descendants that the works of the flesh can not fulfill the promise of God, and in fact, will produce only more unrighteousness. Abraham listened to Sarah and thought he could produce the "child of promise" through a slave woman. Just as his descendants did at Sinai when they thought that through their own efforts they could do "all the Lord commanded," Abraham rashly took the whole responsibility upon himself to produce the child of promise. That one miscalculation resulted in a disaster that we are still experiencing to this day.
From the entrance of sin into this world, for the most part, mankind has depended upon "self" to create a shield from sin's results. Adam's nakedness was covered with the work of his own hands in fashioning a fig-leaf garment. Cain thought that the works of his hands in tilling the soil should have been sufficient as a sin offering. Abraham thought that he was man enough to produce the promised child without exercising faith in God's creative power—just give him a fertile woman and he could accomplish the fact.
"Whoever trusts in himself is worshiping the works of his own hands instead of God, just as truly as does anyone who makes and bows down to a graven image."  But "to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt" (Rom. 4:4). "If we worked for righteousness, we would be exercising only our own sinful human nature, and so would get no nearer to righteousness, but farther from it." "So, then, we see that relying on the works of the law does not mean that one is doing the law." 
By the time Christ came to our world, the Jews had lost sight of the true meaning of circumcision. It had become nothing more than a religious tradition, a rite signifying entrance into the tribe of Israel. They supposed that it set them apart as God's "chosen people." They assumed that circumcision and the "works of the law" made them a special people in the eyes of God. But "God gave circumcision as a sign of faith in Christ. The Jews perverted it into a substitute for faith." 
The apostle Paul's referral to circumcision in his letter to the Galatians and elsewhere, was used "as the symbol of all kinds of 'work' done by men with the hope of obtaining righteousness. It is 'the works of the flesh,' as opposed to the Spirit." "That which was to be only the sign of an already existing fact was taken by subsequent generations as the means of establishing the fact." 
The argument in the early church, as it still is for many today, is the "how" of salvation. "The question is how to obtain righteousness—salvation from sin—-and the inheritance that comes with it. The fact is that it can be obtained only by faith—by receiving Christ into the heart and allowing Him to live His life in us." 
Genesis 15:6 tells us that Abraham "believed in the LORD; and He counted it [Abraham's faith in God's promise] unto him for righteousness." It was only when Sarah also surrendered herself and came to live by faith in the promise of God, that she was able to conceive—when she finally believed that God was faithful to fulfill His own promise to them. "By faith even Sarah herself, when she was unable to have children, received power to conceive offspring, even though she was past the age, since she considered that the One who had promised was faithful. Therefore from one man--in fact, from one as good as dead--came offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as innumerable as the grains of sand by the seashore" (Heb. 11:11, 12, Holman Christian Standard Bible).
God gave Abraham circumcision as a sign of the fact that "we have nothing and are nothing, and He has everything and is everything and gives everything."  Circumcision "had a special meaning to Abraham, continually reminding him of his failure when he tried by means of the flesh to fulfill God's promise. The record of it serves the same purpose for us. It shows that the 'flesh profiteth nothing' and is not therefore to be depended on." 
It should be forever settled that mankind's attempts to produce righteousness through any amount of "works of the law" can only result in a self-centered sense of achievement assumed to merit reward. Such has been the idea of paganism from the building of the tower of Babel. However, the biblical truth is vastly different. "If you would gather together everything that is good and holy and noble and lovely in man and then present the subject to the angels of God as acting a part in the salvation of the human soul or in merit, the proposition would be rejected as treason." 
Many today argue that "faith is my work"—it is human effort put forth in believing the promise of God to save us from sin. Is this true? "There is danger in regarding justification by faith as placing merit on faith. When you take the righteousness of Christ as a free gift you are justified freely through the redemption of Christ. What is faith? ... It is an assent of the understanding to God's words which binds the heart in willing consecration and service to God, Who gave the understanding, Who moved on the heart, Who first drew the mind to view Christ on the cross of Calvary. Faith is rendering to God the intellectual powers, abandonment of the mind and will to God, and making Christ the only door to enter into the kingdom of heaven." 
Please understand what this says: It is God who gives understanding; it is God who moves the heart and draws the mind to the grasp the reality of what took place on Calvary's cross. Like Abraham, all we can do is surrender our will and say, "Amen"—we believe and agree with God that salvation is all of Him and none of us.
 Robert J. Wieland, The Knocking At The Door, p. 73 (1983).
 Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, July 24, 1894.
 Ellet J. Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, p. 94; CFI ed. (2018).*
 Ibid., p. 56, emphasis in original.
 Ibid., p. 110, emphases in original.
 Ibid., p. 109.
 Ibid., p. 71.
 Ibid., p. 109.
 Ellen G. White, Faith and Works, p. 24.
 Ibid., p. 25.
* The Glad Tidings, a verse-by-verse study of Galatians, presents a beautiful demonstration of the power inherent in a pure Scripture message of righteousness by faith. To order your copy, please go to: http://www.cfibookdivision.
Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at: https://youtu.be/
"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at: http://1888message.org/sst.htm