Friday, July 21, 2017

Sabbath School Lesson # 4 |"Justification by Faith Alone"

Lesson 4. Justification by Faith Alone


Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

The Gospel in Galatians
Lesson 4. Justification by Faith Alone

 

Five hundred years ago, in 1517, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther shook the European theological world by making the claim that righteousness was by faith alone. After intense study of the Books of Galatians and Romans, he claimed that righteousness was not dispensed through the church or administered by priests or popes but was the productof faith. This fall, Christian organizations around the world are commemorating Luther's theological upheaval, including Roman Catholicism.

Luther's view on faith as the means of salvation has become the uniting theme between Protestantism and Catholicism as evidenced in a 1994 ecumenical document, known as "Evangelicals and Catholics Together," signed by leading Evangelical and Roman Catholic scholars in the United States. The Roman Catholic Church began its celebration of the Reformation a year ago when Pope Frances traveled to Sweden, where he joined leaders of the Lutheran World Federation in Lund for an ecumenical prayer service on October 31 and November 1, 2016.

When Luther made his stupendous claim that salvation was by "faith alone" it sparked not only the Protestant Reformation, but also the Roman Catholic Counter-reformation and the eighteen-year-long Council of Trent. At that time, how a person received justification and became righteous was the fundamental theological dividing line. Rome condemned "sola fide" and proclaimed anathema upon all who accepted it as truth. That ban has never officially been lifted by Rome. The theological trend since 1994 in reaching hands across the gulf to unite with Rome on this one point is in reality overturning the Protestant Reformation, just as Rome planned from the beginning.

The vital point that Martin Luther missed in his declaration of "sola fide" is that humans make no contribution to the salvation process. Our "faith" and our "works of faith" have no merit and produce no righteousness. If I am saved through my faith in Jesus, then all the focus is on me and my ability to maintain that "faith" long enough to get into heaven. Focusing on me and what I can to do through "obedience to the law" to help Jesus get me through the Pearly Gates is a subtle denial of the plain Biblical teaching that in me is no good thing (see Rom. 7:18).

Ellet J. Waggoner saw this clearly: "The Pharisees are not extinct; there are many in these days who expect to gain righteousness by their own deeds. They trust in themselves that they are righteous." However, the "convicted sinner tries again and again to obtain righteousness from the law, but it resists all his advances. It cannot be bribed by any amount of penance or professedly good deeds." It is absolutely true that "deeds done by a sinful person have no effect whatever to make him righteous, but, on the contrary, coming from an evil heart, they are evil, and so add to the sum of his sinfulness." [1]

"Since the gospel is contrary to human nature, we become doers of the law not by doing but by believing. 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. But by believing the 'exceeding great and precious promises,' we become 'partakers of the divine nature' (2 Peter 1:4), and then all our works are wrought in God." [2]

Neither Luther, nor Calvin, nor Arminius ever caught so much as a glimpse of the concept of true legal justification. For all these reformers, great as their work was in beginning to restore truth from the Bible and to remove the paganism that had crept into the church during the millennium prior to the Reformation, they never comprehended the full depth of Christ's sacrifice or the true meaning of faith. The Reformer and thus the Evangelical view of salvation is egocentric because it begins with man's need for eternal security.

Therefore, in the Evangelical view justification is the reward of a person's faith. It teaches that faith is "trust" in the sense of grasping for an assurance of personal security from an angry God who must be appeased through repentance and penance before He will bestow grace and salvation. This explanation of justification as a judicial act of accounting in the record books of heaven, wherein the unrighteous man, still unrighteous, is declared righteous while he continues indulging in sinful motivation, denies the message of Daniel 8:14 and Revelation 14:12, and is responsible for the long delay of Christ's second coming.

Such a view of God is a gross distortion of His holy character of agape--His self-sacrificing, other-centered love that motivated the Godhead to declare the everlasting covenant that would send the Son to save the world from sin. That "sending" was from the foundation of the world; Christ is "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). "As soon as there was sin, there was a Saviour. Christ knew what He would have to suffer, yet He became man's substitute. As soon as Adam sinned, the Son of God presented Himself as surety for the human race, with just as much power to avert the doom pronounced upon the guilty as when He died upon the cross of Calvary." [3] This is justification as God intends it to be preached, and a true heart-appreciation of this fact will break the hard-hearted sinner's resistance to God's wooing. "Faith does not make facts. It only lays hold of them." [4]

Salvation by faith alone is an absolute Biblical truth, but concessions to relativism and postmodernism's humanistic (man-centered) view are undermining what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians about the vital truth of justification and righteousness by faith. Our memory text this week inadvertently points out this shift in thinking. Quoting the English Standard Version, it says: "And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." If you are familiar with the King James Version you might have noticed the change of a single word. It's a subtle change, and many persons feel that it is an insignificant difference.

In the King James Bible the text reads: "and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." The change of one little two-letter word makes a profound difference in meaning. The author of our Quarterly illuminated the difference in his book, Galatians, A Fiery Response to a Struggling Church.

"For Paul faith is not just an abstract concept--it is inseparably connected to Jesus. In fact, the Greek phrase translated twice as 'faith in Jesus Christ' in Galatians 2:16 is far richer than any rendering can really encompass (see Rom. 3:22, 26; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 3:12; Phil 3:9). In the Greek the phrase literally means 'the faith of Jesus' or 'the faithfulness of Jesus.' It reveals the powerful contrast the apostle makes between the works of the law [i.e., legalism] and the work Christ accomplished on our behalf. For Paul, the primary emphasis is not our faith in Jesus, but Jesus' faithfulness. Thus the issue is not our works versus our faith--that would almost make our faith meritorious, which it is not. Rather, faith is only the conduit by which we take hold of Christ. We are justified, not on the basis of our faith, but on the basis of Christ's faithfulness." [5]

Christ was faithful to the everlasting covenant made between the members of the Godhead before sin entered this world. From that covenant made in heaven, through His life of suffering in fallen human flesh, and finally His endurance of the anguish of Gethsemane and the shame of the cross, Christ never once faltered in His faithfulness to the everlasting covenant promise to save mankind from sin. He was faithful to His word. And it is the evidence of His faithfulness revealed in the Scriptures that we cling to when we believe that He is able to "keep [us] from falling, and present [us] faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy" (Jude 24).

It is this faith that every human being has been given (Rom. 12:3). It is this faith that once allowed to work in us, will produce the necessary righteousness that will fit us for heaven. "The proud heart strives to earn salvation; but both our title to heaven and our fitness for it are found in the righteousness of Christ. The Lord can do nothing toward the recovery of man until, convinced of his own weakness, and stripped of all self-sufficiency, he yields himself to the control of God. Then he can receive the gift that God is waiting to bestow. From the soul that feels his need, nothing is withheld." [6]

You might argue that this is a tiny point, a subtle difference; nothing to really worry about. It is after all, only a two-letter word! How can it have any significant importance to my salvation?

It is a subtle distinction that caused the Reformation to falter and stall for 500 years. We don't need to go back to Reformation theology, we need to return to what the Lord sent us in 1888. The message brought to us through A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner is a distinct message that uplifted the Saviour as the sin-pardoning Redeemer who is the sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. "This is the message that God commanded to be given to world," not warmed-over Evangelicalism that focuses on human effort, where "faith" is a grasping for reward that rejects the truth that forgiveness and the blotting out of sin is the whole point of the Gospel. The message of Christ and His righteousness proclaimed by Waggoner and Jones "is the third angel's message in verity, which is to be proclaimed with a loud voice, and attended with the outpouring of His Spirit in a large measure." [7]

The message of the cross "lays the glory of man in the dust" and is offensive to the proud heart. The apostle Paul gladly submitted to the "offence" saying, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I but Christ liveth in me: and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:21). "The cross conveys to us the knowledge of God because it shows us His power as Creator. Through the cross we are crucified to the world and the world to us. By the cross we are sanctified. Sanctification is the work of God, not of man. Only His divine power can accomplish the great work." [8]

--Ann Walper

Endnotes:
[1] Ellet J. Waggoner, Christ and His Righteousness, pp. 66, 70, 63 (Glad Tidings ed., 1999).
[2] Ellet J. Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, p. 56 (CFI ed., 2016).
[3] Ellen G. White, "Lessons From the Christ-Life," Review and Herald, March 12, 1901.
[4] The Glad Tidings, p. 107.
[5] Carl P. Cosaert, Galatians: A Fiery Response to a Struggling Church, p. 42 (emphasis in original), Review and Herald Publishing Association (2011).
[6] Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 300.
[7] See Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, pp. 91, 92.
[8] The Glad Tidings, p. 141.

Notes:
Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at: https://youtu.be/HKjh2GIgum4

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at: 1888message.org/sst.htm


 RR
Raul Diaz

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Friday, July 14, 2017

Lesson 3. The Unity of the Gospel

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

The Gospel in Galatians
Lesson 3. The Unity of the Gospel



Unity--how people in a church can truly believe the same thing--is
important, because Jesus said that the only way the world can be
brought to believe in Him is when His followers "all may be one; ...
that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me" (John 17:21).
Something He calls "Thy truth" is the only thing that will unite them
(vs. 17).

Paul calls it "the truth of the gospel" (Gal. 2:5, 14). The success or
failure of Christ's mission for the world therefore depends on that
"truth" bringing His people who profess to "keep the commandments of
God and the faith of Jesus" into one (Rev. 14:12). Is that "truth of
the gospel" so simple and clear that it appeals to honest hearts with
a similarly powerful logic?

Take the problem of Genesis 1: Christ and His apostles accepted that
"the truth of the gospel" required sincere, honest hearts to believe
that God created the earth in six literal days. People who insist they
are equally sincere understand the idea of six literal days to be
ancient mythology; science makes such belief naive, they say.

Take the problem of Jesus Himself: when He became incarnate, did He
"take" the sinless nature of the unfallen Adam, thus breaking the
genetic line of His descent from the real Adam? Or did He accept the
working of the great law of heredity and enter the stream of humanity
by taking our fallen, sinful nature yet living a sinless life? Here
again is disunity; the assumption is that unity is an impossibility.
Or is it?

Paul's plea for the church members in Corinth to "speak [teach] the
same thing, and that there be no divisions among you," that they "be
perfectly joined together in the same mind" is not idle talk (see 1
Cor. 1:10). This is God's ideal for His church, and a little known
prediction in an out-of-date book entitled Historical Sketches states
categorically that such blessed heart- and mind-unity will be realized
in the church before Jesus returns: "They will see eye to eye in all
matters of religious belief. They will speak [teach] the same things."
[1]

Why does disunion seem to flourish? And how can the church lighten the
earth with glory if it is in a divided state? And what can bring the
true unity that Christ prayed for?

There is a solution! If God is real and if His Bible is true, it
follows that God will bring His people into unity.

What today seems impossible, the Holy Spirit will accomplish. He
brought the disunited eleven apostles into unity before the Day of
Pentecost. They were "all with one accord in one place" (Acts 2:1).
That was "the former rain," and the "latter rain" is promised to be
even greater. But God cannot use force to accomplish it.

Ephesians gives us the solution, the key to finding true harmony: for
those "tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of
doctrine" is the message of agape (Eph. 4:14, 15). Such a message
tells what Christ accomplished, the pure biblical truth of
justification by faith. Agape is a different kind of love that listens
to each other carefully so as not to misrepresent each other,
"endeavoring to keep the unity of the [Holy] Spirit in the bond of
peace" (vs. 3). No more misquoting each other so as to win an
argument.

The subject of 1888 holds for Seventh-day Adventists (and even some
non-Adventists!) the charm of an unsolved mystery. Until the full
truth is known as to the history and content of the message, the world
church can never be diverted from an earnest desire to know the facts.

The truth is so simple that even a child can grasp it: The Lord sent
the "beginning" of the latter rain in the 1888 message; it would have
led to the finishing of the work in that generation had it been
accepted; and the same enmity against God that led the Jews to reject
their Messiah led our brethren of a past generation to reject the
gracious light that God sent. This simple A-B-C truth will evoke a
response from Seventh-day Adventists the world around, and pave the
way for unity to prevail as the church prepares for her final
conflict. Dissension and strife melt away in the light of the 1888
gospel message.

Implicit in the 1888 message itself is the concept of loyalty to the
principles of church organization. This is because the message calls
for repentance and expresses firm confidence that the call will
eventually be heeded. Never does the message call for rebellion, or
for establishing a new organization or offshoot.

If we do not resist the Holy Spirit, He will bring us into a blessed
unity of heart and mind. As E. J. Waggoner wrote:

"Remember that there was no difference of opinion among the apostles
nor in the church as to what the gospel is. There were 'false
brethren,' it is true; but inasmuch as they were false, they were no
part of the church, the body of Christ, which is the truth. Many
professed Christians, sincere persons, suppose that it is almost a
matter of necessity that there be differences in the church. 'All
cannot see alike,' is the common statement. So they misread Ephesians
4:13 (KJV), making it seem that God has given us gifts 'till we all
come into the unity of the faith.' What the Word teaches is that 'in
the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God,' we
all come 'unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the
fullness of Christ.' There is only 'one-faith' (vs. 5), the faith of
Jesus, as there is only one Lord." [2]

Christ has promised solemnly that if He is lifted up on His cross,
that is, if His agape is clearly proclaimed, He "will draw all peoples
to [Himself]," and that of course is perfect unity (John 12:32). If
the leadership of a church that is being fragmented receives the
precious message of Christ's righteousness, the miracle of unity is as
certain as day follows night.

Some day, somewhere, someone will understand the "everlasting gospel"
of Jesus Christ so clearly that "another angel" will come down from
heaven "having great power" and will "lighten the earth" with the
glory of that full-orbed truth. Multitudes who now sit in darkness
will see a great light and will come to it (Rev. 18:1-4; Matt. 4:16).

And it won't be only "some one" who understands; there will be many
who are in heartfelt union, around the world, of "every nation, and
kindred, and tongue, and people" (Rev. 14:6). No more theological
squabbles!

Those who will understand the gospel and be in union will receive "the
seal ... of our God in their foreheads" (Rev. 7:1-4). They will
graduate out of old covenant living into the bright sunlight of the
new. The old covenant will no longer produce "bondage" in them, but
they will "stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us
free" (Gal. 5:1). They will overcome where ancient Israel stumbled and
fell. Instead of "crucifying Christ afresh and bringing Him to an open
shame" (Heb. 6:6), they will surrender self to be "crucified with Him"
(Gal. 2:20).

But must this glorious triumph of the gospel await a future
generation? Are there some out there who long to see the victory come
now?

--From the writings of Robert J. Wieland

Endnotes:
[1] Historical Sketches of the Foreign Missions of the Seventh-day
Adventists: Practical addresses delivered by Mrs. E. G. White to the
Swiss Conference and the European Missionary Council held at Basle in
September 1885; "Unity Among Laborers," p. 124.
[2] Ellet J. Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, a verse-by-verse study of
Galatians, p. 37, CFI ed. (2016).

Notes:
Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at:
https://youtu.be/w5M9CXdw30c

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at: 1888message.org/sst.htm



--



Raul Diaz
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Friday, July 7, 2017

Sabbath School Lesson # 2 |"Paul's Authority and Gospel"

Lesson 2. Paul's Authority and Gospel


Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

The Gospel in Galatians
Lesson 2. Paul's Authority and Gospel

 

The first five verses of Galatians contain the whole gospel. Paul never wastes a chance to remind people of the basics of the gospel. Wrapped into his greeting he mentions that the Lord Jesus Christ gave Himself for our sins to deliver us from the evil in the world, and the Father raised Him from the dead.

There it is, the gospel in a nutshell. Paul is emphatic that people understand the true gospel because there had been attacks against his preaching. From a human standpoint, Paul had much going against him. To the Pharisees, he was a traitor. He had been one of their most promising students, having an intellect and zeal that made him stand out. He had helped in the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Now he renounced all that and was preaching the gospel they hated, and exposing their treachery and complicity in the crucifixion of Christ. He had definitely earned the hatred of the Pharisees, so it was no surprise they were willing to use every trick to undermine him. The leadership in Jerusalem must have been behind the people that followed him trying to undermine his preaching.

The attacks came on various fronts. It was easy to attack his authority as an apostle, since that title was reserved for those who had actually walked with Jesus when He was physically on earth. Paul countered this by saying he was personally tutored by Jesus while in Arabia (Gal. 1:17). It is likely this story was scoffed at by those who didn't want to believe. Were there any witnesses to this or was it just something Paul concocted to gain people's confidence? Even today, people are skeptical when evangelists claim to have direct revelations from God.

In addition, it was easy to raise doubt in the minds of Jewish people by accusing Paul of preaching against the law when he taught that righteousness did not come from law keeping, but by faith alone in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. People who rely on their good works for assurance of salvation react with satanic hatred and anger when anyone teaches grace. This is where the Galatians were deceived. People that Paul called "false brethren" (Gal. 2:4) accused Paul of preaching an incomplete gospel. Yes, the grace Christ accomplished was good but it wasn't enough, circumcision was also necessary. Although the issues we face today are different from circumcision, any human effort done to attempt to please God is not genuine faith, but rather a fear of punishment or hope of reward. Many who teach the concepts of faith alone, especially as embodied by the message given to our church in 1888 face the same hatred and anger because it places human glory where it belongs, in the dust.

The same things that had made Paul such a favorite to the Pharisees, caused consternation and suspicion among the newly established churches he was trying to plant and nourish. Even with a direct order from God to take Paul in, Ananias questioned this telling God, "Lord, I have heard from many about his man, how much harm he did to Thy saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon Thy name" (Acts 9:13, 14). This concern and suspicion must have been a factor for Paul to overcome at every town that knew of his reputation.

He was apparently also criticized for his intellect. Even today, there are many who object to having to make even the smallest effort to understand some of the deeper aspects of the gospel. They claim, "if it isn't simple, it isn't the gospel." There must have been those people who complained that Paul was too hard to understand, but Peter called them "untaught and unstable" (2 Peter 3:16). We are told that the plan of salvation is so deep we will study it for eternity. If the gospel is simple it couldn't hold our interest and concentration to study it indefinitely.

From a human standpoint, it does seem reasonable to wonder if God knew what He was doing when He chose someone with so much "baggage" that predictably would compromise his ministry. It's no different today. There are many who are afraid to study the message of righteousness by faith, citing their belief that A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner later "lost their way." Two contemporary authors have written, "We are faced here with a unique problem":

"The especially difficult question is why should God choose as special messengers those who would later become unsound in the faith? Why should He permit the bearers of His sharply contested message to go astray when their apostasy would only confirm the opposition to that message? ... God's footsteps may be mysterious, but that is no reason why we should carelessly misunderstand this strange providence.

"To suppose that the Lord made a strategic mistake in choosing Jones and Waggoner is unthinkable, for He never errs in counsel. ...

"Inspired evidence suggests an answer to our questions, and indicates that:

"(1) Jones and Waggoner were not 'carried away' by any 'extreme views' regarding the righteousness of Christ, but they were driven away by persistent and unreasoning opposition of the brethren whom God sent them to enlighten.

"(2) Ellen White recognized the seriousness of the opposition to them personally and to their message, and fixed the ultimate blame for their later failure 'to a great degree' upon the opposing brethren.

"(3) The Lord permitted the sad event to take place as a test to the opposing brethren; and the failures of the 1888messengers have had the effect of confirming 'us' in a state of virtual unbelief. ... It seems that the Lord is such a Gentleman that He apparently goes out of His way to provide hooks for us to hang our doubts on if we want them. He does not want any of us to receive the latter rain unless we are fully heart-committed to Him and to His truth. ...

"(4) The practical results of the investigative judgment will require that the remnant church, before the time of final victory, come to see the truth of the message and its history and recognize Jones' and Waggoner's work from 1888-96 for its true value, the 'beginning' of the latter rain and the loud cry." [1]

Ellen White admonished "Let no soul complain of the servants of God who have come to them with a heaven-sent message. ... He sees the temperament of the men He has chosen. He knows that none but earnest, firm, determined, strong-feeling men will view this work in its vital importance, and will put such firmness and decision into their testimonies that they will make a break against the barriers of Satan." [2]

"It must be said to their credit that Jones and Waggoner did not renounce faith in the God of Israel. They never became infidels or agnostics or atheists. They never gave up the Sabbath or their lifelong devotion to Christ. In today's climate of church fellowship they would still be members in good and regular standing. Their sin was that they lost faith in the corporate body of the church and its leadership. They were not confident of denominational repentance. They came to doubt human nature; hence Jones' bitterness and the failings of their own human nature. The enemy will press us sorely to repeat their failure. But we need not give in!" [3]

--Arlene Hill

Endnotes:
[1] Robert J. Wieland and Donald K. Short, 1888 Re-examined: 1888-1988--The Story of a Century of Confrontation Between God and His People, pp. 116-117 (1987).
[2] Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, pp. 410, 413.
[3] 1888 Re-examined, p. 119.

Notes:
Bible texts are from the New American Standard Bible.

Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at: https://youtu.be/jUY3iuUcV20

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at: 1888message.org/sst.htm

 RR
Raul Diaz

Friday, June 30, 2017

Lesson 1. Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

The Gospel in Galatians
Lesson 1. Paul: Apostle to the Gentiles

 

Have you learned to love the Book of Galatians? Or is it dull, boring, confusing, to you? It has been the spark that has ignited glorious reformations in people's lives since the time of Martin Luther. So you should learn to make friends with it, to love it, to let your heart revel in its powerful good news.

How does a lukewarm, sensual, half-worldly, half-cold, half-hot person get to be "on fire" like Paul? The answer is Galatians. People wonder why Galatians could have such gospel dynamite in it that it one time turned Europe upside down.

It is quite evident that the Third Angel's Message hasn't turned the world upside down. Yet, our quarterly maintains that we have accepted the 1888message. The statement of the "acceptance theory" of the 1888 message of righteousness by faith is made in the quarterly with these words: "Through the study of Galatians, E. J. Waggoner and A. T. Jones helped the Adventist Church rediscover the truth of righteousness by faith in the 1880s and 1890s" (The Gospel in Galatians, p. 2 [2017]).

The word "rediscover" is the operative word. This cannot be maintained in view of what Ellen White wrote: "An unwillingness to yield up preconceived opinions, ... [occurred] at Minneapolis against the Lord's message through Brethren [E. J.] Waggoner and [A. T.] Jones. By exciting that opposition Satan succeeded in shutting away from our people, in a great measure, the special power of the Holy Spirit that God longed to impart to them. ... The light that is to lighten the whole earth with its glory was resisted, and by the action of our own brethren has been in a great degree kept away from the world." [1]

The church has yet to identify justification by faith with the at-one-ment with God sanctuary truth. To date justification is viewed, as do other denominations, with a mere legal transaction that doesn't affect the heart alienation with God. The church would be turned upside down if it captured the "big ideas" in Galatians that explode in people's hearts like sticks of spiritual dynamite. We must study and learn the message of Galatians--what Christ accomplished for us by His sacrifice on the cross, the good news of the atonement, which is the new covenant.

The one who wrote Galatians was the former Saul, a murderous "thug," the end product of Israel's old covenant unbelief. How ironic, that Saul should participate in the stoning of Stephen, the prophet. This event signaled the end of the 490 years of grace extended by God to His people (Dan. 9:24). God's patient forgiving mercy terminated for the "Jewish church." Its national apostasy in the worship of "self"--manifested in its ceremonialism (Acts 7:48-50)--drove away the Spirit of God (vs. 51). This resulted in national ruin and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by the Romans. But Christ plucked a brand from the fire,--the Pharisee Saul,--before its collapse.

Saul was a microcosm of the centuries-long old covenant unbelief of the ancient Israelite church in which they promised God to do everything just right (Ex. 19:8; cf. Heb. 8:7, 8). Christ Himself had instituted all the rites and ceremonies after they made their old covenant with God at Mount Sinai. God's intent with these "shadows" of the gospel was to lead them back to "the faith" in His promise of the everlasting covenant. But the leadership and scholarship of that day did not know the meaning of these types and shadows and failed to identify their Messiah--the suffering Crucified One--when He came into their midst.

The significance of Stephen's defense speech before the "council" and "high priest" was God's last warning and appeal to the leadership of His church to repent for their idolatrous history culminating in the murder of "the Just One" (Acts 7:52). The "council" had accused Stephen of teaching lawlessness (Acts 6:13); but they were the idolaters cherishing murder in their hearts (Acts 7:53). Stephen proclaimed the law and the gospel of the cross of Christ, which pricked their hearts. They chose to reject the Spirit's gift of repentance that Stephen announced. They took up stones to kill him. The leadership's decision sealed their fate as a nation. They would no more listen to the still small voice of the Spirit. They committed the unpardonable sin by attributing the work of the Spirit through Stephen to the work of the devil (cf. Matt. 12:22-32).

The young Saul was part of the council that participated in the stoning of Stephen. The shining face of Stephen and his forgiving spirit toward his executioners made a profound impression upon Saul (Acts 7:60). [2] Jesus had prayed for them all, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34; Acts 6:15-7:60). And that was Stephen's last sermon. We have the sermon recorded. There was no self in it. No "prophet of Baal" could preach such a sermon.

Saul, too, resisted the Holy Spirit, and gave in to the "group think" of his superiors of the Sanhedrin. He concluded with them that Stephen was a blasphemer and that Christians were followers of an imposter messiah. Saul believed Stephen was a libertine and a destroyer of the law of God.

Saul now sought to gain the favor of his colleagues by following their example in the murder of Stephen. By obtaining letters of recommendation from the high court in Jerusalem he designed to go out to the synagogues and, with their support, persecute the followers of Jesus. This was Saul's purpose when journeying to Damascus.

But the Lord Jesus arrested him on the road with the blinding vision of His exalted position in heaven as a result of His crucifixion (Acts 26:13). The Lord Jesus asked him, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" (Acts 9:4; 26:14). Writes Ellen White, "Christ here identifies Himself with His people." [3] Saul was sincerely deceived by Satan. In doing the work of Satan he thought he was doing the work of God. He was actually re-crucifying the Son of God afresh in the person of His saints.

Christ said to Saul: "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" (Acts 26:14). The Lord put obstacles in his path to make the wrong way seem like kicking against the ox goads. Yes, the Lord made it "hard" for Saul to be lost by speaking to his conscience.

One of the "good news" ideas of the 1888 message is: easy to be saved, hard to be lost when God reveals His love (agape) to you. You live because One died in your place; agape now motivates you. "All along the road that leads to [eternal] death there are pains and penalties, there are sorrows and disappointments, there are warnings not to go on. God's love has made it hard for the heedless and headstrong to destroy themselves." [4]

When the enthroned Christ stopped Saul on the road the antagonist asked: "Who art thou, Lord? And He said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest" (Acts 26:15). This was Jesus' self-revelation of the ever-present cross to Saul. Regarding this event Ellen White makes an insightful comment: "In the glorious Being who stood before him he saw the Crucified One." [5]

The Holy Spirit convicted Saul's heart by means of the cross of Christ. Saul experienced a heart-melting appreciation that the Messiah is "the Crucified One." Now all the prophecies, types and shadows of the ceremonial system came alive for him as pointing to "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

Later, Saul received the laying on of hands by Ananias. Thus Saul/Paul was ordained as Christ's "chosen vessel ... to bear [His] name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel" (Acts 9:15). Above all, Paul was called to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. In his speech before Agrippa, the call to a Gentile mission constitutes the center of Paul's conversion account. Paul is sent forth as the servant and witness of Christ (Acts 26:16).

--Paul E. Penno

Endnotes:
[1] Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, pp. 234, 235 [Letter 96, 1896].
[2] See also Ellen G. White, Acts of the Apostles, pp. 115, 116.
[3] Ibid., p. 117.
[4] Ellen G. White, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 139.
[5] Acts of the Apostles, p. 115.

Notes:
Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at: https://youtu.be/dzb8hVVVqWU

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at: 1888message.org/sst.htm

 RR
Raul Diaz