Friday, November 17, 2017

Lesson 7: "Overcoming Sin"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Redemption in Romans
Lesson 7: "Overcoming Sin"

 

Are we in the midst of the historical crisis of the ages? Yes! The return of Christ is being delayed. Our Lesson on "Overcoming Sin" is very serious!

A father may have a heavy problem trying to support his family, but the little child has no understanding of it that hinders or shadows his play. The little child can sense only his own individual suffering of hunger. As it says, his "personal metabolism allows" no more. He can never "splice into" his father's anguish, or "feel a spasm of [his] pain, [or] a prick of [his] woe." A little child cannot "feel corporately" what a parent feels corporately for him.

But a woman who is grown up "unto the measure of the stature of the fulness" of a man (see Eph. 4:13) can feel corporately for him if she loves him as a bride loves a husband. Could it be that our cosmic problem is troubling to the heart of God because we are that prophetic "woman" who is still in the kindergarten state of heart and has resisted "growing up"? Can we not yet corporately share the heart-burden her Savior feels? Is our concern still fundamentally only self-centered? Do we still consider (as we have in the past) that our own individual, personal salvation is the greatest concern in the universe? Or can we begin to sense a concern for Christ Himself?

His name is still "Emmanuel, ... God with us" (Matt. 1:23). He is still one of us in humanity as well as one with the Father in His divinity. Ellen White declared in 1904 that as the consequence of the dark history of 1888-message-rejection "in a great degree," "the disappointment of Christ is beyond description" (Review and HeraldDec. 15). The Loud Cry has been long delayed.

Our lesson this week lifts our thoughts above our preoccupation with our own salvation to the possibility of sensing a concern for Jesus in the great controversy for His sake, beyond our little sake.

"Christ felt corporately at the Cross" all the combined anguish of humanity. But is it fair that we sense no corporate involvement with Him in His anguish and His sacrifice--not that in any way we assist in our personal salvation, but our minds and hearts can begin to appreciate what it cost Him to save us. We must not be content to remain forever in our kindergarten comprehension. The "most precious message ... the Lord sent to His people" in 1888 began to emphasize that heart-concern for Jesus as transcending our selfish concerns in this "great controversy."

Paul was deeply impressed that Christ expects, or at least hopes, that those for whom He died the second death will "come out" of the egocentric milieu of "Babylon" with its Old Covenant radius of self-concern, and begin to "feel a spasm of His pain, a prick of His anguish." "Know ye not," Paul says, "that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death?" That must mean some kind of personal involvement. "We are buried with Him by baptism into death. ... We have been planted together in the likeness of His death. ... Our old man is crucified with Him. ... If we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him" (Rom. 6:3-8).

"I am crucified with Christ," he tells the Galatians (2:20). It's over and over "with Him." That is corporate involvement on the part of believers. It is in the sense of heart appreciation, entering "into" His experience by something the Bible calls "faith," heart-involvement with the Son of God in His divine career as Savior of both the world and of the universe. "The government" of the universe is "on His shoulders" (Isa. 9:6; we can't "lift," but we can appreciate the weight He carries!).

A young pastor just out of the theological seminary, sincere and earnest, was interested in preaching the gospel as Good News to his congregation. He had a concern: is there a danger in preaching too much about the cross, and the grace of Christ, and His love, and not balance that by preaching also enough about the law, and obedience, and duty? He doesn't want to be pastor of a lazy congregation who take advantage of "cheap grace" and clothe their religion with a thin veneer of love and grace which covers hypocrisy.

Should we believe what the Bible says: "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Rom. 5:20); "cheap grace" is a counterfeit message, a detour around the atonement of Christ; you can't preach too much about the genuine grace that "abounds much more" than all the sin the devil can heap upon a congregation. If what Paul says is "the preaching of the cross" (1 Cor. 1:18) is clearly presented to a congregation, sin and hypocrisy cannot flourish among them because that grace conquers sin and eradicates it. The "power" is in the gospel itself, not in the law (see Rom. 1:16). And Paul says, Don't doubt, pastor! "Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law, but under grace. ... Shall we sin because we are not under the law, but under grace?" Says Paul: That's impossible! (See Rom. 6:14, 15).

Being "under grace" is different than many superficial people imagine: it means you are under a new motivation imposed upon you by a deep heart-appreciation of what it cost the Son of God to save you from hell itself. There is where you see "the breadth, and length, and depth, and height" of the love of Christ at His cross (Eph. 3:18). That motivation is far stronger than all the fear-motivation you can use to assail your congregation.

The pure, true gospel is not a perfect so-called "balance" between faith and works; it is a message of faith which works. How many "good works"? Infinitely more than legalism can ever produce! Don't be afraid to preach salvation by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8, 9).

--Paul E. Penno

Notes:
Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at: https://youtu.be/EX0V3aFNa50

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


Friday, November 10, 2017

Lesson 6: Adam and Jesus

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Salvation by Faith Alone: The Book of Romans
Lesson 6: Adam and Jesus

 

We're privileged to share with you a Bible study on Romans 5, the topic of this week's Sabbath School lesson, written by Robert J. Wieland. He titled the study: "What Jesus Christ Has AlreadyDone For Us All." We realize it's considerably longer than our regular Sabbath School Today, but we hope that it will give you a deeper understanding of Paul's "big idea" of what Christ accomplished on His cross.

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Paul's Romans chapter 5 should begin with the last verse of his chapter 4: "[Christ] was given up to death for our misdeeds, and raised to life for our justification" (4:25); this leads into his chapter 5. In his inspired thinking, Paul sees that the first person plural, possessive pronoun, "our," means everybody--the entire world, not just the church. John agrees. He says that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son ..." (John 3:16).

Ellen G. White has told us that when we preach we should preach "big ideas." [1] In Romans 5 the apostle Paul has a very "big idea" that he wants to get across to us: Jesus Christ has not only died for us all; He has done more! He has judicially, legally justified us all "in Himself." Yes, the whole world! That means more than merely saving us to be justified; it means to be re-made in our hearts and minds spiritually into the image of Jesus. It is the most cataclysmal change that can come to any human, for it means total at-one-ment with the Son of God. Justification means the mind and the soul of the sinner changed into Christlikeness.

Paul couldn't come up with a bigger idea than this: in fact, Jesus has saved the world with all Paul's "much more" idea in full function. That doesn't mean that everybody is going to inherit eternal life, but it means that they could do so if they would cease their resistance of this much more abounding grace of Christ. And just to be saved is far less than the idea means.

The Eleven weren't thinking "big" enough to grasp Paul's idea; but the Samaritans got it. When Jesus talked with the woman at Jacob's well and she went and told her townspeople to come and meet Him, they declared, "This is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world" (John 4:42King James Version). Earlier, the apostle John expressed the same idea, "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son ..."

If the Samaritans were right (and they were!), that means that the Lord Jesus Christ, by virtue of His sacrifice on His cross, has justified every man in a judicial sense when he died on His cross, which means more than just saving them to live eternally; they live eternally justified. Let us look at Romans 5.

Romans 5:1: "Therefore, now that we have been justified through faith, we are at peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."

The "we" is the world, in Paul's thinking. Many either don't know it or don't believe it, but nonetheless, it is true that Christ saved the world in a judicial sense. It means that He gave Himself for the world and thus He bought the world. This does not mean that everybody is going to be saved at last in God's eternal kingdom if they don't want to be; they could be if they would receive the gift that Christ has given them; but many will not humble their hearts to receive what Christ has given them.

Ellet J. Waggoner, one of the 1888 "messengers," was able to grasp this truth when most of his brethren could not. He said: "There is no exception here. As the condemnation came upon all, so the justification comes upon all. Christ has tasted death for every man. He has given himself for all. Nay, he has given himself to every man. The free gift has come upon all. The fact that it is a free gift is evidence that there is no exception. If it came upon only those who have some special qualification, then it would not be a free gift. It is a fact, therefore, plainly stated in the Bible, that the gift of righteousness and life in Christ has come to every man on earth. There is not the slightest reason why every man that has ever lived should not be saved unto eternal life, except that they would not have it." [2]

Romans 5:2: "[Christ] has given us access to that grace in which we now live; and we exult in the hope of the divine glory that is to be ours." Because of Christ's work of justification we are "exulting" ever since, and will exult forever. Justification is eternal joy.

Unless Jesus had made that sacrifice on His cross, there would not be one laughing, happy person on earth; there would be no smiles. Those who will be lost at last will realize that every trace of joy they ever knew was purchased for them by a corresponding, equal anguish of the Son of God in His sacrifice on His cross; they went through life never realizing that truth and thus they forfeited the eternal gift. No one could know a moment of joy unless Christ had endured an equivalent, balanced, equal moment of anguish for them.

But now we have "access" directly to the throne of God. Christ has given that "access" to every human soul, which means that the door to eternal life is standing open to all. There is a "coming," yes, that we must do--but that "coming" is the same as simply believing the gospel. But whether we come or not, Christ has done something for every one and He has given everyone the gift of eternal life if they will but have what He gives. That truth humbles every honest heart; it reconciles every believing soul that has been alienated.

Romans 5:3: Blessings start pouring in immediately: "We even exult in our present sufferings, ... [and such] hope is no fantasy; through the Holy Spirit He has given us, God's love [agape] has flooded our hearts" (vs. 5).

Whether we are "worthy" or not, this is what the Lord Jesus does (and of course "we" are not worthy!). The Holy Spirit is a Gift given free to all; the Lord gives the Gift, but everyone receives the gift who will open the heart to receive Him, "who listens to [Him], watching daily at [His] threshold with his eyes on the doorway" (cf. Prov. 8:34).

Romans 5:4: The Lord has further given us the gift of "endurance," which is identical to His "approval." He is delighted when we cherish the faith and hope He has given us, like a chef is happy when we express appreciation of what he has prepared for us.

We must pause a moment and look at that word agape. It's the Greek word for love, but it is an entirely different idea than we know naturally. The love we have by nature loves people who are nice; God's agape loves people who are mean and bad. Our love depends on the beauty or value of the person whom we love; God's love creates value or goodness in the one whom He loves. There's where our hope lies!

Our love seeks a reward; Christ in His agape love gave up His reward and died our second death--that is, no light at the end of His tunnel. That was for Him an eternal and infinite sacrifice, which is why Revelation pictures such an end as "the second death" (20:6). It was for Jesus an infinite sacrifice when he endured the horrible guilt of the whole world. Jeremiah asks the plaintive question: "Is it nothing to you, you passers- by?" (Lam. 1:12).

Romans 5:5: And the hope we have "is no fantasy; through the Holy Spirit He has given us, God's love [agape] has flooded our hearts."

The agape "floods" every human heart willing to receive the blessing. But often the gift may be misunderstood initially, for with the gift of the Holy Spirit always comes the gift of repentance. Repentance is often thought of as a sad experience when in fact it is joyous for it means reconciliation with the Lord. You can't imagine a greater joy!

No one can initiate repentance on his own: "God exalted [Christ] ... to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins" (Acts 5:31, KJV). When the Holy Spirit gives you even the faintest touch of that precious "gift," cherish it; and let it grow in your heart-appreciation.

Romans 5:6: "At the appointed time, Christ died for the wicked." It's humiliating, but that's the word that describes those who have rejected the reconciliation that Christ has given them in Himself.

"Christ died." What does that mean? It was a different death than we know. The death that we know the Bible says is a "sleep." The two thieves crucified with Christ died; that means they merely went to sleep. They that "sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake," says Daniel (12:2). Was that the "death" that Jesus died? A mere weekend of sleep? (A weekend of sleep would be wonderful after one has endured the painful horror of being crucified!) No, it was far more, for Jesus died our "second death," the death that involved the veritable, eternal "curse" of God. On Jesus' part, it was His eternal love for us.

Someone may question--didn't He always know that He would be resurrected on the third day after His death on the cross? Yes, He walked in the light of that assurance all His sunlit life and throughout His ministry, until that moment on the cross when He screamed in unutterable anguish, "My God, why have You forsaken Me?"

Why did He scream so? Because the Father truly did forsake Him: "it pleased the Lord to bruise Him," says Isaiah 53:10 (KJV), an inexplicable statement except as we remember that the death that Jesus actually died was our death--the second death. It is hard to say it, but the reality is that the Father loved us more than He loved His only Son!

The fact that He was resurrected the third day does not lessen in the least the full commitment that He made on His cross; and the Father accepts the commitment for the deed.

As He died, Ellen White reminds us, "The Saviour could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror." [3] Because the father accepts the commitment for the deed, "God raised Him to the heights and bestowed on Him the name above all names" (Phil. 2:9). That total commitment on Christ's part means that He actually died every man's "second death." Therefore that sacrifice of His has enabled the Father to treat "every man" as though he had never sinned! That is the judicial justification that Christ has achieved for every soul on earth!

All this glorious truth we are privileged to "comprehend" here and now, if we do not resist the Holy Spirit. Salvation exists in the realization of this glorious truth; if we don't resist the Holy Spirit who gives the gift, our eternal happiness begins immediately.

If we do resist and reject the gift (it's more than a mere offer!), then before the universe we choose to assume the name of "Esau." We take that name because his character has now become ours; like Esau, we have resisted the Lord's much more abounding grace. (You remember, Esau sold his precious birthright in exchange for some earthly pleasure, and cried buckets of useless tears the rest of his life; cf. Heb. 12:16, 17. May the Lord save us from doing that.)

Then, in the second resurrection, when the "books" are "opened," those who have likewise resisted and rejected the "birthright" gift given them will realize what they have done; in unutterable horror they will abhor themselves. They will again cry "to the mountains and the crags, 'Fall on us, hide us from the One who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb'" (cf. Rev. 6:15-17). They will at last realize who Jesus is, that He has been their infinite Saviour all their lives, and they have thrust Him from themselves.

That "wrath" is what justification by faith saves us "from." It's what Paul means: "Being now justified by [Christ's] blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him" (Rom. 5:9, KJV). What is that "wrath"?

Lambs do not exercise "wrath." They are known for the opposite. The phrase "wrath of the Lamb" therefore is arresting. We always picture Jesus as sweet and gentle (He would not harm a fly, would He!); but when His "wrath" is aroused--don't get in His way. The "wrath" of the Lamb of God who has been resisted and rejected--thus resulting in the loss of souls beyond our own--this arouses His intense indignation. Sweet, gentle, lowly, loving Jesus morphs into a tower of righteous divine anger--the most solemn and terrible that the universe can know.

Romans 5:7: "Even for a just man one of us would hardly die, though perhaps for a good man one might actually brave death ..." We think of Abraham Lincoln on the night of his assassination: if someone had known that John Wilkes Booth would pull a gun on him, someone might have intervened and taken it instead of the nation's beloved president who was needed to bind up the wounds of the nation's Civil War. But no, ...

Romans 5:8: "Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and that is God's proof of His love towards us." The word "sinners" means people who are at enmity with God, and John says that such enmity is always murder: "Whosoever hateth his brother is [already] a murderer" (1 John 3:15, KJV). When we kneel before the Lord and confess our sins, that is the sin that has been the background of all of our sins!

No one of us can claim that if we had been there that Friday morning in Pilate's courtyard and the mob were yelling about Jesus, "Crucify Him!" that we would have stood up in front of them and said that if you crucify Him you crucify me too! No, none of us would have made ourselves so famous; our "enmity with God" of Romans 8:7 was there in our natural sinful hearts. The murder of the Son of God is the world's unconscious but real sin.

Romans 5:9: "And so, since we have now been justified by Christ's sacrificial death, we shall all the more certainly be saved ... by His life!" (vs. 10). Again, in his thinking Paul's pronoun "we" is the human race; his idea about Jesus is "big."

Christ has already done something for the human race. The Father sent Him down here with a job description--save that lost world! And just before His death, the Son of God tells Him, "I have glorified You on earth by finishing the work which You gave Me to do" (John 17:4). Father, I have saved the world!

This was no idle boast; the job had been done. And Christ did not die in vain; every soul can kneel and thank Him for doing it, for in so doing He actually saved every soul.

Romans 5:10: "If, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, now that we have been reconciled, shall we be saved by His life!" Again, the "we" is us; Paul's heart is not big enough to contain the joy that he senses for us all: wicked and mean as we are by nature, we have been "reconciled" to God by Christ's blood--not a work of fear or of grasping for reward--no; but our heart-appreciation for His love! That simple, that easy. But it does bring tears to our dry eyes.

Romans 5:11: "But that is not all: we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus, through whom we have now been granted reconciliation." To know that there is no sin, no guilt, no dark sorry story in the closet between yourself and the Lord, is joy indescribable!

David's psalm which he wrote after his sin with Bathsheba described "exulting" thus: "Happy is he whose offence is forgiven, whose sin is blotted out! Happy is he to whom the Lord imputes no fault, in whose spirit there is no deceit" (Psalm 32:1, 2).

Romans 5:12: "What does this imply? It was through one man that sin entered the world, and through sin death, and thus death pervaded the whole human race, inasmuch as all have sinned."

That "inasmuch" is eph ho in the Greek--a virtually untranslatable particle of speech; the idea Paul is trying to express is that although we can blame Adam for the entrance of sin, in fact we must blame ourselves. We have all sinned like Adam sinned.

Romans 5:13: "Sin was already in the world before there was law [that is, Mount Sinai]; and although in the absence of law no reckoning is kept of sin, [still]. ...

Romans 5:14: "Death held sway from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned [exactly] as Adam did, by disobeying a direct command--and Adam foreshadows the Man who was to come [Christ]."

Romans 5:15: Now comes the point: "But God's act of grace is out of all proportion to Adam's wrongdoing [it is much more abounding!]. For if the wrongdoing of that one man brought death upon so many [that is everybody], its effect is vastly exceeded by the grace of God and the gift that came to so many [that is, everybody!] by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ."

"Our beloved brother Paul" is wrestling his way through the grandest "big idea" anyone can think: the Lord Jesus Christ has done something beyond merely dying for everybody--He has justifiedeverybody!

He has not simply died for a race of rebels: He has morphed a race of rebels into a redeemed race of righteous people whose minds and hearts have been dramatically changed forever: they are now at one with Himself.

He has actually changed a world of sinners into a world of righteous people, a people who have become transformed by the much more abounding grace of the Saviour. Paul is on to a "big idea" here that we must handle carefully.

No, in fact, the race of human rebels on earth are not now a race of actually, personally righteous people: but God tells everybody in His vast unfallen universe that they are a race of redeemed, righteous people if they don't resist or reject what He has done and presently does for them!

Christ has done His work correctly; He tells the Father, "I have ... finish[ed] the work which You gave Me to do" (John 17:4). His justification of His people is real, the job is done; but man still has his freedom of will and he can nullify and defeat all that His Saviour has accomplished--so depraved and rebellious is fallen man, the man created "in the image of God" Himself.

Romans 5:16: "And again, the gift of God is not to be compared in its effect with that one man's sin; for the judicial action, following on the one offence, resulted in a verdict of condemnation, but the act of grace, following on so many misdeeds, resulted in a verdict of acquittal." Paul is obsessed with this idea of "much more" grace!

Romans 5:17: "If, by the wrongdoing of one man, death established its reign through that one man, much more shall those who in far greater measure receive grace and the gift of righteousness live and reign through the one Man, Jesus Christ."

Romans 5:18: "It follows, then [brilliant thinking!] that as the result of one misdeed was condemnation for all people, so the result of one righteous act is acquittal and life for all."

Romans 5:19: "For as through the disobedience of one man, many were made [the Greek says, "constituted"] sinners, so through the obedience of one Man many will be made [constituted] righteous [even though they are not!]."

Romans 5:20: "... where sin was multiplied, grace immeasurably exceeded it,

Romans 5:21: "in order that as sin established its reign by way of death, so God's grace might establish its reign in righteousness, and result in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

The gospel that has astonished the unfallen universe and has yet to lighten the earth with its glory (see Rev. 18:1-4), shines clear and bright in Paul's Romans 5!

--Robert J. Wieland

Endnotes:
[1] Ellen G. White, Manuscript 7, 1894; Evangelism, p. 169.
[2] Ellet J. Waggoner, Waggoner on Romans, p. 101.
[2] Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 753.

Notes:
Bible texts are from the Revised English Bible, unless other noted.

Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at:
https://youtu.be/Dp-Jjy5df3s

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

Friday, November 3, 2017

Lesson 5: The Faith of Abraham

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Salvation by Faith Alone: The Book of Romans
Lesson 5: The Faith of Abraham

 

When God called Abram out of Ur, what was his spiritual condition? We know that shortly after the Flood, Nimrod established the kingdom of Babel in rebellion against God (Gen. 10:8-10), and Ur was an area in that kingdom. We know that in this place the inhabitants worshiped the god of the crescent moon named Sin. Sin was thought to be the creator of all things, the father of all gods, including being the father of the sun god. We also know that Abram's father, Terah, worshiped idols and was so attached to them that when they left Ur, he took his idols with him.

"... Terah, [was] the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor: and they served other gods" (Josh. 24:2). Abram and his family didn't just have statues on their shelves to remind them of the gods they worshiped, as some have crosses or pictures of Christ on their walls, but "they served other gods." False gods were a very real part of their spiritual and daily experience. Abram's family were pagan through a superstitious blending of the deified things of nature, with a faded knowledge of the true Creator. They possessed a remnant knowledge of the pre-Flood experience of Cain and Seth's descendants, but had confounded that knowledge with pagan ideas about God.

Though the "father of the faithful" began his career in heathen darkness, Terah and Abram had access to a full knowledge of God through the witness of Shem, who lived for 502 years after the Flood (Gen. 11:10, 11). Shem, Noah's son, was still alive when Isaac, the son of promise, was born to Abraham. God has never been without a faithful witness who could call people out of darkness into the light of His redeeming love.

Though fading, it was the remnant knowledge of the one true God as kept alive by Shem, and the evidence of the Flood as judgment against sin, that held open the heart's door allowing the Holy Spirit to act upon Abram's heart. Living among a multitude of silent, powerless deities, there was One who with increasing clarity spoke to Abram through his conscience. "Faith in Christ is not the work of nature, but the work of God on human minds, wrought on the very soul by the Holy Spirit, who reveals Christ, as Christ revealed the Father." [1]

"Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee ... So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him" (Gen. 12:1, 4). "By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went" (Heb. 11:8).

Unquestioning obedience, that's the characteristic of true faith. Faith "works" contrary to what human nature, or "common sense" tells us to do. Common sense would have been to stay put, right where Terah's family had always lived. Common sense would have questioned that "still small voice" that called Abram out of the fertile and prosperous land along the Euphrates River, saying go to a land where he would remain "a stranger and a pilgrim" the rest of his life (Heb. 11:8-10, 13). Abram had to be removed from his "comfort zone" so he could be prepared for what God wanted to do with him. He had to be brought to the spiritual condition of total dependence upon the word of God, or he would never have become the "father of the faithful."

It took a series of trials that tested Abraham's confidence in God's creative word before he was "fully persuaded" of the power inherent in God's word. Only then it could be truly said of Abraham, "Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah's womb: he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that what He had promised, He was able also to perform. And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness" (Rom. 4:18-22).

At the outset of his spiritual journey Abraham had no evidence that the thing God promised him (having a son and becoming heir of the world) would become an actuality. But God's gift of the measure of faith (Rom. 12:3) was cherished by Abraham and as he exercised it, it grew in strength. The remnant knowledge that Seth's God was the true Creator, as opposed to all other pretender gods like Sin, was key to Abraham's spiritual development.

"What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?" (Rom. 4:1). What was it that Abraham "found"? "For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith" (Rom. 4:13). Abraham "found" righteousness through believing God's word. "And he believed in the Lord; and He counted [reckoned] it to him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). Abraham could not "earn" this righteousness through the keeping of the law, nor through the rite of circumcision. "He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all them that believe" (Rom. 4:11). The rite of circumcision did not make Abraham, nor any of his descendants, righteous. "For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love" (Gal. 5:6).

Abraham's righteousness was not "of debt," as though through his own "good works" God owed salvation to him. Nothing we can do will place God under obligation to us. Ellet J. Waggoner, one of the 1888 "messengers," understood this concept: "If anyone could do something for the Lord for which the Lord would be under obligation to him, then all things would not be from Him. That is to say, the idea of justification by works is opposed to the fact that God is the Creator of all things. And conversely, the recognition of God as Creator is the acknowledgment that righteousness comes from Him alone." [2]

And thus, God's holy Sabbath rest is the sign and seal of righteousness in the final remnant people who recognize the Creator as the only source of power for overcoming sin and developing Christ-like characters (Rev. 14:6-12). Through the tested and proven faith of Jesus Christ--God's gift to us--our hearts are yielded, our wills submitted and our affections are firmly fixed upon the Saviour, and everything in this world loses its attractiveness. Righteousness by faith is the gift from God through Christ, the Author and Finisher of that faith.

Righteousness by faith is depending upon the word of God only to accomplish what it has promised: that it can create in fallen human beings that which does not exist without His power and presence in the life. "Faith is the expecting the word of God itself to do what the word says, and depending upon that word itself to do what the word says. ... Since the word of God is in itself creative, and so is able to produce and cause to appear what otherwise would never exist nor be seen; and since faith is the expecting the word of God only to do just that thing, and depending upon 'the word only' to do it, it is plain enough that faith is 'the evidence of things not seen.'" [3] "Thus it is the word of God that must work in you. You are not to work to do the word of God: the word is to work in you to cause you to do. ... The word of God being living and full of power, when it is allowed to work in the life, there will be powerful work wrought in that individual." [4]

Consider now God's promise that Abraham would be "heir of the world" (Rom. 4:13). What is Paul speaking of here? "I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession" (Gen. 17:8). In his witness before the Sanhedrin, Stephen spoke a well-known fact concerning Abraham and the possession of the land, that God "gave him no inheritance in it, not even enough to set his foot on" (Acts 7:5; NKJV). How do we reconcile this seeming contradiction?

"First let us note the fact that the inheritance promised is an everlasting inheritance. Abraham himself is to have it for an everlasting possession. But the only way in which Abraham and his seed may have everlasting possession of an inheritance is by having everlasting life. Therefore we see that in this promise to Abraham we have the assurance of everlasting life in which to enjoy the possession." [5]

"Do not forget that the covenant and the promise are the same thing, and that it conveys land, even the whole earth made new, to Abraham and his [spiritual] children. Remember also that since only righteousness will dwell in the new heavens and the new earth, the promise includes the making righteous of all who believe." [6]

"God has not said that if we will believe certain statements and dogmas, He will in return give us an everlasting inheritance. The inheritance is one of righteousness; and since faith means the reception of the life of Christ into the heart, together with God's righteousness, it is evident that there is no other way in which the inheritance can be received." [7]

"And this brings us to the conclusion of the matter, namely, that the promise to Abraham and to his seed that they should be heirs of the world, is the promise of Christ's coming. ... And so we find that we have as great an interest in the promise to Abraham as he himself had. That promise is still open for all to accept. It embraces nothing less than an eternal life of righteousness in the earth made new as it was in the beginning. The hope of the promise of God unto the fathers was the hope of the coming of the Lord to raise the dead, and thus to bestow the inheritance." [8]

--Ann Walper

Endnotes:
[1] Ellen G. White, In Heavenly Places, p. 51.
[2] Ellet J. Waggoner, Waggoner on Romans, p. 81.
[3] Alonzo T. Jones, Review and Herald, Jan. 3, 1899; Jones and Waggoner, Lessons on Faith, p. 19.
[4] Ibid., p. 108.
[5] Waggoner on Romans, p. 84.
[6] Ellet J. Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, a verse-by-verse study of Galatians, p. 72, CFI ed. (2016); Gal. 3:29.
[7] Waggoner on Romans, p. 88.
[8] Ibid., pp. 86, 87.

Notes:
Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at: https://youtu.be/x_hffE_NaD0

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

Friday, October 27, 2017

Lesson 4: Justification by Faith

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Salvation by Faith Alone: The Book of Romans
Lesson 4: Justification by Faith

 

Long before the Sabbath was changed from the seventh to the first day, this apostate power sought to corrupt the true idea of agape that is essential to appreciating Day-of-Atonement righteousness by faith.

Perhaps his most successful method has been to invent the doctrine of the natural immortality of the human soul. It permeates many religions. The idea came from paganism and was adopted early on by apostate Christianity. It has had a devastating effect on the true idea of the gospel, for it paralyzes it. The Seventh-day Adventist Church does not believe in that false doctrine, but the modern lukewarmness that pervades the world church comes from importing popular ideas of the gospel that are related to it.

For example, if the soul is naturally immortal, Christ could not have died the equivalent of "the second death." For those who accept natural immortality, His sacrifice is automatically reduced to a few hours of physical and mental suffering while He was sustained throughout by hope. Thus the pagan-papal doctrine dwarfs "the width and length and depth and height" of Christ's love. It reduces His agape to the dimensions of a human love motivated by self-concern and hope of reward.

The result is a diluting of the idea of faith. It becomes an egocentric search for security. The highest motivation possible remains ego-centered. All pagan religions are self-centered in their appeal, and since almost all Christian churches accept this pagan-papal doctrine, they get locked in to what is basically an egocentric mind-set. Despite their great sincerity, so long as human minds are blinded thus they cannot appreciate the dimensions of the love revealed at the cross, and in consequence are hindered from understanding the righteousness by faith idea that relates to the cleansing of the sanctuary truth.

The result has to be a widespread lukewarmness, spiritual pride, self-satisfaction, due to subservience to ego-centeredness. Fear always lurks beneath its surface.

As best he could in his day, Luther understood this dynamic of faith as a heart-appreciation of agape, yet he fell short of an adequate grasp of its full dimensions because he lived too early to grasp the idea of the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. And after his death his followers soon reverted to the pagan-papal concept of natural immortality. Most Protestant ideas of justification by faith are therefore conditioned by this idea. A few individual exceptions prove the fact.

Our 1888 message began to cut the ties that blinded us by Protestant views that beneath the surface were related to Rome. Now those ideas are bearing fruit in Protestantism, which is more and more openly leaning toward Rome. The 1888 message was "the beginning" of a rediscovery of what Paul and the apostles saw.

When Jesus died on the cross, did He make a mere provision whereby something could be done for us if we first did our part? Or did He actually do something for "all men"? If so, what did He do for them?

Romans assures us that He "is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (I John 1:2; cf. Rom. 3:25). As "all have sinned," so all are "being justified freely by His grace" (Rom. 3:23, 24). "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them" (2 Cor. 5:19). Since "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23), Jesus came that He "should taste [that] death for every man" (Heb. 2:9). Through His "righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life" (Rom. 5:18, NKJV).

The common idea is that the sacrifice of Christ is only provisional, that is, it does nothing for anyone unless he first does something to activate it and "accepts Christ." As it were, Jesus stands back with His divine arms folded, doing nothing for the sinner until he decides to "accept." In other words, salvation is a heavenly process that remains inert until we take the initiative. Like a washing machine in a laundromat, it has been provided, but it does nothing for us until we first pay the price to activate it.

In contrast, the 1888 message understands our texts: Christ tasted "death [the second] for every man." As "all have sinned," so "all" "are" being justified freely by His grace. This is a legaljustification; He does not force anyone to become righteous against his will. By virtue of Christ's sacrifice, God is not "imputing their trespasses" unto the world (2 Cor. 5:19). He imputed them to Christ instead. This is why no lost person can suffer the second death until after the final judgment, which can come only after the second resurrection. And this is why all can live even now, believers and unbelievers alike. Our very life is purchased by Him, even though multitudes have no knowledge of that truth. "The whole world" has been redeemed, if only someone could tell them and they could believe it. Consequently, hearing and believing that truth transforms the heart.

Ellen White agrees. Every person owes his or her physical life and all he has or is to the One who "died for all." "To the death of Christ we owe even this earthly life. ... Never one, saint or sinner, eats his daily food, but he is nourished by the body and the blood of Christ. The cross of Calvary is stamped on every loaf. It is reflected in every water spring." [1]

When the sinner sees this truth and his heart appreciates it, he experiences justification by faith. This is therefore far more than a legal declaration of acquittal--which was made at the cross for "all men." Justification by faith includes a change of heart. It is the same as the forgiveness that actually takes the sin away from the heart. The Greek word for forgiveness means taking it away, reclaiming from it.

In other words, the believer who exercises such faith becomes inwardly and outwardly obedient to all the commandments of God. Such faith, if it is not hindered and confused with Babylon's error, will grow to be so mature and powerful that it will prepare a people for the return of Christ. This is why Ellen White wrote, "[justification by faith] is the third angel's message in verity." [2]

Not all will be saved. But the reason is deeper than that they were not clever or prompt enough to seize the initiative. There is something beyond it. They will have actually resisted and rejected the salvation already "freely" given them in Christ. God has taken the initiative to save "all men," but humans have the ability, the freedom of will, to thwart and veto what Christ has already accomplished for them and has actually placed in their hands. They can repeat what Esau did who "despised" his birthright and "sold" it for "one morsel of food" (Heb. 12:16).

We can cherish our alienation from Christ and our hatred of His righteousness until we close the gates of heaven against ourselves. According to the 1888 concept, those who are saved at last are saved due to God's initiative; those who are lost at last are lost because of their own initiative.

--Paul E. Penno

Endnotes:
[1] Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 660.
[2] This was Ellen White's phrase to describe the 1888 message. Cf. Review and Herald, April 1, 1890.

Notes:
Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at:
https://youtu.be/tm9WPscFa-I

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


Friday, October 20, 2017

Lesson 3: The Human Condition

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Salvation by Faith Alone: The Book of Romans
Lesson 3: The Human Condition

 

The Bible says that this world will become very wicked in the last days just before the second coming of Jesus. The Lord Himself asks, "When the Son of man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8), implying that it will be very rare.

Paul says, "In the last days perilous times will come." Then he lists many evil things that people will do, even those who profess to worship God. "For men will be ... unthankful, unholy. ... From such people turn away!" (2 Tim. 3:1-5).

The Bible is clear on two realities of human life: (1) "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, [and (2) all are] being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:23, 24).

Ellet J. Waggoner, one of the 1888 "messengers," describes the meaning of falling (or coming) short: "People are fond of imagining that what are called 'shortcomings' are not so bad as real sins. So it is much easier for them to confess that they have 'come short' than that they have sinned and done wickedly. But since God requires perfection, it is evident that 'shortcomings' are sins. It may sound pleasanter to say that a bookkeeper is 'short' in his accounts, but people know that the reason for it is that he has been taking that which is not his, or stealing. When perfection is the standard, it makes no difference in the result, how much or how little one comes short, so long as he comes short. The primary meaning of sin is 'to miss the mark.' And in an archery contest, the man who has not strength to send his arrow to the target, even though his aim is good, is a loser just as surely as he who shoots wide of the mark." [1]

Our fallen human condition is "enmity against God." The solution? To "be reconciled to God" by realizing how Christ was "made ... to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:20, 21, King James Version).

Sin is the source of all the suffering and anguish in the world, and everyone is born with the problem in his or her nature. The classic definition is, "Sin is the transgression of the law," the "law" being understood as God's law (1 John 3:4). But the Greek is only one little word, anomia, which literally is, "a state of being against the law." In other words, sin is heart-rebellion against the government of God, not merely outwardly doing things that are unlawful. Another word for it is "alienation." "The carnal mind is enmity against God," heart-alienation (Rom. 8:7). And "enmity" always finds expression.

The ultimate expression of that inner hatred is seen when the human race vented that pent-up hatred of God in their murder of His Son (see Acts 3:14, 15). Human sin blossomed into the murder of the Son of God--and all of us were implicated (Rom. 3:23, 24; Zech 12:10). It happened because of a deep-seated principle: hatred cherished in the heart always leads to the act: "Whosoever hates his brother is a murderer" (1 John 3:15). And of course, "no murderer has eternal life abiding in him," says the same verse.

Can this terrible sin be eradicated? The Bible says Yes! But only through repentance for the sin of murdering the Son of God. Far from being a negative experience, such repentance is the foundation of all true joy. Repentance is not our tears and sorrow balancing the books of life; it is our appreciation of what it cost Him to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows (Isa. 53:4).

Repenting only of superficial sin leaves a deep stratum of further alienation which remains unrealized, unconfessed, and therefore unhealed. It is not enough that sin be legally forgiven; it must also be blotted out. This problem of unrealized sin pervades the entire church in all lands, and its practical effects weaken the witness of every congregation.

The good news is that the gracious Spirit of God will convict His people of that deep reality. Then He will be able to give the gift of ultimate repentance. His giving only awaits our willingness to receive. The issue is not the assurance of our own personal salvation, but the honor and vindication of the One who purchased our salvation.

One may never have heard the name of Christ, but he senses in his heart that he has "sinned and fall[en] short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23). There is an awareness, however dim, of a perfect standard in the divine law and in Christ. The Holy Spirit penetrates human hearts with the conviction of "sin, and of righteousness" (John 16:8-10)

Ellen White expressed it this way: "The nearer we come to Jesus, and the more clearly we discern the purity of His character, the more clearly shall we see the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and the less shall we feel like exalting ourselves. There will be a continual reaching out of the soul after God, a continual, earnest, heartbreaking confession of sin and humbling of the heart before Him." [2]

One of the great gospel truths of the 1888 message is that a higher motivation becomes realized in the close of time than has prevailed in the church in past ages--a concern for Christ that He receive His reward and find His "rest" in the final eradication of sin. All egocentric motivation based merely on fear of hell or hope of reward is less effective. The higher motivation is symbolized in the climax of Scripture--the Bride of Christ making herself "ready."

That's why we read in Revelation 12:11 that God will have a people who "overcame [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb." Repentance is a gift of the Holy Spirit, the last gift He will give before He is finally withdrawn from the earth when the seven last plagues must fall (Rev. 15, 16). Repentance is a newly gifted hatred for sin that constrains one "henceforth" (KJV) to deny self and to take up the cross to follow the Lamb of God (2 Cor. 5:14, 15; Luke 9:23). Repentance includes receiving the precious gift of the atonement, that is, of being reconciled to the God whom once we hated (Rom 5:7-11).

"Those who wait for the Bridegroom's coming are to say to the people, 'Behold your God.' The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of His character of love. The children of God are to manifest His glory. In their own life and character they are to reveal what the grace of God has done for them." [3]

--From the writings of Robert J. Wieland

Endnotes:
[1] Ellet J. Waggoner, Waggoner on Romans, p. 70.
[2] Ellen G. White, Acts of the Apostles, p. 561.
[3] Ellen G. White, Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 415, 416.

Notes:
Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at:
https://youtu.be/TNKwO_DMAM0

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

Friday, October 13, 2017

Lesson 2: The Controversy


Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Salvation by Faith Alone: The Book of Romans
Lesson 2: The Controversy

 

"The Jews therefore said to one another, 'Where does this man intend to go that we shall not find Him? He is not intending to go to the Dispersion among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks, is He?'" (John 7:35).

The Jewish people had become so exclusive that it was beyond their comprehension that someone would preach to anyone but Jews. The reference to the "Dispersion" suggests they were even limiting the outreach only to Jews scattered among the Greeks. The implication is that they considered salvation impossible for anyone but a Jew, therefore outreach was unnecessary. Paul's evangelistic efforts among the Gentiles must have made some of the Jewish Christians uneasy.

If someone was a Jew, everybody knew it by their dress, customs and diet. The Gentiles did not have these cultural customs, making it difficult to tell who belonged and who did not. Any time a group believes it important to distinguish members from nonmembers, rules are necessary. There was freedom in this new Christianity, and the council at Jerusalem concluded that only minimal restrictions would be placed on the new converts (see Acts 15:20). For centuries, the Jews believed that if you kept all the rules correctly, heaven was yours. For the new Christians to side step all that effort was less than well received by many former Jews with old prejudices.

Paul addresses these prejudices at the beginning of his epistle to the Roman Christians by rehearsing the shortcomings of both Jews and Gentiles, concluding, "There is none righteous, not even one" (Rom. 3:10). The Galatian heresy that God saves only the circumcised had just recently consumed the time and energy of the leadership.

Probably the best setting in which to understand this Jewish prejudice is to look at how they had come to understand God's covenant promises to Israel. The Jews invariably described that God's promises were made to their father Abraham. Indeed they were, but that was not the first time the promise of a Savior was made.

"The covenant of grace was first made with man in Eden, when after the Fall there was given a divine promise that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. ... This same covenant was renewed to Abraham in the promise, 'In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.' … Though this covenant was made with Adam and renewed to Abraham, it could not be ratified until the death of Christ. ... yet when ratified by Christ, it is called a new covenant." [1]

If the promises to Adam and Abraham were the same, the Jews had no basis for believing it was virtually impossible for a Gentile to be saved. But another covenant, formed at Sinai might have been misleading. Why was another covenant formed at Sinai? "In their bondage the people had to a great extent lost the knowledge of God ... Living in the midst of idolatry and corruption, they had no true conception of the holiness of God, of the exceeding sinfulness of their own hearts, their utter inability, in themselves, to render obedience to God's law, and their need of a Saviour. All this they must be taught." [2] Israel demonstrated the truth of this statement when they naively responded at Sinai that they would do everything God had said (Ex. 19:8). They had to be taught they were incapable of doing what they promised.

None of this, including their dismal failure with the golden calf, surprised an omniscient God. Thus began an extended journey with cycles of Israel trying to keep the law, giving up, sliding into idolatry, then starting over with a new generation. When the Messiah fulfilled God's "New" Covenant promises, they were too immersed in their Old Covenant works to recognize Him.

The New Covenant truth was an essential element of the 1888 message, and even today lifts a load of doubt and despair from many heavy hearts. The 1888 message clarified the difference between the two covenants: The New Covenant is God's one-way promise to write His law in our hearts, and to give us (not offer us) everlasting salvation as a free gift "in Christ." The Old Covenant is the vain promise of the people to obey, and "gives birth to bondage."

E. J. Waggoner saw this difference: "But this [God's promises to Abraham] was not such a covenant as was made with the Israelites at Horeb. That one contained no reference to Christ, and no provision for the forgiveness of sins; the one with Abraham was confirmed 'in Christ' (Gal. 3:17) and was made not on condition that he should be righteous by his own unaided efforts, but was made on condition of his having the righteousness of faith. Compare Rom. 4:11 with 3:22-25." [3]

And in his The Glad Tidings Waggoner wrote: "The covenant and promise of God are one and the same. … God's covenants with men can be nothing else than promises to them. … God promises us everything that we need, and more than we can ask or think, as a gift. We give Him ourselves, that is nothing. And He gives us Himself, that is, everything." [4]

The Jews had come to view the ceremonial law and the moral law as one single entity, with all elements binding on those who would enter heaven. Many Christians see the two laws the same way, but nail the entire thing to the cross, saying nothing of the law is now binding. The leadership at the 1888 General Conference took the position that only the moral law, not the ceremonial is binding. This seems the compromise position, but it can be understood differently.

Something that is binding can be used to punish for violation and rewarded for compliance. If two parties agree to enter into a contract, each has the right to enforce performance by the other. But, even courts recognize that if one of the parties to the contract does not have the capacity to perform what they have promised, there was never a sufficient meeting of the minds to say a mutually binding contract was formed.

In order to save us, God had to do everything. Waggoner understood that through grace, God gives mankind the righteousness of Jesus Who alone has lived a sinless life. By faith the believer accepts this righteousness, making the believer, in Christ, a doer of the law. It is important to understand that this righteousness is not added because the justification obtained by Christ at the cross needs bolstering to entitle the human race to heaven. When Christ proclaimed, "It is finished," He did not mean it was finished except for the process of sanctification which will make us righteous.

He saw it this way: "The meaning of the word 'justified' is 'made righteous.' The Latin word for righteousness is justitia. To be just is to be righteous. Then we add the termination fy, from the Latin word, meaning 'to make,' and we have the exact equivalent of the simpler term, 'make righteous.'" [5]

God provided a Savior Who became our sin for us and paid the penalty for it, the second death. Then, through the accepted gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, He changes our hearts, which are at enmity against the law to love it. Here is where Waggoner saw that the Old and New Covenants were two separate experiences that ran on two parallel tracks from the time of Cain and Abel until the mark of the beast and seal of God as spoken of in the Book of Revelation. The law cares nothing about the state of your heart, but the New Covenant of grace changes your heart of stone to that of God's agapelove.

--Arlene Hill

Endnotes:
[1] Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 370, 371.
[2] Ibid., p. 371.
[3] Ellet J. Waggoner, "Comments on Galatians 3, No. 2," Signs of the Times, Vol. 12, No. 27, July 15, 1886.
[4] Ellet J. Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, a verse-by-verse study of Galatians, p. 71, CFI ed. (2016).
[5] Ibid., p. 40.

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/EhIcR-F1Uq4

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

 RR
Raul Diaz

Friday, October 6, 2017

Lesson 1: The Apostle Paul in Rome

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Salvation by Faith Alone: The Book of Romans
Lesson 1: The Apostle Paul in Rome

 

During the "beginning" of "the latter rain" of the 1888 era, Ellen G. White is reported to have said, "Let us have all of Romans and all of Galatians." [1] The "most precious message" is "the third angel's message in verity." [2] In other words, it is an understanding of justification by faith, which is parallel to and consistent with the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. Of all the books of the Bible, Romans most clearly explains justification by faith. Ellen White understood that the companion books which give the greatest light on Revelation 14:6-12, the third angel's message, are Romans and Galatians.

The cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary is practical truth. In other words, it involves the purification of the hearts of God's people, so that they experience the atonement with God. They have seen the heart-warming truth of the love of God revealed in Jesus' cross. They realize that if Christ had not died for all, then all would be dead. They can no longer live for themselves, but the agape motivation becomes living for Jesus and His Father. They would not willingly choose to bring disrepute upon the Heavenly family into which they have been adopted. This is the real meaning of justification by faith.

Most can identify with the Apostle Peter's characterization of his brother Paul's writings, that there are "some things hard to be understood" (2 Peter 3:16). With that discouraging word can we understand the Book of Romans much less the Book of Revelation? Actually it's only the honest-hearted believer of God's promises who can understand Romans. It's the "unlearned and unstable" who misconstrue Paul's writings to their own perdition.

It was to such folks that the Apostle Paul wrote his letter in the church at Rome. They were "not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble" (1 Cor. 1:26). They were honest, candid believers. There were probably retailers, skilled craftsmen, day laborers, tradesmen, landscapers, even servants with a few upper class, and maybe a civil servant or two. It was to these kinds of people that Paul wrote. He wasn't trying to shoot over their heads. He wrote simply and directly in order for them to understand. So this is an encouragement for us to "dig in" and apply our minds to some of the nourishing food of the Scriptures.

It was Martin Luther who declared Romans "the clearest gospel of all" and he was right. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the eyewitness accounts of the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For the most part the gospels do not explain the deeper meaning of the "good news" and the cross. God revealed the deeper meaning to Paul, and Romans is the "key" to understanding the atonement. John's Revelation of Jesus Christ as the "Lamb" (25 times)--the Crucified One--is the gospel for the closing age of the Christian era. However, the Revelation cannot be understood without the Book of Romans.

Luther's heart was strangely warmed as he read Romans and saw the truth that "the just shall live by faith." His Catholic training had directed him to receive grace through the sacraments, which would motivate him to do good works that would make the "connect" with God. His agony of conscience was how to know when he had done enough good works. To Luther the joy of discovering that God justifies the ungodly by faith alone was a great release from self-centered bondage in sin.

Luther was on the right track in restoring God's love to the Christian church. However, his successors over-analyzed justification by faith to the point where it became a stale, mysterious book transaction, light-years away from the human heart; whereby, when one had enough faith, God made the necessary adjustments in the books of heaven based on Calvary, and the sinner was justified and forgiven his sins. Thus God experienced the atonement with sin. The atonement was for sins because the sinner believed in the cross.

Such professorial teaching was nothing more than against the law of God's cosmic love. God is not interested in harmony with sin. Christ did not die in order to justify ongoing sin in perpetuity. That is the pagan view of the atonement, which has been absorbed into the Christian church. The idea that the sinner can have "faith" to the degree that God sees evidence in one's prayers, Bible study, witnessing, etc. (all of these things are good when properly motivated by agape), and thus forgives the sinner, is a concept of the atonement that comes straight out of heathenism.

Paul wrote to the Romans, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 1:7). The only way that Paul could write that sinners could call "God our Father," is because God's gift of the atonement in Christ Jesus reconciled the human race unto Himself. The whole human race of sinners has been legally adopted into the Heavenly family. Now it's for us to recognize this fact and receive the divine revelation of the atonement. [3]

We have been "called to be saints". A saint is one set apart from the world of self-centeredness. Legally, Christ has justified "all" (Rom. 5:18, 19) so that God can "call" everyone to such a blessed, exalted state.

Who among us is not tired of sin? Who is not weary of the continual degradation of sin's bondage? Do you want to know what hell on earth is? "Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame" (Rev. 16:15). Hell on earth is the embarrassment of having one's sins publicly exposed. Jesus never intends for anyone to face such agony.

Paul saw that Christ came "in the likeness of sinful flesh" with a "self" that needed denial. Such temptations that He felt from within are such that we all feel. To sense the pull of sin is not sin itself (James 1:14, 15). Yet, He "condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3, 4).

The righteousness of the law fulfilled in us is the atonement. It is the practical meaning of the cleansing of the sanctuary. It is true justification by faith. It is Christ's gift to us as our High Priest in the holiest of all. Thus Romans is an invitation into the Most Holy Place with Christ.

--Paul E. Penno

Endnotes:
[1] Letter E. J. Waggoner to O. A. Olsen [n.d.]; original in General Conference Archives.
[2] Ellen G. White, The Review and Herald, April 1, 1890.
[3] "The atonement of Christ was not made in order to induce God to love those whom He otherwise hated; it was not made to produce a love that was not in existence; but it was made as a manifestation of the love that was already in God's heart, ... We are not to entertain the idea that God loves us because Christ has died for us, ... The death of Christ was expedient in order that mercy might reach us with its full pardoning power, and at the same time that justice might be satisfied in the righteous substitute." (Ellen G. White, "Christ Our Complete Salvation," Signs of the Times; May 30, 1895.)

Notes:
Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at: https://youtu.be/C8ja7yBDa1o

 

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

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