Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
1 and 2 Thessalonians
Lesson 4: "Joyous and Thankful"
"Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of
our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:2). Notice that the word "our" is not a part of the original verse. This truly adds to our understanding that faith is begun and finished by Christ. The Revised English Bible states it this way: "He is the pioneer and perfecter of faith." Faith is His, therefore it is the faith of Jesus.
This makes faith a gift, not a natural part of the flesh from birth. Romans 12:3 says, "God has dealt [given] to each one a measure of faith." The faith "dealt" to us by God is activated when we hear the gospel and thus it is said "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). Where there is no word of God there can be no faith.
Paul preached Christ and Him crucified to the Galatians and they received the Spirit by the hearing of faith. Like Abraham they believed God and were accounted righteous. (Gal. 5:1-6). "But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they" (Acts 15:11).
This was the experience of the Thessalonians. When they heard that "Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and that is God's proof of His love towards us" (Rom. 5:8, REB), their hearts responded with the humble joy of appreciation! Their response was the "the hearing of faith" and this faith worked in them the fruit of the Spirit. This was the reason for Paul's thanksgiving!
"The Bible so clearly teaches that righteousness is by faith. Therefore the only element that God's people need in order to prepare for the second coming of Christ is genuine faith. … Faith is understood in its true biblical sense--a heart appreciation of the agape of Christ" (Ten Great Gospel Truths, #9, Robert J. Wieland).
So why is it that Paul says "work of faith" and not your works and your faith? Why does he reject human contribution in addition to faith? Well, here is what he said about works and the nature of faith: "If we are in union with Christ Jesus, circumcision [human contribution/works] makes no difference at all, nor does the lack of it; the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love [agape]" (Gal. 5:6, REB).
Isaiah says, "All flesh is grass, … all nations before Him are as nothing, and they are counted as less than nothing and worthless" (Isa. 40:6, 17). Paul follows up on this truth of scripture by declaring, "For I know that in me (that is in my flesh) nothing good dwells" (Rom. 7:18).
So the question is this: "How can a man, who is grass and nothing, and less than nothing, and worthless, with no good dwelling in him at all, contribute anything to his salvation--especially since God demonstrated His love to us without our help and before we even existed?"
E. J. Waggoner, one of the two 1888 messengers with heavenly credentials, wrote: "The offense of the cross is that the cross is a confession of human frailty and sin and of inability to do any good thing. To take the cross of Christ means to depend solely on Him for everything, and this is the abasement of all human pride. Men love to fancy themselves independent. But let the cross be preached, let it be made known that in man dwells no good thing and that all must be received as a gift, and straightway somebody is offended" (The Glad Tidings, p. 113).
The working of faith in the Thessalonians produced the labor of love and the patience of hope. They themselves did not do this. One may ask, "Well then, how is it that Paul can be so joyful over them?" Because they did not resist the Spirit that came to them through the hearing of faith, and faith worked in them through the love of God--God's own agape was now being demonstrated in the Thessalonians--apart from any human contribution of their own.
One might ask, "What about obeying the commandments of God then?" Obedience to all the commandments of God "springs from his faith, and therefore there is no chance for him to be lifted up, since the act of obedience is not his personal action, but is the action of his faith, and credited to him as his own. The man whose soul is lifted up in him, is the man who thinks that he can of himself do all that is required, and who as a consequence does nothing. Thus, "pride goeth before destruction" (see Waggoner,Signs of the Times, Feb. 4, 1889).
Righteousness is obedience to the law of God; righteousness is by faith which works in man by the love of God; obedience is solely by the faith of Jesus; so righteousness and obedience are both Christ's doing through the Spirit that also came into us by the hearing of faith--it is all of faith, or it is all of grass and nothing.
All the Scriptures teach that faith works. "Faith which works by love" (Gal. 5:6) is declared to be the one necessary thing. The Thessalonian brethren were commended for their "work of faith" (1 Thess. 1:2, 3). "So the case of Abraham is used as an illustration of the working of faith. God had made a promise to him; he had believed the promise, and his faith had been counted to him for righteousness. His faith was the kind that works righteousness. ... The work that Abraham did was a work of faith. His works did not produce his faith, but his faith produced his works. He was justified, not by faith and works, but by faith which works" (see Waggoner, "The Call of Abraham. The Test of Faith," The Present Truth, July 2, 1896, emphasis in the original).
Without faith not an act can be performed that will meet the approval of God. The Bible teaches this by saying that "whatever is not from faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23).
"Faith, being the gift of God, coming by the word of God, and itself working in man the works of God, needs none of the work of sinful man to make it good and acceptable to God. Faith itself works in man that which is good, and is sufficient of itself to fill all the life with the goodness of God, and needs not the imperfect effort of sinful man to make it meritorious. This faith gives to man good works, instead of being itself dependent upon man for "good works." It is not expressed by "faith and works;" but by "faith which works" (A. T. Jones, "Editorial," American Sentinel, May 31, 1894). And we are to take the words of Jesus just as He said them, and He said this: "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent" (John 6:29).
Faith comes by hearing and then faith itself works by the power of agape, the love of God which creates in man a new heart, places within him the mind of Christ, thus making him a new creation altogether.
Any man or group of men that teach that salvation is by faith and works is teaching a method of forgetting God, which passes as a method of remembering Him.
Suggesting that salvation is by faith and works is adding to the word of God that which it does not say or teach. Hear the warning: "You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you" (Deut. 4:2; see also Rev. 22:18).
Patience comes as a result of the "works of faith" and because it is the faith of Jesus, the commandments of God are kept perfectly.
Now here are the just that have lived by His faith, the saints in whom the work of faith has been obedient to all the commandments of God and produced endurance to the patience of hope. Here is joy!
--Daniel H. Peters
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