Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"The Law and the Gospel"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Growing in Christ
Lesson 10: "The Law and the Gospel"

Most Christians have a love-hate relationship with the law of God. Evangelical Christians abolish it as a legalistic "under the law" experience. Others, including some Adventists, say, "Since we cannot hope to keep the law perfectly, we'll just keep on sinning up until the second coming of Christ. So all we can hope for is a mere legal justification." Could it be that some, unwittingly, are on the wrong side of the great controversy? [1]
Both of these options teach that Jesus saves Christians in their sins and cannot keep them from sinning (Matt. 1:21). Satan claims that he has invented something which even God can't solve, namely sin. He claims that it is impossible for sinners to keep the law of God. If that's the case, then the gospel has no good news for the erring.
The resolution to the law-gospel dilemma is found in the 1888 message. There is perfect unity between "the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" so that our Great Intercessor gives the atonement of sinless living in sinful flesh (Rev. 14:12).
The conflict God's people have with the law started at Mount Sinai. God promised to do with them what He had done with their father Abraham, to write His law upon their hearts and minds (Gen. 15:6). But instead of believing God's everlasting promise, in their self-confidence they made their old covenant promise to do everything just right (Ex. 19:8). [2]
The Lord didn't ask them to make a bargain with Him. He knows that the human mind is "carnal" "enmity against God" and "is not subject to the law of God" (Rom. 8:7). Human promises are "like ropes of sand." [3]
Since they would not permit God to do as He had promised with believing Abraham, He wrote the law on cold tables of stone and had them placed inside the ark within the tabernacle constructed for His dwelling place situated in the midst of the encampment. "The law" was "added [emphasized] because of transgressions" (Gal. 3:19). The "transgression" was their self-righteous old covenant promise. There in the gospel by "moonlight," He instructed believing worshipers in the coming Messiah, the true sacrificial Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
"The first covenant had ... ordinances" which "could not make him that did the service perfect, as pertaining to the conscience" (Heb. 9:1, 9). They were "carnal ordinances," because they were performed by "worldly" hearts of unbelief (vss. 10, 1).
As "heirs" of their Father's estate, they had been promised the whole world in righteousness (Gal. 4:1), but because of unbelief they were "under tutors and governors" (vs. 2) of moral and ceremonial laws. In their "childhood" they "were in bondage under the elements of the world" (vs. 3). Their "under the law" pledge to keep the law was motivated by selfishness (vs. 5). Self-love was the bottom line of their faith. Faith was a self-centered hope of reward and avoidance of hell. Since "love [agape] is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:10); a worldly, ego-centric love is unbelief. Non-faith is an "under the law" experience of disobedient legalism.
Some righteous few, like Abraham, Moses, Caleb, and Joshua, believed God's new covenant and were "under grace." But for most of them, they were "kept under the law" "shut up" by wardens (Gal. 3:23). Says Paul, "the law was our schoolmaster" (vs. 24); until such time either in the old dispensation of types and ceremonies, or the new dispensation of fulfillment, "the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe" (vs. 22).
The gospel and the law were given by God hand-in-hand when the Lord declared in the preamble to the ten commandments, "I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Ex. 20:2). The Lord has redeemed us from our sell-out to the slavery of sin and death, by His payment on our behalf at the cross. He has freed us from the shackles of sin and self. As our Substitute and Surety he has fired the first Adam from whom we receive nothing but sin, condemnation, and death.
Christ as our Representative last Adam is the Saviour of the world. He has legally justified the whole race of sinners. If you need proof of that, just take a long, deep breath. You're alive! Now receive the atonement He gives, the forgiveness of your sins. "Be ye reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20).
Your faith now appreciates the Divine love so freely given. "The love of Christ constraineth us" (1 Cor. 5:14). You see if One hadn't died for all, all would be dead, but you live! Now faith has a new motivation, Divine love. "Faith works by love" (Gal. 5:6). With the "under grace" motivation of the cross, there is no end to the amount of works faith can produce. This is new covenant faith in harmony with the law of God. Said Jesus, "If ye love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15). Genuine faith is manifested by keeping all the commandments of God, including the fourth commandment. [4]
The ten commandments are now ten glorious promises of God. [5] "Thou shalt not steal" is no longer a negative, but God's promise that though you may be in the office all alone with a million dollars of company money on the desk, God will preserve you from stealing even one penny.
"Thou shalt not commit adultery" is God's promise to save you from ever falling into that deceptive pit, no matter how alluring a sexual temptation might be. The misery you will escape is enormous! The ten commandments become what most people have never dreamed of: ten messages of miracles of joyous good news.
To receive the "seal of God" is to receive a distinguishing mark that sets one apart from others as very different and peculiar. True Sabbath-keeping is the fruitage of a genuine conversion to Christ. It is not merely a case of resting on Saturday. To receive the seal of God through true Sabbath-keeping is to receive the work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart, a "rest" from sin and self: "There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into His rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His" (Heb. 4:9, 10). These "works" are old covenant works of pride and love of self.
Is the sacrifice of Christ as Lamb of God, and His ministry as great High Priest, powerful enough to save His people from (not in) their sins? When Christ comes the second time, will He find a body of people of whom it can honestly be said, they "follow the Lamb withersoever He goeth" (Rev. 14:4)?
If the Lord wants to, He can accomplish the preparation of a people for the second coming of Christ. For the first time in human history, a divine announcement is made concerning a corporate body of people from "every nation, kindred, tongue, and people," "Here is the patience of the saints: here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus" (Rev. 14:12). Before the grueling inspection of the unfallen universe, they pass the test. The Lord is honored in them. And the next event is His coming (vs. 14).
--Paul E. Penno
Endnotes (From Ellen G. White):
[1] "Many will stand in our pulpits with the torch of false prophecy in their hands, kindled from the hellish torch of Satan." Special Testimony for Ministers and Workers, No. 11, p. 8.
[2] "All that the LORD hath spoken we will do" (Ex. 19:8). "Feeling that they were able to establish their own righteousness, they declared, 'All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.' Exodus 24:7." Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 372.
[3] Steps to Christ, p. 47.
[4] Testimony to Ministers and Gospel Workers, pp. 91-92.
[5] "The ten commandments, Thou shalt, and Thou shalt not, are ten promises, assured to us if we render obedience to the law governing the universe." Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol. 1, p. 1105.
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