Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Lesson 5: Christ and the Sabbath

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Christ and His Law
Lesson 5: Christ and the Sabbath
The Sabbath is a revelation of Christ and a sign by which those who hallow it know that the Lord is the One who makes them righteous and sanctifies them.
Only those who believe with the faith of Jesus can enter into His Sabbath. Israel could not enter because they did not believe: "And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief" but "we who have believed do enter that rest" (Heb. 3:8, 9; 4:3).
The Sabbath contains within it the creative power of God, the rest of God, the blessing of God, the presence of God which makes holy, and the continuing, indwelling presence of God, which sanctifies. Therefore:
The Sabbath is a reminder of Christ as Creator: It is the reminder of His creative power manifested. It is a sign between Him and His people forever, "for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed" (Ex. 31:17).
The Sabbath contains Christ'rest: "For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: 'And God rested on the seventh day from all His works'" (Heb. 4:4). We have seen that only those who believe can enter His rest.
The Sabbath holds Christ's blessing: "Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made" (Gen. 2:3).
In the Sabbath is Christ's holiness: Only the presence of God can make anything holy. Moses, attracted by the sight of the bush burning yet not being consumed, turned aside "to see this great sight." "So when the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, 'Moses, Moses!' And he said, 'Here am I.' Then He said, 'Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground'" (Ex. 3:4, 5). That place was made holy ground solely by the presence of Him in the bush. Just so the presence of the Lord made holy the seventh day, the Sabbath, when He rested on it and in it from all His works.
The Sabbath has in it Christ'sanctification: He not only blessed the seventh day, but sanctified it that His presence might dwell in it. Christ's presence makes holy, but His continuing presence is what sanctifies.
And all the above is what is found "in Christ" by the believer; for the Sabbath rest is the culmination of the Everlasting Covenant--of the Gospel which is "Christ in you, the hope of glory." [Note: Being "in Christ" is only half the gospel--"Christ in you" is the completion of the gospel. All men have been "in Christ" from the beginning. "Christ in you" completes the gospel and God willed to make this known (see Col. 1:26, 27).]
The believer finds in Christ the creative power of God: Creative power is the same as redemptive power, therefore redemption is creation--they are one and the same. The first thing that Jesus is to the sinner in this world is Creator (Redeemer), making him a new creation. "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17). "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me"(Psalm 51:10). So the work of God in salvation is creation. It is Christ who makes us into new creations.
The believer finds in Christ God's rest: "For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His" (Heb. 4:10). Rest is a gift, as it is written: "Come unto me, ... and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). It is Christ who gives us His rest.
The believer finds in Christ God'blessing: "God, having raised up his Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities" (Acts 3:26). And "God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ... has blessed us with every spiritualblessings in the heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3). It is God who blesses us and turns us from our sins--for His sake.
The believer finds in Jesus the presence of God to make himholy: It is written: "At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you" (John 14:20). And "God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). It is the presence of God which makes holy, but His continuing presence sanctifies.
Elder Robert J. Wieland was often asked about the difference between "holy" and "righteous." He explained that: "Righteousness is the result of Christ's holiness meeting and conquering sin in our flesh." So we see that it is Christ in us, which makes us righteous, and His righteousness is only received by faith.
"The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever. My people will dwell in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places" (Isa. 32:17, 18). Herein is the Sabbath!
Ellen G. White wrote that the Sabbath points to Christ "as both the creator and the sanctifier "Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them" (Ezek. 20:12). "Then the Sabbath is a sign of Christ's power to make us holy" (The Desire of Ages, p. 288).
The believer finds in Jesus God'abiding, indwelling presencewhich sanctifies him: for it is written: "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him" (John 14:23); and "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God" (1 John 4:15); "For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (2 Cor. 6:16).
E. J. Waggoner, one of the 1888 messengers, said that justification is the highest state man can have on earth, and that sanctification is nothing more than this same justification moving forward over time. Sanctification is the uninterrupted obedience of Christ over time.
We know that Christ's presence makes holy--which is to make righteous, but His continual indwelling is what sanctifies us. Or we can say it this way: His presence makes holy and His continuing presence makes continually holy, or sanctified.
The Sabbath stands as God's sign of a completed work at creation and a sign of the completed work of His cross.
Now, to be made just or righteous means that self must die. We cannot kill self, but there is good news here too: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives 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. 2:20).
Waggoner wrote: "The power it took to create the world and all things that are in it, the power that keeps all things in existence, is the power that saves those who trust in it. This is the power of the cross" (The Glad Tidings, p. 140).
Sanctification is the complete work of Christ finished in the individual. The image of Christ is completely formed in the believer; so that when Christ looks upon the believer He sees Himself.
Now when man is completely sanctified, and all of self is gone, and none but Christ there, even then, in the depths of eternity when he comes to the Sabbath day, it will reveal to him still more of the wonderful knowledge and the sanctifying, growing power there is in Jesus Christ to the man who believes.
"For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength" (Isa. 30:15).
Christ is our Sabbath--He is the Sabbath and all that it means. With Christ in us, we will begin to better comprehend the Sabbath.
--Daniel H. Peters
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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lesson 4: Christ and the Law in the Sermon on the Mount

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Christ and His Law
Lesson 4: Christ and the Law in the Sermon on the Mount
The word gospel has the built-in meaning of "good news." We read that "Jesus came ... proclaiming God's Good News" (Mark 1:15, The New Testament: A New Translation, by William Barclay). His message majored in paths to happiness. He began His famous Sermon on the Mount with nine sure-cure prescriptions, each one beginning, "Happy are those who ..." (see Matt. 5:3-12, TEV).
Many people see this as the "catch." We can't get the blessing, the happiness, unless we do some impossible thing, so why try. You may be surprised to note that not one of those nine "beatitudes" tells us what to do in order to be "happy," as though Jesus were a guru proposing a program of works. The emphasis in Jesus' message of good news is not on doing some good thing in order to be happy, but on believing some "good news."
If happiness is contingent on my doing the right thing, I always run into the snag of realizing I can't do that thing just right. No matter how hard I try, there is always an element of failure or non-attainment. Even if I do whatever it is outwardly perfect, God looks on the heart and what if I don't have that just right? If God promises me something good on condition that I must first fulfill certain do-it-yourself prerequisites, His promises are bound to fall flat because I can't perform. God can promise me the sky, but it's a cruel trick if His promises are nullified by some impossible condition.
The Jews began to believe that the act of bringing a sacrifice was what made them perfect. They forgot that all those rituals and sacrifices were types, pointing forward to the sacrifice of Christ, which could make people perfect by faith. The writer of Hebrews explains that "how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God" (Heb. 9:14, NASV).
We may think that we could never fall in this trap, but it is easy to become insecure when we see how sinful we are. Our lesson this week uses what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount about the commandments against killing and adultery to illustrate the lofty standard of perfection. If we're honest with ourselves, seeing how sinful our motives and attitudes are makes us nervous. That guilty conscience compels us to "DO SOMETHING!" to assure us we are on the right track. But Hebrews tells us a "living God" doesn't want us to serve Him with "dead works."
"What are dead works? Death itself is the consequence of sin. Dead works therefore are works that have sin in them. Then the purging of the conscience from dead works is the so entirely cleansing of the soul from sin, by the blood of Christ, through the eternal Spirit, that in the life and works of the believer in Jesus sin shall have no place; the works shall be only works of faith, and the life shall be only the life of faith, and so be only the true and pure 'service of the living God'" (A. T. Jones, The Consecrated Way to Christian Perfection, p. 83; Glad Tidings ed.).
When we keep the law because we want to go to heaven, our law keeping is really sin. Why? Our actions may be fine, but our motivation is ego-centric. We aren't concerned about God or demonstrating to the world and universe that God can write His law in our hearts, we just want to make it to heaven. It is God's will that all be brought to repentance and are willing to participate in the sometimes painful process of sanctification and perfection. "Sanctification is the true keeping of all the commandments of God. In other words, this is to say that the will of God concerning man is that His will shall be perfectly fulfilled in man. His will is expressed in His law of ten commandments, which is 'the whole duty of man.' This law is perfect, and perfection of character is the perfect expression of this law in the life of the worshiper of God ..." (ibid., p. 86).
"Although the Ten Commandments contain a statement of the will of God, which is the perfection of wisdom and truth, they are only a statement, not the thing itself, just the same as a picture of a house is not a house, although it may be a perfect picture. Mere words written in a book or graven in stone have no life; but we know that the law of God is life everlasting. Only in Christ can the living law be found, since he is the only manifestation of the Godhead.
"Whoever has the life of Christ dwelling in him, has the perfect law of God manifest in his life. But he who has only the letter of the law, and not Christ, has only the form of knowledge and of truth (E. J. Waggoner, Waggoner on Romans, pp. 2.50, 51).
Many today are content to try the best they can to lead moral lives, and think God will wink at their shortcomings since everyone knows it's impossible to keep His law perfectly. They rationalize that they have never killed anyone, oblivious that tolerating sin in their life against God's wishes is setting their will in the place of God. Since God's law is a reflection of His character of love, and He is love, that is tantamount to wishing that part of Him would die. Lucifer gave in to his pride and wanted to be God.
The same can be said for stealing. Again, many believe they keep this commandment for the most part, (well, maybe they pilfer "little" things, but not very often). But most people admit that they fall short of the commandment when they find out that God considers withholding tithe and offerings as "robbing" God (Mal. 3:8, 9).
It's frustrating to take a serious look at what God expects from law keepers. It's enough to throw up your hands and say with Paul: "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin" (Rom. 7:24,25, NASV). That's Good News, even though until our flesh is changed (it will only take the twinkling of an eye), the frustrating sinful nature will pull us toward ourselves.
One of the great truths of the 1888 message that God gave to our church through Jones and Waggoner, is that our Savior "condemned sin in the flesh," conquering the problem for the human race. He forever outlawed sin in the vast universe of God by defeating it in its last lair--our fallen, sinful human flesh. Because of Him, there is now no reason for any human being to go on living under the frightful "dominion" of sin. Christ conquered sin in His flesh (which is the same as yours and mine), and by faith we have His victory. Praise be to God!
--Arlene Hill

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Christ and Religious Tradition

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Christ and His Law
Lesson 3: Christ and Religious Tradition
How is it possible that "we are all Arminian now"? Could it be that we want acceptance by the Evangelical community? Our "religious tradition" has now progressed to the point where it dictates how we read the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy. Our scholars now tell us that Ellen White taught Arminian theology.
If "we" had received the 1888 message, we would be able to discern the true from the counterfeit.
Is it possible to have a "saving relationship" with the false christ and fail to recognize the true Christ? The popular view of the incarnation is a christ who came in the flesh of Adam before the Fall. He could be tempted from without, but not from within. The popular christ came ever so near to us, but He never experienced temptation arising from within as we do.
However, we need a Saviour who is near to us and not afar off.
Is it possible to have a "saving relationship" with Jesus and lose our salvation when Christ says, "I never knew you"? The popular understanding of righteousness by faith is "believe, believe" for your own poor soul's salvation. Jesus paid it all at the cross. Justification is done and finished.
Is it possible to believe that Jesus is in the sanctuary? Is it possible to understand the 2300 day/year prophecy, and yet not know the deeper meaning of the atonement? The popular idea is that Christ atoned for sin when He died. (Is it really possible for Christ to be at-one-with sin?) Therefore, believe that your sins are forgiven and you will have the assurance of salvation.
Is it possible to believe the Ten Commandments are still binding upon the Christian, including the seventh-day Sabbath, and yet be a lawbreaker because of a faulty understanding of righteousness by faith? If the sinner was justified at the cross and the atonement is finished, then the Ten Commandments and the sanctuary truth have no meaning for the Christian life. The Sabbath is no longer the seal of God's love in the Christian's life.
If this is the case, then effectively we are no longer Seventh-day Adventists because our defective understanding of the gospel has no power to conquer sin in the life. Then we have no way for the "harvest" to mature in preparation for the second coming of Christ. We could postpone His coming indefinitely.
A sizable segment of the church and its ministry lean toward popular concepts that it is not possible to overcome sin per se. These ideas have been adapted to Adventism, following the Calvinist view that as long as one possesses a sinful nature, continued sinning is unavoidable and therefore excusable. (This of course logically denies the significance of the unique Adventist idea of the antitypical Day of Atonement.)
To lower God's expectation in order to vindicate an uncaring, lukewarm people would insult divine justice. It would mean establishing the Old Jerusalem in the new earth, continually backsliding, unrepentant and disobedient, in place of the spiritually triumphant and thoroughly repentant New Jerusalem. It would disappoint the hopes of Abraham who "looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God." This "city" would be a finally victorious community of his spiritual descendants, not merely a few scattered, uncoordinated individuals (cf. Heb. 11:10). There must be a people who attain to that maturity of Christian experience and faith. This is the climax toward which history has been moving.
Is it possible to confuse the old and the new covenants and become hardened legalists? This explains the history of ancient Israel and their ultimate rejection of God's Messiah. Our confused understanding of the two covenants explains why we have resisted and ridiculed God's Teacher of Righteousness (the Holy Spirit), when He sent to us the beginning Latter Rain message in 1888.
God has too much self-respect to answer the prayers of the Jews to send the Messiah. He has already given them their Messiah. He will not resend their Deliverer to walk the earth. They must answer their own prayers by going back in history and claiming what God has already given to them.
We are "just like the Jews." We have been praying for 170+ years for the loud cry and latter rain of the Holy Spirit. God already gave us the beginning of the latter rain in our 1888 history. God has too much self-respect to give the Spirit again to a generation who refuse Him. It remains for a "generation" to experience the humiliation of the ages, and make a confession to God and the world, that we have kept this blessed gift from going out to the ends of the earth.
Is it possible to evangelize the world with the third angel's message, and teach individual repentance for sin, and yet human pride still be left intact? Is it possible to preach the Sabbath, the state of the dead, the second coming, the millennium, the investigative judgment, tithing, (the 29 fundamental beliefs) etc., and massive baptisms result? Then the evangelist can go on the convention circuit and talk about the latest methods to save souls increasing our statistics and church rolls; and yet, the motivation is to make ourselves look good. Is it possible to be no closer to the kingdom because of our self-centered motives?
All of this makes for good church politics. Self-promotion is smart policy in order to maneuver ourselves into positions of power and influence. It gets attention. We can rub shoulders with church movers and shakers. There are invitations to go on the speaking circuit. All of this political gamesmanship is strangely reminiscent of the church in Christ's day and the reason why His brand of religion was rejected by the powerbrokers.
Is it possible to preach Christ, grace, and yes, the cross, with all the prophecies and our historic beliefs, and still not uplift the Crucified One? Is it a matter of how many times we use the words? Is it a matter of balance? Should there be 50% law and 50% grace?
Jesus knew no lukewarm "balance" in His love which drove Him to His cross. He didn't take a survey in order to determine the "concensus" view of the public as to whether or not He should go to the cross.
Rather, He said: "My devotion to Your house, O God, burns in Me like a fire" (John 2:17, TEV). Our prayer is, "While time is running out, save us from patience which is akin to cowardice. Give us the courage to be either hot or cold, to stand for something, lest we fall for anything."
--Paul E. Penno
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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Christ and the Law of Moses

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Christ and His Law
Lesson 2: Christ and the Law of Moses

The Bible itself is a better source of information about Moses than any movie, and more interesting, too. If the Bible is read with unbelief, it becomes boring, because doubt short-circuits practically every statement and paralyzes the understanding. But if it is read with heart-felt belief, it grips the attention. The Holy Spirit recreates the happenings described there and you see it all in three-dimensional realism, a vividness that can never be forgotten, as a movie can be.
Before we get to the fire and earthquake of Mount Sinai and the writing of the law on stone in Exodus 20, we find that Israel had already made the mistake in chapter 19 of forming an "old covenant." They wanted to substitute it for God's new or everlasting covenant. The story is fascinating, for we can see ourselves in it.
When the people gathered at Mount Sinai, God told Moses to renew to them the same "new covenant" promises He had made to their father Abraham: "Tell the children of Israel: 'You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people'" (Exodus 19:3-5).
When He said "My covenant" He was referring to the same covenant He had made with Abraham--His one-sided promise. "Keep My covenant," He said; that is, cherish it. The Hebrew verb shamar is the same word used in Genesis 2:15 where we read that God put Adam in the Garden of Eden "to tend and keep it." It wouldn't make sense to say that Adam was to "obey" the Garden! There's a play on words in what God said to Israel: If you will "treasure" My promise to Abraham, I will "treasure [you] above all peoples." For us to believe as did Abraham makes God very happy!
The Hebrew verb shamea translated as "obey My voice" is rendered in the Old Testament as "hear" over 700 times, as "hearken" almost 200 times, but as "obey" only about 80 times. The root meaning of "obey" in either Hebrew or Greek is to listen attentively (in Greek it is to bend the ear down low so you catch every syllable). Any parent knows that if you can get your child to listen to you, you've probably gone a long way toward obedience.
Thus the Lord said to Israel, "If you will listen to My voice and cherishor treasure the promise I made to your father Abraham, you will be 'a special treasure to Me above all people." But Israel did not understand. They did not have the faith of Abraham. Mired in legalistic thinking, they made a vain promise, something that God never asked Abraham to do. "All that the Lord has spoken we will do" (verse 8). Thus they formed the old covenant.
Since they brought the old covenant upon themselves, God must let them learn through their own history how vain were their promises to keep His law. The law written in tables of stone imposed upon them a burden of "ought," a never-ending obligation they could not fulfill, never giving liberty, but always threatening punishment if not kept perfectly. It must serve in this long national detour now as a kind of jailer, driving them "under the law" until at last they come to the experience of their father Abraham to be justified by faith and not by their "works of law."
The difference between the new covenant and the old covenant is simply "who makes the promise." As "Sabbath School Today" has often presented, 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. In the new covenant, it's God; in the old covenant, it's the people. And the keeping of the promise depends entirely on who makes it. In the new covenant, the foundation is solid Rock; in the old, it's sand. Our salvation (and Israel's) does not depend on our making promises to God (or keeping them) but on our believing His promises to us.
Correctly understood, the message of the new covenant is part of the light which is yet to "lighten the earth with glory" (KJV) in the closing hours of this world's history (Rev. 18:1-4). The message will be centered in a true understanding of righteousness by faith, which alone can prepare God's people for the final time of trouble (see 19:1-14). Many, when they hear its Good News will awaken as from a dream. All of God's biddings will become enablings, and the Ten Commandments will become to them ten precious statements of Good News. Nothing will be able to stop them from responding to God's gracious last call, "Come out of her [Babylon], My people" (18:4).
Possibly we have been misquoting the Ten Commandments without realizing what we've done. Whoever taught them to us since we were kids usually left out one verse that God put in at the very beginning, before any of the prohibitions. Leave it out and the ten indeed become Bad News, a "yoke of bondage." Many, even preachers and teachers, have not seen the importance of that preamble verse. Even some who claim to specialize in preaching "the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus" have not seen it.
Here it is--the missing verse that belongs at the beginning of any true version of the Ten Commandments:

"And God spoke all these words, saying: 'I am the Lord your God,who brought you out of the land of Egypt,out of the house of bondage'" (Exodus 20:1, 2).

First, God tells us what His true name is: "The Lord." Second, this neglected verse tells us that He is everybody's God, "I am the Lordyour God." Third, in His preamble God tells us that we don't belong in spiritual Egypt. Fourth, God has already delivered you "out of the house of bondage."
Just as He chose Israel to be His "child," so in Christ He has already chosen you. Israel never truly were "slaves" in Egypt. The Egyptiansmade them think they were slaves, and they believed it, and thus they served mistakenly as slaves, but all the while they were a free people waiting for Moses to tell them the truth, "Leave! Get out--to freedom in your own land."
What the world is waiting to hear is the full truth of God's past message of freedom. The Father sent His Son with an express mission: save the world! Just before He was crucified, He prayed to His Father, "I have finished the work which You have given Me to do" (John 17:4). How could He say that if He had failed to save the world?
We know that the Ten Commandments were not nailed to the cross. Ellen Whit writes: "There is a law which was abolished, which Christ 'took out of the way, nailing it to His cross.' Paul calls it 'the law of commandments contained in ordinances.' This ceremonial law, given by God through Moses, with its sacrifices and ordinances, was to be binding upon the Hebrews until type met antitype in the death of Christ as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world" (Bible Echo, April 16, 1894).
What was "abolished in [Christ's] flesh" was not the law itself but the age-old enmity which was encouraged by a fear-motivated legalism. Peter in Acts 15:10 referred to the "yoke ... which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear" as circumcision and "the law of Moses." Circumcision was instituted because of Abraham's unbelief in taking Hagar (Gen. 16, 17). "The law of Moses" was imposed on the people because of their unbelief in bringing on themselves the old covenant at Sinai (Ex. 19:8). What was "abolished" at the cross was the fear-laden enmity and guilt generated by that unbelief. Thus circumcision and "the law of Moses" came to an end at the cross; but in principle something more fundamental also came to an end there, says Paul--sin itself was conquered, with its resultant alienation from God.
 Deliverance From the Yoke of Sin
The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, and prompts us to continual overcoming. But in view of the cross, we are to "let no man therefore judge you" or lay upon us a guilt trip for trespasses paid for by Christ's sacrifice. We are to "let no man beguile" us of our "reward" through the false teachings of a "fleshly mind" (Col. 2:16-18). Paul's meaning for the Colossians of his day included deliverance from the regulations of the ceremonial law, but it also had reference to the infinitely greater good news of deliverance from every vestige of Satan's tyranny over our souls. That is the idea which is at the heart of the "third angel's message in verity"--deliverance from the galling yoke of sin. It is possible for a people to prepare for the second coming of Christ!
That's Good News for these last hours of earth's history. Untold millions are waiting to hear it.
--From the writings of Robert J. Wieland
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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Laws in Christ's Day

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Christ and His Law
Lesson 1: Laws in Christ's Day
Welcome to the study of "Christ and His Law" for the next thirteen weeks. Of all the laws that existed in Christ's day there were only two ways of keeping them. One way was legalism and the other way was love. This is what interests us today. The same two motivations for law-keeping exist today. Legalism is a subtle counterfeit of the devil by which one's soul could be lost in the end. Love is the genuine motivation from the Heavenly Merchantman's gift shop in the sanctuary.
Satan has successfully infiltrated the popular churches and Adventism with an extremely subtle form of "selfie" love. Lucifer has discovered a sugar-coated brand of legalism to confuse us while we vainly imagine that we have outgrown the old kind. "We" think that legalism is keeping the man-made do's and don'ts checklist of religion in order to be saved. It is religion absorbed in a highly refined, sophisticated love of self that keeps asking, "What is essential for my salvation? What is the least sacrifice and devotion I can give and still squeak past the pearly gates? How close can I come to the world and still be saved?" This attitude is evident in the frequent question, "Is it really a sin to do this or that?" There is a vast amount of legalism clogging popular Adventist thinking! And it repels sincere, thoughtful youth. We need as desperately to understand the gospel as did our brethren in 1888!
Legalism promulgated for decades as "the third angel's message" is a distortion of truth and is largely responsible for the long delay in finishing God's work. Some 75% or more of Adventist youth leave the church after they turn 18. Legalism has provoked many children to wrath and driven them into rebellion.
It was the basic problem in the 1888 history. Ellen White said that our ministers of that era had "preached the law until we are as dry as the hills of Gilboa, that had neither dew nor rain." [1] Yet earnest Seventh-day Adventist leaders were demanding more of the same, saying, "'You should not be reaching for the righteousness of Christ, and making so much of that. You should preach the law.'" [2] That was legalism, pure and simple! But do we have a problem with it today? Yes; otherwise we would not be losing those 75% or more of our young people!
How can law and love be inseparable? They appear (on the surface) to be incompatible!
Obedience to God's law is never legalism. The perpetuity of the law is not legalism, nor is preaching the importance of obedience. Legalism is not overemphasis of the law, as though there were some secret line of balance between legalism and grace--fifty-fifty. "Balance" is not the issue; 99% gospel and 1% legalism nullifies the gospel, or "frustrates" it, to use Paul's expression (Gal. 2:21). The 1% of legalism will poison the whole like a small dose of arsenic ruins bread.
Here is Paul's phrase which means legalism: "For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse" (Gal. 3:10). Obviously, "the works of the law" are not true obedience to the law. They are a supposed obedience, which is deceptive. The problem is that they spring from the wrong motivation. Legalism is trying to do the right thing for the wrong reason.
In Paul's thinking, "the works of the law" are the opposite of faith. The negative definition discloses the positive. Note his contrasts: "Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? ... Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by theflesh?" (Gal. 3:2, 3). "The works of the law" are defined here as the work of "the flesh."
But there is a passage where Paul makes it even more clear. He contrasts being "under the law" (legalism) with being "under grace" as two opposites. To be "under grace" is "the hearing of faith" and produces true obedience to the law because it delivers from the "dominion" of sin (Rom. 6:14). The believer is under the compulsion of a new motivation imposed by a heart appreciation of the grace of God revealed in the sacrifice of Christ. This new motivation transcends "hope of reward" or "fear of hell." [3] Thus Paul's definition of legalism is being under a self-centered motivation imposed either by fear of punishment or hope of reward.
What is genuine love? There are some 200 references to it in the New Testament. One says, "God is love" (1 John 4:8). If that is true, we should be preaching love a thousand times more than we do!
The problem is that the enemy has kidnapped the New Testament idea of love (agape) from Christianity and substituted the Hellenistic, pagan idea instead (eros). Most Christians, and this sadly includes many Adventists, do not understand the difference. The New Testament idea of love is not soft on sin--it is the only effective antidote to it. There is nothing mushy about agape; the same God who is agape is also "a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29). Long before the flames of the last days are let loose, that holy fire will have burned highly refined self-centeredness out of every Laodicean heart where genuine faith in Christ will let it do so.
To talk about the law without understanding agape "working wrath" actually contributes to sin. That was the 1888 problem. Brethren did not know what true obedience is. Only "agape is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 4:15; 13:10). It follows that the remnant church who "keep the commandments of God" will be a people virtually obsessed withagape. "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." [4] That message is not soft-soap.
The all-important question in the judgment will be, Have we learned to love? Not, how many "works of the law" have we toted up? Jesus separates the sheep and the goats on that one score of true love (Matt. 25:31-46).
In John's magnificent chapter on agape, love reveals the test of whether or not we know God: "Everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not [with agape] knoweth not God" (1 John 4:7, 8).
Further, when "our love [is] made perfect ... we may have boldness in the day of judgment" (1 John 4:17). Many Adventists have had dreams about the investigative judgment and the second coming. New Testament agape equips one to walk in humbly yet boldly past all the holy angels and to stand before God's throne without trembling.
No one can receive the seal of God and face the enforced mark of the beast if any fear still lurks in the heart. A basic "fear of death .. all their lifetime," has made the human race "subject to bondage" (Heb. 2:15). But "there is no fear in love [agape]; but perfect love casteth out fear. ... He that feareth is not made perfect in agape" (1 John 4:18).
The practical effect of the 1888 message emphasizing the cleansing of the sanctuary will be to root out that last vestige of fear from the hearts of God's people, and replace it with agape, which alone is true obedience to God's commandments.
--Paul E. Penno
Endnotes (Ellen G. White):
[1] The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 560.
[2] "Christ Prayed for Unity Among His Disciples," Review and Herald, March 11, 1890.
[3] "It is not the fear of punishment, or the hope of everlasting reward, that leads the disciples of Christ to follow Him. They behold the Saviour's matchless love, revealed throughout His pilgrimage on earth, from the manger of Bethlehem to Calvary's cross, and the sight of Him attracts, it softens and subdues the soul. Love awakens in the heart of the beholders. They hear His voice, and they follow Him" (The Desire of Ages, p. 480).
[4] Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 415, 416.

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