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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