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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