Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Christ's Kingdom and the Law

Sabbath School Today

With the 1888 Message Dynamic 

Christ and His Law

Lesson 13: Christ's Kingdom and the Law


Every government must have a law, a constitution. If the government of your country were to abolish all highway traffic laws, you would never dare to travel anywhere. If someone walked down the highway shouting, "All traffic laws are abolished! Drive on any side of the road you please! Freedom!" the people would know he was a fool, and the police would rightly lock him up.

As soon as someone begins to find fault with God's "perfect law of liberty" we may likewise know that he is himself either a fool, or is in bondage to the enemy of God. In fact, this is the test by which we may know if God has sent a man, or if Satan has sent him. This is a fair warning as we conclude this series of studies on Christ and His law.

Men who say that the law of God is abolished cannot be sent of God, for Jesus Himself said: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. ... Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:17-20).

Every human being upon the face of the earth must choose between the "glorious liberty" of the sons of God in obedience to God's perfect "law of liberty" in His kingdom, or the bondage of obedience to the evil rule of Satan.

The master inventor of all fiendish schemes wants to embarrass Christ. If Satan can perpetuate sin among God's people, he has his success made. This is his best way to sabotage Christ's kingdom.

Let's face a reality: continued apathy now is sin. And as time goes on, it will be seen to be a re-crucifixion of Christ. The enemy cannot at present use physical force. His strategy has been to take advantage of our ignorance of what sin is and thus induce in us a spiritual paralysis. Our singular lukewarmness is an enchanted-ground lethargy on the borders of the heavenly kingdom.

Here is the source of evil. Satan's campaign on earth against God is a cosmic struggle that dwarfs all of our petty concerns for our own personal salvation. The fate of a world is in the balance. But even more: something still greater is involved. God cannot be a tyrant in the universe, ruling over unwilling subjects who do not trust Him. The fate of His government is in the balance too.

If political tyrants have fallen because their peoples break free from the chains of oppression, demanding democracy, so surely must God rule only by the voluntary, wholehearted acclaim of His subjects. Satan's lies must be unmasked and he must be defeated in order for the kingdom of God to be established.

The war between good and evil cannot go on forever, for if it does it will prove that God is impotent. And that will mean that truth cannot prevail. No news could be worse than that. Victory for righteousness must come. This is precisely the scenario that the Bible unveils in the book of Revelation:

"Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death" (Rev. 12:10, 11).

True "salvation" is greater than our personal security. It is the salvation of the cause of righteousness and truth. Our personal salvation is involved in that greater salvation, like saving your finger from drowning is included in saving your body. In fact, our personal salvation would be worthless without that greater salvation having been achieved. There is no way that "saved" souls can exist independently of God!

Every time we pray the Lord's Prayer, we pray the prayer that may be over our heads in understanding. This setting up of "the kingdom of God" is the same as the goal of the Lord's prayer: "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10).

The "kingdom" has not yet "come." It's been awaiting establishment now for two millennia since Christ gave us this prayer of expectation; many who reverence the Bible as the Word of God wrestle with the conviction that it's overdue. It's been hindered. But they also are convicted that if there is any delay, the honor of God will be compromised.

The coming of "the kingdom" is equivalent to the great "other angel [who] comes out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sits on the cloud, 'Thrust in Your sickle, and reap; for the time is come for You to reap; for the harvest of the earth is ripe'" (Rev. 14:15). It's the grand close of probationary history of this earth.

The coming of the kingdom is also equivalent to the grand climax of Christ's work as the world's High Priest: "We have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, ... not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:14, 15). The 1888 message is about our High Priest's work; to reconcile the alienated hearts of God's people to Him; another name for that is the ministry of the antitypical Day of Atonement (a simple word, at-one-with-God-in-heart). Yes, for that to happen would be a miracle; but that's what the Lord's Prayer has been praying for all this long while!

Another word for atonement is "the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary" (see Dan. 8:14), a phrase that makes sense only if it is understood as the cleansing of the hearts of God's people from all sin, known and also unknown. The honor and vindication of Christ in the "great controversy with Satan" is involved in thus establishing "the kingdom." That is our true motivation, something that transcends our concern for saving our own poor little souls.

Satan's enmity and warfare are now directed against "our brethren," that is, against all who are loyal to God. Those who are loyal to Satan remain on his side. All human beings are therefore involved in this great spiritual war, and no one can exempt himself from being on one or the other side.

Loyalty to God is expensive, for it means (for many at least) the sacrifice of life itself. But this is not difficult for them, for they are loyal "unto the death" through faith in "the blood of the Lamb." Christ was loyal to them "unto death," "even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8). They say, "Thank You" for such a sacrifice.

--Paul E. Penno
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Raul Diaz

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Christ's Church and the Law

Christ and His Law
Lesson 12: Christ's Church and the Law
The 1888 message is Christ our righteousness. Christ is our Lawgiver. Righteousness by faith is the love of Christ manifest in the lives of sinful humans who have learned to appreciate what it cost Him to give His life for us. Agape is Divine love uniquely revealed in this world by the faith of Jesus whose service to mankind is the embodiment of the law of God.
God's holy law was given to the "holy pair" in the Garden of Eden. In all their innocence Adam and Eve were clothed with the radiant light of God's love. Divine love is expressed in freedom of choice. Love must be tested so that the innocent ones might develop character.
The church in the Garden was "commanded" to worship the Creator. "Thou shalt not eat of" "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Gen. 2:16, 17). God's will for them was to know only good. They were not to know evil. Our first parents worshipped by believing the Good News of God's character of love. God promised to protect them from the horror of evil. "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Gen. 2:17). They believed His Word.
The temptation of the serpent was to deceive them into believing that God was not only good, but also evil. The deception was that when God said, "thou shalt surely die." He withheld from them the knowledge, "ye shalt not surely die" (Gen. 3:4). The serpent's purpose was not an outright attack on God's commandments, but to confuse truth with error.
By commingling these two opposites,—"surely die," "not surely die"; "good and evil,"—the serpent's three deceptions were woven together into one strand: (1) There will be no death, for Eve believed the serpent that man's nature is immortal; (2) "knowing good and evil" is essential, for there is a conjunction of opposites; and (3) "ye shall be God," for divinity dwells within every immortal human soul and only awaits self-realization. Thus the church failed the test of God's commandments in the beginning because of unbelief.
Now the church needs righteousness by faith. The church lost its original holiness of God's garments of love. There is no innate righteousness, and so God provides a sacrifice and clothes them with the skin of an animal. God teaches Adam and Eve about their Saviour, "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). Christ pardons the sinful church and imparts His righteousness.
The church is to worship God by faith in "the Descendant" of the woman. The sacrifice of Jesus is the "enmity" (Gen. 3:15) that breaks up the alliance that sinners have with "that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan" (Rev. 12:9). But the cosmic controversy that Christ has with Satan is welcome in the world and plays itself out in the conflict between the "seed" [church] of the woman and the "seed" [followers] of Satan.
Cain's descendants, "the daughters of men" (Gen. 6:2), came to God by an offering of their own merits (Gen. 4:3). "The sons of God" worshipped God through the merits of Christ's blood (Gen. 4:4). The other descendants of Adam and Eve heartily repented of Eve's folly and maintained a firm loyalty to the original truth of God. They became the progenitors of an unbroken line of generations of faithful worshippers of God who believed that man had forfeited immortality by rebellion against Him and could obtain it only through faith in a divine Saviour to come and in His sacrifice.
"The Gospel message was given by Adam, Seth, Enoch, Methuselah, and Noah. Abraham in Canaan, and Lot in Sodom bore the message, and from generation to generation faithful messengers proclaimed the coming One." [1]
"Enoch was a representative of Christ." "That God who walked with Enoch was ... Christ." "The message" of Christ and the law was "preached by Enoch, and his translation to heaven ... were an argument that Methuselah and Noah could use with power to show that the righteous could be translated." [2]
Abraham made God so happy, He declared that all who embraced the same faith that he had must inherit the whole earth for an everlasting possession with everlasting life to go along with the gift! He promised him and all his descendants to become a great nation, the "head and not the tail," the outstanding example to all the world of what God's salvation is all about. God's church on earth is to evangelize the world. Corporately they are to honor His name before all the pagan nations.
But Israel largely failed. Even their best leaders blew it. God gave King Saul great military success with his sword; but it went to his head. Even David who praised the Lord in all his Psalms brought dishonor.
Solomon's vast wealth and wisdom went to his head. Kings such as Hezekiah and Jehoshaphat for whom the Lord wrought great miracles sullied their life record with tragic mistakes of pride. The prophets all longed for a national repentance that never came until Israel crucified their Messiah.
Now God has a world church through whom He longs to glorify His name before a bewildered, confused modern world in gross darkness. There is good news: what Jesus died to accomplish will yet be achieved in His church—when they can pour contempt on all their pride.
The basic thesis of Satan's six thousand year legal spree on earth has been his contention that it is impossible for fallen sons and daughters of Adam to lives totally in harmony with God's holy law. He has gleefully welcomed all the evidence that has tarnished the record of God's professed people all through the ages.
The time of trouble cannot come until God's people experience a finally effective revival and reformation. Satan doesn't want that blessing ever to come. It is not in his interest for the coming of Christ to be anywhere near soon.
True to form, the "dragon" will lose his cool once he sees a genuine demonstration of complete loyalty to Christ. Once let a people learn to overcome "even as" Christ "overcame," so that God can truthfully say of them, "Here are they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus," and Satan will explode (Rev. 12:17). The time of trouble will be his final temper tantrum.
But it will be his final undoing, as well. Again, as at Calvary, he will expose himself. Christ will accept the gauntlet flung down before Him. He will consider Satan's enmity against God's people as personally directed against Himself. The mark of the beast will be an overt attempt to rid the earth of God's people, Satan's "final solution" for what is to him the righteousness "problem." This "remnant" who truly keep God's commandments are a threat to him, a demonstration that his entire program has been wrong from the beginning.
Remember, getting ready for the time of trouble is not a legalistic works program. It's a matter of being finally reconciled to God through Christ's sacrifice, receiving "the final atonement." [3] It's the complete devotion to Him that is involved in a bride submitting to a husband whom she dearly loves.
Wouldn't it be supremely selfish of us to say "No" to His invitation? And wouldn't it imply a pretty serious lack of trust in Him for us to be afraid of the future with Him?
Paul E. Penno
Endnotes:[1] Ellen G. White, "Things New and Old," The Present Truth, June 4, 1903, pp. 353-354.
[2] Ellen G. White, "Christ in All the Bible," The New York Indicator, June 30, 1909, p. 1.
[3] Cf. Early Writings, pp. 244, 254; The Great Controversy, p. 480.
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Raul Diaz

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Apostles and the Law

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Christ and His Law
Lesson 11: The Apostles and the Law

Our lesson this week looks at comments made by five apostles regarding the law. Taken together, it is unmistakable that the law in question is the Ten Commandment law rather than the ceremonial law. The relationship of fallen human beings to the laws of God was the very issue that caused the controversy before, during, and after the General Conference session in 1888.
A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner had come to believe that the laws described by Paul, especially in the book of Galatians, were not binding as a means of salvation, but only serve as a mirror of proper Christian living standards. Paul states in Galatians chapter 3 that our justification and salvation cannot be based on law keeping but on God's promises to Abraham and to his Seed (Gal. 3:16). Those in opposition at the 1888 Conference were concerned that if this view was accepted, the commandment regarding the Sabbath would be forgotten. They feared if the commandments were no longer binding, the arguments for keeping the seventh-day Sabbath would fail. This reasoning is faulty since the Ten Commandment law merely restated the Sabbath gift that was originally given in pre-fall Eden.
"Since sin is the transgression of a law [1 John 3:4], it is evident that to save one from sin, or from the transgression of a law, is the same thing as making and keeping him obedient to law. Therefore the gospel is the revelation of the power of God to work righteousness in man--to manifest righteousness in their lives. The gospel, therefore, proclaims God's perfect law, and contemplates nothing less than perfect obedience to it. Let it not be overlooked that it requires no less a power than the power of God, to exhibit righteous acts in the lives of men. Man's power is wholly inadequate. This is easily seen when we recognize what the righteousness is, that is to be revealed in the life. The text [Rom. 1:16, 17] says that it is 'the righteousness of God.' The righteousness of God is set forth in His law (Isa. 51:6, 7). Now who can do the righteousness of God? ... Evidently only God Himself. The law of God sets forth God's way (Psalm 119:1, 2). But the Lord says, 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts' (Isa. 55:9). Therefore man's effort to keep the commandments of God must fall as far short as the earth is lower than the heavens" (E. J. Waggoner, The Present Truth, Jan. 28, 1892).
Many folks who emphasize that our works are important to our salvation overlook that a salvation based on law obedience must encompass one's entire life. It also requires obedience in Spirit and truth, not merely outward actions. Without the indwelling Spirit of Christ, it is impossible for any fallen human trying to keep the law.
Ironically, many well-meaning folks who try to find assurance of their salvation in their performance, frequently look to the book of James for support. They like James' ideas "because he's so practical," not realizing that they are looking for something they can do to make themselves look better in God's sight. Examination of just a few verses will confirm that James teaches a much deeper standard than just helpful hints for a happy Christian life.
James 5:13 identifies two groups of believers: "Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises" (NASB). We shall see that for mature Christians, these two groups are really the same people. James 1:2-4 gives advice to those who are suffering: "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."
Someone may say "I'm not feeling the joy" and that is correct. Notice James does not say to "feel" all joy when we encounter various trials, but "count" or "consider" it joy. Here is where many stumble. They see bad things happening in their lives or in the lives of others and immediately ask "why?" They generally blame God for letting the bad things happen and use it as an excuse to turn away from Him. A wise Christian is willing to believe God's promise that by enduring the testing of our faith, that endurance will "have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." (James 1:4, NASB).
And if we lack wisdom to understand why bad things are happening, James 1:5 gives us the answer: "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him."
So, it logically follows that if someone is suffering, he can pray for wisdom which God will generously give so that he understands that if he endures the suffering to the end, it will result in him becoming perfect and complete. That is cause for joy so he can give praise to God!
However, the next verses (6-8) give a serious caution: "But let him ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded [doubting, hesitating] man, unstable in all his ways." How can we ask without doubt if we don't see how God can solve our problem? By faith!
Asking the question "why" is not wrong unless we don't believe God will do what He has said He will do. On the cross, Christ asked His Father "Why have you forsaken Me"? For the remainder of the time before He died, He must have been clinging to the promises regarding the mission of the Messiah that He had learned from the scriptures. As He struggled on the cross, Psalm 31:4, 5 might have come to His mind: "Thou wilt pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me; for Thou art my strength. Into Thy hand I commit my spirit; Thou hast ransomed me, O Lord, God of truth." Jesus made the choice to believe the Father would do what He said He would do.
What promises do we have to cling to when trials come? There are so many. "'Sin shall not have dominion over you' [Rom. 6:14]--is that promise worth anything to you? It is worth all that God is worth to the one who reckons himself to be dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God through Jesus Christ; and who yields himself unto God ...Thank the Lord for this blessed promise of freedom from sin and all the power of sin. And this promise He will make a fact in the life and experience of every one who reckons thus and yields to God. You furnish the reckoning, He will furnish the fact. You yield to Him, and He will use you" (A. T. Jones, The Consecrated Way to Christian Perfection, p. 8; The Present Truth, Jan. 26, 1893).
The word "reckon" in this context is the same as "count" or "consider." So we have seen that "counting" it all joy when we have trials is not the same as actually having that joy at the time. Thus, we can reckon that we are dead to sin, not because we feel it, or that it is an actual fact at the time, but that God said that if we do the reckoning, He will make it a fact.
Yes, the book of James gives some practical instruction, but at a much deeper level than a simple how-to list of works.
--Arlene Hill
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Monday, June 2, 2014

Christ, the Law and the Covenants

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Christ and His Law
Lesson 10: Christ, the Law and the Covenants
The truth of the everlasting covenant, uncovered by the 1888 messengers, is the third angel's message in verity. God's covenant promise supplies the dynamic so essential for a joyous productive Christian life.
God's promises to Abraham are "the new covenant." Paul tells us that God's "covenant" with Abraham was His "promise" to him. "Thecovenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ," is "thepromise. ..." (Gal. 3:17).
We read those promises in Genesis: "[1] I will make you a great nation; [2] I will bless you [3] and make your name great; [4] and you shall be a blessing. [5] I will bless those who bless you, [6] and I will curse him who curses you; and [7] in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 12:2, 3).
God never asked Abraham to make any promise in return! Abraham did the only right thing he could do when he responded with faith: "He believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). That is all that God has asked us to do.
God's covenant is always a one-sided promise on His part, because He knows that our nature is so weak and sinful that we cannot keep our promises to Him. The old covenant "gives birth to bondage," says Paul (Gal. 4:24). Some people in church even give up in despair, and many go through their so-called "Christian experience" under a constant cloud of discouragement.
But the confusion about the two covenants can be resolved very simply. The problem concerns "the law" that was given at Mt. Sinai; does that law alter the "new covenant" that was the straightforward promise of God to Abraham and thus to us?
In several simple steps in Galatians Paul clarifies the confusion: A "will" or covenant that anyone makes (even God's!) cannot be annulled or added to once the testator dies (Gal. 3:15). In God's "will" or "covenant" He promised (and then swore to it with a solemn oath) to give Abraham the whole earth "for an everlasting possession" (Gen. 17:8). Since only "righteousness" can "dwell" in the "new earth" (2 Peter 3:13), the promise had to include making righteous those who believe God's promise. Therefore the new covenant has to be the essence of righteousness by faith.
When humans make a covenant, it is always a contract. You do so-and-so, and then I will do so-and-so. But God never makes such bargains with us. His new covenant is always an out-and-out promise on His part.
God explicitly said that His promise was made to Abraham's descendant (singular, "Seed") "who is Christ." We are not left out, but we come into the picture only as being "in Christ" by adoption through faith (vs. 16).
Since God made His solemn promise to Abraham (which He sealed with an oath), nothing under heaven could change an iota so that the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai 430 years after Abraham's time could not be an extra feature put into the "new covenant" (Gal. 3:17).
Then Paul asks the logical question: why then did God speak the Ten Commandments from Mt. Sinai? It was a terror-inducing demonstration with lightning, an earthquake, fire, and a death boundary (vs. 19). God didn't need to frighten Abraham out of his wits like that! All He had to do for Abraham was to write the Ten Commandments upon his heart as being so much good news; then Abraham found his greatest joy in obedience. Why not do the same for Israel when they were gathered at Mt. Sinai on their way to the Promised Land?
Paul explains the reason why the law had to be written in stone: "the law ... was added because of transgressions" (Gal. 3:19). But what were the "transgressions" that made this new "emphasizing" or "underlining" necessary?
The forming of the old covenant is the answer. When the people gathered at Mt. Sinai, God told Moses to renew to them the same "new covenant" promises He had made to their father Abraham: "If you will indeed obey [listen to] My voice and keep [cherish] My covenant [with Abraham], then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people" (Ex. 19:5).
Thus the Lord said to Israel, "If you will listen to My voice and treasure the promise I made to your father Abraham, you will be a special treasure to Me above all people." You will be the head and not the tail; there will be no need for great world empires to oppress you.
But Israel did not understand. They made a vain promise, something that God never asked Abraham to do. "All that the Lord has spokenwe will do" (Ex. 19:8). Thus they formed the old covenant.
What could God do? If they will not keep step with Him, He must humble Himself to keep step with them. A long detour now becomes inevitable.
"Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Gal. 3:24). Paul saw the old covenant that the people voluntarily put themselves under as functioning like a stern disciplinarian, a policeman, keeping the people of Israel under custody until such time as they could find their freedom again in the kind of justification by faith which their father Abraham enjoyed.
The difference between the new covenant and the old covenant is simply "who makes the promise." 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.
The "tutor" or "jailer" of the old covenant drove Israel through the centuries on a relentless history of ups and downs from Sinai all the way to their crucifixion of their Messiah. But their revivals always were frustrated by the old covenant mentality that produced backsliding and apostasy.
What do the two covenants mean to us today? The two covenants are not hemmed in by matters of time, as though people living anciently were automatically under the old and we today are automatically under the new. There were people in Old Testament times who lived under the new covenant (Abraham, Moses, David); and we today can be living under the old covenant if we don't clearly understand and believe the freedom-giving gospel.
Even a tiny amount of old covenant ideas mixed in with otherwise gospel concepts can paralyze a healthy spiritual experience and produce the lukewarmness that so characterizes the church in these last days. Lukewarmness in His people is a mixture of hot and cold that produces the nausea that Jesus says makes Him so sick at His stomach that He feels like throwing up (Rev. 3:17, 18). The healing can come only through a full recovery of the new covenant "truth of the gospel."
Correctly understood, the message of the new covenant is part of the light which is yet to "lighten the earth with glory" in the closing hours of this world's history (Rev. 18:1-4). 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.
--Paul E. Penno
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