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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