Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Lesson 3: The Holy Spirit

Sabbath School Today

With the 1888 Message Dynamic 

The Teachings of Jesus

Lesson 3: The Holy Spirit


Throughout human history the Holy Spirit has fulfilled the "office work" that Jesus described in John 14:26. The Spirit's work is to convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. Never before has the Spirit's work been as important as in the closing events of earth's history.

A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner saw that genuine righteousness by faith since 1844 is an experience ministered from the Most Holy Apartment of the sanctuary, as represented by the functions of the Jewish annual Day of Atonement. That ritual resulted in the entire camp being cleansed, at least for a moment. The cosmic Day of Atonement is similar in preparing people to meet God by being translated, so the cleansing must take place before Jesus returns, since we are told that those with retained sin will be slain by the brightness of His coming. This process is not concerned primarily with preparing people to die, but preparing a corporate body of God's people for translation at the coming of Christ.

Much more than just getting people into heaven, the 1888 message affirms an eschatological fulfillment of God's call to character perfection through the unprecedented high priestly ministry of Christ, which prepares a people who stand firm during persecution but guards them against the error of perfectionism.

It is during the time period of judgment and cleansing of the sanctuary that each individual's case is examined and their final choice revealed. Submitting to this process is based not on egocentric fear of punishment, or a desire for the reward of getting to heaven, but on a concern for the divine Bridegroom's reward for His sacrifice. After all, the idea that heaven is our reward suggests that we have done something to earn it. We are His reward for His effort in making the plan of salvation happen. This idea tells us that Jesus is motivated more than we are to bring all to salvation. He grieves when we consistently resist the promptings of the Holy Spirit to bring us to a knowledge of our sins so we can repent of them. We humble our hearts just contemplating that.

Unfortunately, the message linking the cleansing of the sanctuary to character perfection before translation is considered with scorn or even outright hostility by many Seventh-day Adventists today. They dismiss it as impossible, perhaps from a quiet realization of how futile their own efforts to become perfect have been.

Contrast those who think it is impossible with those who have come to believe that they must perfect their own character on their own. They believe they are not entitled to heaven unless they stop sinning, but are frustrated with their past performance. They come to focus on specific things they do or don't do, completely unconscious of major sins they are unable to see.

The most terrible sin ever committed was an unknown sin. Jesus prayed for those who crucified Him, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). To "know not" in this context, is to be unconscious of it. The entire human race participates in sin and thus shares in the guilt of killing the Son of God, but many refuse to see that. The enormity of this guilt leads us to attempt to place the blame elsewhere, perhaps on the Jews or the Romans, or that it is simply a myth and didn't happen.

Some may claim that 1 John 1:9 tells us "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." So, if we confess (our part), God is obligated (God's part) to forgive us and that's all there is to it. We no longer have the sin. How can He hold us responsible for failing to confess sins we don't even know we have? Even the famous 12-step program used by Alcoholics Anonymous requires participants to admit their shortcomings to those whom they have hurt, and as far as possible to make it right. But they stop there. They are not instructed to ask their "Higher Power" to reveal hidden sin to them.

While it is true that God does forgive our sins when we confess them, confession must be a conscious nature, acknowledging specific sins. Sin is not magically cleansed like we press a delete key on a computer. It is an accepted fact in psychological science that much of our behavior is driven or influenced by ideas placed in our hidden consciousness over years of exposure. Psychiatrists and psychologists are kept busy helping people understand the hidden recesses of their minds where phobias and the compulsions they drive are located. Can the redemptive process of God, accomplished by His Holy Spirit reach even the unconscious mind?

King David thought so. He realized he could not do this for himself, but he had faith that God could. He prayed: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way" (Psalm 139:23, 24 NASB). We are all like David, we can't do this for ourselves, but like everything that looks impossible to us, all things are possible with God.

Ellen G. White wrote, "Everyone has undiscovered traits of character that must come to light through trial. God allows those who are self-sufficient to be sorely tempted, that they may understand their helplessness." [1]

Some may ask, "How do I know the Lord is doing this for me?" Waggoner answered the question: "The Lord is very quiet in His work. Some of the most mighty works of the Lord are done in the most quiet and unnoticeable way. He does not always rend rocks and make the earth quake when He does a thing." [2] Here is where we tend to get anxious. We ask, "If it's quiet and unnoticeable, how do I know it's happening?" We usually also mean, "How do I know it's happening fast enough?"

Becoming born again is the same as being born the first time. Outside forces cause conception to occur, the fetus to develop and be born. There is no evidence of a fetus taking constant inventory of its development and making adjustments to make things happen in a certain way or faster. Then, is there nothing we do? Do we just sit and wait? Waggoner explained it this way: "The word of the Lord is the seed by which the sinner is born again. We read of the 'Father of Lights' that 'of His own will begat He us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of His creatures' (James 1:18). So we learn that, while those who are Christ's are born of the Spirit, the word of God is the seed from which they are developed into new creatures in Christ. The word, then, has power to give life." [3]

We are asked to cooperate with God in this most serious process. If we are immature in our understanding of righteousness, it can be discouraging. In a classic sermon at the 1893 General Conference, Jones told the congregation, "When sin is pointed out to you, say, 'I would rather have Christ than that.' And let it go. ... Then where ... is the opportunity for any of us to get discouraged over our sins? Now some of the brethren here have done that very thing. They came here free; but the Spirit of God brought up something they never saw before. The Spirit of God went deeper than it ever went before, and revealed things they never saw before; and then, instead of thanking the Lord that that was so, and letting the whole wicked business go, ... they began to get discouraged." [4]

Ellen White summarized the work of the Holy Spirit this way: "The Holy Spirit glorifies God by so revealing His character to His people that He becomes the object of their supreme affections, and by making manifest His character in them. ... When the Spirit was poured out from on high, the church was flooded with light, but Christ was the source of that light; His name was on every tongue, His love filled every heart. So it will be when the angel that comes down from heaven having great power, shall lighten the whole earth with his glory. [Rev. 18:1]" [5]

What terribly glorious times we live in!

--Arlene Hill

Endnotes:[1] E. G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7, p. 211.[2] E. J. Waggoner, Studies in the Book of Hebrews.
[3] E. J. Waggoner, Christ and His Righteousness, p 153,154 (Glad Tidings ed.)[4] A. T. Jones, General Conference Bulletin 1893, p. 404.
[5] Letter 25b, E. G. White to Uriah Smith, Aug. 30, 1892; in The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, p. 1017.
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Raul Diaz