Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
The Teachings of Jesus
Lesson 4: Salvation[Easy or Difficult?]
Many people fear God and think of Him as one who makes salvation difficultand the road to eternal death easy. It's time to set the record straighton this important issue.
One of the great gospel truths of the 1888 message is that it is actually easy to be saved and hard to be lost if one understands and believes how good the Good News is. The difficulty is learning how to believe the gospel. Jesus taught this truth.
Our lesson creates some ideas that do not harmonize with this "most precious message." One, which is presented consistently in the quarterlies, is that "God ... offers salvation through Christ." Salvation is God's gift (not offer) to every soul on earth. "We ... know that this is the Christ, the Saviour of the world" (John 4:42); "Christ is the Saviour of all men" (I Tim. 4:8).
But deep down, how do you feel about God? One possible way to find out the truth could be to ask yourself whether this statement is true or false: "It's easy to be lost and hard to be saved." If you answer True, it is likely that your basic idea of God is uncomfortably like that of the one-talent man, who dug a hole and buried his wealth in the ground. When the Lord finally confronted him, he retorted, "'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid'" (Matt. 25:24, 25, RSV).
Many people today fear God and view Him as a pretty "hard man," who lets it be difficult for us to be saved, but easy for us to be lost. And if that's true, then God sits by unconcernedly while the vast majority of earth's inhabitants get tricked into ultimate disaster. He lets the path to hell be a superhighway down which you coast effortlessly into eternal ruin; and the way to heaven He makes into a cleverly hidden steep trail with every conceivable obstacle fiendishly built into it to frustrate as many people as possible. And God stands back in the shadows content to watch the masses slide down the slippery path to hell while only a mere handful have what it takes to clamber over all those difficulties in the way of those who want to make it to heaven.
There shouldn't be any question about something if Jesus says it plainly. Yet multitudes who say they believe the Bible balk at one of His clearest utterances: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. ... For my yoke is easy, and my burden light" (Matt. 11:28-30). Human nature seems intent on believing that His yoke is hard. Many feel that being a true Christian is a fiendishly difficult undertaking, a heroic achievement that only a few people can ever hope to realize. Easy to be saved, "hard" to be lost! That's what Jesus said.
Almost everybody these days has the feeling that the lure of the world has more appeal than the service of God. Like a weak, distant signal jammed by a powerful radio station nearby, the Holy Spirit seems barely to come through compared with the appeal of the world. But the apostle Paul says No: "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 5:20, 21).
Before we understood the gospel, Paul says, "sin hath reigned" like a king, beating back the power of grace. But when we understand the gospel, grace reigns like a king and beats back the power of sin. This has to be true, because if there is not more power in grace than there is in temptation, John would be wrong when he says, "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (1 John 5:4), and the gospel could not be good news. But this is what makes it "easy" to be saved and "hard" to be lost.
Remember, the battle is never an even one: grace abounds "much more." It is literally true that "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17). You have a new Father, so the power working within you for good is much stronger than our tendencies to evil; our heavenly Father is greater than our earthly parents.
When those dark glasses of misunderstanding are removed, we suddenly see that the Bible is full of this "good news." Take another example of Paul's explosive idea: "The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again" (2 Cor. 5:14, 15).
The Bible truth is that God takes the initiative in saving us. He is not as many conceive of Him, standing back, His divine arms folded in disinterested concern while we wallow in our misery. He is not saying, "Well, I did My part long ago; it's up to you now. You must take the initiative. If you want to be saved, come and work hard at it. If it seems hard to you, you just don't have what it takes to get to heaven." No. A thousand times No! But many feel that way about God.
In contrast, Paul wants us to see the divine initiative at work for us: "Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" (Rom. 2:4).
The Good News Bible says He "is trying to lead you to repent." The goodness of God is actually taking you by the hand and leading you toward repentance as surely as a fireman tries to lead a victim out of the smoke and haze of a burning building. If you don't stubbornly resist, you will be led all the way to heaven.
True, but not everybody repents. Why? Some "despise" this goodness of God. Stubborn, they break away from that leading. As far back as 1892, Ellen G. White grasped this tremendous insight and expressed it well: "The sinner may resist this love, may refuse to be drawn to Christ; but if he does not resist he will be drawn to Jesus; a knowledge of the plan of salvation will lead him to the foot of the cross in repentance for his sins" (Steps to Christ, p. 27).
This is a revolutionary idea to many who have supposed that we must take the initiative and do something if we want to be saved. To them this idea seems backward--if we stop resisting, we will be saved! But however revolutionary it sounds, this is the "good news" of the gospel, for it presupposes the active, persistent love of God.
Our lesson teaches that either "we pay for our sins in the lake of fire, or we accept Christ's payment for them on the cross" (p. 30). It's so easy for us naive humans to conceive of the Lord as drawing a circle that shuts out bad people. But he draws a circle to include them, at least until they shut Him out by never-ending resistance. The Lord looks upon lost people not as wolves to be shot down, but as sheep who have wandered away--as potential heirs to His estate. His grace still seeks a way to intrude.
Paul teaches that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:22). It all adds up to the conclusion that if anyone is lost at last, it will be because of his or her own persistent rejection of what God has done throughout his lifetime to save him. No one will pay for his sins in the "lake of fire." By unbelief they have chosen death rather than life in Christ. And if anyone is saved, it will be because of God's own initiative in saving him.
In the final analysis, whether one is saved or lost depends on his own choice. But in the light of the love of God revealed at the cross, even the choice to be saved becomes "easy." The only difficulty in following Him, therefore, is the daily choice to surrender self to be "crucified with Christ" (Gal. 2:20). However, we are never called to be crucified alone--only with Him. But, thank God, it is a million times easier for us to be crucified with Christ than for Him to be crucified alone for us. Look at the Lamb of God, and it does become easy:
Ellen White again supports this Good News: "Yet do not therefore conclude that the upward path is the hard and the downward road the easy way. All along the road that leads to death there are pains and penalties, there are sorrows and disappointments, there are warnings not to go on. God's love [agape] has made it hard for the heedless and headstrong to destroy themselves. ... And all the way up the steep road leading to eternal life are well-springs of joy to refresh the weary" (Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, pp. 139, 140; 1896).
Even if this still seems difficult, don't ever forget that it remains much harder to go on fighting against love like that, and beating off the persistent leading of the Holy Spirit, in order to be lost.
--From the writings of Robert J. Wieland--------------------------------------------------------
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