Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
The Book of James
Lesson 9: "One Lawgiver and Judge"
Dear Friends of "Sabbath School Today,"
It's not always possible to cover every topic in a week of Sabbath School lessons in a short essay, so we try to cover one or more of the "dynamics" of the 1888 message. This week, the question at the bottom of Monday's lesson (page 74 of the regular quarterly) begs discussing: "Either reward or punishment, we will face only one or the other. What's your only hope of reward?"
One of the primary gospel truths of the 1888 message is this: A higher motivation becomes realized in the close of time than has prevailed in the church in past ages--a concern for Christ that He receive His reward and find His "rest" in the final eradication of sin. All egocentric motivation based merely on fear of hell or hope of reward is less effective. The higher motivation is symbolized in the climax of Scripture--the Bride of Christ making herself "ready." 
Technology in processing and storing data helps us understand that all the information about our lives is accurately recorded, including our thoughts and motives. God's law is the principle on which His universe is founded, which James calls "the law that gives freedom" (2:12, NIV). Any act or motive that conflicts with this law of unselfish love means that one's heart is at odds with God and with the universe. Thus selfishness becomes a part of our life record--the "books" by which John says we will be judged.
But the Good News is that the Judge is our Brother, the Son of man who took upon Himself "the likeness of sinful flesh" and who knows exactly how "in every way" we are tempted. "Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted" (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 4:15; 2:18). His present work is to prepare us to pass our final exam. So, the news of the judgment is infinitely better than you may have thought it to be. Its verdict in your case is in your hands.
Doubtless the Apostle John's desire was to present agape and the judgment in the clearest balance possible. He dared to voice an equation that no other apostle could rise to say: "God is agape." He labors to represent the judgment as consistent with that totally unique character. He represents the Father as condemning no man but as "commit[ing] all judgment unto the Son ... because He is the Son of man," humanity's Peer (John 5:22, 27).
And even though all judgment is "committed" to Christ, He Himself forswears the privilege of pronouncing it, saying that He will not "condemn" any nonbeliever "in the last day." "If any man hear My words, and believe not, I judge [condemn] him not: for I came not to judge [condemn] the world, but to save the world" (John 12:47).
"The remnant will know that the supreme matter before the universe is the trial of truth and righteousness--God's character. Their concern for a reward of sitting by the river of life or walking on the street of gold leading to a heavenly mansion will fade into the background. ...
"How long will God's people be obsessed with their selfish desire for their own salvation? He has made our security easy. He has compromised His standing before the universe to assure us of His commitment to truth and of our salvation from sin. The infinite heart of God is longing for some recognition from His children. Could they sense a little of sacrifice? Could they see what is pending? Could they understand that God also has feelings? How long will it take them to understand the magnitude of the plan of salvation?" 
Ellen G. White describes this in such a touching and heartfelt manner: "Love to God is the very foundation of religion. To engage in His service merely from hope of reward or fear of punishment would avail nothing. Open apostasy would not be more offensive to God than hypocrisy and mere formal worship" (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 523).
"It is not the fear of punishment or the hope of everlasting reward, that leads the disciples of Christ to follow Him. They behold the Saviour's matchless love, revealed throughout His pilgrimage on earth, from the manger of Bethlehem to Calvary's cross, and the sight of Him attracts, it softens and subdues the soul. Love awakens in the heart of the beholders. They hear His voice, and they follow Him" (The Desire of Ages, p. 480).
A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner, the two "messengers" God "sent" with the "beginning" of the Revelation 18 message, presented the fate of the lost with an emphasis on God's fairness, His love, and compassion. They were, above all, "evangelists," longing to bear a message of reconciliation. They wanted to avoid any semblance of "fire and brimstone" preaching, convinced that the true motivation for lasting conversion is an appreciation of God's love. They wanted to find a clearer grasp of what that love has meant for the world. This conviction enabled them to "glory in the cross" as the true heart of "the third angel's message in verity." They viewed all of our "doctrines" in that light, and they anticipated Ellen White's Desire of Ages statement years before it was published. This was their emphasis.
The issue is evangelism, not complex theology; what message can reconcile the alienated, world-loving, self-centered, "lukewarm" heart to God? Unless a clearer understanding of the gospel becomes involved, the result must inevitably be further lukewarmness of devotion perpetuated generation after generation for centuries more. The present-day truth pleads with the sinner "in Christ's stead." That is, as soul-winners we enable the sinner to identify with Him so fully that he experiences a first-hand encounter with Christ as vivid as did the Samaritan woman at her well or Nicodemus in his night interview. This is soul-winning and soul-holding evangelism.
The message of the three angels is that God will certainly have a people who bring glory to Him. Revelation's primary concern is the vindication of the Lamb who paid an infinite price to redeem us. But His vindication also involves our own, for we are one with Him. Those who stand faithfully "with Him" in this final struggle will not do so in order to gain a reward for themselves. Salvation is indeed a bargain, but getting a good bargain will not be the motive for anyone who truly follows Christ in these last days. The little flower girl at a wedding is ever so sweet and lovable, but all she really cares about is getting some of the cake and ice cream at the reception. The bride, on the other hand, doesn't care about the refreshments. Her interest is in the bridegroom, and in him alone.
Is it possible for us self-seeking humans, who all our lives have been immersed in pursuing trivial self-interest, to find a larger perspective--a genuine heart sympathy with the Lamb of God? Appreciation of Him for His own sake will transcend both our fear of being lost and a merely selfish hope of reward in heaven. This is the mature faith toward which God is calling us.
--From the writings of Robert J. Wieland and Donald K. Short
 Robert J. Wieland, Ten Great Gospel Truths That Make the 1888 Message Unique, pp. 27-29.
 Donald K. Short, "Made Like ... His Brethren," p. 111.