Thursday, October 27, 2005

Sabbath School Insights No. 5, Qtr 4-05

Special Insights No. 5

Fourth Quarter 2005 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

“Ephesians: The Gospel of Relationships”

(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)

“The Church: God’s Workmanship”



Paul’s burden in his epistle to the Ephesians is to reveal God’s purpose, “the mystery of His will … which He purposed in Himself” in order to restore unity in the universe (the genuine “gospel of relationships”) through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (see Eph. 1:7-10). Evidence is piled upon evidence that God chose, adopted, predestined, and made us accepted in Christ from the foundation of the world. And since God is the Savior of all men and shows no partiality, this good news applies to the entire fallen race of men. God purposed and accomplished His will through the gift of His Son.


Next to John 3:16, the memory text for this week’s lesson is perhaps the most familiar and most often quoted and most loved Bible text. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” It is generally understood by many Christians that if you have sufficient faith, then God’s grace will save you. The burden is on you and your ability to develop sufficient saving faith.


We will address two issues in this Insight: (1) How does God make anyone alive together with Christ Jesus? (2) What is the gift of God in Ephesians 2:8? Is it faith or something else?


Made Alive with Christ

The basis upon which anyone dead in trespasses and sins can be made alive together with Christ is not our faith. God accomplished His purpose for this by taking fallen human nature, dead in trespasses and sins, and uniting that nature with the divine nature of His Son. By that one unique act of the incarnation, the human race, from a corporate point of view, was made alive or spiritually awakened together with Christ. The fallen human race was reconnected with God.


The parenthetical phrase, “by grace you have been saved,” in 2:5 deserves special attention. The verbal phrase, “you have been saved,” is composed of two Greek verbs: este and sesosmenoi. The literal rendering is the following: “by grace you are, having been saved” or “by grace you exist, having been saved.” [1] In a unique corporate sense, mankind is alive by virtue of the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ. They have been saved from the second death temporarily (and in God’s intention, eternally), because Christ tasted and abolished that death resulting in probationary life for all.


The grace of God originates from the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24). It is this grace that is responsible for the unconditional corporate good news of the gospel wherein fallen man has been chosen, adopted, predestined, and made to sit in heavenly places in Christ.


But it is also true that all those who embrace Christ by a surrendered life of faith and obedience will be made alive together with Christ and will be given free access to partake of the divine nature to escape the corruption that is in the world through lust.


From a similar corporate standpoint, when God looks at His Son, God manifested in the flesh, He sees all mankind sitting in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. But this is especially true experientially for those who believe. They are made alive and raised up together with Christ and made to sit together in heavenly places in Christ. They are new creatures in Christ Jesus created in Him for good works.


What Is the Gift of God in Ephesians 2:8?

Is it faith or something else? “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourself; it is the gift of God.” A cursory reading of the passage would suggest that the antecedent pronoun “it” refers to “faith” or perhaps “grace.” The pronoun “it” is supplied by the translators and certainly refers to “that” in the phrase: “and that not of yourself.” But what does the demonstrative pronoun, “that,” refer to? Both faith (pistis) and grace (charis) are feminine Greek nouns. However, the demonstrative pronoun “that” (touto) is neuter in gender. This pronoun, (touto), must therefore refer to the general concept of the salvation process (“having been saved”). The pronoun “it” is supplied by the translators and is irrelevant. It is therefore evident that the gift of God in 2:8 is God’s saving process affecting all mankind.


What is the significance of all this? A literal rendering of the passage is the following: “For by grace you are, having been saved through the faith (tes pisteos); and this not of yourselves, the gift of God.” Yes, a literal rendering of the Greek passage would suggest that we are saved by grace through the faith of Jesus. More specifically, “For by grace you are (exist), having been saved through the faith, and that not of yourselves, (it is) a gift of God.” It is widely recognized especially in the scholarly community that Paul’s epistles are permeated with the phrase, “the faith of Jesus,” but which is more often translated as faith in Jesus.


The gift of God resulting from the faith of Jesus includes both probationary life for all and eternal life for those having been made spiritually alive with Christ by faith which originates from the Author of faith.


 What is the conclusion of all this? Salvation is entirely a work of God through the faith of Jesus Christ bestowed as a gift upon all. For those who receive the gift of Christ, they become the workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus for good works. This is a faith expressed by His saints that works because of His great love with which He loved us.

—John W. Peters


[1] Other versions (KJV) translate 2:5 as “by grace you are saved.” This requires only the present passive verb in Greek (for example, see 1 Cor. 15:2). The NKJV translation of Eph. 2:5 or 8 would require the perfect passive Greek tense. However the unusual compound Greek verb in 2:5 and 2:8 demands the literal translation: “by grace you are, having been saved.”


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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Sabbath School Insights No. 4, Qtr 4-05

Special Insights No. 4

Fourth Quarter 2005 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

“Ephesians: The Gospel of Relationships”

(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)

“Praise and Prayer”



A perusal of the lesson reveals the shortcomings and confusion that arise when one fails to either grasp or accept the reality of our redemption in Christ. The great apostle in the verses studied, Ephesians 1:15-23, presents the foundation for all praise and prayer. These verses do not present a “provision” of the atonement, but instead address the reality of the atonement for the human race. An accomplished reality, if you please.


The 17th verse makes this clear as Paul asserts his intercessory desire that the believers in Ephesus utilize “wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.” Wisdom, according to James 1:5, is a gift coming from God in heaven. It is this gift from the Holy Spirit that enables the searcher for truth to engage the revelation through the Holy Word of the knowledge of God’s acts for our salvation.


Moreover, Paul seems quite transparent that the life one lives is to be a reflection of Christ’s accomplished work. He didn’t, as last week’s lesson asserts, merely make an offer of salvation and thereby extend an offer of forgiveness. Paul is too clear later in this same letter, as in 4:32 Paul exclaims that we are to forgive one another “just as God IN CHRIST also forgave” us (emphasis mine). Therefore, if God forgave me before I asked then it must have been accomplished in Christ through His bearing of the curse on the cross as planned before the foundation of the world (see Ephesians 1:4). This begs the question that if I’m forgiven before I even sense my need for it and ask, then why ask at all?


For the same reason I cash a check. Cashing the check is equivalent to the exercise of faith in the One who wrote the check. Faith is the confidence that the Writer of the check has the assets to deliver more than the face value of the check. Having a check for a million dollars is a great asset just as every human being has the possession of salvation. However, if I don’t cash the check the benefits of the check don’t accrue fully to my life. So it is with salvation. I hear Paul basically saying that redemption in Christ is the reality of the entire human race.


This appropriately would be called the objective (accomplished/finished) work of redemption. The subjective (experiential) aspect of salvation is the choice to receive the adoption into the family of God. Chosen in Christ (objective) occurred before the foundation of the world (see again Ephesians 1:4), whereas our choosing Him to be in us (subjective) occurs at the point of belief/adoption. The latter adds not one iota to our position in Christ. If it did wouldn’t that make us co-redemptrix with Christ? An abominable heresy!


My study of the Ephesian epistle has lead me to the conclusion that it is this distinction that Paul is most eager to present and keep.  He knows that if he can keep the believers focused on that which is “the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” then all the instruction on holy living become natural extensions of the position in Christ we’ve accepted! Paul simply can’t be more forthcoming than in Ephesians 2:8 when he asserts that we are saved “by grace (obviously used objectively here) through faith (subjective choice). It is a gift of God.” Now listen again to verse 10 and follow the progression. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” I hear Paul emphatically stating that even the good works done are those that come forth out of a life which is submitted to the reality of our being in Christ. Praise and prayer are born and thrive here!!!


Therefore, when one addresses the issue of Praise and Prayer in the passage, one must be aware that the focus must be on the  accomplished work of God in Christ. This was the emphasis brought to God’s beloved Church by A. T. Jones, E. J. Waggoner, and Ellen White in the 1888 Message! Yes, it’s true we are to “examine” ourselves whether we are in the faith” (2 Cor. 13:5). Unfortunately this latter passage is used as support for “navel gazing.” This usually results in legalistic comparisons with others whom we usually perceive to be doing more poorly than us. The text actually teaches nothing of the sort. Paul is simply asking the believers in Corinth to protect the gospel through their own embracing of the objective truths he taught them. In other words, do we understand and believe the truth of Christ’s accomplished work? If so then Paul knows that the life will increasingly be in harmony with Christ’s life. This is commandment-keeping that honors God!


Sadly much of the praise and prayer that is practiced by God’s people bears little resemblance to the emphasis taught by Paul and earlier by Christ. The reason is that too often the Gospel believed is one that leaves on the table some glory for me. If my faith puts me into Christ (Arminian belief) rather than God’s grace (1 Cor. 1:30 and the 1888 message) then we may find our praise tending toward the self-aggrandizement of the contemporary worship service, and our prayers more concerned with our human needs rather than the need of God to be glorified through His people. Or we may remain stuck in the feel-good gospel melody-driven worship services of the late 19th and 20th centuries. Maybe more problematic is the excessive formal high church worship that fosters elitism.


There can be little doubt to the engaged thinker that it is this failure to praise and pray with the emphasis of this Pauline letter that has led to either the humanly exalted high church of the elitist or the low church of cheap gospel-melody worship, or the contemporary “christianized” worship with its totalitarian rhythms. In all counterfeits of true worship as with the counterfeit gospels varying degrees of glory are extended to man. On the contrary, in the Pauline gospel and reiterated by the 1888 message, one searches in vain for glory extended to man. The reason one doesn’t find it is that it has been laid where it belongs … “in the dust.” In that dust of human accomplishment is found the genesis of the praise and prayers that honors God and expands true spiritual worship and growth.

Dale Martin


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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Sabbath School Insights No. 3, Qtr 4-05

Special Insights No. 3

Fourth Quarter 2005 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

“Ephesians: The Gospel of Relationships”

(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)

“What God Has Done”


This week’s lesson focuses on just a few verses from the first chapter of Ephesians, but what power-packed verses they are! When reading this section of Scripture one gets a sense of urgency and exuberance as the words tumble out of Paul’s mouth. Look at the punctuation. From the beginning of the chapter all the way down to verse 12 it is one continuous sentence. The good news is so good that Paul is beside himself in eagerness to share it with the Ephesian congregation.


The pure Gospel message shines brightly in these opening words of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians: “in Christ” we have been given all things necessary to prepare us for an eternal existence with holy, heavenly beings. In Christ, “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (vs. 7). Christ gave up everything to save us from sin (Phil. 2:6-8; Matt. 1:21). He gave us Himself, exchanging His life of righteousness for our lives of filthy rags (Rom. 5:15-19). What a gift—who can ever appreciate it enough!


All the blessings Paul shares with his readers are found “in Christ,” that is, God in Christ has already done something for every human being who ever lived (2 Cor. 5:19). “In Christ” the human race has already been blessed “with all spiritual blessings;” “in Christ” we have already been chosen, predestined, and adopted as God’s precious children; “in Christ” we already have redemption, reconciliation, and restoration.


No wonder Paul was so excited! Salvation is a “done deal” for the entire human race, having been accomplished “in Christ” from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). The only way to lose these precious blessings is to refuse to believe the good news.


Foundational Themes of the 1888 Message

This message of Christ and His righteousness was the foundation of the “most precious message” presented by A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner at the 1888 General Conference session in Minneapolis. It is the message of which, after hearing Waggoner present it, Ellen White exclaimed “every fiber of my heart said, Amen.” (1888 Materials, pp. 348-349).


The 1888 message is the preaching of “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16). In 1893, A. T. Jones was as excited as Paul when he exclaimed: “Do you not see, then, that when we are in Christ we have the victory; we have it now. Victory is not the only word; we have the triumph, and we have it now..... Come on, what is the use of being afraid? The victory is ours” (1893 General Conference Bulletin, pp. 203, 205; emphasis in original).


Faith Brings the Victory

Through faith in Christ’s work for us and corporately as us in conquering the enemy of our souls (Rom. 8:1-3), we already have the victory. And even our faith is a free gift. Jones explains: “Where does this faith come from anyway? God gave it to us [Rom. 12:3]. Who is the Author of faith [Heb. 12:2]? Christ; and that light which lighteth every man which cometh into the world is Jesus Christ” (ibid., p. 202).


Christ is the victory. Christ and His righteousness has been given to every man, woman, and child who ever lived. There is no excuse for continued sinning. We can have this victory in our lives NOW, if we will only believe in God’s power to save us.


But “self” keeps getting in the way. In 1889, E.J. Waggoner addressed this very problem:


“We have heard many people tell how hard they found it to do right; their Christian life was most unsatisfactory to them, being marked only by failure, and they were tempted to give up in discouragement. No wonder they get discouraged; continual failure is enough to discourage anybody. The bravest soldier in the world would become faint-hearted if he had been defeated in every battle. Sometimes these persons will mournfully tell that they have about lost confidence in themselves. Poor souls, if they would only lose confidence in themselves entirely, and would put their whole trust in the One who is mighty to save, they would have a different story to tell” (“Living by Faith,” article found in Lessons on Faith, p. 2-3).


“In Christ” We are Worth Everything

The good news is that “in Christ” we are worth everything heaven had to give. We are “more precious than fine gold” to God, who gave His own Son to redeem us from sin and restore us as His beloved children. We have already been given the righteousness, and soon we will receive the “inheritance” promised to Abraham—the earth made new—the everlasting covenant fulfilled (Gen. 15:5-21; Rev. 21:1-27; Isa. 65:17-25).


So we discover that in these few verses of Ephesians, Paul has encapsulated the entire message of Christ and his righteousness—the same message of righteousness by faith that Jones and Waggoner presented at the 1888 General Conference. In these few verses we discern: (1) the corporate oneness of Christ with those He came to save (since “in Him” we have all these blessings, the importance of the nature which Christ assumed at His incarnation is a necessary corollary); (2) legal justification for the whole human race (we are all predestined and adopted); (3) the everlasting covenant of redemption and restoration through the unilateral power of God; and (4) woven throughout all of this is the eternal demonstration of the love of God (agape) toward those who rebelled against Him. What a gracious and merciful God we serve!


The message from the cross “speaks to each child of humanity, declaring, It is for thee that the Son of God consents to bear this burden of guilt; for thee He spoils the domain of death, and opens the gates of Paradise” (The Desire of Ages, p. 755). Believe this “most precious message” of good news and your life will be transformed; nothing will stand in the way of your personal victory over sin. God’s promises are sure and certain, if we don’t hinder them from being fulfilled.

Ann Walper


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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Sabbath School Insights No. 2, Qtr 4-05

Special Insights No. 2

Fourth Quarter 2005 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

“Ephesians: The Gospel of Relationships”

(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)

“Ephesians: Themes in Relationships



The inspired Apostle Paul, in his own inimitable way, worshipfully praises God by succinctly comprehending the gospel of the everlasting covenant in this centerpiece verse worth committing to memory. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3).

“Blessed” means to “eulogize,”—to use good language, to speak well concerning. Filled with a thankful heart for how God has spoken well concerning Paul, the apostle expressed his worship and gratitude by speaking good words about God.

The movement of these words was in the past tense. “God hath blessed us.” The everlasting covenant was just that because before the foundation of the world the Father and the Son made an agreement that if mankind should sin, the Father would forgive and reconcile His enemies, receive them into His family, and give them an inheritance. For His part, the Son contracted with the Father to be the Representative of the fallen race and mediate the blessings of the covenant as its Guarantor. The Holy Spirit would apply all these blessings to the sinner. The economy of the Godhead was committed to its purpose in creation and to see it accomplished should the obstacle of sin present itself. There was a united God-family at the heart of the universe.

When Adam [mankind] sinned, God was not caught off balance. He immediately promised Eve “all spiritual blessings” in the “seed” Christ Jesus (Gen. 3:15). Christ bore their sin and became the sacrifice in order to pay the death penalty owed by sinners to the law.

The Gift to them was eternal life both in their present probationary existence; and, should they cherish the gift, forever-life in the eternal inheritance of Paradise restored. God spoke this same blessed promise to Noah and Abraham. The covenant was God speaking good words to Abraham (Gen. 12:2, 3). “For all the promises of God in him [Christ] are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us” (2 Cor. 1:20).

What are all these spiritual blessings? Everything is “in Christ.” We receive all spiritual blessings in Him. “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things” (Rom. 8:32).

Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins—justification of life (Rom. 5:18). In our Representative we have been reconciled to God. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

This gift of all things in Christ is in accordance with the fact that He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that in Him we might obtain holiness (Eph. 1:4).

The destiny chosen for us is the adoption of children into the family of God (Eph. 1:5). Accordingly He accepts us in the Beloved. In the Beloved we have redemption through His blood. All this is the making known to us of the mystery, namely, that in the fullness of times He will gather together in one household all things in Jesus Christ, both things in the heaven and things on the earth.

The purpose of God is that in Christ we have already obtained an inheritance. All who believe in Christ are sealed with the Holy Spirit, which is called the Holy Spirit of promise, because it is the surety of the promised inheritance. This seal of the Holy Spirit is the pledge of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession. “Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). These are some of the spiritual [of the Spirit] blessings.

“But all these benefits are only temporary, unless they are received through faith. It is by the cross, the death and resurrection of Christ, that all men live, whether saints or sinners, and so all are sharing in the benefits of His work now, and all will come forth from their graves because of the resurrection of Christ; but it is only those who receive these benefits by a personal faith in Jesus as the One through whom they come, who will be able to retain them to all eternity, God has ‘blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,’ but we must acknowledge that these blessings are all in Christ, and that they are received and retained only as we receive Him, else we shall not be able to keep that which God has given to us.”[1]

Why are “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ”? By this we are to know that our true citizenship is in heaven in Christ. Christian patriotism is to be a zealot for the kingdom of God. Hence we have been called out of this world—“For all that is in the world [which is you and me], the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). But God has not physically removed us from this world; yet, He has spiritually separated us from the world by the seal of His Holy Spirit. Thus we may be a blessing to the world by imparting to it the good news of the everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ.

Paul E. Penno


[1] E. J. Waggoner, “Notes on the International Sunday-School Lessons. The Resurrection of Jesus, Mark 16:1-8,” The Present Truth, March 31, 1898, pp. 198-200.


Note: Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is the inspired source for many of the unique “what-Christ-has-accomplished” and “what-He does-in-you” concepts which make the 1888 message of Christ’s righteousness so unique. The 1888 Message Study Committee has just published Robert J. Wieland’s accompanying commentary on Ephesians, YOU’VE BEEN “ADOPTED.” Call (269) 473-1888 to order; ask for the special introductory price.


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