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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