Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Sabbath School Insights No. 9, Qtr 4-05

Special Insights No. 9

Fourth Quarter 2005 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

“Ephesians: The Gospel of Relationships”

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

“Living the New Life”



It seems a paradox that Paul spent four chapters of Ephesians explaining the amazing free gift of the Gospel, and then, details a new way to live. This week’s Quarterly begins with a profound statement:


“This new way is neither a modification nor an improvement of the old.” David understood this when he pleaded, “create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”

(Psalm 51:10, NKJV). We must never confuse the order in which this transformation is to take place. God “quickens” or gives life to our dead hearts by showing us our living position in Christ. Our gratitude for what our loving God has already accomplished for us compels us to want to live our lives for Him. Certainly the sublime description of the Gospel given in the book of Ephesians motivates every believer to change his life.


What is also paradoxical is that this change may not appear to be a change at all. Consider the legalist who is trying to conform his actions to what he considers a Christian lifestyle. One day the sense that whatever he does is never enough lifts as he hears the freedom of a Spirit-directed life. It is possible that he will continue many of the good habits that he developed during his “works” lifestyle. The big difference is the motivation behind it. No longer is he trying to chalk up enough points to obligate God to “reward” him with heaven.


“All true obedience comes from the heart. It was heart work with Christ. And if we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses. The will, refined and sanctified, will find its highest delight in doing His service. When we know God as it is our privilege to know Him, our life will be a life of continual obedience. Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, through communion with God, sin will become hateful to us” (The Desire of Ages, p. 668).


We know that quotation, but do we really believe it? Doubts creep in when we look at our own performance and see nothing close to “continual obedience.” That’s just the problem, we look to ourselves. The Word of God is how the world was created, and no less is required to recreate a heart. By beholding the Word in the word, we become changed. It sounds too good to be true. Just by reading the Bible, we’re changed? Yes and no. Reading can occur without belief. The precondition is “when we know God....” This is the key. Knowing God requires humble prayer in response to lessons learned from the Word.


Verse 30 of Ephesians 4 has troubled many into thinking they have committed the unpardonable sin by grieving the Holy Spirit. A brief look at God’s grief will help. Psalm 95:7-11 shows a long-suffering God, grieving when Israel hardened their hearts in the wilderness and would not enter His rest. Mark 3:5 shows Christ grieving at the hardness of the Pharisee’s hearts. Judas and Saul are examples of grieving God until He gave them over to their choices. Romans 1:24-32 shows that God, however reluctantly, eventually honors the deliberate, persistent choice of the individual. How long does His Spirit strive with us, how many “chances” do we have? As many chances as our Elder Brother-Judge knows we need to seal our choice.


Ephesians chapter 4 ends with Paul encouraging us to love each other with agape, of which forgiveness is a facet. E. J. Waggoner, one of the 1888 “messengers,” put it this way:


“Says Paul: ‘And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.’ Eph. 4:32. No one can know how to forgive, unless he knows how God forgives; and nobody can fully understand how God forgives, until he has felt in his own soul the fullness of divine pardon.....


“It is very common for people to say that they can forgive but they cannot forget. That is not true forgiveness...The man who does not forget an injury done him, has never really forgiven the offender;.... [With God] the pardoned one is as though he had never sinned; where there was nothing but guilt before.... Then if we forgive as God forgives, we must regard the repentant offender as though he had done nothing against us. We must forget that he ever injured us. We must treat him and regard him as though he had done us nothing but good instead of nothing but evil.


“The man who forgives in this manner is a true disciple of Christ, because no one can do this unless he has experienced, and does at the time experience, the blessing of divine forgiveness..... When we contemplate the magnitude of our sin against God, all the wrongs that all men may have done to us, sink into insignificance” (The Signs of the Times, May 5, 1887).


Like Mary Magdalene, we must allow the Holy Spirit to dig deep into our souls to show us the magnitude of our own sin to appreciate God’s forgiveness. As we come to see ourselves as God sees us, forgiving others of much lesser wrongs becomes natural—as if “carrying out our own impulses.” Like every thing good this kind of forgiveness is a gift from God. May He give us the grace to not resist this Gift.

Arlene Hill


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