Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Sabbath School Insights No. 4, Qtr 4-06

Special Insights No. 4

Fourth Quarter 2006 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

“Beginnings and Belongings”

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

Paradise Lost”


Sometimes faith and works are spoken of as though they were opposite qualities which we need to hold in even proportions in order to be good Christians. Thus the term “balance” is often used as though it were a most essential Christian quality. Despite the popularity of this idea, neither the Bible nor the Spirit of Prophecy describe this type of “balance.” The root word balance only appears in the King James Version three times. And it never appears in the context of faith and works (see Isa. 40:12, Job 37:16, Dan. 5:27). Ellen G. White does use the term “balance” in the context of a discussion of faith and works, but the message is not that we need to balance faith and works but rather they need to balance us (see Faith and Works [FW], p. 49).


From whence then comes the idea that we need a “balance” of faith and works? The Bible teaches salvation by grace, through faith apart from works (see Eph. 2:8, Rom. 4:5, 6). In other words, good works contribute nothing toward our standing before God. “Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone” (FW19). But there has long been an opposing idea in the world which still exists. The pagans believe we must appease the gods, earn their favor or generate good karma in order to be “saved.” This is all too bold a contradiction of the truth to fool most Christians. Therefore the enemy has crafted a much more acceptable counterfeit. It’s called “balance.” Many sincere Christians would never fall for the overt heresy of salvation by works. Yet they quickly embrace the same error when it is mixed with truth. Thus we have the doctrine of “balance.” a very subtle error, the teaching of salvation as partly by faith and partly by works. But when “balance” is taken to its logical conclusion we find nothing but raw legalism, salvation by works.


This is the essence of the confusing controversy which has plagued humanity since our first parents fell and lost Paradise. It is the struggle chronicled throughout the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. When Adam and Eve first sinned and realized that they were naked they immediately decided to solve the sin problem themselves and they went right to work. They sewed fig leaves together to supply their lack, not understanding that the leaves would dry out and become brittle and quickly disintegrate exposing their nakedness again. The robe of light was more than a covering. It was a symbol of their holy and innocent state. When they sinned they lost that innocence and with it the symbol of innocence, the robe of light.


Now they needed that which only God can supply, a robe of righteousness. So God came down and made them “tunics of skin” (Gen. 3:21) from the first sacrificial animals. The sacrificial animal represented Christ. The skins represented His robe of righteousness, which we have through faith to cover our nakedness. Thus we see the issue was and is clearly, righteousness by works (fig leaves) vs. righteousness by faith (tunics of skin).


That was Genesis chapter three. Lest we miss the point the message is almost immediately repeated. In chapter four we learn that Cain is a tiller of the ground and Abel is a keeper of sheep. When it comes time for sacrifice Abel presents a lamb, not because he is a keeper of sheep but because it represents the Lamb of God. But Cain decides on a not so original idea though it may seem new to the casual observer. He will present the work of his own hands. In Cain’s mind perhaps he thought Abel had done the same thing. He is a shepherd and it is appropriate for him to bring a lamb, but I am a tiller of the ground, therefore it is appropriate for me to bring the fruit of my labor. But Hebrews tells us that Abel’s motive was different. His motive was “faith” (Heb. 11:4), not dependence upon self or the work of his own hands. This was the same struggle that had been played out in the Garden of Eden, righteousness by faith vs. righteousness by works. God sent us the correct view in the “most precious” 1888 message.


As we read further in the scriptures the characters change but the struggle is the same. Sarah and Hagar—righteousness by faith vs. righteousness by works. Jacob and Esau—righteousness by faith vs. righteousness by works. David and Saul—righteousness by faith vs. righteousness by works. The long sad history of Israel is summed up in these brief words, “Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law” (Rom. 9:31-32). And we must understand that the final contest in the great controversy is not between two days, Sabbath and Sunday. It is between two concepts of salvation, righteousness by faith vs. righteousness by works. It will be a contest between two gospels, the gospel of salvation by grace vs. the false gospel of salvation by works.


Therefore it is imperative that we have a true concept of faith and understand its relation to good works. The servant of the Lord wrote: “The knowledge of what the Scripture means when urging upon us the necessity of cultivating faith, is more essential than any other knowledge that can be acquired” (Review and Herald, Oct. 18, 1898). A. T. Jones wrote: “In order to be able to know what the Scripture means when urging upon us the necessity of cultivating faith, it is essential to know, first of all, what is faith” (Lessons on Faith, p. 15). Later he answers that “essential” question: “Faith is the expecting the word of God to do what it says, and the depending upon that word to do what it says” (ibid., p. 16). If faith is depending on the word to do what it says (i.e., work), and God has said His word shall not return to Him void but accomplish what He pleases, then clearly faith (depending on the word) will produce good works. In other words, faith works.


Thus we see that the Bible does not teach that faith and works are antithetical or opposing elements that need to be kept in “balance.” The Bible teaches that it is “faith which works by love” (Gal. 5:6). The Bible teaches that good works are an essential element of faith. James asks, “Do you see that faith was working ... ?” And again James tells us that “by works faith [is] made perfect” (i.e., complete, James 2:22). Thus we should not see faith and works as two different elements that need to be “balanced.” Rather we should understand that true faith works if it exists at all. To separate faith from works and suggest that we need two rather than one element, albeit in “balance,” is to unwittingly embrace the counterfeit means of salvation, righteousness by works.


What we need is “faith which works.” It will balance us. We need not balance it.

Kelvin (Mark) Duncan

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Conference & Seminar Update





October 28

Sabbath 11:00 a.m. and afternoon

Beloit Seventh-day Adventist Church

2500 Cranston Road, Beloit, Wisconsin


Speaker: R. J. Gravell

Topics: “Our Sympathizing Savior” & “Transformed by Grace”


For information: (608) 679-9373





December 28-30

Thursday evening, Friday and Sabbath all day and evening


Meadow Vista Seventh-day Adventist Church

1461 Meadow Vista Road, Meadow Vista, California


Speakers: Paul E. Penno, Robert J. Wieland, and Others




Watch for More Details


For information

Phone: (530) 477-0390    E-mail:

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Sabbath School Insights No. 3, Qtr 4-06

Special Insights No. 3

Fourth Quarter 2006 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

“Beginnings and Belongings”

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

“The Early Earth”


Genesis 2 is a huge chapter because there is so much to talk about. Sandwiched between several big ideas there is a gem so tiny it can easily be passed by. In Genesis 1, God’s word creates all there is, indicating that God’s word (only) has the power inherent within it to create the thing that it says while He is saying it. From that thought comes the first big idea of chapter 2—the Sabbath. This special day that God set aside is the memorial of creation—not just that God created something, but that God’s word is so powerful that we can’t add anything to it. So God tells us to rest. He will give us the righteousness we need to live in His presence, so don’t even try because we would have to try harder than we can to succeed. Just rest. He creates righteousness for us, and when we believe, He makes it real in our experience—He causes it to grow, so to speak, even against all obstacles except our own stubborn unbelief. Because of this, He gave us the Sabbath.


The next big idea is the creation of mankind. God (notice that it is through His mouth) breathed into Adam the breath of lives (the Hebrew is plural). That means He created all of us when He created Adam. As two whole nations were in Rebekah when Jacob was born (Gen. 25:23), so the whole world was in Adam when God created you and me.


The final big idea is the gift of marriage. Verse 9, “and out of the ground made the Lord God to grow ...” Isaiah gives us a clue of the meaning of this in chapter 40, verses 6-8: “The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh [is] grass, and all the goodliness thereof [is] as the flower of the field.”


We are as grass. We all have fallen sinful human flesh that is doomed to be destroyed. For all practical purposes, we would already have more than one foot in the grave—except for one thing: “and out of the ground made the Lord God to grow ...”


God’s word has within it the power to create what it says. What about Matthew 5:48—every bit as much the word of God as Genesis 1:3: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”? Or John 8:11 when He was talking to the woman taken in adultery, “Go, and sin no more”? Do we have the faith of the centurion who said to Jesus, You don’t need to come to my house, “but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed” (Matt. 8:8)?


Even the Power that causes the blade of grass to grow has the power to cause that grass to move several thousand times its own weight. From E. J. Waggoner, one of the 1888 messengers:


“Who has not watched the springing forth of the tender blade of grass or corn? Have you not at times passed by a field of corn, and noticed a tiny blade pushing its way to the surface, in spite of heavy clods of earth? Have you not seen a portion of the baked earth heaved up, and, looking beneath, have seen that it was held up by a tiny spire, so tender that it could not support its own weight if released from its position? The blade had as yet scarcely any color, and was but little more than water, for if you had crushed it in your fingers there would have been scarcely anything but moisture on your hand. Yet this tiny thing was pushing away from before it a clod of earth ten thousand times its own weight. ...


“Will any scientist tell what is the source of the marvelous power exhibited in the grass, or in the bursting of the hard shell of the peach stone by the little germ within? ... We can see the manifestation of Power, but we cannot see the power itself. ... we are content to believe that the power is nothing else than the power of God’s word. The word of the Lord said in the beginning, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass,’ and the power of that word causes the grass to spring forth in spite of all the clods of earth. There is no power in the grass, but that most feeble instrument is used to exhibit to man the mighty power of God. In that every man may learn a lesson—if he will. ...


“In that we see the assurance that God is able to do for us ‘exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.’ Ephesians 3:20. For that same power that worked in the grass of the field also worked in the man who puts his trust in the Lord. ‘All flesh is grass.’ Isaiah 40:6. Man is as weak and frail as the grass, having absolutely no power in himself; yet he is able to do all things through Christ, who strengthens him” (The Gospel in Creation, pp. 36, 37).


This is true in marriage as it is in anything that God has “joined together.” The true secret of happiness is found in John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” And when we believe, He makes His work real in our experience.


This is also true when faced point blank with the tree of knowledge of good and evil: “How ... can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9).


Let us be like grass. Let it be as the Lord has said.

Craig Barnes


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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sabbath School Insights No. 2, Qtr 4-06

Special Insights No. 2

Fourth Quarter 2006 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

“Beginnings and Belongings”

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

“In the Beginning . . .”





Genesis chapter one speaks of the one true God who created “the heavens and the earth.” When God inspired Moses to write this account as we have it, He foreknew our time today when the ungodly theory of evolution would bring such evil in the world (Nazism, for example, could never have arisen as it did except for the help of the teaching of evolution).


Genesis one does not tell us much about the character of this Creator God—other than that He wants the creatures He created to be happy. (If all we had of the Bible is that one chapter, we would know He wants us to be happy because He created us “male and female.” Love between us two is one of the most exquisite joys of life.)


If Adam and Eve had not sinned as they did, they would have found plenty in the sinless creation to make and keep them happy forever. They would have rejoiced in that perfect Creator and all that He had made.


But a real revelation of His character had to await the horror of sin as it developed in human hearts. Why? Because a revelation of the depths of God’s love could not be comprehended by either man or by the unfallen beings of the universe apart from that “knowledge of good and evil” which Adam and Eve gained from eating the forbidden fruit.


The existence of this evil thing called sin required the unmasking of God, the opening of the infinite depths of His being to the gaze of sinful man, and the onlooking wonder of the universe. Sinless beings in a sinless creation would have marveled at the wonders of God’s love, but it would have been a superficial appreciation at best. If Genesis 3 had never happened as it did, Genesis 1 would have ushered in only an age of innocence. Innocence is delightful; but it becomes loving character when tested by the intrusion of evil.


This is not to rejoice because sin came; but sin did come; and thank Heaven that there came also a revelation of “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height” of the love (agape) of the Father and the Son (cf. Eph. 3:18).


How Can We Help People Locked in the Error of Evolution?


Arguing about paleontology may be a comparatively fruitless effort. For all the Creationist “science” you come up with they may rebut you with what they think is compulsive evolutionary “evidence.” Maybe you’ve already had these experiences of vain contention.


Let’s try presenting the “science” of agape (Ellen White discussed “the science” which is “in the simplicity of true religion” [agape] (MS 28, 1898; 3BC 1144). In more cases than we may realize, “scientific” souls are hungering to learn about “Christ and Him crucified,” but they have been severely turned off by false ideas of the gospel generated by the churches that are characterized as fallen “Babylon.” (For example, you may find it hard to believe how many people are turned off of the gospel by the doctrine of an eternally burning hell; they can’t help but be alienated from a God who would treat anyone that way; they need our understanding.)


Genesis 1 is wonderful as a Sabbath School Lesson; thank God we have it. But let’s approach the problem of evolution from a fresh perspective—that of presenting the truth of “Christ and Him crucified.” Do it seriously; present it point by point from the Bible. Take one chapter in the Bible, verse by verse, point by point. (There’s no end of possibilities—Isaiah 53; Psalm 22; Romans 5; Ephesians 1; Psalm 139, etc.)


What will you find? Without you’re trying to refute any “scientific” detail, you will find the human heart of your evolutionist friend being warmed in spite of himself. Now, get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit do His work! That will be the beginning of conversion to eternal life. Don’t worry about the Sabbath; that will come easy once that cross and the love that led Christ to go there is made clear.

Robert J. Wieland (standing in for Gerald L. Finneman)


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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Sabbath School Insights No. 1, Qtr 4-06

Special Insights No. 1

Fourth Quarter 2006 Adult Sabbath School Lessons

“Beginnings and Belongings”

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



Welcome to a new three months of Sabbath School Bible study, this time in the book of Genesis.


According to the Lord’s apostle, Paul, Genesis is the “gospel book of the Bible”: “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the nations by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed’” (Gal. 3:8). Genesis is the Romans of the Old Testament!


The star character of course is Abraham; so this insight from Paul is what alerts us to realize that the core subject we shall be studying in these new 13 weeks of lessons will be the gospel—the pure, true one that God Himself “preached” to Abraham. That’s going to be exciting! Haven’t you always wanted to hear God Himself “preach”? We have heard the gospel preached by so many of God’s servants through the ages, that to hear it “preached” now from the very lips of Himself is going to be a breath of fresh air.


As we begin our study journey through Genesis, we need to note a few helpful truths:


(1) Don’t let yourself get confused by wondering if the book of Genesis is true factual earth history, some kind of an allegory or symbolic myth. Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God, quoted Genesis as though it is down to earth history; the fundamental issue in all the “evolution/creation” dialogues is the identity of Jesus Christ. Is He what the Bible says He is? Get that settled in your mind and heart for all time and eternity to come: He has told the truth about Genesis. It is the factual history of the beginnings of this earth’s history.

(2) In pondering evolution/creationism, we don’t start with Genesis; we start with Christ. We believe He is the Savior of the world (John 4:42), the divine Son of God (1:1-14), the world’s Messiah (1:41), the only “blessed hope” we have (Titus 2:13).

(3) Philosophical arguments can go on interminably and get nowhere. Paul tried to meet philosophy with philosophy when he preached in Athens, but the results were only a handful of conversions (Acts 17:15-34). He had learned his lesson, for when he next came to Corinth, he had “determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). World history has come way down in the great antitypical Day of Atonement so it is too late for us to digress into similar arguments based on so-called science in archaeology, paleontology, etc. The arguments are interesting and some startling conclusions are being formed by scientists, but let’s concentrate on the gospel.

(4) In seeking to know who is the Creator-God in Genesis 1, we are baffled until we discover 1 John 4:8—“God is love [agape].” To validate His existence and His character, He has implanted in each human being what Genesis 3:15 describes as an “enmity between [Satan]” and the people whose hearts believe in that divine love, which is a universal longing for truth and righteousness. The deep enmity is “between [Satan’s] seed and the woman’s ... seed” (humanity). All human hearts around the world, wicked and cruel as people may become, long for love (even jihadists? be careful—believe what Genesis says!). In our lessons this quarter, we shall delve into the very beginnings of the revelation of that divine love to the world.

(5) We shall trace the revelation of that love of God in the greatest catastrophe ever to strike this planet—the flood of Noah’s time. Having learned the secret of God’s love revealed even there, we shall understand His love revealed in the horrors of current history that reduplicate the world of Noah’s time (Matt. 24:37-39).

(6) We shall trace the same over-ruling divine love seen in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—another object lesson of what current world history means around us today, and where God is.

(7) Our supreme interest will be the revelation of the New Covenant as God “preached” it directly to Abraham. We shall bypass what for many is the confusing story of the covenants in the second book of the Bible—Exodus. Mt. Sinai need not confuse us about God’s covenant; we shall drink of the pure water of life as it flows from this Genesis spring, in which sacred history will capture our hearts.

(8) The most blessed love story in history of a man and a woman discovering each other is that of Isaac and Rebekeh. That awaits us.

(9) A precious insight this quarter will be the story of Jacob and how his name was changed to Israel; and there each of us will find the true story of our own personal history. Not one of us was “born” “Israel” any more than Jacob was; we shall find ourselves this quarter!

(10) And no narrative in the Bible is more thrilling than the story of Joseph (“from the dungeon to the palace”); several lessons are devoted to his story. But it’s not his story so much as it is the story of Jesus; we shall meet Jesus revealed in him there.

(11) These lessons are not thirteen dry lectures; they are stories that are intensely interesting in themselves. And as we study them we shall find the miracle growing in our own human hearts—the miracle of heart-reconciliation (“atonement”) with God. We shall see Him disclosed in the stories, and to see Him is to be reconciled to Him.

(12) That in turn is the work of our great High Priest in His current task of cleansing the heavenly sanctuary in preparing a people for translation at the second coming of Christ.

(13) Seen in that light, we shall recognize in the worldwide study of the book of Genesis appointed by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists this quarter a fulfillment of God’s promise to send us “Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” who will “turn ... hearts” (Mal. 4:5, 6).

Robert J. Wieland


(Note: A series of CDs on these lessons recorded by this author is available from the office of the 1888 Message Study Committee: 269-473-1888.)


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