Friday, March 06, 2009

"The Message of the Prophets"

This week's lesson starts out with what could be a discouraging thought: "Sin is the greatest problem we face." Knowing that sin is what separates us from God (Isa. 59:2), and that continued sin will forever keep us from experiencing the New Earth (1 Cor. 6:9, 10), it is easy to become discouraged in the battle with sin. Easy, yes, if you have not yet learned how good the Good News really is. What's the "good news"? Satan is a defeated foe. Paul says it so plainly in Romans chapter 6: "For sin shall not have dominion over you" (vs. 14). Read that sentence again, carefully and thoughtfully. Dominion means "power" or "absolute control." The promise is, sin shall not have absolute control over you. Sin's power has been broken. When was it broken and by what means? The answer to these two simple questions is the crux of the Gospel's power.

That first promise given to Adam and Eve when they rebelled against their Creator in the Garden, was assurance that sin should not have dominion over you (Gen. 3:15). That promise was the everlasting covenant promise that there would be a Saviour, a Kinsman Redeemer, who would bring restitution to the lost estate. A very comforting statement from the pen of inspiration tells us, "As soon as there was sin, there was a Saviour." And "the instant man accepted the temptations of Satan, and did the very things God had said he should not do, Christ, the Son of God, stood between the living and dead, saying 'Let the punishment fall on Me. I will stand in man's place. He shall have another chance'" (SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 7A, pp. 16 and 17). God is the "living" and Adam was the "dead" referred to in this statement. The immediacy of the act of God in redeeming mankind is profound--"as soon as there was sin"; "the instant" Adam sinned there was a Saviour who took the punishment Adam should have suffered. Adam's next heartbeat and breath of fresh air was by grace through the Lamb's power over sin and sin's effects.

When we learn to appreciate the good news that sin's power was broken from the foundation of the world through the Lamb which taketh away the sin of the world (Rev. 13:8; John 1:29), then we can experience unbounded joy, even while living in this world of increasing woe. Great freedom comes to those who truly appreciate all that God has done for us. Through faith in the Lamb's power, we are freed from both ditches mentioned in the lesson, the ditch of legalism, and the converse ditch of cheap grace. Both are ditches that place the individual under the burden of the old covenant. Legalism brings us under the old covenant because we believe that we can add something to the salvation enterprise. As E. J. Waggoner put it in The Glad Tidings, p. 71, "That which makes all the trouble is that even when men are willing to recognize the Lord at all they want to make bargains with Him. They want it to be a 'mutual' affair--a transaction in which they can consider themselves on par with God." Such an attitude was the root problem at Sinai when the people unitedly answered, "All the LORD has said, we will do" (Ex. 19:8). Cheap grace places us equally under the old covenant because we smugly assume that we can sail into heaven with our characters unchanged, believing that we are good enough as we are and that God's love will overlook our continued sinning.

Jesus came to save His people from their sin, not in their sin (Matt. 1:21). The night before His crucifixion He prayed to His Father, "I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work Thou gavest Me to do" (John 17:4). On the cross He declared with a loud voice, "It is finished!" "Sin shall not have dominion over you!" How could Jesus be so sure of this? Because He assumed the fallen nature of man in His incarnation and He met the enemy on his own territory. Taking upon Himself the faulty equipment through which Satan so easily causes us to fall under his power, Christ proved that our fallen nature is no excuse for continued sinning. The nature of Christ "is everything to us. It is the golden chain that binds our souls to Christ, and through Christ to God. This is to be our study." (Selected Messages, vol. 1, p. 244; see also The Golden Chain, by Robert J. Wieland). Why is it so important that it needs to be "our study?" Because what Christ did in fallen flesh through faith in His Father's power, we also can do by faith in Christ's power over Satan and sin. Sadly, the power of Christ's righteousness is vastly ignored by most persons who call themselves "Christian." Which leads to that "discouragement over your spiritual life" mentioned by the Quarterly author.

"There are too many who try to live the Christian life on the strength of the faith which they exercised when they realized their need of pardon for sins of their past life. ... Of the joy of living for God and of walking with Him by faith, they know nothing, and he who tells of it speaks of a strange language to them. ... 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 confident 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. ... The man who doesn't rejoice in God, even though tempted and afflicted, is not fighting the good fight of faith. He is fighting the poor fight of self-confidence and defeat." (E. J. Waggoner, The Bible Student's Library, "Living By Faith," pp. 4-6; article also found in Lessons on Faith).

What is the cause of the discouragement? Reliance on self, which is the old covenant error of both the legalist and the one believing in cheap grace.

However, Waggoner doesn't leave the reader in this discouraging position. "The overcoming is now; the victories to be gained are victories over the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life--victories over self and selfish indulgences. The man who fights and sees the foe give way may rejoice; nobody can keep him from rejoicing, for joy comes spontaneously as the result of seeing the enemy give way. Some folks look with dread upon the thought of having to wage a continual warfare with self and worldly lusts. That is because they do not as yet know anything about the joy of victory. They have experienced only defeat. But it isn't so doleful a thing to battle constantly, when there is continual victory" (ibid). How is Christ's victory made effective in our personal lives? By faith in His powerful righteousness. We give up all self-confidence and learn day by day to surrender fully to Christ, to be crucified with Him (Gal. 2:20).

Our strength is in His leadership; we are strong because He is; we are inspired to overcome all sin because He did in the same flesh we all possess. When God finally has that people to whom He can point and exclaim: "Here are they that keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus," then the cleansing of the sanctuary will be complete. Christ will then come to rescue His people and make full restitution for all that Adam lost. Christ "redeems the earth from the curse, that it may be the everlasting possession that God originally designed it to be; and He also redeems man from the cruse, that he may be fitted for the possession of such an inheritance. This is the sum of the gospel" (The Glad Tidings, p. 70).

--Ann Walper