Friday, March 26, 2010

“The Essence of Christian Character"

“The Essence of Christian Character"

The ninefold list of the fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5:22-21 is the most well-known list of character traits. Other lists are found in passages such as Col 3:12-16, Eph 4:2-3, 32, James 3:17, and 2 Pet 1:5-7. All these lists are important to our understanding of what constitutes a godly character. Love is the greatest manifestation of the character of God, who is love. And the simplest and most profound description of a godly character likewise is love.

A godly character is the result of the new birth, another term for justification by faith. God’s work in bringing about justification faith, lays our glory in the dust and then builds a character within us in the likeness of Christ (Rom 8:29). A Christlike character is the righteousness of Christ interwoven with the believer’s life and character. As he abides in Christ, the believer walks as Jesus walked. The more he walks with Christ the more fully he will reflect the character of Christ. This will be observed, even commented on, by others. And yet the one in whom God is working this change and growth of character may not be aware of what others observe.

As one resembles Christ’s character more closely, his opinion of himself becomes more humble. Examples of this can be seen in the experiences of Moses, Paul and John the Baptist. Moses was unaware that his faced shined with the reflected brightness of the glory of God. The brightness was painful and even terrifying to those who had not communed with God as Moses had communed with Him. Moses meek, mild and humble, knew not that he shined with the reflected glory of God. (Ex 34:29-35).

Paul had been highly honored by God, but his humble attitude of himself is revealed in the following words: “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect” (Phil 3:12). He spoke of himself as the chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15).

The Baptist’s testimony was similar to that of Paul’s. Jesus said John was the greatest of prophets while his opinion of himself was that he was unworthy to untie his Master’s sandals (John 1:27). He said that Jesus “must increase” while he “must decrease” (John 3:30).

Those men felt their great need of the atoning blood of Christ and the sanctifying grace of his Spirit. Thus it will be with all who have experienced the work of the Spirit within mind and heart. The fruit of the Spirit is the character of Christ – His righteousness – reproduced in those only who are “born again.”

Those in whom the fruit of the Spirit grows will be firm in principle and fearless in duty. They will possess a godly zealousness for the cause of God. And yet they will be humble. The gentleness of Jesus will be seen in tenderness with patience toward all. They will be ready and eager to forgive those who despitefully attack them. This is the fruit of having been with Jesus and having been taught by Him.

The fruit of the Spirit is also observed in the attitude of those who serve God and are reproved by Him if they sin in judgment, word or action. Repentance toward God and faith in Jesus follow God’s reproof.

God, at times, permits us to pass through trials that make manifest our individual weaknesses and defects of character. Thus opportunity is given for exchanging our weakness for Christ’s strength. Mistakes will prove a great blessing to those who will humbly accept reproof followed by sincere repentance. Such was the experiences of Jones and Waggoner, early on, when reproved by the Holy Spirit of prophecy. In a letter from Ellen White to Elders Waggoner and Jones in February, 1887, she cautioned them about making doctrinal differences prominent within the classroom and in articles in “The Signs of the Times.” The differences involved the “added law” of Gal 3:19. (See Letter 37, Feb 18, 1887, The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, 21-31).

The attitude of both Jones and Waggoner is revealed in their gracious acceptance of reproof from God. They manifested heartfelt repentance and faith. Jones wrote:

Your letter to myself and Bro. E. J. Waggoner, reached me three days ago. I have read it carefully three or four times, and have now sent it to him. For my part I thank the Lord for his goodness in showing me where I have done wrong, and shall try earnestly to profit by the testimony. I am sorry indeed that I have had any part in anything that would tend to create division or do harm in any way to the cause of God. And I shall be particularly guarded in the future. (A. T. Jones’ letter written March 13, 1887 to Ellen White, Manuscripts and Memories of Minneapolis, 66).

In a similar tone Waggoner likewise wrote:

I have read the testimony several times very carefully, and the more I read it, the more convinced I am that it is timely and was needed. I have been able to see some things in my heart of which I was unconscious. I thought that I was actuated by nothing but pure motives and love for the truth, in what I have said and written, but I can see plainly that there has been very much love of self mixed in. I can see how I have really hindered the advancement of the truth, when I thought I was helping it…. As I have humbled myself before God, he has heard my prayer, and has given me a measure of peace greater than I have known before. Again I thank God for the testimony of his Spirit. The strongest proof to me of their genuineness is that they have revealed to me my heart to an extent that it could not possibly be known by any one beside God….

[M]y error has been in being too hasty in putting forth views which could arouse controversy. I think I have learned a lesson that I shall not forget. I hope and pray that I may not….

I am determined, by the help of the Lord, that my writings shall be characterized by more of the love of God. I do pray that this reproof from the Lord may indeed continue to work in me the peaceable fruits of righteousness. I can say of a truth, that I do not cherish the slightest feeling of anything like ill feeling toward any of my brethren. (E. J. Waggoner, letter written April 1, 1887 to Ellen White, Manuscripts and Memories of Minneapolis, 71).

To conclude: in this lesson we learned that a godly, or Christlike, character is the love and righteousness of Christ interwoven with our life and character and manifested in humbleness of attitude, especially when reproved.

--Jerry Finneman


Sabbath School Today

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"The Fruit of the Spirit is Truth"

Pilate asked the ultimate question in John 18:38: “What is truth?” He stood in the presence of the One who is Truth (John 14:6), and asked for an abstract concept.
Truth is, ultimately, the Man, Christ Jesus. This fact Pilate was not prepared to receive.

We may judge Pilate harshly for sending Jesus to the cross. But Pilate was under incredible pressure. His job and his life were at stake. It seemed that truthfulness would cost him everything. He chose the path which appeared to be in his own best interest, and, so doing, lost everything.

Left to my own devices, I will make the same mistake Pilate made. The pressures I face are the same as those he faced. Jesus says to me, today, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Like Pilate, I long for the peace and freedom that is inherent in truth (see John 8:32). Like Pilate, I stand in the very presence of the One who is Truth, for the Word tells me in Revelation 3:20 that He stands knocking at the very door of my heart. Like Pilate, I have a question to ask; a choice to make. Matthew 27:22 gives another question in Pilate’s voice, but it is, indeed, the question I must decide today: “Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?”

Jesus is spoken of in John 1:1 as the Word. The scriptures, when approached with a prayerful, submissive spirit, are the very presence of Christ. Through the Spirit, the Word is the voice, the reproof, the comfort of God to me. Today, if I allow the pressures of life to keep me from the Word, I will make choices of the same quality as that which Pilate made. But if I allow the knocking Christ to come into my heart –if I give Him time, literally, to “sup” with me (Revelation 3:20) – if I refuse to let Him go until He blesses me (Genesis 32:26), then the world will not have the opportunity to squeeze me “into its mould” (see Romans 12:2, Phillips).

This week’s lesson deals with “Truth” as a part of the “fruit of the Spirit.” The command of God to Adam and Eve was that they should “be fruitful” (Genesis 1:28). Throughout the gospels we find God seeking the fruit of the Spirit in the lives of His people.

So long as I hold “the truth” as an external construct – a theory – I will find that it is powerless to bring life and freedom to my soul. When I allow God to define truth to me and in me, then Truth, in the person of Christ, brings forth the fruit for which He seeks. “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

To “know” something is merely to have a mental acquaintance with, or cognizance of it. To “know” someone in the Biblical sense, is to have an intimate relationship with that person – so intimate, in fact, that new life is begotten. Keeping this in mind, compare the following passages prayerfully:

 Psalm 51:6 “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.”

 John 17:23 “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”

 Isaiah 54:5 “Thy Maker is thine husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel.

 1 Corinthians 6:19 “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?”

 Hebrews 8:10, 11 “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: and they shall not teach every man his neighbour…for all shall know me.”

Now the passage, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32) can be seen in its intended context. This “knowing” is not a mere cognizance of the wisest decisions to make, or the truthful response to a given question. To “know” truth in this sense is to be as fully surrendered to “the Man, Christ Jesus” as the wife must be to her husband in order for the marriage to be fruitful. Unless the life of Christ is implanted in our life, we remain forever barren. When we do allow Him to become “the Author and Finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2), the change in us will be as real and apparent as the change that takes place in a woman who is with child.

Several times in the past few months, news reporters have told of demented women who sliced open the wombs of other women and tried to keep the child thus obtained as their own. We are amazed and disgusted at anyone so foolish as to think that a child gotten under such circumstances could ever be her own.

Yet, if we have ever sought to become righteous by attempting to do right things, the “fruit” thus produced is no more valid than a child stolen from another. Indeed, the Scriptures state such “righteousness” to be “filthy rags” (Isaiah 54:6).

The fruit of the Spirit is born by those who “yield to Him and follow Him. He will take care that we know the truth, and we trust Him for it” (A. T. Jones, General Conference Daily Bulletin, January 27, 1893). Those who choose to let Christ into their lives “are not simply counted righteous, but actually made righteous, by the obedience of Christ, who is as righteous as he ever was, and who lives today in those who yield to him.…What God did in the person of the Carpenter of Nazareth, he is willing and anxious to do for every man that believes. The free gift comes upon all, but all will not accept it, and therefore all are not made righteous by it. Nevertheless, "many" will be made righteous by his obedience. Who will be one of the many?” (E. J. Waggoner, Signs of the Times, March 12, 1896)



Sabbath School Today

Friday, March 12, 2010

“The Fruit of the Spirit is Righteousness”

Ephesians 5:9 is a very important text which must be kept in mind when discussing the topic of “righteousness”. “For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth” (Eph. 5:9). In the context of the Great Controversy, when it comes to human beings, righteousness is a “fruit” which only the Spirit can produce.

There is a tendency in human nature to seek some credit for what God alone can do. God alone can produce righteousness in fallen flesh. This was done in the life of Christ. He “fulfilled” the law in human flesh (See Matt. 3:15, 5:18). Our activity does not, indeed cannot, add to that accomplishment, but we so wish that it could.

Nevertheless, the righteousness of God is a gift that is given to mankind “apart from works” (Rom. 4:6). The Authorized Version is perhaps a little more emphatic. It uses the expression “without works”. This does not mean that the justified believer does not work. It merely points out the fact that the believer does not attempt to be justified by works.

“When the apostle speaks of not working, it is evident that he means not working in order to be justified. A man is not made just by works, but the just man works อด yet always by faith” (E. J. Waggoner, Waggoner on Romans, p. 4.82).

Obedience to the law is the only means of salvation. But it is not our obedience no matter how genuine it may be that is the means of our salvation.

“The provision made for the salvation of men through the imputed righteousness of Christ, does not do away with the law, or lessen in the least its holy claims; for Christ came to exalt the law and make it honorable, to reveal its exceeding breadth and changeless character. The glory of the gospel of grace through the imputed righteousness of Christ, provides no other way of salvation than through obedience to the law of God in the person of Jesus Christ, the divine substitute” (Ellen White, Signs of the Times, September 5, 1882).

When it comes to the issue of salvation, our works are separate and apart from the righteousness that God gives and imputes. This is an issue which is far too little understood. Too often good works are done which honor God and then they are spoiled by the thought that the doing of those works has merited the blessing of God or contributed toward salvation. Even when we have done the right thing, perhaps even manifested the genuine righteousness of Christ, we have no merit. Salvation remains entirely a free gift.

“Let the subject be made distinct and plain that it is not possible to effect anything in our standing before God or in the gift of God to us through creature merit. Should faith and works purchase the gift of salvation for anyone, then the Creator is under obligation to the creature. Here is an opportunity for falsehood to be accepted as truth. If any man can merit salvation by anything he may do, then he is in the same position as the Catholic to do penance for his sins. Salvation, then, is partly of debt, that may be earned as wages. If man cannot, by any of his good works, merit salvation, then it must be wholly of grace, received by man as a sinner because he receives and believes in Jesus. It is wholly a free gift” (Ellen White, Faith and Works Pg. 19.3).

Yes. The one who has genuine faith will always reveal some degree of good works. Yet, if his/her obedience is genuine, it is not a manifestation of self-­righteousness. It is a manifestation of the righteousness of Christ. All of the merit is still Christ’s and we get no credit and can claim no righteousness except the righteousness of Christ.

Many are confused by the apparent difference between the expressions of Paul and James. Yet, the Holy Scriptures penned by Paul and James both originate with the same Author. They reveal no diversity of viewpoints. James and Paul were both inspired by the same Person (i.e. the third Person of the Godhead) and they both taught the same view. The false perceptions are rooted in the failure to realize that Paul and James are not addressing the same problem. Therefore, their “answers” must not be applied to the same question. This mistake has produced false perception and misunderstanding.

Paul’s issue is justification before God.

“What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’” (Romans 4:1-3).

James is dealing with justification before man. This is why he cites the example of a brother who destitute and hungry and asks the questions “what does it profit”"

“If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” (James 2:15-16)

James argues for justification by works in the eyes of man. Paul argues against justification by works in the eyes of God. Yet, James would agree with Paul that we are not justified by works in the eyes of God and Paul would agree with James that we are justified by works in the eyes of man.

Salvation concerns the “eyes of God”. Therefore we should agree that justification is “without works”. And our works contribute nothing toward our salvation, even though genuine works of faith are an evidence of the reception of the gift of salvation from sin (i.e. the righteousness of Christ).

In the final analysis, when we have genuinely obeyed through the power of the Spirit and revealed to some degree the righteousness of Christ we are still “unprofitable servants”. Therefore we have no merit.

"So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do'" (Luke 17:10).

Mark Duncan

Sabbath Scool Today

Come and Reason Outline

Thursday, March 04, 2010

"The Fruit of the Spirit is Temperance"

"The Fruit of the Spirit is Temperance"

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22, 23).

The book of Daniel records the life of a man who was fully surrendered to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. His temperate lifestyle made it possible for him to hear and submit to the still small voice of God when other men would have been tempted to advantage themselves at the expense of others. When the king would have destroyed the ungodly and jealous wise men of Babylon, Daniel did not plead merely for his own life, and that of his friends. He pleaded for the lives of even his enemies (See Daniel 2:24 & 2MR 319.5).

The Spirit that possessed Daniel of old we may possess today. We may draw from the same source of strength, possess the same power of self-control, and reveal the same grace in our lives, even under the most trying circumstances. Victory over every harmful indulgence of appetite, or any other gratification that would decrease mental or physical vigor, is required, and provided for by the Spirit of the Living God.

“For all the objects of His creation the condition is the same--a life sustained by receiving the life of God, a life exercised in harmony with the Creator's will. To transgress His law, physical, mental, or moral, is to place one's self out of harmony with the universe, to introduce discord, anarchy, ruin” (Ellen White, Education, page 99). But “in Christ, God has provided means for subduing every sinful trait, and resisting every temptation, however strong” (Ellen White, Desire of Ages, page 429).

For one to be hard and denunciatory, to find fault and accuse, to exhibit harshness of speech and temper, selfishness, anger, and self-will is to give evidence of the absence of the fruit of “temperance,” or “self control” and reveals that the Spirit Himself is not present. Inasmuch as the diet materially affects the mind and disposition of man, it stands to reason that many of the evils that exist today are connected to the indulgence of appetites and inclinations. It was here that the first temptation on earth occurred in Eden. It was here that Jesus was first tempted on the mountain. And it is here that the battle continues today.

Temperance is so significant that Paul, in seeking to reach Felix, “reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come” (Acts 24:25). Paul says of his own experience, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Peter‟s list of the fruit to be seen in the life of the Christian includes temperance (see 2 Peter 1:6). Peter then concludes, “he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall” (2 Peter 1:9 & 10).

The works of the flesh come naturally, but the good fruit is not the product of human nature. It is received by a power from outside ourselves. It is the “fruit of the Spirit.” This fruit has been compared to an orange with its many segments, which are all held together, covered and protected by the peel; yet it is one orange. Love is to the fruit of the Spirit what the peel is to the orange. This element is so essential that Jesus said, “By this shall men know that ye are my disciples, that ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). Christ‟s “agape” love includes everyone, for Jesus showed us how to love even our enemies. “God is love” (1 John 4:8). When the Holy Spirit of God comes into the life of the believer, of necessity, the “love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5) . Love comprehends all the other eight segments of the fruit of the Spirit. The others might even be called the fruits of love.

Nothing will so defeat the devices of Satan as will the love of Christ manifested in the lives of His people. This love “beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). “Abide in me, and I in you,” Jesus said. “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15: 1-5).

By our own natural birth, we inherit the works of the flesh. By the new birth, we inherit all the fullness of God and become “partakers of His divine nature having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4). It is only by personal union with Christ - by daily communion with Him - that we can bear the fruit of the Spirit. As we experience this living connection with the source of all-enduring strength we shall be brought into captivity to Jesus Christ. “Thus the First Commandment is the basis of all true temperance; and the keeping of that commandment and the faith of Jesus, is the only way to true temperance. „I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage….Thou shalt have no other gods before me‟" (A.T. Jones, Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, February 26, 1901).

While we continue abiding and walking in the Spirit, the flesh and its desires have no more power over us than if we were dead and in our graves (see Romans 6:1, 2; Galatians 5:24, 25). “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. And the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” Galatians 2:20). “The law of God is in the heart of Christ (Ps. 40:8), so that the faith which brings Christ into the heart establishes the law there. And since the law of God is the establishment of his throne, the faith which brings the law into the heart, enthrones God there. And thus it is that God works in men „both to will and to do of his good pleasure‟" (E. J. Waggoner, Signs of the Times, February 6, 1896).

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1, 2)

Joe W. Gresham


Sabbath School Today