Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Boasting in the Cross

Fourth Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
Boasting in the Cross
For the week of December 24-30, 2011
In Galatians 6:11-18 Paul summarizes His letter to the churches in Galatia.  He urges the reader to stay true to the gospel.  Those who required circumcision denied both the cross and the new creation.  Whatever Paul wrote earlier about these opponents of the gospel (see especially Galatians 1:7–9; 2:4, 5, 12; 3:1, 10; 4:17; 5:2–5, 7, 11, 12) is here brought to a head.  By a few crisp phrases he makes clear that the Judaizers are not at all interested in the spiritual welfare of the Galatians.  They were concerned only about themselves: their own honor, their own ease (freedom from persecution because of the cross).
In his letter Paul contrasted circumcision with the cross.  His main arguments against circumcision are found in chapters five and six.  If you become circumcised to be saved, Christ and His salvation will profit you nothing (Galatians 5:2-4).  Paul saw the consequences that come to those who practice circumcision as a means of salvation: estrangement from Christ, a fall from grace.  The book of Galatians begins and ends with God’s grace.  It is bracketed, or bookended, by grace (Galatians 1:3; 6:18).  Between those bookends of grace is revealed that the fall from grace results in opposition to justification by faith, the gospel and the cross of Christ (6:12‑14).
Paul was vehement in his denial of the false brethren's teaching concerning circumcision.  This subject stirs up his use of the strongest expressions of speech.  He wrote, perhaps ironically, that he wished they would emasculate or mutilate themselves (Galatians 5:12, margin).
The Judaizers did not understand the true significance of circumcision.  They had come to believe that the act of circumcision itself brought them righteousness.  But originally, God had given the rite of circumcision and made it a sign of the righteousness Abraham already had by faith (Romans 4:11).  Circumcision was to be a symbol of the removal, or the cutting off, of all works of the flesh for salvation.  It symbolized the new birth—a new heart, a new creation (Deuteronomy 30:6).  Paul knew this experience could only come by beholding and believing in the Christ who was lifted up on the cross.  In John 3:14 Jesus used the imagery of the serpent upon the pole to explain His kingdom.  He said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.”  To look – to believe – these are responses of humble, contrite appreciation for the gift bestowed.  There is in these responses nothing of which to boast.
Circumcision was the means by which the “Pharisees who believed” boasted.  Consider some of their strong Scriptural arguments for circumcision.  There are plenty of texts for their practice of circumcision.  Two especially were vital to their cause—one from the experience of Abraham, the other from an experience of Moses.  The Pharisees knew of the command that God gave to Abraham which stated that any male not circumcised must be “cut off”—sentenced to death for that neglect (Genesis 17:14).  This was a very strong “proof text.”  Moses knew that text also.  
Evidently Moses circumcised the eldest of his two sons, but not the second son.  Perhaps Zipporah objected.  Later, on the journey to Egypt, they stopped to sleep.  The Lord allowed them to see that there was a judgment of death on Moses.  The threat was so fearful that his wife Zipporah overcame her antipathy to circumcision and performed the rite on their younger son.  She knew exactly what to do.  When the life of her husband was on the line because of this neglect (Exodus 4:24-26), Zipporah got the job done.
Armed with these strong “proof texts,” the Judaizers demanded to know how Paul could dare deny the rite of circumcision.  Why did his boasting in the cross oppose those who boasted in circumcision?
Paul knew that circumcision was a typical shadow of Christ’s death.  He knew that when Christ was “cut off” (Daniel 9:26) from life, He fulfilled the rite of circumcision, just as He fulfilled all of the other typical services.  Circumcision of the flesh meant the cutting off, or the death, of the flesh.  So, Christ was to be circumcised or “cut off” from life on the cross in order to save us.
The word used here in Daniel for “cut off” is karath’.  This is the same word used when God gave to Abraham the rite of circumcision in Genesis 17:13,14.  It is the same word used when Zipporah circumcised her son as recorded in Exodus 4:23-26.  The use of the “proof texts” proved to be invalid in the light of the cross.  In this light Paul boasted.
The opponents of the gospel presented circumcision as if that were far more important than merely the cross of Christ.  Paul told the Galatians that those legalists wanted to “boast” in their flesh (Galatians 6:13).  Paul’s boast was always in the cross (v 14).  That those “Pharisees who believed” elevated circumcision to salvation is clear from Acts 15:1, 5.  They taught that the gospel without circumcision was nothing.  Paul taught that circumcision was nothing and that the cross was everything.  The ceremony of circumcision became null and void, because it was a type of the death of Christ and thus met its fulfillment and its end at the cross.  The shadow ceased in the glorious Substance.  The Sun of Righteousness obliterated all the shadows.  This was the reason for Paul’s boasting.
The Cross both crucifies and elevates.  It “cuts off” from the world all those who will believe.   This is the work of God in humbling us in the dust.  Faith in the cross gives us humility and contrition.  It unites us to God.  Union with God then elevates the believer.  It was the cross that lifted Jesus up from earth to heaven.  This was His glory.  It is the cross that brings us glory and as Paul said, it is the only thing in which to glory.  Yes, the cross means derision and shame from the world, but it lifts us away from the world, and sets us on high with Christ in the heavenly places (Colossians 2:2,3).
The power of the cross is the power of creation (Romans 1:16-20; 1 Corinthians 1:18,24).  “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:15).  Circumcision has no power to create.  Only the cross can do this.  “If any man be in Christ, there is a new creation” and it is only through death to self that we become joined to Jesus (Romans 6:3).
 “Why glory in the cross?—Because by it the world is crucified to us, and we to the world. The Epistle ends where it begins,—with deliverance from “this present evil world,” and it is the cross alone that accomplishes the deliverance.  The cross is the symbol of humiliation, therefore we glory in it, because in humility is exaltation” (E. J. Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, page 254).
--Jerry Finneman

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Gospel and the Church

Fourth Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“The Gospel and the Church”
For the week of December 18 – 24, 2011

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in a trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). The Church is one body though it has many members, and Paul affirms what should be a self evident truth.

In accepting and receiving Jesus as Savior and Lord, we have the joyful privilege of thinking, living, and dying with Him, and as Him, in every relationship within the church or outside the church. “For the death that He died, He died to sin once and for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:10, 11).

God is love, and love does good and nothing but good. In speaking of our relationships with our brothers and sisters in the church, A.T. Jones asserts in His Studies in Galatians, “Note that when a man is overtaken in a fault, the only thing that the Scripture commands the Christian to do is to ‘restore such a one’. There is no commandment to condemn him, to set him at naught, to ostracize him, to talk about either, but to ‘restore’ him’” (Studies in Galatians P 181). God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17).
If we are spiritual, experiencing a deepening repentance, we are all too aware of the weakness of our fallen nature which enables us to identify with our erring brother or sister. We recognize that the moment we are distracted from Jesus we are likely to fall. Without this awareness, we may discover that we are carnal, not spiritual. “For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men” (1 Corinthians 3:3). The first step in restoration is to, “Go tell him his fault between thee and him alone” (Mark 18:14).

“Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ…For each one shall bear his own load” (Galatians 6:2, 5). Jesus bore not only His own load, but mine and also that of the whole world. For when we were “still without strength”, “sinners”, “enemies”, He bore the load of guilt, shame, and eternal death for every one of us (Romans 5:6-10). As a result we have been reconciled, in Christ, to God (2 Corinthians 5:18).

What is the law of Christ? It is the law Jesus quoted. It is the law which He, Himself, first gave to ancient Israel. Jesus was asked a question by a lawyer as to which is the great commandment of the law (Torah or Pentateuch). The answer Christ gave was this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

All of scripture is given to teach us how God loves us through Christ. He shows us the love that He longs to manifest through us to each one of His children. John, the beloved, expresses the same glorious truth in his first epistle. “If someone says, ‘I love God’, and hates (loves not) his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:17). If we treat others and relate to them as Jesus has always done, we have the evidence that we are “partakers of the divine nature having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4).
“He who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all” (Galatians 6:8-10), especially those in the church.

What assurance is ours, what freedom, what victory! As we keep our minds stayed on Christ we are sowing in the Spirit and reaping eternal life. “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror (Jesus) the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the sane image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:17, 18).


--Lloyd Knecht

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Living by the Holy Spirit

Fourth Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
Living by the Spirit”
For the week of  December 11-17, 2011
Walking by the Spirit is a daily, supernatural experience for those who have been born of the Spirit.  “[I]t is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).  We may know the “truth” as a theory or doctrine, but unless we know the Truth, Jesus Christ, as a personal Savior, the “truth” will avail us nothing for eternity.  As Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
As believers, we have the assurance that living by the Spirit can be a life of uninterrupted victories.  Our dependence is on the righteousness and perfection of Jesus, not on our performance.  By faith, we are always perfect in Him.  In the conflict between our corrupt fallen nature and the new divine nature of the Spirit, we may be more than conquerors.  “Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
The question we must face is this:  Which is more powerful, the flesh or the Spirit?  Paul assures us that “the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary to one another so that you cannot do the things that you wish” (Galatians 5:17).  What things?  Verse sixteen says that these are the evil things of the flesh.
For years that experience escaped me.  I was a preacher’s kid.  I could argue the doctrines, but I did not know Jesus as my personal Savior.  I was a Galatian.  Baptized at eight, I knew a lot about Jesus, and I wanted to go to heaven.  I even wanted to be a preacher like my Dad.  I was saved by faith, but now I thought I had to get it all perfect or I would get a rejection slip in the judgment.  Like the disciples, I loved Jesus after the flesh, but not after the Spirit (2 Corinthians 5:16).  An understanding of the cross and the power of the resurrection changed everything for the disciples - and for me!
That is why Paul said, “[T]he message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…For I determined not to know anything among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:18; 2:2).  As my evangelist friend Will Pergerson put it, “Salvation was one of my topics.  But when I understood the reality of the gospel, all my topics were included in salvation.”
The apostle Paul upholds Jesus as the model for us, “For the death that He died, He died to sin once and for all, but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:10, 11).  It’s like marriage. When I married Doloris, that decision impacted every decision I’ve made since.  So, when we, by the Spirit, partake of the divine nature and accept Jesus as our personal Savior, that decision controls every  decision we make thereafter.
The works of the flesh are as certain as death and taxes unless we know Jesus as personally and as intimately as one knows one’s spouse.  A.T. Jones observed, “Every man is always free to choose which shall be his way – the way of the Spirit or the way of the flesh” (A.T. Jones, Studies in Galatians, page 165).  “If you live after the flesh you shall die; but if you through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live” (Romans 8:14). Living by the flesh is natural.
“But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control.  Against such there is no law.  And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:22-26).  Note how the fruit of the Spirit is an expression of Agape love as described in 1 Corinthians 13.  This Spirit bestows the unconditional, changeless, self denying love revealed at the cross.  This love is not just a warm fuzzy feeling.  It is relational, joyful, transforming, and powerful.
“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5).  This is the work of deepening repentance.  The flesh is always ready to assert itself the moment we focus on self rather than on Jesus.  If we love Jesus, we will be constantly seeking to bless those He loves – especially the most needy of His children.  “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14).  John agrees, “If someone says, ‘I love God and hates (does not love) his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).
Years ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury asked the famous actor G.K. Chesterton how actors had such great power to emotionally move large audiences, and preachers so often didn’t.  Chesterton replied, “We actors treat things imaginary as though they were real.  But you preachers often treat things that are real as though they were imaginary.”
 Have I been born of the Spirit? Is Jesus real or imaginary to me?
Living by the Spirit is supernatural.  It is a vital, growing experience.  “This is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).  That word “know” expresses the intimacy of marriage as in “Adam knew his wife, and she conceived and bare Cain” (Genesis 4:1).  
A well known actor was performing before a large audience reciting familiar parts of past scenes in which he had portrayed various characters on the stage.  He requested suggestions from the audience.
From the rear of the auditorium an elderly gentleman, a minister, requested that he repeat the twenty third Psalm.  He paused for a moment, then replied that he would if the elderly gentleman would repeat the Psalm after him.  The old man agreed.  The actor performed flawlessly and the response from the people was a thunderous applause.  The minister, as agreed, slowly made his way to the stage.  Closing his eyes, he seemed lost to all but the presence of God.  When he finished, there was no applause; only the sound of weeping.  At last the actor spoke.  “I know the Psalm, but he knows the shepherd.”  
Do you know the shepherd?
--Lloyd Knecht

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Freedom in Christ

Fourth Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“Freedom in Christ”
For the week of  December 4 -10, 2011
Galatians. 5:1–15
The Christian is "called unto liberty" and that freedom comes only through Jesus Christ.  Notice how clear Jesus makes this point.  "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;  And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free....Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.  And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever.  If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:31-36).
Notice some key words that have been italicized in the above passage.  From what is the Christian set free?  It is the very thing to which he was in bondage - SIN.  According to Jesus, He sets us free from sin, which the Bible defines as "transgression of the law" (1 John 3:4).  John fearlessly affirms that Jesus "was manifested to take away our sins" and "whosoever abideth in him sinneth not" (1John 3:5, 6).  The reason for this is self evident for, "He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning.  For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.  Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.  In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God" (1 John 3:8-10).  The line of distinction between the children of God and the children of the Devil is made simple by God’s word.  The children of God keep His commandments and do righteous works, whereas the children of Satan reject God’s commandments (even if it is only one) and their works are works of unrighteousness - sin.  They are "the children of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2).
The entire sixth chapter of Romans addresses this very issue.  Observe how plain Paul makes this great biblical doctrine of deliverance from sin.
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?...our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.  For he that is dead is freed from sin....reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.  Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.  For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.  What then?  shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace?  God forbid.  Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?...Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness....For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness....But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.  For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
--Romans 6:1-23
We have the promise of God through His word, therefore, we have the deliverance.  We have been set at liberty from sin, not at liberty to sin.  Yet many today use their "liberty for an occasion to the flesh."  As such, they eat what they want, drink what they want, do what they want, etc.  In short they seek their own will.  They choose to be willingly ignorant that we are freed from the curse of the law, not obligation to it.
Galatians 5:16, 17 has often been misunderstood and misapplied.  Are the impossible things  that we “cannot do” the good things, or the bad things?  Many believe it is the good that we cannot do.  What a terrible state that would be, not to be able to do good and forced to go through life doing only evil.  However, verse 16 makes it clear.  What Paul is saying is that those who walk in the Spirit, will not do evil.  "This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16).
We are so accustomed to running our own lives, we often ignore, resist, or reject the leading and promptings of the Holy Spirit, but if we allow the Holy Spirit to have control of our lives, we cannot do the works of the flesh.  For example, the Spirit of God will never lead anyone to lie, steal, cheat, commit adultery, etc.  Having been crucified with Christ, the carnal mind is put to death, and being now spiritually minded we walk in the Spirit and "sin shall not have dominion over you" (Romans 6:14).  "But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life" (Romans 6:22).  Those who reject and resist the Bible teaching that we can fully obey and do good works have never fully experienced the power of God’s grace and His Spirit.
Which is greater, the Spirit or the flesh?  If we believe, as the Bible teaches, that the Spirit of God is all powerful, then it stands to reason that the power of the Spirit can overcome the desires of the flesh.  God’s word gives us this assurance:  "Greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4).  Do you believe this?  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can overcome the lusts of the flesh.  Not only this, we must overcome them, for unless we walk in the Spirit, we are in a state of disaster; we are under the condemnation of God.  However, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Romans 8:1).
Being "in Christ" is not a one-time event, but a moment-by-moment choice – a continual surrender of our will to His.  If we are walking after the flesh, we are not in Christ and are under condemnation.  "So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.  But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.  Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his...for as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God" (Romans 8:8, 9, 14).
“The Sons of God” are distinguished from worldlings by the fact that they are walking in the Spirit rather than the flesh.  Remember, "the Christian's life is not simply a modification of the old, but a total transformation, because the old man is dead.  There is a death to self and sin, and a new life altogether.  This change can be brought about only by the effectual working of the Holy Spirit" (Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, p. 172).  "When the Spirit of God takes possession of the heart, it transforms the life.  Sinful thoughts are put away, evil deeds are renounced; love, humility, and peace take the place of anger, envy, and strife.  Joy takes the place of sadness, and the countenance reflects the light of heaven" (Ibid., p. 173).
Our Lord longs for us to put away all doubt, and in simple faith accept the promise of His Spirit that we might be "changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18).  Yet the "mystery of iniquity" has such a control over the minds of the multitude that they are demonically driven to vehemently resist or reject the glorious good news.  We fail to see that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the moral image of God is to be perfected in the character.  Thus, while bearing the name "Christian," we perform the "works of the flesh" rather than exhibiting the "fruit of the Spirit."
Just as it is impossible for one who is led of the Spirit to be under the condemnation of the law, so, it is impossible for one to transgress the law and come under condemnation while being led of the Spirit.  Remember, the Holy Spirit is not the minister of sin, but is the minister of righteousness.  The Spirit will, therefore, never lead anyone to sin or break God’s law.  The Spirit does not bring them again under the condemnation of death.  "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Romans 8:1).
--Joe Gresham  

Reading for this Weeks Study

From Jack Sequeira
Freedom in Christ (Galatians 5:1-12)
True Christian Freedom (Galatians 5:13-15)

From AT Jones

From E. J. Waggoner

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

“The Two Covenants”

Fourth Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons “The Two Covenants” For the week of November 27 – December 3, 2011

This week we have a beautiful presentation of the 1888 view of the two covenants presented in our Sabbath School quarterly. It sweeps away the confusion of years of misunderstanding and explains the covenants in the simplest manner possible. As I studied this lesson, “every fiber of my heart said, ‘amen’”. Lesson ten is truly a blessing.
Sabbath afternoon’s study tells us, “The two covenants are not matters of time; instead, they are reflective of human attitudes.” The popular understanding has long been that the primary issue distinguishing the covenants is whether one lives before the cross or after the cross. This was the understanding of some of our pioneers. Jones and Waggoner presented a more accurate understanding. “These two covenants exist today. The two covenants are not matters of time, but of condition. Let no one flatter himself that he cannot be bound under the old covenant, thinking that its time has passed” (E. J. Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, p. 100).

Sunday’s lesson explains the fundamental elements of a covenant. Waggoner said it this way:
The covenant and promise of God are one and the same . . . God’s covenants with men can be nothing else than promises to them . . . . After the Flood God made a “covenant” with every beast of the earth, and with every foul; but the beasts and the birds did not promise anything in return (Genesis 9:9-16). They simply received the favor at the hand of God. That is all we can do—receive. God promises us everything that we need, and more than we can ask or think, as a gift. We give Him ourselves, that is, nothing. And He gives us Himself, that is, everything. 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 an equal, “mutual” affair—a transaction in which they can consider themselves on a par with God…

The gospel was as full and complete in the days of Abraham as it has ever been or ever will be. No addition to it or change in its provisions or conditions could possibly be made after God’s oath to Abraham. Nothing can be taken away from it as it thus existed, and not one thing can ever be required from any man more than what was required of Abraham. -- E. J. Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, p. 71-73

Monday’s lesson brings us to the “Abrahamic covenant” and reinforces the message of Waggoner cited above. God promised Abraham everything. Yet Abraham was not required to promise anything. The word of God says, “And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). This is the secret of entering the new covenant—believing God as Abraham did. You will notice that the narrative presented in Genesis reveals that this was an active faith. Abraham’s faith in God led him to finally offer up the promised son, expecting that God was able to raise him from the dead (Hebrews 11:19). This was true faith! Monday’s lesson also mentions the remarkable lengths to which God went to confirm the covenant to Abraham. “For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:13-18). God pledged His very existence as the guarantee of the covenant. The symbols of His presence passed between the dead bodies of the animals which God had instructed Abraham to prepare (see Genesis 15). This is God’s assurance that he is well able to accomplish everything that He has promised.

Tuesday’s lesson focuses on a time when Abram’s faith waivered. The fruit of his union with Hagar is a long standing object lesson showing the terrible results of unbelief. “Thus Abraham was brought to depend upon and trust in the naked promise of God alone, for all that the promise contained. And if Abraham had stood there from the first and refused Sarai's suggestion with regard to Hagar, there would have been no such family trouble as came between Sarai and Hagar; Ishmael never would have been born; and Abraham would never have been called to offer Isaac. Had he from the first "staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief" (Romans 4:20), but been strong in faith, giving glory to God, fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform, righteousness might have been imputed to him throughout” (A. T. Jones, Review and Herald, July 3, 1900).
On Wednesday’s lesson: “Instead of responding to God’s promises in humility and faith, the Israelites responded with self-confidence.” Waggoner says, “In short, the law was given to show them that they had not faith and so were not true children of Abraham, and were therefore in a fair way to lose the inheritance. God would have put His law into their hearts even as He put it into Abrahams’ heart, if they had believed. But when they disbelieved, yet still professed to be heirs of the promise, it was necessary to show them in the most marked manner that heir unbelief was sin. The law was spoken because of transgression, or (what is the same thing) because of the unbelief of the people” (E. J. Waggoner, The Glad Tidings, p. 74).

The church today is composed of those represented by Isaac as well as those represented by Ishmael. Therefore, Thursday’s lesson warns, “As spiritual descendents of Isaac, we should not be surprised when we suffer hardship and opposition, even from within the church family itself.”

Friday’s summary cannot be better stated: “The stories of Hagar, Ishmael, and the children of Israel at Sinai illustrate the foolishness of trying to rely upon our own efforts to accomplish what God has promised.” If only we could honestly believe this summary. 

--Mark Duncan

Friday, November 25, 2011

“Paul’s Pastoral Appeal”

Fourth Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
Paul’s Pastoral Appeal”

For the week of  November 20-26, 2011
Can we separate our understanding of the gospel, from how we treat other people?  Can our theology and our relationships actually be “separate”?  Is it really possible to have right theology and wrong attitudes?  Is there a cause-effect relationship between how we see God relating to us through the gospel, and how we relate to others in our daily lives?  This is what Paul desperately wants us to understand in this week’s lesson.  If you have ever wondered within yourself, “how come my relationships with others are so superficial or negative, when I know so much truth (theology)”, then this lesson is for you – and me!

Throughout Galatians, Paul has been presenting the theological case for the “right” gospel, in terms of covenants, illustrations (Hagar and Sarah, Isaac and Ishmael, Jerusalem above and earthly Jerusalem, Mt. Zion and Mt. Sinai, etc.), justification by faith versus justification by works, etc.  All vital truth, but truth that may leave us feeling intellectually edified, but experientially dry.  In our passage this week, Paul will reveal to us the interpersonal, emotional, and experiential consequences of bad theology – of a wrong experience of the gospel.

The foundation is laid in Gal. 4:8-9.  “Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist.  So now that you know God . . .  , why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world?” (NLT).  Notice what Paul is saying.  Before the Gentile Galatians became Christians, they were idol worshipers – they didn’t know God.  But now he is asking them why they want to go back to that religious system.  But we know from the rest of Galatians, that they weren’t going back to idol worship, but were becoming legalists.  So Paul is essentially telling the Galatians (and us), that legalism and paganism are the same.  While superficially, legalism and paganism look quite different – for example, Hinduism (idol worship) compared with dry formal obligatory Christian worship (legalism) – the reality is that they are exactly the same in their picture or perception of God.

In both paganism and legalism, the basic idea is that something we do – or someone else does – change God’s attitude or stance or feelings towards us.  Rather than the true gospel understanding that salvation is all about God changing our attitude or stance or feelings towards Him.  In paganism, the offerings we bring, or sacrifices we make, cause the god(s) to relate to us in a more favorable manner.  In legalistic Christianity, the right behaviors or right theology or our faith/repentance/confession, etc, cause God to relate to us more favorably.  Or, more subtly, what Jesus does for us (interceding on our behalf), or did for us (at the cross), causes God to love us more, or be more merciful towards us, or to relate to us in a more positive manner.  In all these ideas, the basic fundamental principle is that something or someone outside of God causes Him to relate to us in a more favorable or generous or positive manner.
But now, in our passage for today, Paul is going to explain to the Galatians and to us, that the consequence of viewing God as the party in salvation  needing to be changed, versus, recognizing that we are the ones that God is trying to change, is evidenced in how we relate to others.

Notice the language of how the Galatians related to Paul early in their Christian experience – “you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus” – 4:14, “you would have plucked your own eyes out and given them to me” – 4:15.  But notice how they relate to Paul now as they have changed their theology away from genuine justification by faith (God is trying to change me), to legalism (Jesus and/or I change God’s attitude towards me) – “Have I become your enemy” – 4:16, “I am afraid for you” – 4:11, etc.  A change in their gospel (i.e. a change in how they understood God related to them and how He was saving them) resulted in a change in how they related to their close friend to whom they owed their very salvation.  They now viewed their friend as an enemy.
What is the most sensitive test of our understanding of the gospel?  If I surveyed you, or fellow Seventh-day Adventists, or other Christians, and I asked them how many believed in justification by faith versus how many believed in salvation by works, we know that every hand would go up for the former.  If I asked on the other hand, how many of us truly – deep down in our hearts – love our enemies, could we raise our hands?  How many of us demonstrate patience with those who disagree with us in Sabbath School class, or with the pastor who doesn’t see things the way we do?  How many of us demonstrate genuine Christian love and patience and tolerance towards our husband or wife?

We may feel that while we aren’t living up to the standard of Christ in our experience, at least we understand the truth theologically.  But is it possible, that our experience and relationships with others are a more sensitive marker of our true level of gospel understanding.  Is it our theology that is ahead of our experience, or our experience that should be sounding warning bells about our real theological understandings?

In Galatians chapter four, Paul is telling the Galatians that in their attitude and feelings towards him, they are merely seeing the fruit of their misunderstanding of the gospel.  The evidence of who they really are isn’t contained in what they think they know, but the evidence of what they actually know is contained in how they relate to and treat others.

The final evidence of this reality will play out in the end of time when one group will think they are Christ’s representatives and will think that they understand the gospel, but the truth will be seen in their desire to destroy those who disagree with them (Rev.13:15-17, Jn.16:1-2).  While another group will be willing to give up their lives if it would help save their enemies (Rev.12:11).

What you believe about God and salvation has real, inherent consequences that will be manifest in how we relate to others.  And this may be below our conscious thinking level.  May we be changed by beholding God in Jesus Christ, so that our experience can teach us what we actually know about God, rather than believing that right theology and wrong experience are compatible.
--Bob Hunsaker

Saturday, November 12, 2011

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EGW Writings

Ellen G. White Estate, Inc.

"No Longer Under the Schoolmaster"

"No Longer Under the Schoolmaster"

In ancient Greece, the truant schoolboy, who with truancy in his heart played hooky, avoiding the responsibility of learning the lessons appropriate and needed for his betterment and future good might meet with the startling presence of his custodian, the slave assigned by his parents to oversee his activities.  This servant was given a special task of helping the lad to discover his need of educational advancement and his responsibility to his parents, as well as to enforce upon him their good pleasure concerning the management of his young life.  This custodian, called in Greek, the "pedagogos", was often empowered by parents to reprove, instruct, and punish the child should he be found in insubordination to their will and instructions.  The rebellious truant boy might, no doubt, be roundly condemned and whipped by the consciencious custodian, as he attempted to impress upon the youth the importance of his responsibilities.  So is the Law of God to the sinner.  The law has a specific role, according to Gal. 3, of being our pedagogue or custodian to lead us to Christ.  While the law is identified as our "schoolmaster" in the King James Version, it is actually Christ who is truly our "schoolmaster" or teacher in Paul's parable.  While we are cavorting at the swimming hole of sin, wasting away our capabilities and shunning responsibility, the Law custodian, at the good will of God, the parent, condemns and punishes us.   It is a loving purpose.  God wishes for us to have a good future, even eternal life.  But we must have righteousness for this to be.  So the law stands to condemn us as long as we are away from Christ; for it is certain that the only way we may have righteousness is not from the Law custodian who is not prepared or capable of doing that work, but only from our true School Teacher, Christ.  As long as we are running away and resisting, the servant persistently does his duty, cajoling, encouraging, inducing, blocking, confronting, reproving, and otherwise inhibiting our freedom of movement.  To use Paul's terminology, the Law is there to shut us up, imprison us or otherwise confine us until faith comes unto righteousness.  The custodian is not there to make the truant comfortable, but highly uncomfortable.  So, the Law's condemnation of sin must be presented faithfully before the sinner.  It's claims must be upheld.   The Holy Law of God still demands obedience.  This is the condition of eternal life.  Its claims derive from the highest Authority over us to whom we shall ultimately have to give an account.    Perhaps the skillful pedagogue/custodian might appeal to the heart of the Greek child, his sense of honor and love for his parents.  At last, the child sees the goodness of the command and perceives that what is required is in his best interest.  Now he feels ashamed of dishonoring his parents and sorry for disappointing them.  The faithful custodian escorts the humbled child to school.  Once the child has become connected to the School teacher in faithful school attendance, the pedagogue's task has been accomplished.  Nevertheless, He will stand by if perchance, the student should change his mind and try to slip away from class, which, of course, would once again place him at discord with his parents desires concerning his future well-being.  When the child is at school, then the custodian has no problem with him.  The child is fulfilling that which is required of him.  He is not condemned.  He is no longer "under" the mistakenly-titled "schoolmaster".  So with us, only when we, becoming ashamed of our rebellious ways and perceiving the love of a Divine Parent come to Christ, the Saviour from Sin, thus fulfilling in our lives through faith in Christ the right doing of the Law, that the Law can release us.  When we have obtained in Christ the right-doing that the Law faithfully demands, then the Law custodian will have no problem with us.  We meet its approval.  Then we are at peace with our Custodian.  The Law custodian itself will witness before our Divine Parent, that our schoolday and school responsibilities of righteousness have been met.  Then, we are no longer condemned or punished.  We are no longer under the Law because Faith, Righteousness by Faith, has come. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Road to Faith

Fourth Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“The Road to Faith”
For the week of  November 6 - 12, 2011
“But the scripture has concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe” (Galatians 3:22)
It seems imperative that we consider this week’s study of Galatians 3:21-25, in the light of Paul’s epistle to the Galatians themselves.  The conflict was brought on by the Judiazers’ efforts to bring the Galatians back to the works of the flesh in keeping the law.  In effect, the Judiazers were arguing that it is faith plus works that saves you, while, the gospel, as taught through Paul stated that it is through faith by grace that you have been saved, “and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God so that none may boast” (Ephesians 2:8, 9).
Paul stated the core of the issue in Galatians 2:20: “Not I, but Christ.”  There is nothing that the Galatians could do to be saved, no amount or type of work, no outward change of behavior, nothing could save them.  Only Christ, crucified, can save.  In the very promises given to Abraham (and to us) the blessing was (and is) enfolded.  The promises were positive – Yea and amen!  “For by faith ye (we and they) stand” (2 Corinthians 1:20, 24).
In Galatians chapter 3, Paul asks the question, “Who has cast a spell on you?  How did you receive the Holy Spirit – by working the works of the law, keeping the ceremonial law, and striving your utmost to keep the moral law?  Or, did you receive it by the hearing of faith” (Galatians 3:2, 3)?  What could Paul possibly mean by “the hearing of faith,” and what does this have to do with the law? 
Simply stated, the law is a transcript of the mind of God.  It is the way that He thinks distilled into a format that human beings can understand.  Jesus Christ is the embodiment of the law – it’s principles lived out.  He is the law on display.  According to the scripture, mankind’s nature is desperately deceitful and wicked – bent to self-will, self-preservation. We do not understand or know our errors and weaknesses because they are hidden from us.  Therefore, by ourselves we cannot keep the mindset of God, for it is alien and foreign to us.  To attempt to think or behave as God does, without His Spirit working in us, is to assume we are His equals. 
The law was spoken to the Jews (and therefore to us) to bring us to the end of self; to bring us to the realization that our own efforts will never stop us from coveting (lusting), telling white lies, dishonoring the Sabbath, and having false gods.  Through David, Jesus said the law is perfect and Paul said it is good and just and righteous.  But to those whose standard of conduct does not measure up, it brings condemnation and death.  Thus to mankind, the law is an instrument of measurement.  The means of correction is the Spirit.
The work of the Holy Spirit is to help us come to the end of self.  There we realize that anything and everything we can do is incorrect or incomplete.  It is likely wrong, insufficient or inconsistent.  It is not ‘do all you can, and the Lord will make up the difference.’  That is the erroneous idea of Christ plus I, and is incompatible with the concept of ‘Not I, but Christ.’  The scripture states that our best ideas, plans and dreams are still motivated and contaminated with self.  It is so difficult to let self die.  Yet if self does not die, Christ cannot live His life in us.  In effect, we cannot have His mindset or love what He loves (I Corinthians 2:16).  The road to faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17).  It is not by any self-propelled thought or action.
We have traditionally defined sin as the transgression of the law; but Paul also defines it this way: “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).  Thus, whether we have willfully, deliberately and in a premeditated manner broken God’s law such as King David did when he took Bathsheba and killed Uriah, or if we simply acted outside of faith as did Abraham when he took Hagar as his concubine and sired Ishmael, we have sinned. 
What was Abram’s failure?  What was his sin?  It was that of unbelief; he did not continue believing that God would fulfill His promise.  He did not remain standing by faith.  The promises given to him could only be received through the portal of faith.  Love works no ill to his neighbor (Romans 13:10), but Abram almost irreparably hurt Hagar, Sarai, and Ishmael (and his descendents) as well as Isaac (and his descendents).  Through unbelief, Abram broke the law of love (agape), upon which the 10 commandments are predicated.
While the law (an instrument of measurement) could not make Abram a full (settled), righteous believer, love (agape) could.  Faith, activated by the goodness of God’s love, purified his soul (SM v.1 pp396), and righteousness was the result; His name was changed to Abraham and his faith was found to be pure gold, tried as it were in the fire.
Maybe that is one of the reasons the Galatians (and we) were so willing to return to the ‘keeping of the law’ as an outward standard of righteousness.  Faith has to be tried, and they, like us, don’t like the fire.  Initially, Abram’s faith was tried as he waited for the birth of an heir.  Then it was tried further when he conceived the son of bondage by Hagar, and discovered that Ishmael was not considered by God to be ‘the’ heir of promise.  Many more years went by before Sarah received supernatural strength to bear Isaac, ‘the son of promise’ from above.  And then, in what to Abraham must have seemed like an incomprehensible nightmare, he is asked by God to slay the son of God’s promise.  What anguish and torture of soul must have been his.  What doubts must have filled his mind regarding the divine command to slay Isaac.  After all, would God really ask his servant to do something so apparently against the law?  Surely Abraham was tempted to disbelieve that it was God’s voice that he heard.  And yet as we know, it was indeed God’s command.  Abraham and Isaac yielded willing submission and were found faithful.
Faith comes by hearing the Word, eagerly and willingly, determined to obey it even before we know what is required of us.  To Him, who has promised, we say, ‘yea’, and ‘amen’! 
--Raul Diaz