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