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