Wednesday, January 25, 2012

“God of Grace and Judgment”

First Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“God of Grace and Judgment”
For the week of  January 22-28, 2012
Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth--to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people--saying with a loud voice, "Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water" (Rev. 14:6,7 NKJV).
The proclamation of the everlasting gospel of righteousness by faith brings judgment. God declared it to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Noah preached it prior to the flood in Genesis 6 (cf Hebrews11:7, 2 Peter 2:5). The remnant must preach it and live it in order for the final judgment to occur. This demands a mature understanding of the grace that has been manifested to mankind in Christ.
Christ Himself suffered the judgment and condemnation that sin brought on Adam’s race as promised in Genesis 3:15. As represented in Him, the entire race died the death that justice demands (2 Corinthians 5:14), was justified by grace through His blood, and was given the right to eternal life:
[Jesus] was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification (Romans 4:25 NKJV).
And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life (1 John 5:11,12 NKJV).
Therefore, as through one man's offense [judgment came] to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man's righteous act [the free gift came] to all men, resulting in justification of life (Romans 5:18 NKJV).
When this much more abounding grace is preached in its fullness, the judgment will come as a natural result. It will determine who is breathing in this life-give atmosphere of grace, letting the universal dimensions of justification become personal and practical in their own life:
  Jesus Christ, the Majesty of heaven, has been offered to the world, has been given to man as his Saviour and Redeemer (Ellen White, Signs of the Times, June 19, 1893). 
A free gift is much more than a contingent offer. Rejection is as unnatural as holding one’s breath to the point of death.
 In the matchless gift of His Son, God has encircled the whole world with an atmosphere of grace as real as the air which circulates around the globe. All who choose to breathe this life-giving atmosphere will live and grow up to the stature of men and women in Christ Jesus (Ellen White, Steps to Christ, page 68.1).
Consider the following written by W. W. Prescott:
Justification by grace, Titus 3:7, "Being Justified freely by his grace;" Justified by his blood, (Romans 5:9), "Being justified by his blood;" By faith, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God"(Romans 5:1); By works, "Ye see how that a man is justified by works and not by faith only" (James 2:24). Now much confusion has been caused from our failure to apprehend clearly these methods of justification. Justification by grace, divine grace, is the source of all justification. Justification by his blood: The blood of Christ - and the blood is the life - was the divine channel through which justification should come to humanity, in uniting himself, his life, with humanity. By faith: That is the method through which the individual apprehends and applies to his own case the justification which comes from grace through the blood of Christ. By works: The outward evidences that the individual has applied by faith the justification which comes from grace through his blood.
Now, justification by grace; that is on God's part. Justification by His blood, that is on God's part and he has done that for every single human being on his part. He has done all for justification to every human being; his grace is free to every human being, and his blood is the channel through which it flows to every human being, and "we thus judge that if one died for all, then all died," so that is of God's grace. But while he has done all this for every human being, yet it avails only for those who personally apprehend it by their own faith, who lay hold of the justification provided. It is freely provided for every one, but by faith in him, the individual lays hold of that justification for himself. Then the provision which has been made freely for all avails for him as an individual and when, by faith, he has made a personal application to his own case of the justification which comes from God through the blood of Christ, then as a consequence, as the inevitable result, Christ's works appear in him. Therefore for the person in Jesus Christ, it does not make any difference which method of justification is mentioned. If he is justified by grace, as of course he must be, all these other consequences follow. If he is justified by grace, then he is justified through the blood, by his own individual faith, and the works will appear; and you may touch this at any point. If he is really justified by works of faith, when you say he is justified by works, you imply all the rest before it. This ought to do away with our discussion as to whether we are justified by faith or by works, or whether it is by grace, or how it is. One who is truly justified personally, must be justified by every one of them. And when one who is truly justified, manifests one of the four, the other three are all implied.
--W.W. Prescott, General Conference Daily Bulletin, February 6, 1895
·        God’s Grace is universal (Hebrews 2:9, Titus 2:11, 3:7).
·        Christ’s Blood is universal (Romans 5:8-10).
·        The Faith of Jesus is given, but not exercised, universally (Romans 5:1, 12:3, Revelation 14:12).
·        Good works are prepackaged for all, but not exercised by all (Ephesians 2:10, James 2:17-26).
Once all have accepted or rejected the entire justification provided in and through Christ, and the “thoughts and intents” of the heart are either evil or good continually, then executive judgment can proceed as it did in the days of Noah.
But the hour of judgment reveals the human response to God’s grace only as His grace is proclaimed in its fulness. Those who accept the fulness of this gospel in Him are not condemned. Those who reject it are “condemned already,” as they have taken the condemnation upon themselves that was lifted in Christ.
For the time [has come] for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if [it begins] with us first, what will [be] the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17, NKJV).
Are God’s people ready to proclaim the everlasting gospel? There are glimmerings that it may soon be so!
--Todd Guthrie

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

“God as Redeemer”

First Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
"God as Redeemer"
For the week of  January 15 - 21, 2012
"You were not redeemed with corruptible things, . . . but with the precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18, 19).  "You who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:13).
Redeemed by blood.  Brought near by blood. 
HOW does blood redeem, or how does blood bring us near to God?  Physically, Christ's blood was no different than any of ours.  It was composed of red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma.
If Jesus had died by a bloodless method such as poisoning, or hanging by His neck, would we still be "redeemed" and "brought near" to God?  Is there some magical or mystical power to Christ's literal blood – the fluid running through His veins – that enables us to be redeemed or get close to God?  As we approach God, if we have a vial of Christ's blood to show to God, does that deflect any potential objections that God may have to our sinful condition, and thereby grant us redemption – a pass into heaven? 
It is, rather, that Christ's "blood" is a representation of the giving of His life. 
But now let us think about the blood from a different perspective.  Is "blood" necessary, because God requires it before He is able or willing to forgive and accept us?  Is "blood" necessary , before can God relate to us with favor and acceptance?   Does God stay, to some degree withdrawn and distant in His attitude towards us until we have "blood" to present before Him? 
·         Does blood move God towards us?
·         Or, does blood move us towards God?
·         Is God the one who requires blood before He will accept us?
·         Or, are we the ones who require blood before we will accept and receive Him?
·         Did God need to see a death, or did we need to see a death?
As we perceive and understand Christ's life, and inculcate the principles of that life into our experience, we are transformed (redeemed) to the point that we want to be near to God.
Notice in Ephesians 2:13 above: Who was brought near to whom by the blood of Christ?  The blood (life & death) of Christ did not bring God near to us, but we who were "afar off" have been "brought near."  The alienation, distance, fear, and even animosity were in our hearts towards God, but never in His heart towards us!!  We were the ones who needed to be moved, to be brought near, because we were "afar off" from God in our hearts and minds and affections.
Notice the same pattern in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19:  "Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, . . . that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself."  Again, we were the ones who needed to be reconciled (moved) towards God.  The distance or alienation or suspicion wasn't on God's part towards us, but on our part towards God.  The carnal mind is enmity against God.  We have a natural, innate animosity and fear towards God.  The only way He could overcome that fear and animosity in our hearts is to demonstrate His goodness, trustworthiness, and love for us – which is what the life and death of Christ accomplishes.
Notice the same pattern in 1Peter 3:18, "1For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust,that He might bring us to God."  Again, we are the ones needing to be changed or appeased by the sufferings and death of Christ.  God is pursuing and loving us from the very beginning.  We are the ones scared, and running, and even angry at Him.  Christ died to bring us to God, to move us into a stance of acceptance towards God.  Christ didn't die to move God towards acceptance of us.
So often the process of redemption is expressed – intentionally or unintentionally – as partly a change on God's part (God is holy and just, and therefore can't accept sinners without blood being shed by Jesus), and partly a change on our part (we need to accept Jesus and then God will "count" our faith as righteousness).  But as we're seeing from all of these Scriptures, the actual story of the Bible is about a God who already loves us and relates to us with an attitude and heart of warmth and acceptance.  This God sent His Son to reveal His unchanging love through Christ's life and death.
When we see that truth, and believe that truth, and act in harmony with that truth, then, reconciliation occurs in our heart towards God.  Reconciliation and acceptance have always been in His heart towards us – we just never clearly perceived it.  But in Jesus it's so clear what God is like, and how kindly He has related to us, that there is no cause any more to fear God as a distant, severe, unforgiving, or judgmental Being.  We can see God clearly because Jesus is the exact image, or perfect revelation, of what God is like (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews1:3).
"We are not to entertain the idea that God loves us because Christ has died for us, but that he so loved us that he gave his only-begotten Son to die for us"  (Ellen White, Signs of the Times, May 30, 1895).  God's love is the source of the life and death of Christ, not the result of Christ's life and death.
In a very real sense, all religion can be divided into two categories.  If the theological idea is that someone or something outside of God causes love, goodness, forgiveness, kindness, etc., to awaken in the heart of God, then it is a false gospel – a false religion.  Even if the change or appeasement of God is caused by God Himself – God changing Himself – then it is missing the beauty of the gospel.  A famous Christian author described salvation as God's self-appeasement or self-satisfaction (John Stott, The Cross of Christ).  But again, is salvation a change in God towards us, or a change in us towards God?  I would submit to you that the consistent testimony of Scripture is that God is working to change us.  Jesus did not change, or mollify, or appease God.
May we see in the "blood" (life and death) of Jesus, the truth that God loves us and is working to redeem us back to Himself from the alienation and fear that have come about as a result of believing the deceptions of Satan about God.  When those lies are fully exposed and disbelieved, then "redemption" will be complete in us.  May we strive, under the influence of God's love and goodness, to reach that end.
--Bob Hunsaker

Raul Diaz

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

“In the Beginning”

First Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“In the Beginning”
For the week of January 7-13, 2012
Key thought:  The doctrine of a literal six-day Creation is foundational.
We will consider the vital relationship between creation and the gospel, the cross and grace.  We will also consider the doctrine of evolution. This teaching, in its opposition to creation, is likewise in oppositioin to redemption, the Cross of Christ and the grace of God.
Evolution: the Counterfeit Religion
Evolution is a counterfeit religion opposed to the religion of the Bible.  Both religions are concerned with beginnings.  Both theories of how man began must be accepted by faith alone because no man was there to observe any beginning.  Both religions are concerned with ethical/moral growth . The Bible classifies this as sanctification—growth in grace.  Evolution teaches ethical growth by nature—a process of natural selection (and of course survival of the fittest) where man gets better and better.  Evolution teaches a supposedly natural process resulting in the survival and reproductive success of individuals or groups best adjusted to the environment in which they find themselves.  This in supposedly leads to the perpetuation of genetic qualities best suited to that particular environment.
Both the Bible and evolution look for a savior.  This savior is the perfect man.  When evolution’s perfect man arrives he will live forever because he will have adjusted himself to every environmental hindrance to perfection and eternal life.  All others, lacking perfection, must die.  On the other hand, the Bible teaches that the perfect Man has already arrived, and that in Him is eternal life.  The One Perfect Man died and the rest of mankind lives.  Whoever is joined to Christ will live eternally.  This is not a natural process, it is the gift of a gracious Creator and Redeemer.   
One of evolution’s consequential teachings is that death preceded sin by millions of years.  In this structured geologic column, beginning with the Cambrian Explosion of death and destruction, supposedly 570 million years ago, to the Tertiary mass extinction of dinosaurs about 65 million years ago there is nothing but a record of death.  The evolutionist’s line of reasoning demands the existence of death before the entrance of sin.  To him the wages of sin is not death.  If there is no casual relation between sin and death there is no need for the death of Christ as our Representative and Substitute.  In sharp contrast to evolution, the Bible reveals that sin produced death.  Death is the consequence of Adam’s sin about 6,000 years ago: “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin” (Rom 5:12).  Because of this Christ was made to be sin and tasted “death for everyone” (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 2:9).
Creation and Grace
Evolutionists, in denying creation, deny the cross of Christ, and in a very real sense they deny the grace of God upon which creation and redemption are founded.  Evolutionism is a fall from grace because its adherents have “become estranged from Christ” and “attempt to be justified by (natural) law” (see Gal 5:4).
Creation itself rests upon unmerited favor—the grace of God who denied Himself, who gave Himself, who emptied Himself, who continues to give Himself for the life, the joy, and the good of all mankind. Before earth’s creation week, grace was promised to us in Christ (2 Tim 1:9).  Consequently, as soon as Adam sinned, grace was waiting to take him by the hand.  Grace was accomplished in very fact on the cross of Calvary 4,000 years after sin entered the human race.  However, the cross of Christ is not merely a point in time, because He is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8).  As soon as there was sin there was the Savior of the world mediating in behalf of mankind.
Creation and Redemption
Consider the relationship existing between creation and redemption. Both creation and redemption meet in Christ.  He is both Creator and Redeemer (John 1:1‑3, 14, 10; Eph 3:9; Heb1:1‑3).  Compare also Col 1:13‑16, where we observe redemption and creation united.  It takes nothing less than creative energy to recreate us (2 Cor 5:17).  The power by which Jesus saves us from sin is the power by which He created the worlds.  Redemption is simply the carrying out of God’s original purpose of creation—that man should be in His image (Gen 1:26; Rom 8:29; 1 Cor 15:49).  Evolutionists in denying creation deny the purpose of redemption.
The last message of mercy to a dying world of evolutionistic believers is the united messages of the gospel and creation.  It is the first angel’s message (Rev 14:6, 7).  Those who believe in evolution either deny this message now or will do so in the future.  On the other hand, those who will believe this message will not be swamped by the theory of evolution.
The Cross and Creation are Inseparable
The preaching of the cross is the power of God unto salvation (1 Cor 1:30,18,23,24).  This is the power of the gospel.  That power is illustrated in nature.  Notice what Paul wrote to the Romans: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes… For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (Rom. 1:16-20).  The power of God in the gospel is the power of the cross. And this is the power that created the universe.  The power of the cross is therefore the power of creation. The cross of Christ has in it creative energy, which is the power that redeems.  Evolutionists, in denying the biblical account of creation, deny the cross of Christ.
There is more.  In the gospel there is revealed the righteousness which is the very life and power of God: “For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” (Rom 1:17).  Here is a foundational Scripture for justification by faith coming from God’s righteousness.  This righteousness is revealed in the gospel.  The gospel is the power of God and that power is illustrated in creation.  This power of God’s righteousness is placed in the mind and heart of everyone who believes.  Evolutionists in denying creation deny righteousness by faith.
The righteousness of God is embodied in Christ and cannot be separated from Him.  We receive righteousness by receiving Christ.  This message was proclaimed in 1888. Righteousness by faith in Christ alone is the third angel’s message.  Evolutionists—those who deny creation, redemption, the cross of Christ and the grace of God will likewise deny the last message of Christ and His Righteousness.
So how is it with you?  Are you a creationist or an evolutionist?  You cannot be both. Destiny depends on where we place our faith.
--Jerry Finneman

Saturday, January 07, 2012

“The Triune God”

First Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“The Triune God”
For the week of  January 1 - 7, 2012
In the lessons for this quarter, themed “Glimpses of our God,” the Sabbath School student is sure to be blessed by the warmth of Jo Ann Davidson’s writing and the insights she shares of our holy, Creator-Redeemer God.

When we look into the heavens through a telescope, no matter where we look the view changes, yet we’re still looking at the same universe. In a similar way, as we seek for fresh “Glimpses of God,” the view is illimitable.
The opening lesson this quarter addresses the framework through which we understand who God is – the “Triune God.”
Guiding our discussion this week is the following counsel, which underscores the purpose of Sabbath School Insights:  “But whatever phase of the subject is presented, uplift Jesus as the Center of all hope” (TM 118).
“There need to be far more lessons in the ministry of the Word of true conversion than of the arguments of doctrines.  For it is far easier and more natural for the heart that is not under the control of the Spirit of Christ to choose doctrinal subjects rather than practical” (Lt 5, 1886, quoted in the VSS, p. 342).
In this Insights study we consider:
-       What history reveals about the importance of this truth.
-       How this doctrine reveals Christ as the Center of all hope.
-       How this teaching applies to my life.
History Speaks
Before the earth was ever created, Lucifer charged God with being self-exalting and prideful. We see this in his profane manifesto transcribed by the prophet Isaiah in chapter 14.  “I will ascend,” “I” will do this, “I” will do that, “I” will be the great center. “I” will be like the Most High.
Oh really? Is that what God is like? Puffed up with self-importance and exalting His own interests above that of all creation?
Yes, Lucifer said, that’s what He’s like, and I want to be just like Him.  To the un-fallen hosts this idea seemed both new and strange, yet for some it held a mystical appeal.
Lucifer’s charge that God was self-exalting struck at the very core of His existence. And here we see the connection between the esoteric doctrine of the Trinity and the gut-wrenching truth of God who, at the very core of His being, is epitomized by self-giving, self-emptying love.
The depths to which this love would plunge our Savior in order to save man – at any cost to Himself – stands in dramatic juxtaposition to the astounding obfuscations made by the haughty Lucifer.
How could a Divine trio of three Persons dwell in perfect harmony, as “One,” if a power struggle existed in their midst? Soon, the three would be reduced to one, as only one can come out on top of any fight for supremacy. Consistent with this picture is the work of the Holy Spirit, who does not “not speak on His own authority,” but whose role is to magnify – not Himself – but Christ: “He will glorify Me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13, 14). So we can know that wherever Christ is lifted up, there the Holy Spirit is working.
When this sad experiment with self-exaltation is finally ended, all will finally see and acknowledge that the only way for the universe to continue without implosion is for it to operate under the law of self-giving love.
Christ as the Center of All Hope
The entrance of sin into this world created an internal struggle within the Divine Godhead that we but faintly comprehend. In the union of three-in-one, we see God working to save man at any cost to Himself. But do we think the decision to save man was made without a struggle? Oh no! The Father Himself agonized over whether to give up His beloved Son to save our thankless race.
Elder G. E. Fifield spoke on this theme in a sermon delivered at the 1897 GC session:
“Now let us get a glimpse of Christ's crucifixion.  Jesus Christ was with God, equal with the Father in glory and honor; co-creator with him of countless worlds; all the ten thousand times ten thousand angels at his beck to do his bidding.  One cannot take in the honor and the glory of that life that opened out into limitless distances before him.  But down here on this world man had sinned, and Christ did not think of holding fast to that glory and honor as a robber holds fast to his prey; but he gave it up.  That was when Christ was crucified.  He let that life go, and he came down here and identified himself with human sorrow, with human trial, with human need, with human heart-ache; so that away back there, before he became incarnate at all, in all their afflictions he was afflicted, and he bore them and carried them all the days of old.  He was with us much more than we think.  Abraham saw him; Joshua saw him; Moses saw him; the Israelites drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.  The divine One had given up that life there, been crucified, and identified himself with human need down here, away back there; and when you come to the incarnation, which was but the revelation of this larger sacrifice, this larger fact, the crucifixion was carried so far that he who was Almighty became so weak that he said, "I can do nothing of myself."  Is not that crucifixion?  (February 15, 1897 N/A, General Conference Daily Bulletin page 29.7)
Practical Application
My daughter spent last school year serving as a nurse at a mission hospital in Africa. One day she sent an e-mail telling how a young kid goat about three weeks old had fallen deep down in the recesses of the outhouse, about 20 feet down.  It was bleating pitifully.  She described how a bunch of men held onto ropes and lowered a skinny guy (with shirt tied over his face and a headlamp mounted for sight) down into the hole which was no more than 15 to 18 inches wide. At last the goat was retrieved and the man lifted from the smelly hole.
When I read this story, it made me think of what God did for us. Hopelessly lost in the mire of sin, the Father had only one chance of saving us, and that was to send His only Son down into this filthy pit where he wrapped His arms around the human race and collectively rescued us all from the horrors of sin.  Indeed, God the Father was “in Christ reconciling the world to Himself,” not holding our sins against us (2 Cor. 5:19).  And to those of us who have tasted and seen a glimpse of His amazing love is committed the privilege of becoming “ambassadors for Christ” by living out the principle of self-denying love that we have seen demonstrated in Him (2 Corinthians 5:19, 20).
“By coming to dwell with us, Jesus was to reveal God both to men and to angels. He was the Word of God,--God's thought made audible. In His prayer for His disciples He says, "I have declared unto them Thy name,"--"merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,"--"that the love wherewith Thou hast loved Me may be in them, and I in them." But not alone for His earthborn children was this revelation given. Our little world is the lesson book of the universe. God's wonderful purpose of grace, the mystery of redeeming love, is the theme into which "angels desire to look," and it will be their study throughout endless ages. Both the redeemed and the unfallen beings will find in the cross of Christ their science and their song. It will be seen that the glory shining in the face of Jesus is the glory of self-sacrificing love. In the light from Calvary it will be seen that the law of self-renouncing love is the law of life for earth and heaven; that the love which "seeketh not her own" has its source in the heart of God; and that in the meek and lowly One is manifested the character of Him who dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto.  {DA 19.2}  
--Patti Guthrie