Thursday, December 06, 2012

“The Law and The Gospel”

Fourth Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
“The Law and The Gospel”
For the week of Dec. 8, 2012
“The Law and The Gospel”
This week’s lesson is about God’s law and His gospel. There are those today who oppose the gospel of Christ while others oppose the law of God. What is needed is spiritual eyesight to behold and believe the close relationship between the law and the gospel.

An Adventist minister was told, “The ten commandments have nothing to do with us now. We are not in the dispensation of the law, but of grace, so that the law is not binding on us; it is all done away with.” “Really” was the reply. “Did not Jesus say we are not to even to think that He came to destroy the law, but to fulfill it? (Matt 5:17). The Bible tells us Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), not the works of God. Why did Jesus come to fulfill the law? Was it that we might violate it? Not at all. We were doing that already, for ‘all have sinned,’ and ‘sin is the transgression of the law.’ Surely no one in his right mind can really think that Christ came and died, in order that men might be able to do that which they had been doing all the time!”

But does not Paul say, “You are not under the law, but under grace?” He certainly does, and he immediately adds: “What then? Shall we sin [transgress the law] because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” (Rom 6 14, 15). Those who are not under the law are the only ones who can and do keep it. The moment one breaks the law, he is under it. The law then has its hand upon him, condemns him, and holds him for punishment. But grace saves us from the punishment which the law indicts upon transgressors. Grace saves us from transgression. Before grace says “yes” to us, its first work is to say “‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions.” Titus 2:12, NIV). It takes away the carnal mind, which is not subject to the law of God, and gives us in its place the righteous mind of Christ, which is of the same nature as His law (Phil 2:5; 1 Cor 2:16).

In some minds the law is too narrow and is considered strange as it did to Ephraim, “I have written for him the great things of My law, but they were counted as a strange thing.” (Hosea 8:12). The Psalmist declares that God’s “commandment is exceedingly broad” (Psa 119:96). From God’s word we learn that it is not the law that is too narrow and strange, but rather, it is the carnal mind of man that is strange and narrow. It is not subject to the law of God and can never be (Rom 8:7).

The Psalmist wrote that “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” Psa 19:7-9. From this we gain knowledge that the principles involved in the law are righteousness, purity and perfection.

So, may we conclude from this that anyone regarding the law of God as something strange, must be a stranger to conversion, to righteousness, purity, and perfection? This is not to say that we keep the law in order to be converted, nor to become pure and perfect. Neither the entire law, nor any single command of it, was designed to be a means of salvation.

It is through Christ alone that God justifies, converts, purifies and perfects us. He frees us from the bondage of sin, – in order that we may keep His law. God first redeems; then enjoins. It is only when God has cleansed the heart, and driven out every idol, living within us by His Spirit, that His commandments can be kept.

God does not change; His law and His gospel do not change. He has one way of saving men. Christ is that way. “To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (Acts 10: 49). “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  His “goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (Micah 5:2), and He is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13:8) These texts make it certain that there is but one way of salvation from the beginning to the end of time, and that is Christ, who is the beginning and the end, the first and the last.

This was, and is, the message of Minneapolis. It presented justification by faith in Christ alone. It invited people to receive Him and His gift of righteousness. His righteousness is pure and perfect and converts the most weak and helpless human being who receives it in faith. Christ’s righteousness within the believer “is made manifest in obedience to all the commandments of God,” but “many had lost sight of Jesus. They needed to have their eyes directed to His divine person, His merits, and His changeless love for the human family. All power is given into His hands, that He may dispense rich gifts unto men, imparting the priceless gift of His own righteousness to the helpless human agent.”[1]

According to David, as quoted above, conversion is associated with God’s holy law. How then, does the law and the gospel come together in the process of conversion? Paul’s letter to the Galatians has insights into this. Before faith in Christ came to any of us, the law “confined [as in prison] all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor[2] to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:22–24). Here the Law and the Gospel work together, the purpose of which is conversion. To be under the law is to be under the dominion of sin and thus under condemnation (see Rom 6:14). It is clear that the law locks up, as in prison, all who are not converted. The law drives unbelievers to Christ for salvation, in that it drives the unconverted to Christ for relief and for release.

The law gives the convicted sinner no rest until he flees to Christ. The past tense in Gal 3:24 can be used here only by those who have come to Christ and have been justified by faith, as Paul shows in the next verse. The idea here is that of a guard who accompanies a prisoner who may be allowed to walk about outside the prison walls. Since the law was our guard, our taskmaster, our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, it must still be its office to those who are not joined to Christ, and must retain that function until everyone who will accept Christ is brought to Him. The law will be a schoolmaster to bring men to Christ, as long as probation lasts.

After a person is justified by faith, s/he is no longer under the law; no longer under the dominion of sin; no longer condemned; no longer shut up by the law, because he has been driven to Christ – the attainment and object of the law. For “Christ is the end [the object, the aim, the purpose] of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom 10:4).

So then, a heart-felt faith of appreciation for the gospel of Christ our Righteousness, our Redeemer, brings us into harmony with the righteous law that had previously condemned us. Evidence that we have the correct message and experience of righteousness by faith is found in the very law itself. It testifies in the believers behalf. It witnesses to the fact that we have the genuine article of heaven’s eternal righteousness (Psa 119:72; Rom 3:21). Anyone who preaches a righteousness that denies any of the commandments of God cannot be preaching the gospel of Christ and His righteousness. This can be demonstrated by the inseparable relationship between Christ and the Sabbath.

The Sabbath points to every blessing of salvation that is in Christ. He invites us to come to Him for “soul” salvation “rest” (Matt 11:28, 29). After Jesus created the world and all that is in it, He “rested on the seventh day.” The Sabbath pointed to that perfect creation rest (Gen 2:2). After man sinned, the Sabbath pointed to redemption’s rest – to that freedom of “rest” from bondage – found in Christ alone. Creation and redemption are the same in purpose and by the same power of Deity. This is accomplished by the divine creative power of God’s word by which all things were created in the beginning as outlined in Genesis one. Anyone who accepts Christ, the Word as Savior, by faith becomes a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17).

The blessing of the Sabbath also points to the blessing of justification by faith (and all other blessings) in Christ (Gal 3:8, 9; Eph 1:3; Gen 2:3). This continues with sanctification, likewise. God sanctified the seventh day (Gen 2:3). This points to the sanctification through Christ by God’s powerful truth (John 17:17, 19). The Lord’s holy day – the seventh-day Sabbath – in like manner points to the holiness that we find in Christ (Ex 20:8, 11; 1 Pet 1:15,16).

The fourth commandment is a summary, an epitome, a microcosm, an embodiment, of the entire righteousness of the law, thus demonstrating that the Gospel of Christ and the Law of God are not antithetical to each other. They are in perfect harmony. The whole law witnesses to everything we receive from Christ, namely, justification and rest and sanctification and holiness.

-Jerry Finneman

[1] Ellen White, Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, p. 92
[2] Luther translated this word “tutor” or “schoolmaster” more closely to the original meaning than many of our English translations. He called the law “a “custodian;” a “taskmaster;” an “executioner” as a jailer “holding him captive in prison.” (Luther’s Works, Vol 26, p. 346).