As we look back at this quarter's Sabbath school lessons, we have seen a spectrum of individual and family life experiences that many of us are familiar with and can relate to either directly or indirectly through friends, relatives or co-workers. In each case, we can see how God, through His word, is there for us to guide us through the situation or circumstances and to give us hope and peace of mind.
Topics have included: conflict, forgiveness, marriage, depression, loneliness, grieving, illness, parenting, family unity, life and death, addiction, and the list goes on.
It struck me that each and every week, there has been one constant that was always there as we covered these issues and discussed them together. That constant is God's infinite, eternal, totally unselfish (agape) love for each of us individually and for the entire human race as a whole.
Scripture tells us that "God is faithful, Who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able". Often with suffering and pain/loss in our lives there is indeed a temptation to blame God—how could He let this happen to me or a loved one? And so, we try to deal with it ourselves to get through it somehow-- "just be strong"!
I've been there myself and I suspect many of you have been there too. Just put God on a shelf and deal with it ourselves. The problem is we need to look at the last part of that same verse, 1 Corinthians 10: 13, which says "but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." He is there for us always and when our grief or despair is greatest is when He is the closest to us, just waiting for us to realize that we need Him and that we truly want His will to be done in our lives.
This does not happen naturally, for our sinful human nature does not seek after God, it is at enmity with God. It is a result of God seeking after us, His initiative, His love, and His infinite sacrifice. This brings us to the title of this week's lesson, "Turning Hearts in the End Time."
Scripture clearly tells us that "God is love":
"And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him." 1 John 4:16.
What a God! — He has done everything for us because of that eternal, infinite love including the gift and sacrifice of His only Son because He wanted all of us, the entire human race, to be with Him forever. He wants us to dwell in Him so that He may dwell in Him. Corporately, Christ as the second Adam has taken the whole human race into Himself to undo the damage done by Satan through the first Adam. And as Jesus promises us in John 15, "if you abide(remain) in Me, I will abide(remain) in you". Our hearts and minds are naturally turned away from God because of our selfish and sinful human natures. But as we behold His love, for each of us and all of us, our hearts will indeed, by faith, be turned towards Him. That faith, the faith of Jesus, the same faith He had in His Father when He came to this planet to save us, is also a gift.
God not only wants our hearts turned towards Him, He wants to give us new hearts as we become new creatures in Christ (see Romans 6).
In Ezekiel 36:26, God promises us that:
"A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh."
What does this mean for you and me in these final days of Earth's history? Let's look at this quote from EGW (YI Sept. 26, 1901):
"When Jesus speaks of the new heart, He means the mind, the life, the whole being. To have a change of heart is to withdraw from the affections from the world, and fasten them upon Christ. To have a new heart is to have a new mind, new purposes, new motives. What is the sign of a new heart? – a changed life. There is a daily, hourly dying to selfishness and pride."
As God's love and His sacrifice are at the core of the "most precious message" given to us in 1888, it is not surprising that Waggoner and Jones many times spoke of His desire to give us a new heart. Here are a few examples you might enjoy:
Our flesh is sinful flesh; there is in it the tendency to wrong and only wrong, — the tendency to pass over the bounds, — transgress. Now the Lord Jesus, dwelling within by His Spirit, delivers us from this power of sin that is in us, and holds us back from doing wrong. He condemns sin in our flesh, and so frees us from the power of sin. Thus, in the sense that we do not transgress, do not go over the bounds, we do not sin. ARSH March 14, 1899, p. 170.9
Now, on the other word: iniquity is evil-doing, bad intent. This Jesus Christ abolishes in us, takes away from us, delivers us from, and gives us a new mind, a new heart, a new spirit, a new disposition, that neither wants to do evil nor even thinks of doing evil. We commit no iniquity. ARSH March 14, 1899, p. 170.10
Thus, we are made free from all the life of sin that has bound us; we are made free from sinning, by the power of Christ holding us back from transgression; we are made free from iniquity, by being given another Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, which loves the good, and will neither do evil nor think evil. Thus, it is that "whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not: ... whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin." ARSH March 14, 1899, p. 170.11
And still it is true that the best we do, when aiming to do right, when aiming at perfection, which is the only standard, — in all that we can do, we come short, we miss the mark, without the perfect merit of Jesus Christ to be our substitute and surety. ARSH March 14, 1899, p. 170.12 ATJ
On the other hand, the new covenant is wholly of grace, and of the work of God by grace. ARSH July 24, 1900, p. 473.8
It is a covenant in which the work is solely the work of God, and righteousness is the righteousness of God. ARSH July 24, 1900, p. 473.9
It is a covenant in which everyone who shares it is born of the Spirit, and who thus receives a new mind and a new heart, in which mind the law of God is put, and upon which heart that law is written by the Spirit of the living God. ARSH July 24, 1900, p. 473.10
It is a covenant in which, by the creative power of the promise of God, each one who submits to that promise is created a child of God. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:10 ARSH July 24, 1900, p. 473.11
It is a covenant in which, solely because of the mercy of God, and by his promise, there is obtained forgiveness of sins, full and free: the sins and iniquities to be remembered no more forever. ARSH July 24, 1900, p. 473.12 ATJ
Sin is the transgression of the divine law. 1 John 3:4. The only effective means therefore for suppressing sin is that which enables the individual to keep that law. And as this law is infinitely higher and broader than man's law, only the Infinite One can provide the means required. And this He has done in the provisions of His gospel, which is "the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth." Romans 1:16. It is the privilege of Christian preachers to preach the power of God for the salvation of every sinner. It is their duty as well, and they are not true to their calling if they fail to do it. And what is "the power of God unto salvation"? The first chapter of Genesis furnishes an answer to the question. God said, "Let there be light," and "there was light." He said, "Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters," and "it was so." He said, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed after his kind, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind," and "it was so." His word created that which did not exist before; and in "every one that believeth" His word, there is created by its power that which did not exist before, even a new heart, which is clean and without sin. Psalm 51:10. By faith, the sinner becomes a "new creature" in Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17. AMS April 8, 1897, p. 210.1 ATJ
Luther, toiling on his knees up the so-called holy stairs in Rome, was trying to punish sin out of his flesh; but when he heard the voice speaking, "The just shall live by faith," he began to learn of a power able to set him free. All that system of penance and punishing of the flesh that has come into Christendom with monkery is based on the idea that there is good in man, and if only he is punished sufficiently the evil will be suppressed and the good remain. True, Jesus said, "If thy hand offend thee, cut it off," but it was only a striking way of emphasizing His teaching that "from within, out of the heart of men" proceeds the evil. The trouble is not with hand, or foot, or tongue, but with the heart, and only the Lord Jesus Who can give a new heart can deal with the trouble. The new heart and the new life come with the free forgiveness of sin, and if any weary, heavy-laden one will but confess his helplessness, and choose the life of obedience, the gift is his by the power of God. Professing Christians who still want to be saved in sin and not from sin need this message of life and righteousness by the gift of God, and the myriad souls in darkness who know nothing of a burden-bearing, loving Saviour need it. BEST October 25, 1897, par. 4 EJW
Here is a test by which we may settle every question as to the lawfulness or unlawfulness of an act: Will it glorify God? If it will it is not only lawful but necessary. The man who is honest with himself before God in this question can settle which things are unlawful for him, and how far he may go in things that are necessary, as in eating and drinking. PTUK June 4, 1891, p. 185.4
"But what a hardship," says one, "to be obliged to rein ourselves up to such a test." Well, that depends on whether or not we are really the slaves of Christ; whether or not we have willingly, gladly capitulated, accepting His terms, and yielding to His service. If we have, then it is not a task to inquire what will be to His glory, and to do it. We have yielded to Him because in His infinite love and mercy He has enabled us to see that there is more to be desired in His service than in our own; and we have made His will our own. He has made us new creatures, giving us a new heart, and new purposes, so that when we do His will we are simply doing our own, for His will is ours, and our will is His. PTUK June 4, 1891, p. 185.5
"But suppose our will is His, and we have only one longing, supreme desire, namely, to do His will and glorify Him, how can we always do it?" That is answered in the very fact that we are His, wholly His. We are not our own, but have resigned ourselves into His hands as simple instruments of His will. We have no power in ourselves, but He has all power, and can make us what He wishes. And here comes in the encouragement of the thought that we serve a mighty Master, one against whom all the powers of earth and hell combined can do nothing. So, when the fierce temptation arises, when the infirmity of the flesh would cause us to fall, we, having the mind of our Master, to hate sin, flee to Him for strength, and His strength does what our weakness cannot. PTUK June 4, 1891, p. 185.6 EJW
And so, in closing, because of His infinite agape love and complete, eternal sacrifice, we today have the opportunity to respond, by faith, and allow Him to give us the new heart that we all need and that He desperately wants to give us. May that be our desire so that we can be with Him forever.