Friday, July 25, 2014

“Salvation”

At home we have a hummingbird feeder.  Right now there seems to be a lot of activity.  That is until we walk outside near the feeder.  Once we do they fly off in haste.  I thought to myself, “If they only knew that I was the one who was feeding them and that they were safe in my presence.” Then I wondered how often God must think the same.  In the Hands of Security yet we have doubts and fear.  Hopefully this week’s lesson is a reminder that our God is the One who initiates hope beyond whatever circumstances that may seem so daunting.  I trust your study reveals the same sense of security and confidence.

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Sabbath School Lesson
For July 26, 2014
Presented by
Larry R. Evans

Introduction
This lesson is so basic yet is of such importance that if we don’t get this one right, the remainder of Scripture can be clouded, confusing and even misleading.  I’d like to begin our study by asking a question:  “If, before allowing you into His heaven, God asked you for your resume as an entrance requirement, what would you put in your resume?”

Many of us have developed a resume for various jobs.  It keeps changing as we add new experiences, get more education and transition to new jobs or add new skills. Websites like Linked-In exist to essentially share your resume of experiences with a network of professionals.  Linked-In even has a section for endorsements from others.  One Internet site described a resume this way:  “The purpose of a resume is to provide a summary of your skills, abilities and accomplishments.  It is a quick advertisement of who you are. It is a ‘snapshot’ of you with the intent of capturing and emphasizing interests and secure you an interview.” In other words, a resume hopefully gives you an opportunity to be interviewed and when that happens your resume becomes a point of reference. So with that in mind, what would you put in your resume for God!

How would you describe yourself to God?  Would you emphasize how terrible you are?  Or maybe how good you are some of the time?  Perhaps you’d mention what you have done for Him or for others?  The question is worth pondering.  Really, what would you put in your resume if God asked for one?

By the time we finish our lesson today, hopefully we will have a better idea of what to put in our resume for God.

Questions for Probing Scripture

1.   God’s love for us is a result of our belief in the sacrifice He made for us. (Jn. 3:16)  True or False?
2.   Our salvation is based on our request to God. (Jn. 6:44)  True of False?
3.   The mission of Jesus was to set an example of how to have a relationship with the Father. (Jn 1:29; Gn. 22:8,13; Mt.16:21-23; Jn 17:11)  True or False?
4.   If we truly believe in Jesus we will be delivered from sin and the consequences of living in this sinful world. (Lk 4:18; Jn 8:34-36; Heb. 11:35-40)  True or False?
5.   The promise for eternal life is in the future tense – experienced at the Second Coming. (Jn 17:3;  3:15,16, 36; 10:10)  True or False?

Background for Class Discussion

1.   God’s love for us is a result of our belief in the sacrifice He made for us. (Jn. 3:16) False

Ultimately the question is: “Who takes the initiative:  God or us?”

John 3:16   For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)

Note 3 points is this verse:

“so loved”Often we read this as the degree of God’s love.  It is certainly demonstrated in the giving of His Son but this may not be what John had in mind.  The word translated for “so” is houtos means “in this way” and always refers back to something previously mentioned and not something about to be explained.  Perhaps it would be better translated:  “For in this way God loved the world” which directs our attention back to verses 14 and 15:

“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (Jn 3:14,15)

This is an allusion to Number 21:4-9 in which rebellious Israel, who had turned against Moses and God, faced certain death by venomous snakes.  Though the judgment came from God He also took the initiative to intervene and provided a way of escape.

“loved” -- to love, value, esteem, feel or manifest generous concern for, be faithful towards; to delight in, to set store upon 
This kind of love does not come from impulse of feeling or preferences.  It is reflected in actions and God showed the depth of His love for sinful man by giving His Son.  He gave us all he had which is Himself!

“his one and only Son” (NIV) “His only begotten Son” (KJV) monogenes  
only-begotten, only-born, Lk. 7:12; 8:42; 9:38; Heb. 11:17; only-begotten in respect of peculiar generation, unique, Jn. 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 Jn. 4:9*

It was brought to my attention during our last class that some TV personality said that if there is a “father” there is also a “mother” if there is to be a “son.”  Such is the false conclusion that is drawn from the translation “only-begotten.”  The Greek word used here emphasizes not on “fathering” a child but on the unique relationship of between two members of the Godhead.

Our response to such a gift is critical just as it was for the Israelites in the desert.  To “believe” is more than coming to an intellectual conclusion or agreement that Jesus is God. It means to put our trust and confidence in him that he alone can save us. It is to put Christ in charge of our present plans and eternal destiny.

2.   Our salvation is based on our request to God. (Jn. 6:44)   False?

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (Jn 6:44)

Once again we see that God takes the initiative however, our response is critical. God, not people, plays the most active role in salvation. When someone chooses to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, he or she does so only in response to the urging of God’s Holy Spirit. God does the urging; then we decide whether or not to believe. Thus, no one can believe in Jesus without God’s help. The real question is if we are willing to listen to God’s voice calling us to come to Him.

Did you follow the search for the black boxes of the missing Malaysian plane!  Many around the world felt the urgency.  The batteries would soon die out. With every passing day the signals would grow weaker. Soon there would no longer be a signal. Everything that could be done was being done to hone in on the signals that were thought to be from the missing boxes.

I wonder if we are as anxious to tune-in to the signals of God’s Holy Spirit.  His voice is there inviting us to put self aside, to enter into a trusting relationship even when things don’t look good. God’s invitation is still active.  Is our search?

3.   The mission of Jesus was to set an example of how to have a relationship with the Father. (Jn 1:29; Gn. 22:8,13; Mt.16:21-23; Jn 17:11)   False?

Jesus is certainly our example and we can learn much about how to have a relationship with the Father from Jesus’ own life.  As critical as this is Jesus is more than an example.

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29)

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Mt 3:12)

The sacrificial death of Jesus was substitutionary but the coming of Jesus was more than that.  It also had a purifying effect.  It was a calling of God’s people to return to the holiness which John the Baptist’s water-baptism could only symbolize.   John the Baptist was the leader of a significant religious movement. His call to repentance in the light of God’s coming judgment was a clear warning that Israel, as so often in the past, was not living up to its calling as the people of God. Comparing the missions of John the Baptist and that of Jesus, one commentator wrote: “John was thus not just a curtain-raiser for the coming of Jesus; he was already launching the mission which Jesus would develop.”

4.   If we truly believe in Jesus we will be delivered from sin and the consequences of living in this sinful world. (Lk 4:18; Jn 8:34-36; Heb. 11:35-40)  True and False

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
                   because he has anointed me
                   to proclaim good news to the poor.
          He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
          to set the oppressed free,
                  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”(Lk4:18-19)


21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk 4:21)

Luke’s Gospel portrays Jesus bringing God’s compassion to the poor and suffering both spiritually and physically. This is a quote from Isa. 61:1,2.  The words, the year of the Lord’s favor, is in reference to the Year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:8-55) when debts were erased, slaves were freed, and land was returned to its original owners.  It was a metaphor for God’s salvation.

Today is important. Jesus’ contemporaries did not doubt that God’s kingdom would come some day. Jesus’ teaching was different, in that he saw God as acting in the present, in his own work. ‘Not in a future age but now is the captive power of sin to be broken, communion with God to be established, and the will of God to be done’.  Such is our hope now. We may live in a world infiltrated by sin but we are no longer captives to it if our trust is in Christ.

This trust does not prevent the effects of the world from coming upon us as the writer of Hebrews illustrates some remarkable examples of feats of endurance. See Hebrews 11:35-40.  It requires an inner source of strength, which comes only to men, and women of faith.

5.   The promise for eternal life is in the future tense – experienced at the Second Coming. (Jn 17:3; 3:15,16, 36; 10:10)  True and False

 The nature of eternal life, as it is experienced by humans, is defined in 17:3: ‘Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’ Eternal life is knowing God, but as in the OT this knowledge is not simply knowing information about God; it is having a relationship with him, involving response, obedience and fellowship.
         In the Fourth Gospel Jesus employs three primary metaphors in relation to eternal life: (1) birth: one experiences eternal life by being born of the Spirit (3–8); (2) water: eternal life is likened to water, which quenches thirst (4:14; cf. 7:37); (3) bread: eternal life is likened to bread, which satisfies hunger (6:27, 35, 48, 51, 53–54).

There is an eschatological expectation which is to come but there is also a present application such as found in Jn 17:3

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (Jn 17:3)

Eternal life is about knowing God, but, as in the OT, this knowledge is not simply information about God; it is a relationship with him.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

In contrast to the thief who takes life, Jesus gives life. The life he gives right now is abundantly rich and full. It is eternal, yet it begins immediately. Life in Christ is lived on a higher plane because of his overflowing forgiveness, love, and guidance.

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 Jn 5:13)

John’s desire for his believing readers is not that they may believe and receive, but that having believed, they may know that they have received, and therefore continue to have (present), eternal life.

Concluding Thoughts

Once again we ask, “If God asked for your resume as an entrance requirement into His heaven, what would you say?

I think it would be a rather short resume. Don’t you? It wouldn’t be about our social, evangelistic, spiritual or material achievements or even our failures for that matter.  There would be only one necessary endorsement and that is the one that comes from Jesus.  Because of that we’ve already been adopted into the heavenly family. Note the following verse.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (1 John 13:1-3)

Jerry Thomas in his book, The Teaching of Jesus, uses the experience of Jesus healing the paralyzed man of Luke 5:17-26 to show how we can rejoice in salvation “now.” He makes seven important points:

1.            Nothing we can do takes us too far from God to return to Him.
2.            The Holy Spirit is constantly drawing us to repentance.
3.            Repentance includes a desire to stop the sin behavior.
4.            Forgiveness is available to all.
5.            Salvation comes through Jesus
6.            Like forgiveness, salvation is something we are given today, no some day in the future.
7.            The road to salvation is best traveled in groups. [The influence of friends in this story is very significant.]

Yes, the resume given to God would be short. Yours, others and mine would all say the same: “Jesus loves me this I know and in Him I offer my only endorsement.”


Friday, June 13, 2014

"Christ's Apostles and the Law" (Updated wtih Notes)


Sabbath School Teacher for
June 14, 2014

Larry R. Evans

Introduction
I was in the jungles of Papua New Guinea and was about to leave a village when a large group of members gathered around me.  They were very serious and wanted to ask a question before I left.  They wanted to know if the Sunday law was enforce in the United States.  Apparently they had heard on an Adventist TV program something that led them to believe that it was either enforced or was about to be. Anxiety filled the jungle air.

A few years before this, I was subpoenaed to appear in court as an “expert witness” (a claim that I never made!).  It was a hearing for a murder.  Three offshoot Adventists had decided another family of Adventists were demon possessed and needed to be removed.  One was killed and two others were wounded. Fortunately my testimony was quoted in the newspapers and separated the Adventist Church from both the comments in the courtroom and the radical actions of the few.

Both examples are extreme and certainly do not represent the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  Extremists have always been a challenge for God’s church through the ages. The apostles record this struggle throughout their writings. We will learn from our lesson today that extreme views of law and grace are nothing new.  Theology can be dangerous to our physical health both now, as in the case of the murder I mentioned, but more likely to our spiritual relationship with Jesus and with others.  Theology, a true understanding of God and His plan for each of us, can be a source of joy, guidance and assurance. This is the goal for our study today.  

Reflective Quiz
1. The standard for righteousness is God’s law but the means for salvation has changed once Jesus died for us.  (Rom. 3:28-31; 7:4, 7-12; Gal. 3:13, 20-21; Gen. 15:12-18)  True or False?

2. Linked with being God’s chosen people is the keeping of God’s covenant. (1 Peter 2:9; Ex. 19:6)  True or False?

3. Obeying God is part of remaining in a relationship with God. (John 15:1-11; 1 John 2:3-6)  True or False?

4. The expectation of obedience denies true love. (2 John 6; John 14:15)

5.  Paul and James were not in agreement when it came to the law.  (Ephesians 2:8,9; James 2:26) True or False?

6. According to Jude 4, grace is a perversion of the law? (Jude 4-7; Hebrews 3:7-9)  True or False?

7. Salvation is like a scale with keeping the law on one side and grace on the other side.  (Ephesians 2:8-10)  True or False?

Reflective Quiz
1. The standard for righteousness is God’s law but the means for salvation has changed once Jesus died for us.  (Rom. 3:28-31; 7:4, 7-12; Gal. 3:13, 20-21; Gen. 15:12-18)  False

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (Rom. 3:27-31)

First of all, God is the standard of righteousness and the law is a reflection of that standard. This puts in context the remainder of the question.  How can we ever be as righteous as God!  The impossibility of that is exactly Paul’s point. But because we are not God do we do away with that which reflects God?

2. Linked with being God’s chosen people is the keeping of God’s covenant. (1 Peter 2:9; Ex. 19:6)  True

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites."

7 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the LORD had commanded him to speak. (Ex. 19:5,6)

Even before  the moment God created man in the Garden of Eden God had a purpose for our existence and that purpose was always built around populating the earth with a people with whom He could relate.  Sin interrupted that plan but God has not abandoned the plan.  In an imperfect world He sought to “gather” his people together.  God “gathers” and sin “scatters.”  The covenant was part of the gathering concept and we see it acted out in Rev. 14 where God’s people are symbolically gathered on Mt. Zion because they have voluntarily come whereas the beast power of Rev. 13 attempts to find loyalty by force. (Rev 13:15).

3. Obeying God is part of remaining in a relationship with God. (John 15:1-11; 1 John 2:3-6)  True?

1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (Jn 15:1-5)

9 "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commands and remain in his love.

By depicting the Father as the gardener/vinedresser, Jesus indicated that the Father was in control of both his ministry (as the vine) and that of his disciples (as the branches).  If ‘remaining’ in Jesus is a metaphor for continuing in fellowship with and loyalty to him, then obedience to his commands is clearly important.  (Note the Song of the Vineyard in Isa. 5)

4. The expectation of obedience denies true love. (2 John 6; John 14:15) False

6 And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. (2 Jn 6)

Hardly a denial any more than faithfulness of a spouse to the other would deny love.

5.  Paul and James were not in agreement when it came to the law.  (Ephesians 2:8,9; James 2:26) False

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God. (Eph. 2:8-1)

8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, "You shall not commit adultery," also said, "You shall not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker. (James 2:8-10)

26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (James 2:26)

Reading more of James helps put in context what he is saying/meaning in v. 26.  It actually reinforces what Paul is saying. The “royal law” was given by the same God who originated “grace”.  God does not deny his original purpose for a special relationship with his people (Eph. 2:10) which is what sin in all of its forms does.

6. According to Jude 4, grace is a perversion of the law? (Jude 4-7; Hebrews 3:7-9)   False

4 For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. (Jude 4; see also 7)

Jude talks about the perversion of “grace” which yields to a perversion of “law.”  Verse 7 speaks of those who “gave themselves up to sexual immorality.”  The fight of faith is surrender to God but these surrendered to themselves to the sinful desires and pressures. Paul speaks of these inclinations and tendencies in Romans 7 but declares the power found in Jesus – “who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.!” (Rom 7:25).

7. Salvation is like a scale with keeping the law on one side and grace on the other side.  (Ephesians 2:8-10)  False

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— (Eph. 2:8)

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. (Titus 2:11-14)

The new life in fellowship with God must be God’s creation and cannot be our work. But nevertheless the essential quality of the new life is good works. The indwelling Christ reflects in us God’s original intent of His creation

Concluding Thoughts

When it comes to the law we tend to think that it is only Jewish culture that influences our understanding.  Not so.  Maryland, for example, voted into existence a law in May 2012 that is referred to as the so-called “rain tax.” (I can hardly wait for California to create a “sun tax.”)  The idea is that impervious surfaces, like driveways, sidewalks, parking lots, etc will be taxed according to the size.  However, not all counties have agreed to do so and those that have charge differently.  As you might expect the government (the Navy in this case) has opted out of the requirement!  We are culturally conditioned to the idea that whatever is lacking can be made up and we don’t apply it equally to everyone.  Do what you can and the rest will be made up . . . in some way of our devising. (works plus grace).

Take applications for work, for example.  We present a resume to establish why we should get the job.  We talk about education, experience and any accomplishments we can throw in.  We deserve what we hope will be given to us.

Culturally we are taught that we are valued by what we do and what we can accomplish.  We are often treated that way and treat others that way.  So our societal “dividing wall” (Eph. 2:15) becomes a dividing wall between us and others and is in reality an indirect (if not direct) way of boasting—and it is always a form of comparison between me and you or us and them.  I’m better than she or he, we than they, and therefore . . .

We often miss the very point that Paul is driving home because we get into some kind of debate about the law – which law, why, when and how etc.  Let the record show that I believe in the perpetuity of the moral law (– and yes, I know that “torah” was often considered the five books of the Moses.) But is that really Paul’s point!  Paul isn’t denying the importance of obedience but his point is much deeper than that. We are justified freely.  Nothing we do earns the gift that God has provided for us. It’s not a us versus them mindset.  My own conversion came about when I realized Paul’s excitement found in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  All the bad things, bad words, bad thoughts that came from me and resided in me melted with those words. There was neither boasting nor abject condemnation once I accepted Jesus.  My life began to change and hopefully continues to do so. The point isn’t whether God’s law is still in existence or not. (Of course the law is still in existence as pointed out in the Beatitudes which reinforced the 10 Commandments on a much deeper level) The point is that God loves us as we are.  Full stop.  Now continue.  It is that love, and only that love, that changes any of us from the inside out.  Like the rain tax, we can try to change internal problems and needs from the outside but no problem will find a lasting solution by adding more laws regardless of its origin.  We are “rescued” (Rom. 7:24) by the only One who can (v.25).  Do we do away with the law so we can do what we want to do (be like the government and deny that the rain tax applies to us)?  “What a ghastly thought!”  (Philips Rom. 6:2)  Notice how Philips paraphrases Romans 6:1-3,

Now what is our response to be? Shall we sin to our heart’s content and see how far we can exploit the grace of God? What a ghastly thought! We, who have died to sin—how could we live in sin a moment longer? Have you forgotten that all of us who were baptised into Jesus Christ were, by that very action, sharing in his death? We were dead and buried with him in baptism, so that just as he was raised from the dead by that splendid Revelation of the Father’s power so we too might rise to life on a new plane altogether. If we have, as it were, shared his death, let us rise and live our new lives with him!”

It is easy to forget that the same “God” who gave the law on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 20) is the same one who gave us the Beatitudes (Matt. 5) and the same one who  lived out the very law He had given (Matt 5:17).  Despite a culture that tries to escape accountability God’s law not only holds us accountable but also points us to the one who paid for the price our not meeting the standard of true righteousness.  We rejoice.  We are humbled. We have entered into the change process.  We look forward when this old self will be fully changed.  Until then, we walk in faith, hope and love because of Him.