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.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Apostles and the Law"

Sabbath School Teacher for
June 14, 2014

Larry R. Evans
[Hopefully the full notes will be added by Friday. This post only has the introduction and questions for class]
 
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 the 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 3:8-10)  True or False?

Concluding Thoughts