Commentary on "Confidence"
Day 1: Sabbath Afternoon, August 29, 2009
In being assigned this lesson entitled "Confidence," I was encouraged that the assurances I've been given by Adventist friends and family that the message of Adventism has moved closer to Christian evangelical faith may have some truth to them. Most of us know by experience that confidence in our salvation has not been a predictable side-effect of Adventist belief and doctrine. There are fundamental reasons for salvation-angst embedded deeply in the heart of the Advent Message. This lesson clearly defines some of those central stumbling blocks that have persistently discouraged those longing to be right with God.
The following texts are given as reasons for confidence, and form the basis for this week's study:
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him. John 3:36 (NIV)
Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Acts 4:29 (NIV)
No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. 1 Cor 9:27 (NIV)
Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Heb 4:16 (NIV)
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. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of him. If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true--even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. 1 John 5:13-21 (NIV)
The great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Rev 12:9 (NIV)
The author of the lessons asks, "How can we live without confidence and assurance when it comes to God?" Then he puts this question to the student: "How do we not turn our confidence into presumption?"
Ellen White Notes
In the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons is a quotation from That I May Know Him, p. 225 which says, "He gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works."
Commentary on the Lesson
The selection of texts for this lesson seems an odd collage of scriptures to undergird confidence. Confidence in what? The enigma in the choice of texts is no clearer by the end of the week. Each text will be discussed in the appropriate lesson.
The Seeds of Uncertainty
From the beginning, the specter of "presumption" spreads a pall over any real hope of hope. The solid promises of God are spoken, then neutralized with fears that too much confidence in our final salvation is actually presumptuous. The implication is that the promises of God are unassailable, but we can fall short of them by failing to produce the conditions for their fulfillment. Therefore, we cannot claim to know the final outcome (i.e. "I am saved."), since we may blow it somewhere between baptism and death. The believer is left in the uncertain quagmire of an on-again, off-again relationship with God and eternal salvation. Yes and no… Yes, but… Yes, if…
What is really behind this warning of presumption? The answer to this question is found in the teacher's comments. The author makes a distinction between assurance of salvation and "once saved always saved" when he states, "Our choices are the only way that we can lose our assurance of salvation." Later he equates "our choices" with "the things that you are doing." Piecing together the meaning, we find that he is saying that our bad behavior will negate our certainty of salvation. Since "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…" (Rom. 3:23) Things don't look too hopeful.
The truth is that God is not caught off-balance by our weakness. He's more acutely aware of it than we are, and when we look at the whole message of Romans 3:23, we find that it is good news, indeed. "This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Romans 3:22-24. So, there is nothing to fear when we come to Him in the faith that He will save us.
To further reassure us of our standing with him we are told that "… by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." Heb 10:14 (NIV) When we accept Jesus as Savior, our spirits are made perfect forever. We are saved. The results are His business and have nothing to do with our eternal destiny. Wherever we stand along the continuum of "being made holy" when we die or Christ returns, we are perfect in His sight because of Jesus' sacrifice.
So how can presumption enter the equation? The presumption cannot be about whether or not Jesus' blood is sufficient for us because He has said, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 2 Cor 12:9 (NIV). The presumption cannot be over trusting what God has said in His word and proclaiming by faith that He is able to do what He has promised (2 Tim 1:12). The words "I am saved" are not presumption. They are the most humble kind of faith – in Him - especially when we clearly see our shabby hearts and can't fathom His extravagant gift to us: sinners. Presumption regarding the cost of salvation could be the attitude of a heart that has just been redeemed and has not yet discovered the height and depth and width of God's love. But that will be dealt with in due time within the safety of God's protective care.
This subject of presumption arises in Monday's lesson too and will be dealt with again there. It is a central theme in Adventist theology that must be resolved in the hearts of those who have been discouraged beyond hope before being able move into a position of surrendered trust in Jesus' love and saving grace. God has not put before us an unattainable hope that depends on our ability to obey the law. He hasn't given us a promise with conditions that will ultimately nullify the promise.
His promise of eternal life has ONE condition: "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved." (Acts 16:31) It is not "Yes (Jesus offers you salvation) and No (you can't be sure of it until the resurrection)." It is not "Yes (you have been born again), but (you may make choices that will cause you to be un-born)." It is not "Yes (you can have the assurance of salvation), if (you don't mess up before you die)." It is "Yes, yes, yes!" He has even given us the assurance that He supplies the ability to stand firm in the one salvation issue: faith in Jesus' sacrifice for us. Then He seals our salvation with the Holy Spirit here and now. Here is the anchor point of hope that reveals God's all-sufficient faithfulness:
"But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not ‘Yes' and ‘No.' For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silas and Timothy, was not ‘Yes' and ‘No,' but in him it has always been ‘Yes.' For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes' in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen' is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. 2 Cor 1:18-22 (NIV)
Still uncertain and afraid? Keep reading. It just keeps getting better.
Why Did Christ Come?
The quotation chosen from Ellen White alleges that the reason Christ came was to redeem us from iniquity and to purify us, creating "a peculiar people" who are zealous to do good works.
Let's look at that perspective in comparison to John 5:24. "I tell you the truth; whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life." According to John, Jesus came to redeem us from eternal damnation and loss. He came to take our sins upon Himself so that we could pass over from eternal death to eternal life. Cleansing us from iniquity is accomplished by His blood when we accept His sacrifice for our sins. At the very point we believe in Him, and before anything changes in our behavior, we have crossed over from death to life and stand as perfect before the throne of God. Any changes in our "works" are simply side-effects of our salvation and not co-requisites.
Did He come to create "a peculiar people" or did He come to glorify the Father? Was it His purpose to raise up an honored group that he could showcase as a trophy to a watching universe, or was it His purpose to redeem Satan's captives from eternal loss and darkness? "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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." John 3:16-17 (NIV) His purpose was redemption of all who will hear His call so that they will be with Him forever.
"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners." Isaiah 61:1 (NIV) Arise, Lord, and proclaim the freedom.
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