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Commentary on "Confidence"



Day 3: Monday, August 31, 2009

Lesson Summary

The text that forms the basis for today's study is 1 John 5:13: "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 John 5:13 (NIV)

The author goes on to say that John wanted to provide for his readers the assurance of present salvation without qualifiers or conditions. He states, "It is not an option, something that can be added to a Christian life or can be left out. God wants us to have assurance of salvation."

Immediately after those encouraging words he asks, "How, though, can we be protected from taking assurance and turning it into presumption?" He reasons that if a believer takes it for granted that he is irrevocably saved, "what would stop us from forgetting all about God and living an immoral and unethical life – one that would…bar us from Heaven?" He admonishes the reader to always be watchful so that personal choices will not steal away that salvation.

The author uses the following scriptures to support his contention that it is presumptuous to believe that being born again is a permanent condition:

All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. Matt 10:22 (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)

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Rev 3:11 (NIV)

The quotations chosen from Ellen White in the study notes are in line with the comments from the author of the S. S. Lesson Quarterly. From Review and Herald, April 29, 1902:

"Without the cross, man could have no connection with the Father. On it hangs our every hope. In view of it the Christian may advance with the steps of a conqueror; for from it streams the light of the Savior's love. When the sinner reaches the cross, and looks up to the One who died to save him, he may rejoice with fullness of joy; for his sins are pardoned."

The beginning of that quotation is also included in the notes, and has this to say:

"Satan's work is to make the truth of God of none effect. Cast out of heaven because of his transgression, his aim has ever been to defeat God's purpose for man. He seeks to make it appear that the law is imperfect, unjust, tyrannical. He declares that it is impossible for man to keep the law. And in his own power man cannot keep the law. Without a Savior, he is without hope.

"Christ saw the helpless condition of the race, and he came to redeem them by living the life of obedience the law requires, and by paying in his death the penalty of disobedience, He came to bring us the message and means of deliverance, an assurance of salvation, not through the abrogation of the law, but through obedience made possible by his merits."


Commentary on the Lesson

1 John 5:13 is one of the most precious passages in the Word of God. It plainly underlines the position of the sinner who has been born again into Christ Jesus. That sinner has been transformed into a new creation - one who has eternal life. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" 2 Cor 5:17 (NIV)

This is the gospel – all of it. It's all we need to know about personal salvation. It's all there is to know about personal salvation. The rest is an outworking of this secure birthright. The rest is for the sake of Christ and His glory, the up-building of His kingdom. This is the basis for the Christian's assurance of salvation. This is the position from which Jesus, with the jealous possessiveness of a mother bear proclaims, "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one." John 10:28-30 (NIV) In case any should get the idea that the Father has a different agenda, Jesus puts that to rest with His declaration that He and His Father are of one mind.

When Jesus says that "no one" can snatch us out of his hand, it takes away the fear of even our own wandering minds and hearts doing irreparable damage to our position as children of God. In the Old Covenant, when Israel ignorantly agreed to keep the law in order to stay in covenant relationship with God, they entered into the position of slaves and servants (Gal. 4:24). When Jesus came and turned the shadows into substance (Heb 10:1), He raised us up to sit with Him in heavenly places (Eph 2:6) – no longer servants, but friends (John 15:15), siblings (Matt. 12:50), lovers (Hosea 2:16, Rev. 19:7), and co-heirs (Rom 8:17). When family members mess up, they never cease to be family (Luke 15:24). We may need to have our faces cleaned off periodically, but it is done by the hands of a loving older brother who delights to show us mercy (John 13:10). We do not start over from scratch having to re-establish our parentage (Luke 15:32). Our spiritual arteries flow with the blood of Christ who has redeemed us (John 6:56), caused us to be born into His family (John 1:12 & 13) and, therefore, made us a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). Will we then be un-created or un-born? "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God." 1 Peter 1:23 (NIV)


The Basis of Our Salvation

One of the subtle fallacies baked right into this lesson is found in the EGW quotation from Review and Herald 29 Apr 1902:

"He seeks to make it appear that the law is imperfect, unjust, and tyrannical. He declares that it is impossible for man to keep the law. And in his own power man cannot keep the law. Without a Savior, he is without hope.

"Christ saw the helpless condition of the race, and he came to redeem them by living the life of obedience the law requires, and by paying in his death the penalty of disobedience, He came to bring us the message and means of deliverance, an assurance of salvation, not through the abrogation of the law, but through obedience made possible by his merits."

To clearly restate the essence of this statement let me attempt a shortened paraphrase: [It is impossible for humans to perfectly keep the law without Jesus' help. With Jesus' help it is possible to perfectly keep the law. That obedience is the means of our deliverance and the basis of our assurance of salvation.] If you doubt that interpretation, perhaps this quotation from Ellen White will add further evidence of its validity:

"Obedience to the laws of God develops in man a beautiful character that is in harmony with all that is pure and holy and undefiled... His daily obedience to the law of God obtains for him a character that assures him eternal life in the kingdom of God." Sons and Daughters of God 42.2

The lovely language cannot hide the dark content that serves to discourage a would-be believer.

Supposing it were possible for a person to perfectly obey all of God's commands, would that be sufficient to offset the enormity of sin such that it would secure salvation? Would a perfect character "assure him eternal life in the kingdom of God"? Is it our sins that keep us from eternal life? Is it our obedience to the law of God that wins a position with God in eternity? Is it Christ's sacrifice for our past sins plus our obedience (aided by Christ) from that point on that qualifies us for salvation? It is my deepest hope that, despite the statements in this lesson, you are saying "No!" to all of these questions.

The Bible makes it eminently clear that your salvation, your eternal life, depend on your acceptance of what Jesus Christ has already finished on your behalf – and on nothing else. (Jn. 10:9, Acts 2:21, Acts 16:31, Rom. 10:9&10, 1 Cor 3:15) Not your obedience or lack thereof (Eph. 2:8), not your Sabbath-keeping (Col. 2:16), tithe-paying, church membership or anything else in all creation. "We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners' know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified." Gal 2:15-16 (NIV)

The lesson's author places the focus squarely on the reader's own behavior and obedience with these words: "The Bible teaches that there is assurance of salvation, but this certainty can be lost through our own choices. We need to hold on to the crown of life [salvation] by keeping ourselves daily surrendered to the Lord in obedience…Look at yourself closely… Are you struggling with assurance of salvation? If so, isn't it because of the things that you are doing?"

The answer to that question is a resounding, "No!" The lack of assurance of salvation within the ranks of Adventism is not based on bad behavior. It can be traced to the faulty understanding of Christ's complete and perfectly free gift of salvation that He won for us through His life, death and resurrection. The erroneous teachings are, unfortunately, not relegated to prior history. They continue to echo forward from the beginning of the SDA church all the way to this current Sabbath School Lesson, Monday, August 31, 2009. This can be the last day that you are held in the stranglehold of fear regarding your salvation. We invite you to go to the prayer at the end of the lesson comments for this week and pray it for yourself. You can find assurance of your salvation today – now and forever.


Fear of Presumption

The fatal flaws in Adventist soteriology (take on salvation) could not be more clearly demonstrated than they are in this lesson. While there is much in the first portion that is true and good, those faith-solidifying elements are dashed to the ground – along with the reader's hopes. No sooner are the spirit-soaring assurances given that they have eternal life, than they are snatched away by the shadow of fear that they may be stepping over onto the slippery slope of presumption. Their eyes are drawn back to themselves as they agonize over their weakness and inability to keep their end of the bargain: "How, though, can we be protected from taking assurance and turning it into presumption?"

This is the second time the specter of presumption has been raised in this lesson. The Encarta Dictionary defines presumption as: "Something believed without actual evidence. Conjecture, supposition...speculation." Introducing the word presumption into a discussion on salvation adds an element of uncertainty and fear. Rather than being reassured that "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus," (Romans 8:1) the reader is directed to his or her own ability to obey. The internal message becomes something like this, "Jesus died for my sins, but if I disobey Him, it means that I don't love Him, therefore, I'm not saved. When I'm able to be good, I'm in Christ Jesus, but when I get off track, I'm lost until I confess that sin. So, I can't say that I'm saved, because I may make bad choices and be lost in the end."

Here, again, are the words of the author, "The Bible teaches that there is assurance of salvation, but this certainty can be lost through our own choices." Where did these fears originate within Adventist theology? They came from statements such as these from Ellen White:

"We are never to rest in a satisfied condition, and cease to make advancement, saying, ‘I am saved.' When this idea is entertained, the motives for watchfulness, for prayer, for earnest endeavor to press onward to higher attainments, cease to exist. No sanctified tongue will be found uttering these words till Christ shall come, and we enter in through the gates into the city of God.

"If we are disobedient, our characters are out of harmony with God's moral rule of government, and it is stating a falsehood to say, ‘I am saved.' No one is saved who is a transgressor of the law of God, which is the foundation of his government in heaven and in earth." Review and Herald, June 17, 1890 par. 8.

But we have been given the grounds for hope, for "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 2 Cor 12:9 (NIV) What reassurance is ours when we fall into the powerful arms of Jesus Christ who commands our destiny. "Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness." Rom. 4:5 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him." Ps. 32:1


What Do They Mean?

As we look at the meaning of the scriptures chosen as cautions against presumption, it is critical to keep in mind the basis for our salvation. Multiple scriptures above concur that our salvation is based alone on faith in Jesus' life, death and resurrection in our place. Now, let's tackle the texts.

Matthew 10:22: "he who stands firm to the end will be saved." What does it mean to stand firm to the end? It means, according to the definition above, that the believer continues to hold fast to the faith that Jesus is his/her Savior. How does one stand firm to the end? "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) Therefore, He is the one who causes us to stand firm to the end. It is not our own grit and determination that wins the day, lest we boast.

1 Cor. 9:27 "I beat my body…lest I be disqualified for the prize." What prize is that? Is it salvation? That's not possible since we are told without equivocation that there is nothing we can do to add to our own salvation. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast." Eph 2:8-9 (NIV) Jesus, Himself said that the righteous do not come into judgment with respect to salvation: "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life." John 5:24 (NASB)

Does that surprise you? Sort of throws the whole investigative judgment scenario out the window. The question has to arise, "Then what about Romans 14:10?" "For we will all stand before God's judgment seat." Romans 14:10 (NIV) The end of that text says that before the judgment seat of God every knee will bow. It says nothing of the righteous being judged with respect to eternal life. Then why are they there? For the same reason Paul disciplined himself – for the rewards. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." 2 Cor 5:10 (NIV) For the lost, the rewards won't be good. For the saved, the judgment seat of God will be like a rewards banquet

Revelation 3:11: "Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown." What is "your crown"? If you refer back to the text above, Paul also mentions the crown that will not fade. The crown he was working toward were the rewards of his labors. Here is a clue to some of those rewards. "For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy." 1 Thess 2:19-20 (NIV) Paul's primary joy in laboring with all of his might is to see those for whom he has prayed and worked together with him in eternity. Just as Paul looks forward to that day, so will all who have labored in the Lord's vineyard. Jesus will say to them, "Well done," and will present to them the "riches of darkness" that they have, together with Him, snatched from the fire.


Motivation for Obedience

It is the contention of the author that believing ourselves to be saved will lead us to join the enemy in rebellion against God. Regarding the belief that we are irrevocably safe in Jesus he says, "What would stop us from forgetting all about God and living an immoral and unethical life – one that would…bar us from Heaven?"

There is a vast chasm separating the belief that fear of damnation will cause us to tow the line and a life of faith in the finished work of Christ for us. "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature." Gal 5:16-17 (NIV) So, the solution to the problem is to accept the gift of salvation thru Christ and live in the Spirit. "So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.  For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code." Romans 7:4-6 (NIV)

Here are the fruits of death that the law stirs up: "sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like." Paul goes on to say that those who try to live that way "will not inherit the kingdom of God." Gal 5:19-21 (NIV)

However, those who have died to the law and become alive in the Spirit will naturally produce His fruit: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." Gal 5:22-23 (NIV) This fruit is produced apart from the law.

It is not now, nor has it ever been, the fear of being lost that inspires faith. It is seeing Jesus for Who He is that brings us – broken and repentant - to the cross. We see that there is nothing whatsoever we can offer to atone for our sin (Gal 2:16). As we see Him bleeding His blood for our crime, we are humbled and broken. We realize that only His blood can suffice (1 Pet. 1:18-19), and we ask for His pardon. We accept His gift that is, indeed, both priceless and costly (Rev. 21:6), and are reborn a new creation (2 Cor 5:17) and He becomes our Resurrection (John 11:25).



If you find yourself doubting that the gospel could be this simple, stay with us. If the words, "I am saved" don't feel right to you, hold on. Even your lack of confidence in your ability to fulfill the conditions for salvation becomes good news as you regain a proper perspective of the cross. Jesus' love, His blood and His cross are all infinitely stronger than your weakness, failing and broken promises.



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