Commentary on "Confidence"
Day 5: Wednesday, September 2, 2009
The title of today's lesson is "Protection." The chosen scripture is 1 Jn. 5:18 & 19:
"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."
The author identifies the subjects of the first phrase in the text as born again believers, while the second phrase refers to Jesus. He mentions that the tense in the second phrase alludes to one who has come close to us while remaining distinct by virtue of divinity.
In the second section he finds the mention of "the evil one" to be an introduction to the players in the great controversy. On the one side are Jesus and God the father with their believers as protagonists; on the other are Satan and his demons playing the role of antagonists. He opines that 1 John is a precursor of the great controversy theme that is later fleshed out in Revelation 12.
Up to this point in the lesson, protection has not been discussed, but in the last few sentences he reveals what he imagines to be the reason for, and the results of, God's protection in these words: "We can be confident because we have a direct and intimate relationship with God and are separate from the world." Because of that intimate relationship with God, "they are able to say No to sin and to withstand temptations." He asks the reader to reflect on the ways in which the great controversy is affecting their own lives and asks, "How can you make these promises of victory and protection your own? That is, what are you doing that might make it impossible for those promises to be realized for you now?"
The following excerpts are from the writings of Ellen White which were chosen to underline the theme of protection.
"He bestows His richest endowments upon those who love him and keep His commandments." Review and Herald, July 16, 1901.
Those who believe the truth and obey the commandments will find refuge in Christ. They will have the effectual protection of His ever-loving care as long as they take their position on the side of God and His law…He will fulfill His covenant to His commandment-keeping people." Notebook Leaflets from the Elmshaven Library, vol. 1, p. 48.
Commentary on the Lesson
Just as Monday's lesson on the assurance of salvation left no confidence in the certainty of salvation, so the lesson on protection leaves no confidence in the unconditional protection of those who have confessed Jesus as Savior. In fact, the subject isn't mentioned until the last few sentences of the lesson – and then only with conditions. Instead of building faith and courage in the hearts of his readers, the author finds it necessary to interject the uniquely Adventist topics of the great controversy and the requirement of law-keeping as a condition for the protection of God.
Controversy or Rebellion?
The concept of a controversy between God and Satan is a dominant theme in Seventh-day Adventist eschatology that is not found elsewhere in Christian thought. It is predicated on the belief that it is necessary for the on-looking universe (consisting of unfallen angels and supposed inhabitants of unfallen planets) to become convinced that God is both just and merciful in order to assure that sin will never arise again. God is on trial and will be judged innocent of injustice when the full extent of Satan's experiment has been played out before their watching eyes. It is also taught that those who are soul sleeping will be shown a video (of sorts) of what happened when they were not sentient so that they, too, can become irrevocably convinced of God's goodness and therefore become "safe to save."
The difficulties with this scenario are numerous. Most importantly, nothing in all of scripture gives the slightest suggestion that God is on trial. On the contrary, God is identified as the great I AM. There is no one else in a class with Him who could qualify to judge the Judge. He is sovereign and His goodness, mercy, justice and compassion are beyond question. A creature cannot judge its Creator.
Satan has never been a contender for supremacy in any mind but his own. The Encarta Dictionary defines a controversy as a "contentious dispute." Can you even imagine The King of kings becoming contentious? Can you imagine His entering into a dispute? The Bible says that, "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) Though Satan and his forces fought to take over Heaven in a war-like manner, "he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven." Rev 12:8 (NIV) Earth became his domain where, to this day "He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short." Rev 12:12 (NIV)
Satan is not in a controversy with God as if they were members of opposing debate teams. Satan is in rebellion against the Sovereign God who is as far above him as Goodness is from evil. God has had to respond to the rebellion in the most costly of sacrifices, but the outcome has never been in question. Satan is a conquered foe by virtue of the essence of God's being. In response to Lucifer's uprising in Heaven, God the Father overcame him by casting him from Heaven. God the Son overcame him by dying on the cross and arising as Savior of humanity. God the Spirit overcomes him daily by sealing for all eternity those who receive the Son by faith.
The Product of Protection
Even the subject of protection from God is bottom-lined as a means to law-keeping and behavior. The author comes to the conclusion that because God is protecting believers, "they are able to say No to sin and to withstand temptations." Then he returns to his previous emphasis on how a believer's bad behavior can nullify God's protective care. "How can you make these promises of victory [keeping the law, obeying the law] and protection your own? That is, what are you doing that might make it impossible for those promises to be realized for you now?" Yikes! Search your heart; search your conscience. Have you sinned? Is there a sin of which you have not repented? There must be – somewhere. What are you doing that will make the promise of protection impossible for you? Fear, fear, fear. At every turn the reader is taught to "Turn your eyes upon" yourself. Search yourself as if that view will bring transformation. Hope is raised and then dashed by fear of failure. No remedy is proffered for weakness, no hope given that it is possible to fulfill the requirements to obtain that protection. Indeed, it is not possible.
Jesus alone holds the remedy and He extends His protection to us free of fear, free of law-keeping, free of strings. Thank God, our protection, our salvation is dependent on what Jesus has done – not on our behavior. Listen to what He has to say.
For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Romans 5:10-11 (NIV)
Even before we came to Jesus He had won our salvation. When we come to Jesus that salvation becomes a settled state of reconciliation.
Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the Law of Moses. Acts 13:39 (NIV)
It is through Jesus we stand before the Father as if we had never sinned. It is not because we have obeyed, not because we obey that we merit protection and salvation. It is because Jesus has taken our sins to the cross (past, present and future) and written "cancelled" across our debt. We don't have to go on a witch-hunt for unconfessed sins. If the Holy Spirit sees in us something that He desires to heal, He is perfectly capable of bringing it to our attention and bringing us precious relief from the burden – all the while having already cleansed "us from all unrighteousness" through the cross.
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 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 3:21-24 (NIV)
It is thru faith in Christ that we become eligible for all of the promises of God – not thru obeying the law. And even the faith is a gift. "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) It is the Lord's protection that keeps the evil one from being able to snatch us from His hands even when we fall and fail (and we all do – and continue to). Our redemption is sure because of Jesus' all-sufficient grace. This is a Grand Canyon away from God protecting us from temptation so that we can obey and thereby qualify for His promises. Praise God. He is more than enough.
The statement by Ellen White from the Elmshaven Notes pre-supposes that her readers know what she's alluding to when she says, "He will fulfill His covenant to His commandment-keeping people." It is assumed that the reader knows which covenant she is referring to and what commandments. These are some of the difficulties that Christians have encountered over the years in dialoguing with SDA church members. The words do not necessarily carry the same meanings in both camps.
To what covenant was she referring? Which of God's commandments must people keep in order to qualify for the fulfillment of that covenant? In order to understand what she's talking about it is helpful to look at the paragraph that precedes the one given in the lesson helps. In it she is speaking of those who died in the flood. "Even as in Noah's day those who were not firmly grounded failed to stand till the end of their probation [By way of general interest, are you aware that no one outside of Adventism has ever heard of "the end of probation"?]…His message would have been their life and salvation if they had … practiced the conditions laid down. Then they will see that they might have been saved had they not rejected the only means of salvation." So, rather than speaking of the old or new covenants, she is referring to salvation. When she speaks of commandments it is always the Ten Commandments, though there are hundreds of other commandments of God. It is also fair to assume that she is actually referring to the fourth commandment in particular. In either case, she is speaking of the law.
With the understandings above, her statement can be paraphrased this way: He will give salvation to those who keep the Sabbath (substitute the law or the Ten Commandments if you prefer). In any case it doesn't sound much like salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ. If our love for God is gauged on Sabbath-keeping or law-keeping then we have stepped out of the arena of faith since the word of God says that, "The law is not based on faith." Gal 3:12 (NIV)
Continuing with her comments:"They will have the effectual protection of His ever-loving care as long as they take their position on the side of God and His law." Apparently those who put together this lesson on confidence wanted the students to come away from their study with the idea planted firmly in their hearts that they can have confidence in Christ's protection only so far as they keep the law. What kind of confidence is that except confidence in failure?
Where is the change I've heard about in the Adventist Church? Tear away the scholarly, intellectual, sterile didactics– when I read the hundreds of statements like this I want to take those who have become hopelessly discouraged of ever attaining eternal life into my arms and assure them that these are not the words of Jesus. This is not the heart of Jesus, and this is not the gospel. You don't have to carry around this recipe for failure in your soul and allow it to cause a burden of heaviness and doubt. Listen to the words of Jesus and allow them to wash away the years of discouragement.
"It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression." Romans 4:13-15 (NIV) What does Paul mean, "where there is no law there is no transgression"? Here's what he meant, "God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross." Col 2:13-14 (NIV)
On the cross, Jesus canceled the power of the law to condemn us and set us free from the law of sin and death. The traditional way for Adventists to refute the power of this passage is to claim that Paul was referring to everything in the "law of Moses" but the Ten Commandments. If that were true, how could the canceling of the written code be directly associated with the forgiveness of "all our sins"? If what He nailed to the cross was everything but the Ten, how could that absolve us from sin? Don't the Ten Commandments define our sins? Aren't they what make us conscious of sin and reveal our need for a Savior? "Through the law we become conscious of sin." Romans 3:20 (NIV)
"For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace." Romans 6:14 (NIV) Nothing could be more straightforward. Since the cross, we are no longer under the cruel demands of the law, nor should we want to be since "All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.'" Gal 3:10 (NIV) Is that how you want to live your life? Are you able to do – are you doing – everything written in the Book of the Law?
Paul was amazed that those who had been released from the law wanted to return to it. "Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. But what does the Scripture say? ‘Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son.'"Gal 4:21-24, 30 (NIV) In another place Paul makes it clear that the Ten Commandments are the very words and heart of that covenant of slavery by saying, "Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone…" 2 Cor 3:7 (NIV) Clearly a reference to the Ten Commandments.
With Paul, I would encourage you with these words, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Gal 5:1 (NIV)
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