Commentary on "The Gospel and the Church"
Day 3: Monday, December 19, 2011 - Beware of Temptation
Today's Lesson focuses on Galatians 6:1. The author discusses Paul's urgent counsel to believers, to restore those caught in sin and to take care to not fall into sin themselves. The author reminds the readers that they (Christians) have a "sinful nature that is opposed to God," when attempting to admonish spiritual pride.
We will be spending more time on this lesson due to some essential truths that we must address. In a statement made near the end of the lesson, the author writes of Christians,
"The sobering fact is that we all have the same sinful nature—a nature that is opposed to God. Thus without the restraining power of God's Spirit, we could stoop to just about any sin, given the right circumstances."
This statement does a lot to reveal the fact that Adventist doctrine builds on a foundation which does not understand the nature of man, the nature of sin, the meaning of what it is to be born again, or the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Without having these things clear, the rest of scripture is going to be very confusing, consequently requiring an interpreter, a natural place for a false prophet to fit in. Furthermore, when we are able to see what scripture says about these things, passages that once found their place in the "metaphor box" suddenly have profound, significant meaning. We believe that the false teaching about the nature of man (and consequently the nature of God) in Adventism is where the deception begins.
The Nature of Man
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them," (Gen. 1:27).
One of the most significant ways that we can understand man being made in God's image is by the fact that we have a spirit. A teaching that is not only denied by Seventh-day Adventism but also taught to be one of the great heresies of "Apostate Protestantism". Today, we are going to see what scripture says about this.
John 4:24a says, "God is spirit…" This is very clear. It says that He is spirit—not that He has a spirit. Adventism teaches that God has a body. This belief is unique to Adventism and a small handful of other unorthodox religious groups. If, in fact, being made in God's image is about our physical appearance then we run into all sorts of problems when we take into consideration the obvious differences between genders. It also limits God's ability to be Omni-present, or for the fullness of God to indwell man upon regeneration. The most significant evidence against this teaching is that while scripture will use references to body parts when discussing God's work in human history, it does not teach that God has a body. When we realize that God is spirit, it becomes easy to see in scripture that a part of our being made in His image is our spirit nature.
One Seventh-day Adventist website (http://calimesasda.com/#/home/uniqueness-of-adventism) does a good job of explaining the Adventist opinion of this issue. Under the heading, The "Uniqueness of Adventism" it states (emphasis mine):
"In contrast to the Greek idea that has influenced many Christian thinkers down through the ages, (that we are "spirits" or "souls" that inhabit bodies) we believe that we are indeed "whole" people, with all the various aspects of our lives (physical, mental, emotional, relational, etc.) interconnected and inseparable. We don't just have bodies, we are bodies (without a separate full consciousness apart from a real physical existence)."
Now, with that in mind, we will take a look at Ezekiel 36:26a-27a, which was written long before Greek Ideas influenced anyone:
"And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you… And I will put my Spirit within you." (Emphasis mine)
The Hebrew word used for spirit in both the case of our new spirit, and God's Spirit, is "ruwach". Adventism teaches that this word is actually referring to breath. This comes from their interpretation of Genesis 2:7,
"Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being."
The Hebrew word used for "breath" here is, "nĕshamah" which is also translated as spirit. After the LORD breathed spirit into man, he became a living "being". The word for being is "nephesh" which means soul or self. Now, even if this passage were saying that what God breathed into man was oxygen, it does not do away with the rest of scriptures references to the spirit of man. The text in Ezekiel cannot mean that He will give us new oxygen. Let us look at more scripture.
In Hebrews 12:9, God is called the Father of spirits,
"Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?"
Another passage of scripture that helps with this issue is Romans 8:16. Let us first see what the passage says, then we will insert Adventist understanding into it:
"The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,"
We would like to note that the word used here for spirit is the Greek word, "pnuema" and is again the same word used for the Holy Spirit and for man's spirit. Now, let us place the Adventist understanding of the word "spirit" in the text:
"The Spirit himself bears witness with our (breath) that we are children of God…"
This just does not work. Nor does it work to inject "attitude" or "disposition" into this passage as I have also heard some do. Here are a couple other passages that make much more sense when we understand the truth about man's spirit.
"…For we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord," (2 Corinthians 5:7-8).
This scripture clearly shows that we do have something that exists apart from our flesh. Understanding that the regenerate spirit returns to Christ upon death brings whole new meaning to the text in Psalm 116:15,
"Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints."
These are but a few of many examples that show that man is created as a spirit-being. When we see this truth, the rest of the story unfolds brand new to those who have seen scripture through Adventist eyes. Let us now look at the sin-nature of man.
The Nature of Sin
To understand the sin-nature of man, we must understand the fall. Back again to Genesis:
"And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." Genesis 2: 16-17 (emphasis mine).
"…she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths." Genesis 3:6b-7
"And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden." Genesis 3:8
God said, "…for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." God is not a liar, and on the day they ate the apple, they did die. They died a spiritual death. They were cut off from God and they hid. Ever since that day, man has been born in the likeness of Adam, born with a dead spirit—and ever since that day, man has hidden from truth apart from the drawing of God.
Ephesians 2: 1-6 says:
"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit (also, pneuma) that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved…" (emphasis mine).
When reading these passages without understanding the human spirit, it all becomes more metaphors. Some rationalize these passages by saying that, "the day they ate the apple they began dying" or that being "dead in our trespasses" means that we are living on death row waiting to die because of our trespasses; neither of which are what the scriptures say. It is worth noting here that Eve sinned by listening to the snake pontificate about what God really meant. It is not our job to explain God's intentions, but to believe what He says; even when we cannot make it fit with what we think we already know.
When we understand that we are born spiritually dead in need of reconciliation with God even without ever "transgressing the law" (simply because of our nature) scripture comes to life. Passages that once were confusing make sense when viewed in the light of truth. No longer is it difficult to understand texts like these:
"And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead,'" (Mat. 8:22),
"Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him," (Luke 20:38).
In order to properly understand our sinful nature and our relationship to God before the new birth, we must be able to see that man apart from God is spiritually dead in need of regeneration. Fallen man is still in the image of God, he does still have a spirit, but it is dead and doomed to hell. Without the new birth, we cannot be saved. No amount of special knowledge, good deeds, or law keeping can bring about spiritual regeneration. This is the miraculous, creative, life giving work of God alone.
The New Birth & The Role of the Holy Spirit
"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.'" – Jesus Christ (John 3:3)
In Adventism, "born again" is understood as repentant man with a new commitment to God and Christianity (See Sunday's commentary). It is a metaphor for choosing to live a new life. This is why re-baptism is common practice. People backslide and feel as though they must recommit their efforts to Christ and choose to be re-baptized. However, scripture shows us that our being born again is a work of God, not of man.
1 Peter 1:3, says that God causes us to be born again,
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…" (emphasis mine).
John 1: 13-14, says that being born into God's family does not happen by the will of man but by the work of God.
"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
Jesus is clear about what the new birth is:
"That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit," (John 3:6).
Again, the word used here for spirit is, "pnuema". He uses the words twice to show that they are the same substance. Flesh births flesh, but Spirit births spirit; not breath, not attitude—spirit.
When we are born again, we are hidden in Christ. We are clothed in the regal robes of Jesus. Our salvation has nothing to do with our works— bad, or even good—but with the Great Work of Jesus Christ, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Everlasting Father—Mighty God.
Now, scripture teaches us that there are two kingdoms: the kingdom of darkness in which Satan is the Father (John 8:44), and the Kingdom of the Beloved Son, in which mighty God is the Father. We have already seen that unregenerate man is born spiritually dead and in the kingdom of darkness. Now, let us look at what Colossians 1:13-14 says happens when we are made alive in Christ through the new birth:
"He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." (emphasis mine).
So then, how are we born again? Our only role in our salvation is to believe in Jesus Christ's finished atonement on the cross of Calvary and accept His gift of payment for sin on our behalf.
"In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory," (Ephesians 1:13-14).
When we place our faith in the Messiah, the Holy Spirit indwells us. He is the guarantee of our inheritance in Jesus Christ and we enter His rest as promised in Hebrews 4:1. Our salvation is not given based on our behavior or works, our salvation is given based on our faith in the finished work of Jesus. This does not mean that we are free to sin and forget God. If we are truly born again, the Spirit is in us and it is Him who wills us to live according to God's purpose (Phil. 2:13). When we are in Christ, we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17) and we are no longer under the law of sin and death but the law of the Spirit of Life (Romans 8).
It is not the role of the Holy Spirit to "restrain" us from sin. While we are in the flesh, we will continue to sin (Romans 7). However, the Holy Spirit does reveal sin in our hearts and lives, and convicts us of Gods will and purpose for us. He empowers us to live to the glory of God and He glorifies God in all He does. He also guides and comforts us as we wait for That Day. Jesus clearly explains the role of the Holy Spirit in the world and in the life of the believer in the gospel of John (16: 8-15).
Responding to the leading of the Holy Spirit is what will keep us on level paths. If we choose to ignore the cognitive dissonance that we experience when we are not acting according to Gods word, we will find ourselves fading from intimate fellowship with God. We cannot compromise our salvation once we are born again because it is not attained by our works but by Christ's work. However, our fellowship with God will be compromised if we fail to obey and abide in Him and His word.
In conclusion, as Christians, we are still temped and we still have the propensity for sin (Romans 7). Paul's warning to believers to be careful to avoid the temptation to sin is valid. However, it is incorrect to believe that this temptation comes because we are inherently "opposed to God" as believers. Temptation comes from our corrupt flesh (Romans 7), yet when we are born again our spirit is alive and kept in Christ and we are reconciled to God. We are adopted into the family of God and are no longer "opposed to God." We can know that we are saved. We are in Christ, and that is our new identity.
Copyright 2011 BibleStudiesForAdventists.com. All rights reserved. Revised December 15, 2011. This website is published by Life Assurance Ministries, Glendale, Arizona, USA, the publisher of Proclamation! Magazine. Contact email: BibleStudiesForAdventists@gmail.com.
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