Commentary on "The Gospel and the Church"
Day 6: Thursday, December 22, 2011 - Sowing and Reaping
The author begins by saying that man can ignore God "or even flout His commandments" but he cannot "outwit" God will one day judge him for his actions. The lesson then moves into the issue of sowing to the flesh and sowing to the spirit. The author gives the stories of Annanias and Sapphira, and Judas Iscariot as examples of sowing to the flesh, and the examples of sowing to the spirit are of Jesus being lead into the desert to be tempted and Daniel refusing to eat from the kings table. The lesson ends with a quote from Timothy George's commentary on Galatians, which states that Christians must do good to the family of God and all of mankind, remembering that all of man is made in the image of God so that we do not fall victim to such sins as, "racism, sexism, tribalism, classism, and a thousand other bigotries..."
First, it is important that we do not skip over verse 6 of this passage as the SS lesson did. In this verse, Paul tells Christians to support the person who is teaching them the word. Nowhere in the NT is there a command to give a 10 % (or any %) tithe to a central location that would manage the gifts and apportion them to the apostles. Instead, we see two things. In Acts 5 we see believers selling their things and "laying them at the feet" of the Apostles (those who were teaching them). We also see a command for believers to take a collection on the first day of the week (Sunday) when they would gather for worship. Free will offerings were given in obedience to the Holy Spirit working in their hearts to give as they were able and impressed to. For more information on giving in the New Covenant, see this link: http://www.cultwatch.com/tithing.html
Ignoring God vs. Flouting His commandments
Now, the lesson begins by making the point that, "people may ignore God or even flout His commandments…" (emphasis mine) and states that man will be judged for his actions. The fact that the author writes of "ignoring God" and "flouting His commandments" as two separate issues is extremely telling of the Adventist yoke to the old covenant. We know that when Adventists speak of God's commandments, they have the 10 commandments in view. When God's commandments are defined this way, then the split makes a bit more sense. It is possible to keep the 10 commandments and ignore God. However, when one realizes that God's commandments in the New Covenant are the commandments of Jesus Christ (God in the flesh) then the idea that "ignoring God" is a different issue from "flouting His commandments" makes no sense at all.
"And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Matthew 28:18-20 (emphasis mine)
After Jesus resurrection, He sent the disciples to all nations (including gentiles for the first time) and told them to teach them all He had commanded them. He did not tell them to teach the Law, which gentiles would have needed if they were to live by it. Jesus Christ fulfilled the law, He did not divided it into new categories of "fulfilled" and "binding" as Adventists teach. Under the New Covenant Jesus gave us many new and expanded commandments. He also established a new entrance (baptism) and remembrance sign (the Lords Supper), as well as a new seal of the covenant (Holy Spirit). Some of the critical commandments of the new covenant include: believe in the Son of God, repent, be born again, love God and our neighbors as Christ has loved us, be baptized into the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and remember the Lord with the Lord's supper. In no way is this exhaustive. We are commanded to abide in Jesus, in the Word, to fellowship, to pray without ceasing, to worship in spirit and truth, take up our cross, follow Jesus, fear God, to not be anxious, to be humble, to love our enemies…etc. For more on the commandments of Jesus, see John Piper's book: "What Jesus Demands from the World". When one sees that the commandments of God spoken of in the New Testament (including Rev. 14:12) are the commandments given by Jesus Christ (the Great "I AM", Almighty God in the flesh and not simply His finger), it becomes impossible to make ignoring God and flouting His commandments two separate issues!
Sowing to the Flesh
The author then goes on to discuss sowing to the flesh as opposed to sowing to the Spirit. The examples in the quarterly of sowing to the flesh did a good job of showing people who had their own self-interest in mind. However, it is so very important to note that sowing to the flesh does not always look or feel so obviously wrong. Even those who are doing the sowing may not be able to see that they are not sowing to the Spirit without abiding in God's word and learning from the Holy Spirit. The mind is a part of the flesh and in Ephesians 2: 3 we see that a part of sowing to the flesh is carrying out the desires of the mind. Far too often, it is tempting to question what God "really meant" as the serpent did in Eden, or to explain difficult doctrine with, "the god I serve would never___." Man must be careful to keep God on the throne or he runs the risk of finding himself among the godless. In second Timothy, we see a list of characteristics of godlessness. To be godless one does not have to have all of these characteristics. That point is clear by the fact that brutal, treacherous people do not have the appearance of godliness.
"For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth." 2 Timothy 3: 2-7 (emphasis mine)
Another example of sowing to the flesh (which was a surprise to those who did the sowing) is given in Matthew 7: 21-22.
"‘Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'"
Sowing to the flesh is not always "neatly packaged" into identifiable "sin boxes" such as sexual immorality, gossip, murder, drunkenness, adultery, thievery, coveting, malice and the like. One of the things scripture has revealed to us since leaving Adventism is that religious idolatry and self-righteousness are sins that keep people feeling relatively good about them selves (while simultaneously keeping them in fear), and sometimes keep them from saving faith in the Lord Jesus. For us, the 10 commandments (especially the 4th) had become our "graven image". Sabbath keeping was our "eternal-life raft". Through God's word we eventually began to see truth and knew God was telling us to go to a Christian church that met on Sunday. It was very confusing. In order to obey God, we had to disobey God? Well, that only made sense if Sabbath was our God. The Lord Jesus, through His word (starting with Galatians in fact) opened our eyes to see that we were not bound by the Law and that we needed to leave the shadow to follow the substance. Walking away from the Sabbath meant trusting that Jesus really is the only one whose work counted for our salvation. Our religious idol and self-reliance on maintaining salvation was sowing to the flesh. In Galatians 1:6 Paul says that to look back to the Old Covenant (even to do what we think or are taught is right) is to desert Christ! Our most sincere understanding or justifying of our beliefs cannot change reality. Either we are trusting in Jesus as revealed by the Holy Spirit in scripture, or we are not.
Salvation is a Gift Not a Reward
An important fact in the matter of sowing and reaping, which Adventism does not teach, is that our sowing and reaping is not about Salvation. Salvation is a gift that we receive the moment we believe and are born from above! There is nothing we can do to earn or even maintain our salvation—it is a gift and it is ours forever.
"For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable," Romans 11:29 (emphasis mine).
A gift cannot be a reward because we earn rewards by our work. Scripture is clear, salvation is a gift of God!
"Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due." Romans 4:4 (NLT)
"For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood… Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law." Romans 3:23-25, 27, 28 (emphasis mine)
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Ephesians 2:8-9
"For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." Romans 10:4
So What are these Rewards About?
Salvation is our gift. Period. However, scripture does speak of rewards for our works. These rewards are for those who belong to salvation and we receive them once we are in Heaven.
"Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets." Luke 26: 22-23 (emphasis mine)
We see from this passage that we will receive rewards in Heaven and not that the reward is Heaven. In the next passage, you will see that the rewards we reap in Heaven are about our work on earth. It is important to note that this is speaking to born again believers whose foundation is the Jesus Christ of the Bible, not an extra biblical variation of Him (2 Cor. 11:3-4). The things built out of lasting material are the things we sow to the Spirit, those that are burnt up are the things we sow to the flesh. Notice that things sown to the flesh do not affect our salvation.
"For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15, emphasis mine)
The only way a person can sow to the Spirit is to be born of the Spirit because we must have the Jesus Christ of scripture as our foundation. As we sow to the Spirit God will produce a harvest and we will be rewarded in Heaven. If a person is not born again then they do not store up treasure in Heaven, though the Lord might use them for His purpose.
Another interesting thing to note. Just after Jesus talks about those who did mighty deeds in His name without being known by Him (in Matthew 7), He talks about building on a proper foundation.
"Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall." Matthew 7:24-27 (emphasis mine)
Those who were doing mighty deeds (works) in His name, were not building on a foundation of Faith in Jesus Christ for their salvation. They had the appearance of godliness as we saw above but ultimately denied the power of Jesus Christ to save to the uttermost. Here we see that it is possible to build a house on a foundation other than Jesus Christ, even if we say, "Lord, Lord." Have you ever driven through a housing development where every house looks the same? There is no way to know by looking at the house if the foundation is good or not. Here Jesus teaches that the foundation is revealed by how the house reacts to external stress. Are you building your house on a foundation that says you must build in order to maintain its strength and reliability? Or is your house built on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ which sustains testing fire and saves even if your house is burnt up? These two foundations are not compatible. Pray and examine your heart. Ask Jesus to show you what motivates you and reveal the truth to you about what you believe.
In conclusion, it is critical to understand that Salvation is a gift that must be received by faith in Jesus Christ as revealed through the gospel of scripture only (1 Cor. 15:1-5, Gal. 1: 6). Part of what it means to have faith in Jesus is to trust Him with your present physical life and with your eternal life. Believe what He says and do not question and analyze him as Eve did with the serpent. Take Him at His divine word. Jesus paid the price for your sin; you do not have to. There is no penance to be made, there is no proving yourself worthy, Jesus loves you so much that he died for you just as you are and if you believe this He counts you righteous now. We must not arrogantly wave our flag of obedience to show that we are aligned with God. Sacrifices He does not seek, but a contrite and believing heart are pleasing to the Lord. Examine your heart. Consider that to say that you have "faith" in Jesus without trusting that He did what scripture says He did, because you hold onto the doctrines of "educated men", is not having saving faith. Pray and ask the Lord to give you eyes to see where you do not trust Him and repent of any personal attempts of maintaining the gift of salvation so that you can finally accept the gift. If you read about reaping and sowing and see rewards as eternal life, then you do not yet know what Jesus did for you. Say a prayer now. He is faithful and He loves you.
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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