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Second Quarter 2014 (April–June)
COMMENTARY ON CHRIST AND HIS LAW
Week 8: May 17–23
COMMENTARY ON THE LAW OF GOD AND THE LAW OF CHRIST
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
Day 1: Saturday, May 17, 2014 – Introduction
God’s law is the unchanging law of love that has always been and will always be the divine standard for judgment. [Teacher's Edition Quarterly, Page 97]
At least this lesson explicitly claims that the Law is binding on believers. It accurately represents Adventist belief.
I, too, will be honest. If you think that keeping the Law will save you initially, that keeping the Law will maintain your salvation or that the Law, and especially the 4th Commandment (Sabbath), is the basis for the final judgment then you probably are lost.
Writing it that starkly hurts. It hurts because I remember my own struggle back in the day.
I used the word “probably” because I'm not your judge, but I must warn you. I must point you to Jesus. I must declare, as cogently as possible, a different way, the way of grace through faith.
In my dark days I thought of myself as the law keeper's law keeper. Truly, I loved the Law. (Actually, I still do.) There is nothing in it that is inconsistent or open to debate. It is clearly stated and impeccably enforced. It is a thing of beauty.
And it killed me.
Every time I took a step forward I was run over by the 18-wheeler of sin, and then I had to wallow in the slime of shame until I could convince myself that God could forgive me, yet again. I'd pick myself up, change clothes (it doesn't do to show up with shame-slime all over yourself), and take another step forward. And always, ALWAYS, that 18-wheeler crushed me to pulp.
I was physically ill with the effort, and the cognitive dissonance was driving me deeper and deeper into depression. I kept at it, trying over and over again to achieve my goal. Years later, someone finally explained to me that I was insane (that is, doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting a different result) at the time.
I had to discover that crawling off the freeway of self-effort was the only thing that would save me from being crushed by that sin semi.
Thankfully, the Bible actually tells us how this works and points us to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Even more thankfully, I met the God who had been reaching out to me the entire time, inviting me to rest in his arms. In his mercy he protected me from physical death. In his grace he did infinitely more – he saved me!
Day 2: Sunday, May 18, 2014 – The Law and the Prophets
As we have seen, though the Bible does teach that the works of the law can save no one, no passage gives a person license to violate God’s law. If any did, it would be a license to sin, and the Bible would blatantly contradict itself on a crucial topic. [Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 65]
Let's start with the partially quoted passage in the quarterly, Matthew 5:17-18.
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
Of course Jesus did not come to abolish the Law or Prophets. In his own words, he came to fulfill the Law and Prophets. Notice also his next statement – nothing would pass from the Law until all was accomplished.
How much of the Law did Jesus accomplish? If you answer anything other than ALL of it, then you are believing a lie.
If Jesus accomplished the whole Law, how much of it is left to keep? If you answer anything other than NONE of it, then you are believing a lie.
How is this not a license to sin?
First, you must understand the difference between sin and sins. Sin is anything that does not come from faith (Romans 14:23 – It is fascinating that the context of this verse regards eating food that some find offensive.) This means that all my behaviors, good or bad, are sins if they are done in my own strength, wisdom or ability. Fundamentally, sin equals unbelief in Jesus. Sins are those actions, whether they look good or bad to the outside observer, that flow from unbelief.
Adam and Eve's sin in Eden was unbelief in God. They took Satan's word over God's. Eating the fruit was the natural result of sin, the visible symptom of an internal, invisible root cause.
Second, Jesus died in triumph over sin. He became sin, without ever being sinful, so that we could be the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). This reality is not Law based, but relationship based.
Third, it is not the Law that teaches us to say No to ungodliness. It is the Holy Spirit's job to do this (see Titus 2:11-14)
In short, God himself has taken on the responsibility of teaching us, working from the inside out what could never be worked from the outside in.
In fact, Paul deals with this explicitly in Romans 6. He asks the same question posed in today's lesson: “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6:1b NASB). The obvious answer is, “Of course not!”
But here's the kicker. Not once does Paul push people into obeying the Law in order to avoid sin. In fact, he says exactly the opposite. “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (Roman 6:14 NASB)
This can only mean that if you insist on putting yourself under Law, regardless of the pretty words used to justify the legalism, then sin is your master. Let me repeat that. If you put yourself under Law, then sin is your master. He expounds on this reality in the famous Romans 7 passage.
Obviously, no one has been given a license to sin. This is a straw man posited by legalists to justify their own failures.
The real problem with Adventism is idolatry. You can get away with almost anything as long as you “keep” the Sabbath. Jesus said, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20 NASB) No Adventist has ever kept the Law like the Pharisees. Jesus exposed their idolatry. Will he do anything less with modern-day Pharisees?
The Adventist position truly is antinomian because they try to force the Law to be something it is not.
Fundamentally, their insistence on keeping the Law at all exposes their unbelief in Jesus. According to them:
Listen to their double-talk. No one can be saved by keeping the Law. At the same time, no one can be saved without keeping the Law. Which is it? It can't be both.
Finally, what was Jesus' relationship to the Law. Paul tells us explicitly in Galatians 4:4-5.
But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (NASB)
Jesus was born under Law. He lived under Law. He died under Law.
You and I are not under Law. Period. Read Romans 6:14 again. I might also suggest looking up Law in a good concordance. Follow its use throughout the Bible. Read about it in context.
Day 3: Monday, May 19, 2014 – The “Rules” of Love
John 13:34, 35. What did Jesus mean by saying that this was a “new” commandment? [Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 66]
Only in an Adventist mind could Jesus' statement raise this question. The answer really is simple. Jesus said this was a new command because it was a new command.
Previously, he had perfectly summarized the Law – Love God with all your mind, soul and strength; Love you neighbor as yourself.
Something was about to change. The disciples didn't understand what exactly, but they knew something was up.
Jesus was about to die. His death would usher in the New Covenant promised in Jeremiah 31. This new covenant is not law based. Rather, it is relationship based. Yes, God promised to write his law on our hearts, but this is a promise that the indwelling Holy Spirit (see Titus 2 again) would do things for us by renewing our minds, purifying our wills and sanctifying our emotions.
No one could love others as they had been loved UNTIL the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost. Does this mean that God did not love people before the New Covenant? No. It means that the sin problem prevented the kind of relationship he desired to have with us. Jesus provided the solution.
Day 4: Tuesday, May 20, 2014 – All Things to All Men
Take a close look at the references to law in 1 Corinthians 9:19–23. What is Paul saying here? Why such a strong emphasis on law? [Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 67]
Actually, Paul was not emphasizing Law. He was emphasizing his willingness to reign in his own freedom in order that he would not be a stumbling block to anyone he met. For Paul, everything was about bringing people to Jesus. Their backgrounds didn't matter. Their belief systems didn't matter. He was conversant with all of them, both by training and by inspiration, so he could mingle with folks in complete comfort.
Compare his approach to the agitators that followed him from place to place. As soon as Paul had introduced people to Jesus, these Judaizers would start fomenting for circumcision, law-keeping, sacrifices and the like. To them, Jesus was never enough. Paul's response? Just go ahead an emasculate yourselves (see Galatians 5:12).
Did Paul hate the Law? Absolutely not! He celebrated his Jewish heritage. His trip to Rome was precipitated by his fulfilling a vow at the temple in Jerusalem. But Paul, after his conversion, was never under Law again.
We cannot do true evangelism if we do so with a hidden agenda of introducing people to Law as soon as possible. As Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” (Matthew 23:15 NASB)
Day 5: Wednesday, May 21, 2014 – Fulfilling the Law of Christ
The law of Christ is driven by mercy. Had it not been for His sacrificial death, there would be no reason to keep the law of God. However, because Christ has made eternal life possible, there is an incentive for the faithful to resume keeping God’s law after moments of weakness. Fellow believers should use the law of Christ as a vehicle to transport the repentant sinner back to the arena of God’s law of love. (Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 68)
The Law has but one purpose.
Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20 NASB)
You are no friend of mine if you find me trapped in a sin and transport me “back to the arena of God's law of love.” The Law is good only for pointing out that I do not and cannot live a righteous life. If I am trapped in sin there is a good chance that I am already acutely aware of my sinfulness.
The only answer to this, and the only loving thing to do, is to bring me to Jesus to, perhaps for the first time, discover what it means to live in the reality of ongoing forgiveness and the absolute assurance of eternal life in him.
As always, Adventist theology is trying to play both ends against the middle. On the one hand,
“the curse has been reversed by the gift of eternal life, which has been made available through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 68).
On the other hand,
“In other words, the person who has sinned should be encouraged to abide once again by the precepts of God’s law.” (Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 68.
Again, which is it? Has the curse been reversed, or am I supposed to abide once again in the precepts of God's law? Again, it can't be both. “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.'” (Galatians 3:10 NASB)
If you help me back to the Law you are, in effect, dooming me to an ongoing curse. Thank you, no. I'll pass on that opportunity.
Day 6: Thursday, May 22, 2014 – Law and Judgment
As the standard of judgment, the law serves to measure the level of love that the individual has shared with God and humanity. When Christ presides over the final judgment, He will use God’s unchanging law of love as the standard by which to judge (Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 69)
Honestly, does anyone out there think measuring the level of love that you have shared with God and humanity, using the Law as the yardstick, will result in anything but being consigned to the raging fires of hell?
Are you going to stand before God and say, “That's right, Lord. By any measure, my level of love is sufficient. Now, let's talk about my mansion. Location, location, location!”
This is the height of folly! Over and over again the Law has been described as demonstrating only that we are incapable of behaving as God intends. This role is absolutely crucial in our lives and serves to drive us to Jesus for salvation, but once faith comes we are no longer under the tutor (see Galatians 3:23-25).
Besides, the final judgment is NOT for children of God. The final judgment is reserved for “the dead,” those who have rejected Jesus. See Revelation 20:11-15.
Children of God are privileged to stand before the Bema Seat to learn how their faith in Jesus resulted in works made with gold, silver and precious stones (see 2 Corinthians 5:10, coupled to 1 Corinthians 3:10-15). There will be no questions regarding one's ability to keep the Law.
Space does not permit a full explanation of the basis for judgment. Let me assert the answer and invite you to do some meaningful study on your own. Here's the answer: No one who has accepted Jesus as Lord can be lost. No one who has not accepted Jesus as Lord can be saved, regardless of his or her good behavior.
Day 7: Friday, May 23, 2014 – Further Study
The usual list of Ellen White references and quotes focused, this time, on church discipline. (Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 70)
I will accept no church discipline from a legalist. This is a matter not of pride, but of self-preservation.
On the other hand, I am eternally grateful for the discipline I've received from Spirit-filled, grace-informed siblings in Christ. Not that grace is an easy road. On the contrary, being told the truth can hurt, but truth sets us free.
Here's the deal with Law.
Abraham was promised that all the world would be blessed by his Seed. We know, based on Paul's words in Galatians, that this Seed is none other than Jesus Christ.
Through whom did this promise come? First, Abraham. Then Isaac. Then Jacob (not Esau).
To which of Jacob's (Israel's) sons was the promise given?
The promise was given to Judah.
By definition, then, the entire Mosaic Covenant and its Levitical Priesthood was a limited, temporary situation. There is no doubt that it was a God-given situation, but it was given to be superseded. It was but a shadow. The reality is found only in Jesus. See Colossians 2:16-23.
Jesus is our new High Priest, and no one from the tribe of Judah could be one of those. Therefore, when there was a change in the priesthood, there must be a change in the Law. I invite you to read Hebrews 7 for yourself to get a picture of how much things have changed.
Adventism, if followed to its logical conclusion, denies this truth, substituting instead a religion of self-effort. The result will be loss.
This is the greater tragedy. I believe most Adventists are truly sincere. Unfortunately, sincerity means nothing to God. He is interested only in truth. Jesus is the truth, and Adventism rejects Jesus.
The problem is not sincere Adventists. The problem is Adventist leadership who knows better, but will not admit the bankrupt nature of the belief system they foist on their people.
Will they change? No. They are too invested in their system.
But they have no real power over individual Adventists. Anyone can at any time open the Bible and read for themselves what Jesus has done, and continues to do, on their behalf. Anyone can at any time let go of the traditions that bind them to legalistic failure. Anyone at any time can accept Jesus and be held in his hand, completely safe and secure in him.
Now is that time! Let Jesus overwhelm you with his love and grace.