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Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
Day One, Sabbath Afternoon, August 2: Introduction
The introduction starts out well by establishing that you must be ‘born again’ before you can join the kingdom of God. The lesson is also correct to imply you must have a spiritual birth before you can have spiritual growth. However, unless you renounce the non-biblical Adventist doctrine of the human spirit there is no way for to you to truly understand what Jesus means by “you must be born again”.
Throughout the lessons for this week orthodox Christian language has been adopted which makes Adventist teachings seem compatible with churches that have their theology founded solely upon Scripture. The critical difference is in the detail.
A significant difference in what Adventism teaches versus orthodox Biblical theology is in the nature of how God created man and what happened when Adam and Eve sinned.
It is only of the human race that God said; “Let us make man in our image”. While animals have a form of life there is no biblical understanding for thinking they have a spirit. What sets the human race apart from the rest of creation is the existence of our spirit even though it is a dead spirit. Therefore it must become a ‘born again’ living spirit before we can have eternal life in the kingdom of God.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:26-27)
To have been created in God’s image doesn’t mean we are the same as God. It simple means we are patterned after God’s own likeness.
…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (Gen. 2:7)
When God breathed into man it was his Spirit giving man a spirit. The ‘air’ God ‘breathed in Adam that gave him life is a metaphor used to illustrate a mystery concerning the human spirit and how we have been created in ‘the image of God’. To show that it is not intended to be understood as physical air it is suggested that you review the following biblical references and substitute the word ‘breath’ wherever you find the word ‘spirit’ or ‘Spirit’ used; Prov. 20:27; Rom. 8:15-16; 1 Cor. 2:11; 1 Thess. 5:23; Heb. 12:9; & John 3:5-7.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 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.” (Gen. 2:15-17)
If the Adventist belief that the human spirit is nothing more than some kind of atmospheric air God ‘breathed’ into man to give him life were true then they would have been dead totally the instant they sinned. The question that you should consider is; what died the moment Adam and Eve sinned? Since they lived a physical life many years after they ate of the forbidden fruit it obviously was something other than physical. Sinners are declared dead in their sin so something did die.
In John 3:1-15 Jesus informs Nicodemus, who obviously is a person who has physical life, that he is lacking a spiritual birth without which he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. In-other-words Nicodemus, who is a sinner just like the rest of the human race, has a dead spirit which must be born and brought to life before he can join the kingdom of God.
Notice that to be ‘born again of the spirit’ means the human race once had a living spirit but it is now dead until brought back to life.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Col. 2:13-14)
Sinners have two needs, both of which Jesus fully satisfied at Calvary:
1. First, a sinner’s debt of sin must be paid.
2. Then a forgiven sinner who is covered by the blood of Jesus Christ will be ‘born again’ spiritually.
Since we are born with a dead human spirit it is important to understand that sin is much more than the sins we commit. We are born with a sin nature. If somehow it were even remotely possible to live a perfect life we would still be dead spiritually. Since this topic is really about our salvation notice what Jesus said to his disciples:
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matt. 19:25-26)
It is very fortunate that our salvation is totally a work of our Savior Jesus Christ because there is nothing we can ever do that would play any part in effecting what only God can do. The belief that God is waiting for at least one sinner to somehow live a perfect life is a bit of Adventist fiction. It simply isn’t going to happen.
In light of the false doctrine of the human spirit there is no way for an Adventist to fully understand what Jesus was teaching Nicodemus about the need for being born again of the spirit before he could join the kingdom of God.
The Adventist misunderstanding of the human spirit leads to not understanding that ‘the sin problem’ is about both the sins we commit and our sin nature we were born with. Even if you could somehow learn to live a perfect life that would not bring life to your dead spirit.
Day Two, Sunday, August 3: To Be Born Again
The lesson does well by exploring what it means to be ‘born again’. It is only as we compare this lesson material against established Adventist doctrines do questions arise.
In yesterday’s commentary it was pointed out that mankind was originally created in the image of God which included having a human spirit. When Adam and Eve sinned their spirit died on the very day they sinned. When we accept the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ our spirit which was dead is now eternally alive.
For our commentary we will examine the biblical teaching of what it means to be eternally spiritually alive as it impacts the Adventist belief concerning the state of the dead.
As was established yesterday, sin resulted in the death of the human spirit. Sinners sin because they have a sin nature to do so.
When Jesus died at Calvary he took upon himself all our sins yet there was no sin in him. He went to the grave with a living Spirit therefore it cannot be inferred that he ever ceased to exist, even when he spent ‘three days and nights’ in the grave.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:20-21)
Neither Jesus nor the ‘Thief on the Cross’ ceased to exist when they died. If you or anyone did cease to exist you would not be in company with others who also don’t exist. There is an important truth for all of us that Jesus gave to this dying man on the cross:
And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)
Those who place their faith in the gospel message and blood of Jesus Christ that covers all their sins can never be separated from their Savior Jesus Christ. Therefore, they will never cease to exist even in death, 1 Cor. 15:1-28:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
Nothing, not even death, can separate a Christian from God. Since our Savior did not cease to exist in the grave, the promise is that neither will we.
In Adventism reference is made to the poetical book of Ecclesiastes with the intent of ‘proving’ the dead do not exist. First, it should be pointed out that it is a poor practice to establish doctrine on any biblical topic by quoting an isolated passage from a poetical book of the Bible. However we will turn there and examine what it does say:
But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun. (Eccl. 9:4-6)
In this passage King Solomon is writing of the activities of the living and points out that when you die you no longer have knowledge of what the living are doing. From this there is nothing for us to learn about the dead other than they have no knowledge of the activities of the living. From this quotation we learn nothing concerning the possible consciousness of the dead or anything else about their existence in the place of the dead. Their ‘love and their hate and their envy’ are all part of what was ‘done under the sun’, things they have been removed from.
Notice carefully that it really was Samuel (1 Sam. 28:7-20) who was speaking from the grave when King Saul went to the Witch of Endor. Notice as you study this passage that while it was Samuel who spoke to King Saul he simply spoke as God informed him to speak. Samuel however was distressed that he had been bothered in his place of peaceful rest.
The Adventist belief in an essentially nonexistent condition of the dead is in conflict with the biblical teaching that once a person has experienced their spiritual birth they can never be separated from the conscious presence of their Savior Jesus Christ.
If you don’t understand this then there is a real danger that you haven’t experienced the eternal benefits of the pure simple gospel of Jesus Christ completed at Calvary.
Day Three, Monday, August 4: The New Life in Christ
The theme for today concerns being born again through ‘the work of the Holy Spirit’.
The lesson gives the impression, if we were not to compare what is said here against unchanged Adventist doctrine, that the Adventist church now teaches the pure biblical gospel message.
First and foremost, the salvation of a sinner is the completed work of our Savior Jesus Christ, 1 Cor. 15:1-23. The Holy Spirit who indwells and regenerates the human spirit is a gift that results from the work of our Savior, John 16:1-15.
Within Adventist doctrine there is misunderstanding of the word ‘eternal’. For the doctrine of Investigative Judgment to be true a person cannot know anytime within this present lifetime that they are saved yet that is what Scripture teaches.
The false understanding of the ‘breath of God’ that gave life to Adam leads to not understanding that when Adam sinned his spirit died. Sinners are born with a sin nature which is what the Savior’s gift of the Holy Spirit regenerates and what Jesus meant when he said “you must be born again” when speaking to Nicodemus.
The lesson makes this false non-biblical statement:
‘Though the change doesn’t happen instantly, over time we do become a new creature in Christ.’
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor. 5:16-17)
Those who have responded to the biblical gospel message of Jesus Christ receive at that instant the Savior’s gift of the regenerating Holy Spirit and have been shepherded into the kingdom of God. You are at that moment declared by God to be a new creation because you have been given a spiritual birth. Then you grow in sanctification through the ministry of the Holy Spirit because you are declared a ‘new creation’.
Sinners who have been regenerated by the blood of Jesus Christ are declared ‘a new creation’. God the Father in heaven views us through the completed atonement of his Son at Calvary. There is no such thing as the Investigative Judgment’ heresy.
Day Four, Tuesday, August 5: Abiding in Christ
The lesson sets a very good theme for today with this opening sentence:
‘A flourishing spiritual life is possible only by constantly depending on Christ.’
Before you can even consider abiding in Christ he must become your Savior through the application of his blood shed at Calvary for the redemption of your sins. In the following passage we learn that both Jews and Gentiles have access to God the Father through Jesus Christ our Savior:
For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. (Eph. 2:18-21)
Yes, it is important for a Christian to abide in Christ. However, Scripture teaches something more significant than merely practicing ‘right behavior’. In the following passage Jesus is pointing us towards something far deeper than mere personal behavior which he illustrates through the topic of adultery:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:27-28)
All men (and women) who are honest with themselves must admit they have utterly failed to keep even this one part of the Mosaic Law. Jesus is leading us into something far deeper and even more impossible when our focus remains on personal behavior. If you measure your spiritual growth through your behavior then there is no way for you to truly abide in Christ because you fail daily.
We are ‘jars of clay’ and not the ‘treasure’ within that vessel:
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Cor. 4:7-12)
The ‘treasure’, the surpassing power of God within the Apostle Paul and all other born again of the spirit Christians, is what we are to place our focus on. This is not a measure of our own behavior. Abiding in Christ is knowing our loving God chose to place his Treasure in us who are ‘earthen vessels’.
Unless you understand that you are eternally secure in the perfect shed blood of Jesus Christ there is no way for you to truly abide in your Savior. There is no way to have this abiding peace and believe you must pass, through personal performance, the heresy of the Investigative Judgment.
Day Five, Wednesday, August 6: Prayer
The lesson makes the point that prayer is an important component of abiding in Christ yet reverses the focus onto what we do rather than what Christ does within the life of a Christian.
The prayer of a spiritually growing Christian is an abiding acknowledgment and surrender to the working and leading of the Savior Jesus Christ. Your self-will must be surrendered to the will of the Lord which means that Jesus your Savior who shed his blood at Calvary is the only source for the redemption of your soul.
Prayer is an abiding acknowledgment that all things work for good:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)
Our prayers are to focus on what our Savior is doing within us.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:4-7)
In all things, meaning both that which may seem bad or unpleasant along with what is abundantly good, rejoice and give thanks in prayer to God.
Day Six, Thursday, August 7: Die to Self Every Day
But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal. 2:17-21)
The lesson brings out much that is good on what it means to die to self yet Adventist theology contains several non-biblical doctrines which hinder having a full practical understanding of what this means. For you to consider the deeper meaning of this you must be a born again Holy Spirit indwelt Christian. In-other-words the foundation of your faith must be a faith that does not include additions to the gospel of Jesus Christ and still call it the gospel.
As an Adventist you have been taught that Jesus Christ is your example and that with enough faith you can live a perfect life just as he did. However, here is what Scripture teaches:
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10)
As long as we ‘live in the flesh’ we sin daily. Certainly we should not sin and living victoriously over sin means to live increasingly free of sin yet we must understand that what our Savior desires of us is to die daily of self. The more we do so the more we humbly realize how far we fall short of the holy perfection of our Savior while living in this flesh of ours. Once you understand this it is time to take a fresh look at Romans chapters seven and eight. For today’s study we will confine ourselves to the first six verses of chapter seven:
Or do you not know, brothers —for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. (Rom. 7:1 & 2)
For context it is good to understand the preceding chapters of the book of Romans. Here in this passage the Apostle Paul uses the ‘law of marriage’ to establish a foundational concept. When either the husband or wife in a marriage dies the law or contract between them is over. The context is that Paul is speaking of the covenant and the law it contained that God made between himself and the Hebrew people, the Mosaic Law.
Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. (Rom. 7:3 & 4)
Jesus didn’t just die for the sins of the Hebrew people. He died for the sins of the whole world. When Jesus died it was in your place therefore the Old Covenant and the law it contained is now void and gone, Jer. 31:31-34; I Cor. 11:23-26; Heb. 8:1-13. Using the Apostle Paul’s example, anyone who attempts to now live under any part of the Old Covenant law is an adulteress. It cannot be done.
For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. (Rom. 7:5)
Those not covered by the blood of our Savior are ‘living in the flesh’ meaning they are dead in their sins.
But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. (Rom. 7:6)
Those who are covered by the blood of Jesus still exist in the flesh but are reckoned dead to the law and receive the promise of eternal life confirmed through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 1 Cor. 15:12-21.
The more we die to self-daily the more we humbly realize and experience the eternal truths found in Romans chapter eight. For those covered by the blood of Christ nothing can separate you from the love of God. Scripture simply instructs Christians to daily ‘die to self’.
Day Seven, Friday, August 8: Further Study
One of the discussion questions for today asks this:
‘What is it about self, about the very nature of self, that we are called to deny it daily?’
Yesterday we saw that Jesus expects his followers to die to self-daily. To ‘die daily’ recognizes that while our sins are fully covered by his shed blood at Calvary Christians still have a ‘fleshly’ body that sins daily. The only way to experience a victorious life is to die to our fleshly self, daily. In faith know that our Savior is also our Lord who has imputed his own righteousness within us actively, ongoing, daily.
Directly related to this is Jesus command that his followers are to ‘deny self-daily’:
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? (Luke 9:23-25) (Also: Matt. 16:24-28)
When tested by a lawyer of the Pharisees about which was the greatest commandment in the Law Jesus said this:
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:34-40)
When we die to self we recognize that the Mosaic Law with all its demands was fulfilled by our Savior and it is no longer binding upon us because we are recognized by God as dead to our flesh even though we still live within it. Instead of self which is reckoned dead, Christ lives in us through his gift of the Holy Spirit.
In the place of our old self, dead in our sins, we now are to live in response to the greatest two commands, to love God with all our heart and soul and to love our neighbor as ourselves. To deny self-daily is to place others above our own wants, desires or needs trusting God to provide for us in a way of his own choosing.
Third Quarter 2014 (July–September)
COMMENTARY ON THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS
Week 6: August 2–8
COMMENTARY ON GROWING IN 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.