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Fourth Quarter 2015 October–December)
COMMENTARY ON JEREMIAH
Week 8: November 14–20
COMMENTARY ON JOSIAH'S REFORMS
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.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all biblical quotes are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
This week’s lesson is predominantly about the “boy king” Josiah who became king of Judah when he was eight years old. He was the grandson of evil king Manasseh (who, after being taken captive by the Assyrian king and after pleading with God in repentance, reformed and was restored to Judah’s throne where he began to execute reforms and to destroy the idols and places they were worshiped). Josiah’s father was also an evil man who was killed by his own servants.
The lesson’s main point, emphasized in the Teachers Comments, is that reform is necessary in every Christian’s life on an ongoing basis, and that godly living must be a balance between law and grace.
The Bible never tells us to balance law and grace. From Genesis 15:6 where God gives us the first clear statement of how one is saved—“Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness”—we learn that there is only one way to honor God: believe His words. Submit to them, and allow them to change us. Abraham believed God’s words to him.
It is belief in the Lord Jesus who fulfilled the law that enables us to please God. In fact, on page 101 of the quarterly, the author refers to Philippians 2:3-8 as the explanation of what is necessary for true revival:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:3-8).
This passage is not a description of what is needed for “revival”. Revival is a renewal of interest or attention to something, a “restoration of force, validity, or effect”. It can be “a period of renewed religious interest”, according to the Merriam-webster online dictionary.
Revival assumes there was “something” there in the past. It is not a word to describe remaining engaged or generating new energy toward something. Revival is a reaction to something real that had been eclipsed.
In the book of Philippians, Paul is not writing to people who believe false teachings or who practice idolatry. He is not asking spiritually dead people to be like Christ. He is writing to Christians who are actively living for the Lord Jesus.
This lesson is built upon a foundation that assumes the readers, Seventh-day Adventists, are all “true believers”. The Adventist assumption is that, if one believes and embracers the Adventist doctrines, he has accepted the truth and believes the truth. After this acceptance, he must become more and more obedient.
This lesson, consequently, is being written to people who are taught that they must keep the law in order to please God. They must “believe in Jesus” and keep the law. They must “live for Jesus” and embrace the seventh-day Sabbath. If, however, they abandon the Sabbath, their profession of faith in Jesus will be proven false.
This Adventist foundational belief, however, is false. It is not the gospel; it is, in fact, a false gospel. The gospel says that we are to recognize and repent of our natural depravity. We are born unable to please or to choose God (Rom. 3:9-16). We are born “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). We are literally spiritually dead by nature, living in subjection to Satan (Eph. 2:1-3) and trapped in the domain of darkness (Col. 1:13).
When we see what Jesus has done, however, when the Holy Spirit opens our eyes and shows us Jesus, when we repent of our sin and accept Jesus’ blood as the payment for our sin and death, we pass at that moment from death to life (Jn. 5:24).
We are counted righteous, and the personal righteousness of the Lord Jesus is credited to us. When we believe in Jesus, we are justified, and God continues the work He began in us and also completes our sanctification (Phil. 1:6). We are not sanctified by works; we are sanctified by learning to submit to God’s word and to surrender our flesh to the Lord Jesus at the moment of our temptations.
It is belief in Jesus ALONE that qualifies a person for eternal life. Those who have Not believed are condemned already (Jn. 3:18).
It is not surprising, however, that Adventists build their soteriology on a false foundation, a demand for a balance of law and grace. Few people have read this actual quote of Ellen’s, but this message is the message that shapes the Adventist understanding of how one is saved:
God will test all, even as he tested Adam and Eve, to see whether they will be obedient. Our loyalty or disloyalty will decide our destiny. Since the fall of Adam, men in every age have excused themselves for sinning, charging God with their sin, saying that they could not keep his commandments. This is the insinuation Satan cast at God in heaven. But the plea, “I cannot keep the commandments,” need never be presented to God; for before him stands the Savior, the marks of the crucifixion upon his body, a living witness that the law can be kept. It is not that men cannot keep the law, but that they will not (White, Ellen G., The Watchman, God’s Test of Obedience, Feb. 4th, 1908, para. 1.).
It is this belief that our “loyalty” decides our destiny that shapes Adventist understandings of salvation. Moreover, this loyalty is not manifested as loyalty to the Lord Jesus alone; rather, it is expressed as loyalty to the Sabbath, the fourth commandment.
This quote reveals the source of Adventists’ deep belief that Jesus died and rose again to defend the law, to show that we could keep it. The Bible, however says that Jesus died to pay the price for human sin. He took the entire curse the law demanded into Himself. He was an acceptable sacrifice and offered a truly sufficient death. That fact is why He rose from death. He did not rise from death because His law-keeping proved him worthy. That very idea is blasphemous.
Read Romans 4:
What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:
“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Romans 4).
The lesson’s emphasis on “revival” is utterly impossible to achieve from a foundation of Adventism, a syncretism of law-keeping and “grace”. Only when we throw our entire weight onto the Lord Jesus and trust His word utterly and are born again can we achieve “revival” at any time. Moreover, only God can initiate revival. True revival is not a hunan achievement. It is an act of God to which truly born again people respond.
Adventism demands loyalty to the law as the primary evidence of true belief. The Bible requires placing one’s trust and faith in the Lord Jesus alone, allowing Him to be the fulfillment of the law. We must trust Him so fully that we realize it’s a matter of life or death. We have to be willing to give up everything we value—including our beliefs—for the sake of trusting Jesus alone. He then opens our eyes to His word, and the Holy Spirit teaches us. As Peter said,
For you have been born again not of see which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God…Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, one for the the pure milk of the word so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord (1 Peter 1:23, 2:2-3).
Only those who have tasted the kindness of the Lord—only those who have been born again through the word of God and have been filled with the Holy Spirit—will grow when they read the word. Revival is not the goal; the goal is that we be born again and become new creatures in Christ. The goal is that we believe Jesus and are transferred out of the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the Beloved Son.
Have you trusted Christ? Have you repented of your sin?
If not, I urge you to lay aside your fear and pride and go belly-up before Him, trusting in His shed blood which has opened a new and living way to the Father (Heb. 10:20).