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Third Quarter 2016 (July–September)
COMMENTARY ON THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH IN THE COMMUNITY
Week 2: July 2–8
COMMENTARY ON "RESTORING DOMINION"
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 looks at God’s original declaration that he gave Adam and Eve dominion over the earth, commanding them to subdue it. The lesson opens with a quote from Ellen White (Sabbath’s lesson), and it says that Satan “had usurped that dominion over the earth which had been originally given to Adam.”
The day’s lesson ends with the question, “What can the church do to help people regain some of what was lost after the tragic fall of our first parents in Eden?”
The lesson is correct, that dominion was lost, that Satan acquired a new position, and that the church has certain obligations to the world and to the environment. Nevertheless, the lesson assumes definitions and understandings that are not biblical.
Today’s lesson is entitled, “Created for Dominion”. The lesson ends with a thought question, “If someone were to ask you, ‘OK, as a christian, what do you say that the purpose of your life is?” how would you respond, and why?”
This question is “out of order”. Occurring as it does in an Adventist Bible study guide, we have to address the assumption that the readers are Christian. In fact, all these lessons assume the Christianity of the readers.
Christians are not simply people who claim to believe in Jesus and follow His example. A Christian, in fact, is only one who has been born again. Jesus defined what it means to be saved, to receive eternal life, and it requires only one thing—but it’s one thing Adventism does not teach: being born of water and the Spirit.
The gospel is simple: Jesus died for sins according to Scripture; He was buried, and He was raised on the third day according to Scripture(1 Cor. 15:3-4). A person is born again when he trusts Jesus and His finished work.
A Christian is born when a person repents of his sin…realizing that he cannot overcome sin because he is utterly unable to do so, even with a life committed to prayer. When a person realizes that he is utterly sinful, by nature spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-3) and condemned (Jn. 3:18), when he accepts the fact that Jesus came as his Substitute and died a human death for the full payment of human sin, paid our personal debt to God and repents, asking Jesus to be his Lord and Savior, he is forgiven. At that moment, when the person believes that Jesus is his Substitute and that he is now reconciled to God on the basis of Jesus’ shed blood, he is born again, sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14). At that moment, he becomes a Christian, a person both born of God (Jn. 1:12) and adopted by the Father as a full, legal heir (Rom. 8:14-17).
Only a person who has believed in the Son’s substitutionary atonement for his personal sin is a Christian. An Adventist who believes that Sabbath is part of his gospel, that a Christian is one who follows the example of Jesus—these things do not make Christians. Most Adventists who believe that Adventism is the truth are not born again. Thus, they cannot claim to be Christians.
Questions asking the purpose of one’s life as a Christian cannot be answered by people who belong to a religion that doesn’t claim the simple belief of being born again through faith in the Lord Jesus’ shed blood.
Discussions of one’s relationship to creation are out of order if one has not dealt with the Lord Jesus.
Today’s lesson discusses “dominion” in more detail. The lesson, as well as the Teachers Comments, camp on the idea of “dominion” being interpreted as servanthood, of caring and loving management or stewardship.
Again, this is merely a philosophical discussion aimed at handing the readers a suggested plan of action for meeting needs and living with compassion.
Nevertheless, as good as these ideas are, they lack any eternal value unless those acting as servants and compassionate advocates are not born again. The church—that is, the biblical church—is made up ONLY of those who have been born again. Many people claim to be part of the church who do not personally know the Lord Jesus. These are imposters and deceivers who ultimately, as John says in 1 John 2, go out from us because they were never part of us (1 Jn. 2:19). In fact, John continues in that chapter to identify these deceivers and imposters as antichrists.
People who claim “Christianity” and set out to meet the world’s needs are not necessarily Christians. Only those who know Jesus are Christians, and true Christians deliver a very different message and make a very different effect in their world than do those who are not born again but who give themselves to altruism and philanthropy. Doing good deeds with a corporate church body may feel biblical, but in fact it is mere deception unless one is born again.
Jesus warned in Mathew 7 that many would say, in the judgment, that they have cast out demons and healed people in His name, but He would say to depart from Him because He never knew them. In other words, they had never been born again, and none of their miraculous works will mean anything in the end if they don’t know Jesus.
“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?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’ (Matthew 7:21-23).
Tuesday’s lesson introduces the idea of our boundaries regarding human dominion. It introduces the idea that people controlled by Satan try to dominate what is not their to dominate while rejecting their control over what they can control. The lesson then states, “There is plenty that is within our current boundaries of responsibility: for example, Christ-enabled self-mastery in our personal lives…and the care of the earth and its creatures and of all that has been given to us by God” is within our power to exercise dominion.
We need to address the idea that Satan usurped control and took dominion away from Adam. Scripture tells us a different story. It was God, not Satan, who bound the earth to decay and who caused the weeds and thorns to appear. It was also God who cursed the serpent and who granted Satan the authority over the earth as the prince of darkness. Genesis 3:14-19 says,
The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”
And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:14-19).
God was in charge of the changes on the earth, not Satan. Moreover, Romans 8:18-25 says,
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Furthermore, we do not have dominion over our behavior. The Bible is clear that there is no such thing as the Adventist teaching of “Christ-enabled self-mastery”. Instead, we have a law of sin in our flesh (Romans 7) that is with us until we die. As the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, we submit our temptations to the Lord Jesus, allowing Him to be our Master at the moment we face temptation. but we do not overcome sin through self-mastery empowered by prayer. God does not remove our penchant for sin apart from bringing us to trust Jesus as our Substitute and causing us to be born again.
Our boundaries over creation are non-existent unless we are spiritually alive and living in submission to the Lord Jesus, to almighty Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Today’s lesson enlarges on the idea of humanity’s care of the earth and of the nature of dominion. There is a quote from Ellen White’s Education that says, “Among the lower creatures Adam had stood as king, and so long as he remained loyal to God, all nature acknowledged his rule; but when he transgressed, this dominion was forfeited. The spirit of rebellion, to which he himself had given entrance, extended throughout the animal creation. Thus not only the life of man, but the nature of the beasts, the trees of the forest, the grass of the field, the very air he created, all told the sad lesson of the knowledge of evil.”
Again, it was God, not “evil”, that caused the changed in nature. Genesis 9 explicitly explains the changes in the natures of the wild animals, but Adventists never teach this passage because of the context of God’s instructions for post-diluvian man’s diet:
And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man (Genesis 9:1-5).
Here, immediately after the flood, God decreed that the fear of man would be upon every beast, bird, and sea creature. This fear of man accompanied God’s granting humanity “every moving thing that lives” for food. God didn’t merely grant “clean” animals for food, but He gave everything that moves. Along with this permission, God gave animals a “fighting chance”, making it difficult for man to learn to kill for sport. He put fear into the animals so man would have to hunt them for food. They wouldn’t have easy access to kill without need.
Ellen White completely missed this part of Scripture and assigned the wild nature of animals to the consequence of sin and of man’s rebellion. On the contrary, God put this wildness into animals, PLUS He gave man all living creatures for food.
Today’s lesson admonishes readers to reach out to others to help start the restoration lost by sin, “helping them regain in Christ the salvation and dominion lost at the Fall”.
Salvation is not a process we help people achieve. Salvation is an act of God that comes when the Father draws a person, and is facilitated by hearing the word of God.
Acts of compassion are not the gospel, and they do not bring people salvation. To be sure, Christians are asked to remember the poor and minister to the needy, but these things are not the right arm of the gospel, or the front door of salvation. These are things that flow out of the the gospel.
We are asked to trust Jesus. When we have been born again, we then respond to the Holy Spirit’s prompting and minister to those whom God brings to us. We do not restore dominion on the earth. The Lord Jesus’ sacrifice for sin its the act that broke the power of sin and death, and when the Lord Jesus returns and reigns on earth, He will have dominion from the throne of David.
Until that day, we carry His presence into the world, when we are born again, by being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, We become the presence of the Lord Jesus and become the mediators of the new covenant to those who are in bondage to sin.
Focussing on the restoration of human dominion through “the church” is a distraction. Jesus, not people, will bring in the kingdom and restore dominion. We speak the gospel—the real gospel—and make disciples.
Today’s lesson is a summary review of the points of the rest of the week. Again, it is worth stating: the focus on dominion and restoration is a wrong focus. Jesus Himself takes responsibility for those things. We are to focus on one thing: knowing and growing in Jesus.
Focussing on our relationship with the world is a focus that removes the biblical focus we are to have: knowing Jesus and knowing His will.
His will for us centers on submission to our Substitute and on speaking boldly for Him, declaring the gospel and biblical truth wherever He brings the opportunity. A “social gospel” is no gospel.
Jesus has dominion over sin and death, and our ultimate restoration is assured in Him. Meanwhile, we live in submission to Him, ministering His love in the ways He asks us to do in our own individual lives.