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First Quarter 2018 December 30–March 30)
COMMENTARY—STEWARDSHIP: MOTIVES OF THE HEART
Week 12: March 17–23
COMMENTARY ON "THE HABITS OF A STEWARD"
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 reveals Adventism’s lack of understanding of the new birth and the true spiritual nature of humanity. The Adventist view of man is that he is “body + breath = living soul”. In other words, man is a physical, material body that, when it breathes, is alive and IS a living soul. He has no immaterial spirit which is separate from the material body,
Adventism does not teach nor embrace the doctrine of “original sin”, or the reality that every person is born spiritually dead. Spiritual death is not a metaphor, a pious description for a person who lacks religious discernment. It is not a description for people who “reject Jesus”. Rather, spiritual death is the condition which each of us has inherited from Adam; our spirits are disconnected from God because of Adam’s sin, and we are born dead in sin, unable to seek, please, or honor God (Rom. 3:9-15; Eph. 2:1-3).
Jesus Himself said that those who do not believe in Him are “condemned already” because they have not believed (Jn. 3:18).
Without an understanding of our natural condition of spiritual death—the death that Adam and Eve experienced the moment they sinned; the death that caused them to hide in shame, to blame, and to bargain with God—a person has absolutely no choice but to work really hard at becoming self-disciplined, to compulsively develop strong habits of ascetic self-denial and sacrificial giving in order to develop a Christlike character in order to be ready for the soon return of Jesus.
Needed: Life, not Righteous Behavior
Our need is to be born of God (Jn. 1:12), not to become highly disciplined and rigid. Jesus told Nicodemus that unless he was born of water and the Spirit, he could not see the kingdom of God (John 3:3-6).
Jesus told the Jews that the work of God is to believe in Him whom He sent (Jn. 6:29), and Paul told the Philippian jailor that in order to be saved, he needed to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 16:31). Paul writes in Romans 10 that if we confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Jesus Christ is Lord, we have eternal life.
We have to recognize that we are helplessly sinners, dead in sin, unable to please God or to do anything good. We have to admit that we need a Savior and trust Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection on our behalf as the payment for our sin and the undoing of the curse that the law levels against every single person.
This week’s lesson, however, states the opposite of what the Bible teaches; it argues that we must discipline ourselves and develop good habits, thinking often about Jesus’ second coming so that we can ready ourselves and live right so our characters will reflect Him. We are to eat right and exercise; we are not to waste time; we are to “seek God first”—however we are supposed to do that.
The lesson makes some astonishing statements that reveal the great gulf between an Adventist worldview and a biblical worldview. For example, Sunday’s lesson says “Jesus made it a habit to keep totally connected with Him [the Father]. We can follow Jesus’ example by making the decision to love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls…By praying, studying God’s Word, and seeking to emulate the character of Jesus in all that we do we will form the habit of making God first in our life.”
This statement is completely false. First, Jesus did not have to “make a habit” of staying connected to the Father. He was One with the Father, and in John 5 He went into great detail to explain that He did nothing the Father did not do, and whatever the Father did, He did. He IS GOD, and He was completely united with His Father. He did not stay close because He developed habits of communicating; He was close because He and the Father are ONE.
We, similarly, to not love God and make Him first by praying, reading the Bible, and practicing good behavior. Rather, we make “God first” by submitting to what He says is true about us: we are unable to please Him no matter how hard we try. We have to admit we are sinners, and we have to trust Jesus and believe that His blood has paid the price for our sin. We have to believe He is who He says He is, and we have to trust that He has fulfilled all of the law, taken our curse, and calls us to Himself. When we trust and believe, we are born again, and His Spirit fills and seals us (Eph. 1:13-14). Only being “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3)—literally through His Spirit bringing our spirits to life—puts us in the place of being close to God. It is not the result of our pious religious actives and habits. It is ONLY through the life of Jesus that we have reconciliation with God!
Our “definition and purpose”, as the lesson states, does not come from “looking for the return of Jesus”. Our definition and purpose come through Jesus. When we are born again, the Father gives us a new identity and purpose; we become His born-again and adopted sons and daughters, and we are transferred out of the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the beloved Son (Col 1:13).
Probation to prepare for eternity?
Tuesday’s lesson quotes Ellen White from Christ’s Object Lessons saying, “We have but a few days of probation in which to prepare for eternity. We have no time to waste, no time to devote to selfish pleasure, no time for then indulgence of sin.”
We are not on probation. We are either alive in Christ and eternally saved, or we are dead in our sins. When one understands that we have spirits that are alive or dead, the paradigm changes. We cannot discipline ourselves into the kingdom, and we are not on probation! We are asked to trust Christ as our Lord and as our Savior, and if we do, we let go of all the works we naturally think we have to do in order to be “worthy” of justification. We have to receive the eternal life that only God can give us, and we receive that through trusting and believing in the finished work of Jesus.
When we are eternally alive and eternally secure, the Holy Spirit who indwells us changes our desires and dreams. He does not lead us through battles of will where we wrestle with sin; He leads us to conviction and literally awakens new desires in us. We now trust Him, and we allow Him to inform us instead of compulsively trying to make ourselves different.
Wednesday’s lesson insists that we must learn healthy habits to perfect our minds, body, and soul in order to be a faithful steward, and it asks the readers what Bible promises they can claim to help them do so.
This approach is completely opposed to what the Bible teaches. We are never to claim Bible promises to accomplish things the Bible doesn’t teach or ask us to do. In fact, Thursday’s lesson teaches that we are to develop the habit of self-discipline. It gives cursory acknowledgment to the fact that the Bible calls self discipline something the Spirit of God gives us, but it misuses the text in order to insist that we are responsible for developing this discipline.
The missing element here is that the lesson does not deal with the fact that true self-discipline only occurs in born again people indwelt by the Holy Spirit. In fact, the lesson even quotes a phrase from 1 Timothy 4:7 which says, “train yourselves to be godly”, but it does not quote the whole context. Here is what the passage says:
But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since withholds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:7-8).
We do not become godly by developing pious habits. Habits are centered in the body and in the mind, and they become strong by repeated action. Habits are bodily disciplines. Godliness, on the other hand, is learning to live by the Spirit. It is developed by putting ourselves under the authority of the whole word of God, by submitting our feelings and decisions and temptations to Him before we act on them. It requires trusting Him and doing what He asks us to do instead of doing what we think we should.
Stewardship is faithful obedience
Stewardship, the biblical kind, has nothing to do with beating the body into submission in order to develop Christlike character. Moreover, it has nothing to do with developing a set of moral behaviors including regular sacrificial giving to the church.
Stewardship, biblical stewardship, is only possible in those who know Jesus, who have trusted His sacrifice to pay for their sin, and have believed in God the Son being their Substitute, Lord, and Savior.
Moreover, the Adventist organization is desperate for North Americans to practice sacrificial giving in order to support the growth of Adventism in developing countries where money is more scarce. The Adventist organization needs its members’ money, and Adventist doctrines and theology are set up to demand this kind of giving.
Ultimately, we cannot hasten the Lord’s return, and we cannot develop Christlike characters. We can only release our pride and identity and allow the Lord to cleanse us from sin by His blood and give us a new identity: born-again, adopted son or daughter of God!
Unless we are born again, we cannot see the kingdom of heaven.