Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Fork in the Road

The Fork in the Road

Driving Eastbound on I-94 in Chicago (it is southbound in Chicago) the road splits.  It is what some call a fork in the road.   I-94 continues to the left (eastbound), and I-57 continues to the South.  There are signs warning of the split a mile or two before by also suggesting possible destinations to which each route will take you.  Depending on where you are going you will go right or left.  There is no reason anyone should go in the wrong direction.  But, some manage just that.  Taking one route means not taking the other; which means that if you take the wrong path, you will gradually go farther off your intended destination.  The farther you go on the wrong road, it will probably be longer and harder to get back on track. 

At Sinai, the Israelites came to a spiritual fork in the road (Exodus 19 and 20).  They had had to choose which spiritual road to take.  Their issue was not that they did not want to go where God intended to take them.  They thought they could get there by going on the road of their choosing and not God's intended way.  They sincerely thought their chosen road could take them there.  So, they deviated from God's way and took the other.

Abraham had a similar experience of a spiritual fork in the road.  Like the Israelites later, it was not that Abraham did not want what God promised him.  Abraham thought he could get there following a path of his choosing.  Abraham believed that he could fulfill God's promise to him, by performing methods not suggested nor approved by God.  Thus, Abraham conceived a child with Hagar (Genesis 16: 4).  Once Abraham went down that road, it would take years of hardship to get back on track.  God's idea and intention were that Abraham conceived with Sarah (Genesis 17: 16, 19). 

According to Paul, this event was symbolic of the Old Covenant.  When Abraham finally had a child with Sarah, it was the new covenant.  Let us read Galatians 4:22-26,

Galatians 4: 22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.
Galatians 4: 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
Galatians 4: 24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.
Galatians 4: 25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.
Galatians 4: 26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.

In this verse, Paul ties Hagar with Sinai.  In other words, the Old Covenant that Abraham followed by conceiving with Hagar is what the Israelites followed in Sinai. A covenant the Jews continued to follow even on to the day of Paul.  While, Abraham eventually, after years of hardship found God's road again, the majority of Israelites and Jews never found God's way again. 

What road have we taken: The Old Covenant or the New Covenant?  It is important to know that a misunderstanding of the Covenants can lead you to the wrong road.  Many Christians have what is called a dispensational view of the Covenants.  To them, the Old Covenant is a path that failed to take them to their destination, so then they tried another road, which is the new Covenant.  The Covenants to them is a matter of time, not a heart relationship with God.  To them, from Sinai to Jesus, people were saved by keeping the Law and the ceremonies of the Sanctuary.  According to this view, this method failed, so God then instituted the new plan that is saved by grace.  Paul has argued successfully in Galatians that this is not true.  Paul's example of Abraham being under both covenants at different times in his life shows us that dispensation is wrong; especially, when we know what Abraham was going through at each of these stages.  Abraham's unbelief led to the Old Covenant.  When Abraham believed, He was under the new covenant. 

Paul's argument also stands against Mainline Adventism view in the Covenants.  Adventists are not quite dispensational.  They believe that it is only one Covenant.  To them, the Covenant is one road, which at different points has different scenery and even a different name, but it is the same path, nonetheless.  From Sinai to Jesus the covenant was to be understood and practiced by following types, forms, and symbols of the ceremonial law; this is the old covenant.  Since the ceremonial law pointed to Jesus when Jesus came, type met antitype, and thus Christ fulfills the ceremonial law.  After Christ's death, the Old Covenant fulfilled its purpose of revealing the new Covenant, so, it is no longer relevant.  But, how can the Old Covenant be the Sanctuary and its services, if according to Paul 430 years before the sanctuary service began, Abraham was under the Old Covenant?  

 Now, although the Adventist view is different from the dispensational, it is similar in that they both believe the Old Covenant is passed.  We need to reiterate; they are two different covenants.  And, each covenant is a different method of salvation.  Each covenant is a different attitude toward God and the Gospel.  As the author of the Lesson tells us, "The two covenants are not matters of time; instead, they are reflective of human attitudes."  One of my favorite authors states, "These two covenants exist today. The two covenants are not matters of time, but of condition. Let no one flatter himself that he cannot be bound under the old covenant, thinking that its time has passed."

The basis for The Covenants is how our heart relates to God.  The New Covenant is for God to fulfill His promises to us; we are just to receive them humbly and gratefully.  In the New Covenant God dwells in our hearts and there writes His law (Jeremiah 31:33).  In the New Covenant, we abide in Christ and Christ in us (John 5).  In the New Covenant, He becomes our God and us His people (Ezekiel 37: 23, 27).  In the New Covenant, we become His royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9).  In the New Covenant God bestows on us His inheritance:  eternal life in the new earth.   "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" (1 John 3:1)!

Friday, April 07, 2017

Eros versus Agape

Eros versus Agape

Thousands of years ago, in the land we now call Greece lived a man named Admetus.  Admetus was a young man, who was a relatively good citizen, a good person.  But he was accused falsely, as the story goes, and sentenced to death.  His friends knew that Admetus was innocent, so they asked each other if anyone would die for Admetus after much deliberation they concluded that as much as they loved their friend they would not die for him.  But, the thought of Admetus dying still haunted them, so they said, "let us go to Admetus' parents; undoubtedly they would die for him."  When the friends asked Admetus parents they were disappointed to find out that although Admetus parents loved him very much, they were unwilling to die for him.  The friends went to Alcestis.  Alcestis was Admetus' girlfriend.  She knew Admetus; she knew that he was a good man.  She knew that he was innocent.  She knew that he did not deserve to die.  But she also knew, according to the law of the country, that she could not reverse the verdict.  So, the friends appealed to her, and she accepted.  So, she went to the Judge, and she said, "Look, I can't convince you, because you have already made the judgment, that Admetus is a good man, he does not deserve to die.  I would like to offer myself in his place." 

When the Greeks heard the story and concluded that the kind of love that Alcestis had was the best kind of love.  Now, there are four words for love in Greek: eros, storge, phileos, and agape.  The story tests three.  The friend's love is phileo -, that one failed.  The parents love is storge – which also failed.  But, in this story Alcestis love – eros - won.  The friends did not test Agape.  However, agape was the Greek word chosen for God's kind of love – unconditional, self-denying, self-emptying love.   

Simply put, Eros is Love between opposite sexes or sexual love.  Alcestis died for a man that loved her.  The Greek philosopher Plato gave this word a dual meaning: Vulgar Eros, meaning sexual love; and Heavenly Eros, meaning love towards a god.  According to Plato, this was the highest form of love:  man seeking after God. 

Now, the Word eros does not appear in the New Testament.   Other words for love appear, including agape.  The word agape especially appears in 1 Corinthians 13.  As humans, we tend to reflect ourselves in others.  We attribute or own understanding to others.  We tend to make God in our image.  We believe that He loves as we do.  But, the Bible denies that.  In our sinful view, God would only die for those that love Him.  However, we did not love God when He died for us.  Paul says in Romans 5: 6 - 10,

Romans 5: 6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
Romans 5:  7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
Romans 5: 8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5: 9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
Romans 5: 10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

 We were ungodly when God died for us.  We were yet sinners when He commended his love for us and died for us.  We were enemies when He reconciled us in His Son.  So why would God do this?  Paul tells Titus that it was because of God's mercy for us (Titus 3:5).  Paul told the Ephesians that it was "because of his great love for us" (Ephesians 2:4);  not, because we deserve it.  Not because we have pursued God and begged Him to do it.  No, according to Jesus, God so loved the world that He sent His son to die for us.  We did not ask for it.  To reiterate, as Paul says in Romans 5 God's Son died for us while we hated Him. 

 No wonder Paul told the Corinthians, "I determined not to know anything among you, except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2).  The Cross is the greatest revelation of agape.   And Agape is the summation or fulfilling of the Law (Romans 13:10).  That would make the Cross the greatest revelation of the Law.  This means that those who are truly obedient will die ( and live) for their brethren (or enemies) as Christ died (and lived) for us (1 John 3:16).  Agape produces the most miraculous change in human heart.  It is no longer about me, but about others even if they hate us or do not know who we are. 

 What we are talking about is Justification by faith, which brings the gift of heavenly agape-love "shed abroad in the heart" by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). That means deliverance from all kinds of fear because "perfect agape casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). Fear ceases to be a motive in following Christ, for "the agape of Christ constrains us" to live not for self, but "for Him who died for us" (2 Cor. 5:14, 15).  And, our concern for others reveals our concert for Christ (Micah 6:8; Matthew 25: 31 – 46).  "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen" (John 4:20)? 
-- 
Raul Diaz

Friday, March 31, 2017

Did Peter know he was wrong?

Did Peter know he was wrong? 

One Sabbath School class was discussing the life of Peter.  The class gave Emphasis to Peter's life before conversion and after conversion.  Before conversion, although Peter was boisterous and short tempered, he denied the Lord; After conversion, Peter was the opposite.  After this, they briefly discussed Paul confronting Peter about his prejudice behavior as recorded in Galatians 1.   The teacher then asked the class, "With which Peter do you identify: the one before conversion or the one after conversion?"  There was murmuring in the class.  Tony, who was sitting in the back raised his hand and said, "I identify with Peter."  The teacher and some of the students turned around and asked him to clarify, "which Peter, the one before conversion or the one after?"  The student referring to the event of Paul confronting Peter, answered, "I identify with Peter in that even though I know, as he knew, that the crowd is wrong, I see myself following them."  The class hushed for a few seconds, and then there was murmuring again.  Tony looked around and saw people nodding.  The teacher sighed but did not speak.  A sister in front of Tony smiled and nodded at him.  Another sister, walking down the aisle, smiled and touched his arm.  It seemed that many agreed with him.  They saw themselves drifting the wrong way knowingly.  Now, just because many people do this does not make it right? 

Paul found that this was wrong, which is why he confronted Peter.  Did Peter know He was wrong?  Peter was present at the Jerusalem Council when the Apostles declared that circumcision was not necessary to salvation and (Acts 15:1-24).  He had encountered this situation before when God had clearly revealed to him that he was not to consider any one class of people as "common or unclean" (Acts 10:28).  He had even declared that he understood "that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation, he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him" (Acts 10:34, 35).   The Holy Spirit bore a Clear testimony by the other apostles, and the corporate church body that there was no distinction between Jew and Gentile and that righteousness is by faith alone in Christ Jesus.  In light of all this, Peter and others withdrew themselves from the uncircumcised Gentile believers.  This discrimination was in effect saying, "Except ye be circumcised... ye cannot be saved" (Acts 15:1).  This action on the part of Peter and the others was not only a denial of the gospel, but it was a virtual denial of Christ.  Based on the statements stated above we can conclude that Peter knew better.  But, he allowed himself to be carried away by the influence of the other Jews, "fearing them which were of the circumcision" (Galatians 2:12). Peter's attitude grieved God.  Ellen White says, 

"Even the best of men, if left to themselves, will make grave blunders. The more responsibilities placed upon the human agent, the higher his position to dictate and control, the more mischief he is sure to do in perverting minds and hearts if he does not carefully follow the way of the Lord. At Antioch Peter failed in the principles of integrity. Paul had to withstand his subverting influence face to face; This is recorded that others may profit by it, and that the lesson may be a solemn warning to the men in high places, that they may not fail in integrity, but keep close to principle."—Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1108.

 We too can fail in integrity and violate the principles laid out by the Gospel.  Even so, Peter should still be an example to us in that he was humble.  The fact that Peter died a martyr for Christ tells us that Peter repented.   In that sense, we should be like Peter after conversion. 
-- 
Raul Diaz
 RR
Raul Diaz

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Work of the Holy Spirit

INSIGHT #12 MARCH 25, 2017

First Quarter 2017 Adult Sabbath School Lesson
"The Work of the Holy Spirit "
March 25, 2017

The following story was written by Lois E. Johannes and was used as
an illustration to explain holiness. To introduce the story the author
quoted, Psalms 51:10, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew
the right spirit within me." The story is as follows:

"Addi wasn't really her name, but it served to identify our wrinkled,
little Aborigine patient. Entering the hospital, Addi straightened her
slight shoulders and without so much as a glance toward the
registration desk, passed all the patients waiting their turn to see
the doctor, then stationed herself just outside his office door. It
was evident she understood that no one enters a doctor's office while
he is seeing a patient. When the door opened, she darted in, seated
herself by the doctor's desk, and began a vivid description of her
infirmities.

An examination suggested that she did have reason to complain but that
the difficulty was not life-threatening. The doctor could correct it
by a relatively simple surgery without charge to her. She was to go
with her nurse to the supervisor to schedule the surgery.

Addi and the nurse left the doctor's office. Moments later the nurse
returned with the information that Addi had gone home, refusing to set
up a time for surgery. Before the week ended, Addi, following the same
pattern, again sought the doctor's attention and received the same
response. After repeating this procedure two or three times a week for
a month, the doctor advised her that he was unable to do much more for
her until she was willing to schedule her surgery.

Bristling, Addi left the office in a little flash of fury, only to
return shortly, plop her arm on the doctor's desk, and demand, "Well,
then, you can take my blood pressure!" "Her blood pressure duly
checked, she left the hospital seemingly happy.

We all smiled at little Addi's naivete! But as I considered the
episode, I realized that possibly I was somewhat like Addi. How many
times have I prayed, "Lord, take away my unpleasant disposition,
especially my hasty and unreasonable temper. Please take it away,
Lord."

God responds, "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will
I put within you" (Eze. 36:26).

"A new heart?" I ask. "Nothing's wrong with my heart, Lord. Why, a
new heart might completely change my personality, and one thing is
certain, I do want to be me! No, Lord, no new heart. Just take away
this disagreeable temper."

"But God indicates He really wants to give me a new heart and a new
spirit to enable me to walk in His paths with Him. Then, He says, "I
shall be one of His distinctive people, and He truly will be my
eternal God" (Eze. 11:19, 20). So, I can become a completely whole,
yielded, victorious Christian. Yet, I've been insisting on a blood
pressure check when I could have had restorative surgery!"

If we are honest, spiritually we are like Addi. We say we want change,
but all we really want is a superficial change. When the Lord says,
"be ye holy," we say ok, and begin to focus on outward behavior. But
alas there's no change of heart -- no transformation of mind, to the
mind of Christ. The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, says
Jeremiah. Therefore only the Lord can perform such an operation. How
does He do it? To answer this, let us first look at God's character.

According to Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2 and Hebrews 12:9, 10, "'God is
holy'." The Scripture further states that the Law is Holy; this should
not surprise us since the Law is merely a transcript of God's
character. Unfortunately many of us look at the law as a list of do's
and don'ts. So we think being holy is comprised of engaging in the
do's and avoiding the prohibited don'ts. Yet in the Gospels, Jesus
asked a young man, how do you define the law, to which the man
responded, all the law is predicated on love – love supremely to God,
and then to man as we love ourselves. The apostle John went on to say
in I John 4:8 that God is love; meaning that His nature or essence is
Agape, and that if we do not love, it's because we do not know God.
Paul describes this self-denying love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 --

"Agape suffers long, and is kind; Agape envies not; Agape vaunts not
itself, is not puffed up, does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not
her own way, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; Rejoices not in
iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; Bears all things, believes all
things, hopes all things, endures all things. Agape never fails."

If holiness is the essence of who God is, and God is love, then it
stands to reason that I Corinthians 13 also describes holiness.
Lastly, since love is the fulfilling of the law, and the law is holy,
it then follows that love is the outward expression of inward
holiness.

How can we love as God loves? According to Romans 5:5, the Holy Spirit
pours the love of God into our hearts. In the Old Testament, the Lord
expressed this to His people by telling Jeremiah, "I will put My law
in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts" (Jeremiah 31:33).
And through Ezekiel, He said that He will put His Spirit upon His
people, and give them a new heart. The old natural heart cannot
produce holiness no matter how much effort is put forth. Only the
reception of the holy "living" law inscribed in our hearts can make us
holy.

For this reason, let us not hinder the Holy Spirit's work by resisting
what He has already promised to do. With great heart-felt
appreciation, let's thank and praise the Lord for all He has done, is
doing, and will do. Let us yield to 'this' work, trusting that He will
do a thorough job transplanting a new heart in us. This procedure is
of the greatest importance being both a somber yet delicate
undertaking; therefore, let us rest in the hands of the Great
Physician.

~Raul Diaz


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Raul Diaz
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