Friday, October 06, 2017

Lesson 1: The Apostle Paul in Rome

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Salvation by Faith Alone: The Book of Romans
Lesson 1: The Apostle Paul in Rome

 

During the "beginning" of "the latter rain" of the 1888 era, Ellen G. White is reported to have said, "Let us have all of Romans and all of Galatians." [1] The "most precious message" is "the third angel's message in verity." [2] In other words, it is an understanding of justification by faith, which is parallel to and consistent with the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. Of all the books of the Bible, Romans most clearly explains justification by faith. Ellen White understood that the companion books which give the greatest light on Revelation 14:6-12, the third angel's message, are Romans and Galatians.

The cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary is practical truth. In other words, it involves the purification of the hearts of God's people, so that they experience the atonement with God. They have seen the heart-warming truth of the love of God revealed in Jesus' cross. They realize that if Christ had not died for all, then all would be dead. They can no longer live for themselves, but the agape motivation becomes living for Jesus and His Father. They would not willingly choose to bring disrepute upon the Heavenly family into which they have been adopted. This is the real meaning of justification by faith.

Most can identify with the Apostle Peter's characterization of his brother Paul's writings, that there are "some things hard to be understood" (2 Peter 3:16). With that discouraging word can we understand the Book of Romans much less the Book of Revelation? Actually it's only the honest-hearted believer of God's promises who can understand Romans. It's the "unlearned and unstable" who misconstrue Paul's writings to their own perdition.

It was to such folks that the Apostle Paul wrote his letter in the church at Rome. They were "not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble" (1 Cor. 1:26). They were honest, candid believers. There were probably retailers, skilled craftsmen, day laborers, tradesmen, landscapers, even servants with a few upper class, and maybe a civil servant or two. It was to these kinds of people that Paul wrote. He wasn't trying to shoot over their heads. He wrote simply and directly in order for them to understand. So this is an encouragement for us to "dig in" and apply our minds to some of the nourishing food of the Scriptures.

It was Martin Luther who declared Romans "the clearest gospel of all" and he was right. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the eyewitness accounts of the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For the most part the gospels do not explain the deeper meaning of the "good news" and the cross. God revealed the deeper meaning to Paul, and Romans is the "key" to understanding the atonement. John's Revelation of Jesus Christ as the "Lamb" (25 times)--the Crucified One--is the gospel for the closing age of the Christian era. However, the Revelation cannot be understood without the Book of Romans.

Luther's heart was strangely warmed as he read Romans and saw the truth that "the just shall live by faith." His Catholic training had directed him to receive grace through the sacraments, which would motivate him to do good works that would make the "connect" with God. His agony of conscience was how to know when he had done enough good works. To Luther the joy of discovering that God justifies the ungodly by faith alone was a great release from self-centered bondage in sin.

Luther was on the right track in restoring God's love to the Christian church. However, his successors over-analyzed justification by faith to the point where it became a stale, mysterious book transaction, light-years away from the human heart; whereby, when one had enough faith, God made the necessary adjustments in the books of heaven based on Calvary, and the sinner was justified and forgiven his sins. Thus God experienced the atonement with sin. The atonement was for sins because the sinner believed in the cross.

Such professorial teaching was nothing more than against the law of God's cosmic love. God is not interested in harmony with sin. Christ did not die in order to justify ongoing sin in perpetuity. That is the pagan view of the atonement, which has been absorbed into the Christian church. The idea that the sinner can have "faith" to the degree that God sees evidence in one's prayers, Bible study, witnessing, etc. (all of these things are good when properly motivated by agape), and thus forgives the sinner, is a concept of the atonement that comes straight out of heathenism.

Paul wrote to the Romans, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 1:7). The only way that Paul could write that sinners could call "God our Father," is because God's gift of the atonement in Christ Jesus reconciled the human race unto Himself. The whole human race of sinners has been legally adopted into the Heavenly family. Now it's for us to recognize this fact and receive the divine revelation of the atonement. [3]

We have been "called to be saints". A saint is one set apart from the world of self-centeredness. Legally, Christ has justified "all" (Rom. 5:18, 19) so that God can "call" everyone to such a blessed, exalted state.

Who among us is not tired of sin? Who is not weary of the continual degradation of sin's bondage? Do you want to know what hell on earth is? "Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame" (Rev. 16:15). Hell on earth is the embarrassment of having one's sins publicly exposed. Jesus never intends for anyone to face such agony.

Paul saw that Christ came "in the likeness of sinful flesh" with a "self" that needed denial. Such temptations that He felt from within are such that we all feel. To sense the pull of sin is not sin itself (James 1:14, 15). Yet, He "condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3, 4).

The righteousness of the law fulfilled in us is the atonement. It is the practical meaning of the cleansing of the sanctuary. It is true justification by faith. It is Christ's gift to us as our High Priest in the holiest of all. Thus Romans is an invitation into the Most Holy Place with Christ.

--Paul E. Penno

Endnotes:
[1] Letter E. J. Waggoner to O. A. Olsen [n.d.]; original in General Conference Archives.
[2] Ellen G. White, The Review and Herald, April 1, 1890.
[3] "The atonement of Christ was not made in order to induce God to love those whom He otherwise hated; it was not made to produce a love that was not in existence; but it was made as a manifestation of the love that was already in God's heart, ... We are not to entertain the idea that God loves us because Christ has died for us, ... The death of Christ was expedient in order that mercy might reach us with its full pardoning power, and at the same time that justice might be satisfied in the righteous substitute." (Ellen G. White, "Christ Our Complete Salvation," Signs of the Times; May 30, 1895.)

Notes:
Pastor Paul Penno's video of this lesson is on the Internet at: https://youtu.be/C8ja7yBDa1o

 

"Sabbath School Today" is on the Internet at: http://1888message.org/sst.htm

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God's will

God's will

Paul had intentioned to visit Rome on his way to Spain where he hoped to preach the Gospel and establish a church there.  We read about this Romans 15:20-27 (King James Version)

20 Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation:
21 But as it is written, To whom he was not spoken of, they shall see: and they that have not heard shall understand.
22 For which cause also I have been much hindered from coming to you.
23 But now having no more place in these parts, and having a great desire these many years to come unto you;
24 Whensoever I take my journey into Spain, I will come to you: for I trust to see you in my journey, and to be brought on my way thitherward by you, if first I be somewhat filled with your
company.
25 But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints.
26 For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.
27 It hath pleased them verily; and their debtors they are. For if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things.

Paul made plans, but in the end, the Lord changed them.  Man proposes, but God disposes.  As we read in Acts 28:16 God led Paul to Rome in a different fashion.  Let us read,

 "But when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard; but Paul was permitted to dwell by himself with the soldier who guarded him" (Acts 28:16, NKJV).

 What does this text tell us about how Paul finally got to Rome? What lesson can we draw from this for ourselves about the unexpected and unwanted things that so often come our way?  Life can take some bizarre turns and usually God is behind it. How often our plans, even the ones formulated in the best of intentions, don't come out as we anticipated and hoped. The apostle Paul did, indeed, get to Rome, but it wasn't as he had expected. 

When Paul reached Jerusalem at the end of his third missionary journey with his offering for the poor, which he collected from the congregations of Europe and Asia Minor, unexpected events awaited him. He was arrested and fettered. After being held a prisoner for two years at Caesarea, he appealed to Caesar. Some three years after his arrest, he arrived in Rome, and (we can assume) not in the manner that he intended to when he first wrote to the Roman church years before about his intention to visit them.

We know that Paul "strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man's foundation" (Romans 15:20).    But, God saw fit that Paul did build a foundation in Rome.  As mentioned above, Paul did reach Rome but not in the way he thought.  The Romans paid for Paul's trip. 

Paul's work also took a different turn.  Paul humbly accepted his fate.  He called himself a prisoner of Christ (Ephesians 3:1).  Following are two Ellen White quotes that show how Paul's work was more effective now than before. 

 "While apparently cut off from active labor, Paul exerted a wider and more lasting influence than if he had been free to travel among the churches as in former years. As a prisoner of the Lord, he had a firmer hold upon the affections of his brethren; and his words, written by one under bonds for the sake of Christ, commanded greater attention and respect than they did when he was personally with them."—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 454.

"Not by Paul's sermon[s], but by his bonds, was the attention of the court attracted to Christianity. It was as a captive that he broke from so many souls the bonds that held them in the slavery of sin. Nor was this all. He declared: 'Many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.' Philippians 1:14."—Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, p. 464.

Seemingly, Paul made it to Rome in God's timing and way.  As we read from Ellen White's quotes, God's way was more effective than in the way Paul first planned it.  Are we as willing as Paul to do God's will in His timing and way?
 RR
Raul Diaz

Friday, September 29, 2017

When Adding leads to Replacing

When Adding leads to Replacing

For a special trip, a man was given a piece of luggage full of everything he would need for the journey.  The luggage had no extra space for anything else.  The truth is he needed nothing else that was not already in the luggage. He would not have any lack or leftovers.  But, the man decided he wanted to take additional things.  These were other things he wanted.  Being that he had no space for them, he decided to go through the luggage, see what he could leave behind, to put in what he wanted.  So, addition now became a replacement. 

 Needless to say, though the trip the man regretted taking things out and replacing them.  What he left behind was valuable, and he realized he did not have enough.  What he replaced them with would not work for replacement.  These were inappropriate. 

 For our journey of faith, Christ has given us a complete package full of what we need.  But, some decide they want to add things.  They may not think the original package is enough or is fully appropriate.  But, soon they realize that the only way they can add things is by leaving things out from the original package.  So, what they have left from the original package plus all of the additions, was either not enough or inappropriate.  The journey is not completed, seemingly because of lack or wrong supplies.  But the truth is they did not trust Jesus, who gave them the original package.  

 When we believe that salvation is faith plus works, we have to leave elements of grace and faith out; this means God's grace and faith become incomplete and ineffective.  And, the works with which we replaced parts of grace and faith is not enough and or inappropriate to do the work.  This combination leaves us unprepared; with it, we cannot endure nor overcome.  This kind of Gospel is not "complete" good news; it becomes partial good news, which means it is not good news.  The implication is that salvation – Christ's work - is not completed.  This message leaves us no better off than what we started.  We are still completely lost.

This is what happened when the Judaizers and Galatians added circumcision as a means of salvation.  It left them no better off than the pagans (Galatians 4: 8 – 9).  In fact, many traits that the pagans have had started to show (Galatians 5:15).  Paul asserts that salvation in Christ is complete; that it is by grace a gift to man and man receives it by faith.  There is nothing to add or change.  An idea that Paul echoes when he says that in Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything (Galatians 6:15).  In other words, circumcision nor uncircumcision are worth anything; they are meaningless.  It does not produce anything nor is it a proof of anything.  It is nothing for which to boast.  In contrast, Paul says,

Galatians 6:14 But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
Galatians 6:15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.

Why does Paul say that we should boast on the Cross (Galatians 6:14)?  Because through the cross Paul is dead to the world and the world is dead to him; the Cross is what seals our salvation.  In the Cross, there is a power that transforms us into new men and woman.  It is the Cross that achieves a new creation (Galatians 6:15).  So, it is the Cross that should be praised. 

 Ellen White says of the cross. 

"The cross of Calvary challenges, and will finally vanquish every earthly and hellish power. In the cross all influence centers, and from it all influence goes forth. It is the great center of attraction; for on it Christ gave up His life for the human race. This sacrifice was offered for the purpose of restoring man to his original perfection. Yea, more, it was offered to give him an entire transformation of character, making him more than a conqueror.
"Those who in the strength of Christ overcome the great enemy of God and man, will occupy a position in the heavenly courts above angels who have never fallen.
Christ declares, 'I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.' If the cross does not find an influence in its favor, it creates an influence. Through generation succeeding generation, the truth for this time is revealed as present truth. Christ on the cross was the medium whereby mercy and truth met together, and righteousness and peace kissed each other. This is the means that is to move the world (MS 56, 1899)."—Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1113.

Going back to our analogy, this implies that what faith plus works leave out of the package is the Cross. This means that the only thing in the package that God gives us for our journey of faith is the Cross; trying to fit anything else in the package requires taking out the cross.  But, the Cross is all we need.  Anything else will not be enough or inappropriate.
 RR
Raul Diaz

Friday, September 22, 2017

Commentary: Sowing and Reaping

Commentary: Sowing and Reaping

What is sowing?  It is to plant seeds for growing, especially by scattering.  What is reaping?  It is to cut or clear with a scythe, sickle, or machine; to gather by or as if by cutting the harvest.  Another definition is a reward.  What is a harvest?  As a noun, it can be the mature crop or fruit of what was sown.  It can also be the act of gathering the crop.  It is also the season in which the crop is ready to be gathered. Also, it is the product or reward of effort.  As a verb, it is to gather in a crop, a synonym of reaping.  How do the concepts relate?  One is the cause and the other the effect.  The harvest is the product of what is sown.  So you reap or harvest what you have previously sowed.  If you plant wheat, you will harvest or reap wheat.  If you sow orange seeds, you will reap oranges.  Less we take it for granted: you cannot sow cherries and expect mangoes. 

Another thing is that there is a process for the seed to grow into what will be harvested; This implies that it needs time.  There is a season to sow and a season to reap.  Sow outside of that season, and your crop will be affected.  There are other considerations: type of soil, climate, moon phase, etc.  All of these will affect the harvest you get from what you sow. 

 The following illustration (found in our lesson study) reveals the relationship between sowing and reaping. Some potato farmers decided to save the biggest potatoes for themselves and to plant the smaller potatoes as seed. After a few disappointing harvests, they discovered that nature had reduced their potato crops to the size of marbles. Through this disaster, those farmers learned an important law of life.  They could not have the best things of life for themselves and use the leftovers for seed. The law of life decreed that the harvest would reflect the planting (sowing). Small potatoes will yield small (or even smaller) potatoes.  They reaped what they sowed.

There is an application to our life.  "In another sense, planting small potatoes is still common practice. We take the big things of life for ourselves and plant the leftovers. We expect that by some crazy twist of spiritual laws, our selfishness will be rewarded with unselfishness."—International Student Fellowship Newsletter, March 2007.

So let's consider this: whenever believers' lives are dominated by secular media—television, radio, Internet, and so on—how can they expect signifi­cant spiritual progress?  What if on the other hand, the believer spent time praying and studying the word of God?  There are higher chances of spiritual growth.

 Paul seems to understand this, and probably it is why he applies this principle in Galatians 6:1–10.  Spiritual attainments are proportionate with spiritual investments. Those who desire greater spiritual strength must engage in spiritual "exercise" and avoid spiritual "fast food." Little investment equals little advancement. Spiritual profitability arises from investing time in spiritual things. Now Paul's metaphor about sowing and reaping is not unique. It is a fact of life that appears in many ancient proverbial sayings. What is significant, however, is how Paul uses it to highlight his previous comments about the flesh and the Spirit.  Let us read Galatians 6:  7 - 9

 Galatians 6: 6-9 (NKJV)
7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.
8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.
9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.

 A modern colloquialism based on this concept is, "no pain, no gain."  Another similar one is, "nothing ventured, nothing gained."  James D. G. Dunn notes, "A modern equivalent is that we are free to choose, but we are not free to choose the consequences of our choice."—Galatians, p. 330.  

Ellen White comments on this,

 "The Spirit of God keeps evil under the control of con­science. When man exalts himself above the influence of the Spirit, he reaps a harvest of iniquity. Over such a man the Spirit has less and less influence to restrain him from sowing seeds of disobedience. Warnings have less and less power over him. He gradually loses his fear of God. He sows to the flesh; he will reap corruption. The harvest of the seed that he himself has sown, is ripening. He has a contempt for God's holy commandments. His heart of flesh becomes a heart of stone. Resistance to truth confirms him in iniquity. It is because men sowed seeds of evil, that lawlessness, crime, and violence prevailed in the antediluvian world.

"All should be intelligent in regard to the agency by which the soul is destroyed. It is not because of any decree that God has sent out against man. He does not make man spiritually blind. God gives sufficient light and evidence to enable man to distinguish truth from error. But He does not force man to receive truth. He leaves him free to choose the good or to choose the evil. If man resists evidence that is sufficient to guide his judgment in the right direction, and chooses evil once, he will do this more readily the second time. The third time he will still more eagerly withdraw himself from God and choose to stand on the side of Satan. And in this course he will continue until he is confirmed in evil, and believes the lie he has cherished as truth. His resistance has produced its harvest (MS 126, 1901)."—Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1112.

 So, as Paul says in Romans 1: 18 – 32 that God has to let those who refuse His grace go.  Not as punishment, but because they chose to leave.  So, in making their choice, they also choose the consequence.  It is not God who punishes them; they are suffering the unfortunate consequences of their own decisions.  Our eternal destiny will reveal the choice we made.  It will reveal what we sowed.  In the end, no one will be deceived.  

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Raul Diaz
Raul Diaz