Wednesday, February 19, 2003
Insights to Lesson 8: "Covenant Law," February 15-21, 2003
As we have studied our Sabbath School Lessons this Quarter on "The Promise--God's Everlasting Covenant," the Lord has permitted some things to focus more clearly.
There is widespread discussion. Just now one large SDA church has devoted three Sabbath afternoon hours to a discussion of the Covenants. There is the possibility that we might take wrong positions and again condemn truth. That's what our dear people did some 115 years ago. They missed out on receiving the latter rain and proclaiming the loud cry message; and the second coming of Christ was delayed.
(1) All who see the gospel as the fundamental truth of "the third angel's message in verity" long for, and pray for, a healing of divisions, and harmony to unite the church.
(2) The fundamental truth of the message God has given to Seventh-day Adventists for the world is the New Covenant. Its "everlasting Good News" alone can reconcile alienated hearts to God. The New Covenant is the "Elijah message" that will "turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers" (Mal. 4:6), before judgment "smites the earth." The New Covenant is holy ground; we must tread softly. Carelessness or irreverence here is fatal. Jokes and ridicule are out of place.
(3) The message of Revelation 18 that must "lighten the earth with glory" is the New Covenant truth as verily as the message of the apostles was the New Covenant truth for their day. The 1888 understanding of the Covenants is a breath of fresh air that will sweep through the popular churches and speak to every honest heart. The Bible is clear that it will also speak to "all nations," which must include Islam.
(4) The message is not just for the church, but is perfectly suited for proclamation to the world. God entrusted its "most precious" truth to the care of His "remnant church," as He entrusted His most precious Son to the Jews, but they rejected Him. Ellen White says we did precisely the same with this "most precious" "verity" of the third angel's message--"in a great degree."
(5) There can be no mixture of Old Covenant confusion with that pure New Covenant lest "the truth of the Gospel" be compromised. Paul didn't like controversy any more than we do, but when it came to dealing with the Galatians, he said of those who wanted to worm in their Old Covenant confusion, "To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you" (Gal. 2:5).
(6) Old Covenant confusion is directly responsible for the worldwide condition of lukewarmness. It is not cultural, for it is as prevalent in Third World churches as in Europe or America. Money doesn't cause it; poverty-stricken people can get it too. It's a universal malady of the human heart, a virus that can grow and flourish only through the absence of New Covenant truth. It's like an illness that attacks only if there is a deficiency of vitamins.
(7) A believing response to the New Covenant promises (such as Abraham's faith) transforms people individually, and also churches corporately. In these last days, understanding and believing the New Covenant promises prepares a people to welcome Jesus at His second coming. If this is true, it invests the topic of the two Covenants as immensely important. Maybe that's why the Pioneer Memorial Church in Berrien Springs is devoting those three Sabbath afternoon hours to it.
(8) Understood in context, "the most precious message" which "the Lord in His great mercy sent" us in 1888 was in fact the New Covenant message that God intended should lighten the earth with glory--salvation "by grace . . . through faith, and that not of [ourselves]: it is the gift [not merely an offer!] of God: not of works." That message alone could produce living works, because any so-called "obedience" not motivated by grace-much-more-abounding always ends up as "dead works."
(9) Understood in context, the message of the Battle Creek leaders who opposed was the Old Covenant resurrected--Galatianism revived. But it was far more subtle than what Paul faced in his day (which at that time came from church leaders in Jerusalem). The confusion will shape up to become the greatest shaking of all time. This history can't be reversed. The plan of salvation is on trial and must be fully revealed and demonstrated. And the efforts of "the great dragon" to confuse us must be exposed.
Again in Sunday's lesson we are frequently reminded that what Christ accomplished for the world was an "offer." The Bible seems to indicate that Christ GAVE something to the world, and Israel were to tell the world about it. If (as it says) He "died for all humanity," that seems to be what the Bible is saying. His love and His sacrifice were both unconditional. The condition for our receiving the blessing is faith.
In Monday's lesson we read of "various requirements . . . for maintaining the special relationship He sought with His people." It is better Good News to realize that through the Holy Spirit God is seeking to "maintain" that relationship. He took the initiative in starting it, and He takes it in keeping it going--if we don't resist Him.
Thursday's lesson is so true that the Covenant from Sinai states "conditions of obedience." But we must not insert the Old into the New.
Questions have been coming in that evidence perplexity:
(1) "Isn't it true that we 'have to obey'? Isn't the Seventh-day Adventist Church the one that teaches obedience to all of the Ten Commandments? Is there some secret in this New Covenant emphasis that will weaken our denominational emphasis on keeping the commandments?"
We don't obey because "we have to." The very idea of "having to do it" suggests a fear motivation mixed in, which immediately makes it suspect of being Old Covenant in principle. If you "have" to do something, back in the shadows lurks the idea of a threat if you don't--a possible curse. We obey because our hearts have been made at-one with the heart of God; He loves His law, so do we. Abraham was "the friend of God." They were close in the father-son love experience. Do you remember how unafraid you were when you were with your father when you were a child? Did he threaten you with curses if you made a mistake? Abraham was not coerced "under law." Those today who are motivated by Abraham's faith (when he was justified) are living under the New Covenant.
(2) "Is there danger that this emphasis on the New Covenant may weaken our stand on dress and health reforms?"
Dress and health reform become Old Covenant when the motivation is egocentric. We follow health reform with the supreme motivation to yield ourselves fully to the service of Christ. We follow dress reform because in a healthy sense "we pour contempt on all our pride" when we "survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of glory died." That doesn't mean dressing in a bizarre manner to draw attention to ourselves, either as pride or as self-abasement. It's all sanctified common sense.
(3) "Deuteronomy 28:15-68 lists a host of curses that the Lord promised to send on Israel if they did not obey; aren't they just as much 'the word of the Lord' as the New Covenant promises He made to Abraham?"
Yes, because when Israel at Sinai rejected the Lord's Plan A, He was forced to implement Plan B. The Old Covenant became their "schoolmaster" or disciplinarian to drive them back to where Abraham was, to be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24). If they would not keep step with Him, God must humble Himself to keep step with them because His faithful love would not let Him abandon them. Thus began the long detour of many centuries, of their own choosing. As a nation Israel failed, although there were always some few individuals who chose to believe New Covenant truths. Paul was the first to clearly grasp the meaning of this history (3:15-25).
(4) "Paul uses the term 'the law' in Romans and Galatians to denote the instructions Moses gave Israel from Exodus 19 through Leviticus to Deuteronomy. Is not that body of instruction just as inspired as the Lord's promises He made to Abraham, which are the New Covenant?"
Yes, as "the law" of the Old Covenant. Doubtless the threat of the curses inspired much of the obedience. But there were some wonderful Old Covenant revivals in Israel and the Kingdom of Judah. But "the third angel's message in verity" today is New Covenant because it teaches the true self-less motivation of the cross.
(5) "Is not the Ten Commandment law the basis of both the Old and New Covenants, thus proving that the two Covenants are actually identical?"
In the Old Covenant, the law was written on stone. In the New Covenant, it is written on believing hearts. The underlying issue is motivation. As we near the end and the call sounds ever more powerfully, "Come out of [Babylon], My people," hearts will be moved by the revelation of Christ's High Priestly ministry in the Most Holy Apartment of the heavenly sanctuary. The appeal of the message will be Christ and Him crucified. It will be clear that there is heart-moving power in the message when self-centered motives are transcended by a purpose to honor the One who gave Himself for us. It works! Multitudes will learn in a short time what it has taken us many decades to grasp.
May the Lord hasten the day!