Friday, April 13, 2018

Unshakable Faith

Unshakable Faith

In a time of civil upheaval, a group of Christian refugees were praying in a church. Storming the church property, a group of soldiers discovered the people praying. Not wanting to alert the people to their presence right away, they quietly searched the church for anything of value. Unfortunately, they found nothing but a picture of Jesus on the wall. Angered, the commanding officer decided to take it out on the praying Christians. Ordering all those present to come forward, the commander insisted they approach the picture, spit on it, and renounce Jesus by stating, "You are worthless, and I don't need you!" If they failed to do this, the commander threatened to shoot them on the spot. The elders of the Church were the first to come forward. Boldly they stood up, approached the picture, spat on it, and repeated the cruel words. Others, one by one, followed the example of the elders. After a few moments, and several persons later, a young girl stood up. Walking to the picture with her scarf in her hand, the young girl wiped away the saliva, softly uttering the words, "Jesus, I need You for I am worthless." All were silent, wondering what would happen next. The girl, apparently unafraid, stepped before the Commander and said, "You can shoot me now." Falling to his knees, the now contrite commander began to cry inconsolably; his heart broken, he gave it to Jesus. This true story of courageous faith occurred in Rwanda during the bloody massacre of its people. We all need to ask ourselves this question, "in the moment of truth, will we have 'the faith of Jesus' " as this little girl did? 

Although frightening, we often wonder, "how can I develop this type of unshakable faith--and do I want to?" To these questions, let's add the question, "is wanting it enough?" Let's begin by looking in the book of Daniel, to see if there is an answer. Scripturally, the story in Daniel chapter 2 follows consecutively the one in chapter 3, as would be expected. Thus, both stories seem to have occurred relatively close in time, yet they did not. Ten to twelve years intervened between the King's dream of the image and his golden construction of it. How easy it is to forget the impression made on the mind by the Holy Spirit, and the response of faith when we do not abide in Him. The time in between chapter 2 and chapter 3 provides a test for King Nebuchadnezzar-- namely, will he after accepting the interpretation of the dream as from the Lord, wait on Him for its fulfillment. All of heaven and earth were waiting to see, "will the Babylonian King surrender his will -- along with its attendant pride and ambitious plans -- to the King of Kings, or after a time of delay, will he be found building a monument to his dreams?" 

In Daniel chapter 2, King Nebuchadnezzar is confronted with the choice to exercise faith. Brought to the point of decision at the revelation of his dream.  The king honors the Lord by saying in Daniel 2:47-"Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, seeing thou couldest reveal this secret." Hearing this, we would say that the King believed Daniel and God. But His response, while a heart response, was not made by a broken, contrite heart. It was made by a heart still prideful and boastful, thus allowing Satan control of this stronghold in his life. The disciples also found themselves in this predicament when they could not cast out the demon filled child (Matt. 17:14-21) and again when they were almost capsized in the squall on the lake (Matt. 14:22-33). Vacillating between the "pride of life, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes," they were unprepared to hold on to the Word of promise -- their living savior. 

In Daniel chapter 3, the three Hebrew youth are also confronted with the choice to exercise faith. They too are brought to the point of decision when it is declared that if they do not bow down and worship the golden image, they are to be burned alive. Imagine, the peer pressure to conform. It was worse than when they refused to eat the King's food from his table. After all, the King had his pride to lose if these Hebrew youth declined to follow his orders this time, and that would make him extremely hostile and angry. All the dignitaries of every land of importance were there, ready to oblige the King's decree. There is no mention of Daniel's whereabouts, so we must assume he was absent, but everyone else was present. The statue itself was 90 feet tall and 9 feet wide--in plain view--in the plain of Dura.  All could see it.  So, how do the Hebrew youth stand up to that pressure? How would you stand? In Daniel 3:12, we note that they did not yield--bow down. The pressure to yield to doubt and disbelief increased greatly, as they were called before the king. In verse 14-15, the King gives them another chance to obey his decree, because he liked them. What is their response? Let's view Daniel 3: 15-18: 

"O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us our of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up." 

Their response is one of belief and trust in the God who delivers. According to their statement, they believed that God would do right by them whatever the outcome was. They had determined to stand steadfast without regard to whether God delivered or not, for they were representing Him and He changes not. Their will was to do the will of Him who sent them there, which was to demonstrate His character to Babylon as well as the surrounding nations. Israel and Judah's kings had been proud and boastful. They lacked the humility that comes from a contrite and broken heart, and so they led the people and their nation into captivity. 

In captivity, how did the Hebrew youth get to this place of faith? The answer is in Daniel chapter one. Remember, they refused to eat the King's food.  Because they knew that it was God who fed them (with manna in the wilderness then, and in captivity now) to make them know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live (Deut. 8:3). Although captives, their hearts were contrite and broken over the wickedness that led to their national ruin and captivity. Yielding their will to God in the little things, they were counted faithful, and God blessed them further. By remembering God's goodness and mercy, they continued to be faithful. Through prayer and fasting, they were prompted to join with Daniel as he implored the Lord to reveal the dream and with its interpretation (in chapter two). Thus Christ developed these youth from faith to faith, and from grace to grace. By the constant yielding of their will to Christ, they were dying daily and thus were prepared to state that fact under enormous pressure. 

The three Jewish youth were like Job who said, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in Him:" (Job 13:15). There was in these three – and in Job – a complete dependence on Christ. Such a life of yielding, Christ lived, remaining faithful to the end by depending on His Father entirely. This constant dependence on God for everything enables us to overcome, as He overcame. It is through dependence on God that we receive the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through us, allowing us to be willing to hear and to do all of His good will. This is what gives us unshakable faith. 

The King of Babylon did not yield his heart. He yielded his emotions, and intellectually assented to the truth. Thus he had no root in himself, and as the great tree, could not stand. Had his feelings and thoughts been constantly bound up with the truth, had he like the King of Nineveh, who repented by faith through grace, his pride would not later have driven him mad. Lessons of those who with contrite and broken heart demonstrated the faith of Jesus are among the pages of inspiration, and we would do well to hear them. Listen well, for our willingness to attentively hear and to do is at the foundation of heart obedience without which it will be impossible to endure. 

According to Sister White: 

"Important are the lessons to be learned from the experience of the Hebrew youth on the plain of Dura. In this our day, many of God's servants, though innocent of wrongdoing, will be given over to suffer humiliation and abuse at the hands of those who, inspired by Satan, are filled with envy and religious bigotry. Especially will the wrath of man be aroused against those who hallow the Sabbath of the fourth commandment; and at last a universal decree will denounce these as deserving of death. 

As in the days of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, so in the closing period of earth's history, the Lord will work mightily on behalf of those who stand steadfastly for the right. He who walked with the Hebrew worthies in the fiery furnace will be with His followers wherever they are. His abiding presence will comfort and sustain." (Ellen White Notes, page 25.) 

As unpleasant as it may seem, let Christ break our hearts upon Himself, let Him wash us and make us contrite. It will be natural to yield to Him then, and we will have that unshakable faith we so desperately need. 

Friday, April 06, 2018

The World Has Heard

The World Has Heard

We read in Acts 4: 12,

12 Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

A previous lesson stated: 

"The words of the Scripture here are very clear: salvation is found only in Jesus Christ and in no other name under heaven. It's important, however, not to read into these words more than they specifically say."

Imagine a man in a building that is on fire; before being able to escape, the smoke overcomes him and collapses unconscious. A firefighter finds him on the floor, grabs him, and brings him outside, where the medics take over.  The medics rush the man to the hospital, and a few hours later he regained consciousness.

The point is that this person, who was saved, had no idea who had saved him. In the same way, anyone who is saved—either before Jesus came in the flesh or after—will be saved only through Jesus, whether or not that person had heard of His name or the plan of salvation.

Many will be saved that did not know the Gospel.  But, somehow knew the law and kept it.  Paul speaks of them in Romans 2: 14 – 15,

14 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 
15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)

Ellen White says of these,

Among the heathen are those who worship God ignorantly, those to whom the light is never brought by human instrumentality, yet they will not perish. Though ignorant of the written law of God, they have heard His voice speaking to them in nature, and have done the things that the law required. Their works are evidence that the Holy Spirit has touched their hearts, and they are recognized as the children of God.—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 638.

Paul here declared that there are some outside of Christianity who will receive eternal life as a result of an obedience-unto-life principle (cf. Lev. 18:5). For those Gentiles who show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts because their consciences also bearing witness (Rom. 2:15 NIV), it will make a difference on Judgment Day because these people have responded to the work of the Spirit in their hearts.

This verse – Romans 2: 14 – 15 - says that it is possible to do the law, without knowing the law.  For the Bible student, this should not come as a surprise.  As we read in Galatians 3:6, "Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness."  The word used for righteousness in Greek is the same word for justice.  So, the righteous are just.  The "just" are doers of the law, and they live by faith (Romans 1: 17; 2: 13).  Now, faith comes through the hearing of the Word (Romans 10: 17).  Abraham heard God's word, Abraham believed it, therefore, was reckoned a doer of the law.  Did Abraham know the Ten Commandments?  No, he did not.  Abraham knew the Gospel, but not the Ten Commandments.  These were not given more than 400 years after.  It begs the question, what Law did Abraham keep?

Even angels did not know there was a Law until they learned it from God.  Ellen White says, 

But in heaven, service is not rendered in the spirit of legality. When Satan rebelled against the law of Jehovah, the thought that there was a law came to the angels almost as an awakening to something unthought of. In their ministry the angels are not as servants, but as sons. There is perfect unity between them and their Creator. Obedience is to them no drudgery. Love for God makes their service a joy. So in every soul wherein Christ, the hope of glory, dwells, His words are re-echoed, "I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart." Psalm 40:8. {MB 109.2}

No one will deny that the angels are doers of the Law.  But they were also doers of the Law even when they did not know there was a law.  So then why was the Law given?  Paul says in Galatians,

Gal 3:19 Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, …

Here the word added has a connotation of being spoken, declared.  The word transgression in Greek has a connotation of stepping aside from the path.  So, the Law is declared because of our stepping aside from the way of Christ.  The quote above is evident in the following Ellen White's quote,

"If man had kept the law of God, as given to Adam after his fall, preserved by Noah, and observed by Abraham, there would have been no necessity for the ordinance of circumcision. And if the descendants of Abraham had kept the covenant, of which circumcision was a sign, they would never have been seduced into idolatry, nor would it have been necessary for them to suffer a life of bondage in Egypt; they would have kept God's law in mind, and there would have been no necessity for it to be proclaimed from Sinai or engraved upon the tables of stone. And had the people practiced the principles of the Ten Commandments, there would have been no need of the additional directions given to Moses. {PP 364.2}"

The Ten Commandments were given - declared = because the people failed to cherish God's covenant.  Anytime the Ten Commandments are lifted up is a reminder that the belief in the Covenant has been abandoned.  Should we then keep the Ten Commandments or the rest of the law hidden? 

Romans 7:7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.

When I was growing up, a 15-year-old had to wait until he was 16 to take the driver's license test.  Should he hate the law because he is 15?  Or, should he wait a few more months until he turns 16?  Even those who are displeased with the law will likely wait until they fulfill the requirements.  What does the Law require?

"The law requires righteousness,—a righteous life, a perfect character; and this man has not to give. He cannot meet the claims of God's holy law. But Christ, coming to the earth as man, lived a holy life, and developed a perfect character. These He offers as a free gift to all who will receive them. His life stands for the life of men. Thus they have remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God. More than this, Christ imbues men with the attributes of God. He builds up the human character after the similitude of the divine character, a goodly fabric of spiritual strength and beauty. Thus the very righteousness of the law is fulfilled in the believer in Christ. God can 'be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.' Rom. 3:26."—The Desire of Ages (1940), p. 762

Since the righteous are doers of the Law and love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13: 10), then it follows that the righteous are loving.  Even if these righteous are Gentiles, who have never heard of Christ.