Friday, November 17, 2017

Even Grace Has Limits

Even Grace Has Limits 

In Numbers 21, the people of Israel murmured against God, and God sent serpents to bite them. 

Num21:5 And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.
Num21:6 And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.
Num21:7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.
Num21:8 And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.
Num21:9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.

God had given the people manna, a gift to them from heaven.  This gift they did not appreciate, but despised it.  So the Lord allowed serpents to come in the camp and bite the people.  Of course, the people were dying of the serpent bites.  Somehow they made a connection between the serpents and their Sin.  So, they asked Moses to pray to God for delivery.  Thus, God tells Moses to build a brazen serpent and put it on a pole, those who looked at the serpent on the pole would not die.  

God did not get rid of the serpents, or even stopped the serpents from biting.  God wanted the people to exercise faith.  The issue was: would they believe that in looking at the brazen serpent the poison would not be effective?   If they looked, they would live.  (There is no mention of what would happen with the bite marks.  It is possible that the bite marks would remain.) 

The brazen serpent was for all the people in the camp.  But, only those who looked when bitten would be delivered.  Did they deserve it?  No, not one person in the camp deserved to be delivered (Romans 3: 10 – 12).  God did this because He loved the people.  This gesture toward them displayed God's grace.  He gave all of them this gift of life, even when they did not deserve it.  But, just because God gave this gift to all, it did not mean that all would spare all of the effects of the poison in their bodies.  Those who chose not to believe would not look therefore they would die.  In this case, God's grace could not deliver those bitten from dying.   There was no cure for rejecting the remedy.  Suddenly grace has limits.  Those who refuse the grace that can save them will find that there is no grace for dismissing the grace.  

We may get the impression from Romans 5:20 to 6:2 that grace covers all sin.  But that is not the case.  Let us read it the passage,

 Rom5:20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:
Rom5:21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.
Rom6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
Rom6:2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?

Those who are of the belief that the more they sin, the more grace abounds - if they continue on that path - forget that at some point they will commit the Unpardonable Sin.  Jesus talks about this Matthew 12: 31 -32,

Matthew 12:31-32 (King James Version)
31Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.
32And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.

The Unpardonable Sin is the point where you have gone beyond repentance.  You no longer will respond the Holy Spirit's invitation for you to open the door to Him.   Christ did not die for that Sin.  And, while the law may expose that Sin, grace will not abound as far.  This Sin is rejecting the grace that can save you.  Put in different words: there is no remedy for rejecting the remedy.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Sewed from Jesus

Sewed from Jesus 
 
A woman went to buy a new dress.  She went first to a high-end store.  She saw a dress she liked.  She tried on the dress, and it fit her very well, but it cost more than what she wanted to pay.  So she went into a store with more affordable prices.  She saw what seemed to be the exact dress; in fact, it was the same brand.  But it was not quite as attractive as the first one nor did it fit as well.  "How can this be? She asked herself.   Was it all in her mind?

She was puzzled by this so she decided that before buying anything that she would investigate.  She contacted the company.  They told her that on the label, there is a number; the lower the number, the better the quality of the dress.  Some details went into the production of the lower number dresses that the manufacturer did not consider in the higher number dresses.  Sometimes it was the kind and color of thread used or the kind of stitch.  Other times it was how they cut the fabric, etc.  Two things that seem identical were not.

I find a similarity in our works. Works by faith and works from your effort may seem similar. But works of faith are different from works done in our strength. Let's consider Abraham as an example.  We know Paul opens Romans 5 with this declaration.

Romans 5:1 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

The word "therefore" tells us that this statement is referring to what was said before in chapter 4.  Paul says of Abraham in chapter 4 verse 3,

Romans 4:3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.

Paul used the Greek word episteusen, which comes from the word pistis for faith or belief. In essence, it is saying that Abraham had faith. We know that faith comes through hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Abraham heard God's Word and believed it. When we replace "believe" with other definitions of faith, we get a better feel of what this means. Abraham heard God's word and felt appreciation in his heart. He heard God's word and trusted the word to do what it said it would; he waited and depended on the Word alone. God's word to Abraham was the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. As a result of his belief in God's Word, Abraham was one of the elders that obtained a good report, and he pleased God (Hebrews 11:1, 2, 6).

 The second part of Romans 4:3 says that His belief was counted unto him for righteousness. What is righteousness? Ellen White defines it as obedience to the law (1 Selected Messages, p. 367). We replace the word righteousness with the definition Ellen White provides and it reads, "Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for obedience to the law."  In believing God's word, Abraham obeyed the law.  Abraham's righteousness (obedience to the law) came from exercising faith in God's word.

The previous thought gives context to Romans 5:1, where Paul reiterates what he explained in chapter 4.  Translators have interpreted it as "Therefore being justified by faith."  But, the transliterated Greek rendering of Romans 5: 1 seems to say, "Being-justified then out of-belief."  We know that the word justified means made righteous.  So we could interpret it as, "Being made righteous out of faith" -- thus there is a kind of faith that makes us righteous or obedient to the law.  Ellen White expresses the same thought in the following quote,

 Righteousness is obedience to the law. The law demands righteousness, and this the sinner owes to the law; but he is incapable of rendering it. The only way in which he can attain to righteousness is through faith. By faith he can bring to God the merits of Christ, and the Lord places the obedience of His Son to the sinners account. Christ's righteousness is accepted in place of mans failure, and God receives, pardons, justifies, the repentant, believing soul, treats him as though he were righteous, and loves him as He loves His Son. (Ellen G. White, 1 Selected Messages, p. 367)

The prophet Isaiah tells us that, "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6). Our righteousness falls short of the law's requirement.  We need a righteousness that is perfect since the law requires perfection.  Ellen White states that Christ's righteousness is what we are given to satisfy the laws demand of perfection. We have stated thus far that the only way to get this righteousness is by faith. Can our filthy faith produce a perfect righteousness?  The answer is obviously, "No, it cannot." Therefore we must obtain a faith that is perfect. That faith is the faith of Jesus. When we accept His faith, it produces in us His righteousness. This faith of Jesus is what characterized Abraham. It is the faith that those who overcome and endure until the end will have (Revelation 14:12).

Perhaps this is why the Apostle Paul says that "…whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:23).  Only works wrought from faith are righteous.  So, just like the difference in the dresses, the works of those who have the faith of Jesus may look similar to those who do not, but there is a difference.  The former is built and sewed from Jesus, the latter from sinful flesh.  Furthermore, the character of those who have the faith of Jesus will be transformed into the likeness of Jesus. The question is which dress do we want to be?

Friday, November 3, 2017

Commentary: Elusive Righteousness

Elusive Righteousness
 
The Word elusive means: difficult to find, catch, or achieve; difficult to remember or recall; to elude capture, perception, comprehension, or memory; difficult to define or describe; be difficult to detect or grasp by the mind.  We use this word to describe something that may seem within grasp, but yet we can never reach it.  It could be used for that promotion or raise you never get.  In some organizations, a specific landmark amount of members is never reached.  It can be used for a fugitive or criminal that is hard to catch.  It is also used for a particular animal that is hard to hunt or fish.
 
There is a metaphor used in an old Spanish love song that I think illustrates this point well.  To tell the lover his or her love will always be unrequited, the singer makes this statement,
 
"The sea and the sky look equally blue
and in the distance, they seem to meet and unite,
better remember that the sky is always sky
that never, never will the sea reach."
 
The point is obvious, "As the sky is elusive to the sea, so am I to you."
 
God's ways are higher than ours.  God says through Isaiah "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:9).  In the above metaphor, we are the sea, and the Lord is the sky.  We will never reach God.  That is why God sent His Son to reach us.  So anything from God is unattainable for us unless it is through Jesus.  That is why Paul says that "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:28).  The word justified means to be made righteous; this means that man is made righteous by faith and not by attempting to obey the law in his strength.  Paul is saying that your effort to obey the law on your own will be futile and therefore you will never be righteous.  Righteousness will be elusive in your strength.  The more you try, the harder it gets to reach it. 
 
But, Paul makes it clear that being justified by faith does not make the law void, on the contrary, it exalts the law (Romans 3:31).  Then He uses Abraham as an example of how justification by faith works.  Paul says of Abraham,
 
Romans 4:1 What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found?
Romans 4:2 For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God.
Romans 4:3 For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
 
Abraham was no exception in regards to how to become righteous.  It was not on his strength, but by faith.  He believed God's Word and this believing the Word was counted to Him as righteousness.  Ellen White says that Righteousness is obedience to the law (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 367); this means that when Abraham believed God's word, it was counted unto Him as obedience to the law.  It was faith that made Abraham a doer of the Law.  And, so it is with us. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Justification by Faith

Justification by Faith

Imagine with me: a man was suffering with cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy. Things seemed to progress as testing showed his tumor had decreased in size. Before the tumor had definitively disappeared, his oncologist ended his chemo treatments. Puzzled and bewildered, the man asked himself several questions, "Did I miss something?" "Why would my doctor do such a thing?" "Is this regular protocol?" "Did things get worse all of a sudden?" "If this is the case, how long do I have to live?"
 
Confused, the man asked to speak to his doctor for an explanation as to why he stopped the treatments. The man could not believe the doctor's response, "You do not require any more chemotherapy because I have declared your cancer (to be) in remission.  As far as I am concerned you have no more tumors. I declare you, 'healed.'"  As the doctor completed his explanation, the man, who was initially curious, turned disbelieving and then progressively angry. He yelled, "Are you insane? If the tumors aren't gone, how can you declare me anything?" I daresay, most of us would have a similar response. This scenario begs the question, would you rather be declared healed or would you prefer to actually be healed?
 
The popular interpretation of justification by faith is that we are declared righteous, not made righteous. How does God really work this -- is the thing really true because He declares it so, or does He declare it because it is true? Does God declare something without it being true? Unlike our Doctor from the story above, God is not insane. God does not declare things unless they already are. One example of this is in Genesis 1 (for another example cf father Abraham). At almost every stage of Creation God saw that what He did was good. At the end, in Genesis 1:31, He declared it again,
 
            God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
 
This concept of only declaring could be in part from the definition of righteous. According to a previous Sabbath School lesson, 
 
What is this idea of "justifying," as found in the text? The Greek word dikaioo, translated justify, may mean "make righteous," "declare righteous" or "consider righteous." The word is built on the same root as dikaiosune, "righteousness," and the word dikaioma, "righteous requirement." Hence, there is a close connection between "justification" and "righteousness," a connection that doesn't always come through in various translations. We are justified when we are "declared righteous" by God.
 
Before this justification, a person is unrighteous, and thus unacceptable to God; after justification, he or she is regarded as righteous, and thus acceptable to Him.
 
You will notice that the author(s) of the lesson chose "declare righteous" instead of "make righteous."  The question again is, would you rather be declared righteous or made righteous? (Which is more accurate?) Especially, since God is fully capable of making us righteous. Ellen White makes reference to this issue in the following quote,
 
"Righteousness is obedience to the law. The law demands righteousness, and this the sinner owes to the law; but he is incapable of rendering it. The only way in which he can attain to righteousness is through faith. By faith he can bring to God the merits of Christ, and the Lord places the obedience of His Son to the sinner's account. Christ's righteousness is accepted in place of man's failure, and God receives, pardons, justifies, the repentant, believing soul, treats him as though he were righteous, and loves him as He loves His Son."—Ellen G. White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 367. 
 
"...Everything was lost by sin; man forfeited his title to every blessing. It is only by divine grace, through the infinite sacrifice of Christ that we could be reinstated in the favor of God, and be permitted to enjoy His gifts. We are not our own. Christ has bought us with His precious blood, and we belong to Him."
RH Dec. 14, 1886 par. 8.
 
Being that God is able to make us righteous we can interpret the text from Romans chapter 3 as, "Therefore we conclude that a man is made righteous by faith without the deeds of the law" (Romans 3:28).  The question is will we let Him?
 
~Raul Diaz

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Gospel is the Cure

The Gospel is the Cure
 
At the writing of this commentary my cousin, Justin Graves (not real name), died.  He was young; in his mid-thirties. He died because his body stopped working.  His body deteriorated to the point where it could no longer function. 
 
It was not a bullet wound, a car accident, substance abuse, etc.  It was not consequences of choices he made.  Justin was born with a rare congenital disease - Behr's Syndrome - that dystrophies the muscles, crippling anyone that has it.  Justin's only fault regarding that condition was to be conceived out of parents that carried the recessive genes of the disease.  Justin's fault was to live.  Can Justin be held responsible for being born with the syndrome?  Evidently, no.  Still, he bore a condition that if left untreated could, and did harm him.  There is yet no cure for this rare syndrome.
 
But, what if there was a cure?  What if the person with a treatment walked into Justin's room and gave it to him free?  What if Justin declines to take it and eventually dies?  Could Justin be held responsible for his untimely death?  Yes, he can be held accountable.  For now, his death is not due to the disease, but for declining the cure. 
 
As Justin was born with this disease, we are all born with Sin (Justin included).  As the psalmist said, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psalms 51:5).  Paul expresses the same point in Romans 3: 10 – 12,
 
Romans 3:10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
Romans 3:11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
Romans 3:12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
 
 Which is why Paul concludes in verse 23 - almost repeating the psalmist - "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).  As Justin could not be held responsible for his disease, neither can we be held accountable for being born in Sin.  We did not choose to be born this way.  But, if there was a cure for Sin, given to us freely and we reject it, then we are held responsible for refusing the cure. 
 
Is there a cure for Sin?  That is the greatest news ever to come into this world.  Yes, there is a cure for Sin, and that cure is Jesus Christ.  Paul gives us a glimpse of what this means in Romans 3: 24 – 26,
 
Romans 3:24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
Romans 3:25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
Romans 3:26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
 
The cure will not do us any good unless we take it.  By faith we take Jesus, and He cures us of the Sin disease.  We must continually take Him as if it was a prescription, for it to be effective.  It is a lifelong treatment.  But, we will be glad we did it in the life to come.

Friday, October 6, 2017

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