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.  

-- 
Raul Diaz
Raul Diaz

Friday, September 15, 2017

Light Bulbs



 
Light Bulbs
 
The light bulb is nothing without electricity. It was designed for illumination, but cannot, without energy, displace darkness. The light from a light bulb is a combination of three things: an incandescent filament that is part of an unbroken and uninterrupted electric circuit and of course, electricity. To ignite the light bulb several simple things must occur. The bulb must be properly connected to an electrical source (thus closing the circuit). The power switch must be turned on. And the filaments within the incandescent bulb or the gases within the fluorescent tube must be intact. Similarly, whenever Christians shine forth, there must be spiritual equivalents to the light bulb and spiritual equivalents to what makes the bulb work. 
 
Our spiritual filaments are broken beyond repair. The Holy Spirit brings a new filament to each believer and then also makes new electrical wiring and connections within them; our old circuitry is inadequate for His electrical system and therefore, needs replacing. Once the new equipment is in place, and the Christian is properly wired to the spiritual energy source (God), he or she shines.
 
We can see it may take the Holy Spirit some time to set everything in place. In reality, we limit how He can work through how much space we give Him. Once all is in place, it should work continually, unless we find ways to interrupt it. Interruptions (for example, switches) can stop the electric flow, meaning that the hearing of faith and the believing of the Word is interrupted. The smallest cracks in the fluorescent tube or the tiniest breaks of an incandescent filament can destroy the bulb's capacity for lighting. So can a break in the wiring. We should clarify that unlike our earthly electrical sources, The Holy Spirit never has an outage. Therefore, when our spiritual bulb ceases to shine, it is not His fault it is ours. 
 
In principle, this metaphor is very similar to the one Jesus used in John 15. Which we refer to as the Parable of the Vine and the Branches. Christ told His disciples,
 
"Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love."
 
What is the fruit? It is found in Galatians 5:22 – 23,
 
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy,  peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law."
 
In the same chapter, Paul contrasted the fruit of the Spirit with the works of the flesh. These works of the flesh are the fruit that those refusing to be part of the Holy Spirit circuitry or, in other words, refusing to abide in Christ will produce. Let us read what they are from verses 19-21,
 
"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."
 
If we were to see this passage in the light of the Parable of the vine and branches these branches produce no fruit, and the works of the flesh are evident. The Father, who is the husbandman, cuts these branches away to make sure the vine or tree does not waste resources that the good branches could be using (John 15:1). These fruitless branches refer to those of which Christ says, "depart from me you workers of iniquity, I know you not" (Matthew 7: 23); Christ is speaking here to professed believers. They attended church; they participated in church activities and programs. They sang hymns, taught Sabbath School, returned tithes, even did evangelism. They were Sabbath School leaders, elders, deacons, etc. Christ says to them "I do not know you. Go away." They did not allow the daily indwelling of the Holy Spirit to enable them to live a God-honoring life. Only the infusion to the vine allows the Holy Spirit to produce fruit in them. Only being supernaturally wired to the "electric circuit" enables the Spirit to shine the Light. How do we stay fused so the Holy Spirit can work through us? Through the hearing of faith (Galatians 3:1). 
 
~Raul Diaz
 RR
Raul Diaz

Monday, September 4, 2017

A List of Requirements

A List of Requirements

One day while in college I was perusing my school bulletin.  I saw that beside the description for some classes it had the word prerequisite.  Then it listed other class numbers.  I figured that it meant that I should take the listed classes before I take the class in question.  So, it seemed it was telling me what I had to do before taking the class in question.  But, that is not the definition of the word prerequisite.  Of course, the prefix pre- means before.  Requisite means requirement.  A requirement is something – as a condition or quality – needed.  I understood that what the bulletin was telling me is that I needed the knowledge and or skill set that I got from the previous classes to take the one.   But, requirements are not always about something I can achieve or acquire. 

Typically we talk about requirements in terms of fulfilling not doing.  To fulfill means to satisfy.  To satisfy is to meet the requirements.  If I wanted to join the army, I would have to be a certain weight in relation to my height.  So, to join the army, I would have to meet that requirement.  But, if I wanted to be a horse jockey, I would have to be small: short and thin.  Now, let's say I am overweight, I could lose the weight.  Let's say I am more than 6 feet tall (1.8 meters) then I probably cannot be a jockey.  The average weight for a jockey is around 115 lb (52 kg).  The average height is about 5 feet and 3 inches (1.6 meters).  In this case, I cannot meet the requirement, not because of something I cannot acquire or achieve; I cannot meet the requirement because of something I am not. 

Out of the twenty pilots selected to fly Vostok 1 (the first spaceship to orbit the earth), the final choices for the first launch were Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov.  Why?  Because of their performance in training, as well as their physical characteristics — space was at a premium in the small Vostok cockpit, and both men were rather short.  Gagarin, the ultimate choice, was 1.57 meters (5 ft 2 in) tall, which was an advantage in the small Vostok cockpit.  Gagarin's met the size requirement.  Not something he could acquire or achieve, but something he was by genetic inheritance. 

When it comes to the Law and the Commandments, Paul as well as Jesus, seem to refer to them as requirements.  Time and time again they speak of them as something to be fulfilled.  Here are some examples,

Romans 8:4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 13:10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Galatians 5:14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Matthew 5:17 "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.

 So, to Paul, there is a difference between the doing of the Law and the fulfilling of the law.  Paul intentionally uses each phrase to make an important distinction between two different ways of defining Christian behavior in relation to the law.  For example, it is significant that when Paul refers positively to Christian observance of the law, he never describes it as "doing the law." He reserves that phrase to refer solely to the misguided behavior of those who are living under the law and are trying to earn God's approval by "doing" what the law commands.

Paul's view is not to imply that those who have found salvation in Christ do not obey.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Paul says they "fulfill" the law.  He means that true Christian behavior is much more than the outward obedience of just "doing" the law; it "fulfills" the law.  Paul uses the word fulfill because it goes far beyond just "doing." This type of obedience is rooted in Jesus (see Matt. 5:17). It is not an abandonment of the law, nor is a reduction of the law only to love, but it is the way through which the believer could experience the real intent and meaning of the whole law!

Ellen White also sees the Law as a requirement.  And, she is clear on how we can fulfill that requirement. She says,

"Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Romans 4:3-5). 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. This is how faith is accounted righteousness; and the pardoned soul goes on from grace to grace, from light to a greater light. He can say with rejoicing, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:5-7). {1SM 367.1}

The inheritance is given to the heirs.  The heirs are sons and daughters of God.  Paul says in Galatians 3, 

Galatians 3: 26For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3: 27For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Galatians 3:  28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:  29And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Those who live by faith attain the righteousness required to become children who become heirs of God.  It is not something they can achieve or acquire on our own.  It is not something they receive by genetic inheritance.  It is something God gives to them by grace, and they receive it by faith. 
 RR
Raul Diaz

Friday, September 1, 2017

Two Covenants: A Fork in the Road

Two Covenants: A 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.  Signs are warning of a split in the road a mile or two ahead.   They also suggest possible destinations for each route will take.  Depending on where you are going you will go right or left.  There is no reason why anyone should go in the wrong direction.  But, some manage just that.  Taking one route means not taking the other.   The implication is that if you take the wrong route, 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 conceived 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 support 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 road that failed to take them to their destination, so then they tried another way, 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 method which 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.  This is evident when we know what Abraham was going through at each of these stages.  Abraham's unbelief led to the Old Covenant.  When Abraham finally 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 road, nonetheless.  From Sinai to Jesus the covenant was to be understood and practiced through the types, forms, and symbols of the ceremonial law; this is the old covenant.  The ceremonial law pointed to Jesus, so when He came, type met antitype, and thus Christ fulfills the ceremonial law.  The Old Covenant fulfilled its purpose of showing us the new Covenant, so it is no longer needed.  But, how can the Old Covenant be the Sanctuary and its services, if according to Paul 430 years before God enacted the sanctuary service 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"

These Covenants are based on a heart relationship with 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 writes His law in our hearts (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 we become 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)!
 RR
Raul Diaz