Saturday, October 25, 2014

Being and Doing

If we follow the context we realize that this week's verse follows last week's ending verse.  Let us read both verses together:

Jam 1:21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.
Jam 1:22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.

The only way we become doers of the Word is for the Word to be engrafted in our hearts and minds, and transform them.  As our lesson states, "...we can become doers [of the Word] only through the work of the Holy Spirit writing the Law (Loving God and others above ourselves) on our hearts."  Following is an old commentary elaborating on this subject on becoming and doing.  

Being or Doing: That Is The Question

Matthew 12:41-44 related a story we've probably all heard. It says, 

Matt. 12:41 And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the 
people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. 
Matt. 12:42 And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. 
Matt. 12:43 And He called unto Him His disciples, and saith unto them, 
Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all 
they which have cast into the treasury: 
Matt. 12:44 For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living. 

What a lesson for us about witnessing. The poor widow's humble witness still carries until this day the message of the Gospel. She loved God supremely, and her neighbor as Christ loved her, and that is why she gave all she had to the treasury. She gave quietly. Not one word was said. No announcement was given. No press conference held. In fact, had it not been for Christ pointing out her action, it would have been dismissed. She gave witness to those who heard the story then, and to those who hear it now. 

So is it our actions which give witness, or is it our words? Is it possible to really give an accurate witness of what we've seen, heard and understood, without both? Our fast paced and driven world loves the doers. Yet, if you are an accurate witness, would you not be able (or enabled as we shall see) to relay your experience in such a manner that others too will see, hear and sense it? After all, what is the use of a witness without a judicial system to utilize the testimony given? 

Christ calls on all His sheep to give witness, a testimony as it were, to His benevolence, and goodness, as well as to His character of Love-- to the Universe. As well we know, the Godhead is the "One" on trial. If you were in His cosmic shoes, would you not desire the truth to be told about you? Of course, the master strategist, and "accuser of the brethren" desires a false witness to corroborate his view of things, and so the battle ensues. In order 
not to be deceived into testifying to a lie, the believer--the true witness-- needs power, for he is no match for the adversary. Hence Christ advises His disciples (and us) in Acts 1:8: 

Acts 1:8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. 

Notice the phrase as it is written. It does not say that we are to do witnessing activities, such as hand out tracts, knock on doors or ingather. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with these particular activities. Instead, notice how the scripture stipulates that it is with the Holy Spirit's power coming upon us that we shall be witnesses. Notice, in the following verses, that the disciples were to wait together, in prayer, for the Holy Spirit's indwelling presence, and power. 

You know, there is a big difference between the concept of being -which is an inside job, and that of doing which merely implies taking action. Today there is such an emphasis on methods, techniques and numbers that we may have forgotten how Christ won people to Himself. According to Sister White as quoted in our Sabbath School lesson recently, Christ mingled with men as One who desired their good. It was not His method to make them feel good, which is what is often interpreted from the quote, but instead desired that they might be with Him eternally (John 14:1-6, John 3:16). 

When we try to witness to others with our activity, most of the time they will feel something is missing. Unless we demonstrate unconditional, self-denying love for them -not to be confused with acceptance of their ungodly attitudes and behavior- we shall be branded phony, insincere and hypocrititical. Haven't you ever met someone whom you sensed had an agenda, and whose motives were ulterior? Didn't you just want to get away from that person as quickly as possible? 

As much as we'd like to view Apostle Paul as the driven, go-getter disciple, outside of John the beloved, it is he who discusses in depth the love the follower of Christ will have through the indwelling Holy Spirit. He not only describes it, he implores us to allow the Spirit to give it to us by faith. It is through the power of the Holy Spirit that Paul was enabled to be all things to all people, and win them to Christ. 

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23: 
1 Cor. 9:19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. 
1 Cor. 9:20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; 
1 Cor. 9:21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ) that I might gain them that are without law. 
1 Cor. 9:22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 
1 Cor. 9:23 And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker 
thereof with you. 

He did not mean by this that he was an Oscar winning actor. Ellen White 
says that he shaped His message to the person and the particular circumstance, just as Christ did. The Spirit enabled Paul to be aware of each person's needs, and prompted him with the content of the message (gospel) as well as when and how to deliver it. Sister White adds that we should be many-sided men (and women), not just having one approach for everyone we meet. Being filled with the Spirit does not mean negating the study of various methods and techniques to win souls. On the contrary, it means being led by the Spirit as to our target audience as well as what sources and timing to use. 

The Holy Spirit coming upon, and abiding in us bears fruit. Then we become witnesses of what we have seen and heard, rather than a group of individuals merely engaged in "doing" witnessing activity. While this does not guarantee conversion, the truth about the character of the Godhead as that of unconditional love, mercy, justice and grace will have been told by those of us who love Him. The scripture says, " and they will know we are His disciples because we embody His love." The question now is, will you let the Spirit come upon you so you can become a witness?

Raul Diaz

Friday, October 17, 2014

Removing Filthiness

Jam 1:21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.


Our lesson states that this verse concludes all that has been said so far about faith and salvation. It is an appeal to put away all impurity and separate ourselves from wickedness. The command put away (RSV) is used seven out of nine times in the New Testament for detaching oneself from the evil habits that have no place in a life submitted to Christ (Rom. 13:12; Eph. 4:22, 25; Col. 3:8; Heb. 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:1). It can also refer to the taking off of clothing (Acts 7:58), so that the taking off of our filthy rags of sin (compare Isa. 64:6) may also be implied. Indeed, the word filthiness (RSV) occurs in James for the filthy clothes of the poor in contrast to the sparkling clean clothing of the rich (James 2:2, NKJV).

In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word filthy (ryparos) is used in only one passage: Zechariah 3:3-4, where Joshua, the high priest, represents sinful Israel. God takes away the high priest's filthy garments and clothes him with a clean robe, symbolizing Israel's forgiveness and cleansing.

This scene is very different from the popular Christian image we sometimes see of Jesus putting a clean white robe over the sinner's dingy, soiled garments. Who would do this in real life? Nobody puts clean clothes over dirty ones. Likewise in Zechariah, the filthy garments are removed before the clean robe is put on.

The following commentary - originally published on May 27, 2011 – elaborates on this subject of removal of filthy clothes and putting on new ones.  I hope it is helpful.

Is Christ an enabler?

Enabling is a term with a double meaning.  As a positive term, it references patterns of interaction which allow individuals to develop and grow. These may be on any scale, for example within the family, or in wider society as "Enabling acts" designed to empower some group, or create a new authority for a (usually governmental) body.  In a negative sense, enabling is also used in the context of problematic behavior, to signify dysfunctional approaches that are intended to help but in fact may perpetuate a problem.  A common theme of enabling in this latter sense is that third parties take responsibility, blame, or make accommodations for a person's harmful conduct (often with the best of intentions, or from fear or insecurity which inhibits action). The practical effect is that the person themselves does not have to do so, and is shielded from awareness of the harm it may do, and the need or pressure to change. It is a major environmental cause of addiction.

A common example of enabling can be observed in the relationship between the alcoholic/addict and a codependent spouse. The spouse believes incorrectly that he or she is helping the alcoholic by calling into work for them, making excuses that prevent others from holding them accountable, and generally cleaning up the mess that occurs in the wake of their impaired judgment.  In reality what the spouse is doing is hurting, not helping. Enabling prevents psychological growth in the person being enabled and can contribute to negative symptoms in the enabler.  Generally, individuals who enable others have weak boundaries, low self-esteem, and have difficulty being assertive when they communicate with others. (Please bear with me as I tie this concept with our lesson)

The cover of our lesson shows a man – presumably Jesus – putting on a robe over another man's old dirty clothes.  To an outsider, after the new clothes are on, the old clothes under the new ones will probably not be visible.  However, you may be able so smell them after a while.  Since these garments are about character, it would mean that Jesus is just covering the surface.  The old, ugly, dirty character still exists.  The man just looks righteous.  However the "smell" of the old character will be evident after a while.  This concept – which also recurs throughout our lesson – runs contrary to what we read in Zechariah 3.  Let us read,

             Zechariah 3

1 Then he showed me Joshua[a] the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.

 2 The LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?"

 3 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.

4 The angel said to those who were standing before him, "Take off his filthy clothes."  Then he said to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you."

 5 Then I said, "Put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by.


 It is evident in this passage that that the old character is removed to put on the new one.  That is the Father's plan.  It is Jesus' work through the Holy Spirit.  All three persons of the Trinity are involved.  The Father is not looking to be appeased.  He is looking to appease us with Him.  Paul says in Romans 5: 10, "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life."  The Father's wrath is not against us, but against Sin. Many believe the opposite.  They believe that the Father has not poured His wrath – to them the ultimate consequence of Sin of which we are all guilty - because Jesus intercedes.  If the Father's wrath is the ultimate consequence of Sin, and if Christ is a covering shield that prevents the Father's wrath - the consequence of Sin - then Christ is an enabler.  In this view Christ takes our responsibility, guilt or blame for our Sin and hides it from the Father to spare us from the Father's anger.  Sadly, in this view we remain shielded from awareness of the harm we may do, and the need or pressure to change.  In other words, we remain in Sin. 


But, if death is the ultimate consequence of Sin (Romans 6:23) - a harmful condition that will kill us and others unless it is treated - and the Father sends Christ to be that treatment, then Christ is not an enabler.  This paints a different picture of the Father since the Father sent the Son (1 john 4:14).  The idea of covering us with the cloak of righteousness is not to hide our Sin but to take it away, to remove it.  And, this shows that the forgiveness of sins is something more than a mere form, something more than a mere entry in the books of record in heaven, to the effect that the sin has been canceled.  The forgiveness of sins is a reality; it is something tangible, something that vitally affects the individual. It actually clears him from the fault that makes him guilty.  Thus the sinner is cleared from the guilt, and if he is cleared from guilt, is justified, made righteous, he has certainly undergone a radical change.  He is, indeed, another person, for he obtained this righteousness for the remission of sins, in Christ. 


If Christ is to be an enabler, then let Him be in a positive sense.  Christ enables us to repent and be converted.  Jesus enables us to be a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Raul Diaz

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Why does God permit trials?

Why does God permit trials?

Sister Grant was distraught and frustrated. She could not understand why her life seemed to be a never ending drama. It seemed like one crisis engendered another. She asked herself, "Why would God do this to me?" Her Pastor said that, "those who are faithful to God will not see so many trials in their life. In fact," he added, "trials are a sign that God is not favoring you; which means that you are living in Sin." She met with some co-workers for support and prayer, and told them about her dilemma. Surprisingly, most of them agreed to be in a similar situation. However, not one of them could find what was wrong. They did all the things that their pastor's said they should do. They were faithful attending church. They tithed and gave offering. And, they were active in church programs. Why was God not rewarding them?

The youngest in the group, Ms. Bradley, waited until all the other ladies finished talking. She asked them a question, "What do Job, most prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus, and most Apostles have in common?" They all were silent looking at Ms. Bradley, suspecting she had an answer. Sister Bradley understood their silence so she continued, "Were they not faithful?" They all looked in toward each other murmuring possible answers to the question. After, a few moments, they all agreed and said, "Yes they were faithful." Sister Bradley, then said, "Then, why did God allow them to suffer? And, many of them died horrendous deaths. Could it be that we have it all wrong? Why would God treat us any differently?"  What does James 1: 2 – 4 tell us about trials,

"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and com­plete, lacking nothing" (James 1:2–4, NKJV).

The word patience here is from the Greek hupomone, which means, endurance, steadfastness, and fortitude of every affliction that one confronts on one's spiri­tual journey.  The word Paul uses in Galatians 5:22 is macrothumia – translated as longsuffering - which essentially means "long tempered" as opposed to short tempered.

Although, hupomone is not part of the fruit of the Spirit, it is nevertheless very important in our walk of Faith.  According to James, it is through trials that we develop the endurance to continually overcome unbelief and remain faithful to God.  A past lesson stated about this,

'The Greek word for "trials," sometimes translated "temptations," is the word peirazo, which has the broader significance of "proving" or "testing." The devil tries us or tempts us to do evil. The tests and trials that God allows to come into our lives are for the purpose of developing our characters.'  

Ellen G. White talks about this,

"The trials of life are God's workmen, to remove the impurities and roughness from our character. Their hewing, squaring, and chiseling, their burnishing and polishing, is a painful process; it is hard to be pressed down to the grinding wheel. But the stone is brought forth prepared to fill its place in the heavenly temple. Upon no useless material does the Master bestow such careful, thorough work. Only His precious stones are polished after the similitude of a palace."—Ellen G. White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 10.

This doesn't mean, however, that every trial is in God's providence. Often we bring suffering upon ourselves through disobedience; often, too, trials and suffering are just the results of what it means to live in a fallen, sinful world where we have an enemy who hates us (1 Pet. 5:8). What this does mean, however, is that through a complete sur­render of ourselves to the Lord, to grasping hold of Him in faith and obedience, no matter what we go through, we can come out better or more refined if we allow God to work in us. No one said it will be fun. Life here often isn't fun, but we are given this wonderful promise: "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6).

Job never understood why he suffered. His cry to God was, "Why?" However, Job never stopped trusting God. In the middle of his crisis, Job cried out, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" Job13:15. Daniel's friends were faithful in all things, yet under threat of being burned they declared, "… our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out 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." Dan3:1718

In contrast we have the people of Israel. God was with the people of Israel. The people of Israel saw how God delivered them from the Egyptians. God accompanied them in the day with a cloud, and at night with a pillar of fire. The pillar probably gave them not only light, but also warmth. With all this the people disbelieved that God would have them drink the waters of Marah. But, did God not sweeten the water when Moses put a tree in the well (Exodus 15: 22-27). 

After all this when they reached Rephidim they disbelieved God again. In Exodus 17:1-7 we read how they threatened Moses life accusing him of bringing them out of Egypt to die in the desert. How soon they forgot about God being able to provide for them any and every need they had, including water to quench their thirst. The cried out, "Is the Lord among us or not?" Sister White says of this experience,

It was by the express command of God that the children of Israel encamped at Rephidim. He knew of its lack of water, and he brought his people hither to test their faith. But how poorly they proved themselves to be a people whom he could trust! Again and again he had manifested himself to them. With a high hand he had brought them out of the land of their captivity, slaying the first-born of all the families of Egypt to accomplish the deliverance of his people. He had fed them with angels' food, and had covenanted to bring them into the Promised Land. Now, when brought into difficulty, they broke into rebellion, distrusted God, and complained that Moses had brought them and their children out of Egypt only that they might die of thirst in the wilderness. 

The lesson is for us. Many think that in the Christian life they will find freedom from all difficulty. But everyone who takes up the cross to follow Jesus comes to a Rephidim in his experience. Life is not all made up of pleasant pastures and cooling streams. Trial and disappointment overtake us; privation comes; we are brought into trying places. Conscience-stricken, we reason that we must have walked far away from God, that if we had walked with him, we should not have suffered so. Doubt and despondency crowd into our hearts, and we say, The Lord has failed us, and we are ill-used. Why does he permit us to suffer thus? He cannot love us; if he did, he would remove the difficulties from our path. Is the Lord with us, or not? {RH, April 7, 1903 par. 2 - 3}

Perhaps this is why Peter admonishes us 1 Peter 1:6-7,

1 Peter 1:6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
1 Peter 1:7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:

This verse tells us that trials are neither random nor chaotic. Trials have a purpose. One of them is to produce genuine faith in those who will persevere through all kinds of trials. In other words, trials teach us to depend on God to overcome temptation and to endure the pain and suffering that Sin brings to us, until we either die or are translated. We can trust that God's promises to us will be fulfilled. We may not see it now. Only in retrospect, God may allow us to see a glimpse of the purpose of trials. For many of us, it will be until we reach eternity before we see clearly God's purpose in letting us suffer. We will also see that God was in it with us all the way. We were not alone. And, in fact, our faith grew stronger and our character became more Christ like because of the suffering God put us through.

Raul Diaz

Friday, October 3, 2014

Bible Jeopardy

The following commentary was originally published in Friday, March 12, 2010.  References to "This lesson," are references to the lesson of that week.  I hope it is helpful. 

Commentary: Bible Jeopardy

Bible Jeopardy

Jill asked Simon, "Would you like to help me move the furniture?"  Simon said, "yes." But did not move.  Jill then asked Simon, "Well, you said you would help me.  But you are still sitting there. Are you going to help me or not?' Simon then replied, "I did not said I would help you, I said I would like to.  That does not mean I will help you."  Jill replied "Why are you being so difficult?  Can you help me or not?"  Simon answers, "O, the answer to that question is, 'I can.'"  Jill interrupts Simon, and says, "I got it, but it does not mean you will.  Will you help me move the furniture?"  Simon says, "Oh, the right question!"  Simon stood up from the chair and said, "Yes I will."  The point of the story is to show us that asking the right question gives us the right answer. 

But, what if are given the answer, so that we can give the question.  In the TV game show Jeopardy, a group of contestants are given a series of words and statements.  These words and statements are to be treated as answers to questions the contestants are suppose to know (or guess) the answer to.   So the object of the game is not to answer the question, but to find the question to the answer.

Sometime in the Bible we have to do the same thing with certain verses.  They may seem to contradict each other, because they seem to be dealing with the same subject.  But, upon further study – studying the context, for example – we find that the verses actually answer different questions.

Such is the case with the relation between works and faith.  Many are confused by the apparent difference between the expressions of Paul and James.  Yet, the Holy Scriptures penned by Paul and James both originate with the same Author. They reveal no diversity of viewpoints.  James and Paul were both inspired by the same Person (i.e. the third Person of the Godhead) and they both taught the same view.  The false perceptions are rooted in the failure to realize that Paul and James are not addressing the same problem.  Therefore, their "answers" must not be applied to the same question. This mistake has produced false perception and misunderstanding.

Paul's issue is justification before God.  The lesson calls this imputed righteousness, others call it justification by faith.

"What  then  shall  we  say  that  Abraham  our  father  has  found  according  to  the  flesh?    For  if  Abraham  was  justified  by  works,  he  has  something  to  boast  about,  but  not  before  God.  For what does the Scripture say?  'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness'" (Romans 4:1-3).     

James is dealing with justification before man.  The lesson calls this imparted righteousness.  Others call it sanctification by faith.  This is why he cites the example of a brother who destitute and hungry and asks the questions "what does it profit."

"If  a  brother  or  sister  is  naked  and  destitute  of  daily  food,  and  one  of  you  says  to  them,  'Depart  in  peace,  be  warmed  and  filled,'  but  you  do  not  give  them  the  things  which  are  needed for  the  body,  what  does  it  profit?"  (James 2:15-16). 

James argues for justification by works in the eyes of man.  Paul argues against justification by works in the eyes of God. Yet, James would agree with Paul that we are not justified by works in the eyes of God and Paul would agree with James that we are justified by works in the eyes of man.  James is describing how will men who live by faith - walk in the Spirit, abide in Christ - look to other men.  Men who live by faith continually believe that the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to them and being imparted to them.  This is something the Holy Spirit works in them.  The Holy Spirit reminds them of this, as He convicts these men of Sin and righteousness.  As the men repent, remembering the righteousness of Christ, the Holy Spirit renews their mind transforming them into the likeness of Christ.

So we can conclude that those who walk by faith will show their faith with agape toward others.  Therefore we should agree that justification is "without works". And our works contribute nothing toward our salvation, even though genuine works of faith are an evidence of the reception of the gift of salvation from sin (i.e. the righteousness of Christ).  In other words, continually believing that we are saved by grace through faith produces in and through us the works of righteousness (which is really a display of God's love).  So, accepting imputed righteousness enables and produces imparted righteousness, in those who believe. 

Raul Diaz