Commentary on "Living as Children of God"
Day 2: Sunday, August 9, 2009
Today's lesson contains some very good information relating to the work of God on giving us birth as his sons and daughters, as well as the fact that we are adopted by him. Although scripture does state that we are to “come unto him” as Jesus calls us, it is God that gives us birth and adoption. If it is all the work of God that brings us into adoption as his children, then it is also his work that keeps us saved, it is not dependent on whether we have been able to overcome every sin in our lives. We are constantly being cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ as is made plain in 1 John 1:9. Also, when the disciples were discussing the bringing of Gentile converts into the Church in Acts chapter 15, it is made clear that our hearts are cleansed by faith, not by work. This is clear in Acts 15:8-10:
And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?
Although scripture is clear that it is the work of God that cleanses us from sin, the Sabbath School Quarterly seems to indicate that it is our responsibility to maintain a relationship, and that relationship is what maintains our status as children of God. As is stated on page 78 of the Teacher's Quarterly:
Also, we do not need to worry about our status as children of God as long as we maintain our relationship with Him.
Rather than the blood of Jesus, and our faith in him for the full atonement provided on the cross, it is stated that we must “maintain our relationship with Him.” How is one to do this? Today's lesson, rather than provide any information on how one is to do this, the grandness of the universe is contemplated, indicating that we must be very special to God, given the enormity of the universe.
In the teacher's comments on page 79, we are told three things:
It is stated that we should “[r]espond to God’s love by resisting the temptation to sin.” Is resisting temptation how we demonstrate our love toward God, or is there something altogether different that the Christian is involved in to demonstrate God's love? Resisting temptation to sin is definitely an activity and responsibility of every Christian. But to define loving God as resisting temptation is to place an extremely narrow view on the relationship that has just been described.
The summary in the teacher's notes, summarizes God's lavish love for us by calling us his children and giving us victory over sin. This is a problem area. As long as one does not understand the nature of man, one cannot understand some paradoxical statements in these letters of John. The Lord has indicated through John the following paradox:
These two truths are brought about in the following passages:
1 John 3:6 says, “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.”
1 John 1:8-10 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.”
How can both of these statements be true? The answer is in understanding the nature of man as shown in the scriptures.
We are not merely physical beings, we are also spiritual. In fact, as Paul witnesses in his letters, our real self is our spirit, our body is this mortal “tent” that we carry around that is still awaiting salvation.
Several passages support these truths.
Romans 8:23 indicates that our bodies are still waiting redemption. “...we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” Here is is clear that we groan “within ourselves.” My spirit, which has been seated in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:4-6 make this clear:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
It is apparent that our physicial bodies are here, walking around, still inhabited by ourselves, our spirit, yet at the same time, our spirit is in Christ and we are seated with him in the heavenly places.
Paul also indicates the difference between our bodies and our spirits in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4:
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago-- whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows-- such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man-- whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows -- was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.
Paul also states in Philippians 1:21-24:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
When we understand that man is both flesh and spirit, and the Christian is born again because his spirit has been made alive in Christ, we can now understand the answer to the questions that are not answered in the Sabbath School Quarterly.
In Christ, we are spiritually perfect and we do not sin. We still carry around a body of sinful flesh that we must put to death daily. No one is saying that this is easy. But one thing is clear: our relationship with our Lord is not broken or in danger of being lost because of what we do in the flesh. The Corinthians were very worldly and a very wealthy congregation. Yet Paul still refers to them as brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Being children of God, and being in relationship with him is a glorious thing. We constantly go to him for forgiveness for our sins and sinfulness. He continually cleanses us with the blood of Jesus and completely blots out our sin. With that done, just like a Father/Child relationship, we can then go about our daily business of talking to him, following the leading of his Spirit and blessing the lives of others God brings into our lives.
Lord, thank you for completely forgiving all my sin as Jesus paid for it on the cross. Thank you that I am complete and sinless in him. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to put my flesh to death daily for your glory. And finally, thank you that my sin, washed away by Jesus' blood, allows me to have close and warm fellowship with you at all times, whether life circumstances are going well or not.
Day 2: Sunday, August 9, 2009
Overview: “God has taken the initiative to do this for us. The new birth is His work, not ours. We can bring about neither our own birth nor our adoption as God’s children. Also, we do not need to worry about our status as children of God as long as we maintain our relationship with Him.”
Problems: This portion of the lesson demonstrates Adventism’s schizophrenia perfectly.
Look at the first three sentences. Notice God’s initiative, His work in new birth and the fact that we cannot bring any of this about.
Look at Sentence #4 which begins, “Also, we do not need to worry…” What it really says is that we had better worry, because our status as God’s children depends on us maintaining our relationship with Him.
The first four sentences cannot be true. Either the first three are true and the fourth is false, or the first three are false and the fourth is true. The Bible clearly teaches that Sentence #4 is false.
Here is where an explanation of Roman adoption practices would have been helpful. In short, if you were adopted into a Roman family all of your old identity ceased to exist. Quite literally, it was erased. Further, you could not be disowned; you could not lose your new identity. True, a Roman father could kill his children with few ramifications, but, once he claimed them as his children, he could not renege on the claim.
This is the kind of adoption Paul and John had in mind when they used the word. God quite literally erases our past (“Our sins and lawless acts He remembers no more”), and then He claims us as His own in Christ (“that we would be called children of God”). This is a permanent change, because He will never leave us or abandon us (see Hebrews 13:5-6).
But what about all the sins we commit after we’re saved? I’ll deal with this question in Wednesday’s lesson.
The reason for the schizophrenia is this. Adventist doctrine, as well as the doctrine of most other denominations, refuses to accept the finality of what Jesus did on the cross. Adventists explicitly teach what is called an “incomplete atonement.” This means that Jesus’ victory over sin was limited in scope and effectiveness, that we have a part to play in dealing with sin and that sin will continue to be an issue between us and God until after the final judgment. This is why the Teacher’s Comments uses the phrase “adopted into God’s eschatological family.” There is an end-times component to adoption that must leave the Adventist in limbo.
Therefore, as long as sin is hanging over us like a sword we cannot say with full assurance that we are God’s children. There is always the possibility that something you or I do will sever our relationship with Him, and we will be lost. Again, it is no wonder so many people who believe this kind of teaching spend a good part of their lives in despair, constantly fearful that a sin, particularly a habitual sin, will be the last straw.
I suggest a different approach. Take 1 John 3:1 as a clearly stated fact. If I have been born again, I am a child of God. Nothing and no one will ever change this fact. And then, base the rest of your life on this fact, walking by faith in a certainty you can’t see, but which is true nonetheless.
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