Commentary on "Celebrating Spiritual and Physical Fitness"
Day 7: Friday, April 16, 2010
The lesson for the entire week ends abruptly with a short quotation from Ellen White in which she basically reiterates an “exercise” metaphor to describe spiritual growth: “The only way to grow in grace is to be disinterestedly doing the very work which Christ has enjoined upon us—to engage, to the extent of our ability, in helping and blessing those who need the help we can give them. Strength comes by exercise”.
It may be possible that the decision to introduce this quotation from Ellen White was made because of the parallel she draws between progress in the spiritual life and physical exercise. While the idea of exercise resulting in progress works in the physical realm, it breaks down in the spiritual context. This quotatio shows how badly Ellen White misunderstood the nature of the spiritual life of which she professed to be an expert.
This quotation reveals Ellen White’s ignorance of the basic message of Paul’s epistles. He constantly moved from the indicatives of the gospel to the imperatives of life in Christ. The basic message of Paul is, “You are alive spiritually because you died to your old life of sin and were resurrected with Christ, regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and seated in the heavenly places [Gospel]. Therefore live a life according to what has already been done in you.”
Always the gospel—not will-power or discipline—is the driving force behind any progress in sanctification. At every step the Christian should go back to the great story of redemption in order to get his spiritual strength. The power of God unto salvation is not found in spiritual exercises themselves, but where the Bible says it is, in the gospel (Romans 1:16).
Man’s problem is not that, having already received enough from God, he needs to start sharing what he received from God in order to grow spiritually. Rather, if a person experiences emptiness and a lack of spiritual life and good works, he is not living in the reality of the gospel and the Spirit of God. Even Jesus drew a parallel between good works and the fruits of a good tree, establishing the proper cause-effect relationship (Matthew 12:33).
A tree doesn’t grow or mature by producing good fruit; rather a tree produces good fruit because it is mature. The producing of good fruit isn’t the method of spiritual growth, much less the “only way” to experience growth. Instead, fruit is the evidence that the tree grew enough to produce it. Confusing the result of spiritual growth with its cause is the equivalent of endorsing salvation by the works of the law (Ephesians 2:8-10). The “exercise method” of growth endorses spirituality based on man’s achievements, a spirituality that is turned upside down and doesn’t distinguish itself from any other pagan or non-christian spiritual endeavor.
How the prophet Ellen can endorse this kind of spirituality and still remain a trustworthy “source of truth” constitutes a dilemma which confronts every single dedicated Adventist who takes seriously his eternal destiny.
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