Obedience flows from Jesus’ New Exodus

2016-10-03

The most fundamental problem with Adventist – and for that matter, a part of visible Christianity — is that it is insensitive to the fact that Jesus accomplished a New Exodus on behalf of his people.  Adventism focuses on the old exodus that separated Israel to the Lord.  It skips over the fact that the Ten Commandments are founded upon a specific historical event: the Red Sea exodus – “I am the Lord who brought you out of Egypt” (Ex.20:1).  This act of redemption was a type and shadow of a future exodus that the Messiah would accomplish for his people.  It was never intended to be an end in itself.  Just as the exodus out of Egypt brought with it 613 commands of which the ten commandments were just a handful of ten laws), so the exodus Jesus completed at Golgotha brought with it a New Covenant way of life for the church, flowing out of the commandment to love one another as Christ loved us.
 
The old covenant at a certain point in history was “in force.” (Heb.7:11). But this first covenant came to an end when the Temple veil was “torn in half” and Christ’s work was “finished” (Mt.27:51; Jn.19:30; Heb.8:13). Heb.8:6 indicates that the New Covenant was put into effect as that which is legally in force, and will continue on as the blood of the everlasting covenant (Heb.13:20).  
 
 
The New Exodus
 
In Luke 9:28-36 we find Moses and Elijah speaking with the glorified Christ.  What are they talking about?  They “spoke of His exodus [or, departure] that he would accomplish in Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31).  The New Exodus is the springboard for Christian obedience, as the old exodus was the foundation for Israel’s obedience.
 
Just as Israel in the Old Testament was constantly called to think back to the Red Sea exodus that liberated them from Egypt, so the church in the New Testament is repeatedly referred to the New Exodus at Golgotha. Especially in the Lord’s Supper believers “remember”  — not the Sabbath – but what Christ did on the cross. 
 
Israel’s covenant obedience was to be in response to God’s gracious act of mercy to them as they went through the Red Sea on dry ground.  The church’s obedience is to flow out of what Christ has done in sealing the New Covenant with his blood.  The New Exodus/New Covenant, not the old exodus/old covenant, has been put into place by the Lord as the starting point for the body of Christ (Heb.8:6).
 
“Listen to the Son”
 
Therefore, to ask, “have we been released from keeping the Ten Commandments?” is to speak as if moral duty can only be found in connection with Israel’s exodus out of Egypt.  But the Christian responds to the moral imperatives flowing of out the New Exodus.  Jesus, not an exodus out of Egypt, is now the starting point. 
 
Remember, Adventist claims that the Ten Commandments are “the only definition of sin in the Bible” (Refer to their literature and official writings).  This is false teaching.  Under the New Covenant, Paul says, “whatever is not done in faith is sin” (Rom.14:23).  For people “in Christ” sin takes on  a much broader and deeper significance than just the violation of a moral code.  Paul taught that if our eating of something draws a weaker brother or sister to eat a food that they cannot eat in good conscience, we grievously sin against that person and against Christ (1 Cor.8:9-13).  The Ten Commandments are not sufficient to define “sin” under Christ’s leadership of the body of Christ.
 
Marriage As A Type of Christ and His Bride
 
Let’s consider “sin” in relationship to marriage.  If the Ten Commandments “are the only definition of sin in the Bible,” then we would find the adultery command as our benchmark for marriage.  Is it sufficient to think of “sin” with reference to marriage only in terms of this command?  Of course not.  Years ago, I read an article on the seventh command in an Adventist Magazine.  The author said many good things, but something was missing.  There was nothing in the piece about how marriage was intended by the Lord to be a picture and reflection of Christ the groom and the church as his bride.  It did not portray “unfaithfulness” as a contradiction of Christ’s unfailing commitment to his bride.  The article was command-centered, not Christ-centered.  The supreme reference point for the Christian husband is the New Exodus – “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” (Eph.5:25).  “Forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you“ (Eph 4:32). “Sin” under the New Covenant goes far beyond anything that was written on stone tablets. 
 
 
Under the New Covenant we must always ask ourselves regarding any issue – “What is the truth as it is in Jesus?”
 
Going back to the Transfiguration in Luke 9, we see that the Shekinah glory enveloped them, Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophets) disappeared, the Father’s voice speaks from the cloud – “This is my beloved Son, Hear him” – and the disciples look up and see Jesus only.  In Deut.18 Moses had told of a person like him who would come as the final Prophet with words which must be heeded.  In Heb.1:1-2 we are told that God spoke in the past in various ways, but in these last days has spoken definitively in the Son.
 
Love your neighbor vs. Love one another as Jesus love you
The Mosaic command from Leviticus required “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18). There was room for hating your enemy. Jesus went on to say, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I [Jesus] say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-45). Jesus’ new commandment is based, not on a mere demand to love, but now on a love for one another that was first demonstrated by Jesus’ love for us. The old says love your neighbor (Leviticus 19:18); the new says to love one another. The old says love your neighbor as yourself; the new says to love one another as Jesus loved us (John 13:34).
 
 
The Son and the Sabbath
 
Thus, the real question is – since the New Covenant alone is in force – what does the Son teach us in the New Testament Scriptures about the Ten Commandments?  The answer is that all are dealt with forthrightly.  Nine appear as moral duties, and the Sabbath is seen as a ceremonial law – a type and shadow – with Christ as the fulfilling reality (Col. 2:16-17). 
 
 
Matthew 12:5
 
The ceremonial nature of the fourth commandment is demonstrated in Mark 2:23-28 and Matthew 12:1-9.  Sabbatarians alludes to Mark 2:27-28, but never deals with the two incidents Jesus cited when the Pharisees murmured about their picking of grain on the Sabbath.  The first example Jesus cited was David and his friends who technically “sinned” by eating the consecrated bread, which was only to be eaten by the priests (Mt.12:3-4; Mk.2:25-26).  The second case is very revealing.  Jesus said, “or have you not read in the law how that on the Sabbath days the priests in the Temple broke the Sabbath and yet were without guilt?”  According to Moses the priests broke the Sabbath every week by doing their “work,” yet they were without sin in this matter.  Now, if the Sabbath is a moral command like stealing or adultery, how could it be violated without guilt and condemnation associated?  Can one think of any circumstances where any of the other nine commandments and the numerous moral commandments in the Old Covenant could be transgressed without sin being committed? Doesn’t Matthew 12:5 show conclusively that the Sabbath is “different” from the other nine?  The priests worked on every Sabbath and did so without sinning. Interestingly, in the new covenant, Christians are the priests of God (1 Peter 2:9), and how would Jesus respond to those who accuse the new covenant priesthood for breaking the Sabbath assuming the Sabbath law is in force in the new covenant? Not guilty! 
 
Martin Luther, the great reformer taught the validity of the moral law of the old covenant but saw the Sabbath as ceremonial. “Scripture has abrogated the Sabbath day; for it teaches that since the gospel has been revealed, all the ceremonies of the old law can be omitted” (Article 28, The Augsburg Confession(1530).  
 
 
Mark 2:27, 28
 
Christ’s statement, “the Sabbath was made for man and not man [made] for the Sabbath,” plainly reveals the ceremonial nature of the Sabbath. Adventists only read, “the Sabbath was made for man”. They need to digest the rest of the verse. Sabbath was made to serve man, and man was not made to serve the Sabbath. Therefore man is above the Sabbath law. When, or under what circumstances, can man lawfully commit adultery or steal? Obviously, never! Man’s life is not above God’s holy and moral laws. Yet even a sheep’s life is more important than the enforcement of the sabbath (Matthew 12:10-12). Yet even circumcision is more important than observing the Sabbath. John 7:21-23 “Jesus said to them, …Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath?”. “The Sabbath was made for man and not man [made] for the Sabbath”. Moral law was not made for man, but it was eternal. Man was made to serve the eternal moral law. We are “servant of righteousness” (Romans 6:15-23), but we were not made to serve the Sabbath or circumcision or other rituals. It’s in light of these texts that Adventists teach a cultic Mark of the Beast for Sunday worship.
 
Adventists assume that the Sabbath was made for all mankind, but the text in Mark 2:27 doesn’t say that. It doesn’t say, “The Sabbath was made for “mankind”, it says, “the Sabbath was made for man”. When the Scripture is meant to be inclusive of all mankind it is clear. See Matthew 28:19; John 3:16; Acts 2:17; I Timothy 2:4; Titus 2:11. These verses clearly indicate that when God offers something to all mankind He clearly offers it to all. Numbers 9:10 reads, “If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the passover unto the LORD”. Did God give the Passover to all mankind because the text says “man“? 
 
 
Col. 2:16-17
 
Regarding Col.2:16-17, Adventists assume that it does not include the weekly Sabbath embedded in the fourth commandment, but only refers to “special annual Sabbath days” which were ceremonial. This opinion reflects the Sabbatarian assumptions, for it is inconceivable that the Jewish mind would make such distinctions.  The following Old Testament Scriptures speak of festival days, new moons and Sabbaths.  There can be no doubt that in these examples the weekly Sabbath is included in the word “Sabbaths”: Ex.31:13; Lev.26:2,34-35; 2 Ki.4:23; 2 Chron.36:21; Isa.1:13, 56:4, 66:23; Lam.2:6; Ezek.20:12,13,16,20,21,24; 22:8; 44:24; 46:1; Amos 8:5.  Hosea 2:11 says “I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, her Sabbaths.”  There is every reason to believe that in Col.2:16-17 Paul is teaching the Christian community that the Jewish weekly Sabbath is ceremonial and is no longer a norm for judgment. This is supported by Leviticus 23 which identifies the weekly Sabbath with one of God’s feasts.
 
Further, in Col.2:16, when Paul says, ‘do not let anybody judge you…with reference to a feast or a new moon or Sabbaths,” there is a specific chronological progression from yearly to monthly to weekly.  The festivals were yearly, the new moons were monthly, and the Sabbaths were weekly.  To suggest that “Sabbaths” refer only to “annual Sabbath days” would break up Paul’s clear Jewish division of time. That’s why the SDA scholar Samuel Bacchiochi had to eventually agree that Col 2 does refer to the weekly Sabbath.
 
 
To Whom Was the Sabbath Given?
 
Sabbatarians suggests that Abraham and other Gentiles who lived long before the Law was given kept the Sabbath.  That is a huge assumption.  In terms of explicit statements of Scripture, it is never said that anyone kept the Sabbath before the Red Sea exodus.  There are, however, several Scriptures that affirm that the Sabbath was indeed given to Israel alone.  Deut.5:15 – “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.Therefore keep the Sabbath day.”  Neh.9:13 – “You came down also upon Mt. Sinai…and made known to them the holy Sabbath.”  Ezek.20:12 – “Moreover, also I gave them my Sabbaths to be a sign between me and them.” How can a sign that distinguished the Jews from the the rest of the world be also a sign that identifies with all nations?
 
The New Covenant Scriptures teach that the Sabbath was a shadow, and that Christ is the reality (Col.2:17).  If a type and shadow is fulfilled in a person, why would you continue to focus on the shadow?  Lambs were slaughtered under the old covenant.  Once the fulfillment, Jesus, came and offered himself, why would we keep on killing animals?  Once the reality comes, the type/shadow is discontinued.
 
God’s rest is not the weekly Sabbath day rest in Genesis
Adventists assume that God ordained a weekly Sabbath day in Genesis, but there is absolutely no “thus saith the Lord” command for man to observe a weekly rest day. Neither is there any restrictions on how to observe a day in Genesis and neither is there a condemnation for not observing a day, and neither is there an example of man observing a Sabbath day. Adventists are free to observe any day, but why enforce a law that God doesn’t command mankind to observe or condemn man for non-observance? Yes, God rested on the seventh day. But what type of rest does this seventh day offer? The first six days had “work” that was demarcated by an “evening and morning”, but the seventh day “rest” did not have a demarcation of “evening and morning”. The rest was open for the people of God to enter from the seventh day onward, and even today “a promise remains of entering His rest” (Hebrews 4:1). What is the requirement to enter God’s rest? “For we who have believed enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:3). The  Jewish weekly Sabbath day was entered not through belief but through ceasing from labor, but God’s rest is entered through belief! Even Jews did not enter God’s rest even when they had the weekly Sabbath.  “For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS”; and again in this passage, “THEY [Israel] SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.” (Hebrews 4-5). 
 
When God rested is not on day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6—each one of those days ends with, “There was morning and there was evening.”  But on the seventh day, when God rested, you don’t read those words because the rest of God was not a day of the week.  It was not one day of the week.  It was a state.  God had now completed the work; it was a state of rest. How do we know? Because God did not restart a “work for six days and rest on the seventh” cycle. He rested from His creative work on the seventh day. He rested from His creative work on the 8th day, the 9th day, the 100th day, and He is still resting from His creative work today, so we can enter His rest today. We are not commanded to enter a labor and rest cycle in Genesis. We enter His rest today! Hebrews says, “He [God] again fixes a certain day, (what day? Seventh day? No) “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS.” For if Joshua had given them [God’s] rest, He (God) would not have spoken of another day [which is today] after that” (Hebrews 4:7-8) 
 
Early Christian fathers some of whom learned from the mouth of the apostles clearly saw what God’s Word said about a Sabbath day in Genesis.
 
Justin Martyr, who wrote only 44 years after the death of St. John, and who was well acquainted with the doctrine of the apostles, denied that the Sabbath originated at creation. Thus after name Adam, Abel, Enoch, Lot and Melchizedek, he says: “Moreover, all those righteous men already mentioned, though they kept no Sabbaths, were pleasing to God.”Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 19.
 
Eusebius, A.D. 324, the father of church history, says: “They (the patriarchs) did not, therefore, regard circumcision, nor observe the Sabbath, nor do we.” Eccl. Hist., book 1, chapter 4.
Later Christians came to the same conclusion:
 
John Bunyan says: “Now as to the imposing of the seventh day Sabbath upon men from Adam to Moses, of that we find nothing in holy writ, either from precept or example.” Complete Works, page 892.
 
 
Abraham kept the Sabbath?
Adventists assume that Abraham kept the Sabbath, for God said:  “Abraham kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws”  (Gen.  26:5).  But Adventists could just as well assume that Abraham was baptized and observed the Lord’s supper, for both of these are commandments of God.  Adventists assumes that “my commandments”, “my law” always means the Ten Commandments. In Ex 16, “my laws” includes the law about manna. “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not”. Lev 23:28-31 shows “my commandments” includes sacrificial laws: “And whether it be cow or ewe, ye shall not kill it and her young both in one day. On the same day it shall be eaten up; ye shall leave none of it until the morrow: I am the LORD. Therefore shall ye keep my commandments, and do them: I am the LORD”
 
My laws, My commandments do not mean it includes the Ten or the Sabbath. Abraham was commended for obeying particular commands God gave him, not Ten Commandments. He obeyed God when he was asked to go to a foreign country (Genesis 12). He was instructed on certain things that Israel was not. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, but God condemned child sacrifices in the law of Moses. God ordained one woman for man in Genesis and the Law of Moses, however, Abraham disobeyed that instruction. Gen 25:1 “Abraham had taken another wife, whose name was Keturah”. Hence God commended Abraham for keeping certain specific instructions.  Abraham did not keep the Sabbath law, for Moses, while speaking of the covenant that contained the Sabbath commandment, said:  “The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers [Abraham, Isaac, Jacob], but with us [Israel], even who are all of us here alive this day”  (Deut.  5:3). Think about this. The Sabbath was a sign of the covenant between God and Israel (Exodus 31), but Abraham was given a different sign. If the Sabbath marked the people of God from all nations as distinctively God’s, couldn’t it just as easily mark Abraham as distinctively belonging to God? Besides, even if Abraham observed the Sabbath or circumcision, none of these rituals apply to Christians under new covenant (Col. 2:16,17). 
 
 
Romans 14:5
 
When Paul deals with the Jewish and Gentile believers functioning together in harmony, he makes an amazing statement – “one person esteems one day above others; another person regards every day the same” (Rom.14:5).  If it is required by God of all believers to observe some particular day, especially Saturday or Sunday, then how could Paul give the option for believers to regard every day the same?  Or, to put it another way, if sin is incurred by not observing a certain day, how can Paul allow for the non-observance of any days? 
 
These were the days enjoined in the law (Torah) for it is of the law that Paul treats all through the book of Romans. He makes no exception of the Sabbath day, but says plainly “every day.” It does not avail to say that Paul means only the annual Sabbaths or fast days because he mentions eating meat and herbs as these are classed with the weekly Sabbath. In Lev. 24:1-8 the Weekly Sabbath is classed with the offerings of oil, bread, frankincense. In Num. 28:9-10 it is classed with the offerings of lambs, meat and drink offerings, burnt offerings, etc. In 1 Chron. 23:29-31, the weekly Sabbath is classed with meat offering, sacrifices, new moons, feasts, etc. Paul confirms that in Col. 2, “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days”.  I suggest that under the New Covenant there are no holy days or holy places (Jn.4:20-24) – only holy people.  
 
Matthew 5:17-18
 
Adventist point to Mathew 5:17-18 and says, Jesus did not abolish the Ten Commandments. Adventist think the Law and the Prophets is a reference to Ten Commandments, but the Law and the Prophets is a reference to the entire Old Testament. 
 
If what Adventists are saying was true, then, according to Matthew 5:17-18, every jot and tittle of the Law and the Prophets (entire Old Testament) is still in force…very little of which is observed by Adventist followers. They do not offer animal sacrifices (far more than a mere “jot” or a “tittle” of the Law!). They do not make pilgrimages to the temple thrice a year (as the Law and the Prophets commands). They do not observe the 613 commands in the Torah (and probably could not even name them)! 
 
If Jesus has not fulfilled all the Law and the Prophets, then every one of the 613 commandments remains in force, since not the least of them were to pass away until they were all fulfilled. Either they have now all been fulfilled (as the New Testament writers believed) or every jot and tittle remains—and cannot be followed without a Levitical priesthood, a bronze altar, animal sacrifices, levirate marriage, and capital punishment for rebellious children, witches, adulterers, homosexuals, kidnappers, blasphemers and Sabbath-breakers. Do the Adventist people advocate enforcement of all these duties?
 
 
2 Cor.3:1-13 – The Stone Tablets
 
The major assumption Adventists make is that the Ten Commandments have always been a moral code that floats along throughout history.  They emphatically state, “Paul never dismissed the Ten Commandment Law that God wrote with His own finger on stone tablets….God has never used another set of laws by which He judged His people”.
 
The truth is, however, that in 2 Cor.3 Paul specifically affirms three times that the old covenant form of the Ten Commandments were “abolished.” (v. 7,11,13).  You cannot get around the fact that Paul has the Ten Commandments in view for he mentions the “tablets of stone” and that which “was engraved in letters on stones” (v.3,7). In Hebrews 9:1, the first covenant that is now obsolete include the ten commandments (Hebrews 9:1-4).
 
 
Romans 3:31 – Ten Commandments or Old Testament?
 
Adventists states that “in…Romans 3:31…he [Paul] referred to the Ten Commandment Law of God”.  This is a blatant example of reading one’s agenda into a text.  There is nothing in what comes before or after 3:31 that mentions the Ten Commandments.  Paul asks and answers a question – “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all!  Rather we uphold the law” (Rom.3:31).  What does the apostle mean by “the law”?  He means the Old Testament Scriptures.  In Rom.3:10-18 he cited Isaiah and the Psalms, and then said, “now we know that whatever the law says…”  In verse 21 he notes, “but now a righteousness of God apart from law has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”  Again, the Old Testament is in view here.  In verse 31, then, Paul is affirming that the gospel does not nullify the teaching of the Old Testament.  Instead, the  Old Testament foretold the gospel, and Paul goes on in Romans 4 to confirm that the gospel establishes the  Old Testament writings, using Abraham and David as examples of justification by faith.
 
 
One of the most common meanings of “the law” in the NT is “the Old Testament writings.”  Adventists never point this out because they don’t know.  They often wrongly assume that “law” means the Ten Commandments. But Paul is contending that God’s gospel is validated by the teaching of the OT in regard to the universal sinfulness of the human race and in regard to the justification of Jews and Gentiles by faith in Christ.  The Ten Commandments are nowhere mentioned in the immediate context before or after Rom.3:31.
 
 
What Was Nailed to the Cross?
 
Adventist admits that the Ten Commandments are central in the old covenant, but they also know that it would be fatal to their position if  the Ten Commandments  were part of what was abolished in his flesh, “the law with its commandments and regulations” (Eph.2:14-15; Col.2:14).  Thus, they posit that only “the law of ceremonies” was nailed to the cross, and  the Ten Commandments  were not included.
 
But this is an interpretation driven by an agenda, not by listening to the texts.  Paul says that whatever was nailed to the cross “was against us” and “contrary to us” (Col.2:14).  Wouldn’t Paul’s remarks indicate that he has something in mind that would justly accuse and condemn us?  Wouldn’t that imply something of a moral nature?  What sense does it make to say that the ceremonial things like the mildew laws are against us and contrary to us?  The old covenant law was a unit of some 613 commands (cf. Gal.5:3).  The natural reading of Eph.2:14-15 and Col.2:14 would see that the entire old covenant written code was nailed to the cross, including the Ten Commandments which were the center point of the old covenant (cf. Ex.34:29-34). Hebrews 9:1-4 confirms the first covenant that is now obsolete had the tablets of the covenant.
 
 
The Law As A Dividing Wall Removed
 
Eph.2:14-18 teaches that the old covenant law stood as a barrier between Jews and Gentiles.  Obviously, one important functions of this law was to keep the Israelites separate from the other nations.  In order for Christ to make a “one new person” out of the two widely separated groups, the “law of commandments” had to be removed.  As long as the Law stood, Jew and Gentile had to be kept apart.  In God’s wisdom Christ fully honored the Law by obeying it, fulfilling it, and thereby “abolishing” it, and replacing it with a new covenant, so that he could create “one new person,” the body of Christ.
 
If the entire old covenant law was nailed to the cross, does this leave us with no moral direction?  Absolutely not.  We have already shown that he abolished the old covenant in order to “put legally into place” (“nomotheteo,” Heb.8:6) the New Covenant.  The life of discipleship flows out of the New Exodus, which brings with it commandments and New Command to love one another as he loved us on the cross, which Paul calls the “law of Christ” (Gal.6:2).  Hence, Jesus says, “if you love me, keep my commands” (plural).  Adventist think that that when Jesus said, “keep my commands,” he had the Ten Commandments in view.  That is a biased interpretation of Scripture.  Jesus meant his teachings.  He is the Prophet Moses wrote about in Deut.18, “him you must hear, or be cut off from the people” (cf. Mt.7:24,26).  Just as Israel’s obligations to the Lord arose from his mighty arm in the Red Sea exodus, so the church’s New Covenant life flows out of Christ’s exodus accomplished at Jerusalem.  “My commands” means all that Jesus teaches us in the New Covenant, including the things Jesus gave through the pens of those who wrote the New Covenant documents to the church.
 
 
Grace Teaches Us Not to Sin
 
Paul anticipated the concerns some would have when he asked in Rom.6:15, “What then?  Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  Let it never be!”  Some might reason, “if we are not under law, won’t the floodgates of sin be opened?”  Paul’s answer is clear: the gospel that saves us also breaks the dominion of sin in our lives, and the Spirit enables us to walk in the gospel lifestyle described in Romans 12-16.
 
The event that saves us – the cross – also commands us how to live.  The grace of God that appeared in Christ’s incarnation not only brings salvation to people all over the world, it also teaches believers to live a life of godliness while they wait for the Lord’s coming (Titus 2:11-13).  “Grace,” says the apostle, is our sufficient teacher.  Just as Israel’s covenant life was rooted in the exodus out of Egypt (“the law came by Moses,” Jn.1:17a), so the body of Christ’s obedience flows out of the New Exodus at Golgotha (“grace and truth came by Jesus Christ,” Jn.1:17b).  The Scriptures of the New Covenant restates many moral commands out of the 613, and the nine of the ten commandments as part of righteous living, but the Sabbath, with many other rituals are viewed as a type and shadow that has seen its day, the reality having come in the person of Christ (Col.2:17).
 
Revelation 14:12, “keeping the commands of God”
 
Whenever Adventists see the word “commandments,” it assumes that the Ten Commandments are in view.  In doing this they utterly fail to recognize that a New Covenant is in effect and that out of it comes Messiah’s commands.  Adventists see the saints “keeping the commands of God” (Rev.14:12) and reads into this phrase “the Ten Commandments”.  But this statement in Revelation, and many others like it in the New Testament, simply mean the numerous commands of Jesus that flow out of the singular command to love one another as he loved us on the cross (Jn.13:34; 15:12-13).  The old covenant had around 613 commands, and it has been fulfilled and taken away.  A New Covenant has been put into effect based on better promises, and its commands are in force.  Indeed, the saints keep the commands of their Savior because they love him.
 
Jesus’ Commandments
 
Jesus gave many commands in Scripture. Some of them were for Jews. When Jesus cleansed a leper He commanded him: “Go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer for thy cleansing those things which Moses commanded” (Mark 1:44; Luke 5:14). Why don’t Adventist obey this commandment from Jesus? Some verses were directed at the apostles specifically but can also apply to us today such as “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? 41 “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41). Here are the some of the commands of Jesus. Repent (Matthew 4:17), Follow Me (Matthew 4:19), Let Your Light Shine (Matthew 5:16), Be Reconciled (Matthew 5:23–25), Do Not Lust (Matthew 5:28–30), Keep Your Word (Matthew 5:37), Love Your Enemies (Matthew 5:44–46), Judge Not (Matthew 7:1–3), Do Unto Others (Matthew 7:12), Take My Yoke (Matthew 11:28–30), Honor Your Parents (Matthew 15:4), Deny Yourself(Luke 9:23–25), Despise Not Little Ones (Matthew 18:10), Forgive Offenders (Matthew 18:21–22), Be a Servant (Matthew 20:26–28), Bring In the Poor (Luke 14:12–14). Be Born Again (John 3:5–7), Make Disciples (Matthew 28:19–20). Jesus quotes some of the commandments from the Law of Moses, but it doesn’t mean all of it applies. What is applicable to us has been commanded. He never commanded us to “Remember the Sabbath day” or condemn anyone for breaking it.
 
What Defines “Sin” in the New Covenant?
Adventists dogmatically asserts that “God gave us a clear definition of sin in His Ten Commandments.  Without this, people can’t recognize their pitiful condition and their need for a Savior….God’s moral law – the Ten Commandments – is eternal and the only definition of sin in the Bible”.  These remarks are vastly overstated and ultimately false.
 
Official SDA writings teach that the Ten Commandments are “the only definition of sin in the Bible,” citing 1 John 3:4, “whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness.”  Later SDA’s say, “sin is the transgression, or breaking of, God’s law (1 John 3:4)”.  Such an interpretation, however, is dubious on three counts.
 
First, John never cites “the law” in this epistle.  The “commandments” mentioned repeatedly in this letter, as we have previously shown, refer to Christ’s commandments embedded in the New Covenant.  This is clearly illustrated, for example, in 1 John 3:22-24, “We obey his commands and do what pleases him.  And this is his command, to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.  Those who obey his commands live in him and he in them.”  “As he commanded us” refers to John 13:34 where the New Command was announced.  In the context of 1 John, the author gives no evidence at all that the Ten Commandments are in view; what is specifically mentioned relates to “the message you heard from the beginning: we should love one another.  This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 Jn.3:11,16).  “The beginning” in several passages in 1 John refers to the New Creation Jesus inaugurated at his incarnation.  
 
Adventists also cites 1 John 5:3, “his commands are not burdensome,” as a reference to the Ten Commandments.  This is another occasion where the authors just read their conclusions into the text without any justification.  “Commands” in 1 John have in view the New Covenant obligations issued by the Messiah.
 
 
“Lawlessness”
 
Secondly, the Greek word for lawlessness in 1 John 3:4 is “anomia,”  Again, SDA’s assume that this word can only mean “actions which violate the Ten Commandments.”  But this is patently false.  In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus describes people who proclaimed that they had prophesied, cast out demons and performed many wonderful works in Jesus’ name.  Jesus says to them, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you who are working “anomia” (wickedness).  These religious people were guilty of “anomia,” lawlessness, but as you can see it would make no sense to try and define their sin simply as violations of the Ten Commandments.
 
Jesus’ Use of “Sin” in John’s Gospel
 
Thirdly, Jesus defines sin in John’s gospel without reference to the Ten Commandments.  The Lord states that he received his teachings directly from the Father and gave them to his disciples.  Listen to these excerpts from the Gospel of John.
 
“As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him.  For I did not come to judge the world but to save it.  There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him on the last day.  For I did not speak of my own accord, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and how to say it.  I know that his command leads to eternal life.  So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say (12:47-50)….Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?  The words I say to you are not just my own.  Rather, it is the Father living in me who is doing his work….If you love me, you will do what I command (14:10,15)….Jesus replied, If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.  These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me (14:23-24)….My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than the one who lays down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command (15:12-14)….They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.  If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin.  Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.  He who hates me hates my Father as well.  If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin.  But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father.  But this is to fulfill what is written in their law, “They hated me without reason.” (15:21-25)….but you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning (15:27)….Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.  When he comes, he will convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.  Concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you see me no more; concerning judgment, because the prince of this world is judged (16:7-11)….I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world.  They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.  Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you.  For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them (17:6-8)….You have no power over me that was not given to you from above.  Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin (19:11).
 
 
 
I have quoted extensively from this Gospel in order for you to get the full impact of the truth from Jesus’ lips.  From these texts the following key points are obvious:
 
  • The Father said out of the cloud, “This is my Beloved Son, Hear him” (Luke 9:35)
  • The Lord Jesus received his words (commands) directly from the Father
  • The words from the Father were passed on to the disciples
  • The words of the Father to Jesus will judge people on the last day
  • Christ’s followers will obey the commandments he received from the Father
  • Christ’s New Command is for his people to love one another as he loved them in the agony of the New Exodus in Jerusalem.
  • In John 15:21-25 “sin” is not defined with reference to the Ten Commandments, but with reference to the presence of the Messiah among people and their rejection of him
  • The law” mentioned in 15:25 is not the Ten Commandments but refers specifically to Psalm 69:4
  • Sin is not believing in Christ.” This is the “sin” the Spirit will bring worldly people to acknowledge.  There is nothing in this crucial text on the Spirit’s work about conviction by the Ten Commandments as a prerequisite for people recognizing “their pitiful condition or their need for a Savior. The Fourth Gospel more typically links sin and ‘unbelief,’ with sin as the refusal to recognize Jesus as the revelation of God.
  • When Jesus says “My commands,” he means the very words that came to him from the Father.  
  • These texts show that it is a serious error to suggest that by “keep my commands” Jesus has in view the Ten Commandments.
 
 
 
 
Acts 15 – Where are the Ten Commandments?
 
The tradition arose of dividing the old covenant law into three categories: moral, ceremonial and civil.  While there is some truth in this three-fold division, overall it creates more confusion than clarity.  For one thing the Jewish mind viewed the Law as an undivided unit.  The three-fold division to them would be superficial and misleading.  Paul brings this out in Gal.5:3, “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised, that he is obligated to do the whole law.”  In other words, because the old covenant was a totality, if you put yourself under one part you became a debtor to do every part of it.  You just can’t pick and choose parts of the Law.  Paul’s position is that you are either under all of it or none of it.  There is no middle ground.  (This would provide further evidence that the entire old covenant law in the first covenant – “moral, ceremonial, civil” – was nailed to the cross).
 
Acts 15 is another passage Adventists fail to understand.  Here we find that false teachers had come from Jerusalem to Antioch and taught that “the Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the Law of Moses” (v.5).  After much discussion, the brethren recognized that the Gentile believers were not required to bear the yoke of the Law, “which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear” (v.10).  It was concluded that the Gentiles in Christ should avoid four things: food offered to idols, sexual immorality, meat from strangled animals and blood (vv.20,29).
 
Now if the perspective of the Adventists was correct, then the resolution of the problem in Acts 15 would have been a no-brainer.  If the civil and ceremonial laws were nailed to the cross, but the Ten Commandments were not, then a simple answer for the dilemma would have been at hand.  The council would have reasoned, “Brethren, the ceremonial and civil laws are no longer binding, but the Ten Commandments remain.  Therefore, the Gentile believers are to keep the Ten Commandments, but are not obligated to keep things like circumcision.”  But this is precisely the answer that is not given!  This reveals that those who divide the Law into parts are not akin in their thinking to the first century brethren.  These people knew that the Lord must lead them to a New Covenant perspective in which Jew and Gentile could function together as “one new person” (Eph.2:15).
 
The Benchmark: Saturday Sabbath-Keeping
 
In the final analysis, Adventist are seeking to bring people to embrace a Seventh-Day Adventist agenda.  They say that the Saturday Sabbath is a sign of our allegiance to God, that it must be kept from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, that “Satan wants to make Sunday the mark of his authority”, that the Saturday Sabbath “is not a minor issue”, that it is “about loyalty to God”, that Sabbath-breaking “is an apostasy”, and that not keeping the seventh-day “could separate you from a loving Savior”.
 
 
If a new Christian was to read the New Testament from Matthew to Revelation, would the conclusions listed above jump out at him?  I don’t think so.  Jesus said that the sign by which the world would know we are his people was our visible love for each other, not by observing a day (Jn.13:35).  There is no emphasis in the teachings of Jesus or apostles or Genesis on “remembering” the Sabbath; “remembering” is focused on the Lord Jesus in the context of the meal shared among the disciples (1 Cor.11:24-25).  
 
 
Pick and Choose Sabbath Law: Why No Selling, But No Stoning?
 
Adventists cherry picks a few Sabbath law verses from the Old Testament as warrant to teach that on Saturday secular work and buying and selling should cease, and delighting in the Lord should be encouraged.  However, if Adventists are going to enforce these elements, on what basis does it omit the rest of the Sabbath laws:  “stay where you are” on the Sabbath, “no cooking on the sabbath (Ex. 16:29), no kindling of a fire (Ex. 35:3), and the death penalty attached to Sabbath-breaking in the OT?  A man picked up sticks on the Sabbath and the Lord ordered that he be stoned by the congregation of Israel (Numbers 15:32-36).  This event echoes what the Lord commanded in Exodus 31:14-15.  To suggest that some elements of Old Testament Sabbath-keeping are binding, but others are not, reveals the serious problem of picking and choosing parts of the old covenant law.  The old covenant connected working on the Sabbath and execution by stoning.  Adventist’s want to enforce the strictness of no Sabbath labor, but without the punishment associated with that law.  Why? Do Adventist realize that they are under a curse for not observe every requirement in the book of the law? 
 
 
The Sabbath and Assembly Meetings
 
“The seventh-day Sabbath is the day God set aside for church services”, says Adventists.  If one examines the Old Testament teaching about the Sabbath, this statement is shown to be mistaken.  In Israel there was no congregational worship on the Sabbath.  Everything would shut down and each family met privately in their homes.  It could be noted that under Roman rule the Jews in Jesus’ day gathered together in synagogues.  However, the synagogue was an adjustment to the times, not something the Lord had ever specified in the Law.
 
 
Jesus Was “Under Law”
 
Adventists points out that Jesus kept the Sabbath.  This is certainly true, but this fact does not inherently lead to the conclusion that we also must do the same.  Jesus was born “under law” (Gal.4:4).  The believer’s status is “not under law” (Rom.6:14-15; Gal.5:18; 1 Cor.9:20).  Jesus was required to do a number of things as a Jew for which we have no obligation.  For example, Jesus kept Israel’s dietary laws, but under the New Covenant the clean/unclean distinction regarding foods has passed away.  Even Jesus foretold this in the Gospel: “nothing that enters someone from the outside can make that person unclean….When Jesus said this he meant that no longer was any food unclean for people to eat” (Mark 7:18-19).
 
Synagogue Evangelism
 
“On what day did Paul worship?” asks Adventists.  They reply with Acts 18:4, “and he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded them both Jews and Greeks”.  Adventists left out the crucial phrase, “persuaded them to believe in Jesus.”  This is another example of Adventists using a passage totally out of its context.  Paul’s primary thrust in passages like this was evangelistic.  Paul was not going among a group of believers who were enjoying the Lord’s Supper together and mutually edifying one another.  The synagogue was filled with unbelieving Jews who needed to hear about Christ (not the Ten Commandments) from the Old Testament Scriptures.  It was Paul’s custom to enter synagogues first, as he wished for his people to be saved (Rom.10:1).  Acts 18:4 has nothing to do with a Christian gathering, such as the one mentioned in Acts 20:7.
 
 
Matthew 24:20 and 70AD
SDA’s think the Sabbath was a holy day in A.D.  70 when Jerusalem was destroyed–long after the crucifixion of Jesus–cause Jesus told his disciples to “pray that your flight be not in the winter, neither on Sabbath day”  (Matt.  24:20).  But if this passage proves the Sabbath was a holy day in A.  D.  70, it also proves “the winter”  was a “holy season,”  for he told them may that their flight be not in the winter.  It was not the sacredness of the day or the season that Jesus had in mind, but the safety of his disciples.  Flight in the winter time would be difficult.  Also the Jews, who had not accepted Christianity, would still be keeping the Sabbath would have the gates of Jerusalem closed on that day.  Therefore, escape on that day would also be difficult; so they were to pray that they not have to flee on the sabbath or in the winter.

Did the Roman Catholic Church change the day of the Sabbath at the Council of Laodicea?
 
Adventists are confused with the “Catholic Church” and “Roman Catholic” just as they confused with the law and other things. It is amazing how common and widespread this complete mis-information is among sabbatarians! In fact, the Council of Laodicea sat 363-365AD and The Roman Catholic Church did not even exist until several centuries after that! The early “catholic” church, as described in church histories, is the Church which Jesus founded! The word ‘catholic’ simply meant ‘universal’ and the term was often used to separate biblical churches from heretical groups. 
 
Adventist themselves have realized this and some now confessess this but many Adventist are still ignorant. Adventist Today magazine quotes, “The Roman Catholic Church as such had little to do with the change” (Source: https://atoday.org/is-the-author-serious-the-truth-the-whole-truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth-a-commentary/).
 
When Catholics talk about Sabbath being changed to Sunday, they are talking about a practice that started from the apostles in the first century, who they claim are the founders of their Church. Hence, Adventists are naive to claim that a change happened many centuries later through the little horn they identify as the Roman Catholic Church. When all evidence fail them, Adventists have also tried to promote the idea that Sunday practice started with paganism, however, Adventist scholars have refuted this non-sense as well. C. Mervyn Maxwell, Ph.D., professor of church history at Andrews University Theological Seminary, Berrien Springs, Michigan writes:  “There is little evidence that the sun occupied the unique position attributed to it by some modern authors. When the Emperor Caracalla tried to impose sun worship in the early years of the third century, the Romans laughed at him. Although sun worship has always played a role in pagan religions, it wasn’t until the end of that century (3rd century) that the sun enjoyed real prominence among the Roman gods—and by that time many Christians, at least, had been observing Sunday for 150 years. In his Apology addressed to the Roman Government, the great Christian writer Tertullian specifically refuted the charge that Christians worshiped on Sunday in honor of the sun” (Source: Ministry Magazine, 1977).
 
 
The New Covenant View of Days
 
There are four main positions that Bible students have set forth.
 
1. The weekly Saturday Sabbath is required for believers as a fulfillment of the Fourth Commandment.  It is sinful to meet on any other day.  This is the position of SDA’s and other Sabbatarian groups.
 
2.  The weekly Sunday Sabbath is required for Christians as a fulfillment of the Fourth Commandment.  This views posits that the Sabbath principle – one day in seven – was transferred to Sunday, primarily because of Christ’s resurrection on that day.  It is sinful to meet on other days than Sunday in most circumstances.  This view was held in the past by Charles Hodge, Benjamin Warfield, and by those who hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Adventists rightly points out that there is no biblical evidence for this view.
 
3.  The church should meet on Sunday as the Lord’s Day, but not because it has anything to do with the Fourth Commandment.  This position would appeal to certain patterns in the New Testament – (1) Christ was raised on the first day (which in the Greek is literally, “the first [day] after the Sabbath”); (2) some of Christ’s appearances to his disciples after his resurrection were on the first day where there was small service of worship, and Jesus preached an expositional sermon; (3) some Christian gatherings took place on the first day (Acts 20:7).  This view admits that there is no command to meet on Sunday, but submit that it is most in keeping with apostolic example to do so.  
 
4.  Under the New Covenant there are no holy places or holy days – only holy people, who are the Temple of God (Eph.2:21-22; John 4:19-24; 1 Pet.2:5,9).  Paul teaches in Rom.14:17 that days and food are not an issue in Messiah’s kingdom.  Brothers and sisters are free to observe or not observe days as unto the Lord.  One option “in Christ” is “to judge every day the same” (Rom.14:5).  Each person is to be persuaded in his/her own mind in such matters. Now, if there is a day that must be observed or sin is committed, then how could Paul allow for some brethren to “regard every day the same”?  Adventists makes the astounding judgment, “no one can keep every day holy in the eyes of the Lord!”.  But we must give heed to the apostle Paul who by inspiration of the Spirit said that believers can regard every day the same before the Lord.  Under the New Covenant there is no reason to believe that the body of Christ can incur sin by meeting on the “wrong” day.  The brethren must gather together, but they are free to work out the details in light of their New Covenant privileges and responsibilities as priests.  The New Covenant or testament puts no emphasis on keeping a day of worship – neither Genesis.  Rather, we are encouraged to be our brother’s keeper seven days a week.

 
Friday Sundown to Saturday Sundown Forever?
 
The utter Sabbath-centeredness of SDA theology is revealed in it’s conviction that even in the New Heaven/New Earth, “for all eternity, God’s redeemed people will gather every seventh-day Sabbath to have a time of special worship and fellowship with our Creator God”.  But the Book of Revelation makes it clear that in the the new earth the elements necessary for a “weekly” gathering will be non-existent.  “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of the Lord gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp….There will be no night there….There will be no more night, they will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light” (Rev. 21:23, 25; 22:5).  The fundamental essence of the age to come is that “history” is finished (in which the sun and moon appear in cycles) and “time” simply is no more. SDA’s make the ultimate error of carrying over a type and shadow literally into an age in which a seventh-day Sabbath is ludicrous.  Further, by focusing on the shadow it misses the glory of the Lamb who is the Sabbath-reality and supplies the light of the New Heavens and New Earth.

In light of Heb.4, it would make more sense to realize that there is indeed a Sabbath rest awaiting the people of God in the New heavens.  The gospel way to keep the Sabbath is to cease from your own works and find rest in the Lord Jesus (Mt.11:28-29).  “Rest” in Christ has a “firstfruits” fulfillment in this age, and looks for the full harvest of rest in the New Heaven/New Earth, where there will be no more tears and no more curse.
 
 
The Glory of Christ in the New Covenant
 
It is a shame that Adventism are so fixated on the Sabbath and Sunday laws.  They are enamored with a law-based exodus out of Egypt (Ex.20).  They exclaim: It was an awe-inspiring event when the Lord spoke His perfect Ten Commandment Law to the assembly of Israel!  You might want to review Exodus, chapters 19 and 20, to contemplate what the people experienced. 
 
In Heb. 12:18-24, Paul distinctly says that Christians do not go to Sinai and the thunders of the law, but they come to Jesus and the new covenant. “For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest. And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake: But ye are come unto Mount Sion. And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.” (Heb. 12:18-24) Adventists are always dwelling upon the terrible scenes at Sinai at the giving of the law and pointing others there; but Paul says, No, do not go there; but to Mount Sion, to Jesus and the new covenant, to its teachings. Isa. 2:3; “Out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” There is where we now go for the law, not to the ark or to Sinai.
 
 
In truth, the really awe-inspiring event was the Transfiguration, and even this occurrence was a pre-figuring of the full glory that would happen in Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection and ascension (Lk.9:28-36).  Moses and Elijah spoke with the glorified Christ about the “exodus” he would soon accomplish at Jerusalem.  The Shekinah glory cloud came over the disciples, Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  The Father speaks out of the cloud, “This is my Son whom I have chosen; listen to him.”  As these words came forth, the Lord removed Moses and Elijah, and the disciples “found that Jesus was alone.”  We must fix our eyes on the exodus of Christ that brought a New Covenant and a New Commandment.  That is where the glory of God in the face of Jesus is found.  Adventists focuses on the wrong exodus.  They give more attention to Exodus 19 and 20 than they do to the many New Testament passages that exalt Jesus and the Sabbath rest to be found in him.
 
 
Adventists are excited that “thousands of Christians are now displaying Ten Commandment replicas on their lawn”.  What a tragedy!  They glory in an exodus that was just a shadow.  What would happen if believers displayed more openly that they were the fragrance of Christ, a letter from Christ written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (2 Cor.3:3).  The command that should be displayed – the New Command to love one another as He loved – is the one that is offensive because it is Christ-centered.  Nobody would tolerate that word of Jesus to be hung in public buildings!  The irony is that the New Command is what is in force; the old covenant form which was on stone tablets, Paul says, was abolished.

Conclusion
 
Adventism claims to be a bible based movement that follows “well organized Bible study.”  Unfortunately, Adventism follows a very selective study of Scripture portions that they find useful to promote their Sabbath-centered agenda.  Judged by the standards of Bible interpretation they appeal to, the truth is, they have succeeded in presenting to the public a teaching that will lead people far astray from the simplicity of Christ.
 
 
We all need a big dose of humility as we search the Scriptures and share with one another what the Lord is showing us.  As Thomas Dubay points out, “Finding the solution to a mathematical problem is possible without humility, but finding God’s will is impossible without this virtue” (“Communication in Community,” ST, 14:4, 1985, p.11). 
 
 
 
 
 

Hebrews 4:1-16 The Sabbath Rest For God’s people

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First century Roman culture was a culture of despair.  Some historians would refer to it as a culture of suicide.  It was violent, it was bloody, it was dangerous, it was oppressive, it was full of death and disease.  On top of that the religious establishment had created such religious oppression that people lived in bondage.  Most had given up any thought that they could ever stand right before a holy God.  It was into that context that Jesus uttered the words, “Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  About three decades later, the writer of Hebrews would give a message to people on the threshold of bloody persecution.  The message was not a message of health, wealth and prosperity.  It was a message that in the midst of the pain, you can enter His rest.  So here we are two thousand years later.  I think we all get this.  Sometimes the world can be very, very painful, hurtful, heartbreaking, confusing, devastating.  In the midst of all of that, what Jesus offers us is rest.  That’s what we want to talk right now.  If you have a Bible, turn to Hebrews, Chapter 4.   
 
One of the terms that we’ve seen a lot in the book of Hebrews is the word therefore.  You know the old adage: Whenever you see the word ‘therefore’ you stop to see what it’s there for.  And it basically reminds us that all of these truths are connected.  You can’t take any one passage in Hebrews and pull it out of its contextfor one truth leads to another truth leads to another truth and it’s all connected together.  It’s good that we keep remembering that.  Chapter 3 was all about the cost of unbelief, which then leads us to Chapter 4 verse 1: 
 
Therefore (in light of that, the cost of unbelief), then let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, anyone of you may have seemed to have come short of it. (*NASB, Hebrews 4:1)
 
So what’s the fear?  The fear is that even though there’s still a promise of rest, it wasn’t just about people thousands of years ago entering a land.  It wasn’t just about people in the first century.  It’s every bit as true for us today.  There is a promise of rest.  The word promise is really an important word in the book of Hebrews.  As a matter of fact, no New Testament book uses the term more than the book of Hebrews.  What do you say to a group of people that are on the threshold of bloody persecution?  You remind them, there’s a promise.  There is a promise that, in the midst of the storm, I will give you rest now, and a glorious future to come.  But the concern is that they won’t believe it.  It’s interesting that he says, anyone of you may seem to have come short of it.  This basically confirms what we talked in the last chapter—that when the writer is looking at the first readers, his audience, he’s identifying them primarily as believers but he’s not convinced they’re all believers.  There is no New Testament writer who could know that everyone who will receive this letter is a believer.  So there seem to be some who perhaps don’t believe.  Maybe they’re giving lip service; maybe they’re just going with the flow, but he says, “But it may seems like you’re coming up short.  You don’t really believe it.”  So that’s our audience—primarily believers—but the writer is not convinced that everybody believes, and that’s part of his concern here.  Verse 2: 
 
For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united (mixed in) by faith in those who heard.   
 
So the children of Israel heard good news.  We talked about this last time.  The good news was that God will give you the Promised Land—a land flowing with milk and honey.  But the truth was not mixed with faith; therefore it did not profit them.  They did not believe.  The writer is saying, in the same way we have good news.  We, too, have an offer of rest that we can enter into—a promise of rest.  But that promise has to be mixed with faith if we are going to profit from it.  It is a reminder that even though Jesus died for the sins of the world, the message is not universalism.  It’s not, “Everybody’s in!” The truth has to be mixed with faith.  There’s God’s part and there’s our part—that’s always the way it is.  God’s part is He has done the work, and He offers rest.  Our part is we have to believe, mixed with faith, in order for that truth to profit us.  Verse 3:  
 
 For we who have believed (the writer puts himself in there) enter that rest, just as He has said, “AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST,” although His works were finished from the foundation of the world.
 
So what is he talking about there?  He’s saying we who have believed enter into this rest.  When David said to the children of Israel in Psalm 95 that with belief they can enter God’s rest—My rest —God says, there’s a reminder that even though they were in the land, David was concerned that they would not enter into His rest.  In other words, the land wasn’t the point.  The land was a picture; the land was a shadow.  Are we saying today that in order to enter into God’s rest, we have to all fly to Israel and enter the land?  And we all understand, “Of course not!”  So the land was a picture, a metaphor.  David comes along with Psalm 95, They’re in the land—David’s king over the land; he’s reigning over the land—but his concern is they still won’t enter His rest because the rest isn’t just the land; it’s just a picture, a metaphor.  So what is it?  It’s God saying, “My rest,” which goes all the way back to Genesis 2:2 where it says the rest of God started all the way back at the foundation of the world.  In Genesis 2:2, we’re told that “on the seventh day God rested.”  He quotes that in verse 4:
 
 For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS”; and again in this passage, “THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.” (VS. 4-5) 
 
So here’s what he’s saying: On the seventh day of creation, God rested.  Why did God rest?  Was He worn out?  Had he had a really hard week?  God didn’t rest because He was tired; He rested because the work was done.  The text says that when God had completed His work, He rested.  Then He placed Adam and Eve in His rest.  This is essentially what defined paradise.  God had done the work; once it was completed He rested, He didn’t begin another work and rest cycle. He rested from creative work once and for all. Adam and Eve entered into that state of rest.  This is what God has always wanted for people made in His image.  But as you know the story, Adam and Eve sin; chaos enters the world, yet God still promises rest—“to enter into My rest.”  Was it the land? Was it a day? The land was just a metaphor, just a picture.  David comes along hundreds of years later and he still desires for the people by faith to enter God’s rest.  It wasn’t just the land; it wasn’t a day. It was something far more than that.  Now one of the interesting parts of Genesis 2:2: When God rested is not on day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6—each one of those days ends with, “There was morning and there was evening.”  But on the seventh day, when God rested, you don’t read those words because the rest of God was not a day of the week.  It was not one day of the week.  It was a state.  God had now completed the work; it was a state of rest, and He wanted people made in His image to enter into that rest daily.  So the Jewish promised land is a shadow, the Jewish Sabbath day of the week is a shadow, but God’s rest is something far more than that.  Verse 6:
 
Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience,”  
 
So today there remains a rest for us to enter into, but we do so by faith.  We talked about this: Disbelief leads to disobedience!  Whenever I don’t believe God tells the truth, then I do it my way.  Whenever I don’t believe that God’s going to meet some need in my life, I do it my way.  Disbelief always leads to disobedience; that’s the concern of the writer. So verse 7:
He again fixes a certain day
Okay, there it is!  He again fixes a certain day—a day of rest.  What day is that?  Well, it’s today!  Oh, it’s Sunday.  Last time I said, “It’s today,” and they said, “Oh, it’s Saturday.”  This has been a longstanding debate: Is it Saturday or is it Sunday?  Are we still under the Sabbath of the old covenant?  Or is Sunday, the new covenant Sabbath?  Answer:  “Neither…Neither!”  This has nothing to do with whether or not you mow your lawn on Saturday or Sunday; it has nothing to do with whether or not a business is open or closed on a Saturday or Sunday; it has nothing to do with whether you have worked the fields on a Saturday or Sunday; it has nothing to do with whether you took a nature walk or went to church on a certain day!  The Sabbath rest today is today!  Ask me on Tuesday; I’ll say, “It’s today!”  Ask me on Friday, I’ll say, “It’s today!”  It’s not a holy day of the week; that was just a metaphor; it’s just a shadow.  It’s not a holy piece of ground or “the holy land” (Zec 2:12); it was just a metaphor—a shadow.  Ultimately it is a state to enter into the rest of God.  That’s what he’s saying: “What day is it?”  “It’s today!”  Verse 7:   
 
He again fixes a certain day, (what day?) “Today,” saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, “TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS.” For if Joshua had given them rest, He (God) would not have spoken of another day after that. (Vs. 7-8) 
 
So Joshua is the Hebrew version of the name Jesus.  So Jesus is the Greek version.  The Hebrew version of the exact same name is Joshua, and it reminds us that Joshua in the Old Testament was a type or a picture of the Messiah to come, a picture of the Jesus to come.  So what did Joshua do?  Joshua led them into the land of promise.  They claimed the land.  They observed weekly holy days. But God still promised that day of rest was yet to come.  So what he’s saying is, “If entering and possessing the land was the rest, then there would be no reason to say there’s still another day of rest coming, unless the land was merely a metaphor, a picture.  Just like the day of the week is a shadow of the ultimate fulfillment to come.  Verse 9: 
 
So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.  
 
Now that phrase Sabbath rest is actually one word in Greek.  It’s not found anywhere else—this is the only place it is found. It doesn’t say that there is a Sabbath day; it says there is a Sabbath rest.  So what is the Sabbath rest that remains for the people of God today?  It’s not a piece of land; it’s not a day of the week; those were just shadows; they were just pictures.  What is it?  Verse 10: 
 
 For the one who has entered His rest (how did he do that?) has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.  
 
There it is right there—verse 10!  This is the main theme of the gospel all throughout the New Testament.  Who is it that enters into God’s rest by faith? Not God’s work and rest cycle, but God’s rest.  It’s the one who ceases from his or her works and enters into God’s rest.  On what day? Today. So what is the Sabbath about today?  It’s about not working.  What does that mean?  It has nothing to do whether or not you mow your lawn on a Sunday.  It has nothing to do with whether or not your business is open or closed on a Saturday.  It has nothing to do with whether or not you are working the fields on a Sunday.  It has nothing to do with that.  Sunday is not the new covenant Sabbath.  It has nothing to do with that.  What does it have to do with?  The idea of works is used consistently throughout the New Testament as defining those things we’re doing to somehow try to merit favor with God—efforts of self-righteousness, religious activity, things we’re trying to do to make ourselves good enough for God. The world is full of religion.  Religion taps into our desire to be our own god.  I want to do it myself; I want to make myself righteous; I want to make myself spiritual; I want to measure up on the basis of my own efforts.  But religion is oppressive; religion is damaging; religion is full of hopelessness and despair because every day you are reminded that you’re actually just a loser that will never measure up to the standard before a holy God.   
 
We know from the book of Hebrews what the work is that God completed—the fulfillment of a promise that at a point in time, the Creator God of the universe took on human flesh.  He blazed a trail of salvation by conquering sin and death once and for all.  As the ultimate High Priest, He offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice for sin to make propitiation for sin.  Chapter 1 said to make purification for sin.  He was buried; He rose again; He returned to the Father and what did He do?  We learned this in Chapter 1: He sat down.  The priest was never allowed to sit because their job was never done, because it was only a foreshadowing of the promise of One who would ultimately pay the price for sin.  Jesus uttered on the cross, “It is finished!”  When He rose from the dead, He returned to the Father and the great High Priest sat down!  Mission accomplished; paid in full!  What did He do at the right hand of the Father?  He rested.  He created the rest of God that God has always wanted for people made in His image.  How do we enter into that rest?  By faith!  We cease from our own self-righteous works.  We give up our own attempts to merit favor with God through religious activity, and in brokenness and humility we acknowledge the only hope we have is what Jesus did for us.  We enter into the finished work of Christ.  This is a consistent message throughout the New Testament.  We’re going to throw a couple of verses on the screen just to remind ourselves of this message: 
 
But to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness. (*NASB, Romans 4:5)  
 
This is the theme of the New Testament.  This is verse 10.  There is a Sabbath rest.  “Is it a piece of ground?”  “No, it’s not!”  “Is it a day of the week?”  “No, it’s not!”  Those were just shadows or pictures.  But ultimately Sabbath rest is when we rest from our own attempts at self-righteousness and we simply rest in what God has done for us through Jesus.  Sometimes people will say to me, “How come you don’t keep the Sabbath?”  Answer: “I keep it every day.” What a shame just to keep one day of the week. Ask me on Tuesday, I’ll say, “It’s today!”  I rest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross today.  Ask me on Friday, I’ll say, “It’s today!”  I rest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  It has nothing to do with mowing your lawn, opening your business, or working in the field.  It has to do with resting in what Jesus has done for us on the cross.  There is a Sabbath rest.  Verse 11: 
 
Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall through following the same example of disobedience.  
 
Now clearly rest is not automatic.  It’s not even automatic for believers.  That’s why he says, “…be diligent; work really hard at resting.”  There are those who have never trusted Christ.  They need to believe this is true.  Perhaps they’ve been used and abused and beat up by religion and need to hear, “That’s not what it’s about.”  But it’s also possible for those of us who have trusted Christ to still be miserable because we don’trest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  The enemy comes along and he whispers in your ear, “You’re a loser; you’re a failure; you’ll never measure up. Who do you think you are that God just hands out some kind of a salvation as a gift? You’ve got to be kidding me.  God probably is so annoyed that you’re in His presence because you’re a loser.”  How many lies does the enemy whisper in our ears and we’re anxious; we’re fearful; we’re hopeless, and we’re despairing because we are not diligent to rest.   
 
Can I come to the end of a day where I’ve blown it, biffed it, and disappointed God and myself again and still be at rest?  Answer:  “Yes!” …resting in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  I need to be diligent to rest because when I rest, when I think that way, when I remember what’s true, that is the most likely scenario where I’m going to be repentant, where I’m going to confess, where I’m going to do it differently tomorrow—because I remember again who I am in Christ!  Verse 12: 
 
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able  to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. (Vs. 12-13)   
 
In other words, Him with whom we will be accountable.  So the Bible is not just words on a page. It’s a living, breathing book.  It’s the God-breathed Word of God.  God takes His words with His Spirit and He penetrates and He judges and He sorts out, and He presents us naked. That’s literally what it says—naked before a Holy God—the One to Whom we will give an account.  For some people that is an absolutely terrifying thought.  For some people they will avoid the book because the book terrifies them because it penetrates and it judges; and it discerns and it sorts out; and it presents us naked before a Holy God.  But for those of us who believe, it is where we find the truth. 
It’s where we find grace and mercy.  It’s where we find relief from the bondage of religion and enter into the rest of God.  It’s where we find guidance; it’s where we find life.  When we understand the truth about God’s rest, I am not terrified to be presented naked before a holy God because I know I stand in the rest—the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  It’s the living, active Word of God that gives me life, that gives me hope, that gives me a future, that gives me what I need to rest in my most difficult moments in life.  Verse 14: 
 
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens (meaning back to the Father to be seated), Jesus the Son of God (that’s His humanity and His deity), let us hold fast our confession (our statement of faith, what we believe).  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore let us draw near with confidence (boldly) to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Vs. 14-16)   
 
When we go through the most difficult moments of life, we cry out not to a god who is so abstract and disconnected we have no sense that he understands what we are going through.  That’s not who He is.  It’s the One who actually took on human flesh.  As remarkable as that may seem, the God of the universe actually became one of us—and He walked on this earth.  He knows our struggle; He knows our pain; He knows our trials and our temptations; This is the God who loves me; this is the God who saved me; this is the God who’s experienced the struggle and the pain that I’m going through.  I come boldly and confidently into the presence of God, and in my hour of need I find grace and mercy.  I find what I need to get me through another day! 
 
There is a Sabbath rest.  It’s not a day of the week; it’s not a piece of ground.  It’s a Person.  It’s a Person who did for me what I could not do for myself—and He offers it freely as a gift!  If mixed with faith, I believe and enter into His rest.  
 
He’s just inviting you, by faith, to enter that rest, to experience the forgiveness of sin, and to experience a relationship with God.  I would invite you this morning, to enter into that rest.  What day is the Sabbath rest? It’s today!  Why would you wait?  Why would you wait until tomorrow?  Why wouldn’t you enter that rest today?  
 
Our Father, it’s really just so hard to comprehend that the God of the universe actually took on human flesh to make a way of salvation, to conquer sin and death once and for all,  to make payment for sin, and to simply offer it freely as a gift.  Lord, we’ve been reminded that truth has to be mixed with faith.  We have to choose to believe that’s true to enter into Your rest.  Lord, may today be our day of Sabbath rest. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Faith That Works

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USELESS FAITH

James 2:14-26

If you have genuinely experienced the life-changing power of God’s grace, if you have been radically changed and transformed, if you have the nature of Christ and the Spirit of Christ within you, how can that not make you a generous person?  Is it possible that even though you know the right answers to the questions, you’ve actually never experienced true saving faith?  And a faith that isn’t a saving faith is a faith that is useless.  That’s the argument that James makes in James chapter 2.

Now James is a very practical book, perhaps the most straight-up practical book in the New Testament.  The author James is not the Peter, James, and John; it’s James, the half-brother of Jesus.  This book’s written less than twenty years after the resurrection of Christ, so a very early book.  He’s writing to dispersed Jews—Jews that consider themselves to be Christians, but because of the persecution in Jerusalem they have fled and been dispersed around the Mediterranean.  But James has a concern that even though they consider themselves to be Christians, for many of them there’s simply no evidence that they have experienced a life-changing encounter with Jesus.  They say the right things but there are no works that seem consistent with a life that has been changed by Jesus.

Just because you say you are a Christian, just because you may know the right answer to some quiz questions, doesn’t mean you’ve actually experienced true life change.

So in Chapter 1, James talks about the need to be “doers of the word and not merely hearers only.”  The Bible’s not an encyclopedia.  The deal is not that someday when you die God gives a quiz and if you get eighty percent, you’re in.  It’s not all about information; it’s about: This is how life is to be lived, and it begins with a powerful encounter with the resurrected Christ.  He ends chapter 1 by saying, “For example, it should affect the way you talk.  It should affect a compassion for orphans and widows in need.”   In a 1st Century culture, those were the two most vulnerable categories of people.  You should genuinely care about those in need, and number three:  to remain unstained from the world—in other words to pursue a lifestyle of holiness.  So that’s being a doer of the word, not merely a hearer.

Chapter 2 moves into a discussion about partiality, that if you treat someone with money differently than someone who is poor, you’re guilty of partiality, which is completely contrary to the message of grace.  He doesn’t say that’s bad behavior; he says that’s sin.  As a matter of fact he says, “It’s every bit as much sin as murder or adultery.”  That then creates the context for the discussion that we want to have starting in verse 14:

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? (*NASB, James 2:14)

 

Now it’s very important to understand the question is not whether salvation is by faith alone.  The discussion is not:  Is it faith alone?  Is it works alone?  Or is it faith and works?  That’s not the discussion.  As a matter of fact, that is a settled issue.  The New Testament could not be clearer that it is faith alone, not by works.  The issue James is discussing is the nature of saving faith.  There’s no question it’s by faith alone, but the faith that saves is a faith that works.  The Bible does not teach that salvation is basically an intellectual assent of three or four bullet points and, on the basis of my assent to that, I get my ticket to heaven and slip it in my back pocket.  The New Testament teaching is that salvation is a radical transformation.  It is rebirth.  You are a new creation in Christ.  You actually have a new nature and it’s the nature of Christ.  You actually have the very Spirit of Jesus dwelling within you.  It is complete and it is radical.  If that’s true, then it’s far more than an intellectual assent.  It is life changing and there should be evidence of a changed life.  If all there is that twenty years ago I said a prayer, put my ticket to heaven in my back pocket, and “I’m good,” and other than that you live no differently than the rest of the world, you have reason to question whether you have actually experienced a saving faith.  That’s why James says, “Can that faith save him?  Can a faith that has no works save?”  That’s the question at hand.

Verse 15:

If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? (Vs. 15-16)

So there’s our illustration:  Somebody is in need of food.  Somebody is in need of shelter.  Rather than having a heart of generosity, there’s merely pious language.  Go in peace, be warmed and be filled.  But the question is, “What use is that?”  And the answer is, “It is no use.”  It does nothing to meet the needs of these people.  A true, radical transformation produces a heart of generosity.  There is within us the compassion for people in need just like Jesus demonstrated when He walked on the earth.  Verse 17:

Even so…verse 16 is the illustration…faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself…

 

In other words faith that demonstrates no real life change.

To experience the resurrected Christ, something deep within me changes.  I have a new conviction of sin; I have a passion for righteousness and holiness; I have a desire to be generous.  I want to know God; I want to know God’s Word; I want to know God’s people; I want to give my life to the things that matter.  If there’s simply no life change, that is a faith that is dead, and it is not a saving faith.  James anticipates an objection and he records that in verse 18:

But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works”; (Vs. 18a)

Now verse 18 is much debated.  The debate is about where the quotation marks go.  In the Greek text there are no quotation marks, and so it’s up to the interpreter to decide how much of that verse is the voice of the objector.  I believe only the opening line is the objector.  All the scholars agree that it’s the voice of the objector saying, “Now wait a minute”, (and by the way this is perfect for our 21st century post-modern crowd).  The objection is, “Now wait a minute, you have your deal; I have mine.  You do it your way; I’ll do it mine.  Some have faith; some have works; it all works itself out.”  That’s basically what the objector is saying.  So then James is responding:

       “…show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”                                        (Vs. 18b)

How do you demonstrate that you have truly experienced a saving faith if there are no works?  James is saying, “You have no reason to believe that you have experienced a life-changing encounter with Jesus if there are no works.  You simply have no evidence of that.”  But James is also saying, “I’ll show you I’ve been radically changed; it’s evident in the way I live my life.”

Now the purpose of this text is not for everyone to walk back out the doors thoroughly insecure, now wondering, “Am I really saved?”  It isn’t that complicated.  Look at your life: If you can demonstrate, “I have been radically changed,” “I have a passion for holiness,” “I have a heart of compassion,” “I want to know God,” “I want to know what God says,” “I want to be generous,” “I want to walk in holiness,” “I have conviction of sin,” there’s evidence that I have been radically changed by the power of Jesus.  But if you were to be completely honest and say, “You know when I look at my life, I know the right answers to the quiz questions, but other than that I see no real difference between my life and the unsaved people around me,” you have reason to believe perhaps you haven’t really experienced saving faith.  Verse 19:

You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.

 

In referring that God is One, remember these are dispersed Jews and at the core of Judaism was the belief of one God.  It’s a reference to the Shema from Deuteronomy that says, “Our God is One God.”  All of the religions of the ancient world were polytheistic—had multiple gods.  There was one religion and that was Judaism where there is one and only one God.  So this is at the core of their belief system and James is saying, “You believe that.  Good for you!  So do the demons!”  They get it! There is one God and this God is powerful and it makes them tremble.  So let’s put this in 21st Century language.  Most of the people who identify themselves as Christians would say, “Well, I believe like the Christmas story; I believe that, you know, God became flesh; Jesus was born in a manger from a Virgin Mary.”  Well, good for you!  The demons believe that too!  “Well, but I believe the Easter story.  I believe that Jesus died on a cross.  I believe that He was buried.  I believe He rose again.”  Good for you!  The demons believe that too!  I would suggest there’s not a demon out there that denies the Christmas story or the Easter story; they know that’s what happened.  They get it.  They believe it and they tremble!  But clearly that doesn’t make them Christian.

You have to move from intellectual assent to what the Bible would call believing or trusting.  It’s a step of faith—that I actually trust that Jesus did this for me.  It includes repentance: I’m no longer pursuing self-righteousness but trusting in what Jesus did for me.  And it is a faith that results in a radical transformation, and that radical transformation should be evident in changes in your life, your purpose, your mission, your conviction of sin.  You are a new creation in Christ, and at the center of that should be a heart of generosity.  That’s who Jesus is and, if we now have the nature of Christ, it should be evident in our desire to help those in need.

 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar?  You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.  In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?  (Vs. 20-25)

Two illustrations:  If you were to take those verses, pull them out of context and isolate them, it’s very confusing. That seems completely contrary to what Paul teaches in Romans.  But this is a reminder why we do not take verses out of context and isolate them.  They are very much given in a context and that’s where they have to be understood.  So to start with, let’s remind ourselves that when Paul was making an argument that salvation is by faith alone, who did he use as the poster child to make his point?  Answer is Romans chapter 4: Abraham. He quotes Genesis 15:6: “Abraham believed and it was reckoned as righteousness.”  He wasn’t circumcised until two chapters later.  The discussion here in James is thirty years later when Abraham offered Isaac.  The argument that James is making is not that Abraham was justified on the basis of works, but rather that the Bible states he was justified on the basis of faith.  But to demonstrate that faith was a saving faith, it was followed by works.  Specifically thirty years later, in his greatest moment of faith, he was willing to offer Isaac, his only son, on an altar in obedience to God.  So the question would be: “Okay, the text says that Abraham was justified by faith.  How do we know that’s a true statement?”  Answer:  “His works demonstrated that he was truly, radically changed, justified by the power of God.”

It’s the same argument with Rahab.  Somewhere along the way, Rahab the prostitute believed.  We don’t know when that was.  We only know that when the spies went in to Jericho, she risked her own life to protect them, to care for them, and to deliver them.  What we know is that Rahab did not just have an intellectual assent.  She believed; she was radically changed; the evidence is that she actually risked her life in order to act on that faith and to deliver the spies.  The story of Rahab is a fascinating one.  Her faith was so great that she would live among the Jewish people and she would actually be a woman through whom the seed of the Messiah would travel.  If you look in Matthew chapter 1 in the genealogy of Christ, there listed is Rahab the harlot—a radical transformation.  His point is true: saving faith works.  He closes the chapter with verse 26:

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.  

It’s a rather graphic illustration, but if you’ve been to a funeral, there’s a body in a casket.  Without the spirit there is no life; it has no potential to do anything.  Faith without works is like a body without spirit; it is simply dead.

So what do we do with this text?  First of all, this is not a text by which we judge everyone else’s salvation.  That’s always the danger in a text like that.  Perhaps you’re sitting there thinking, “Well, I’m thinking about Joe,”—“Joe’s out”—“and Sally”—“Sally’s out.” Or even my spouse.  That’s a very dangerous thing to do.  You don’t know that.  What you do know is yourself and your own heart, and that is the point of the text. Okay, good for you. You know the right answers: You know the right answers on the quiz; you know what to say when God asks you the Kennedy question.  That doesn’t mean you’ve experienced a saving faith.  A faith that saves is a faith that works (not faith plus works).  If you’ve truly experienced a radical transformation by the power of Jesus, Paul says to the Corinthians that salvation is on the basis of God’s grace and that grace is so radical that if you’ve truly experienced God’s grace, it will make you a generous person.  Specifically he says, “Jesus, who was rich for your sake, He became poor in order that through His poverty you might become rich.”