Category: Sabbath School Lessons

God has Always Been Graceful

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

What is more dangerous than thinking there is no law in the New Testament, is thinking there is no grace in the Old Testament.

knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. Galatians 2:16 NKJV

Many find grace in the New Testament, but there is also plenty of grace in the Old Testament as well. While Paul says no flesh will be justified by works, that includes those in the Old Testament as well. Those living during Old Testament and New Testament times are all saved by,

the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Revelation 13:8 NKJV

This puts the cross before Adam and Eve! Before sin and the written law came on the scene we already had the cross!

Grace is not new to the New Testament. It is in the Old Testament as well. It was at Sinai.

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; Exodus 19:5 NKJV

In this passage God is pledging His grace to us.

The word, “obey” is the Hebrew word “shema,” which means to listen. Doesn’t “listen to my voice” make perfect sense?

The word, “keep” is the Hebrew word, “Shamar,” which means to “keep watch,” “cherish” and “regard.”

We are already familiar with the word covenant, which is always one-way promise when God is involved. In Genesis 12:1-3 God made a covenant promise to Abraham without asking Abe to promise anything, only believe.

So in Exodus 19:5, God is promising us that if we listen to His voice, and cherish His promises, He will make us a special treasure. Salvation has always been based on the grace of God’s promises. In Exodus 20, God begins the commandments with,

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. “You shall have no other gods before Me. Exodus 20:2-3 NKJV

God is saying, “you did not save yourselves from bondage by your works. I saved you by my grace. Because of this I promise you won’t need any other gods beside me.”

Even Jesus overcame temptation by trusting His Father’s promises.

The Saviour overcame to show man how he may overcome. All the temptations of Satan, Christ met with the word of God. By trusting in God’s promises, He received power to obey God’s commandments, and the tempter could gain no advantage. -Ellen White, Ministry of Healing, Page 181.

The works of the flesh were never a part of the everlasting gospel in the Old or New Testaments. When Paul said, “for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” he was not implying anything new. He was establishing a fact as ancient as God Himself. God has always been graceful.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

What was Wrong With Sinai?

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— Galatians 4:24 NKJV

What did Paul mean by Mount Sinai? Many believe he was referring to the Ten Commandments. Was he? Paul speaks favorably of the Ten Commandments in Ephesians 6, and I doubt he would do so if he really thought they led to bondage. Paul also mentions Hagar. Instead of referring to the Ten Commandments, is Paul referring to a Hagar-like attitude at Sinai?

Hagar represents the man-made covenant or man-made promises. Hagar was not really at fault, and God promised to bless her, but Abraham used Hagar to try to help him get the promised child by the works of his own flesh, instead of trusting God’s promise.

Likewise at Sinai the people promised three times,

“All the Lord has spoken we will do.” Exodus 19:824:324:7.

Their promises are like the “Hagar” mentality. The people were trusting their own promises and works of the flesh, instead of trusting God to work in and through them. When Paul referred to Sinai in Galatians 4:24 instead of the the law of Ten Commandments, he mentions Hagar. In Hebrews Paul explains that the problem at Sinai was the people were making their own promises, instead of trusting God’s.

For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Hebrews 8:7-10 NKJV

Paul promotes the Law and says it is to be written on our hearts. The Law was not the problem at Sinai. The problem, Paul says, is how the people tried to establish the Law. They were depending upon themselves instead of God’s promises. Remember Joshua telling Israel that they could not serve the Lord in Joshua 24:19, but they went on and promised they could anyway?

So Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord for yourselves, to serve Him.” Joshua 24:22 NKJV

Joshua sees the people are making the same mistake made at Sinai. In Galatians, Paul sees the Galatians making that same mistake. They thought they could earn God’s favor. They thought they could rely on their own promises to keep the Law. By trusting the strength of their own promises they were making the “Hagar” mistake, just like Abraham. The commandments are good, and while we can’t keep them in the strength of our own promises, what is impossible with us is possible with God. Remember what we read last quarter?

by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 2 Peter 1:4 NKJV

Abraham trusted the works of his own flesh with Hagar, instead of trusting God’s promise. The problem at Sinai was that the same Hagar mentality was present. Paul wants the Law written on the Galatians’ hearts as well as our hearts, by trusting God instead of the works of the flesh.

We’re Still Family!

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I imagine when you have spirited disagreements in your Sabbath school that you don’t call each others fools, but that is what Paul does in his letter to the Galatians.

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? Galatians 3:1 KJV

As I hope we are, Paul was very passionate about the gospel and theology. He seemed to have pretty thick skin about it. His passion for truth and the right, remind me of this quote.

The greatest want of the world is the want of men—men who will not be bought or sold, men who in their inmost souls are true and honest, men who do not fear to call sin by its right name, men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall. –Ellen White, Education, Page 57.

That passage sure sounds like Paul to me, but even though he had thick skin and a passion for standing for the right, and calling sin and incorrect theology by their right names, to the point of calling those who taught it “foolish,” he still had a soft heart.

Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Galatians 3:15 NKJV

Right after calling the Galatians, “foolish” he calls them his brothers! That’s why I think he had thick skin and a soft heart. As crazy as he thought the Galatians were, he still thought of them as family. Now I don’t suggest calling people in your Sabbath school class “fools” when you have a spirited disagreement, but I do suggest still considering them family. You have seen me share this quote a few times before, and here I go again,

In Wesley’s time, as in all ages of the church’s history, men of different gifts performed their appointed work. They did not harmonize upon every point of doctrine, but all were moved by the Spirit of God, and united in the absorbing aim to win souls to Christ. -Ellen White, Great Controversy, Page 257.

God wants us to stand for the right though the heavens fall. He wants us to preach the pure gospel. God also wants us to understand that when fellow believers disagree with us, they may be doing their honest best to follow the Holy Spirit, and they are still our brothers and sisters.

Love Comes First

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

If you love me, obey my commandments. John 14:15 NLT

Jesus didn’t say, “if you want to go to heaven, obey my commandments.” He did not say, “if you don’t want to go to hell, obey my commandments.” Okay we already knew all that, but while studying Monday’s lesson about the works of the law, it occurred to me something else Jesus did not say. He did notsay, “If you obey my commandments then I will love you.” He said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.” I believe this is what Paul meant when he said we are not justified by the works of the law. The works of the law don’t lead us to God’s love. God already loves us! His love leads us to His law of love.

Paul does not teach earning love by our works, but rather working because we are already loved.

working through love. Galatians 5:6 NKJV

What is important is faith expressing itself in love. Galatians 5:6 NLT

The Adventure’s pledge goes, “Because Jesus loves me, I will always do my best.” The pledge does not go, “I will always do my best so Jesus will love me.”

Please take a look with me at a couple of passages, where Paul uses the phrase “Works [or deeds] of the law.”

Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. … Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law. Romans 3:28-31 NLT

Notice, justification by faith establishes the law. That’s because God is the One doing the justifying and God is love and His law is love, which is why Paul says that justification by love will establish the law of love.

knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. “But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not! Galatians 2:16-17 NKJV

Paul makes it clear that our works will not lead to God’s favor, but God’s favor will lead us to works of love. God’s love and justification will not lead us to sin. Paul says Christ is not the minister of sin. He does not give us grace so that we can continue in sin and disobedience. Suppose I promised to pay everyone’s speeding tickets here in Florida. An officer pulls a man over and gives him a $200.00 speeding ticket. “No problem!” the man says, “I will just take this ticket over to William and he will pay for it.” And the next time he does the same thing and the next time. By paying his speeding ticket all the time I would be encouraging him to speed! This is very dangerous. Paul says this is not how grace works. Grace and justification by faith lead to obedience.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 NKJV

Notice God’s grace does not respond to our faith. Our faith responds to God’s grace. God does not say, “William has faith so I will give him grace.” God gives me grace and that is why I have faith. Notice too in the passage that while works do not lead to grace, grace leads to good works. In legalism our works lead to God’s favor.  In the gospel God’s favor leads to our good works.

As with us, this is how Jesus justified the woman taken in adultery.

“Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” John 8:11 NKJV

Notice Jesus did not tell her that if she would go and sin no more that He would not condemn her. It is because He gave her favor instead of condemnation that she could go and sin no more.

In legalism and pagan religions, the works of the law lead to the gods love and acceptance. In the gospel God’s love and acceptance lead us to express our love by doing good works, because we love Him because He already loves us!

Thus Jesus said,

If you love me, obey my commandments. John 14:15 NLT

Why Circumcision?

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Monday’s Sabbath School lesson, mentions circumcision, and if the Gentiles ever needed to be circumcised. Some have wondered why in the world God wanted the penis involved in a sign of loyalty. Some atheists have made fun of Christianity and the Bible over this topic.

What we need to understand is, the penis was the part of the body Abraham was trusting instead of God’s promise. Confidence in the flesh had to be cut out so all Abraham believed in was God’s promise. In the New Testament Jesus went to the cross and crucified all of our flesh, so that we could live by faith in His promises and not in our self confidence.

For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4 NKJV

In baptism we crucify all of our flesh with Christ. Romans 6:3-7. Like circumcision of old, baptism is a sign casting away the confidence of the flesh and trusting God’s promises to make us a new creation, God’s own recreation.

The Scriptures say that Abraham had two sons, one from his slave wife and one from his freeborn wife. The son of the slave wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. But the son of the freeborn wife was born as God’s own fulfillment of his promise. These two women serve as an illustration of God’s two covenants. Galatians 4:22-24 NLT

God had made a covenant with Abraham and promised him a son. All God needed Abraham to do was believe the promise. Abraham saw that his wife was old and not even menstruating any more, so instead of trusting in God’s promise, he took Sarah’s much younger handmaid, Hagar, and worked things out on his own. Together they had a son. This represents the old covenant, which is man keeping the commandments in his own power, instead of trusting God to write them on  our hearts. The old covenant is legalism, or the works of the flesh. It’s a me-plus-Christ mentality instead of “Not I But Christ” (See Galatians 2:20), the motif Paul shared as the crux of the gospel.

So God gave Abraham circumcision as a reminder to trust Him, rather than trying to solve His own problems.

Then God said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep: Each male among you must be circumcised. You must cut off the flesh of your foreskin as a sign of the covenant between me and you. From generation to generation, every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This applies not only to members of your family but also to the servants born in your household and the foreign-born servants whom you have purchased. All must be circumcised. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant. Any male who fails to be circumcised will be cut off from the covenant family for breaking the covenant.” Genesis 17:9-14 NLT

Abraham’s part in the covenant was to keep himself from doing those things God had promised. Because Abraham trusted in his flesh to work things out, God had Abraham circumcise the part of his flesh that he was trusting, so he would realize that he could do nothing to fulfill His promises. He had to leave it all to God.

For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort… Philippians 3:3 NLT

… like the birth of the child of Abraham, and that of Mary, was to teach a great spiritual truth, a truth that we are slow to learn and ready to forget. In ourselves we are incapable of doing any good thing; but that which we cannot do will be wrought by the power of God in every submissive and believing soul. It was through faith that the child of promise was given. It is through faith that spiritual life is begotten, and we are enabled to do the works of righteousness. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 98

Now, instead of circumcision, we have baptism as a sign that we are casting away self-confidence, as we go under the water, symbolically dying to self, we rise up to a new life, not trusting in self, but trusting in Jesus.

Satan works hard to make us miss the whole point of this lesson by coming up with his own rituals, and then making male circumcision appear to be another cultural ritual similar to female circumcision, which has no Scriptural significance but is still widely practiced, even though it is harmful to women.

It is worth noting that there is evidence to suggest that certain male health issuesare less prevalent in communities where circumcision is widely practiced, and circumcision also appears to have benefits for the wives. Others suggest that the same benefits may be experienced by proper hygiene. Thus everyone considering circumcision needs to prayerfully consider the reasons for and against the practice today.

Finally, some men who were circumcised as babies, and learning that circumcision is no longer morally necessary, have become quite bitter towards their parents for “mutilating” them. To those I would suggest, first of all, you have not endured anything that Jesus Himself has not endured. Jesus was circumcised too. See Luke 2:21. No matter how awkward or embarrassing an area of your life may be, Jesus has been there and experienced it for you. He understands everything! Second,  most parents were simply doing the best they could with the information they had at the time. All parents have to make decisions about the treatment of their babies on a range of issues and most make those decisions with the best information available.

Satan likes to make the Gospel look foolish and even crazy in human eyes, and because circumcision is a sensitive issue it is an easy target. I pray my brief attempt has helped you to see the gospel where before all you could see was a Jewish ritual.

Paul’s Authority and Relationship With The Church.

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I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead. Galatians 1:1 NLT

I remember sitting in church, no more than four years old, watching the preacher preach, and knowing (not hoping, not wanting, not thinking, but knowing!) that is what I would be doing one day. I am no Paul, and I did not have a Damascus road experience, but I realized, I was called by God and not man. Even though God has called me to ministry, He has still created opportunities for me to work within the church, even though I have my own self supportive ministry. The conference does not pay my salary, but I work along with them, and have no desire to run away from them, and they express their apprecaition for my team work. I say this, because there are those who feel that since they were called by God Himself, they do not need to work with the church.

Did Paul feel that being called directly by God allowed him to work independently of the church? No!

In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their co-workers. They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews. Their only suggestion was that we keep on helping the poor, which I have always been eager to do. Galatians 2:9-10 NLT

We are all called to spread the gospel. Some of us do it as employees of the church, and some of us do it as lay members, or in self supportive independent ministries, but either way we are to work together as a team. This not only means that lay members cooperate with conferences. Conferences must also cooperate with lay members.

John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”  “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us. Mark 9:38-40 NLT

I remember back in the early ’90s, the church was battling independent ministries, and indepenadent ministries were battling the church. It has been a long time since I have heard of such battles and I am glad. Paul and the church cooperated together to spread the gospel. Jesus says don’t stop independent ministries from spreading the gospel. It is not the job of the church to destroy independent ministries, and it is not the job of independent ministries to destroy the church. It is the job of both to preach the gospel, and even though God may call some to work within church employment, and others to a self supportive or independent ministry, we may all work together as Paul did with the church in his day.

God may call and financially support us independently of the church organization, but He does not call us to minister independently of the church organization. The church needs us and we need the church. Paul was not called by human authority but he team worked with those in human authority. I encourage us all, lay members and conference officials to follow the Biblical example Paul has shown us.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here. 

Luther’s Understanding of Grace

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I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

One day, while I was studying the Gospel Presenation with a retired couple, we read this verse.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV

The husband had been raised Catholic, and while many of my Catholic friends understand grace, he told me, when we read that passage, that it was the first he had ever heard of us being saved by grace alone, without any works. That moment was an ephiphany for him, just like when Luther read, “The Just shall live by faith” in the Bible chained to the dungeon wall.

During our studies I learned the retired gentleman wanted victory over alcohol. He understood that works don’t save us, but he also understood that grace saves us from more than just death. Grace saves us from the power of sin.

Martin Luther understood this as well. After all, Luther read that “the just shall live by faith,” not the unjust. Luther understood that faith and grace makes us just as well as declaring us just. Luther understood that grace changes our lives. While visiting Rome, Luther was appalled at the sins he found even in the church. Luther understood being saved by grace instead of works, but he also understood that grace is not a license for sin.

He [Luther] entered the city, visited the churches, listened to the marvelous tales repeated by priests and monks, and performed all the ceremonies required. Everywhere he looked upon scenes that filled him with astonishment and horror. He saw that iniquity existed among all classes of the clergy. He heard indecent jokes from prelates, and was filled with horror at their awful profanity, even during mass. As he mingled with the monks and citizens, he met dissipation, debauchery. Turn where he would, in the place of sanctity he found profanation. “It is incredible,” he wrote, “what sins and atrocities are committed in Rome; they must be seen and heard to be believed. –Ellen White, Great Controversy, Page 125.

Luther knew full well good works don’t save us, but he also knew grace saves us from the power of sin as well as the penalty of sin. The Bible clearly teaches wherever we find grace, we also find, good works, obedience, and godly living.

After Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us we are saved by grace and not by works, Eph 2:10 tells us,

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works..

Grace produces the good works our strength and effort could never accomplish.

Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience….Romans 1:5 NKJV

Grace produces the obedience our human nature could never render on its own.

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,  teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works. Titus 2:11-14 NKJV

Titus 2:11-14 painted a totally different picture of grace than the one Luther saw in Rome. Actually Luther did not see grace in Rome. He saw every kind of sin, and Titus 2:11-14 tells us grace enables us to deny sin and live godly lives in this present age.

My retired friend took hold of God’s grace, and after praying with a mentor in the church one evening, he left the bottle behind and entered the baptistry. Grace has saved my friend from the power of sin as well as the penalty of sin.

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.