The Mystery of Iniquity and the Mystery of Godliness

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

The Great Controversy between Christ and Satan has two mysteries –the mystery of iniquity and the mystery of Godliness.

The phrase, “mystery of iniquity” is mentioned only one time and only in the KJV.

For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 2 Thessalonians 2:7 KJV

Paul mentions the mystery of iniquity right after talking about a man

Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God. 2 Thessalonians 2:4 KJV.

Now while the KJV uses the word “iniquity” many other versions use the word “secret.” Also many other versions use the word “lawlessness” instead of “iniquity.” I am using multiple versions to get the big picture. In 2 Thessalonians Paul is talking about someone whose secret agenda is to overthrow God’s law and set himself on God’s throne.

Is this what also happened in heaven? Yes!

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God:… I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Isaiah 14:12-14 KJV

John shares more light on this mystery when he says,

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, Revelation 12:7 KJV

Here we see an outright war. Not with tanks and machine guns, but a war of the minds. Lucifer is secretly trying to overthrow God’s law and government in order to set up his own kingdom. I imagine he was using flattery, bribery and mind games to secretly undermine God’s law and government and turn people to himself, just as he does now.

This is where the word “iniquity” comes in. Iniquity can be described as being bent towards or inclined towards self. Ezekiel has another clue in this mystery.

Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. Ezekiel 28:15 KJV

In heaven, Lucifer’s love, which was supposed to be centered on God others took a u-turn and headed towards himself. Somehow Lucifer mysteriously started undermining the importance of God and others and began his secret agenda of exalting self.

When things appear unexpectedly where they are not supposed to be, we call that a mystery. Part of the famous D.B. Cooper case involves a family finding a large sum of money while hiking in the forest. It was a mystery because the money was unexpected and not supposed to be there. Was self-love supposed to be in an angel’s heart in heaven? No, it was unexpected and not supposed to be there. Was there a logical reason for Satan to be at war with Christ in heaven of all places? No. It was not logical at all. The rebellion was not supposed to be there. That makes it a mystery doesn’t it? We can’t explain it or defend it. It’s a mystery.

Sometimes we are tempted to think, once we get to heaven we just automatically won’t sin any more, because we will be in a perfect world. Yet sin began in a perfect world! What a mystery!

However we do know there will be no sin in heaven.

Affliction will not rise up a second time. Nahum 1:9. NKJV

This leads us to another mystery, the mystery of Godliness. While many find it a mystery how a perfect being became so sinful, they also find it a mystery how a sinful race can become Christlike.

Obviously this is not done on our own. This mystery can only be performed by Christ working in us.

To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27 NKJV

Revelation 10 gives us another clue to the mystery. John is given a book, which I understand to be the book of Daniel. It was sweet in his mouth but bitter in his stomach. When the 2300 days in Daniel 8:14 came to an end, the expectation of Christ’s return in 1844 was sweet, but the disappointment was bitter. (I wonder if the thunders told John about the disappointment, but he was not allowed to write it down because some things must be learned through experience?) While they were disappointed in 1844 when Jesus did not return, Revelation tells us what would occur in 1844.

… but in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets. Revelation 10:7 NKJV

According to Colossians 1:27, the mystery of God is Christ in us. This leads us to the cleansing of the sanctuary, not just a building on earth or in heaven, but even more so the cleansing of the soul temple, so God can dwell right within us! See Exodus 25:8 and John 14:1-3.

Again this mystery can only be accomplished by Christ working in us. It is all grace.

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

In Titus 2:11-14 Paul describes a people on earth who have become Christlike. What a mystery! In heaven where you would least expect it, sin began. Now thanks to God’s grace, right here on earth, where you would least expect it, people become Christlike. John agrees with Paul. We don’t have to wait to get to heaven to be like Jesus.

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 1 John 4:17 NKJV

I like the way Ellen White explains it:

That which alone can effectually restrain from sin in this world of darkness, will prevent sin in heaven. The significance of the death of Christ will be seen by saints and angels. Fallen men could not have a home in the paradise of God without the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. Shall we not then exalt the cross of Christ? The angels ascribe honor and glory to Christ, for even they are not secure except by looking to the sufferings of the Son of God. It is through the efficacy of the cross that the angels of heaven are guarded from apostasy. Without the cross they would be no more secure against evil than were the angels before the fall of Satan. Angelic perfection failed in heaven. Human perfection failed in Eden, the paradise of bliss. All who wish for security in earth or heaven must look to the Lamb of God. The plan of salvation, making manifest the justice and love of God, provides an eternal safeguard against defection in unfallen worlds, as well as among those who shall be redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. -Ellen White, Signs of the Times, December 30, 1889. 

In the Great Controversy between Christ and Satan we see a perfect angel in heaven who becomes sinful. We also see a sinful race on earth become Christ-like.

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

Judged by our Works?

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

I am writing tonight from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

Since 1981, when I began preaching in high school, I have preached in many churches from Chiclayo, Peru, to Torrington, Connecticut.  I have spoken to large and small congregations with various needs.  I have illustrated to some conservative churches the need to be a little more liberal, and to liberal churches, how to be a little more conservative, as we all seek a Christ-like balance.

One Sabbath several years ago, I was preaching in one of the most conservative churches I have been in. No, “conservative” is not the word for it. Right-out legalistic is more like it! You’ll see why I say so in a moment.

I was preaching about how we are saved by grace – fairly fundamental Adventist Bible belief, so I thought. After the sermon I barely made it off the platform before I was greeted by a woman who had appointed herself to be the theology police for the church. She had a copy of The Great Controversy in her hand. Condescendingly she asked me if I had ever read The Great Controversy. I told her I had. She retorted, “How dare you then tell these people we are saved by grace when The Great Controversy clearly says we are saved by works! Your sermon today almost deceived even me. And if it almost deceived me I know you deceived everybody else!” (Did this woman maybe have a pride issue?)

Now let me stop before I go any further. If you have never read The Great Controversy, let me assure you that it does not say we are saved by our works. I have read the book several times cover to cover, and the theme I find over and over is that we are saved by grace and not by works, and that we should worship God according to our conscience and not according to man-made traditions and regulations. One of the star characters in the book is Martin Luther, who is applauded by the author for presenting salvation by grace and not works!

So, where was this lady coming from? Sure she was way off, but she had to get her idea from somewhere. She told me where it was. She told me to read the chapter, Facing Life’s Record, and I read:

The books of record in heaven, in which the names and the deeds of men are registered, are to determine the decisions of the judgment. –Ellen White, The Great Controversy, Page 480

True. Deeds are mentioned here, but if I remember correctly from diagramming sentences in my third grade English class, which I thoroughly hated doing by the way, “books” is the subject of the sentence, and the books determine the decisions, not the deeds.

However the Apostle John mentions deeds or “works” as well:

And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.  Revelation 20:12

So do we have a conflict here? Not at all. In any investigative judgment you need evidence to determine your verdict. Our works provide evidence of salvation, but grace is the source of our salvation.

Speaking of Abraham, Genesis 15:6 says:

And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

Abraham’s belief or faith was counted as righteousness. God said it is enough that Abraham believes in my saving grace.

But when Abraham’s name comes up in the judgment what evidence will there be that he believed? Especially since he lied about his relationship with Sarah in order to save him from Egypt’s ruler. He trusted a lie to save him instead of trusting God to save him. No evidence of faith there.

However if we go to Genesis 22:1-24, we will see the evidence of Abraham’s faith, when he obeyed God and offered up his son on the altar. Now we have evidence that Abraham believed in God’s grace! Abraham will not be saved by his works, but his obedience of God’s soul-shattering command later in life – his “works” – demonstrates his faith in God. And God could count his faith as righteousness.

Just like smoke is evidence of fire, works are evidence of  God’s grace at work in the life. Where there is smoke there is fire, and where there is grace there are good works. Let’s do a little detective work ourselves here, and investigate three passages.

Let’s begin with Romans 1:5.

By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name.

Hhhmm … Seems to me here that Paul is telling the Romans that the grace they received was to lead to their obedience. Hence their works of obedience are evidence of grace at work.

Our next clue is found in Ephesians 2:8-10

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

Sure enough the passage tells us that we are saved by grace and not by works, but still we find God creating good works in us at the scene of grace. Let’s move on. We need more evidence.

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.  Titus 2:11-14

Just as you see smoke where there has been a fire, so we again see good works where there is grace. Just like smoke is evidence there has been a fire, likewise living soberly, righteously, godly lives zealous of good works, is evidence that grace has been here.

If we trust God we will obey Him. Our works of obedience are presented as evidence in the judgment that we trust God’s amazing grace.

Satan may still point at Abraham’s lie in Egypt, but,

The character is revealed, not by occasional good deeds and occasional misdeeds, but by the tendency of the habitual words and acts.  –Ellen White, Steps to Christ, p. 57.

When your name comes up in the judgment, will there be evidence that God’s grace was allowed to penetrate your heart?

Now there is also such a thing as false evidence. Legalistic works done for the glory of self would be false evidence that the Judge can see right through.

Yet a faith that works by love (See Galatians 5:6) is the exact evidence that will convince the Judge that we have received His amazing grace. I hope the lady who confronted me that day, with the Great Controversy, understands that doing works in order to be saved is just conjuring up false evidence. The faith that saves us is the faith that is motivated by love and grace and not a hope of reward and self-glory.

It’s just like the little girl standing by the side of the pool. She can’t swim, but her father promised to catch her if she jumps in. If she jumps we know she believes in her daddy. If she refuses to jump it is clearly evident she does not believe in her daddy.

Abraham showed a lack of faith in God’s love when he trusted a lie instead of God to protect him in Egypt. Yet when Abraham placed his son on the altar the whole universe saw the evidence that God’s grace was now in Abraham’s heart.

The Bible is clear. We are saved by grace and not by works. The Bible is also clear that where there is grace, there are good works.

A smoking gun is evidence that it has been put into action. Good works are evidence of grace put into action. Where you find smoke you find fire. Where you find grace you find good works.

Good works, done out of love, are evidence that we have been saved by amazing grace.

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

The Stranger on Siesta Keys

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area. This was last night’s sunset on Siesta Keys.

A chance encounter or divine appointment? You be the Judge.

Yesterday morning I woke up on my day off. Not sure how I wanted to spend it, I went ahead and delivered some baptismal robes to a nearby church, who needed them for Sabbath. When I stopped   by my church to pick them up, my pastor reminded me it was my day off, and I should not be working. I promised him I would take the day off as soon as I delivered the robes.

My friend Adam, who I often hang out with on Thursday nights, told me he would be busy, so I thought this may be a good time to take a long day trip somewhere. I thought about St. Augustine, and a couple other places, but decided on Siesta Keys in Sarasota where I have not been in a while. My plan was to spend some time reading in God’s Word, prayer time, and sunset pictures. As I got ready to leave home, something told me to take my Bible. I thought I don’t need to take that along, I have it on my cell phone.  Still something said, no, take a regular Bible. So I did. I also grabbed the book “Bible Studies Made Easy” and thought maybe I will give it to the waitress wherever I eat.

I got to Siesta Keys early afternoon and went to an Italian place near the beach, that I have enjoyed many times before. After I left, I scolded myself for forgetting to give the waitress the book. I stopped at a park bench near the beach and spent some time reading, as I am now in Revelations, after reading through the entire Bible. I read Chapters 8-12, which gave me plenty to pray and mediate on, as I walked and prayed down the beach. I must have walked 4 miles. As I got back to my starting point, where I had parked, I felt very tired, and reminded myself that the Tampa Bay Rays had a divisional game tonight on TV. Maybe I should go home and watch it. Something said to stay and take sunset pictures as I had planned. I told myself, I already have hundreds of sunset pictures, and nobody really cares to see anymore. They all look the same. Still something inside me said, just stay with the original plan. Lay down on this park bench and rest a while, until the sun starts setting, then take pictures.

As I’m lying there, an older man comes up and starts talking to me. I turn to him, and he then realizes I am not who he thought I was. He became embarrassed and apologized. I told him it was no big deal. I sat up and he started talking to me. First he talked about his bicycle. I told him I hope the streets in Sarasota are more bike friendly than Tampa. He told me his bike was all he had to get around on. I told him I am often on my bike too. I wanted to identify with him the best I could. He glanced at my Bible and asked if I was a pastor. I could have said yes, since I am both a lay pastor and Bible Worker, but that really had nothing to do with why I had my Bible with me. I had my Bible with me because I am a Christian. I replied, “I am a Christian.” He then started opening up about his service in Vietnam, and his discharge. All the terrible things he saw over there, and he was specific. I know a lot of people claim to be vets, but a lot of people really are vets too. He told me how he has given up trying to overcome beer and cigars. I told him the same God who delivered him from Vietnam could also deliver him from those enemies too. He told me how when he returned nobody thanked him for fighting for his country. He told me how he likes to take trash bags and clean up the beach. I asked him if the beach could clean itself up. Of course he said no. I told him likewise, we can’t clean ourselves up either. Only God can. He was troubled, thinking God had given up on him, so I shared with him the gospel presentation. I shared with him the story of the serpent on the pole in Numbers 21 and how in John 3, Jesus says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” He said there was so much about life he did not understand. I told him he did not have to understand.  Just as the Israelites looked at the pole when bitten by a serpent, likewise when that old serpent the devil bites you, just look at the cross and you will be healed.

He told me his name was Frank, and  asked for prayer and I prayed with him. He took my hand and as I prayed his hand trembled as he cried. After our prayer I remembered the Bible study book I had failed to give the waitress. I gave it to him with my church contact info. I invited him to a church in his area. He told me he was homeless and had no address. He told me he likes it that way.  I made sure he knew how to get a hold of me.  I assured him God still loves him and has a plan for his life. God has not given up. He told me how glad he was that he met me. I felt he was sincere. He never asked me for money or anything. He even offered to pay for the book. I think the only things he wanted from me was hope.  As we talked, and he rambled after our prayer, I started thinking, if  Adam was not busy tonight I would have been hanging out with him instead. If I had not brought my Bible this man never would have asked or opened up about His need for Christ. If I had given the waitress my study book I would have had nothing to give this man. If I had gone back home to watch the baseball game, which I really felt like doing, I would not have been resting on this park bench when the man found me. And seriously, I had no clue why I was just resting on a park bench instead of driving on home to see the game, until now. I also smiled as I remembered my pastor telling me to take the day off. Seems like when I woke up this morning, wondering what to do, God already had a plan.

I saw the sun starting to set and told the gentleman, I wanted to take some sunset pictures. Also I felt as our conversation was now rambling, that my mission was over. I wanted to leave him with the impression of my mission and not our rambling. He very politely told me to go take my pictures and told me how happy he was to meet me, and thanked me over and over for the Bible study book. I reminded him how to contact me. I left to take pictures. As I was taking pictures, thinking about my encounter, I realized I had made a big mistake! After the sun was down, I went back looking for the man. I could not find him, but I did find his bike tied to the same tree. I grabbed a pen and paper from my car and left a note tied to his handlebar. The note read, “Thank you Frank, for serving in Vietnam. –William”

Glimpses of Grace: Mercy

I am writing today from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” Titus 3:5.
When Satan tells you that you are a sinner, and cannot hope to receive blessing from God, tell him that Christ came into the world to save sinners. We have nothing to recommend us to God; but the plea that we may urge now and ever is our utterly helpless condition that makes His redeeming power a necessity. Renouncing all self-dependence, we may look to the cross of Calvary and say, “In my hand no price I bring;  Simply to Thy cross I cling.” – {The Desire of Ages  – page 317}

I would like to invite you to experience this grace at the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church. If you are not in the Tampa Bay area you  may find a grace filled church in your part of the world here.

Glimpses Of Grace; God’s Amazing Grace

I am writing this morning from the beautiful Tampa Bay area.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Our faith responds to God’s grace. God gave us His grace while we were still enemies and before we had faith. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 Some have the idea that God looks down on us, and if He sees we have faith, then He gives us grace and saves us. That is legalism. It is just transferring the works of the flesh to the works of the brain. We are not saved by the works of the flesh or the works of the brain, but by the blood of Jesus. The Bible teaches that my faith is in response to God’s grace.

Discover in God’s Word how God has already accepted you bu grace. What will your response be?

According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. Ephesians 1:4-6

I Would like to invite you to discover this grace at the Tampa First Seventh-day Adventist Church, with Pastor Brad Cassell.

If you are not in the Tampa Bay area, you can find a grace filled church here.