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There are many different views as to what is our true or intended lifespan. But whatever view we take, the following description by the Psalmist has remained approximately true from generation to generation and from culture to culture: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” – Ps. 90:10. If we were to number our days, we’ll find that seventy or eighty years are about 25,600 to 29,200 days. We can be generous and say that it is roughly thirty thousand (30,000) days or about eighty two (82) years and a few months. Some persons live a little longer and many die younger. The question is, what can we really do with the days that we have?
An analogy might help to give perspective to the question. Suppose at birth, we are given thirty thousand dollars ($30,000) and we are told that that is all we will have to last us for our entire lifetime. If we invest it well, we may get one or two thousand dollars ($1000 or $2000) more, which is what a few more years beyond 82, would equate to. The good thing, however, is that you have an offer of getting an unlimited amount, depending on how you use the roughly 30,000 that you have. That is the promise of eternal life that is open to every person who has ever lived on this earth. What would be your choice? Would you seek to maximize your returns on $30,000, which at best may give you a few thousand dollars more or would you focus on devoting your 30,000 to securing the unlimited supply?
I think the wiser course is obviously is to seek the unlimited supply. For this reason, the Biblical advice is to “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” – Matt. 6:19, 20.
It raises the question: What is required to obtain the unlimited supply of days? The answer is righteousness. And what is righteousness? Righteousness is doing what God says – “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21). The greatest motivation to do what God says is to believe God when He speaks. It is said of Abraham that “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” – Rom. 4:3. Because Abraham believed God that God would make of Isaac a great nation, he obeyed God and offered up Isaac on Mount Moriah, “Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead” (Heb. 11:19). Abraham’s obedience demonstrated the extent to which he believed God. Hence, Abraham has been regarded as the father of the faithful – an exemplar of faith.
When all is said and done, there is nothing more important than eternal life. Jesus said: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33). He further said: “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” (Matt. 5:6).
Hungering and thirsting
Are people hungering and thirsting after righteousness today? People seem to be hungering and thirsting more for power! For some, it is the power that comes from having money. For others, it is political power or other forms of power that give them authority over other people. For some, it is the power to work miracles. But all of these forms of power are limited in their scope to the roughly 30,000 days that we already have, granting that we do not foolishly squander them or carelessly lose them. Isn’t eternity much better?
What is this big thing about healing the sick and raising the dead? Will the person then live to even 120 years? Not likely! They will still die! Then what? If God fails to grant our request for a miracle, do we then lose faith? In days gone by, people used to enquire of the Lord. Nowadays, people just seem to assume that they know what is in God’s mind. Clearly, we are not as wise as God. And if prophets to whom God spoke directly had to enquire of God, then who are we to think that we already know? Even if there is a general promise, time and circumstances require wisdom that comes from God, to determine what is most appropriate.
The apostle Paul encourages us to not sorrow as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). Eternity is available to us and nothing else matters as much. The ticket is righteousness, and we do not need more than our 30,000 days to purchase it. Some people think that Christ has already purchased it for everybody. The Bible teaches otherwise. Christ has purchased the opportunity, not the right for everyone to enter. With the opportunity purchased for us, we must seek righteousness. We are told: “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.” (Rev. 22:14). If we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will be filled.
In the final analysis, we are invited to heed the admonition of the Psalmist: “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” (Ps. 90:12). If, at the end of our days, we find that we would have wrought miracles and even done many wonderful works but we did not seek and obtain righteousness, all would have been lost.
“He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15).
- Zerubbabel (Zech. 4:6)
Among the various threats that were faced by the early church, there were two major internal threats to the faith of which warnings were given. The threats were, false teachers who, on the one hand would unsettle the faith of especially young converts and then, leaders, on the other hand, who would shift the landmarks and cause the entire church to drift away into apostasy. There has always been much vigilance in looking out for those who would have “crept in unawares” (Jude 1:4) and are described by Jesus as “false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matt. 7:15). However, there has been less vigilance in looking out for leaders who have apparent legitimacy but gradually influence the church to lose confidence in the pillars of faith that were established by the apostles and pioneers who suffered and died to lay the foundations. We’ll be focussing briefly on both threats that face us today.
The Apostle Paul warned of false teachers in the following words: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.” – Acts 20:29. One of the tell-tale signs of such false teachers was that they led young converts back to the sinful ways that they had forsaken when they came out of the world and into the church. Speaking of such false teachers, the Apostle Peter indicates that “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption” (2 Peter 2:19). He further warned of the outcome for those who are misled by such false teachers. Peter said: “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” – 2 Peter 2:20, 21.
The ultimate danger from false teachers, as Peter said, is that they lead us away from “the holy commandments” (2 Peter 2:21). This warning echoes the words of Isaiah that: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” – Isa. 8:20.
The Apostle John warned of another threat that would cause the church to drift away from the faith. This threat came from persons who were considered legitimate leaders but who used their authority to marginalize those who were zealous for the faith that was previously established. John spoke of one such case. He said: “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not. Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church. – 3 John 9, 10.
The Jerusalem Council
Many reformers, especially during the Protestant Reformation, having seen that the church had drifted away from the truth and sought to warn the church, were seen as false teachers and were excommunicated or disfellowshipped from the church, even being put to death in many instances. The Apostle Paul faced a similar situation when he preached among the Gentiles the message that God gave him. The Gentiles accepted the truth that Paul preached, “But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.” – Acts 15:5. The church addressed the matter in a way that sets an example of how differences of views in the church should be resolved. They convened a Council at Jerusalem with the leaders and the most experienced among them to give the matter a hearing, consider the matter and have the issues resolved (Acts 15:1-32). At the end of the Jerusalem Council, the church moved on in unity.
Change in belief and new Baptismal Vows
In God’s remnant church today, a situation exists where believers, who have been faithful to the foundation principles laid down by the pioneers (which were reflected in the Baptismal Vows to which they indicated their agreement when they accepted the faith), have found their faithfulness being brought into question because at least one landmark has been shifted.
Many believers accepted the faith when the beliefs of the church, as they were written on the then Certificate of Baptism in the 1970s and even later, read as follows:
“The following is a brief summary of the doctrinal beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists, together with some of the Scriptural references upon which they are based:
- The true and living God, the first person of the Godhead, is our heavenly Father, and He, by His son, Christ Jesus, created all things. (Matt. 28:18, 19; 1 Cor. 8:5, 6; Eph. 3:9; Jer. 10:10-12; Heb. 1:1-3; Acts 17:22-29; Col. 1:16-18.)”
– Certificate of Baptism, prepared by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Takoma Park, Washington, D.C. 20012.
The first statement on the Baptismal Vows, at the back of the Certificate of Baptism, to which converts were required to indicate their agreement reads:
“1. I believe in God the Father, in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit.”
– Certificate of Baptism, Prepared by the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Takoma Park, Washington, D.C. 20012.
The Baptismal Vows have changed and are now expressed in two forms, the extended version of thirteen statements and an alternative version that has three statements, both of which reflect that the concept of God has changed.
The extended version of the Baptismal Vow reads as follows:
“1. Do you believe there is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity of three coeternal Persons?” – Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, Published by the Secretariat, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
The candidate will be required to answer in the affirmative and later sign the Certificate of Baptism and Commitment that reads:
“1. I believe there is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity of three coeternal Persons.” – Seventh-day Adventist Church Manual, Published by the Secretariat, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.
New concept of God
In the past, the concept of God was that God was a personal being, the Father, Jesus Christ was the Son of God and the Holy Spirit was Christ’s representative. The new concept is that God is a unity, not a person per se but a unity of three. Notwithstanding the change, there are faithful believers who still hold to the Biblical view of the pioneers, as there is no statement anywhere in the Bible that says God is a unity of three. The clearest statement in the Bible of who God is, as was reflected on the older Certificate of Baptism, is 1 Cor. 8:5, 6, which reads:
“For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” – 1 Cor. 8:5, 6.
Changing the concept of God is by no means a small change. Was there an equivalent of a Jerusalem Council where the matter was squarely considered? The answer is no. In 1980, the set of twenty-seven Fundamental Beliefs were voted at a General Conference session en bloc, without any indication that there was included in it a different concept of God. So, many persons were of the belief and many are still of the belief that the concept of God has remained the same. This is obviously not the case.
A few of the old-timers who are aware of the change and have remained steadfast to “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3) have found that, in order to remain in good fellowship with the main body of believers they have to remain fairly quiet. This is not to say that they do not seek appropriate opportunities to bring the matter to the attention of the church without causing division. The church may be well advised to follow the example of the early apostolic church and honestly have a conversation on the matter that allows both the adherents of the faith of the pioneers as well as the proponents of the new position to have a voice.
In the final analysis, the church faces threats from many quarters, some external and some internal. It may be easy to label persons, who hold a view that is different from that which is popularly held, as false teachers, as was done to the Reformers who gave us the Protestant Reformation, but have we evaluated whether or not the landmarks of truth are being shifted?
“He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15).
- Zerubbabel (Zech. 4:6)
It is generally understood and often repeated by professed Christians that it is by grace we are saved and not by our works. Being saved is seen as a present reality and not merely a promise of a future expectation. Notwithstanding, there is a clear reference in scripture to a promise of eternal life only for those who endure to the end. We are told that “he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” – Matt. 10:22. The implication is that if we do not endure unto the end we will not be saved. How then can it be said that we are saved already but yet we need to endure to the end in order to be saved? Evidently, we have been saved from one thing already and there is something else that we have not yet been saved from, for which we need to endure to the end. We will now seek to identify and distinguish between the two.
The Bible teaches that people are called to become a part of the household of faith. In the days of ancient Israel, the literal descendants of Jacob were naturally a part of that community, while Gentiles were naturally aliens but could join if they were circumcised and they kept the Passover and all the other feasts. God’s promise to the stranger was that “Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters” (Isa.56:5). God stated His intention that “mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.” – Isa. 56:7. This was not fully understood or embraced by ancient Israel, neither was the fact appreciated that the sacrifices were not ends in themselves but rather expressions of faith in the Messiah who was to come.
The plan was then changed by God, partly because the greater purpose was missed by the people. A new dispensation was created and in that new dispensation, in the New Testament, members of the household of faith were told: “For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” – Heb. 4:2. In the new dispensation, the gospel was preached to the Jews who were already near and to the Gentiles who were considered to be afar off and they were all brought into a new body – not Gentiles being brought into the Jewish establishment as it was before, but both Jew and Gentile were being brought into a new body, the Church, on equal footing.
This new plan was specifically revealed to the Apostle Paul. He told the Gentile converts that this revelation was a special dispensation of grace that was given to him for them. He described it as a “dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward” (Eph. 3:2). This special dispensation of grace that was granted to him was a new revelation that had not been previously made known to the fathers or the prophets. He described it as a mystery that “from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God” (Eph. 3:9) and “Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (Eph. 3:5).
What was that mystery or special revelation that was called a dispensation of grace given to Paul for the Gentiles? Paul said it was “That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:6-9).
Saved from the world
By answering the call, we as Gentiles, are called out of the world and into the church. But the church must then be purified. We are told: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:25-27). The process of cleansing or purifying the church does not involve only “the washing of water by the word”, which it is the privilege of every church member to benefit from, but it also involves a sifting – separation of the genuine from the false, sifting or separation of chaff from wheat, the well-known concept of separating the wheat from the tares (Matt. 13:24-30).
Being saved from the world and its debasing associations gives us hope of being saved from eternal damnation. So it’s a two-step process: from the world into the church and from the church into the eternal kingdom. It is the judgement that clears us for the eternal kingdom. The Bible says: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
There is a common mistake that professed Christians make in thinking that being saved from the world and being brought into the church automatically clears them for the eternal kingdom without their having to face the judgement. The basis of the misunderstanding is Paul’s words to the Ephesians where he says: “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.” – Eph. 2:8, 9. Being saved, of which Paul speaks here, is popularly thought to be referring to being cleared for the eternal kingdom. It is not referring to that. It is referring simply to being saved out of the world and being brought into the church. As someone puts it, we are “saved from the ills of living contrary to God’s word” and we now have a hope of eternal life, whereas, before that, we were without hope in the world. This is what Paul describes in the same conversation to the Ephesians as follows:
“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:1-6).
Paul describes a present reality of sitting “in heavenly places” just as the Psalmist David speaks of the blessing, in this life, that is obtained by “the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” – Psalm 1:1. But that person has to remain faithful to the end if he is to benefit beyond this life and be saved in God’s eternal kingdom. This is the very point that Paul went on to make to those Ephesians. He said:
Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them. – Eph. 5:1-7.
Notice carefully that Paul warns the Ephesians, “Let no man deceive you with vain words”. We should interpret that to include such vain assertions that people make about us not being saved by works, to somehow suggest that our efforts to avoid committing sin are worthless. That was not what Paul was saying. He was by no means saying that striving to overcome sin is unnecessary or meaningless. All he was saying to those Ephesians was that it was by the dispensation of grace that God gave to him by way of a special revelation, which he shared with them, that they were saved from the corrupting practices of the world that they were previously living in. It was not by their works of seeking or by any other effort of their own that that particular grace was extended to them. Rather, the gospel was brought to them by God’s grace. Let us get the point and not be deceived. He made the same point in his letter to Titus as follows:
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.
“He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15).
- Zerubbabel (Zech. 4:6)
Previous presentations can be found at http://thecommandmentsofgodandthefaithofjesus.com/