Keep your eye on the goal
By Sam Pestes
Note: I wish to thank Sam Pestes for his permission to publish this excellent article. It seems that once people get fixated along the pattern of legalistic thinking, it takes a miracle of God to awaken them that they might see anything that does not agreed with their point of view. 2 Corinthians 3:15 was never truer than it is with SDA's.
2 Cor 3:15 (NIV) Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.
As an Elementary School teacher I loved to play soccer with my students. One year a much larger school challenged us to a match. I asked our team how they felt about meeting a very prominent team on their home turf. “Lets take them!” was the unanimous decision.
Our team was feeling great until they saw the size of the players on the opposing side. They asked for time out and went into a huddle. I reminded them that size was secondary to spirit, and that sometimes being smaller could work to one’s advantage. They came out in high spirits and ready for battle. The first half of the game was a draw. Our boys were much encouraged to realize that size and strength were not as important as discipline and empathy among the players.
About ten minutes before the game would end, the captain of the opposing team pulled out half his team who who were showing signs of fatigue, and replaced them with a fresh batch of players who again, were quite intimidating by their very size. We had no spares with which to match them. It did not look very good for our side, but with renewed determination our boys took on the challenge with a heart that made me proud. They held their opponents to a draw until the final minutes of the game. Our team let loose with every ounce of energy they had left, and it seemed we were in position for the winning goal, when the ball was returned to our end of the field. In the scramble that followed, our star player got confused and kicked the ball into his own net! So much for playing in a league where we did not belong!
This memory comes up afresh every time I hear or read articles written by my fellow former-Adventist friends who make a valid case that we are no longer under Law but under grace. These friends have just discovered something that happened 2000 years ago, and are jubilant!
Articles and studies come out claiming victory over that old challenger—the Law! After much study and serious prayer, these students saw a flaw in their theology, and drove hard for a solution. Ideas were passed from one team-mate to another until they saw an opening, and a shout went up, “We Won!” only to hear the ultimate umpire (Scripture) call, “No score!”
“What? No score?” they protested. “We won! The old Law is really gone! We are free!”
“You see,” begins the umpire, “You have actually been playing against yourselves. You thought that you were playing against a team legitimately representing the School of the Law when in fact there was no opposing team at all. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but you were fighting shadows of the past. Shadow boxing is an illusion. The Law School had served its purpose and was retired 2000 years ago. Only its shadow remains, but it has no validity today. Because of erroneous teaching you imagined that they were still here, but you were merely looking at a still-life picture of their past existence. The place they once occupied is empty and deserted. Only ruins mark the place where they once lived. Matthew 23:38. Even if you had scored the winning goal you would have had only a hollow victory over a non-existent challenger.
Frustrated and disappointed our experts retired to consider this loving rebuke. After some time for reflection, they decided to approach the umpire and ask for clarification.
“What did you mean that we were fighting shadows?”
“The past is no more,” he began, “but its record remains for all time lest you repeat the same mistakes over and over again until you give up in discouragement. Let me explain something to you. You feel frustrated and embarrassed because unknowingly, you had retreated into an imaginary world. You have been the victims of erroneous teaching. Since Christ disbanded that whole school of the Law 2000 years ago, you were left with only one external challenger to beware of, and he is known as the ‘prince of this world.’ His spirit of legalism is now the very active enemy of God and man. His key strategy is to divert attention from reality, and cause you to focus on shadows of the past, as though those past battles have to be fought all over again. He deceives by causing you to watch the rear view mirror while attempting to drive forward.
“That Law School was a temporary measure given to a nation of newly freed slaves who knew nothing of a loving God. In Egypt, ‘Obey, or else,’ was the only language they understood. God gave them that Law for a dual purpose.
First, to convince them that accepting Divine intervention was their only hope.
Secondly, that that Redeemer was to be the Son of God in Person. Having completed, or fulfilled its mission, Christ wiped that whole system off the map. Today only its record remains. Christ was the completion and fulfillment of everything that the Law pointed to. Having done that, the old legal system was eliminated and replace by the rule of love and mercy confirmed in the covenant of Righteousness by Faith.
The legal battles that Israel fought were never yours to begin with. As every Jew will insist, the Law, which was the essence of the Sinai Covenant, was never given to non-Jews. Your team is not even accepted in the exclusive Jewish league! The forefathers of those ex-slaves knew nothing of the Sinai Covenant and its Law either. See Deuteronomy 5:3. They were personal friends of God who learned to walk and talk with Him on a regular basis.
Our scholars sat silent. They had never heard such a thing. They were always told that the Law was still alive, and a present challenger. Without a rule of Law, wouldn’t anarchy be the result?
“Where does that place us today”? they asked. “Does that mean we are free to do whatever seems right in our own eyes? Does that mean that since there is no external Law, for the Christian there is no more such thing as sin?”
“That Law never was your challenger,” continued the umpire. “The real purpose of the Law was to point out the symptoms of the sin that inhabits the carnal nature of man. The real challenger lies within each one of you. Christ shifted our focus from emphasis on outward acts to the reason for such acts. When the heart is transformed by God’s Spirit, our acts will be in conformity with the nature of Christ our Captain. What we do is a result of what we are.
With outside challengers removed, what remains? Are we home free? That depends on our personal relationship to Jesus, our Captain. There is a deeper work that still remains to be done.
Those hidden, internal challengers!
What are they? Jesus identified them for us in this all-inclusive statement:
A new commandment I give you: Love one another…All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another. John 13:34,35.
1 Corinthians chapter 13 amplifies this statement and for us who are slow learners, Paul defined the meaning and application of this all-inclusive directive. Please read it slowly in various versions of the Bible. How do you look in light of these challenges? Are you home free?
Read Galatians 5:17,18 to find that the Law of love touches areas that were not even mentioned in the 10 Commandments. Love is far more comprehensive than the Law on stone ever was!
But, you protest, doesn’t the Bible also say that I rest in His righteousness and that my accomplishments really do not enter into the equation? What is the difference then, between righteousness by faith and righteousness by works? Very valid question! Christ defeated all outside challengers alone. He did not need our help.
Regarding the work of cleansing and re-building the inside of your house, Christ solicits your co-operation. In the work that involves your house, your body and your soul, Jesus respects your privacy. He is not invasive! Jesus says, “I don’t do control. I do love!”
THIS IS THE NEW AND LIVING WAY! Hebrews 10:20.
Christ alone removed all exterior challengers. You need not be concerned about them. As a result, on the outside you may look as clean as a whistle, but renewing your inner man has barely started! When it comes to cleansing the “inside of your cup” He invites your co-operation.
Paul was writing to born again Christians when he penned Romans 12: 2. The Message Bible captures the flavor of Paul’s message in clarity.
Embracing what God does for you is the best thing that you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.
The NIV puts it this way:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.
The transformation of your character, which parallels the revamping of your mental patterns and habits, is a work that lasts as long as you live. You have the privilege of growing into Christ’s likeness until the day you graduate from this life. You will never, in this lifetime, come to the place where you no longer need your Mediator to stand in your place. So long as you do not take Him for granted, and think that you can satiate your carnal ambitions and desires while ignoring the voice of His Holy Spirit who calls you to walk in holiness, your learning mistakes and sins are automatically covered. 1 John 1:9. Jesus made it clear, that so long as we do not turn a deaf ear to the corrections of the Holy Spirit, His covering sacrifice is our security. This is our Sabbath Rest!
A word of caution: Some people, seeing freedom from the Law for the first time, think that because the external Law is not our factor to contend with, they are now free to do whatever pleases their carnal natures, because everything is now “under the blood.” Paul blew that fallacy out of the water!
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Romans 6:1.
Today, sin has no reference to the old Law that was terminated at the cross. Sin today is in turning a deaf ear to the voice of the Holy Spirit when He warns you that you need an in-flight correction in your journey. Our Guide today is not the old Law, but the Holy Spirit, Who deals with the dark areas of our lives Jesus spoke of in Matthew 5:21-24, 27,28, 38-48. 6:14,15. Paul amplified this list in Galatians 5:17,18.
For whatever does not originate and proceed from faith is sin. Romans 14:23.
Yes, like Paul, you must be willing to die daily as God’s Spirit works to lead you toward maturity. So long as you remain co-operative, you are clean in God’s sight. Even if you rebel, and like the Prodigal son turn away to satisfy your own ambitions, Jesus promised He will never give up on you as long as you live. His love never ends, but what should happen if you die in the pig-pen before you return to the Father? Personally, I am not willing to take that kind of a gamble.
So long as you remain co-operative, Jesus considers you are clean all over. You are covered. But, people who were brought up measuring themselves against the Sinai Law, and then discover that that Law no longer applies, often fall victim to a false sense of security. Their most deadly enemies are the ones they often fail to identify, because the old Sinai Law never addressed them directly. You may think you are home free, when in truth you are just beginning to see.
Desire to control others.
These ungodly traits are the sins, embedded in the carnal nature that Jesus seeks to eradicate from our lives. For example, Jesus said that if we expect Him to forgive us, we must forgive everyone who has abused us. Matthew 6:14. The imperfect Sinai Law did not even address this issue of unforgiveness! Only when we allow Jesus to be our Defender is our victory assured! To become vulnerable appears very risky. To seek to justify ourselves is riskier still.