Few theological topics evoke such passion as the question of the assurance of salvation. In many ways this is understandable, as human beings naturally crave security. Insurance companies know this, which is why they are among the richest and most powerful organizations in our society.Read More
As Bible students and historians recount the events of half a millennium ago, when the hammer blows of a German monk on a church door sparked the movement that would split Christendom in two, it is imperative that we understand correctly what the issues were, and were not, in that rending conflict whose implications would prove so dramatic for Western civilization and for the world.Read More
As the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation approaches, the spotlight of interest in Bible-believing circles is focusing on the principal teachings of the Reformers, particularly regarding Biblical authority and the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith.Read More
The Super Bowl is about the two best teams in pro football going at it head-to-head. You expect there to be a showdown of epic proportions as each team gives its all to win. This brings to mind the fact that there are two cosmic “teams” currently battling to the death. What they’re fighting for is far more monumental than the Super Bowl trophy; it’s nothing less than the hearts and minds of every human being on Planet Earth.Read More
As Adventists, we have an acute awareness of the God’s principles for ideal health, and we believe that, as we draw closer to our redemption, God seeks to more fully restore His image within His people.Read More
But wait! Could there be another angle to the age-old works versus grace debate? While the Bible makes it abundantly clear that our good works, or obedience does not save us, (See Eph 2:8-9, Titus 3:5, 2 Tim 1:9, Gal 2:16, and many more) to conclude that no works, or no obedience saves us is to contradict the plainest of scriptures! Allow me to explain.Read More
Many people have experienced trauma in their lives, and as a result of this trauma, they are trapped in a downward spiral of negative behaviors and thought patterns. When they seek help, they are introduced to the solution that the world offers. This solution is called self-help, and it promotes the idea that you can change yourself if you implement certain actions into your life. The problem with self-help is that it teaches the necessity of changing oneself. God’s Word, however, teaches us that self must die. Gaining victory over the destructive habits that enslave us does not involve making our best effort to gain control over self. In order for victory to be gained, self must cease to exist. “I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily.” (1 Corinthians 15:31).* “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). So what does it mean to die to self? The answer to this question is found in the following two verses. “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20). “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). The word “crucified,” which is found in both of these verses, is the key to understanding what it means to die to self. Jesus demonstrated the process of dying to self by His death on the cross. There is a specific reason why it was in God’s plan for Jesus to be crucified. Jesus could have died in many ways, and if we were to take our own lives—although I certainly hope not— we could do this in a variety of ways. But it is physically impossible for a person to crucify himself. The process of crucifixion can be accomplished only if a person submits himself to the will of another. The same is true when it comes to our spiritual growth. If we want to die to self, to be crucified with Christ, we must submit our will to the will of God. “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
Dying to self does not involve trying really hard to force ourselves to do something good or trying really hard to resist doing something bad. In the words of Moris Vendon, “Restrained badness is the worst kind of goodness.” Even if we did manage to make ourselves do good things and restrain ourselves from doing evil things, this external behavior would not change our hearts, because changing the heart is something only God can do. This is why Ellen White made the following statement in Christ’s Object Lessons, found on page 159. “No outward observances can take the place of simple faith and entire renunciation of self. But no man can empty himself of self. We can only consent for Christ to accomplish the work.” Notice that James tells us to resist the devil, not to do battle with the devil. If we try to engage the devil in battle, not only will we be utterly defeated, but we will be fighting a pointless battle, because Jesus has already fought the battle with Satan and won. Christ has rendered the devil powerless. Rather than fighting the devil, we are to resist the devil, to defend ourselves against his attacks, but this can be accomplished only by submitting our will to God. If we submit to God, He will empty us of self, impart to us the mind of Christ, and give us victory over sin. “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57). When we surrender our hearts to God, the mind of Christ within us will empower us to resist the devil.
It is through the process of submitting to God and receiving the mind of Christ that self is crucified, spiritual life is imparted, and freedom from sin is attained, but in order for this work to be accomplished, death must precede life. In John chapter 12 verse 24 Jesus uses the following analogy to describe what He had to endure in order to redeem humanity and establish His kingdom. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.” Just as a grain of wheat must die beneath the earth in order to produce more grain, Jesus had to be crucified and buried before He could rise again and expand His kingdom by transforming the lives of all those who would accept His gift of salvation. In the earthly ministry of Christ, death had to precede life, and the same is true with us today. In order to be restored into the likeness of Christ in body, mind, and spirit, we must follow Christ’s example. “Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). Just as Christ had to die before He could live again, we, too, are to take up our cross and die to self by being crucified with Christ if we want to be resurrected to spiritual life through the power of God’s healing grace. The process of dying to self is a continual process. It involves coming to the foot of the cross on a daily basis, accepting God’s gift of salvation, reckoning ourselves to be dead indeed to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:11), and asking God to give us the mind of Christ through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Every day we must choose to lose our life in order to save it. Ellen White explains this concept very clearly in a statement she made in Christ’s Object Lessons, found on page 163. “As the sinner, drawn by the power of Christ, approaches the uplifted cross, and prostrates himself before it, there is a new creation. A new heart is given him. He becomes a new creature in Christ Jesus.”
In 1 John 3:14, John describes what happens when we transition from death to life. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death.” As long as self remains alive, we are spiritually dead. There is no love in our hearts, because we abide in death. When we pass from death to life, self dies, we are given spiritual life, and the new heart God gives us causes us to love God and love others. If we choose to walk the road that Jesus walked by allowing God to take us through the process of transitioning from death to life, we will experience God’s complete healing. “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin” (Romans 6:5-7).
This message of hope is the message that we as Christians must take to those whose wounded lives have entangled them in the snare of sin. Jesus not only died for our sins, but He also died for our suffering. The same Jesus who was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities also bore our griefs and our sorrows. He took our pain, as well as our sin, to the cross. “When evening had come, they brought to Him many who were demon-possessed. And He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: “He Himself took our infirmities And bore our sicknesses” (Matthew 8:16-17). If we were to witness to people who have experienced physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, would it minister to them if we told them that Jesus died for their sins, or would it minister to them if we told them that Jesus died for the pain, the anger, the fear, the shame, and the powerlessness they experienced during the trauma they endured? Not only did Jesus bear our pain to the cross, but He also lived a life of hardship and suffering on Earth and can personally identify with us in every trial we face. If we could choose the course of our lives, how many of us would choose to be born in a barn, grow up in a ghetto, and bear the stigma of being considered an illegitimate child? How many of us would choose to go through the heartache of being slandered, falsely accused, misunderstood, unfairly judged, rejected, abandoned, and betrayed? How many of us would choose to endure the shame and humiliation that results from having our physical boundaries violated? How many of us would choose to endure the physical agony of being tortured, as well as the emotional agony of being separated from God? How many of us would choose to die by means of one of the most cruel and barbaric forms of execution ever invented by man? Jesus endured all of these things when HE lived on Earth. Since we are all born into a sinful world, we all endure things over which we have no control, but Jesus did not have to experience any of the things He experienced while living on Earth. Incredibly, He chose to experience these things. He lived as a man, enduring temptations and trials so that He could identify with us in our temptations and trials. He overcame all of this by relying on His Father’s power so that He could pave the way for us to overcome. Then He died and rose again so that He could set us free from our pain and sin. “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed He does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:14-18). “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).
The only thing that self-help has to offer a hurting world is a futile attempt at gaining control over the sinful self, and if the world is not presented with a better alternative, it will plunge deeper and deeper into a hopeless state of decay and ruin. As God watches people desperately trying to gain the mastery over self through their own efforts, He desperately longs to cause them to die to self so that He can give them a new life of joy and freedom. As God’s ambassadors on Earth, we are called to introduce the world to a real and tangible God who not only identifies with them in their pain, but also longs to remove their pain by setting them free. This freedom can be attained only by passing from death to life, and since the process of passing from death to life can be frightening at times, people who are hurting need to be shown that God is someone they can trust because He can relate to the pain they are going through. When they see God for who He really is, when they realize that they are safe with God because HE knows them and identifies with them, they will be ready to move forward by taking up their cross and following after the God they have learned to trust. Rather than trying to maintain control over their lives by attempting to change themselves, they will allow God to take control. The sinful self that they were previously trying to change through their own effort will be crucified with Christ, and they will pass from death to newness of life. This is what freedom is all about, and God is willing to give all of us this miraculous gift of freedom if we let Him.
*All Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version.
I confess, I made up this word, at least half of it--along with my good friend Mark’s help. Two things were on my mind that night as we drove back to Ohio from Philadelphia. One, the monotonous sound that windshield wipers make after 200 miles, and second, I couldn’t believe that I had actually met the Archangel Michael in Philadelphia! The fact that he was out-of-uniform made it even more of a shock to me. We had just attended our first Adventist Theological Society meeting (1995) and “Michael” showed up unannounced. At least that’s who he said he was. A somewhat unkempt fellow with blue jeans and a scraggly moustache, he freely told all who would listen who he was. He also kept interrupting the speaker during the meetings. He was not a Michael, some Michael, or any Michael--no he was THAT Michael. We were speechless.
Fast-forward to the Pacific Northwest. On a trip there recently I learned about a new prophecy. Michael Jackson was not dead. Not only is he alive, he is with his aging father-in-law, probably eating boiled whitefish with mint sauce in Singapore. Elvis Presley. They are both waiting for the appointed time when they will come back and inaugurate the 144,000 in a world-wide revival! This will happen in 2012-–according to the uhhh...prophecy (I’m not making this up).
Then, my wife and I were in Houston at the 2011 GYC with our oldest son (Dylan) and his wife Amanda). As they were walking to the hotel one day, a fellow with a three-button* beard approached them and handed Dylan a tract about beards. He was a big fan of male facial hair, so much so that he was campaigning against the wholesale slaughter of beards & mustaches. Armed with a solitary verse in the Bible (Leviticus 19:27), our furry friend was doing his best to bring bewhiskered righteousness to anyone who would listen.
“Is this a salvation issue?“ Dylan asked him. “I think it is,” he replied. “Have you had any converts to this…uhhh…Beard-ology?” “I’m trying to convert people,” he admitted. “And a few are interested! There was this one fellow in the Atlanta airport, and I shared the truth with him, and prayed for him. Then the airline lost his shaver...so I know it was the work of God!” He was rather zealous. And rather wooly.
Each of these three stories is true and their themes lie dangerously close to (if not altogether beyond) the ragged edge of reality. In a time when we need the empowering story of the Everlasting Gospel, many strange stories abound. More and more people are developing their own private scoop and that brings me to the title of this article. (If you have a better term, feel free to share it. I’m open to suggestions.)
“Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned?” (Proverbs 6:27) Scoopism is a collection of private ideas, knowledge, interpretations, thoughts, impressions, notions or prophecies. In each of us, including myself, I believe there exists a temptation to hallow our own perspective even if it violates the Scriptural warning in 2 Peter 1:20. Most of us resist that temptation on the basis of humility, fellowship with other believers, and a profound respect for the balance we find in Scripture. But there are three other reasons for Scoopsim that I will explore.
Pride. Each of us struggles with pride–it was that one sin that caused the fall of Lucifer in heaven. When a proud heart is combined with fear and eschatology, it gives way to an almost unlimited display of theological innovation. Some of them are pretty bizarre. And dangerous.
Delay. The Adventist faith took shape around the central proposition that the same Jesus who made us and saved us is coming back soon. Forewarned in Matthew 24:48 & 25:1-13, we have to admit that there has been a delay in the Second Coming. The Advent Movement is confronted now by a situation unknown to its past. We are reminded of the notable statement published in 1909: “Great changes are soon to take place in our world and the final movements will be rapid ones.” I submit to you, this prophecy is fulfilled. Not until this century have we been required to cope with change so rapid, leading to ends so alien to Christian values, yet marketed in such alluring format. Peter foresees a generation laden with disbelief in Christ’s coming and saying, “Much time has passed, so why continue to believe?” This, I think, gives rise to strange new ideas and theories. Scoopism.
If this church distances itself from the sense of immediacy of both the continuing presence of Christ and the coming end of the world; it will lose the core of its message and mission. Assurance of Salvation. The last reason for Scoopism, is something that occurred to me recently. Many people are looking for assurance of salvation, a principle that eludes them for various reasons. Unresolved guilt, fears, and just negative-thinking in general can paralyze people and steal their peace. When peace leaves, it creates a vacuum. It hurts. And many things can flow into that vacuum as we grope for self-generated assurance of salvation. Enter Scoopism. Here is the amazing part: When my pet theories and ideas become my special auto-developed truth, then the fewer people that believe in it–the more saved I am! The ultimate goal then of this sanctified narcissism would be to get the believers of my special “truth” down to ONE PERSON. It’s bad when peace leaves our hearts, because our ability to love often goes with it. “In the last days men will be lovers of self…”
Solution. What is the solution to Scoopism? It is threefold.
We must humble ourselves in the sight of God (James 4:10). God is watching. We kneel down in His presence and repent of the pride in our lives. He will then lift us up and put us where we ought to be (v. 4:10b). When we are humble, we are useful to God (Psalm 10:17).
The custodians of the talents in Matthew 25 are in charge while the Master is away. What happens? He returns unannounced and says, “Bring Me your talents, and what you have done with them.” You know the rest of the story. It seems clear that Jesus intended us to occupy while busily doing His work, but ever living in the prospect of his soon return. This pattern builds maturity, and it sets the pace for the final generations who are commissioned for the task of bearing the Three Angel’s messages to the world. We don’t have time for Scoopism.
Ultimately, peace is missing from our lives because we have lost contact with Jesus. We may have stepped over the line of God’s Law or allowed lies into our lives, causing turbulence within. However it happens, the end result is a “Check Heart” light flashing on the instrument panel of our life. God allows this in His mercy–-to wake us up. When we Biblically resolve the issue that has stolen our peace, God restores two precious ingredients into our lives--peace and joy. With peace, comes blessed assurance as the song says, and with joy a renewed love for others.
*A three-button beard is a beard that covers the top three buttons of a man’s shirt. In my Anabaptist heritage, it is not uncommon to see three and four-button beards, and on rare occasions a five-button masterpiece.